Saturday, 25 January 2014

For Foots Sake! (23-25th January)

I was expecting to spend all day on campus on the 23rd but pics on a local facebook page soon had me run for the next bus before speeding (trundling slowly) down to the coast and legging it to Swanpool.  Unfortunately another dip, my second failure at connecting with a patch Glauc!  I joined Dan and together with Matt continued along the coastal footpath to see if it had dispersed to one of the nearby headlands.  Yet more failure and we left with heavy hearts.  Back on campus, I checked BG shortly before walking into my next lecture only to come across news of a second patch mega!  This time a Black Guillemot, which had been seen only 10 mins after we had left, DAMN!!!

The day after was a little more relaxing, although it involved enduring some horrible weather.  I took a small group of other young uni birders to Devoran, a nearby coastal creek with a small saltmarsh for an Eco Soc trip.  The usual species included Redshank (including a significantly paler poss. leucistic individual), Greenshank, 1 Black-tailed Godwit and the highlight, my first Sandwich Tern of the year mingling with a couple Commn Gulls.

pale (possibly leucistic) Redshank

Saturday began with a grueling start as I only managed a brief sleep due to a crazy flat party running into the early hours of the morning.  The reason for the early start was thanks to the Uni's Big Garden Birdwatch, a great citizen science led opportunity for some amateurs to get involved with some first hand experience of recording.  I still managed the 2 mile walk to campus, giving my Foot it list a much needed boost.  Sure enough, I was rewarded with Collared Dove and Song Thrush (both new additions).   Starting the BGB at 9am was definitely worth the extra effort in the end as we managed to add a decent number and diversity of species to the tally including Green Woodpecker, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Redwing, 2 Siskin and a Starling (+ lots more).  I broke up the walk back home with a quick nip past the stream to check out the 2 Dippers before bypassing the Penryn River for the Foot it list.  3 Greenshanks were the only new addition but 65 Curlew, 15 Redshank, 8 Turnstone, 5 Little Egrets and 20 Mute Swans (2 juvs) were all in the area.


Seawatching from the Hooked Cafe at Swanpool was what I was really looking forward to and despite strong offshore winds amounting to poor seawatching conditions, Dan and I still managed to jam in on a flypast SHELDUCK!  A patch tick!!  Brilliant!!!

Other species of note included Slavonian Grebe in the bay, 2 Mediterranean Gulls and 2 Razorbill (one lingering close inshore already progressing into summer plumage).

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Falmouth and a Lizard visit (16th-22nd January)

Been busy with Uni work but still managed to do a decent amount of birding (mostly patching).

A couple hours down at College and Argal Res's on the 17th produced the usual expected species, but at least something to add to the patchwork challenge list.

College Res:

1 hybrid 1st winter drake Scaup x Pochard (still open for debate after being present for a good month or so)
2 Mute Swans
3 Canada Geese

1 hybrid Canada x Greylag
3 Great Crested Grebes
1 Little Grebe
93 Wigeon
2 female Goldeneye
10 Teal
18 Tufted Ducks
33 Coot
40 Curlew
7 Cormorants
3 Grey Heron
28 Black-headed Gulls
2 Great Black-backed Gulls
31 Herring Gulls

Argal Res:

2 Mute Swan
2 Tufted Duck
3 Mallard
1 Cormorant
6 Black-headed Gulls

Some crappy pics of the presumed hybrid show that the black extends beyond the nail, the continuous slope from the forehead to the bill and the peak in the central part of the crown all lead me to believe that this is a Scaup x Pochard hybrid. The dark culmen is also a supportive feature as neither Tufted Duck nor pure Scaup have this.

possible hybrid 1st winter Scaup x Pochard

A visit to the Lizard with Dan on the 18th, in order to conduct a WeBS count was also due.  We incorporated the usual areas of freshwater and a lagoon, including Helston Boating Lake, Loe Pool, Hayle Kimbro and Croft Pascoe. Not much at any of them to be honest. The long-staying Whooper Swan still residing at Helston. I only gave it a quick look as I was predominantly concerned with the half dozen Chiffchaffs around the sewage works mingling with a rather pale individual (wasn't possible to confirm as the hoped for Sibe due to poor views).

