Saturday, 21 October 2017

Cornwall WeBS Needs You!

The Wetland Bird Survey (WeBS) is the monitoring scheme for non-breeding water birds in the UK, which aims to provide the principal data for the conservation of their populations and wetland habitats.

The UK is of outstanding international importance for water birds. Lying on some of the major flyways for Arctic-nesting species, large numbers of water birds are attracted, especially during winter, by the relatively mild climate and extensive areas of wetland, notably estuaries. The UK thus has both moral and legal obligations to conserve both these water birds and the wetlands upon which they depend.

Cornwall has a number of locations that require counters and it is hoped that we can recruit willing volunteers to fill some of these important voids. The areas that currently need filling are as follows:

Hayle Estuary: Perhaps one of the most interesting Estuary habitats in the South West as you never know what is going to turn up! Not only is it one of Cornwall’s premier birding spots but also social spots, as there is always people coming and going at this legendary location.

Helford Complex: This area is a particular priority due to its international importance in the winter months when several species winter here in significant numbers. Currently we are in need of counters at Gweek, Helford Passage, Mawgan Creek, Men-aver Beach, Treath and Tremayne Quay.

Par Area: Whilst not as critical as the above locations this is still an important site for wintering species.

There are also a number of smaller locations that would be ideal for anybody local who could give up a small amount of time once a month to go birding! These areas are listed below:

Bussow Reservoir
Cargenwen Reservoirs and Clowance Pool
Crafthole Reservoir
Gunwalloe Marsh
Harlyn Pools
Mawgan Porth
Merther Pond
Rejarrah Pools
Relubbus Pools
Retallick Lakes
St Erth Pools

For more information on the survey please take a look on the BTO website here:

If you are interested in counting at any of the sites listed please contact me via e-mail at or phone me on 07955216836. 

Monday, 16 October 2017

Corn Buntings continued, a reply at least from The National Trust

I have had a reply from the National Trust, which was decent of them but it was largely generic. There was some positive parts of the email which showed that more locals had complained about the Beetle bank and had successfully stopped even more habitat loss ! To be fair at least the National Trust listened to them. My major worry at Trevose and the North Coast of Cornwall is a lack of common sense from management. Nature doesn't always read textbooks, if something works and benefits nature use common sense and keep it there! Speak to locals or at least liase with other departments such as the RSPB before you carry out major work. Don't use contractors or least oversee the work they do. My worry in the future would be these people have jobs and they will never admit to a mistake because they are probably worried about their careers. The National Trust have a big responsibility to care for the wildlife on all of North Cornwalls headlands, including the almost extinct Corn Bunting, step up please!

My reply to them ( due to the Trusts copyright and data protection I don't think I can post their reply on the blog, I wonder if they would publicly reply on Twitter or on here, that would be interesting):

Hello ##### ,

I appreciate you replying to me, I was aware of grass buffer strips needing to be cut as part of the HLS agreement, after all grass and vegetation can become rank and too thick for the breeding birds so a cut is worthwhile. I'm also not unrealistic in knowing that this is a working farm and compromise is the big word, after all the farmers need to make a living off of the land. The Trust's management plan sounds excellent but words are easy and forgive me for being cynical but there is no way a working farm could be so perfect world. However if these words are true it is a nice thing to aim for.

As regarding the ' margin'  in question ( beetle bank as it was commonly known) I would argue that it was a hedgerow? Perhaps on a map it is a margin but it is well over a decade since  this habitat was any different. Did you ever visit the site? It worked really well for all nature! It separated two entirely different fields, one which was left as a set aside field for winter stubble and one which was a corn field, surely not a field margin? I would be interested to know if any of the aforementioned groups where consulted before the bank got removed, as perhaps they would never have realized this would happen when the plan of managing field margins was discussed as I don't believe it was one!

Sadly I am not an ecologist so I cannot back up my feelings that this was a big error with any data ( and I don't just have Corn Buntings at heart, I do care for all the nature on the headland and can see the bigger picture if that was what you where insinuating). I doubt you will ever accept that removing this was a big error, my hope is this , speak to people before you act! It is great news that you spoke to the local birders and agreed to leave some habitat but this is reactionary and after the event, believe me they would have thought you were bonkers to remove that bank. Claire Mucklow at the RSPB knows the headland well and I would hope her input would help on a professional scale . Stan Christophers is the local birder up there, my personal feelings aside he is the man to talk to , he knows the Headland and its birds better than anybody and from when I used to talk to him up there he is realistic in striking a balance.  

