Thursday 12 August 2010

But now for something completely different…

Scilly Pelagic Trip: Day One. I can just see you settling down to read tales of Pterodromas and Puffinus, cetaceans and chum, salt spray and seasickness. Well, scrap that for now – I live in London, so I had to get there first! And as regular visitors to Porthgwarra and Pendeen will know (and readers of the Reservoir Cats blog will appreciate), the road from London to Lands End definitely goes through East Prawle. Very close to the Piglet Stores, in fact. I just happened to be in the area.

OK, OK, guilty confession time – I went to see the House Finch. I don’t think it’s got a snowball’s chance in hell of being accepted, but I like Prawle Point, I like Cirl Buntings, and I don’t like driving for six hours non-stop, so it seemed like a reasonable plan. And look, it’s gone pink now – clearly wild! ;-)

housefinch1 housefinch2

Actually, it’s newfound pinkness is perhaps the final nail in this bird’s already well-sealed coffin – is this the sign of a formerly captive bird now feeding on a more natural diet?

Anyway, wherever this individual came from, there are no such doubts about Prawle’s other speciality passerines. After negotiating the tight lane down to the carpark, I quickly found three or four Cirl Buntings near the point, mostly juveniles giving the subtle ‘sit’ call, but also a smart male singing from a rocky perch. Much more satisfying! Slipping into seawatching mode briefly, I picked out a single Balearic Shearwater from a trickle of about 30 Manxies, but there wasn’t a great deal happening, and odonata were calling.

Thanks to a heads-up from Paul W and the BDS’s ‘Hot News’ page, I’d discovered a site near Plymouth to try for some new damselflies. Smallhanger Waste, NE of Hemerdon, is a disused china clay works, featuring a multitude of small acidic pools set in heathland. Armed with a field guide, a pair of wellies, and a map (kindly provided by Dave Smallshire – thanks!), I headed out for a look round.

Despite the weather being rather overcast and breezy, I was very pleased with the results: no less than four new species! Two, Keeled Skimmer and Black Darter are ‘available’ much closer to home (e.g. in Norfolk, or Surrey), but I’d never been looking in the right place at the right time. Scarce Blue-tailed and Small Red Damselfly are rarer, though – I think the closest populations of these are in the New Forest. Anyway, here’s pics of three of the four – the skimmers just wouldn’t pose!

black_darter scarce_bluetailed_damsel small_red_damsel

The following blue damselfly is currently unidentified… any suggestions very welcome! Click the image to enlarge, if it helps.


From here, a rather tedious mid-afternoon drive got me down to Penzance, where I booked into the Youth Hostel on the edge of town. (This has been refurbished since I was last there, and is a decent budget option). I popped down to Porthgwarra for an hour or so in the evening; had a quick chat to Tom McKinney as he was concluding Seawatch SW duties for the day, but noted little more than a distant Great Skua on the bird front. However, we were both hopeful that a weather front rolling in with rain from the Atlantic would lead to some better passage the next day…


James Emerson said...

Hi. I think the bottom damselfly is a "blue form" female Common Blue. I was unaware they existed until last year, when I photographed a similar individual!


Neil said...

Great stuff. Im particularly jealous of the scarce blue tailed

Gary Thoburn said...

I know i am a couple of years late, so dont really expect a reply, but here goes anyway. Could you tell me if the Scarce Blue tails were easy enough to find? I have really struggled to photograph these over the last couple of years! Any directions, help to find them would also be gratefully received.

Thanks very much.