Moving on, we cut out most of the usual walk around Loe Pool as the water level had risen so substantially that the majority of the footpath had been flooded. This made access rather difficult and there was little point in checking the corners of the pool as most of the wildfowl had moved off and the muddy margins were entirely submerged. 3 Goosander were the only highlight. Next up was A detour down to Lizard with a brief stop at Hayle Kimbro. Rarities included a local birder and 2 Snipe.

It was my idea to fit in some sea-watching at the point and it took some encouragement to finally convince Dan to take up the offer. As it happened, there wasn't much to be had except for a continuous stream of Guillemots and Razorbills.  None the less, it was an extremely educational sea-watch providing one of the few opportunities possible to study the JIZZ of the commoner auks at a relatively close range without getting distracted by other stuff.  It took some time for the first (and only) bird of note to fly past, a diver sp. which I was almost convinced fitted the role of Red-throated but after some contemplation and a bit of self criticism of the features I'd been able to pick out I decided to bin it.

Croft Pascoe was entirely void of birds, save a single Stonechat so it was straight to Stithians for our final stop of the day.  As usual, not much here either but the long-staying Slavonian Grebe did put on a good show as it came within reasonable distance of the hide.

Thanks once again Dan for the driving!  As usual, on returning home and checking RBA the next day both Richard's Pipit and Little Auks had been seen the same morning we had visited, DAMN!  I have the feeling the majority of the birds we've dipped during our brief excursions to the peninsula have been seen in the morning and with a touch of mild suppression, it takes a while for the records to circulate.  I definitely think it's time we visited the place first on our next WeBS count round.

The following day involved yet another early start and although I was very keen to get out on patch, it took some effort rolling out of bed.  I eventually manged to leave the house by 8am and went straight for Swanpool and Pennance Point. The seawatch was relatively quiet with a couple flypast Kittiwakes, auks and 3 Great Northern Divers.  3 other diver sp. far out in the bay were probably Black-throated but it was tricky telling for certain.

Moving on, a Peregrine flew over at Maenporth and a good exploration of the local farmland yielded 25+ Skylarks, Rooks (a long awaited foot it tick for the both of us), a Red Fox was an additional bonus along with our first Red Admiral of the year!  Still no Linnet for the both of us though!

Dan left for home once we reached Swanpool before I continued alone back towards the coast for a second visit. I headed straight for the cafe at Swanpool as I couldn't be bothered to walk all the way down to Pennance again.  Fortunately, it was worth the effort as there was still plenty to see from the cafe, including 2 Common Gulls (an adult and 1st winter), 2 ad. Mediterranean Gulls and 2 Black-throated Divers.  Most surprising of all was a flock of 18 Great Northern Divers in a close-knit feeding group only c.200m off Penannce Point (a rather unusual sighting given that GNDs prefer to spread themselves out whilst BTDs have a greater tendency to feed in groups!)  They put on a good show and remained at the surface for some time between dives, allowing a through check to make sure it consisted 100% of GNDs.  This may be one of the largest single flcoks of GNDs to be recorded in the Falmouth area to my knowledge!  Another single Great Northern Diver was also drifting closer inshore towards Swanpool Point.

15 of the feeding flock of 18 Great Northern Divers

It took some time to finally connect with my first coastal grebe of the day, a nice Red-necked Grebe, only a couple hundred meters offshore.  Of added bonus was my first BONXIE from patch which flew westwards through the bay.  It was rather distant and almost unIDable but JIZZ, shape and its large size, along with a brief harassing of a gull, put any doubt out of mind.

Also a bit of a weirdo in the form of a Herring Gull with yellow/horn coloured legs (diet?).

