Friday, 29 August 2014

Catch up (13th July-29th August)

Well well well, here's my sneaky attempt to catch up on over a months deficit in blog posts.  I do have an excuse though.  I've been awake for nearly 20 hours per day doing data collection for my dissertation with barely any internet access so I've unceremoniously clumped all my casual sightings into one long post.

Best not ask for an exact dates and accounts as I've forgotten the majority but here goes...

Spent an afternoon on the 14th July at Pitstone with Dad and Eph and heard 2 Quails singing from the cornfield.

I only had half a day spare on the 15th after having spent the first half at the dentists.  It was my last chance at a twitch before I had to head back to Falmouth.  It was all rather frantic and unplanned but I grabbed a train from the Finchley area, ploughed through London and was soon speeding through the countryside towards Great Yarmouth.  Knowing there's a mega at the end of it did make the trip all the more gruelling but the final burst sprint to the mudflat was certainly worth it when I set eyes on the prize GREAT KNOT!!  The next few hours were spent watching it in gradually improving light conditions, giving me a chance to appreciate its subtle differences as it ambled around with a group of Knot.  Whimbrel and Mediterranean Gulls were also present.

The following day I was back on the Falmouth patch.  Rather happily, I managed clock my train target species, a Common Sandpiper, which the train flushed from the seawall as we passed Dawlish Warren.  Patch on the other hand produced a flock of c.58 Common Scoter, Mediterranean Gulls of varying ages and a couple 100 Manx Shearwaters moving offshore.  Most bizarre of all was a Roe Deer attempting a sea swim off St Anthony's Head.  Unfortunately for it, it was pursued by some idiots in sailing boats who forced it further and further from land.  Thankfully, the deer saw sense, turned around and headed back to land.  I can't be sure it made it back safely as it disappeared behind a rock but it may well have done.

The rest of the month and up until 24th August was almost solely dedicated to dissertation data collection in a study to determine moth diversity across the urban to rural fringe of the Falmouth and Penryn area.  I'm indebted to many local residents who kindly offered their gardens for me to leave moth traps in.  I'll get round to posting the interesting stuff on my other moth blog later in the month.

I did take one day off for birding and thanks to a lift from Sean Foote, we made our way early am to Pendeen for an awesome seawatch.  Thankfully, we'd chosen one of the best days this year for the larger shears and after the first two hours of promising Manx Shearwater passage it finally kicked off with double figures of both CORY'S SHEARWATERS and GREAT SHEARWATERS!  It was truly awesome, with a supporting cast of regular Sooty Shearwaters and Baleraric Shearwaters.  After several hours sitting on the very comfy grassy cliff in surprisingly good weather, the realisation that I hadn't had much sleep at all for the past few weeks gradually dawned so I could hardly resist slumping back and let the sleep overcome me.  Next thing you know there's a report of a Fea's past St Agnes, that's 30 mins away as the Fea's flies so eyes were reluctantly temporarily re-opened but to no avail, it never came.

Thanks should also go to Dan who kindly lent me his tripod making seawatching a fraction of the ordeal it normally is when I use my ball and socket head.

Falmouth patching continued sporadically up until 24th August with the occasional seawatch from Pendennis.  This rewarded Dan and I with plenty of Manx Shearwaters, the occasional flock of Common Scoter, Sandwich Terns and increasing number of Mediterranean Gulls.  On two visits by myself I also clocked a single Sooty Shearwater, Balearic Shearwater and an immature Eider, all rather decent patch birds!  Grey Seals are still lazing about on Black Rock with a nice bull individual even checking out Pendennis Point.  I also saw my first patch Wheatear of the autumn and a total of 3 Clouded Yellows (including one helice form!) between the point and Swanpool.  From then onwards, I encountered more and more Clouded Yellows, including one individual flying through some farmland near Treverva and double figures around Stithians Res whilst on a brief foray out of Falmouth to see the local Wood Sandpiper which was showing intermittently by the southern cut-off.  A juv Peregrine also made an appearance on my visit there.  By mid-August, the butterflies had calmed down but I still saw another impressive lepidoptera, a Hummingbird Hawkmoth in Falmouth town whilst checking one of the traps with a second brief view of another probable individual at Pendennis Point around dusk.  Plenty of cycling between moth traps also led to the discovery of a road-kill Mole (a "life" tick, in the broadest sense possible) and rather unfortunately the pulverised remains of a Tawny Owl.  A live Hedgehog crossing the road near The Beacon was a pleasing sight, particularly as it wasn't in the same state as the others.  Equally pleasing to see was the occasional Badger whilst scouting around the outskirts of town.

