Wednesday, 23 August 2017

The Penzance Weekend - August 4th and 5th 2017

My birthday usually happens around the same time of year, but for some reason, this year it fell in August. Apparently its due to the alignment of Saturn and the Sun which was unusual for this year. If you want anymore information just Google it.

Anyway, we planned a sea watching weekend this year in Cornwall. It was very touch and go at times, as the Clayheads Chief hotel finder was having great difficulty this year in finding any suitable accommodation. Eventually it all came together following about three weeks of planning. 

Six of us were assembled to head down. The advance party of Shirley, Hilda's nephew and The Stalker set off early on Friday morning heading for Porthgwarra. Sea-watching had been excellent this year from here but towards the end of the week, when we were due to arrive, the winds switched to westerlies and eased off a bit. We thought about going to Pendeen instead, but then I had a brainwave. Why not go across on the Scillonian instead. It gave us two sessions of sea watching and we felt we would stand a better chance of seeing the "Big Three". 

Incredibly, we found out that the boat was full for the return journey, so it was out of the question. We decided on Porthgwarra as we felt there would be more eyes there. We arrived at 08:45 and set out our chairs and settled down. We were told it had been "quiet".

And so we sat there until just before 17:00. Occasionally we each wandered off for a stretch of our legs and a change of scenery. And at the end we realised we had also been baked to a crisp. We were all bright red. The issue was we had no Plan B. The rest of Cornwall was dead with absolutely nothing to go for. So our sea watch produced a Bonxie, a Puffin, we dipped Minke Whale twice but what we did see were about 500+ Manx Shearwaters and a final count of 99 Storm-petrels (I checked my note book as we were walking back to the car and it was exactly 99).

We did see a Clouded Yellow and we were told there were Grayling along the cliff. Sure enough we found them and that's my 50th butterfly species in Britain.

Grayling at Porthgwarra

My birthday present off Hilda's nephew
Hilda's nephew amazingly managed to find some accommodation for us in St Ives, and it took about half an hour to get there. Fortunately there was a chip shop in town and we all restocked our energy levels. We all hobbled around; our legs had seized up. Then we all started laughing as we realised we'd been sat on our arses all day and done no walking.

As it was my birthday, I won the competition for having the single room all to myself. It was fantastic to finally have some peace and quiet.

After an early night, we were up by 5am and drove back down to Penzance. We had booked on the Mermaid for a pelagic off Penzance. Following the poor sea watch the previous day, none of us were really up for it, and we accepted we weren't going to see much at all. At least the forecast was alright and we could enjoy the boat trip.

It was in Penzance that we met up with the other three. Grizzly had driven down through the night with former MI5 secret agent Andy "M" and Grant "Nemo" "Captain Birdseye in his early days without a beard" "Granty" Grant. They had tried unsuccessfully to sleep in the car park, and we found them still in their pyjamas, dragging their sleeping bags and pillows along the pavement. It was a distressing sight.

As we sat there waiting, Grant "Nemo" Granty Grant even then said he started to feel sick. He complained of the chair rocking side to side and he started to go a funny colour. A few moments later and the captain allowed us to get on the boat.

We sailed out. The sea was ok. We managed to muscle our way to the back of the boat. It was a good position. What happened next and for the next six hours was absolutely incredible. But enough of Nemo fumbling around the boat looking for his sea legs that he hadn't even packed.

When you don't expect the trip to produce, and then it does, well we all just stood there grinning. The chumming started and the Storm-petrels came in. At one stage we had thirty dancing over the churning boiling sea. Then the big boys came in. We had up to six Great Shearwaters around the boat - four in view together on one occasion. There were a few Sooty Shearwaters, 100's of Manxies, Gannets overhead, and a few Balearic Shearwaters on show. We had feeding frenzies on occasions when the sea seemed full of birds in every direction. We had Dolphins a few feet away swimming under the boat. We had a sunfish. I was holding Hilda's nephew for dear life just so he could keep RBA off his back for not producing any videos recently. It was a class pelagic. Some of our party had four lifers, some three, even Hilda's nephew scored with one tick. The Stalker and myself just enjoyed the whole experience. As inland birders, its not something you see everyday.

Conditions were tough for videoing, and Hilda's nephew realised that he was actually missing the action and so stopped. Even so, the following video gives you a taster. This video made me feel more sea sick watching it than the actual boat itself. The Great Shearwater video is when I was holding Hilda's nephew still.