Sometimes in nature if something works then it is best left as it is and I worry there is no common sense left in managing Trevose Head and other sites on the North Coast, just ideas and strategies dream't up in an office.  I would love to be proven wrong in this instance and hope the Corn Buntings will thrive regardless of the loss of their home, but please remember that they have had a really tough time in the breeding months for many years as nests have been lost, just a tiny change in their habitat could wipe them out and they are a sedentary species, more Corn Buntings will not migrate here and re-colonise, once they are gone they are gone. When I heard the National Trust had obtained Trevose Head I was genuinely pleased! I am a member and moving on from this I hope my trust in the charity can be regained...



Sunday, 15 October 2017

Ringing Rewards!

Yesterday I had to meet with some local representatives from the BTO at a location not too far away from home. I was looking forward to this as it was long over due and I was excited about the new proposals that the new regional ambassador, Simon Taylor was suggesting. The only snag was that it buggered up my birding day somewhat. This played into my hands as I had been neglecting my local ringing site and had been very focused on bird watching of late. I arrived on site at dawn and opted to just put up three nets and try my luck during the morning. 

The Goss site tails off during mid September with just a scattering of migrants passing through and my enthusiasm generally wains as I start seeing reports of good birds found around Cornwall's headlands and valleys. I have always traditionally had a days ringing or two in October on the Goss, when Bob and I have our week off work together. You would think I would have learn't that it can still produce after an inland Yellow-browed Warbler record this time last year! 

Anyway to cut a long story short it seems as if West Cornwall is not the only place harbouring large numbers of Crests at the moment! I ended my session on 55 new birds with the bulk of the catch being 22 Goldcrest, 10 Long-tailed Tit, 11 Blue Tit and a most welcome 3 Firecrest! I also had a Greylag Goose fly over the Moor which was a first for me. There were also several Siskin's about which I hope will stay for the winter so that I can target them and try and determine where they originate from. I shall certainly be readjusting my focus moving forward to see what else may turn up! 

It seems that I missed a family party of Long-tailed Tits on my previous visits and was splendid to catch up with 10 new faces to say hello too! 

      I was overjoyed to ring three Firecrest on the Goss as they are never very numerous! 

Today, Bob and I headed to Nanjizal to help a newly arrived ringing group find thier feet and take the pressure off their first morning. It started well with a Yellow-browed Warbler (a species that has become synonymous with Nanjizal), a couple of Firecrest, Goldcrest and Chiffchaff's. Being aware of the Hawfinch numbers that occurred on the Scilly Isles yesterday I thought it prudent to play the call near some berry trees that I spied on the first net round. 

I split from the group during the second round, a) we could cover more ground quicker b) I wanted to get to the Hawfinch net and see if my call had worked! 

We returned to the ringing table and started processing our catch and were blessed with another Yellow-browed Warbler, even more Firecrest and a good catch of common migrants. I saved one bag till last and patiently waited for the birds to be processed and released. Just as the group started to relax I hoisted the last bag and exclaimed "There is one more bird to process"! 

I could see the suspense on the groups face as I extracted the last bird from the holding bag. The look changed to shear shock and awe as I pulled out a beautiful and pristine male Hawfinch! What an absolute stonker and I struggled to contain my excitement during the ringing process. 

The bird was processed and once all the relevant data had been collected had a few photos taken and was released on its merry way. Wouldn't it be amazing if it was controlled in the future to see where it ended up! 

Normally species always appear smaller in the hand when first encountered, this wasn't true of the Hawfinch! 

It was apparent that the individual had been gorging himself on a berry crop recently as the beak was caked! 

The tail was stunning and so clean, no wonder the contrast is so apparent when in flight.

The sides of the secondaries had a gloss black edge allowing me to sex it as a male.

The morning finished with a fantastic haul of 3 Yellow-browed Warbler and 2 retraps, 8 Firecrest and a retrap, 31 Goldcrest, 19 Chiffchaff, 9 Blackcap, 5 Chaffinch, a Sparrowhawk and the incredible Hawfinch! What a cracking morning and what will Nanjizal turn up next?       

Saturday, 14 October 2017

Key Corn Bunting habitat destroyed by The National Trust at Trevose Head

As  I drove up to the top car park at Trevose Head today to check on the Corn Buntings I couldn't believe my eyes, I was dismayed to see that the best place on the whole headland that the Buntings use to rest and take cover has been completely removed! The Beetle bank ( a wild raised hedgerow purposefully left alone for invertebrates , wild flowers and birds) was one of the last remaining outposts for possibly Cornwall's most threatened breeding passerine. It's position between two of the headlands main feeding sites was perfect nesting habitat for many other scarce red listed breeding birds such as Skylark and Meadow Pipit, it was also commonly used habitat for tired migrant birds such as Short-eared Owl and Woodcock. However the really big issue here is the future of Corn Buntings in Cornwall , for me this habitat destruction is really that big a deal! Trevose Head is ( was) the last stronghold for this species , ten years ago you could see 40 birds , last winter seeing 12-13 was as good as it got.

