Days to Remember: Cornwall (or was it Spain!), 29th March 2002


I will remember the 29th March 2002 for many decades to come - it was sensational. It was my first ever multi-twitch (I was only 16 at the time!) and I spent it with experienced Devon Birder Phil Abbot (who drove), a good birding mate Jeremy McClements (this was his first ever twitch!) and my good old Dad (the type of birder you would call 'old fashioned'!).

We went down to our neighbouring county Cornwall. This day had everything! We saw some rarities, we saw some semi-rarities, we saw some local rarities and we found some birds for ourselves. The easy bits were waking up at three, getting into our awaiting 'taxi' at four and arriving at St. Just at 6:30.

Our first 'target bird', the Black-eared Wheatear was a bit harder than this. We spent an hour walking around ploughed fields hoping that a black and white gem would pop up. A few White Wagtails and a nice Black Redstart (a long-overdue year tick) kept me awake! We then let instinct (and a couple of other people) guide us and we eventually bumped into a crowd staring into a big empty ploughed field. After a short while we got it, as it hopped around on the ground, but the views were brief. We walked up to the next gateway and my Dad picked it out on a far hedgerow, and this time it gave us good, long, views. We were more than satisfied with this and so we decided to move on (after we found the car!).

Black-eared Wheatear
Photo: M Lockyear

Next stop was at the well-known, but out of the way, Porthgwarra. We took the decision to walk to nearby St. Levan and see what our luck would be like with the male Woodchat Shrike. We waited with a few other birders looking at a stone wall with a few small bushes on it and after 10 minutes out from the grass jumped the Woodchat, and it was an absolute beauty. It gave some brilliant views and we left when we got bored (as if!).

Woodchat Shrike
Photo: M Lockyear

Back to Porthgwarra, and after exchanging directions with some other birders (how nice some birders are!) and some huffs and puffs from me, we watched a nice Hoopoe feeding on an opposite bank. Yet again we left the bird having our fill of views. We trekked back to the car, had a bite to eat and, after receiving some news that the Night Heron had reappeared at Kelynack, we went on our way! We pulled up and we were greeted by the words that are most feared and hated among birders: "you've just missed it!" (although I suppose this does come second place to "it's just flown off"). Luckily after what seemed like hours (but in actual fact was nearer 30 minutes) we found an area that enabled us to look up the 'Night Heron stream' and there it was in all its beauty. I didn't know how nice grey could look!

Night Heron
Photo: Steve Hall

After that, we decided to give the Hayle a look, as three of us still needed Ring-billed Gull for the year. No luck, but two lovely and close Med Gulls gave us something to look at.

Then we moved on, to what shall remain a 'secret site'. The main objective was three Cattle Egrets, and that was what we had feeding among a small herd of cattle. This was particularly nice as my only other Cattle Egret (in Devon) had unfortunately originated from a cage! It was at this site we found one for ourselves. A field on top of the next hill over was being ploughed and we were amazed at our count of 26 Common Buzzards. Suddenly amongst the Buzzards we noticed a fork-tailed bird of prey with bright blue wings! Well not blue wings, but blue tags on the wings. It was a wing-tagged Red Kite and as with the other birds on this day it gave us super views, both on and off the ground. A nice county rarity.

It was getting late and we wondered if we should head for home on a high, or go to another site and then head for home on a ultra-high! We decided on the latter. We drove to another 'secret site', pulled up and walked a little way checking every corvid we saw until we got to the corvid we wanted. One with red legs and a long, red, decurved bill. Of course, it was a Chough, this bird also gave us brilliant views. A very good Cornish bird and so nice to see one in the southwest where they should belong.

This day was incredible, four lifers and four more year-ticks. We were a few days late for the Scops Owl and the Alpine Swifts, which many others would have seen, but did we care? Not a bit!

Written by: Steve Waite, Devon