Thursday, 28 February 2013

Mudflats (28th February)

The usual Thursday afternoon conservation module field trip, this time to Tresillian just north east of Truro.  A rather casual afternoon walk around a relatively inland mudflat.  All the same, there was still a nice selection of waders to browse through including Greenshanks, Redshanks and Black-tailed Godwits.  On route to Tresemple Pool, we also heard our first drumming Great Spotted Woodpecker of the year and better still my long overdue county tick, a Kingfisher!  Mediterranean Gulls were also prevalent with a couple of individuals among the Black-heads, my favourite being a 1st winter bird.  Given that Common Gulls are relatively scare in Cornwall it was a bit of a surprise to see at least half a dozen throughout the day.

Eco Soc Bird Trip (27th February)

My first Eco Soc Bird Trip in a long time but well worth the wait for a nice afternoon trip to Hayle.  Behaving rather like "dudes", we had a stroll around Carnsew Basin and did a bit of scanning through the selection of waders and gulls from the car par of the Old Quay House (a pub at the south end ofthe tidal mudflat).  We got a couple of Meditteranean Gulls, Bar-tailed Godwits, hundreds of Wigeon and a female Goosander resting on the bank.  From the footpath around Carnsew Basin I only had a few minutes to scan the gull flock  but thanks to Greg, we soon had a yellow legged gull sp. (possibly the omissus variety of argentatus) although the fact that it was almost entirely hidden behind a Lesser Black-backed left us with an inconclusive ID.  Also of note were large numbers of Dunlin, Turnstones a Stonechat and a nice showy group of Shags at the beach (our final stop for the afternoon).

Sunday, 24 February 2013

Mega Grebe!!! (23rd February)

Off to Somerset by train followed by a couple of hours on the bike and finally arriving at Ham Wall Marshes RSPB around midday.  The train trip wasn't too bad and despite having traveled this stretch of the coastline multiple times before, this was my first time during the daytime so it was great to be able to appreciate the impressive red sandstone cliffs (laid down in the Devonian Era) and masses of gulls.  More easily IDable from the train as it sped past the Teign River Estuary where a couple dozen Brent Geese as well as a large selection of waders.  Arriving at Bridgwater and taking the final leg of the journey to the marsh wasn't too bad either with my largest flock of Fieldfare yet this winter, found in the fields as I approached the reserve, numbering somewhere into the hundreds.  Finally, after almost half a days traveling, I arrived at the towpath where I was kindly stopped by one of the twitchers to take a brief glimpse through his scope at the GREAT WHITE EGRET before continuing the extra few hundred meters to the 2nd viewing platform where I finally connected with the PIED-BILLED GREBE!

Pied-billed Grebe, complete with stunning pied bill as it progresses into its summer plumage

Rather pleased that it had shown so easily I packed my stuff out, set up the scope and in the few minutes I was preparing myself it had decided to go swim behind some reeds before going to rest (only its nape and back visible).  It took some time for it to show its stunning pied bill again but the views improved progressively throughout the day and finally to top it all off, it came right up close performing excellently for the massive crowds of assembled twitchers (a slightly overexertion as at times it was only me stood there!).  There was still time to just about squeeze in a visit to the Steart stint but I felt the grebe deserved a little more attention so I ended up spending the better part of the day on the platform.  A little bit of variety when a nice male Bearded Tit came pinging through the reeds, providing rather good views followed by a second appearance of the Great White Egret as it made a wide circuit of the lake before coming into land.

Great White Egret

Rather unexpectedly, a hirundine species also flew through but instead of getting my bins on it for any ID I was too engrossed in watching the grebe, instead hoping it'd return later but sadly that wasn't the case.  I also trudged up and down the path a couple of times and had a nice brief view of a Barn Owl gliding across the reeds, followed with good views of a Kingfisher and 3 Lesser Redpolls feeding on the muddy margins of the channel alongside the footpath.

Lesser Redpolls

Other birds of note included 2 Marsh Harriers quartering the reedbed, a wisp of Snipe several Buzzards and on my return , small swathes of Starlings heading in the direction for the roost at the reserve.