The previous land owner was awarded funds to preserve and protect the habitat for Corn Bunting and although not ideal they did work with the RSPB to help conserve their breeding and wintering habitat. In 13 years of birding and monitoring the Corn Buntings at Trevose this is the single worse disaster for the Corn Buntings I have seen. There can be no denying that the National Trust has made a huge ecological mistake by removing the beetle bank. My question to the National Trust is           this: Can you acknowledge you have made an error? If so we all make mistakes. What can we do about it , can you restore the original habitat ?( although it will take several years to regrow). If this in fact part of your management plan have you allocated extra habitat for Corn Buntings in replacement? Do you still get paid by Natural England and the RSPB to conserve and protect the Corn Buntings and their habitat? 

This could be the final nail in the coffin of Corn Buntings at Trevose and unless something can be done we will lose them in circa ten years.

A Corn Bunting perched on the Beetle Bank, the bracken and rich abundance of insects was important in both summer and winter.

The long green strip was once a raised bank of long grass and bracken which was perfect for the Corn Buntings and nature, sad times.......

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Great days birding on the Camel Estuary

Our plan this morning was to start at Trevose Head but as we drove towards the coast it looked so misty and horrible that we changed plan and headed for Walmsley Sanctuary instead as it was going to be high tide at 9am and at least it was dry ! It turned out to be a really brilliant visit with probably the best variety of birds I have seen there this year. It all started with a Bittern I picked up flying across the reedbed in the corner of the reserve ( definitely a Eurasian I'm afraid!) , luckily Pete got on it just before it went out of sight as we didn't see this elusive Heron again... The next bizarre record was a very late Wood Sandpiper. We picked up 3 Snipe flying towards us with a smaller wader tagging along which was obviously a Sandpiper in shape and flight style , as it banked and turned side on I realised I couldn't see a white rump or any contrast at the rear end of the bird and when it got closer still I saw that the rump was barred , now being October alarm bells were going off in my head when thankfully it called and I realised we where looking at a very late Wood Sandpiper! The first one we have seen on Chough Junior ( and quite possibly the only one we will see in October) . As we walked back to the car we noticed a few Mistle Thrushes sat in the dead tree's at Trewornan Manor so we stopped to admire them for a few minutes when came apparent that small groups of Mistle's where flying from tree to tree , so I started counting 1-2- 10- 15- 18- all the way to 58 Mistle Thrushes! A very welcome and heart warming sight to see so many as I had noticed a decline in recent years ( where had all these birds come from? Perhaps Bodmin Moor...)

Back in the car and after a pasty stop for Pete we made our way to Davidstow Airfield , whilst dodging the film crew currently up there ( and avoiding all the security!) we saw a nice bunch of Golden Plover , some Dunlin and a late Curlew Sandpiper , it was so foggy up there that we could have missed anything, it wouldn't surprise me if more waders are to be found , so long as it stays mild...

Back on the Camel and as we had all day I wanted to check all the sites around the Estuary , even Treraven Meadows! ( a site which is pretty good but I'm not really very keen on. ). Pete was avidly looking through a big flock of Black-headed Gulls for colour rings ( he picked up a bird from the Thames Estuary) whilst I scanned the skies for anything different. Firstly I was enjoying two Peregrines flying over the town and displaying with one another when I started to scan across Egloshayle I picked up an interesting passerine with a bounding flight, I quickly shouted directions to Pete as he needed to get on this bird. Reminding me of a small woodpecker almost , it was showing a rather bullish head, long body and with white flashes in the wings I was sure we where looking at a Hawfinch! Pete soon got on the bird as I actually gave good directions and we enjoyed this stonking finch for a few more seconds before it dropped into Treraven Wood, I was actually a little concerned that I could see a bit of a tail sticking out on the Hawfinch which I wasn't sure was right, but a quick google put my mind at ease and we where both super excited to see another Hawfinch in Cornwall ( almost 7 years to the day since my last one at Trevose Head).

