Twitching at it's best, excellent company and mega birds!!!
Spent the last 24 hours with 3 British Birders, 2 American Birds and scored twice!!!
AMERICAN BITTERN AND GREEN HERON — CORNWALL
Around midday on Saturday whilst out birding at Gun Hill, Andy Wilkinson sent me a text saying '1 place left in car 4 2nite, ring ...... to book!' Andy Wilkinson, Justin Lansdell and Chris Baker were going to Cornwall to see the American Bittern and Green Heron. After a rubbish week with work this was just what I needed to do, something completely crazy - or as Connor put it when I told him, 'Penny you are insane'. But as Justin mused later on 'I bet Connor would have also said 'is there room in the boot for me'!!!!
Got to my house just before 7pm on Saturday evening after dropping my sister Vivien off at the train station. Re-did flasks, made sandwiches, had a shower and left my house at 8.30pm
Arrived Andy's house at 9.30pm (as requested). I have got a terrible reputation (I don't know why!) for being late, so after parking up in Andy's drive I phoned him to say 'really sorry I am going to be about half an hour late' he immediately fell for it and started to say 'you're joking......' I replied 'yep I am outside your drive'. We then went to pick up Justin and Chris and left Norwich at 10.30pm. Stopped at a service station on route and eventually arrived at Truewey Common at Zennor, Cornwall at 5.15am (new time). Excellent driving etc from both Andy and Justin, they ought to start up their own Birding Tour Company!
There were a few other cars there already waiting for dawn, to see the American Bittern. On getting out of the car for air, we soon got back in - it was freezing cold with a howling wind, our surroundings felt like we were on a bleak moor!!! We snoozed for quite a while and then I highlighted that birders were walking past with scopes in the now semi-dusk, so we got ourselves together and joined others to stand and wait for the bittern to show. There were about 220 birders all lined up and waiting (I had actually counted everyone when I got bored!). We waited and waited. Got very bored and very, very cold and very hungry - no one had even thought of bringing food from the car as we just presumed we would see the bird fairly soon. Whilst waiting we saw a few flocks of golden plover, 4 long tailed tits, 2 goldcrests, a stonechat and a fly over lapland bunting (L.B. Justin only). We waited in the cold and grey, rain threatning skies for 4 hours!!!! The crowd was perfectly behaved and incredibly quiet, generally. Cows that had been grazing in the far field had moved closer and proceeded to go through the gorse bushes which were just behind the reed/pond area where the bird had been flying out from roost each morning. Jokes were cracked about naming and shaming each cow on birdforum.net for flushing the bird - people were losing the plot now, after standing here all this time! Everyone was really despondent and fed up. I don't agree with flushing birds at all, BUT...... suddenly a man did lose the plot and walked in a relaxed manner into the field amongst the cows and by the gorse bushes, the American Bittern immediately flew up and flew left (see picture) at 9.10am and the whole crowd cheered and clapped the man. Rubbish light and grey skies for photography! Yes I know birds shouldn't be flushed, BUT this bird had not been seen since early afternoon(ish) of the previous day, so its not as if it hadn't been allowed to feed etc - it had in fact been feeding for 4 hours this morning right in front of us, as we all stood there hungry!!! As someone else said - walking into that field was no different to a crow getting up from the road when you go past in the car. The man that walked in was also silent, he didn't make any pishing noises or sudden moves as I watched him the whole time. The crowd was now relaxed, smiling and chatting happily! The bird re-located to the small pine tree copse, but couldn't be seen. Had a lovely surpise when I bumped into Cornish birder Mark Warren who I first met on Fair Isle in 2005 when he was an Assistant Warden there. This year he was telling me, he was an AW on North Ronaldsay. The skies had brightened up and the sun was now out. Just as we were about to leave, Justin very excitedly said he could see the bittern perched up in the trees and although he gave a detailed description of where it was, I very frustratingly (as several people couldn't) could not see it - it then as he put it 'moved left out of sight' - that was soooo annoying as had I got on it - that potentially would have been the best photograph on the web!!!!!! Photographed 'Zena Quoit' which could be viewed in the distance from where our car was parked (see picture).
Can't remember what time we left, but it was nice to see the scenery in day light! We stopped to see and take a picture of 'Lanyon Quoit'. Also saw a Common Buzzard on route. Saw St Michael's Mount by the bay at Penzance.
Continued our journey to the Lost Gardens of Heligan at Pentewan, St. Austell to search for the Green Heron. Approaching the village of Pentewan, the skies opened and it poured with rain for the rest of our time here. Paid our £10 to get into the gardens and proceeded through the gardens and down some seriously steep paths, deeper and deeper down into the Jungle Garden with the most beautiful pond and scenery I have ever seen! This pond was where the Green Heron was. On arrival the words ' it was right in front of the hide by the lily pads only 10 minutes ago' did not go down well at all! The hide was very small and only seated about 6 people max. At least 3 of the people in the hide had been sitting in there ALL day and didn't go out of the hide to allow others to sit in there, which I thought was a bit mean. We had good views of the Green Heron eventually at 1.15pm but it was far too distant at the back of the very large pond for my camera lens and combined with lashing rain, which doesn't really mix with over two and half grand's worth of camera gear, I very sadly only got seriously naff photos. It skulked along the pond edges looking incredibly well camoflaged most of the time against the autumnal vegetation or sat motionless behind overhanging branches. We also watched it catching a few fish. Even though it was pouring with rain, the whole scene here was so beautiful and combined with a magical Green Heron (my first) it was torture to leave. My closest shot was a complete behind view down a bank just before we had to leave. We also saw a kingfisher whilst here as well. The thought of walking back up all those very steep paths and in the pouring rain was a horrible thought, but brilliantly the lads had worked out a much quicker, flatter return journey to the Visitor Reception and carpark! Photographed a fantastic display of pumpkins, fruits etc in the reception centre. The Gardens were breath-taking and I will have to return, to look round properly - the jungle garden where the green heron was unbelievably stunning! The free map and brochure I picked up said it takes 2 days at least to explore the whole place - I could easily spend a week there!
The Lost Gardens of Heligan.
Stunning video of the Green Heron by John Chapple on 30th October.
Harvest displays in the Visitor Reception.
We all piled into the car, completely soaked. My hair was dripping wet as I had got so hot walking round I couldn't put up with having my hoody/rain hood over my head. We left at 3.30pm.
On route back we stopped at Tewkesbury to buy chips etc and ate these in the car and continued home, arriving back in Norwich at 11.30pm. Andy and Justin had done a fantastic job of driving and getting us all home safely - THANK YOU. I left in my car for another hour's journey to get back to King's Lynn - this hour was extremely difficult and I had to sing badly with the window open and arrived home at 12.18am.