Friday 23 September 2022

Rivers Hayle, Plym and Tavy

Roller, Bere Ferrers, 21st September

Saturday 17th September was sunny but breezy and cool and with the day free to myself I decided to catch the train to Hayle for a walk. Originally there was to have been a national rail strike that day but with the death of the Queen it was called off and so I thought I would make the most of the unexpected opportunity. I had a late start and caught the 9:45am train, arriving in Hayle at around 11:30am. High tide had been around 10:00am and on arriving off the train I headed straight up the Estuary to Ryan's Field as the tide was ebbing out. 

The Carnsew Pool was still completely full but the tide was lower out on the estuary than I expected and Ryan's Field was devoid of any birdlife other than a Little Egret, 2 Greenshank and a Wheatear. There was a large roosting flock of Gulls out on the mudflats of the estuary, mostly Herring Gulls with a few Lesser and Great Black-back Gulls amongst them but in a much lower number than in the wintertime. Black-headed Gulls were present too but I only found 6 adult Mediterranean Gulls in winter plumage amongst them.


It was lovely to here the whistling calls of the eclipse-plumaged Wigeon present and there were good numbers of similarly plumaged Teal present as well along with a few mallard. A lone Lapwing and a lone Whimbrel were noted along with the usual Redshank, Curlew, Oystercatcher and Bar-tailed Godwit also seen but there was no sign of any small waders.

I headed back to the Carnsew Pool where 3 Wheatears and a pair of Stonechats were seen along the path but there were no Ivy Bees on the Ivy flowers. 3 Little Grebe were out on the water of the Pool but there was still no mud on show so I had a look along the estuary nearby and eventually found around 12 Turnstones feeding amongst the seaweed where hidden Ringed Plovers and Dunlins were hunkered down out of the wind. A single flighty Common Sandpiper was also present. 


I carried on to Copperhouse Creek where I found a small flock of waders feeding out on the mud and was very pleased to find a single Curlew Sandpiper amongst them which showed very nicely through my scope. Time was marching on though so I headed back to the Carnsew Pool for another look, enjoying a pasty from Philps along the way.

Back at the Pool the water was draining away nicely and the mud was beginning to be exposed. A Dunlin flew in to feed with the Bar-tailed Godwits present and eventually more small waders arrived and as I scanned through them I also found 3 Little Stint. They were moving closer and closer towards me but suddenly everything took to the air and as I scanned around hoping for an Osprey I found a juvenile Peregrine dashing about before moving off. After a while the small waders began to return to the Pool but there was no sign of the Little Stints again before I had to return to the station to catch the train back to Plymouth.

Little Stints

Little Stint

Little Stint and Dunlin

I headed back home on the train and it had been a very enjoyable and very autumnal day out birding and I have finally achieved my Big Autumn Five (Wood Sandpiper, Osprey, Yellow Wagtail, Curlew Sandpiper and Little Stint) for the first time since 2018!

Monday 19th September was the day of the Queens funeral and so I decided to head out to Saltram and The Plym for a walk and to have some quiet reflection time before my night shift. It was sunny and still and with a fresh feel to the air when I arrived at around 10am but it did warm up as the morning progressed.

A Dipper was seen at Longbridge as I stepped off the bus and on my return walk there were 2 present along with 2 Grey Wagtail.

The tide was heading in, a low high tide and so the water wasn't entering Blaxton Meadow through the sluices but out on the Meadow were 14 Bar-tailed Godwit, a Common Sandpiper, a Knot, 20 Oystercatcher, 2 Greenshank, Curlew and Redshank.

Bar-tailed Godwits and a Knot

A surprise sighting were 2 eclipse-plumaged Teal on the Duck Pond, maybe the birds from last winter returning for another stay. A lone male Mandarin Duck out of eclipse plumage was also present amongst the Moorhens and assorted Mallards. 




A Whinchat, a pair of Stonechat, a Green Woodpecker and 4 Chiffchaff were seen at Chelson where a Small Heath, a Small Copper and a Red Admiral were also found flitting about. Overhead 2 noisy Raven and a Rook were noted. 

A few Common Darter were flying around the Dipping Pond where a few pairs were also egg laying. Large blue Hawkers also dashed past but too quickly to ID but a female Southern Hawker egglaying on the rocks and vegetation around the pond did settle long enough for a decent view. 

Southern Hawker

The traffic noise noticeably quietened down around 11am, the time of the funeral, and it was reminiscent of the eerie quiet of the 2020 COVID spring lockdown, but by the time I left to head back home the traffic was getting back to normal as people were making the most of the extra Bank Holiday and the good weather. A very sad day though. 