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Finally, a rare bird! (16th February)

Having only been on my last twitch back in January (dipping), I treated myself to a trip up to North Cornwall.  This was also a chance to set the record straight for dipping the same bird in mid-December last year.  On the bike ride between Liskeard station and Colliford, a sharp-winged small falcon species shot across the road up ahead, Merlin came directly to mind but without bins it was impossible to be certain.  Rather surprise, it made a U turn and without much warning shot low across the road once again, only a couple meters from were I was stood.  Even more confident with my ID as a Merlin, I still passed it off as a probable, maybe I was being a bit harsh on myself with not accepting it.  Anyway, on to Colliford and this time, after about an hour or so searching I finally got the drake LESSER SCAUP I was hoping for and a nice lifer to boot!  It was associated with a three Tufted Ducks, so to be honest, it should have been easier to find than I first suggested.  2 female Goldeneye were also in the northern end of the Loveny arm as well as a couple of Teal.  It was rather quiet with only the Lesser for entertainment but 2 Crossbills and 10 Golden Plover did fly over during the wait so they were a nice addition.

 drake Lesser Scaup!

From there on-wards  I cycled to Sibylback Lake following the River Fowey, encountering several thermalling Buzzards on route.

My second visit to Siblyback, the last visit being the dip for the same Lesser Scaup last year (rather annoyingly missing it by only a few hours, following its initial stay at the lake for over a week!).  I did have partial compensation at the time with the RN Duck but I had only payed it a few seconds attention as I was still searching for that damn Scaup.  Anyway, the purpose for this visit was to set the second record straight again and give the remaining female RING-NECKED DUCK the attention it deserved.  This only took a couple of seconds to pick out so with most of the afternoon still to go I decided it would probably be best just to check out the local moorland.

female Ring-necked Duck

Obviously, I couldn't expect to see much, and indeed I didn't, but it was nice to find 2 male Yellowhammers (one of which was singing) at St Cleer Downs, along with an accompanying cast of Goldcrest, Redwings and flyover Ravens.

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Hardly a Bird Blog! (14th February)

Went down to Swanpool today with the Bio-science students.  A short wander around Swanpool recording mostly plant species for the day list (which I will bore you with later).

First up though was a brief sneak peak at Swanpool where I had been give the tip of by Dan that a dead diver species had washed up.  Unfortunately, and rather embarrassingly I must admit I dipped on the dead bird!  In fact it was a rather birdless day with Little Egret perhaps being the only bird highlight of the day!  None the less it was a brilliant day with a massive success at rock pooling which we moved on to next.  At Swanpool Point, we managed to catch and ID an impressive array and variety of rocky shore species including, Spotted Cowrie, Common Brittlestar, Shore Rockling, a Cornish Sucker ( a relatvely localised and scarce species in the UK apparantly), a pregnant male Pipefish (rather interestingly, sexes reverse pregnancy responsibilities), Small Cushion Star, Hermit Crab, Velvet Swimming Crab, Broad-clawed Porcelain CrabShanny, Yellow Plumed Sea Slug, Beadlet Anemone, Daisy Anemone, and perhaps the best highlight a stunningly well camouflaged and attractive fish, a Long-spined Sea Scorpion!  And finally another Common Starfish unfortunately flying through the sky with the aid of a Herring Gull.

 Long-spined Sea Scorpion

 Velvet Swimming Crab


 Spotted Cowrie

 Montagu's Crab

 pregnant male Pipefish

 Shore Rockling


 Common Brittlestars

 Broad-clawed Porcelain Crab

 Cornish Sucker

 Yellow-plumed Sea Slug

 Small Cushion Star

 Daisy Anemone

Hermit Crab

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Gylly to Swanpool (12th February)

I had an hour before the beach profile practical started for my geography module so I spent the time wandering between Gylly and Swanpool with the hope of finding and photographing littoralis Rock Pipits and Med Gulls at Swanpool.  Rather surprised, I came across this rather obvious littoralis (Scandinavian) Rock Pipit as soon as I set foot on the beach and was rather glad to get decent views of it.  Although the light was still rather dim as it was still dawn, I managed to rattle off a couple of pics when suddenly I realised I had also disturbed a stunning male Black Redstart.  Another Rock Pipit was also among them but it was a little less photogenic but seemed to be a regular petrosus.

 littoralis Rock Pipit

male Black Redstart

The walk between Gylly and Swanpool produced 2 Ringed Plovers roosting on the rocks below the cliff ledge at high tide, 1 Oystercatcher and a little more unusual was a Turnstone (glad to have that on my local patch Falmouth list for the competition) whilst I was glad to see the cliffs between Swanpool and Pennance Point still hosted c.10 Fulmar.

