Marsh Tit Magic

Despite my intentions to focus on work until the weekend, I discovered that Calum and Toby had planned a post-exams day of birding and, after some mild persuasion on my part, they agreed to bird locally first thing and drop me off at campus before continuing their day. We started the morning at College Reservoir and this proved to be a fantastic decision when, ambling along a boardwalk, the three of us were stopped in our tracks by the haunting call of that elusive ghost of the forest, a Marsh Tit! After a desperate scramble and a couple of glimpses of the bird flitting between trees I eventually got satisfying views of my nemesis bird perched up for a prolonged period and the relief flooded over me. Okay so in reality Marsh Tit is actually a relatively common bird found in most decent scraps of southern woodland and I haven’t tried THAT hard to see one at College, but after missing out on the species for the entirety of 2016 I felt vindicated in my exuberant celebrations of this full fat Cornwall tick.

The rest of the visit proved no less productive with Toby picking up a drake Pochard, a nice addition to my yearlist and a relatively infrequent bird on the reservoir. The Scaup continued its lifes mission to thwart Toby’s phonescoping attempts and I also scored such scintillating PWC additions as Redwing, Dunnock and Greenfinch, all of which helped to inch my total towards the respectable score of 48 points from 46 species. A visit to the beautiful cove of Maenporth was slightly anticlimactic with nothing of note on the sea but I did pick up two handy year ticks in the form of a flyover Raven and a Kestrel. After that it was back to the office where I was suitably gripped by a report of a pair of Goosander in the NE arm of College Reservoir from Greg Wills. Toby and I have a day of county birding planned for tomorrow so here’s hoping they hang around!

The Patching Begins

As I alluded to in a recent post, I have yet to select a patch since moving down to Cornwall, partly as the whole county possesses such avian riches that I had little desire to tie myself down to one site. This year I resolved to do some meaningful local birding to complement the mad dashes westwards and suggested that College Reservoir, an underwatched local site laden with potential, would be the best candidate. This morning, in an effort to further motivate myself to give the site more coverage, I registered College Reservoir as my 2017 patch on the cracking new patchwork challenge website (check it out here). And so the die was cast and I consigned myself to a year of trudging through an industrial estate to stare wistfully at an empty reservoir (Or something more positive about contributing valuable local records to the county avifauna).

This afternoon, feeling a midweek birding itch that required scratching, Calum, Toby and I headed for a quick jaunt round College in cold and blustery conditions. On arrival we noted around 100 large gulls, a decent number for the site, but failed to pick out anything of interest amongst them or the accompanying BHGs. The first-winter drake Scaup was still knocking about in the NW corner with the Tufties, valiantly thwarting Toby’s attempts to phonescope him whilst a male Gadwall here was a decent record. We had a quick look along the northern shore for the Firecrests seen by Ben Porter earlier in the day but sadly drew a blank. I did however manage to record my first patch Buzzard and Mallard for the year so the afternoon wasn’t entirely wasted.

Back on campus we had a quick and unsuccessful check for the YBW seen by the others yesterday but a flypast Green Woodpecker picked up by Toby constitued my 99th species of the year. The day’s birding raised my enthusiasm for the potential birding spoils that College Reservoir will hopefully produce this year (it really feels like a good spot for a Double-crested Cormorant to slip under the radar) and should tide me over nicely until the two days of non-stop birding planned for this weekend.

A Big Day in Cornwall

Fellow student birders Calum and Toby finally got back to Cornwall last night and, given the recent preponderance of decent birds in the county, we decided to spend the day clearing up some winter rarities. My alarm jolted me awake at the ungodly hour of 6.45 am and by 7.15 we were on the road. Our first stop was Long Rock Pool where we planned to search for the 1st-winter Ring-billed Gull which has been making regular appearances there. Upon arrival the sun was coming up over Mount’s Bay and the exodus of roosting Starlings made for quite a spectacle as they left the reedbed in their multitudes. Unfortunately the pool was entirely devoid of gulls so after a quick and unsuccessful check of the small flocks on the beach we decided to head over to the Hayle Estuary. This proved somewhat more productive with a number of good birds headlined by the 1st-winter drake Green-winged Teal looking resplendent in near adult plumage as it dosed majestically behind a half-submerged wheelie bin. We also picked up a nice adult Yellow-legged Gull from the causeway and a first-winter Black-tailed Godwit on Ryan’s Field was a nice year tick. The immature Spoonbill was still present on Carnsew Basin along with a decent number of Dunlin.

