Thursday, 18 February 2016

Weekend Rockpooling - an explore on Gylly Beach

I spent a few hours on Saturday afternoon investigating the plethora of creatures that inhabit the rock pools around Gylly Beach in Falmouth. I was accompanied by Rachel (my sister) and a friend called Hannah (who is carrying out her dissertation project on the effects of Blue-rayed Limpets on Kelp). We managed to make use of the day's only few hours of dry conditions (which happened to fall over low water!), and had a great foray amongst the pools and seaweed-covered rocks, finding a superb variety of beasties.

Rockpooling generally is a brilliant activity - there is a child-like element to it (which is probably why everyone else exploring the rock pools was below the age of 10...): peering under pebbles and rocks, and splashing around in the shallows after slippery fish. You never know quite what you might find tucked away in the various cracks and crevices, or clinging to the underside rocks, which adds to the element of discovery. 
It is fun to observe the change in species composition as one moves from the upper shoreline down through the supralittoral zone and into the infralittoral fringe: it presents as greater change in animal diversity as if one were to travel from savannah into forest (well, maybe not quite...). The bare upper shore in the splash zone supports Limpets, Whelks, Periwinkles, Beadlet Anemones and seaweeds like Spiral Wrack; this gives way to a richer ecosystem of deeper pools and thicker weed coverage, with various fish and shrimp species living in the tidal pools, along with Hairy Porcelain Crabs, Velvet Swimming Crabs, Snakelocks Anemones, Kelp seaweeds and Coral Weed - gradually the coverage of weed and kelp becomes greater as one approaches the low tide mark.

Anyway - enough rambling: on our particular foray, we found plenty of interesting species. Particular highlights for me included a Pipefish, a green-coloured Beadlet Anemone with the blue beads rimming its mouth (called sphincters); intricately-patterned Blue-rayed Limpets clamp to Kelp stipes in the lower tidal elevations, with Hairy Porcelain Crabs clinging onto the underside of rocks and pebbles, along with Velvet Swimming Crabs embedded in the silt beneath; Hermit Crabs cautiously peer out of their over-sized homes as shadow passes over its pool. These are just a few of the sights I found particularly cool...

Most Beadlet Anemones (Actinia equina) are a dark red colour, but this particular one was an intriguing green hue with the blue sphincters rimming the edge - thus giving it the apt name. 

A Hermit Crab peeking out of its encasement

Hairy Porcelain Crab (Porcellena platycheles), which are incredibly adapt at clinging to the underside of rocks and pebbles

The superb Blue-rayed Limpets (Patine pellucida)


Velvet Swimming Crab (Nicora puber)

Purple Topshell (Gibbula umbilicalis)

Painted Topshells (Calliostoma zizyphinum)

dead Barnacle (Balanus perforatus)

Coral Weed (Coralina officianalis)

An interesting sea anemone that appears to be Sagartia elegans

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Introducing this year's patch...College and Argal Reservoirs

I thought I would write a short blog post to introduce this year's birding patch, on which I'll be taking part in this year's national patchwork challenge. Since I have been living on Bardsey Island for the last eight years, my annual birding patch has pretty much remained unchanged during that time, as I spent much of the year within the perimeter of the small coastal wind-swept island that I call home. I guess this has spoilt me somewhat in relation to the patchwork challenge (which I signed up to in its infant year of 2013): In 2014 I was lucky enough to have a run of decent self-finds in the form of two Citrine Wagtails, a Blyth's Reed Warbler in my garden, Western Bonelli's Warbler, Golden Oriole, Marsh Warbler, Red-breasted Flycatcher and more. This year, however, I will be spending a fair decent chunk here in not-so-sunny Falmouth, where I am studying a degree in conservation and ecology. I have therefore taken the decision to try out a new patch: namely that of two nearby lakes and their surrounding shrubbery and woodland. The lakes are only about three minutes away from where I live, and are 10 minutes from our university campus. I doubt that the year will hold quite as much excitement as is generated by birding a coastal patch on a migratory hotspot. But we'll see! Who knows? I may in be for a surprise...

College Reservoir

The two reservoirs, with College at the top end and Argal on the lower

So onto the patch...the area I have chosen comprises two bodies of water called Argal and College Reservoirs. Argal Reservoir is primarily a fishing lake, and plays host to a hectic circulation of dog walkers throughout the year. The combination of the two (although the toxic algal waters through summer probably play a part!) means that waterfowl aren't in abundance here. However, the willows and patchy areas of woodland and scrub rimming the reservoir provide promising habitat for migrants and warblers alike. I have already had some great days observing 'vis mig' over Argal, with brilliant movements of thrushes, woodpigeons, larks and finches in the autumn last year. Firecrests are a regular occurrence and the odd Goosander and Great Crested Grebe grace the lake surface- it has plenty of potential, and I am sure some oddities will turn up.