Ringed Plover

Swanpool had its single reward too with this fine adult winter Mediterranean Gull which I attempted at photographing as it swooped past.  Still not quite the result I was hoping for so will have to try a little harder next time.

 Mediterranean Gull

Saturday, 9 February 2013

Argal and College (9th February)

My first proper visit to Argal Reservoir!  Hardly anything exciting unfortunately and despite going through some effort walking around the whole perimeter of the reservoir (not forgetting the masses of mud) I was only rewarded with 2 Goldcrests.  Hardly worth the effort to be honest!

Next College Reservoir, and still rather tired from the effort, I hung around on the west bank hoping for a Bittern.  Thankfully I wasn't disappointed as a single Bittern did come flying over the small island but disappeared in a mater of seconds.  Also on the reservoir, 4 Goldeneye (including 1 drake).

Friday, 8 February 2013

Tremough List (8th February)

Yet another walk around campus counting plant and animal species.  This is a weekly trip my fellow students and I have to do for an end of term phenological report (tracking the progress of Spring by observing the changes and arrivals of flowering plants, migrant birds and other signs of breeding behaviour etc.)  The usual species about including a Buzzard being mobbed by crows, a few Siskin (only heard unfortunately) and best of all, a male Firecrest in the eastern corner of the campus (only a few meters from where I had seen a male only last week!  Maybe even the same bird?!

Thursday, 7 February 2013

The Lizard (7th Febraury)

 The Lizard

An afternoon down on the Lizard for my Conservation module with some of my lecturers and fellow students.  We spent most of the day kicking about in streams that run down to the sea, hoping to catch some good aquatic insects (this brought us all back to the thought of the good old days as we used to do this as kids).  Very excitedly I found all three of my personal highlights for the day, the first being a leech species!  It had it's fair share of scrutiny under the hand lens before we returned it to the water.  Next up was a Lesser Water Boatman, another new species for me and finally another self found (and definitely the days highlight for us all) a newt larvae (most probably a Palmate)!  Not too bad in bird terms either with 4 Choughs flying past the car park seconds after getting out of the minibus!  The ever present Ravens were also good company and a Snipe flew ahead of us on our way across the heathland.  Sadly, 1 dead Badger at the side of the road between Helston and Falmouth.

leech species

newt larvae

something for later ID

College Res (6th February)

My first visit to College Reservoir in a long time and the first since the New Year albeit only a brief one at dusk to try and check out the roosting gulls.  The glare of the water made it impossible to view length-ways down the reservoir so I have no idea if the Bittern was still there.  Instead, I made my way round to the western side.  2 female Goldeneye were among the Wigeon, Tufted Ducks and Teal.  Also 4 Little Grebes and 7 Snipe.  It took some time for the gulls to arrive and even then numbers were rather feeble.  They seemed only to be using the reservoir to have a short bathe before moving off quickly.  Only Herring Gulls to report unfortunately, the only other two species including 1 Great Black-backed Gull and a few Black-headed Gulls.  I waited till dusk for the Jackdaws to arrive but they seemed equally skittish and refused to fly in to the island, instead staying in the northern corner (although I expect they flew to roost in the usual place perhaps after I left).  Next time I'll try Argal for the gull roost.

Saturday, 2 February 2013

Patching (2nd February)

A day with Dan and Greg around the patch and little beyond.  We stopped of for a couple dozen minutes at most spots before quickly moving on to incorporated as many sites as possible before midday   First up Gylly Beach were Greg soon put me on to a our first Slavonian Grebe of the day.  Next, on to Castle Beach were Gannets were diving offshore but nothing much more of note to be honest.  Round to Pendennis for our next sea-watch which produced the first Great Northern Diver of the day, 2 Purple Sandpipers on the rocky point, 1 Great Crested Grebe on the sea and a flypast Common Gull (which came as a big surprise given their tendency to be much scarcer in Cornwall than in the rest of the UK).  In fact, this was my first one for the Falmouth local patch.