On heading home from the first of my 2 night shifts on the Tuesday morning my Twitter feed lit up with news of the Roller being reseen at Bere Ferrers but there was nothing I could do about it! It showed very well that day while I was in bed but as I headed home on the Wednesday morning after my second night shift my Twitter lit up again with news of its continuing presence and so after an hour and a half of sleep I headed out on the train again to Bere Ferrers for a look. 

It was a beautiful September day, sunny and warm, and news of the Roller still showing well kept cropping up on my phone as the train chugged along to Bere Ferrers. On arriving I took a quick walk down to the social club just a short distance away where there were assorted birders milling around but the Roller wasn't on show. After a wander around and no sign of the Roller I decided to head down to the estuary for a quick look, a good decision as I soon found an Osprey circling around before successfully catching a fish and flying off into the trees to eat it. Even better were 6 Curlew Sandpiper out on the mudflats with a Dunlin but unfortunately a little distant and I hadn't brought my telescope with me on this trip. 


I headed back uphill to the social club and as I neared the village hall the Roller suddenly appeared on the telephone wires where it showed amazingly well on and off for the next 90 minutes before I had to head to the station to catch the train back to Plymouth. 





A juvenile bird and very beautiful although a little scruffy but in flight it was stunning. It spent long periods perched on posts and roofs and wires before swooping down to grab insects off the ground but it would disappear off into nearby gardens every now and then where it was out of view. A very lovely bird, a UK life tick and I was very pleased to finally see it on my third attempt. 





I crashed and burned on getting back home, I was completely knackered out but still grinning from ear to ear after such an amazing encounter.

Thursday 22nd September was cool and breezy with sunny spells and so we headed down to Perranporth for the day. The forecast was for increasing cloud and then rain and by the time we headed home it had clouded over completely but it did remain dry. 

There were fewer people around than usual but noticeably more dogs and we actually managed to enjoy a cooked breakfast at The Watering Hole this time, the first time we have done so since 2019. It was as tasty as always and probably enhanced by the feel of sand between the toes as we sat out on the benches on the beach. 

There wasn't much going on on the wildlife front, it was quiet offshore with a few Gannet and a Shag noted and in the dunes a female Stonechat, a Wheatear and a Meadow Pipit were seen. A small flock of small waders were flushed off the beach by walkers, distant views only but Ringed Plover and Dunlin were picked out amongst them before they were lost from view. The only other sightings of note were the usual Trout in the stream and a very tame Rock Pipit feeding around the tables at The Watering Hole. 


Saturday 17 September 2022

A Beautiful Local Autumn Day Out

Wednesday 14th September began with grey skies and rain but with a forecast of clearing skies later I decided to head out to Wembury and then The Plym for a walk. I had considered doing my Scilly Day trip or visiting the Hayle Estuary, and with Great and Cory's Shearwaters seen from The Scillonian ferry and Little Stints and a Red-necked Phalarope seen at Hayle maybe I should have done so, but I ended up having an amazing day out anyway. 

The rain was easing by the time I arrived at Wembury at around 09:45 and with a very high tide I headed straight out to The Point to check out the wader roost. I was hoping for something different but it was the usual stuff with a Whimbrel, 3 Curlew, 23 Oystercatcher and a Turnstone seen along with 32 Mediterranean Gulls and 7 Little Egret. None of the Mediterranean Gulls were ringed and consisted of 7 1st winters and 25 adults hidden amongst the Herring and Black-headed Gulls also present. 

More interestingly there were at least 14 Wheatear along the beach, the most I have seen at Wembury for some time if ever, mostly juveniles but with at least 2 males present and all very mobile and flighty. 


I had a good look around The Pines at The Point and amongst the Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps present were a very skulky Garden Warbler, a Goldcrest, a juvenile Green Woodpecker, a female/juvenile Great Spotted Woodpecker, a pair of Cirl Buntings and a Whitethroat. 


4 Sand Martin were seen heading east, 1 with 3 Swallow and 3 with 2 Swallow and a further 2 Whitethroat were seen in the Valley to the Beach. 

At least 3 Clouded Yellow were seen flitting about as the sun appeared from behind the clouds and there were good numbers of Red Admiral feeding on the ivy flowers along with various hoverflies and bees including quite a few Ivy Bees.

Ivy Bee

Ivy Bee

Ivy Bee

Cinnamon Bug

Common Lizard

The highlight though were 2 Convolvulus Hawk-Moths resting on fence posts and a Hummingbird Hawk-moth resting on a bramble bush. 

Convolvulus Hawk-moth

Convolvulus Hawk-moth

Convolvulus Hawk-moth

Hummingbird Hawk-moth

While waiting for the bus back to Plymouth I scanned the gardens nearby with my binoculars and found 2 Spotted Flycatchers feeding from telegraph wires, distant but very distinctive and confirmed with my telescope. 

I got off the bus at Laira Bridge and began my River Plym walk and by this time it was sunny and quite warm. The tide was low so there was little to see along the river but 2 Grey Heron, 12 Oystercatcher and a Bar-tailed Godwit were of note. 