The first-winter drake Green-winged Teal steadfastly dosing away.
Rainbow over the Hayle.

After spending a couple of hours checking Hayle we headed back over to Long Rock where we jammed in on a single Black-throated Diver along with at least 6 Great Northerns. We also had a quick check of Marazion Marsh which produced further year ticks in the form of 21 Snipe and heard only Water Rail and Cetti’s Warbler. The next couple of hours were then spent in a frustrating chase around Mount’s Bay to try to catch up with the returning Pacific Diver. A couple of people reported seeing the bird, however we failed to connect despite briefly picking up distant birds which looked interesting on a couple of occasions. Our time was not entirely wasted however as we scored a Red-throated Diver among some Great Northerns and a couple of distant Velvet Scoters, a scarce bird in Cornwall. Feeling despondent we called into Newlyn for a quick pit-stop before heading on to Mousehole to twitch the Eastern Black Redstart which has been hanging around on the rocks below the Rock Pool Cafe.

This proved to be a great decision as we connected with the bird almost immediately as it fed amongst the rocks down to 20 metres and frequently perched up for prolonged periods allowing me to capture some reasonable phonescoped shots. This was the way I’d always envisioned seeing an EBR and more than made up for the brief and unsatisfying views I had of the Tewkesbury Abbey bird in December. One particularly interesting feature I noticed was the red/orange colour of the rump with buffy orange tones appearing to extend up the bird’s back. As a bonus we also managed to jam in on the adult Iceland Gull which Martin Elliott picked up roosting on St Clement’s Isle. This was my first adult Iceland Gull and although the bird, which has been hanging around for several days, has been mooted as a possible Kumlien’s I personally didn’t see any dark tones in the primaries.

Adult Iceland Gull roosting on St Clement’s Isle.

Refreshed from some good birds and in my case a whole packet of mini eggs, we headed on to Drift Reservoir. Here I finally connected Canada Goose for the year whilst Calum got a full-fat lifer in the form of a smart drake Mandarin, a Cornwall tick for all three of us as we turned a collective blind eye to the grim albino bird floating alongside it. A pair of distant Shoveler constituted a nice year tick but we couldn’t re-find the Black-necked Grebes reported an hour or two previously.

Drake Mandarin Duck on Drift Reservoir – a Cornwall tick!

After a quick trip to Sancreed where we spectacularly dipped Cattle Egret, and another quick stop at Hayle we headed to Mylor to check the Carrick Roads. Here we scored a personal record count of 22 Black-necked Grebes as well as a smart pair of Red-breasted Merganser and a Razorbill. We finished the day at College Reservoir where Toby promptly re-found the long-staying 1st-winter drake Scaup, my third and final Cornwall tick of the day! Whilst scanning the reservoir, Toby and I picked up a distant calling Yellow-browed Warbler which was my final year tick of the day and a nice record for the site! This was a fitting conclusion to an awesome day’s birding during which we racked up a decent total of 86 species. After today my yearlist stands at 98 despite a number of notable omissions and I should easily cross the 100 threshold in the next week with a trip to Devon or maybe further afield planned for next weekend. Thanks to Toby and Calum for an awesome day of winter birding, hopefully we can connect with the Pacific Diver later in the month!



A Visit to College

This morning I decided to have a wander over to College Reservoir to continue my quest to mop up some easy year ticks. A small water body surrounded by stunning oak woodland, College Reservoir is a mere 15 minute walk from my accommodation and last autumn played host to both a cracking juvenile Whiskered Tern, found by fellow student birder Ben Porter, and a smart juvenile Pec Sand. Given these facts you might think I’d be a regular pilgrim to the site but to my great shame today’s visit was only my fourth. College does appear to be the most obvious site for me to patch in Cornwall but the arduous trudge through a grim industrial estate, of which I visited a lifetime’s worth during my brief stint as an accountant, and under a noisy flyover does little to help me work up any motivation to go. This year I’ll attempt to visit more frequently but I don’t hold out much hope of translating this optimistic thinking into time in the field.

Any way this morning I managed to drag myself through the post-industrial landscape of Penryn and on to the reservoir side by around 10 am. Here I stopped to scan the reservoir and caught up with my girlfriend Kali who was Whatsapping me from the sunnier climes of Crater Lake, Kenya. Apparently the birdlife there has been spectacular and Kali informed me that she has selflessly noted down a list of all the Afrotropical species she’s seen allowing me to experience further waves of jealousy on her return.  The reservoir itself held decent numbers of wildfowl and I managed to locate a couple of nice female/1st-winter Goldeneye snoozing in the northwest corner, a nice year tick! I then spent a while wandering slowly through the woodland in the hope of locating one of the Marsh Tits which supposedly reside here. Though my quest ultimately ended in failure it was pleasant to walk through this impressive tract of damp oak woodland and I caught up with a few year ticks including a Chiffchaff calling along the reservoir shore.

