Thursday 14 March 2024

Looe island survey 12th March 2024.

European Shag 

It was touch and go as to whether our March seal survey on Looe island would go ahead as the wind was due to gust strongly from the South West in the afternoon and whilst it can be ok to ride a wave back into harbour it's difficult for the boatman to get out to pick us up from the beach.

Fortunately mid-evening on the Monday evening we got the email that the survey would be going ahead so we were at West Looe to catch the boat at 08:15 which necessitated a 6 am breakfast at home in Wadebridge. There have been some massive spring tides this week and the A389 at Sladesbridge was flooded as was the car park & road at Looe. Luckily the tide had just turned and was starting to ebb as we boarded the boat. Waterproofs on & hoods up 7 of us headed across the short hop to the island, a few splashes of salt water whipped up over the bows but we've seen a lot worse and soon we spotted the islands guardians Jon & Claire (Cornwall Wildlife Trust wardens) on the jetty preparing to greet us.

Before we had disembarked we saw 2 young Grey seals playing together very close to the jetty and Claire told us that this had become quite a regular occurrence.

As we made our way along the jetty the seals came up to check us out and then continued to put on a show for us, playing, splashing, mouthing each other and if you didn't know better, "showing off"!

On most of our surveys I photograph seals from a long way off with a 500mm lens. This way I cause them no harm or disturbance so that lens was the only one I had in my armoury. But these seals came to us and continued to play for 35 minutes until we decided we had a survey to do and needed to leave them to it. As soon as we left up the path they stopped their fun and swam off around the bay. 

So here are lots of photos of these amazing animals before we look at some of the birds that call the island Home.

The Cormorants are usually really early nesters on the island so I was surprised when out here in December to see they hadn't started building their sticky nests linked together with seaweed, and anything else they can pull up from the water or clifftop. Actually their nests are often more "vegetated" than those of shags which often have lots of human marine detritus built into them.

So we saw a few young cormorants in the nests and it was obvious several others were sitting on eggs. Cormorants tend to be more colonial nesting than shags which tend to be singular or sometimes a small group of 3 or 4 nests in close proximity. I think we counted 27 nests in one colony with a smaller number about 100 metres to the west.

Cormorant with a chick.

Cormorant flying with nest material

European Shag

European Shags at their nest

The island is a stronghold for breeding Gulls, especially the Great Black-backed and Herring Gull. There are also a few pairs of Fulmar nesting and they are already laying claim to the best ledges.

Herring Gulls

Herring Gulls

Great Black-backed Gulls

Fulmar on territory

 It had been a day of very poor visibility with mist & drizzle for most of the day which didn't help my photography and wiping lenses, binoculars & telescopes was the order of the day. Trying to get identification photos of distant hauled out seals was difficult to say the least!

Grey Seals at their haul out at low tide.

 There are always a few Whimbrel that overwinter on the island and I did get a grab shot as 3 flew by and also another of one of the resident Ravens perched on a rock.



As we waited for the boat to come and collect us & return us to the mainland I noticed a few Northern Gannets diving in the channel between the island and Hannafore.

Checking my watch to see if I had time I made a quick dash to the westerly end of the island and had good but misty views of a half dozen Gannets plunging headfirst into the channel. It was only when I photographed and missed a gannet entering the water that I spotted 2 Guillemots floating on the surface. Not seen any there before I don't think.

Northern Gannet

Northern Gannet with Hannafore in distance

Northern Gannet diving

Northern Gannet diving

Northern Gannet diving


 A full day in good company but grotty weather alongside some of the best wildlife in Cornwall !

Tuesday 20 February 2024

Winter on the Somerset Levels (final). 9th Feb - 11th Feb 2024.


Cattle Egrets at Westhay Drove

I finished my latest Naturetrek 3 day tour of the Somerset Levels last week with a final successful tour with my co-host Chris Wilkinson.

The weather held out for us with good spells of sunshine and only a hint of misty drizzle late on one afternoon and heavy rain whilst we had breakfast on the first day which quickly turned into sun & blue sky by the time the plates had been cleared away!

Whilst water levels had been dropping since the floods before Xmas a few heavy downpours had raised levels once again, especially in the flooded arable fields and meadows where no pumping could take place.

The Avalon hide at RSPB Ham Wall remained out of service as the access path remained flooded.

We visited several different reserves and open areas including RSPB Greylake, RSPB Swell Wood, West Sedgemoor, RSPB Ham Wall, Shapwick Heath, Sharpham Drove etc. and ticked off 76 different species including many classic Somerset Levels specialties such as Common Crane, Cetti's Warbler, Marsh Harrier etc.

There were vast numbers of wildfowl with Teal & Wigeon far outnumbering ducks such as Gadwall, Shoveler, Pochard & Pintail. Even though this was a "Birdwatching for Beginners" event we weren't averse to spotting an odd rarity and we were thrilled to see the elusive and very rare Baikal Teal at RSPB Greylake. 


Baikal Teal at RSPB Greylake

Marsh Harrier

Drake Wigeon

Drake Teal

Once again we spent some time at RSPB Swell Wood to concentrate on woodland species and we found Great, Blue, Coal & Marsh Tits alongside Nuthatch, Treecreeper and lots of nesting Grey Herons.


Grey Heron

We visited the overlook at Swell that looked down from the escarpment onto the West Sedgemoor and watched 4 Common Cranes feeding in the wet marsh. There were also 3 Roe Deer grazing in the same area. These cranes added to the 3 we'd seen earlier at RSPB Greylake so a total of 7 cranes spotted before lunch...good going!

Common Cranes at RSPB Greylake

After a filling lunch at the King Alfred Inn at Burrowbridge we headed to RSPB Ham Wall to checkout the general birdlife before the Starlings came into roost that evening.

Dusk was getting later now and it was just past 5pm when the first starlings turned up. They'd been fairly unpredictable in their roost site for most of this winter, regularly swopping between Ham Wall, Meare Heath & Shapwick Heath.

However we got it right on this evening and massive flocks flew in close over our heads to lots of whoops of delight from one & all. 

Starlings at RSPB Ham Wall

Whilst we were listening to a Bittern "booming" and getting excited one of our group watched one fly across at VP1 and managed to inform the RSPB Warden and direct him to it!

On the third day we visited Long Drove at Sharpham early but failed to see any Scaup as we did the previous week but we did see approximately 100 Cattle Egrets with a few Little & a couple of Great Egrets. As the previous visit we also saw a Glossy Ibis feeding with the Cattle Egrets.

Later in the morning we visited Noah's Lake at Shapwick Heath where we saw thousands of wildfowl, including hundreds of Pintail. We also saw Kingfisher & a brief glimpse of the longstaying Whooper Swans.

Wildfowl at Noah's Lake Shapwick Heath. 

Great-crested Grebe

Gadwall pair

After a cracking lunch at the Avalon Marshes Tea Hub we drove around Westhay Drove area and found another large flock of Cattle Egrets this time with 3 Glossy Ibis and dozens of Mute Swans.

Cattle Egrets at Westhay

Cattle Egrets at Westhay

Cattle Egrets at Westhay 

We then headed back to Ham Wall to watch the Starlings arrive and as they flew across us it became evident that they were heading West and seemed to be going toward Shapwick or Meare Heaths.

We enjoyed the spectacle of them passing overhead but missed the final moment as it seemed they'd changed their roost site yet again. It was most fortunate that we'd had amazing views the previous afternoon!

There are several more 3 day tours to come at the end of the year and some spring & summer tours as well so if you're interested checkout the Naturetrek website at...

Most are based at the Swan Hotel in Wells directly opposite the cathedral.