Penryn River was next on the agenda and together we picked out 4 Little Egrets, Greenshank, Redshank and roosting Curlew at high tide.

A couple minutes drive and we pulled up in Mylor Churchtown in the hope of connecting with the day before yesterdays report of a possible Little Auk in the Carrick Roads.  Admittedly, this was a very long shot and unsurprisingly we dipped but at least 9+Black-necked Grebes and another Slavonian Grebe did provide partial compensation (the former being a nice year tick!).  Soon after arriving I picked out the grey nape of a probable Black-throated Diver not too far offshore but before it decided to turn its head it dived without reappearing unfortunately.  9 Common Scoter in total in the roads as well as 9+ Red-breasted Mergansers and another 2 Great Northern Divers.  The Common Gull flew past again and several Razorbills were dotted around on the place.

Next stop, Loe Beach (a site first for me!) were I reconnected with the 2 Great Northern Divers but dipped on Gregs Black-throated as the sun soon came out from behind a cloud creating a strong glare on the water making it impossible to refind the bird.

Carnon Down Sewage Farm was also a new site (our next stop) and as I went up the road leading away from the sewage works, I could only count a grand total of 1 Chiffchaff, hardly anything to be impressed with.  Dan on the other hand (with the correct footwear)  had been able to walk around the sewage works properly and had clocked up no fewer than 40 times my total!  I quickly had a peak around the sewage farm myself and soon nominate Chiiffchaffs were swarming though every hedge.  There were lesser numbers of Goldcrest and other tits but still enough to drag in a female Firecrest and most exciting of all, a SIBERIAN CHIFFCHAFF!  The plumage was all one might expect on this subspecies with a significantly paler mantle, back and head made up of pale grey tones (with no trace of any olive colouration).  The chest was even more extreme with only a faint buffy/beige colour.  The wings and tail, on the other hand, contrasted well with a more olive-coloured tinge and the tertails and retrices appeared to have darker centres compared to the accompanying nominates.  Both species and subspecies perched conveniently close together for ideal comparison.  The only fundamental problem being that it remained quiet throughout the time I watched it.  This alone raised the question as to whether I can tick it or not, is topography enough to claim it etc. etc. etc.

We discussed the above for some time in the car journey to our next site, Devoran but didn't come up with a definite yes no answer, after all it's probably best to leave each to their own!  As Chiffchaff races escaped our minds, waders became our next focus.  Our visit was timed well to coincide with the high tide and as a result we managed to get at least a dozen Bar-tailed Godwits with fewer numbers of Black-tailed Godwit and Redshank.  Dunlin were clearly the most numerous and totaled into the hundreds.  Another big Common Gull surprise, this time we counted a total of 13 bird! Definitely a new local record that I'm going to have trouble beating in the future!

In an attempt to get back to Dan's by midday, we only made a brief stop of at the stream next to Tremough Campus but he immediately picked out both Dippers still on the stream and together we enjoyed good views for a while before finally heading back for the day.

Well, nearly finally, whilst Greg and Dan went for home, I squeezed in my last effort to cover Swanvale, Swanpool and Pennance Point.  The day was now at it's best (in terms of the weather) but the bird scene was beginning to calm down.  Swanvale hosted a single Water Rail (only the back end visible unfortunately, hardly a year tick!).  Swanpool Bay on the other hand had a further 2 Slavonian Grebes but my main aim was for Pennance Point, were I enjoyed a rather relaxing and sunny ending to the day.

Feeling rather smug with myself basking in the sun at the top of the cliff with no disturbance and not a worry in the world, I only managed to count 2 very distant diver species and instead stared aimlessly down at the shore watching the mood break as a Herring Gull gruesomely ripped the legs of a helpless Starfish!

Many many thanks as always to Dan for the lift without whom my Falmouth patch list would only be half the size.

Falmouth! definitely the nicest I've ever seen it and in my opinion one of the most beautiful local patches In the UK!

Friday, 1 February 2013

Tremough Wildlife Walk (1st February)

Another day on campus and another walk around it recording as many species of plant and animal as possible for my conservation module.  The bird highlights came at the very end of the walk when I found a stunning male Firecrest at the end of the path in the very eastern corner of the campus.  Next a short detour to the 1 Dipper that remains on the same section of stream near the Jehovah's Witness place but unfortunately no sign of the second.