Whilst seawatching on the 18th August, I picked up on a juv Marsh Harrier coming in from the SW, perhaps a wonderer from the Lizard area, a totally random record for an equally random patch bird!

Argal and College Res also got some attention and as well as hearing a Common Sandpiper at the later site (whilst setting up moth traps) I never saw it.  Better luck was had at Argal Res, where Dan and I saw 2 Common Sandpipers and I connected with a hunting Peregrine earlier in the season.  Linnet numbers have also increased dramatically to 300+ birds using the stubble fields.

Patch has also produced 2 Fulmars chicks on the cliffs at Swanpool, the occasional cetacean, mostly Bottlenose Dolphins and a surprise dead Common Dolphin washed up on Castle Beach on the 2nd August.  It had a plain white zip-wire around the fluke, my guess is it was by-catch and for ease of extracting from the net and towing, the zip-wire was attached.

Whimbrel have been seen or heard almost daily with singles flying past the point regularly and two birds at Penryn River.  Other goodies at Gorrangorras included up to 9 Ringed Plover, 4 Dunlin, half a dozen Turnstone50+ Redshank and the odd Curlew.  My most "inland" Fulmar also flew over whilst checking the waders, over 2km from its usual marine habitat.

Back home in Herts the patching continued with my first Hobby of the year appearing on the 28th August near the canal.  I saw what might have been the same individual again today along with 2 Yellow Wagtails and a steady build up in number of Swallows and House Martins whilst the canal produced two smart Kingfishers.

All in all, very little serious birding given the sever lack of time but it's amazing what one sees without even trying!

Off to California now!!!

Saturday, 12 July 2014


Been mothing quite a lot recently, take a quick peek at my other blog for some equally cool stuff!

Winged it! (12th July)

Another stupid pun for a title *sigh*

Together with Sh4rpy, Paul and Ephraim we headed for the Norfolk coast with the hope that the Stilt Sand would produce an appearance, get reported and we'd have a good chance of seeing it but with still no news by the time we reached 2/3 of the way we decided on Lakenheath instead as our destination.  This was soon abandoned and we headed for Carlton Marshes instead.  After driving a fair share longer than we had anticipated, we finally arrived at the marsh to start birding.  We connected with all 5 Wood Sandpipers that had been reported earlier (albeit rather distantly and through some heat haze) but Sh4rpy managed to pick one up at a closer range providing decent views as it fed at the waters edge.  It took a little more searching but I did eventually pick out the adult Little Gull and an adult Mediterranean Gull to boot.  My personal highlight was finding no few than 2 Norfolk Hawkers on site, one sitting nicely at the side of the path in a rather tattered state (a life tick!).

 Norfolk Hawker

Wood Sandpiper, an absolutely rubbish record shot (if I can even call it that)

Our second site tick for the day was Abberton Reservoir where we obtained decent views of the WHITE-WINGED BLACK TERN, an absolute stunner performing well in front of the visitor centre alongside a adult Black Tern!  Quite a few Yellow Wagtails were also kicking about the area and a Hare put in an appearance.  In all, a nice day out with no dipping thankfully.

 an absolute stunner!!  White-winged Black Tern (centre) with Common Tern on the left and the adult Black Tern to its right

 White-winged Black Tern

Abberton Reservoir

Thanks again to Sh4rpy for the driving!

Kings Langley Patching (1st-11th July)

I've been covering the patch on a regular basis recently but still managed to miss the best bird (an Osprey over the fisheries on the 11th).  None the less locally nesting Buzzards and plenty of Red Kites have kept the ball rolling.  I'm still attempting to track down where/if the Kestrels are breeding but I have strong suspicion they are as I've seen pairs together carrying food.  A walk down to the canal produced my first Holly Blue of the year along with 3 Pruple Hairstreaks chasing each other around at the highest point in the canopy of Mercey's Wood.  Marbled White and Small Tortoiseshell seem to be having their best ever year on patch and there are good numbers of both Comma and Large Skipper on the wing, although the blues have yet to emerge.  I year ticked Gatekeeper on the 7th and have since seen them in good numbers all over patch.

