Last Fridays exam finally marked the end of four months of a crazy amount of university work. Last term I made the (somewhat mad) decision to do five modules, so walking out of that exam hall was a huge relief. This week has been the first in a long while that I haven’t had bundles of lectures to be attending and coursework and revision to be getting on with. Free from responsibilities I have spent this week doing three of things that I love best: walking, birdwatching and taking photographs.
I am lucky enough to study in Falmouth, and my uni home has some great nature reserves and a beautiful stretch coastline just a stone throw away. This term I have much more spare time, so with a bit more luck I’ll get out a lot more and have time to put my blog to good use!
Last Saturday, I took a leisurely stroll with two housemates Ted and Prawta along College Reservoir. The 35-acre reservoir is a short walk from Penryn campus and is nestled amongst a patch of wet woodland. Having been cooped up for much of the start of January, Ted and I were keen to boost our new year bird list, so birds were high on the agenda.
The reservoir is a magnet for overwintering wildfowl. I’m always amazed at the number of coots out on the water. I always think of coots as fairly aggressive birds, but in winter they must forget their disputes and welcome migrant coots from northern Europe. Coots are also joined by large numbers of wigeon and a sizable number of tufted ducks too.
One pair of funky birds were instantly recognisable. The male has a smart racing green head and black cape draped over it’s back, contrasting with its soft and bright breast. The female chooses a more punky look, opting for a spiky brunette hair-do. Both birds sport a long, bright red serrated beak. This was a superb pair of goosanders. I wondered whether it was the same pair I saw there last year? Goldeneye and gadwall were rather nice additions too, but nothing beats a goosander!
A spot of chilly winter rain didn’t seem to bother the small passerines, which rely on the rich productivity of the wet woodland to survive the winter. I love watching the tiny goldcrests as they flit from branch to branch. I have so much respect for these little birds. They weigh just a few grams but manage to battle out the worst of the English weather. I was lucky enough to ring one at the reservoir as part of my Biology of Birds module last year. The bird felt so small and so precious in my hand. It was gorgeous, and I could feel its tiny heart racing between my fingers. That was a truly special moment.
Wednesday started off rather lazily, as Ted and I hopped on the ferry between Falmouth and Flushing. The journey takes just a couple of minutes by ferry, covering a mere 700 metres. Falmouth and Flushing are so close they may as well be touching, but for those without a boat, it’s a rather longer and far less direct walk around the Penryn river estuary. Ted and I were saving that walk for later.
Feet firmly on the ground in Flushing, we set off in the other direction towards Mylor Churchtown. We diverted off of the main path onto the shoreline, and scrambled across the rocks in search of wading birds. Three excitable oystercathers were gossiping noisily to each-other. A little further along the shore, a curlew sat by the surf. I’d forgotten how much I love the call of the curlew. A bubbly, high-pitched and wavering sound. I could listen to it all day. The call of the curlew has also be described as lonely-sounding. This is perhaps a pertinent description, as the curlew has seen a 46% decline in the UK in recent years. It’s sad to think that one day the cries of the curlew may be lost altogether.
The weather that day was turning out rather glorious. Calm seas, blue skies, and even a warmth to the sun. A buff-tailed bumblebee flew past on the breeze. A sparrowhawk swooped low over the path before vanishing into the hedgerow, a short glimpse of it’s gun metal-wings confirming it’s identity. Buzzards soared above us on the warming air. Stonechats, bullfinches, goldfinches and robins busily hopped through the hedgerows. It was starting to feel like a crisp spring day.
After a well earned pint back in Flushing, we set off back towards Falmouth along the Penryn river estuary. At low tide, the estuary transforms from harbour into mudflat. A heaven for waders. The sun was beginning to get low and bright glaring off of the water and wet sand ahead of us. A pair birds were silhouetted against the shimmering water – a redshank and a greenshank were feeding busily side by side. Ahead, grey herons were joined by their sleeker and more elegant counterparts – little egrets.
Arriving back in Penryn we were exhausted, having walked 10 miles – much further than expected. We rested on a bench overlooking the estuary as the sun set and watched a common sandpiper hurry around underneath the hull of a boat. Most common sandpipers spend their winter in Africa and the Med, so this was a great sighting to end to the day! It had been a brilliant walk, and one which I endeavour to do much more often in the future.