My luck seemed to be in today but little did I know I was about to see another quality bird! Pete had gone to Lidl to do some shopping so I decided to walk along the river through Wadebridge to get Kingfisher and Common Sandpiper for our week off... this proved easy and as I got to the Car Park at Town Quay I saw another color ringed bird, this time a 1st winter Med Gull , without a scope I phoned Pete and he drove across , got on it and read the ring in no time, boom! Pete was then chatting to a mate of his whilst I kept scanning the skies for no particular reason.... I saw a bird circling across from us on the opposite side of the river , I thought surely not ! But I was looking at a Glossy Ibis!! Pete seemed a little stunned as I shouted ' Glossy Ibis' ( I mean we where stood in a car park in Wadebridge!) but he got on it quickly as it continued to circle but slowly lose height we lost it behind some trees as it appeared to head for the Chapel Amble, Walmsley area ( so hopefully it will turn up again). The rest of the Camel was still very good and I was buzzing after the last couple of hours! In amongst a plentiful array of waders and gulls we finally caught up with the Cattle Egrets at Pinkson Creek, seeing 5 of the 8 birds present , feeding in a cattle field behind the creek , all in all an amazing red letter day on the local patch! When I least expected it! Typical birding...

Sunday, 8 October 2017

Chough Junior Day One - Porthgwarra and West Cornwall

I'm not sure where the time goes but another year has passed and it is time for another week of birding with Pete in October, we try and see as many birds as we can across the county and we also try and eat as much food as we can along the way! The Sunday of Chough Junior has always been a great days birding for whatever reason and with Pete out of action ( it was his girlfriends birthday so he was being a gent and spending the day with her) I headed to Porthgwarra full of hope for the day ahead...
Juvenile Ring Ouzel - poor photo in dull light but note the pale wing panel and scalloping on the flanks and body

Garden Warbler - not ideal views to ID this bird but note the rather featureless appearance and plain undertail coverts

Although it was a tad gloomy at first light there did seem to be a few birds on the move overhead and it wasn't too long before I had a Woodlark fly through the valley calling as it went... As I walked down towards the car park I heard a loud dry tack call and soon spotted the culprit ,a smart female type Ring Ouzel. This turned out to be one of three Ring Ouzels seen during the morning and the other two birds where more cryptic juveniles ( again picked up on call , included the soft trill that sounds a bit like a Fieldfare). I enjoyed watching one of there birds with local birder John Ryan and it was nice to hear his stories of seeing Polar Bears and Ivory Gulls in the Arctic this autumn including an amazing sight of over 200 Polar Bears feeding on a dead Whale ( one day I will go there ! ). I carried on down into the car park and picked up a larger warbler feeding high up in the willows , after 5 minutes of studying it gave itself up as just a Garden Warbler ( but very welcome for me and Pete as it is the first record on Chough Junior) .

I carried on towards the moor and walked as far as Trevean Pool , adding 2 Redpoll's , Firecrests and plenty of Blackcaps. At Trevean I had a warbler tacking from the bracken/ reedbed which sounded to me like an odd Acro type but I never saw the bird despite spending an hour waiting and hoping for it to show. With the rain getting heavier and the bird having not called for half an hour I gave up and started to head back to the car.... by the wall of the moor I bumped into Mark Wallace and mentioned the warbler in Trevean so hopefully he will get to grips with it over the net few days. It was nice to have a catch up with him and hear about how he found the Amur Falcon in July! You just never know what you may see when your out birding and he deserved that on his local patch considering the time and effort he puts in...

After Porthgwarra I made my way to Pendeen as I had heard on the grapevine that a Wryneck had showed up during the morning. I literally pulled off the road by the Coastguard cottages , had a quick chat with John Chapple and Reuben Veal before walking down the path and seeing the Wryneck within 5 seconds as it sat on the top of a bush! A most welcome year tick and another new bird for the Chough Junior list. Instead of heading to the valleys I had a walk around the church yard at Pendeen ( a very underrated spot and well worth checking ) . A late Spotted Flycatcher was the best thing on offer but it looks spot on for a rarity at the moment. 

The last place I went to was the Hayle Estuary and although the tide was out there was a nice mixture of waders and wildfowl with the highlight being a Black-necked Grebe in Carnsew Basin. It was a great day out and I'm looking forward to tomorrow already!

Thursday, 5 October 2017

Ten years worth of colour rings in one day!

Sunday Bob and I had a little jaunt around North Cornwall in the rain to seek out waders once again. We had a great day and although we didn't find anything particularly rare we had a nice selection considering the conditions. However we did have something that in our opinion was probably a once in a lifetime event and of great interest to us!