I walked home via campus to have a quick look for the Yellow-browed Warblers seen by the boardwalk in December. There was no sign in my 15 minutes there but I did pick up three more year ticks in the form of Song Thrush, Nuthatch and best of all a couple of Siskin. Truly heady stuff! I also noticed my earliest ever flowering Primrose (Primula vulgaris) blooming along the path at the bottom of campus, surely a sign of the phenological shifts induced by milder winters and a warming climate. This morning’s birding took my year list to the dizzying heights of 67 and hopefully this total will be further dragged towards respectability with a day of twitching around the county with Toby and Calum planned for tomorrow!

Primrose (Primula vulgaris) flowering on 07/01/2017 on Penryn Campus.

Starting Slow

After a couple of chilled days in Manchester where the occasional look out of the window constituted the only thing vaguely resembling birding, I traveled back down to Cornwall on January 3rd with the family. The morning of the 4th provided the first opportunity to do some birding in 2017 and I spent an hour wandering around Swanpool NR, a great little site near Falmouth, on a rather dull and overcast day. The walk was quiet overall, but it did allow me to pick up a few easy year ticks, the highlights of which were probably 18+ Tufted Duck, 5+ Little Grebe and a Rock Pipit on the beach. Not exactly scintillating stuff!

My dad picked me up from Penryn on the morning of the 5th and on the drive over to St Ives we called in at the Hayle Estuary for a quick look. Over the course of the Autumn this site fast became my favourite place to bird in Cornwall with highlights including a couple of immature Spoonbill, Cattle Egret, an adult Franklin’s Gull, a first-winter Green-winged Teal found by Toby Phelps, and best of all a self-found first-winter AGP in the Golden Plover flock. The site has almost unlimited potential in terms of producing a rare gull or wader and is probably the closest thing I have to a patch in Cornwall.

The view from the causeway at the Hayle Estuary.

Due to a miscommunication when packing the car, my scope hasn’t made it down to Cornwall (not that I can currently carry it with my surgically reconstructed arm) so I was forced to scan the estuary from the Old Quay House car park with my bins. Upon arrival one of the immature Spoonbills was happily feeding in a close channel and I quickly picked up a number of common waders including a couple of Greenshank and three Med Gulls which were all new for the year. A quick scan from the causeway failed to produce the long-staying GWT in the close Teal flocks but a group of 7 Goosander which included two males was a great record for the site. Later I had a quick walk around St Ives Island picking up a few more easy year ticks including Gannet, Kittiwake, and Stonechat. At the time of writing, I’m up to 57 for the year and with some local birding planned on Saturday and a proper day of county birding scheduled Sunday, I should be up to a respectable total soon enough. After setting a personal yearlist record of 248 in 2016 (250 if the probably dodgy Rock Thrush and Pelican get accepted), I’m hoping to do even better in 2017 and catching up with the long-staying Pacific Diver on Sunday along with some other local rarities will hopefully be just the kickstart I need.

New Year, New Blog

After a two year hiatus from blogging, this year I’ve decided to take the plunge and start a new blog. Since my last post on my previous site I’ve graduated from university and had a brief and highly unsuccessful ten month stint as an accountant before starting my PhD at the University of Exeter Penryn campus on the ecology of Lesser Black-backed Gulls in September 2016. Since moving to Cornwall I’ve had an incredible few months exploring the avian highlights of the county with a bunch of other student birders and this along with a desire to improve my nature writing has provided the impetus to start this blog.

Over the coming weeks and months the posts here will mainly consist of accounts of my birding trips around the county and the wider UK. In time I’m also planning to attempt a few posts on relevant issues in birding and conservation and may eventually expand to some popular science posts and updates about my personal research experience working with Lesser Black-backed Gulls.As you can tell the premise for the blog is pretty open at the moment but hopefully it’ll be a nice outlet for any semblance of writing ability I have whilst also providing a journal of sorts for my birding adventures. Hopefully some people may even enjoy reading the posts!

My personal highlight of birding in Cornwall so far: A self-found 1st-winter AGP on the Hayle Estuary in November 2016.