Herring Gull with yellow/horn coloured legs (more obvious than photo suggests)

The 20th was fairly productive, particularly with regards to the Foot it list which I've been working on since returning to Uni earlier this year.  Despite starting eight days into the January, I've clocked up 69 species for the list (within a 2 mile radius of my house).  A brief visit to Swanpool, Swanpool Point and neighbouring Gylly and Castle Beach rewarded Matt and I with 3 adult Mediterranean Gulls, 6 Ringed Plover, 6 Turnstone, 2 Little Egrets, a couple Guillemots and Razorbills.  The vast majority of feeding Shag flocks and all the diver had moved off along with the remaining grebes.  We ended up scouring the beaches for washed up corpses and came across 3 dead Shags (2 headless), 1 Guillemot and 1 unIDable headless Guillemot/Razorbill.

Castle rewarded us with the usual Black Redstart and 2 Whimbrel. 3 Stonechat (2 males and a female) were also an additional bonus for the foot it list and a surprise Grey Wagtail flew over.

Spotted Ray egg case found at Gylly Beach

Today (22nd) scored highly on the patch highlights with the usual local patch Dipper showing nicely along with a flyover MERLIN!!! Matt and I had just entered the limits of the campus before we noticed the dark brown falcon fly past, staying in view for a good half minute.  A brilliant campus tick for the University Birdwatch Challenge and it certainly made my day!

I'll leave you with a quick sketch I did a couple days ago on diver JIZZ, enjoy! :)

sketches on diver JIZZ

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Back in Fal (8th-15th January)

I'm back in Falmouth again birding the coastal strip between Castle Beach and Swanpool again.

My first afternoon back gave me an hour or twos daylight which enabled me to kick start my 2014 Falmouth patch list with a brief sea-watch from Swanpool Point. Highlights included an adult Mediterranean Gull on Swanpool, 1 Red Necked Grebe (and possibly a second bird) of the point, 2 Slavonian Grebes (one giving decent flight views), plenty of Kittiwakes flying west (including one with an oiled belly) and 1 Great Northern Diver. However, I still couldn't locate any Black-throated Divers (although 2 divers did fly through the bay which looked good for BTD)!

I'm taking part in the foot it challenge, patchwork challenge and University Birdwatch Challenge so there's plenty on my plate at the moment. I did restrain myself from too much birding as I did have a deadline to get on with soon after I arrived back in Falmouth so I haven't been able to get out as much as I'd like. With that finally behind me today, I was able to get on with a proper afternoons birding. Highlights include my first Black-throated Diver for the patch (a bird I've only managed to catch up with now after the big influx of local patch birds this winter). 2 Great Northern Divers, a supporting cast of Red Necked Grebe, 2 Slavonian Grebes and a couple Guillemots amongst a feeding flock of Shags boosted the days total up a notch. Cormorant, Fulmar and Razorbill were also seen in flight around the bay.

Shoreline species included 1 Whimbrel, the reliable Black Redstart on Castle Beach and a rather misplaced Redshank on the rocky shore (the first time I have seen one this side of Pendennis Point). A couple Rock Pipits and a Meadow Pipit on the way were also added to the foot it list.

I met Greg at Swanpool Point and together worked our way along the coast towards Castle Beach before backtracking to Swanpool in search of dead sea-birds washed up in the strand line. We found a total of 4 Shags, 1 Guillemot, 1 Razorbill (probably an adult with 3 grooves beyond the white vertical stripe on the bill) and a headless Great Northern Diver.

Great Spotted Dogfish egg case

dead Razorbill

probably an adult as it has three grooves beyond the white vertical stripe)

The most bizarre and surprising sighting that day was just as I was approaching home, as I was walking past the rugby grounds, a Kingfisher shot across the road giving me just enough time to recognise its shape, jizz and the iridescent blue mantle before it disappeared down an alley behind some houses!!

