Thursday, 25 August 2016

Storm Chasing

Arthur's thinking "You're not off again, are you?"
Sorry, but don't expect to read much about smallholding in this post, for I've been busy scooting around the country chasing rare birds again while the marvellous Sue has been looking after things on the farm.

19th August 2016
A day at the Birdfair
Every year the birding community gets together over three days at Rutland Water Birdfair. I tend to make it a rule not to go as it represents to me the commercial side of birding chasing the all too grey pound. On the other hand, lots of people I know work for such companies so it is a good chance to meet up with people from far and wide. It raises a lot of money for environmental charities too, though fifteen quid per person seems a bit steep for the privilege of going into a giant outdoor shop.

Anyway, there was a reason for going along today as I had decided it was time for a new pair of binoculars, my 50th birthday present from Sue. It would be a good chance to compare them side by side and hopefully to get a show bargain... or so I thought. As it happened service from all of the companies was pretty poor, especially considering the amounts being spent. Unfortunately all competition is eradicated with pre-Birdfair deals which mean that only certain exhibitors get to sell certain brands. The result is that, although everybody is in one place, the big companies concentrate their efforts on making as many sales as possible while providing as little personal service as possible.

Anyway, I am quite capable of choosing my own binoculars, but bearing in mind how much I was going to spend I drafted in a couple of mates to help me with the decision.
Overall I had a pretty good day, but I'm not sure I'll be going back for a good few years yet.

20th - 21st August
Seabirds galore
There's no better time to visit Cornwall than in a howling gale! So last night I travelled down to a cliff near Lands End where, at the crack of dawn, I set myself up huddled in the face of the wind and rain, scope pointing out to sea. Fortunately it was not my turn to drive this time, so I felt relatively fresh. The stiff breeze soon made me feel fresher.
For suitable summer gales only happen a couple of times a year. They bring seabirds, normally living a pelagic life far away from land, within view. Specifically they bring ideal conditions to see tubenoses, that's shearwaters, petrels and even an albatross if you get very, very lucky (and a few more verys).
I didn't take my brand new binoculars, since taking them out into  two days of salty sea squall would have been a baptism of fire for them, not that they shouldn't be able to cope easily with such conditions. Anyway, the birds come within sight of land but they don't exactly dance right in front of you, so most viewing is with a telescope at fairly long distance.
St Michael's Mount, Cornwall

I won't bore you with the detail, but during the morning, as well as ubiquitous gannets and fulmars which are regular fayre, we were lucky enough to see about 80 Cory's Shearwaters, a bird which breeds in colonies in The Canaries, Madeira and The Azores. I have probably only seen these birds about a dozen times so a relatively large passage is a privilege to see and a rare opportunity.

Come lunch time the winds swung round slightly and the procession of seabirds dried up. It was time to move to the north coast of the peninsula, where Pendeen offers slightly closer viewing and often more variety of seabirds. Here we had plenty of storm petrels, tiny little storm waifs which patter over the water. How such a delicate bird survives in such a wild environment is one of nature's wonders. There were Sooty and Great Shearwaters too, birds which breed in the Southern oceans before making a huge migration into the North Atlantic every year.

22nd August
More grandchicks for Elvis
Back on the farm and a recovery day after my Cornish exploits. Highlight of the day was undoubtedly two new chicks, hatched out by Priscilla, daughter of Elvis, who we allowed to sit on a few of the eggs she laid in the turkey stable.
We also finally got our TV aerial fixed after nearly six years. We now have the shiniest new aerial in The Fens and hundreds of useless channels not to watch.

23rd August
Here we go again!
Remember my tales about Royal Tern in my last post?
Well it's back, just down the coast. And this times plans are afoot to go for it. I'll be leaving at 8.30 tonight, picking up people in the Midlands and arriving in Holyhead in time for the 2:40am ferry.
We should be on site in South-West Ireland by about 9 tomorrow morning. Hopefully the bird won't do another vanishing act overnight, though the past record of Royal Terns indicates otherwise...
I hope to be back on he evening ferry, mission accomplished.

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