Thursday, 15 August 2013

Cornwall 9th-11th August 2013

I made the long trip down to Cornwall on Friday 9th September, to go on a pelagic out of Penzance the following day and hopefully get some birding in on the days either side. The previous weekend had included some weather fronts from the southwest, bringing some good birds close in - including a Fea's Petrel off Porthgwarra.

Well, the first rule of longs journeys down the M6 and M5 is set off as early as possible… I took my time getting my shit together in the morning, which meant I got snarled up in the traffic and didn't arrive in Cornwall until teatime… I checked out the harbour in Penzance first - so I could be sure to find the boat in the morning - then checked in at the pub I was staying at in St Just. I had just enough time to pop down to Cape Cornwall to check out the passing Manx Shearwaters (scores of them moving along the turbulent line of water in an otherwise slack sea.

Cape Cornwall - Friday 9th August 2013

We were all on the boat (the MV Mermaid) nice and early, and we were soon joined by the chum. I've done a few of these types of trip before, but this was the most chum I'd seen for one trip, bearing in mind we also had a large bin of rotting mackerel and we also caught upwards of a hundred more mackerel for chum while we were out…

Chum - yum

The trip out of the bay included sightings of a Sunfish, Harbour Porpoise, and two Basking Sharks (the later a tick for me).

Sunfish, Mount's Bay, Cornwall - 10th August 2013

Basking Shark, Mount's Bay, Cornwall - 10th August 2013

We headed southwest along the coast, gradually moving away from land. We picked up a few Manx Shearwaters, Fulmars and Gannets on the way, but nothing special. The wind was low and the clouds were clearing - I nice day to be out on the sea, but maybe not so good for finding scarcer seabirds.

We did find a nice raft of 20 or so Manxies, with one larger Balearic Shearwater sat in with them. We hung around the nearby Runnel Stone for an hour, about a mile south of Porthgwarra, and started to chum. The rotting mackerel were the first to go over the side…

Runnel Stone cardinal mark - 10th August 2013

That smells bad...

...really bad.

We weren't getting much, so decided to head further out towards the Wolf Rock Lighthouse (about 5 miles southwest of Land's End), passing the famous Scillonian as we did.

The Scillonian (Cape Cornwall in the distance) - 10th August 2013

We threw loads of chum out here, but the wind was still low and water flat… It took until the early afternoon before we saw the first of our five European Storm-petrels. We were entertained by the odd jellyfish and few Fulmars feeding and arcing around the boat, but it was otherwise pretty quiet. I was a bit disappointed by some of the old guard on the boat, who to a man dozed most of time, their heads drooping against their expensive swaros, and they didn't really put much effort into trying find any birds.

 Wolf Rock Lighthouse - 10th August 2013

Fulmar, near Wolf Rock Lighthouse - 10th August 2013

We decided to head back towards port, maybe stopping anywhere that looked promising. It started to rain and the wind picked up - maybe things might improve. As we picked up speed we started to pick up more birds. A Bonxie showed of the back of the boat with the gull for a minute, and the odd Manxie flew through. A few Arctic Terns also joined in. As I watched form my side I found I had my bins bang on a large shearwater. It was moving rapidly past in the opposite directing to us, so I quickly took in the features. Brown mantle with long, scaly brown wings, white underparts, darker brown cap clearly separate from the paler brown of the mantle, white neck with maybe a hint of creamy yellowing on the top. I didn't check the tail, unfortunately, but it looked like a shearwater dressed in Pomarine Skua clothes - a Great Shearwater! I hesitated for a moment, nervous to call such a good bird (the bird of the day), but the guy next to me started pointing at it, and I shouted Great Shearwater!

It's not a rare bird in these parts, but it was a rare bird for our trip, so all hell broke loose. Two or three others got on to it, but most didn't, especially the dozing old timers… The GS was already way past us and it kept on going, as disappeared behind the swell, looking like it was landing on the sea in our wake. We didn't see it again. One bloke told me he'd seen it and was happy with the ID, and a couple of others later said they saw it when asked. One bloke even had photos but was reluctant to search it out as he'd replaced the memory card by the time anyone asked him. There were some mutterings by those you didn't get on it - I might be a bit deaf, but I can lip-read pretty well…

After that we got a few really good views of Balearic Shearwaters hanging around a group of plunge-diving Gannets, who in turn were following a pod of Harbour Porpoise. Then it was time to get back to Penzance. As we passed Tater Du Lighthouse, our guide Paul pointed out the house of novelist John le CarrĂ©, which is of no consequence, but also told us this was where the Penlee Lifeboat Disaster occurred in December 1981. I would urge anyone you hasn't seen it to watch this BBC documentary about the disaster and the courageous lifeboat crew. Always put money in those lifeboat collection boxes.

They gave that boat a really good clean after we got off...

I stayed in Redruth on Saturday night, and decided a quick trip to Lizard Point for Chough was the best bet in the morning. I obviously needed a sleep because I woke quite late, and so only had an hour on the Lizard. As soon as I got there I thought "Sod the Choughs, look at these butterflies!". Loads of the beauties - if only I had a better camera than my iPhone.


Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary, Lizard Point, Cornwall - 11th August 2013
Common Blue, Lizard Point, Cornwall - 11th August 2013

 Meadow Brown, Lizard Point, Cornwall - 11th August 2013

 Not sure about this one - was in a bad state, but clearly larger than the other butterflies...

Six-spot Burnet Moth, Lizard Point, Cornwall - 11th August 2013


As I travelled home I took a quick detour to Labrador Bay RSPB, near Teignmouth, where I'd first visited in 2011. It didn't take me long to find a Cirl Bunting, calling from almost every hedge as they were. I counted at least six adult males, two females, and a juvenile.

Honestly, that's a Cirl Bunting, Labrador Bay, Devon - 11th August 2013

The traffic on the way back was worse than the way there, all of which made me wider about the wisdom of doing this trip. But then again, if I'd seen a Fea's Petrel I wouldn’t have been doubting the wisdom of it - you have to get out there to give yourself a chance to see these things.


  1. Sounds like a nice trip despite the traffic. The Choughs eluded me on this years trip, buggers! I take it you will be doing one of the skua cruises this year?

  2. It was a good trip thanks, all in. The scenery, sharks and insects made up for the lack of birds. Yep, booked on the trip on Saturday 7th Sept. You booked on yet?