Monday, 24 February 2014

More Patch Megas! (21-23rd February)

Birding on the 21st by myself at the Hooked Cafe were I found myself yet again scanning the bay for divers and grebes.  During the course of my time I was scanning, numbers of divers seemed to be climbing steadily, although not to the same extent to which they had been present in the last couple days.  It wasn't high on my agenda to attempt to count them although I did see a minimum of 14 Black-throated Divers and 4 Great Northern Divers.  It was only when a thin white line rose vertically out of the water that I realised it also sporting an upturned bill and sleek look, it was my first ever patch RED-THROATED DIVER!!  This was a mega bird for the area so I decided to attempt a couple digi-scope pics before putting the news out to Dan. Despite loosing the bird just as he came up the steps, we did relocate it again in the direction of St Anthony's Head where it seemed to vanish every now and then (presumably diving despite remaining faithful to the surface for the 20 mins when I first found it).

Red-throated Diver in Falmouth Bay

We decided to squeeze in a quick visit to Swanpool afterwards to check the gulls which is when Dan called a white-winger! Sure enough, there was a stunning adult GLAUCOUS GULL sat calmly amongst the other Herring Gulls.  We enjoyed the bird for a good couple minutes but just as I was texting the news out to other locals, it took flight, did a round of the lagoon and just as I managed to pull the camera out of my bag, it flew over and left behind Pennance Point, presumably to roost offshore with the rest of the gulls.

adult Glaucous Gull over Swanpool

if only I was better at manual focus...

By now I was getting pretty cold and despite committing to a walk up to Swanpool Point to scan the gulls again I didn't warm up any more and ended up shivering all the way.  As a result, I didn't have much concentration (spoke gibberish for a good half hour) and only saw a single Mediterranean Gull and a Peregrine shoot through the gull roost.

A relatively early start seawatching from the Hooked Cafe on the 23rd was reasonably productive.  I soon realised the wind was blowing with a decent force and direction so I ended up heading down to Pennance Point instead for the sea-watch.  Lots of Fulmar, Kittiwakes flying about.  Several Black-throated Divers and Great Northern Divers which were regularly flying between Falmouth and Maenporth Bay (didn't count them though as I was more focused on the distant stuff).  A trickle of Gannets and Guillemots were also moving but there wasn't as much happening as I had hoped so gave up which. That's when the adult GLAUCOUS GULL flew directly past me at the headland!  It's probably the same individual that's been hanging around the Falmouth area for a while now.

adult Glaucous Gull west past Pennance Point (probs the same individual as the one I saw on the 18th and 21st Feb)

Back at Swanpool, 1 adult Kittiwake popped in (landing on the pool briefly before leaving 5 mins later) and 1 3rd winter Mediterranean Gull was also coming to bread.

adult Kittiwake on Swanpool

3rd winter Mediterranean Gull

regarding the Med Gull, I'm a little concerned regarding it's aging.  The Helm gull guide mentions that 3rd winters can have traces of black markings to the outer webs of P8-10.  However, this individual has markings on P7 and 8!  With all the variability expressed by gulls I guess it's acceptable for some to show markings on P7 despite no mention of it the gulls bible.  Any thoughts/opinions?

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Birding gets weird (11-19th February)

I've been out of the Fal area three times in the past nine days, must be a record!  First up was an Eco Soc trip to Marazion in the hope of watching the Starling roost at dusk but as I had feared they didn't appear and we had to return just a tad disappointed.  None the less the supporting cast of birds was thrilling and despite a band of rain passing through from the south west, we managed to make the most of the intermittent sunshine.  I was rather preoccupied with leading the group so couldn't spend to much time looking but we still connected with the stunning adult KUMLIEN'S GULL as it came hunting up the strand line and riding the breaking waves.  It showed brilliantly for the time we were there along with 2 GLAUCOUS GULLS (an adult and juv.).  All were truly awesome!

adult Kumlien's Gull

juv Glaucous Gull

adult Glaucous Gull

The gulls kept us entertained for the majority of the time and as we came ambling back along the road we added Snipe to the day list.  We stayed in the car park a little while longer hoping in vain for the murmurations to arrive, 2 Bitterns did fly across the reeds so the day did end on a relative high.