Birds of interest have included the first returning Pochard on the KL Fisheries lake, a single Common Tern on the 9th and two on the 11th.

The KL School playing field has certainly reaped rewards in terms of quantity with a single warm afternoon noting a total 193+ birds using just the one field!  The majority constituting Starlings but there were families of Mistle Thrushes, Pied Wagtails, Greenfinches and Green Woodpeckers making use of the short grass to access the inverts below.  Farmland species still surviving in the area include Linnets, Yellowhammers and Kestrels although I'm not sure how much longer any of them will remain given recent population trends.

I also found the hollowed-out remains of a Signal Crayfish at the side of the canal, unfortunately confirming their presence in the local waterways.

 Signal Crayfish

Ivinghoe Hills (2nd July)

A trip to the north of the county and over the border into Bucks with my brother turned out to be a decent trip as we connected with no fewer than 40+ Dark Green Fritillaries scouting out the Incombe Hole area.  There was almost continuous sunshine which meant the butterflies refused to land, providing little opportunity for photography.  None the less, we did see a large number of other butterflies including Marbled Whites, a rather elusive prob. Brown Argus and a Chimney Sweeper Moth.  One Fragrant Orchid spike was also still in flower.

We also heard our first Quail of the year calling from the corn field south of the footpath leading between Steps Hill and the car park at Pitstone Hill (the first time I have heard one in this field).  We did continue to their favoured spot, the field south of Pitstone Hill, where we counted a total of at least 6+ Quails all singing from the dense vegetation giving no opportunity to seeing them.  A single Hobby also flew over and Corn Buntings were scattered about the site with more Dark Green Fritillaries spilling over from the hills onto the neighbouring farmland.

 Fragrant Orchid

Corn Bunting

I decided to continue to Startop's End and Marsorth Res's whilst my brother headed for home.  There wasn't a great deal to see as the day was wearing on so all that was on offer were Great Crested Grebes, Common Terns and the 2 Oystercatchers on the jetty at Wilstone Reservoir.

Thursday, 3 July 2014

Short Excursion to Falmouth (28th-30th June)

Went down to Falmouth for three days to move my stuff into a new house, the megabus only brought me as far as Plymouth so had to change my mode of transport to train.  A couple hours at Tinside Lido for a scan around the large open harbour and sea (overlooking Drake's Island) revealed 2 Common Scoter, 3 Mediterranean Gulls, 2 Sandwich Terns, a couple Manx Shearwaters going westwards and 27+ Little Egrets littering Drake's Island.

The Falmouth just the one Mediterranean Gull on my first day (although I was so tired on arrival I nearly fell off the bench a couple times whilst trying to seawatch).

By the 29th I was a little more awake and after a full day of moving, Dan and I squeezed in a visit to Porthgwarra for the Red-footed Falcon.  Unfortunately we dipped miserably, despite investing a considerable amount of effort, but with such a wide open expanse of moorland to cover it proved an unsuccessful task.  After several hours we diverted our attention to the sea and were almost instantly rewarded with pods of both Bottlenose Dolphins and Common Dolphins.  Manx Shearwaters were moving past in their hundreds but auks seemed to be far less obvious.  2 Choughs also eased the pain of dipping, as did another butterfly tick, Silver-studded Blue!!

Silver-studded Blue

My final day on the Falmouth patch produced a total of 1 Kittiwake, 2 Sandwich Terns and 8 Mediterranean Gulls (5 ad., 2 2nd sum. and a 1st sum.).

Friday, 27 June 2014

Chobham Churring (26th June)

Had a great evening visit to Chobham Common with Sh4rpy, Paul and Ephraim for our annual Nightjars.  The discussion of pessimism vs optimism was a hot topic for debate in the car journey there as the fact it was raining certainly decreased our chances of seeing or even hearing our target species.  Optimism won and we arrived on site just as the rain eased up.  It was only a short time after arriving (c.8:15) that we saw our first Woodcock working its way around its territory squeaking as it went.  At least four or five more followed before the churring started.


Ephraim soon picked out our first Nightjar of the evening, perched in a silver birch, before we obtained better and better views of at least a further four birds as the night progressed, finishing on a grand finale with a male encircling us at close range!  The night ended on another high with 2 Glowworms shining from the side of the path on our walk back to the car.  Yet another enjoyable evening with thanks to Sh4rpy for the driving.

 female Nightjar

 ...and the male

Chobham Common