Tuesday, 25 March 2014

A touch of Spring (25th March)

I finished my deadline today with the rest of the day spare so decided on heading down to patch (surprise surprise).  I waited a while for the rain to head over before walking straight to the Cemetery with the aim of relocating the Firecrest.  Sure enough, a pleasant walk around the churchyard soon rewarded me with a Firecrest signing heartily from the shrubby area next to the chapel.  It was an ideal sun trap and the habitat looks ideal although I didn't manage to set eyes on it.  An area definitely warranting further scrutiny later in the month for summer migrants.

Heading down to the coast, I was recollecting the time my brother and dad came down to visit me earlier in the year.  despite patching regularly then too I had never connected with the sum. plum. BTD which had been lingering around.  My brother, on the other hand, had managed to see it in a single visit!  As a result I was just grumbling to myself that I wanted to see it too (in the childish manor that one does).  I plonked my scope down at the usual seat at Swanpool Point, looked at the first thing that came into focus and sure enough... there one was!!!  A stunning summer plumage Black-throated Diver!!!  Brilliant!  I found a further 12+ Black-throated Divers (all winter plum. ones) scattered throughout the bay during the course of the afternoon along with an accompanying 5 Great Northern Divers, 1 Red-necked Grebe, 1 Slavonian Grebe and 3 Sandwich Terns.

Slavonian Grebe (left) and Red-necked Grebe (right) lingering offshore together

The usual... (12th-23rd March)

More patching has ensued with the exception of one visit to Devoran for some data collection that Matt and I are doing regarding the avian biodiversity between Devoran and Penryn Estuary.


Our visit to Devoran on the 12th produced the expected waders, including 3 Black-tailed Godwits, 12 Bar-tailed Godwits, 4 Red-breasted Mergansers, 3 Mediterranean Gulls and 2 Common Gulls.  A couple butterflies were also on the wing notably 1 Peacock, 1 Small Tortoiseshell and my first 2 Small Whites of the year.

Penryn River

Our highlights to Penryn River on the 14th included 1 Whimbrel, Ravens, 1 Common Sandpiper and a Mediterranean Gull.

From the 15th  onwards, Swanpool, Gylly and seawatching/scanning the bay were back on the menu.  The 15th involved just this and along with the regular Red-necked Grebe still bobbing about in the Falmouth Bay I also connected with 1 Great Northern Diver off Pennance Point and the largest single masted yacht on the World (Mirabella V)!  The recent storms have also shown their teeth as the concrete foundations on which a cafe used to sit are now well and truly succumbing to the processes of marine erosion.

Mirabella V

damage to the concrete platform at Castle Beach

I also managed to squeeze in a couple hours mothing at College and Argal Res's as part of an Eco Soc event.  See my post of sightings on my mothing blog: samuelmothing.blogspot.co.uk

turquoise sea looking over Falmouth Bay from Castle Beach

The usual sightings continued into the 21st as well with a light onshore breeze pushing a Black-throated Diver into the Bay along with a couple Guillemots and 1 Razorbill.  A distant auk. sp. did make me raise an eyebrow but it disappeared too quickly for me to confirm so I decided to set it out of mind instead of report it as a pos. Black Guille as I was suspecting.  3 Sandwich Terns hunting in the bay were a nice delight and I connected yet again with the long-staying Red-necked Grebe and Slavonian Grebe (the later beginning to progress into summer plumage).  9 Fulmars were still in the immediate area with 7 using the nesting ledges already (I'm looking forward to seeing their success later in the year).

I spent most of my time grilling the Rock Pipits for potential littoralis at Castle Beach where I found one very probable individual before calling it a day and heading back.  However, I found myself yet again scanning the bay on my return, which is when I chanced upon the aforementioned guille again and to my utter surprise it was indeed a BLACK GUILLEMOT!!!  Yet another self-found patch mega the second on patch this year and this time a 1st winter individual.  The sea was a little choppy but I was glad to get a record shot.  I'm particularly pleased as the regular patch goodies haven't dried up yet as I'd worried.

1st winter Black Guillemot

The 23rd saw a reversal back to normality again with 1 Great Northern Diver in the bay, a flock of 9 distant diver sp. (most probably GNDs), a distant grebe sp. (probably the RNG) and a Grey Seal.  I was mostly focused on connecting with the potential littoralis I'd found at Castle Beach a couple days ago and sure enough it was still clambering over the seaweed and rocks feeding amongst the half dozen petrosus.  I also saw my first patch terrapin sp. at Swanpool sunning itself on the western bank hidden behind some reeds.

terrapin sp.

littoralis Rock Pipit? 

I thought the margins to the outer rectrices were supposed to be white on littoralis.  Seems I'm back to step one with trying to differentiate the two at such a difficult time in the year.

Friday, 14 March 2014

Some random stuff (8-10th March)

Saturday was a day to look forward to but it still wasn't easy getting up early, particular following a rather violent punch up with my flatmates the night before (all for play off course).  We were still nursing wounds and staggering around the house the next day but the early start paid off as I headed down to the Lizard with Eco Soc to do some Marsh Fritillary surveying.  This involved counting and recording the webs and caterpillars belonging to this rather scarce and precious species.

Getting your eye in is difficult and it took a good long while until I finally managed to find my first army of caterpillars of my very first Marsh Fritillaries.  I did succeed in finding a further three lots, all huddled closely together in the shorter vegetation neighbouring their webs constructed for aiding thermal regulation.