St Michael's Mount

Marazion Marsh

That Saturday (15th), Dan and I headed out to the Lizard again for the monthly WeBS count and with a couple additional target species in mind we made a detour back towards Mounts Bay.  With a string of previous accounts of gripping birds flying past Lizard before we had arrived on past WeBS counts, we decided to head straight for the point for an hours sea-watch and sample the birds on offer.  Razorbills got the immediate attention as there were several dozen going past per minute.  There were far fewer numbers of Guillemot among them but other seabirds such as Fulmar, Kittiwake and the usual gulls were decent enough support.  Dan called a close fly by Bonxie, a welcome winter record for the both of us and I returned the favour with a single flypast Black-throated Diver.

The WeBS count wasn't going to do itself so we decided to cap it around mid-morning to check out Hayle Kimbro and Croft Pascoe.  Nothing much at either, just a couple Stonechats.  Helston Boating Lake was the next stop.  I usually see the long-staying Whooper from car as we drive past but this time I failed so unfortunately the swan had to be dipped as I focused my attention on the sewage works instead.  The Sun was really braving it and so were the Chiffchaffs but little else other than a Redwing of note (probably my last for this winter).

Loe Pool next, as usual, but this time the water level had risen substantially higher than normal so that it was only just passable in wellies (I still failed to keep one of my feet dry though).  From the inland side of the bank, we scanned the 500 odd gulls with the prospect of white-wingers strongly on our minds.  Dan got lucky first and pointed out 2 GLAUCOUS GULLS, both stunning adults which had frustratingly arrived only minutes after I had checked the exact same spot!  More scanning ensued before I picked out yet another white-winger, this time an equally impressive juv ICELAND GULL, brilliant!!

2 adult Glaucous Gulls

juv Iceland Gull

Full up on white-wingers we decided to head for the car and Marazion but we had only just got through the worst of the floods when I came across perhaps the most bizarre thing we saw that day.  It was something black and white which I caught out of the corner of my eye.  I pointed it out immediately without even putting a name to it.  A grin came across Dan's face as the casual response of "No waaaaaaay" confirmed to our shocked eyes that we were truly looking at a Guillemot sat on the bank of a stream in a small wooded valley!!!  It was totally, totally random!!

Guillemot trying its best to be a Dipper

somewhere in there



We decided to leave the bird after considering to catch it and bring it to a vet but it was still healthy enough to escape our efforts so we trusted that it would (with a degree of shear luck) make it back out to sea again by swimming downstream.

The rest of the day went by surprisingly smoothly and although we spent quite a bit of time scanning from the harbour at Penzance for the Surfie I did eventually find it.  For me the 1st winter drake SURF SCOTER was a lifer, another brilliant but slightly weird looking bird, it's something about the bill...

Heading back in the direction of Marazion Marsh, we spent a little while tracking down the KUMLIEN'S GULL along with an adult GLAUCOUS GULL before deciding to aim for better views of the Surfie again.  From the Sainsbury's car park, we worked our way back to the beach and had decent views of it a little closer to the beach.  A fly by Long-tailed Duck was of added interest along with 1 Common Scoter, several Great Northern Divers and a mixed flock of Sanderling, Dunlin and Ringed Plover also flew in.

It was getting late in the day and since my Dad and brother were down to visit me, it was time to head back and meet them in Falmouth as they had just arrived.  We made one final stop on the way back to check out the College and Argal Res's.  Not particularly much at either but the Bittern was showing nicely again at the southern end of College and the hybrid Scaup thing was still kicking about.


The following day was spent walking a short section of the coastal footpath with Dad and Eph near Portreath.  The cliff line isn't usually the most productive in terms of variety of bird species but a total of 6 Ravens performed well for us and I saw my first 2 Peacocks of the year flying in bright sunshine.  We also paid a quick visit to the resident Dipper on the patch stream.

Not much has been happening since then up until yesterday (18th Feb) as I was walking back from the bus stop I took a glance upwards to see a gull that was gliding low over the houses towards me.  I tried to pick out some dark wing tips but despite coming ever closer I still couldn't see any until the point at which it came rushing low overhead and all doubt was out of mind.  The fully white underwing and and chubby build belonged to that of a adult GLAUCOUS GULL!!  I could barely beleieve it and remained stuck to the spot in the middle of the footpath in pure shock.  It soon hit me that I was only a dozen or so meters from the front of my house so I quickly rushed into the front garden, got my bins out of my bag (glad I'm always prepared) and bagged it as a garden tick!!!  It stayed in view for a good couple minutes as it gradually gained hight over the playing field giving me just enough time to rush indoors grab my camera and memory card before rattling of a couple shots.  Only once the bird had gone did I discover the horrifying truth that I hadn't quite pushed the memory card fully into the reader so was blissfully unaware that I was actually taking photos of absolutely nothing, damn!

Ah well, amateur mistakes happen, still thrilled Glauc is on my garden list!

Monday, 10 February 2014

Quality and Quantity (1st-10th February)

To begin, the February was rather rewarding with a patch tick in the for of an adult Little Gull!  I was already running towards Castle Beach after lectures had finished for the day as I could see a large congregation of gulls closely grouped in the cove.  With my mind set on the possibilities of finding Iceland or Little Gulls I was rather keen to get there first but alas another local birder had made it there first and managed to relay the news of the Little Gull to Dan who kindly past on the good/bad news to me.  The strong winds had also brought in a couple more Mediterranean Gulls, including a 1st and 3rd winter birds, alongside the usual adults.

Patching continued much the same until the 7th when I managed to fit a quick visit into area around uni, were I came across both Dippers still frequenting the local stream (one even singing).  I have a feeling they could be a pair as they seem to be very tolerant of each other and I only ever see one singing.  The same day also involved a trip to Hayle in search of close views of divers.  Carnsew Pool did not disappoint as we came across a nice selection of waders, raptors and 3 Great Northern Divers as we had hoped.  Other bits and bobs included Peregrine, Sparrowhawk, several Mediterranean Gulls, a Kingfisher and good numbers of Bar-tailed Godwit on the estuary.

The 8th was certainly a hectic day as Guille and I decided to head down to the coastal patch together.  The aim was to relocate the Red-necked Grebe for Guille's life list but alas we failed to connect.  Instead, we concentrated our efforts on scouring the offshore zone for divers.  8 Great Northern Divers and a single Black-throated Diver were the max I could manage.  A Grey Seal also swam past but so far it wasn't really worth the effort as we were having to deal with extremely strong winds which threatened to blow us clean out to sea!

We gave up around 12:40pm and walked up to the coastguard car park where we were able to get in the car safely without all Dan's belongs being swept out of the door.  We packed everything in and were soon heading back down the road towards Penryn River when Guille and I both glimpsed a large fully pale winged gull from the car window as we drove down Castle Drive.  I kept my mouth shut and waited for a slightly better view after the trees had passed but Guille braved the shout and some thing along the lines of "GLAUCOUS GULL!!!!!!" came out.  I managed to echo his shouts of excitement and we all slowed down in the middle of the road to gawp out of the window and sure enough a stonking Glonk glided us past!!!  A quick decision was made and instead of abandoning the car in the middle of the road, we did the sensibe thing and continued to the closest car park, bailed out and waited for it to pass.  A nerving couple minutes passed but we did eventually relocate it cruising around at Castle Beach along with the accumulation of other large gulls.  Awesome!!!

A second decision was made and we shot around to Castle Beach by car where we obtained decent views of it once again in flight before it gained height and headed inland.  Another patch first for the lot of us, good job guys!

here's the Glaucous Gull!!!

pure awesomeness, on patch as well

The day also rewarded us with stunningly close views of Kittiwakes, some heading westwards through the bay at only a couple meters range affording excellent views!

The following day (9th Feb) was essentially a reversal back to reality and although I relocated the Red-necked Grebe after it's short absence there were only a couple Great Northern Divers and Black-throated Divers to entertain.  However, as the day progressed, it soon became apparant that diver numbers were rocketing thanks to the previous weeks storms.  I counted an impressive total of 26 Great Northern Divers in the Carrick Roads whilst scanning from Pendennis Point.  The walk there also rewarded me with the usual Black Redstart still residing at Castle Beach and a pair of Stonechats in the same location.  JSL gave me the tip off to properly check the point and sure enough the search payed of with a  total of 4 Purple Sandpipers resting amongst the eroded grooves in the rocky headland.  The wintering Whimbrel also showed at Castle Beach and several Turnstone were also kicking about.

three of the Purple Sandpipers

female Stonechat at Castle Beach...

...alongside the Black Redstart

Next stop was the docks where I hoped to locate some mergansers but alas the only decent species of note there was yet another Great Northern Diver.  Even gulls were thin on the ground here, only including Herring and Great Black-backs as far as I was aware.

The day had been exhausting to say the least as counting divers is a demanding and difficult process due to their habits (not to mention the difficulty of negotiating a torrential downpour of hail!).  So, when I returned to check Falmouth Bay I almost kicked myself when my eyes met the sight of a sea of divers...  I tried my best but the apple and tangerine I had had for breakfast were beginning to wear off now that it was approaching early evening but I couldn't leave without checking the Black-throats at least.  A total count revealed 17 Black-throated Divers and at least 12+ Great Northern Divers with numerous more which probably went uncounted.  A Slavonian Grebe was also a pleasant surprise.

Toady (10th feb) revealed more diver activity and together with Matt and Dan, we worked our way round to the small hut overlooking Castle Beach.  I clocked a total of 22+ Black-throated Divers and about half a dozen Great Northern Divers, 2 Slavonian Grebes and a record count of 6 Red-necked Grebes!!!  A very impressive total for the Falmouth patch!

Saturday, 1 February 2014

Birding Begins Anew (26th-31st January)

A bit of a catastrophe involving ALL my electronically stored data which has kindly erased itself so I find myself at step one with my birding history.

Let this be a lesson to all of you to BACK UP your stuff so the same doesn't befall you!  Admittedly, it is a slight let down as I've lost every picture I've ever taken along with lists, docs, excel files, lots of contacts and all my work between GCSE and A level. None the less, I haven't lost a single minutes sleep over it as I'm quite excited starting my birding history anew, it's almost like starting a new year list!  There's a silver lining to every cloud and all that...

I'll have to take a couple thousand pictures to catch up again but the experiences will never leave me.  It wasn't hard to imagine that patching was the way to start again.  A quick nip down to Swanpool on the 26th, to make the most of the dwindling daylight, rewarded with a single Red-necked Grebe, 1 Slavonian Grebe, 2 Great Northern Divers, 1 Black-throated Diver and an adult Mediterranean Gull. Shag numbers were gradually swelling again as they came around Pennance Point into the bay (although they only reached c.90 birds).  Fulmars were using the cliff ledges again and three pairs had established themselves in suitable nesting spots whilst a male Grey Seal casually swam through the bay.

I managed to boost my foot it list up today by 12 species on the 28th!

The 2 mile walk to College Res mid-morning, stopping of at Gorrangorras on the way, did the trick.  I was just scanning through the waders when a Sparrowhawk shot through, the first new addition of the day for the foot it list. There were usual numbers of Curlew, Redshank, the odd Greenshank, 1 Whimbrel kicking about and a Razorbill diving/feeding only a couple hundred meters downstream (the furthest I've seen one upstream before!).

Unfortunately, I dipped on the Penryn River Dipper.

Moving on to College Res, I managed to add ten new species to the foot it list in the space of about 10-15 mins! These included, Pochard, Wigeon, Teal, Great Crested Grebe, Canada Goose, Goldeneye (1 female), Shoveler (2 females), Snipe, Goldcrest and Goldfinch!

The Scaup hybrid thing was still there too.

Gorrangorras on the way back:

2 Common Sandpipers, one sprinting around the car park amongst the cars and one on the opposite bank.

31st Jan - The last day for the Foot It challenge!

I still needed 5 species to reach my target of 90 species so a quick detour into the cemetery at Swanpool was in need.  I was rewarded with a flyover Green Woodpecker within minutes of entering the gates.

Seawatching from the Hooked cafe with Dan:

I spent most of my time scanning the more distant birds c.2-3 miles out so didn't locate the Slav and even missed picking up the 4 Common Scoter (thanks Dan for getting me on to them though).

A regular trickle of Kittiwakes and Gannets was happening but there were far fewer auks than yesterday (several hundred went westwards between 4-5pm). 1 1st winter Gannet was also amoungst the adults and an additional c.10 Fulmar in the bay were checking out the ledges.

I ended the 2014 January foot it challenge on 87!