Sunday, 16 May 2021

Kingfishers on the River Camel, Cornwall. 2021.


Adult male after bathing

I've been watching & photographing 2 nesting pairs of Kingfishers on the River Camel this spring. I hold a Natural England Schedule 1 licence to photograph them near to the nest as it's an offence to disturb these birds when nesting and of course it's not in my interest to cause any disturbance as then I'd get no pictures and more importantly the birds might fail to breed.

As it was one of the pairs failed and the other pair fledged at least 3 young yesterday (15th May).

The pair that failed had just started feeding young with the male active and the female still brooding the clutch. It was a cold rainy few days and I'm not sure of the cause of failure but it could have been their limited ability to catch prey when the river became muddy or one of the adults being taken by a predator or something as simple as the burrow collapsing.

Adult female taking a break from digging the nest burrow. Note the earth on the bill.

The female at this nest was very pale coloured on the breast and I did wonder if she was a late bird from last year and wasn't experienced although I did watch her take a brook lamprey & deal with it well.

Female with a brook lamprey

Female with a brook lamprey 

Male with salmonid

Male kingfisher

Male kingfisher  

Female kingfisher

Female kingfisher after a bath

Female Kingfisher with a bullhead


Male kingfisher with a brook lamprey

After taking many hundreds of photos of "birds on sticks" I played around with fast exposures and tried to catch the birds visiting the perch, usually after emerging from the water as they usually dunk in the river after leaving the burrow to clean off any earth and fish slime from the nest.

Slow shutter speed!

On the 15th May the young left the confines of the burrow to a bright new world. I saw 2 young and the adults were still carrying food to the nest so at least 3 young. Eventually one more emerged and sat in an alder sprig in the bank calling for food.

A newly emerged youngster

Female kingfisher with a bullhead and a begging youngster

Photobombing from the male

Female kingfisher with a bullhead and a begging youngster

Female kingfisher with a bullhead and a begging youngster

The adult female would not let the youngster have the fish but kept teasing it by putting it to its beak and then taking it away again. I guess some kind of training for their future survival.

Finally I watched a lone young kingfisher sat on an old water diversion board, spending time looking into the water....was it looking at its reflection for the first time or eyeing up its next meal?

 Always a great pleasure to be able to spend time in the company of these amazing and beautiful creatures. Hopefully they'll soon start on 2nd broods to keep the numbers up on our river.

Saturday, 8 May 2021

A day on Dartmoor. Thurs 6th May 2021.

 Another cold day in the scheme of things for early May. We've been having some great clear and sunny days but with a bitterly cold North or north westerly wind and often hard frosts.

All of this combines to make all the insect life very late and many of the migrants are struggling to find enough to eat, especially as they are eager to start egg laying.

Our first stop was to Challacombe Farm where there were cuckoos calling from several directions. We also saw redstarts and a singing Garden Warbler. Also had Blackcap & Treecreeper with a Marsh Tit in a stone wall the same place as when we were last there 2 years ago.


We then moved across the moor toward Bovey Tracy to visit Yarner Wood. You now need to park at Trendlebere Downs as they have stopped you parking at the lower bit of the woods.

Fortunately there was Tree Pipit displaying next to where we parked and just across the road was a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker nest. This was at the top of a very high tree, probably about 50 feet so the birds weren't at all concerned with us looking up at them.

My pics are only record shots due to the distance and awful angle but it was still good to see these birds that are such a rarity here in Cornwall.

Lesser spotted Woodpecker

Lesser spotted Woodpecker  

We watched a Mistle Thrush at its nest and another carrying food, Redstarts were active but the Pied Flycatchers were really quiet and I only managed a few "grab" shots. 

I've added a pic of a nice male bird from a previous visit to Yarner.

We need some warm weather!

It was a good day in good company and also really nice to meet some people I've not seen for quite some time!

Mistle Thrush

Female Pied Flycatcher

Male Pied Flycatcher from a previous visit

Sunday, 25 April 2021

A weekend of Wagtails. 25th April 2021.

Blue headed "Channel type" Yellow Wagtail.


I was looking for Little Ringed Plover in a muddy wetland field frequented by cattle when I spotted this stunning Blue-headed Yellow Wagtail which looks to be a "Channel type" , a hybrid between the Blue-headed (Motacilla flava)and the British Yellow Wagtail (Motacilla flavissima).

Yellow wagtails have at least 10 sub species so identification can be problematic, but I was just thrilled to be able to lie down in the mud and get some close up shots of these birds...there were 2 of them!

Here are a few pics of them and then a couple of shots of my predicament taken by myself and Colin Selway.

Blue headed "Channel type" Yellow Wagtail.

Blue headed "Channel type" Yellow Wagtail.

Blue headed "Channel type" Yellow Wagtail.

