I had been looking forward to today for some considerable time. I was to drive down to Cornwall to pick up my daughter from University and bring her home for Christmas! Not only that, I was also going to do some birding in west Cornwall during the morning, giving my daughter time to do her packing and clearing things up. I first had to get there though, and when I left home shortly after 6am things didn't look too good. We had experienced torrential rain all night and it was still pouring down as I drove away up the road. I reached the A376 and things were diabolical! If you don't know the stretch of this road between Exmouth and the M5 junction let me describe it. The road leaves town up a gradual incline, then drops down the other side to the Saddlers Arms at Lympstone. The road in fact is a series of inclines and dips all the way to the A3052 junction at Clyst St Mary. Well you can imagine what was at the bottom of each dip, can't you? That's right, a torrent of muddy water pouring across the road. Every dip had its attendant police car, council vehicle or (in one particulary awful spot at Exton) fire engine. In places it was easily a foot deep. Nothing for it but to engage second gear, keep to the middle of the road and the revs up. I churned through several places like this, and eventually got to the motorway having avoided abandoned vehicles in several spots! Phew! Luckily, there was no more flooding, but there was a lot of surface water and spray for the rest of the journey. I kept the radio on my local BBC station for the Devon part of the journey hoping to get updates on the state of the roads, and of course, I didn't hear any mention of the roads or weather until I was the other side of Launceston in Cornwall! Then I found out that the A376 I'd travelled earlier was shut due to the floodwater I'd driven through.
By then, the rain had stopped and I only had a few very brief light showers for the rest of the journey. I arrived at Newlyn at 8:15 and duly started to scan Mounts Bay. The sun came up and I only endured a few very brief, very light showers for the rest of the morning. I spent some time at Newlyn, having seen a Water Rail scurry down the lane in front of me on extracting myself from the car! I then popped round to Penzance seafront, stopping by the Jubilee Pool, moved east to Long Rock for another scan, and finally my last stop at Marazion where I enjoyed sunshine, stunning views of St Michael's Mount and a minced pie! I was lucky enough to see the following around Mounts Bay:
Pacific Diver - I had reasonable views of this bird mid morning and later again distant views from Long Rock. This was a new bird for me, a species I had never seen anywhere before. The bird, an adult, like most of the other divers in the bay, was very flighty, and dived frequently, often surfacing a long way from where it had dived!
Great Northern Diver - At least a dozen were dotted about the bay, some fairly close, some distant. The situation was complicated by most of the birds bombing around the bay!
Black-throated Diver - As with the above species, difficult to assess the total number, but at least 5 were scattered round the bay. I had very close views of one just off Penzance harbour, and another close in to the Jubilee Pool on the seafront.
Black-necked Grebe - One was very close in to the rocks by the Jubilee Pool, Penzance.
Great Crested Grebe - A winter-plumaged bird was right in Newlyn harbour.
Mediterranean Gull - Good views of an adult touring around at Newlyn.
Water Pipit - One on the beach at Marazion was my first of this species in Cornwall!
Stonechat - a pair were also present on the edge of the beach/dunes at Marazion.
With the morning fast ticking on, it was time to leave Mounts Bay and head for Helston, where I tried for the first-winter Ring-billed Gull at the boating lake on the southern edge of town. I spent an hour here, chucking out loads of bread which I had been saving up all week! I got the required response from the birds present, but obviously the Ring-billed Gull was sick of bread, as it did not put in an appearance. A bit disappointing, but you can't get them all. There were lots of Herring and Black-headed Gulls, Moorhen and Coot there, several Mallard (some of dubious parentage!) and some very obliging Tufted Duck which fed off the bread right by my feet. A Sparrowhawk flew over a couple of times, a Grey Wagtail zipped around the edge of the lake with some Pied and a couple of Long-tailed Tits brightened up the procedings.
It was soon time to leave and I popped over to Falmouth to pick up my daughter from the Tremough campus of Exeter University. We had lunch nearby, then drove back during the afternoon. On the way back we saw lots of Lapwing at Goss Moor, a flock of c.100 Golden Plover over Bodmin Moor, 3 Common Snipe flying over the A30 near Launceston and a few roadside Buzzards.
All in all, a good day despite the appalling weather to start with, a world lifer, lots of good back-up birds and seeing my daughter again!