Whilst at Davidstow catching up with  a third Buff-breast that had turned up in the week, Bob picked up on a Ringed Plover sporting a Yellow Flag! We tried to read the code with no luck and it flew high and into the mizzle and fog that enveloped the airfield. Out of view and lost from sight we made the decision to travel up to Bude and check out Maer Lake. Not an easy decision to make as Bob and I are both obsessed with colour ring reading and a Wader is like hitting the Jackpot! But we knew it was the right thing to do as we wanted to cover several locations during the day.

I guess thankfully, Maer Lake was quite and despite a thorough check by the both of us didn't really produce anything that made us want to hang about to long. This meant that we had time to give Davidstow another go and see if we could pin down the colour ringed Plover. It took a bit of hunting down but eventually we picked it up again and with some gentle manoeuvring of the car managed to read the code VSV. 

Yellow flagged VSV on Davidstow Airfield.
The bird was ringed at Giske Ornithological Station, Norway just 25 days beforehand! Please see map below to get a perspective of the 910 miles that this individual travelled in such a short time.

Ecstatic with our find we headed to Wadebridge to check out Walmsley and the Camel Estuary . We started on the Camel as we wanted to get a look what was around on the rising tide and see what got pushed out of the nooks and crannies. It became apparent early on that there were a lot more waders about compared to my previous visit the week before. Only one small problem, a bloody Peregrine was hunting in the area and everything was on high alert and flying all over the shop. I have a lot of respect for this most amazing aerial predator and Bob is an active surveyor for the South West Peregrine group so we spend sometime in the summer surveying and monitoring eyeries along the North Cornwall coast. That said when you are trying to count and see waders and one is in the area your love and respect soon fades to a pair of fingers being raised in its general direction! 

Bob picked up on a large group of waders heading up river and out of view so we headed up after them. We picked up an estimated 50% of what we seen travelling up river, this consisted mainly of Dunlin but had a few Ringed Plover too. We waited with the current flock in a hope that the rest would comeback and join them. Sadly the Peregrine put in another appearance and most birds were in the air again. Eventually after the panicked birds calmed a large flock of Dunlin could be seen out on the mud flats at distance amongst the flock was a single Stint/Peep. Whilst it did look to be a Little I was not happy that I had checked it properly and did not want to overlook something different. A short while later the birds appeared to fly down to the mudflats at our original location back down the river, so I said to Bob that I was going to check the different bird more thoroughly. He opted to stay where he was in case they flew back up river. I made my way to the location and sure enough there was a good sized flock feeding just below my chosen bench. I soon picked up the different wader and it was indeed a Little Stint which was showing wonderfully.

Little Stint on the Camel Estuary
I decided to make the most of having the birds in close proximity and started scanning through them and soaking them up. Bugger me, a Ringed Plover was present with a Yellow flag, I couldn't believe that the bird from Davidstow had made it to the Estuary so quickly! I settled the scope and read the flag, TZS. Another colour ringed wader on the same day! I checked it again to ensure I had all the details correct and documented ready for submission. Another Ringed Plover ran past and something bright caught my eye. I panned with the scope to catch up with it and it had a series of colour rings! I studied it and read the combination and I was ecstatic, a third colour ringed Plover!

The tide was quite away in now so we headed to Walmsley. Apart from ducks it seemed fairly routine on arrival. We did have our first Pintail of the autumn which is always exciting to see. We then had three little Stints flying into the reserve and land behind some rushes at the back of the reserve. They were soon being hunted by a Sparrowhawk which inadvertently flushed four more bringing our total to seven. It seems to be a good year for the species in the county! Perhaps the most exciting sighting was of two Otters playing and hunting on and around the islands. We had good views for around five minutes before they seem to just vanish into thin air! A most enjoyable visit, but I could not wait to find out where all the Ringed Plovers had come from. As soon as I got home I fired up the computer and was searching for the relevant schemes. This to me is one of the most enjoyable parts!

Yellow Flagged TZS on the Camel Estuary

The flagged bird was obviously again from 
Giske Ornithological Station, Norway and was ringed 38 days prior to its discovery on the Camel Estuary with no other sightings anywhere else.

Colour ringed Ringed Plover on the Camel Estuary
The second bird sporting the colour rings was from a different location! This individual was colour-ringed as a chick at nature reserve Beltringharder Koog in northern Germany at 11th of June 2016. It was seen at Frampton Marsh RSPB Reserve at 25th of July 2016 and later on the Camel Estuary on the 4th of December, 2016. So it seems as if the Camel is a favourite wintering spot for this individual and great to see that it made its way back for another year! 

To get three colour ringed waders in a day is truly epic. I always find it fascinating and I always look for the learning in such finds. If you would like to know more about colour rings please take a look at the following BTO page: