Cornwall 25th to 29th March 2007
We went to Cornwall principally to visit a number of well known gardens and plant nurseries and accordingly this is not a bird report but a diary of our trip, which did happen to include just a little birdwatching.
Started overcast and cool, quite ideal really for our five and a half hour journey to the south west of England. We took our time and arrived at our destination The Ship Inn at Lerryn, near Lostwithiel at around 4.30pm. The village car park is situated on the bank of a small tributary to the River Fowey and as we parked we noticed 3 Little Egret feeding in the shallows nearby along with a few ducks and gulls. The Ship is less than a one minute walk from this car park and has no off road parking of its own.
After a leisurely breakfast we set out to enjoy the almost cloudless sunny day and headed towards Lostwithiel to visit The Duchy of Cornwall Nursery. Whilst searching amongst the numerous healthy species for unusual additions to our garden a calling Chiffchaff caught my attention as I happened to have my bins in hand. Later, admiring the magnificent display of Camellia and Magnolia at the National Trust's Lanhydrock estate we came across a confiding Willow Tit along with numerous other more common woodland species. As the day warmed up we moved on to the Lost Gardens of Heligan to admire the Tree Ferns and other sub-tropical plants which thrive in the sheltered valley which creates its own individual micro climate. On our way back to The Ship we stopped at Mevagissey for a stroll out along the harbour wall in the beautiful early evening sunshine. Greater Black-backed Gulls enjoyed the leftovers from the fishing fleet's daily exertions in the harbour whilst a lone Razorbill and several Gannet patrolled the outer harbour wall. Returning after our evening meal as dusk approached, a Tawny Owl flew across the road right in front of the car.
Another beautiful day saw us heading further south-west towards Bodmin and Burncoose Nursery and garden. We started off walking around the garden, which is more cultivated woodland than garden. Again Camellia and Magnolia were in full bloom but birds were far and few between. A few Blackap were heard singing and whilst we couldn't spot them we had better luck with a calling Green Woodpecker which we eventually tracked down and several Chiffchaff. A White Wagtail flitted about with Pied Wagtail on the roofs of the buildings as we later toured the nursery looking for suitable plants to add to our garden collection. From Burncoose we moved on to Hardy Exotics at Penzance, where there just happened to be a long-staying Yellow-browed Warbler nearby. Having purchased a few plants, we moved on in search of the warbler which favoured a small area of woodland behind the local boating lake and adjacent to a housing estate. At first the bird was elusive and I spent an anxious 20 minutes walking around the area. As I returned to the spot the bird was said to favour I heard its call and sure enough it performed well in the tree tops as it gathered food. Fresh from this success we moved on to the Hayle Estuary for another long-staying rarity; a 1 st winter Spotted Sandpiper. We eventually located the area the bird favoured and sure enough we quickly found the sandpiper feeding at the waters edge, not far from the nearby main road, along with a pair of Bar-tailed Godwit, Curlew, Redshank and accompanying Oystercatcher.
Once again our luck held with the weather as we headed off to visit the Eden Project. Having seen Eden on TV it is quite easy to write it off as a promotional gimmick to attract tourists to the area. Not so; it is well worth a visit. TV just doesn't prepare you for the scale of the operation and size of the domes. Simple but extravagant planting outside the domes provided magnificent swathes of colour, whilst inside, the height of the domes is fully utilised to great effect with humid tropical planting in one dome and Mediterranean planting in the other. Amongst the host of Wren, Robin, Pied Wagtail and Blackbird that have found their way inside the construction, there is a small population of Sulawesi White-eye introduced to control the flourishing insect population imported with the tropical plants. Two hours gave us plenty time to see and enjoy the site before we headed off for some lunch and an afternoon's birding back at the Hayle Estuary, trying for the White-billed Diver briefly reported yesterday after over-wintering in the area and having moved on about a week earlier. Although we weren't successful we had amazing close-up views of a Great Northern Diver right where the W-bD should have been. We also had a Razorbill and Shag in the outer estuary and c8 early Sand Martin overhead. We moved on to the nearby Carnsew Pool and came across another Great Northern Diver, Black-necked Grebe and 6 Mediterranean Gull.
Our luck with the weather changed and the day dawned wet and murky. We loaded up all our plant purchases and headed off back north. On the way we had planned to stop in Devon, either to search for Cirl Bunting on the south coast or visit RHS Garden Rosemoor on the north coast. The rain showed no signs of abating as we headed for the M5 and both our plans were scuppered - another trip perhaps? With a long journey ahead of us we decided to keep on going and get home in daylight.
Accommodation and Food
We stayed for 4 nights at the Ship Inn, Lerryn, Lostwithiel (Tel: 01208 872374). The room was clean and spacious, but being over the bar, was very noisy well into the early hours on two of the nights. The bed was rock hard and seating comprised of a very low futon type bed settee. We dined here the first night and the food was not too bad and reasonably priced. Breakfasts were good. Overall; reasonable for £80 per night for the double room and breakfast.
The evening menu at the Ship did not appear to change much and as there was only a limited selection we decided to try elsewhere for the rest of our stay. To start with we went to Trewithen Restaurant, Fore Street, Lostwithiel (Tel: 01208 872373). This small restaurant is open all year, Tuesday-Saturday. The menu is imaginative and the food is freshly prepared with great attention to detail by the owners Paul and Claire Murray. We had an excellent meal here on our second night and decided to return on the final night, when the food was equally delicious.
On our third night we decided to try The River Brasserie, just around the corner from Trewithen, at Parade Square, Lostwithiel (Tel: 01208 872774). Although prices were similar to Trewithen we felt the Brasserie couldn't match it in any other respect. We were first in on the night and the room was cold. The welcome from the only waitress was not much warmer. There were only two other pairs of diners, one of whom were regulars and it was obvious where all the care and attention was lavished. The food was reasonable, without being particularly distinct in any way… Perhaps we just made the wrong choices from the menu, or else the owner/chef Tony Duce was just having an off night. In any event we won't be going back in a hurry.
As stated at the outset, not really a birdwatching trip, but we did manage a few excellent species in our overall total of 42 and the places we visited made this a really enjoyable break. No doubt we will return at a different time of the year to experience the gardens in full bloom, later in the season.
David & Amanda Mason
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