Diver Diversion

My attempts to sleep off my hangover in the back of Toby’s car were rudely interrupted this morning when the rear tyre blew out and the car juddered to a halt on in a layby on Bodmin Moor. After Toby had a quick consultation with his dad on the phone, we decided to attempt to change the tyre and after some initial struggles in the Bodmin drizzle, the badly ruptured tyre was the soon replaced with the spare. The possibility of continuing our twitching tour to Devon was briefly discussed but we quickly dismissed this idea as idiotic even for us. We were however only 8 miles from Dozmary Pool and we all agreed it would be rude not to pay the returning drake Lesser Scaup a visit.

Toby’s tyre looking somewhat worse for wear after the incident.

After easing the car down perhaps the most rutted track in the world we pulled up at Dozmary Pool and quickly picked up the drake Lesser Scaup feeding actively with a group of Tufted Duck. The drizzly conditions and bleak landscape did little to get us enthused about the bird but it was a nice Cornwall tick and a lifer for Calum.

Calum and Toby were ecstatic after connecting with the Lesser Scaup.

After we’d had our fill of the Lesser Scaup we started to head back west and decided on route that the spare could probably manage a trip to Hayle (and of course Philps pasty shop). Upon arrival, the tide was still quite high and we decided to have a quick check of the assembled gulls before heading over to Marazion to have a look for the Pacific Diver. Sadly we again failed to find the hoped for white winger but we did pick up yesterday’s argentatus Herring Gull allowing me to grab a couple of decent phonescoped shots. It was also nice to see the immature Spoonbill back feeding away in a creek after we failed to pick it up yesterday.


Adult argentatus Herring Gull showing the dark grey mantle shade and large white tip on P10.

After some trial and error, we found a parking spot and a footpath leading down to the east end of Marazion beach where we had reasonable views of the bay east of St Michael’s Mount. After spending a while scanning the bay, we eventually picked up a group of five Divers gradually working their way west about half-way out. The group consisted of four Great Northerns and a smaller Diver sp. After extended observation in choppy conditions, the bird showed a smaller, rounder head, thinner neck, and darker black nape than the accompanying GNDs. Furthermore, in the entirety of our observations the bird never showed a white flank patch unlike the three close Black-throated Divers which were conveniently on hand to aid our comparisons. This was obviously the Pacific Diver! A lifer for Calum and Toby and a year tick for me after having good views of the bird from Long Rock in February 2015.

Eventually the Pacific Diver drifted farther out and began actively feeding making it difficult to track. Whilst we were watching the diver, a plethora of activity on the beach had continually distracted us and over the course of an hour and a half we had a female-type Black Redstart, a Water Pipit and two Stonechats. After Toby spent some time engaging in his favourite activity of Pipit chasing, we decided to call it quits and headed back over to Hayle. A quick stop in the Old Quay House car park to eat lunch gave Toby the opportunity to pick up our second Water Pipit of the day which even hung around long enough for me to capture some overexposed phonescoped pics. Some time spent scanning from the causeway revealed the Green-winged Teal still steadfastly sleeping away amongst the Teal but by this point the cold had killed my phone preventing any attempts at photography. After once again failing to pick out any interesting gulls, we decided we’d had enough of the biting winds and headed for home. After a potentially disastrous start, the exploding tyre actually ended up working in our favour and we ended up connecting with a much rarer bird than anything we would have seen in Devon. With a trip to St Ives with Kali planned for next weekend and a busy week of work ahead, this will probably be my last serious birding trip for a while. However I’m sure I’ll manage to squeeze in a visit or two to College in the next few days in order to keep the birding withdrawal symptoms at bay!

An overexposed Water Pipit at Hayle.





Ring-billed Gull

With Kali still enjoying the wildlife of Kenya (save for a marauding pride of lions surrounding her tent in the middle of the night!), I’ve opted to spend the entirety of this weekend birding. I therefore met Toby and Jalal outside my accomodation at 8.30am and, in what looks to become something of a tradition, we headed over to College Resevoir to start the day’s birding. We spent a couple of pleasant hours here and picked up a number of good birds including a year tick Firecrest, a flyover Curlew and the pair of Goosander found by Greg yesterday. I even managed another Marsh Tit in the woodland which eventually gave good views after a brief wait. Amazingly it seems that yesterday’s sighting was my first since a bird in Surrey way back in 2013. The wintering Scaup was still knocking around and even allowed me to capture the slightly arty (read crap) phonescoped shot below.

An artistic shot of the wintering first-winter drake Scaup.

After a couple of hours at College we decided to head west and once again unceremoniously dipped the Ring-billed Gull which periodically drops in to Long Rock Pool to bathe. There were at least some gulls on it on this visit and a Kingfisher whizzing over the pool was a nice year tick. After a quick and unrewarding check of Mount’s Bay we headed over to the Hayle Estuary. The estuary was full of gulls on arrival and given the recent spate of northerlies our hopes for a white-winger were high. After spending 20 minutes on the causeway getting buffeted by the chilling wind the only thing close to an arctic gull was an adult candidate argentatus Herring Gull which had a darker mantle than the surrounding birds and an extensive white tip to p10. This isn’t a subspecies I really know much about or have ever really bothered to investigate but Toby seemed happy that it fit the search image. Other than a male Goosander which showed incredibly well from the causeway, the estuary was quiet and after checking Carnsew Pool we headed to Toby’s personal mecca, Philps pasty shop, for some refreshments.

After that it was on to Gerrans Bay, finally picking up a couple of year tick Pheasants in a road side field on route. Gerrans Bay was fairly productive with a cracking count of 6+ Black-throated Divers and good views of one of the wintering Red-necked Grebes feeding close inshore. After that it was on to the dog-infested Gannel Estuary, one of my least favourite birding sites after a nightmarish twitch for American Wigeon in the autumn. Incredibly the long-staying first-winter Ring-billed Gull was showing well amongst hundreds of BHGs just of the car park and even allowed my cold-intolerant phone to grab a couple of record shots before it died. This was a plumage tick for me having previously seen a 1st-summer on the Hayle Estuary and Waldo on a couple of occasions, and was a good bird to pick up for the year. After taking turns to phonescope the gull, we grilled the pipit flock for the Water Pipit reported on BirdGuides but managed only a pale, well-marked Rock Pipit which we concluded was possibly a Scandinavian bird of the race littoralis. We then headed for home, calling in briefly at Devoran/Restronguet Creek where we failed to find any Cattle Egrets but did pick a group of 16 Black-tailed Godwit. Overall a successful winter day’s birding, hopefully tomorrow brings more of the same!


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.