This was rapidly turning into one of the slowest birding holidays that we'd ever had in Cornwall. Perhaps we had just cleaned up too early on by getting all of the good birds on offer, Red-eyed Vireo, Barred Warbler, Red-breasted Flycatcher etc, quickly after we arrived and also, because we already had a pretty impressive year list, by our own standards anyway, it was difficult to find any further additions. The weather hadn't been kind, it had been very wet but that is usually a good thing in Cornwall at this time of year, although not so good when the rain is torrential, The main problem was that the wind direction had been from the West and the South-west and that was acting as a buffer to any birds that would normally migrate in from the continent. Of course strong westerlies do help in bringing North American birds to our shores, hence the Red-eyed Vireo, but most of those type of rare finds had been confined to Ireland and Scilly so far this autumn.
We were so desperate to see something new that we thought we may as well go and have a look for a White Stork that had been frequenting the fields between St Leven and Porthgwarra. I say desperate because the Stork would be an uncountable bird since it was one of the birds purposely released in Sussex earlier in the year and thus does not count as a truly wild bird in much the same way that the Ferruginous Duck seen at Helston doesn't. But with nothing else new to go for and the valley birding proving so fruitless so far we thought, "why not?". Our own track record with seeing White Storks is very poor, with only the one near Buckingham over ten years ago on our lists but of course, with all the released birds flying around the country, any sighting of a White Stork these days will be open to conjecture as to its provenance. We took the coast path from Porthgwarra which proved to be a stiff exercise particularly for those of us with short legs! On our way we were entertained by several Ravens which appeared to be having a great deal of fun playing in the stiff breeze that battered us from the south.
My good friend John who made the move to West Cornwall a few years back and who very kindly keeps me abreast of any interesting developments bird wise while I'm in this part of the world, had sent me a message informing that a Hippolais type Warbler, possibly Melodious, had been glimpsed very briefly at Pendeen that morning. We've only ever seen one Melodious Warbler before, at Lands End in 2010, so had to get there and look for ourselves even though the bird had been "found" nearly four hours before. The bird had been spotted in the garden of the Count House which sits above the lighthouse overlooking the sea. The wind was very strong on the headland but straight out of the south so the seaward side of the garden was sheltered more and that was where the possible Melodious Warbler had been seen. I walked along the thick hedge that borders the garden, pishing loudly and immediately a yellowish green warbler popped up on to a branch and stared at me before disappearing into cover again. No real excitement though since the inquisitive bird was a more common but not too dissimilar Willow Warbler.
Our second year tick-less day in a row then but late news emanating from the Lizard got us more excited for the following day when a Booted Warbler was reported from Caerthillian Cove, where we'd seen the Barred Warbler on Saturday. In fact one birder tweeted out that he'd seen the Booted Warbler, a Yellow-browed Warbler and a Red-breasted Flycatcher in virtually the same scope view plus the Barred Warbler was still there so it seemed as if all of the birds were on the Lizard and not in West Penwith! We'd leave early the next morning.
Now we knew how to access the Pump House at the top of Caerthillian Cove directly, we joined a group of fifteen or so birders just as it was getting light at the sallows where we'd seen the Barred Warbler on Saturday. An hour later though with no sign of anything interesting and after chatting with some local birders who knew the area rather better than myself, it became apparent that this wasn't the place that the Booted Warbler had been seen. When we'd twitched the Barred Warbler a local birder had told me that despite the Pump House being "loosely" a part of the Caerthillian Valley, it wasn't really what he knew as the Caerthillian Valley but rather just a "tributary" of it. The main valley was much bigger and wider and continued inland for over a mile towards Kynance and the moors beyond. Therefore everybody was looking in the wrong place! Josh, who we'd now met almost wherever a decent bird had been reported, had already strode off to find the correct spot and we followed best as we could but we are less intrepid and able so had to keep to paths as against going straight across fields. We retraced our steps back to Portreath Road and looked down into the Caerthillian Valley proper and saw several hitherto unnoticed birders scanning the valley sides. Making our way down a fairly steep path to the valley bottom where a stream gurgled through we spotted both a Willow Warbler and a Chiffchaff preening after bathing in the stream.
Church Cove on the eastern side of Lizard village is another favourite place of ours and is a really good spot for finding rare and scarce birds. The week before we arrived there had been a Red-eyed Vireo in the churchyard trees, some folk believe the Porthgwarra bird had relocated from there, and yesterday both a Red-breasted Flycatcher and a couple of Yellow-browed Warblers had been reported. We parked the car and bumped into Josh yet again, we are definitely on the same wavelength. He had already found a Yellow-browed and a Firecrest in trees next to the stream just outside of the church grounds. We were soon on our own again though when Josh went wandering off to check somewhere new, I think it was his first time in Cornwall and he was keen to explore every inch of it. The trees by the stream are tall and I craned my neck to view the upper canopy since I could hear the Yellow-browed Warbler calling. It took a while but eventually the bird appeared in the open and paused long enough for me to fire off a couple of shots.
A quick walk down the lane towards the cove yielded very little except for Goldcrests and Chaffinches so after another quick look at the Yellow-browed warbler which was still flitting around the same trees we jumped in the car and headed off back to West Penwith. On our way we stopped to see the male Ferruginous Duck at Helston again. It was initially hiding but just as we going to give up it swam out from behind a small island and came to within metres of us. Three days ago we had watched the bird dozing during a spell of heavy rain, now we could appreciate the duck in all its glory in fabulous sunshine.