Argal Reservoir

Great Crested Grebe


Black-headed Gull

College Reservoir is a more attractive ecosystem in itself, with a body of water that is home to a great variety of overwintering wildfowl, such as Wigeons, Teals, Tufted Ducks, Coots, Goosanders and a handful of Shovelers. Surrounding College is a superb deciduous woodland of sessile Oak and Holly, which supports countless feeding flocks of tits and warblers in the winter, and will no doubt prove productive come spring-time. Areas of damper willow and alder thickets provide shelter for skulking rails, and a few pockets of Bulrush look perfect for Bittern, even if none have appeared thus far. The mature woodland is home to countless feeding flocks of tits and warblers at the moment, the largest of which I've encountered had over 25 Long-tailed Tits, 15 Great Tits, 15 Blue Tits, Firecrest, 5 Goldcrests, 4 Coal Tits, Marsh Tit and a collection of thrushes too! College Reservoir also has the advantage of being slightly less visited by dog walkers, and thus benefits from lower disturbance levels; it also contains a couple of ringing locations which I hope to utilise in the coming months.

College Reservoir

The pathway around College reservoir, along with an abundance of vegetation like Hard Ferns 

Tufted Duck

Long-tailed Tit



migrating Redwing

So far this year, I have managed to record 61 species between the two lakes, amounting to a total of 64 points. I haven't discovered anything vastly unusual so far, but it has been nice to see the odd Firecrest around College, along with an occasional Marsh Tit amongst the tit feeding flocks; a handful of Goosanders have taken up residence among the local wildfowl on College, and as many as 23 Cormorants have been gathering in a single Oak tree at the northern end at times.

So there we are- a brief overview of my year's patch! I look forward to seeing what I can find, and monitoring the changes in bird populations that occur through the season. I'll be entering all my counts and species lists onto the online Birdtrack recording scheme, which I would highly recommend any other patchers doing too! Regular and standardised counts - even of common species - over a prolonged period can be a valuable data set, no matter how small the recording area.

It isn't just about the birds on my are a few of the other cool things I have seen there so far...

Common Pipistrelle


Common Toad

November Moth

Pink-barred Sallow

Hairy Shieldbug

Zebra Jumping Spider (Salticus scenicus)

Sunday, 7 February 2016

All in a day's birding...Glossy Ibis and Hudsonian Whimbrel at Marazion

I joined up with Max, Jack and Tracy today, after a bit of a last minute decision last night, to head down to Marazion for some birding after Saturday's complete wash-out.
Setting off at 8am, we decided to head over to Marazion marsh initially to see if we could connect with the showy Glossy Ibis; we weren't disappointed! I picked up the ibis whilst we were still driving into the car park- it was flying over the reed bed, and after disappearing into the distance, doubled back and landed in a small field beside the main road. We gathered our gear and traipsed over to said spot, only to find the bird feeding on a small pond just six metres from the roadside! It was totally unphased by our presence, and we spent a good hour or so in the company of several visiting birders watching this superb bird. I have never seen a Glossy Ibis this close before, so it was great to watch the elegant Plegadis stalking away in the shallows, plucking out juicy Earthworms at impressively regular intervals (it was certainly feeding well!). Every now and then it would come across a particularly large worm, and after a brief wriggly struggle ingesting the annelid, would stand meditatively for a few minutes before continuing its feeding - presumably digesting these wrigglers must take a bit of effort!

Jack scanning Marazion marsh 

After filling up a memory card or two with frame-filling images of the gleaming ibis, we headed back to the car park and sheltered out a particularly heavy rain shower with the aid of a hot chocolate (thanks Tracy!), before birding resumed. We spent the next hour or so scanning Marazion beach and the adjacent sea to see what was around: there were plenty of Gannets in the distance, along with the odd Fulmar, whilst a feeding flock of some 600 large gulls were making use of some feeding source a little further up the shore. We headed over and met up with a few more birders, who pointed out a smart first-winter Glaucous Gull that was hanging around with the larids. This is one of around four Glaucs thought to be in the area at the moment. It was cool to see over 200 Great Black-backed Gulls gathered here too, whilst a handful of Great Northern Divers were feeding in the swell offshore.

Marazion beach and St Michael's Mount

Glaucous Gull, though not today's individual. This is the bird we saw in Newlyn a few weeks ago. 

Having checked the rest of the beach and double-checked the gull flock for any more interesting visitors, we headed south and east: to Mount's Bay. Our main objective, perhaps, was to try and locate the long-staying Hudsonian Whimbrel which has taken up residence in the area for the winter. We managed to fail in a spectacular fashion a few weeks ago to see the bird, after a four hour walk around the coast, so it was time to put things of its whereabouts were sketchy, but we knew the rough area, and so planned to systematically scan the rocky shoreline until we found it!

We took the coastal path from near Marazion and headed towards Perranuthnoe: scanning the sea revealed more Great Northern Divers, a handful of Mediterranean Gulls and a small number of Shags; along the coastline, we saw the odd Oystercatcher, a handful of Curlews, one flock of 50+ Lapwings, a flock of five Little Egrets and some Turnstones; but no whimbrels. It wasn't until one of the last bays we reached that we finally pinned down a Whimbrel of sorts, but close scrutiny revealed it to be a cheeky Eurasian bird. Whilst scanning the rocks around its vicinity, Max picked up on another bird a further up the coastline- I quickly got onto it, and realised it was the Hudsonian! It was working its way in out of quite large boulders, making it difficult to get Jack onto, and then disappeared from view altogether. We headed over to the far side of the bay for a closer look, but could not locate the bird at all despite half an hour's search.

Max managed some record shots, which can be seen in his blog of the trip here

We headed back along the shoreline in slight frustration, but still pleased at our exploits of the day! A great trip all-in-all, especially since we managed to cash in on some sunlight! (probably this week's ration already used up). Until next time...