Marsh Frit surveying

Marsh Fritillary caterpillars with their silken web

It was on the car trip back that I noticed a brown lump with barring lying lifeless at the side of the road.  On first impressions I couldn't even be sure it was an animal but I had my suspicions as to what it may have been.  It was only for this reason that I decided to walk back to the site once I arrived back on campus to go and collect it.  Sure enough, my horrified suspicions were confirmed and I found myself looking down on a stunning freshly road killed Woodcock!  Here're a load of pics:

I had a lay in on Sunday but was woken just after 11am to a call from a rather excited John St Ledger.  I was still trying to open my eyes but his urgent tone of voice and exclamation of "LITTLE AUK" soon had me jumping out of bed, staggering around the house and shooting down to the coast as quickly as possible on my bike.  Despite arriving in the minimal time possible, the bird had drifted out of sight and despite our continued efforts there was sadly no further sign.  I excepted defeat and headed for Pendennis Point instead.  Numbers of divers, grebes and Shags had decreased substantially but there were still 3 distant grebes (1 prob Slav and 2 prob Red-necked).  I did see 2 Great Northern Divers from the point but there was little else of note.

The 10th March was my next opportunity to visit patch and carrying only my camera and bins, I paid more attention to the potential for passerines.  The high pitch singing/trilling coming from the woodland on the east side of Swanpool was a welcome sound and only a couple seconds worth of patience were required before the stunning Firecrest popped out from the heart of a Holly tree, showing well before retreating quickly back into the woodland.  This was still a year tick and given that passerines have been thin on the ground on patch this year (including a total absence of Chiffchaffs) I'm glad I managed to squeeze this one in.  The 3rd win. Mediterranean Gull was also still on the lagoon.

Friday, 7 March 2014

College and Argal Res's (7th March)

A quick nip down to Argal Res this afternoon between lectures.  2 Marsh Tits in the car park were my first site record and while scanning from the dam, I managed to total at least 6+ Buzzards and a circling Sparrowhawk.  A distant prob. Med Gull circling over College Res would have been my first site record but unfortunately I was interrupted by Joe public lecturing me on a "White-throated Diver" which he'd seen on Argal (I politely told him it was a Cormorant but didn't go as far as to disappoint him there was no such thing as a "White-throated Diver").  Thankfully, after a frustrating wait, I managed to reconnect with the bird and sure enough it was indeed a 2nd winter Mediterranean Gull circling casually over Argal Res along with the accompanying Black-headed Gulls.

Scanning South from the dam also produced a surprise flock of wader-like birds heading NW over the distant horizon.  However, they only appeared as a moving band of tiny dots in a subtle V-formation so remained unIDable.

distant wader-like flock numbering a good 300+ birds as seen through my scope (any help with ID much appreciated :P )

Moving on to College Res yielded 1 Kingfisher and a Bittern still showing well in the open at the Southern end feeding on a toad/frog.  I also connected with my first site record of Mediterranean Gull here too, this time a 1st winter bird.

Monday, 3 March 2014

Patch Mega (now becoming an understatement) (1st March)

The weekend once again came around sooner than expected and with little else planned, I made my way down to the coastal patch once again.  The plan was to ditch birds for the day and focus on my plant ID instead but only if the weather held out.  No worries, that didn't happen.  The day started out a little overcast but improved quickly.  None the less, I didn't want to ignore the coastal birds too much so did a short seawatch from the Hooked Cafe.  It was going rather casually with 22+ Black-throated Divers and 19+ Great Northern Divers lingering in the bay (peaking as usual by late afternoon).

I watch as AK wildlife cruises came speeding into the bay from around Pendennis Point and saw them gradually work their way around towards Swanpool where they gradually came to a halt.  Watching the water around them to see if they might have got something I was absolutely overwhelmed/stunned/shocked when I saw a jet black Guille pointing towards me!  I kept my calm (as best I could... which isn't very good) and an overwhelming shudder of excitement kicked in.  I went straight for my phone and camera, desperately trying to digi-scope the stunning adult BLACK GUILLEMOT (a true patch mega which was riding the swell just offshore!) before I started calling the news.  The number of birders on patch soon swelled to an impressive eight individuals!

adult sum. plum. Black Guillemot!

Greg who made it down to patch also got the Guille before we moved on back to Swanpool to check out a large white-winger which I'd picked up lingering offshore and had come on to the lagoon to have a wash.  They typically stick around for a couple mins but it still allowed us to watch it at relatively close quarters before leaving again.  Even when offshore, the pure white feathering and entire lack of markings made for a confusing ID and wasn't much more helpful despite closer views.  Something didn't seem quite right and although we were fully aware that juvs and 2nd winters tend to bleach and abrade quite severely by this time of year before beginning their moult in April/May it was still very confusing to see an absolutely pure white bird with only bill and eye colour giving support for the ID.  Leucistic seems a reasonable guess but even excluding a very bleached and abraded individual will probably prove impossible.

2nd winter Glaucous Gull

a pure white individual

it's bicoloured bill and pale eye safely put this in the category of 2nd winter but is it severely bleached or leucistic?

probably the best feature in favour of it being leucistic is the underwing as even this is pure white.  Juvs or 2nd winters will usually have traces of darker markings here as the underwing covs, axillaries and flanks tend to be the most protected areas least susceptible to abrasion and bleaching.

I bumped into Lawrence later in the day followed by JSL and manged to put them both on the Black Guille before focusing on counting the evening congregation of divers from Swanpool Point.  As well as the aforementioned divers was 1 Slavonian Grebe and 5+ Mediterranean Gulls.  It was a little depressing to leave on a low when I watched a small fishing boat pull into the bay haul in their net and see them tear a dead Great Northern Diver from it before tossing it back into the sea.  I didn't see them catch any fish...

these fishermen were responsible for the death of 1 Great Northern Diver and 0 fish during the time I was watching them