Sunday, 5 January 2014

Simply Staines (5th January)

A full mornings birding down at Staines Reservoir before moving on to the Moor later in the afternoon.

Nothing particularly amazing but it was nice to revisit the res's as the open water and extensive views across both basins gives me something to scan through.  On arrival, there wasn't much to point out but as I worked my way along the causeway I encountered a confiding Black-necked Grebe hugging to the bank of the causeway providing an excellent opportunity to study it close up.  The second Black-necked Grebe was behaving rather differently and was pelting about at high speed between all the comparatively relaxed Pochard on the opposite side of the south basin.

A drake Scaup was also pointed out to me and although it was initially spending the majority of it's time diving for food it did eventually come to surface and began preening.  An adult Mediterranean Gull was also on the north basin.

It was around midday before I made my way over to Staines Moor and although the walk was long and the path was extremely muddy, I eventually made it (although I had sacrificed my dry feet).  I followed the River Colne south and almost as I reached the southern end, I encountered my target species.  3 Water Pipits, all feeding together in the same scope!  I was alerted by the first as it flew in calling before coming to land in the boggy area on the opposite side of the river.  Although most of the Meadow Pipits and Pied Wagtails regularly encouraged them to fly, I was treated to some decent and prolonged views, a good way to end the day!

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

The Med arrives on patch!!! (1st January 2014)

Birding on New Years day only began after I rolled out of bed after midday.  I'd already broken my promise of waking up at the crack of dawn to be on patch so I had no excuse to ditch my patch this early on.

patching in the rain

I headed straight for the fields behind the RSSKL and the Yellowhammer flock at Berrybushes Wood staggering into a side-on wind and horizontally falling rain, conditions were far from luxurious.  None the less, I'd already clocked up a few species by the time I reached the A41 bridge and in the field ahead, I was already clenching my fists in glee when a flock of Black-headed Gulls whirled and landed in the field just opposite.  They were continuously on the move and before even reaching the field, they'd moved out of sight to the far end near Middle Farm.  I decided it was worth a detour to check them more closely, however on finally reaching the farm, the flock had dispersed and moved to the other end.  Time to give up...

En route to the Yellowhammer site, 2 Grey Wagtails flew over together (the first time I've seen them on farmland here!)  A couple of sheep fields later and I was greeted with the sight of c.50 Yellowhammer fly in, a great sight to behold on such poor quality farmland!

After watching them for a considerable amount of time, I decided to head back towards Chipperfield Road, bypassing Langley Lodge.  I was lucky enough to chance directly upon the gull flock again which had kindly decided to place itself directly in the middle of the path in the cow fields.  They were milling around a little but it was easy enough to scan through them which led to the discovery of a rather more well built white winged BhGull sized bird with slithers of black to the outer primaries.  I was only on it in flight for the best part of 3-4 seconds but by then I was already on the phone to my brother shouting the news down the line of another patch mega, MEDITERRANEAN GULL!!!  It was quite clearly a classic second winter bird with the usual amount of black still remaining in the primary tips and even when stood feeding, the wing tips appeared mostly white.  The head and bill colour was also typical of this age group with a smudged dark mask and a reddish bill (not yet the bright red of an adult).  It was a surprisingly slender bird (which gave it an attenuated look) and a bit of a runt compared to the chubbier birds I'm used to in Falmouth as it wasn't much different in profile compared to the neighbouring BhGulls.  None the less, I was punching the air with happiness as it'd been a long awaited bird for me which finally disproved my doubts that it wasn't just the same individual BhGulls and Common Gulls that bothered to visit my patch.

less than ideal viewing conditions

2nd winter Mediterranean Gull! The first I've seen on the KL patch

Ephraim was on the scene shortly and seeing him approach from the opposite side of the field, I gave him a wave to let him know where I was stood.  This was the stupidest thing I could possibly have done as the whole gull flock took flight, circled upwards and dispersed, DAMN!!  Unfortunately, despite investing considerable effort to try and relocate it we failed.