A look around Chelson Meadow gave some great views of at least 8 Whinchat along with 2 male Stonechat and a distant Wheatear and I was pleased to see my first Small Copper of the year for Saltram along with 2 Clouded Yellow. 



Common Darter

Buff Tip Caterpillars

I staked out the Ospreys favourite feeding tree where I met local birder Bob and we chatted away while waiting for the Osprey to hopefully appear. It eventually did arrive carrying a tiny silver fish and being harassed by 2 Buzzard and 2 Carrion Crow and while it did briefly settle in the tree it was soon forced back into the air by one of the Buzzards before dropping its fish and flying back towards the estuary. The fish was scavenged by one of the Buzzards which flew off being chased by the other Buzzard and with time marching on I decided to head back to Laira Bridge to catch the bus back home. 

As I neared Laira Bridge the Gulls out on the mudflats all silently took to the air and as I scanned around I found the Osprey heading downriver being harassed by 2 Carrion Crows before it disappeared from view. It soon returned, circling around overhead without any Carrion Crows in tow this time before it drifted off upriver, a nice end to the walk. 



I decided to put the moth box out in the backyard that night, it was chillier than of late but the next morning amongst a small collection of moths was my first ever Palpita vitrealis, my second backyard Vestal, a Diamond-back Moth and a Rusty Dot Pearl along with 2 Large Ranunculus. 

Palpita vitrealis


Diamond-back Moth

Large Ranunculus - just gorgeous! 

Thursday 15 September 2022

River Plym Dipper and River Tavy Double Dip

Saturday 10th September and after sorting out the back yard moth box I headed out to Marsh Mills on the 07:15hrs bus for a Plym and Saltram walk. It was a bright and sunny morning and quite warm considering the early hour but there was a distinctive whiff of Autumn in the air. 

Things started off very well with a Kingfisher and a Grey Wagtail seen as I began my walk downriver from Long Bridge. Even better was a Dipper drifting down the river on a floating log, my first for the Plym this year and a very bizarre sight. 

The tide was high and on Blaxton Meadow there were 13 Greenshank, 6 Common Sandpiper, 4 Dunlin and 2 Oystercatcher with Redshank, Curlew and 10 very smart looking Bar-tailed Godwit.


Little Egret

A Small Heath, a Red Admiral, 4 Roe Deer, a Green Woodpecker, a Kestrel, 2 Whitethroat, an immature male Bullfinch, Swallows and House Martins were also of note along my walk before I headed home. 

A report of a Roller at Bere Ferrers last weekend was interesting but details were very sparse and further reports were virtually non-existent until it finally reappeared on Friday 9th September. The next morning it gave itself up beautifully and on arriving home from my Plym walk my Twitter feed was full of photos and videos of it and so we headed off on the train to Bere Ferrers for a look. 

We caught the 12:24 train and arrived at Bere Ferrers around 25 minutes later. As expected there were lots of birders present but the Roller hadn't been seen since around 10am and by the time we left to catch the 15:40 train back to Plymouth we hadn't seen it either! 

It was a nice trip anyway, somewhere we haven't visited before and I had an enjoyable time chatting to the birders present while scanning the countryside for the elusive Roller. Unfortunately another big fat dip but such is life at times. 

I had to work the following day and the Roller again showed very well in the morning before becoming more elusive in the afternoon and I also had to work on the Monday but the Roller was only reported by a local non-birder that day. I decided to try again for it on Tuesday 13th September but the weather had changed and it was cool, breezy and showery and after 5 hours of searching I gave up and headed home - a big fat double dip.

Roller-less Allotment, Bere Ferrers

However I did enjoy my wander around Bere Ferrers again while dodging the rain showers with the highlight being sightings of 2 Ospreys, 1 distantly flying over the trees heading towards the Tamar and 1 fishing along the Tavy where it caught a large fish before heading off into the trees to eat it. I had some great scope views of it and it was great to see it fly off with its fish and shake its feathers dry in flight a few times before it disappeared from view. 

I also saw Swallows and House Martins overhead with a nest under the eaves of a house in the village still containing noisy young House Martins being fed by their parents. Raven and Buzzard and a Sparrowhawk were also noted overhead while along the Tavy on the dropping tide the only wader seen was a Common Sandpiper.

Before heading out to Bere Ferrers that morning I had gone through the backyard moth box at first light. The forecast had been for the rain to arrive at dawn and when I awoke before day break it was indeed dry. However while I waited for the light to improve it started to rain and so it was a bit of a dash to get the box sorted out before it got too wet but I was very pleased to find my first Large Ranunculus of the year amongst the usual moths, a beautifully understated moth and its appearance signifying that autumn is here and my backyard mothing year is coming to a close. 