Blue headed "Channel type" Yellow Wagtail.

Blue headed "Channel type" Yellow Wagtail.

Blue headed "Channel type" Yellow Wagtail. 

Getting the low angle amongst the bullocks!

With hindsight I don't think I'd push my luck lying amongst the cows again!

Just the thought of them suddenly panicking and running over the top of me leaves me cold now!!

There were also about a dozen Pied Wagtails feeding up in the same patch and also 2 White Wagtails as well.

All birds looked very smart in new breeding plumage and were a joy to see.

Pied Wagtail (Motacilla alba yarrellii)

White Wagtail (Motacilla alba alba)

Not to be outdone our resident Grey wagtails put in an appearance with a female bird posing almost too close to me to focus.

Wagtails can be very confusing to identify so hopefully I've shed a bit of light on them!

Grey Wagtail (Motacilla cinerea)

Friday, 16 April 2021

Minke Whales off the North Cornwall coast. 16th April 2021.


I'd been sitting in my hide on the banks of the River Camel since 06:30 this morning photographing Dippers and Grey Wagtails but secretly hoping for an Otter to pop its head out of the water to say "Hello" !

Then I get a message from our What's App birding group telling us of a Minke Whale a few miles down the coast between Perranporth and Porthtowan. Initially I ignored it but then the light got too bright for photographing dippers so I headed home.

After a bite to eat another message came through saying the whales were showing well close to shore so I though I'd give it a go!

A quick call to Steve Rowe who was onsite and I had the whereabouts and parking details so off I went down the A39 & the A30.

As soon as I arrived I spotted Ian Boreham on the headland...or Cetacian as he's known due to his ability to always turn up whales and dolphins whether he's on a boat, cliff or probably even whilst out shopping!

Also met up with Al Scarlett who also specialises in filming marine life and then Mike and Heather Taylor, so I was amongst the experts!

They had distant views of a Minke from their vantage point at Cligga head but I failed miserably to get onto it with my binoculars.

After a few incoming calls it was decided that there was a better chance farther down the coast at St.Agnes Head where other watchers had a Minke in close to shore.So it was a quick drive down to there and unlike Cligga only a short walk from the car!

At St.Agnes we met up with friends Dave and Kate Williams and Pauline McKeogh who were already watching a whale close to shore.

Good also to catch up with Terry and Charlotte down at St.Agnes. 

This time I got onto it with the camera although it was difficult to find in the viewfinder as it surfaced due to having no reference point to guide me . As soon as I saw it with my eye and then got the camera on it the head had already gone back underwater, if it had shown at all.

However I did manage a half a dozen pics that were reasonable record shots of the animal so I was pleased.....and there's always another day!



Tuesday, 13 April 2021

A day on Looe island. 12th April 2021.

Bar tailed Godwit

Well it's been well over a year since I visited Looe island for one of our monthly Cornwall Seal Group Research Trust seal surveys. Initially the weather was an issue then Covid-19 kicked in and we've all been in lockdown.

So it was great to finally get on the boat again, sadly only 6 of us and not the usual 12 but Dave Butters got us out there and kept us dry!

We were met at the brand new jetty by Jon & Claire the Cornwall Wildlife Trust wardens and welcomed ashore.


All masked up on Dave's boat as we leave West Looe

All ashore from the new jetty

What a great addition to the island

I seem to photograph this sign every time I'm here...can't resist!

During the day we recorded a maximum of 6 grey seals and numerous birds. 


5 Grey seals hauled out


The cormorants were well advanced with several pairs having large youngsters in the nest and a count of almost 50 active nests.

Cormorant pair with 2 large offspring

Cormorants sitting on nests


The Oystercatchers  have started forming their "scrape" nests but we saw no sign of any eggs although it won't be long. There were lots of active pairs dotted around the island.

Oystercatcher with a very stubby bill

Another cracking bird we spotted was a Bar-tailed Godwit, a single individual and an unusual bird for the island, almost certainly on its spring migration north.

Bar tailed Godwit

We didn't have it all nice and comfortable as the rain and winds did their best to make life a wee bit uncomfortable in the morning when trying to search for seals into a North westerly.

I was forced at one point to lie down behind a rock for shelter, fortunately it was a well hollowed out shelter as I think the islands sheep had used the spot before!

Yours truly sheltering from the weather

There is a pair of Ravens nesting near to the original cormorant colony so most of the cormorants have now moved around the corner to nest, leaving just a few nests alongside a Shag nest and a couple of courting Fulmars.



Shag at its nest

The Herring Gull numbers on the island seemed to be much the same as other years but the Great Black-backed Gulls looked to be severely depleted from previous surveys. There were no nests on the South Western slopes and all pairs seemed to be on the spit of land near the house that looks to the South East.

Herring Gull