Large Ranunculus

Willow Beauty

Mullein Wave

Thursday 8 September 2022

Sea Bird Woes

A short walk around Saltram with David on Tuesday 6th September was fairly quiet with 2 Bar-tailed Godwit and 3 Black-tailed Godwit on Blaxton Meadow the highlight. Sadly a dead adult Gannet was also seen on the Meadow, presumably an avian flu victim having been washed in on the tide. 

Arriving home and a text came through from Pete regarding a Gannet off Laira Bridge, a rare bird on The Plym, and so I headed back out for a look. Unfortunately there was no sign of it but I did find a nice Sandwich Tern roosting with some Black-headed Gulls before it was flushed by a low flying helicopter passing over. 

Sandwich Tern with Black-headed Gulls

Arriving home again and another text came through with news that the Gannet was now present on the mudflats upriver near Blaxton Meadow, having been pushed upriver from Laira Bridge by the wind and incoming tide. I considered heading back out again but a heavy burst of rain put paid to that idea and I would assume it is a bird inflicted with avian flu so unlikely to still be alive for much longer, very sad. 

Wednesday 7th September and I decided to head out to Berry Head for a sea watch. The weather forecast had been very changeable for the previous few days and with showers and strong winds forecasted for today I was quite hopeful for some good birds especially with all the good sightings reported over recent days. However it wasn't quite as windy or showery as had been forecasted and the light was harsh but I had an enjoyable time anyway. 

The usual assorted crowd was present, all professional looking with umbrellas and cameras and chairs and including Pete from Plymouth (and I really should invest in a foldable chair for myself to stop my back aching so much with all that standing around!) .

I was quite slow at times with finding birds called out but I managed to get some good views of 4 Arctic Skuas and around 30 Balearic Shearwaters amongst the usual Fulmar, Gannet, Kittiwake, Mediterranean Gull, Herring Gull and Black-headed Gull. Extra interest was provided by views of a Sandwich Tern, a Common Tern, a Whimbrel and 6 Common Scoter along with a Harbour Porpoise and around 8 Common Dolphin.

The Arctic Skuas were mostly distant as they harried the feeding Kittiwakes but a pale phased bird showed quite well close in as it sat on the sea. However the Balearic Shearwaters showed much closer in as they moved south around the headland, either singly, in pairs or threes, and always a delight to see and looking very smart in the bright sunshine. 

(Annoyingly a Great Shearwater and a Long-tailed Skua were seen just after I left but that is sea watching for you! And I was very kindly given a lift back to Plymouth by Pete which saved me a longer journey home by bus and train and which was very much appreciated). 

Thursday 8th September was grey and windy and showery and so we headed out for a walk around Burrator Reservoir to see how low the water levels are after the heatwave and drought. The water level was indeed low but only a little more so than when we visited the reservoir back in October 2014 after a dry summer.

Burrator Reservoir - usually this would all be under water

We dodged showers as we walked around the Reservoir and out over the remaining water were Swallows, House Martins and a few Sand Martins hawking for insects including a leucistic Swallow which was very striking. It appeared to be all white but through my binoculars it was a mottled buffy colour with darker feathering around the face and breast.

Leucistic Swallow, Burrator

A redhead Goosander was roosting out on the exposed mud with Mallards and the resident white feral Goose. The Canada Goose flock was roosting further up the Reservoir and a surprise was a Shag resting on rocks with Cormorants.

Goosander, Burrator


Record shot of a Shag with 2 Cormorants

Crossbills were heard "glipping" in the conifer trees and eventually I caught sight of a female/juvenile flying between the tree tops. A Raven and a Jay were heard only and Devils Bit Scabious was flowering in boggy areas by the roadside.

Devils Bit Scabious

Arriving home and a text came through from Pete regarding 2 Gannets being present on the Plym and so I headed out for a look. I saw the immature bird out on the river off Blaxton Meadow from the bus as it headed to Marsh Mills and as I walked along the river path to the Meadow I found the adult also. Presumably both birds are suffering with avian flu, the immature bird certainly looked unwell, and while they are my first sightings for the River Plym it was a sorry sight to see. Sadly the corpse of the adult bird first seen on Blaxton Meadow on Tuesday was still present with the corpse of the live adult bird first found on Tuesday now lying out on the mudflats by the gas pipe sign.

Gannet, River Plym


A quick look at the Osprey tree drew a blank and a quick look at Blaxton Meadow revealed a Kingfisher dashing across the Meadow along with 4 Bar-tailed Godwit amongst the usual Curlew, Redshank, Dunlin, Oystercatcher and Greenshank but with dark clouds ominously scudding across the skies I headed home, getting on the bus just as the heavens opened.

On arriving back home the news was increasingly dominated by concerns over the health of the Queen and sadly it was finally announced that she had passed away - an end of an era, Rest In Peace Our Majesty.