In spite of the very cold weather, our wintering wildfowl and waders have long gone. We've had the usual spring passage of waders: Common Sandpipers, Redshank, Dunlin, Whimbrel and Bar-tailed Godwits but no big numbers to shout about. A Curlew Sandpiper passed through on 21st with a flock of Dunlin but otherwise the main avian highlight was made on 1st of the month when 2 Red Kites flew over Porth Kidney sand dunes. The next few weeks should prove even quieter as we head towards summer - but by the end of June the first returning waders like Redshank herald the autumn migration; looking forward to that!
April has been a relatively quiet month at Hayle. In common with all British estuaries, this is not the most productive month of the year as most of our over-wintering waders and wildfowl are leaving for their breeding grounds in the arctic. However, with migration in full swing, you never know what can turn up so although our "resident" birds have now departed north, others are arriving from the south and, particularly on days with inclement weather, these stop off on the estuary to feed up. Thus we have seen small flocks of Whimbrel, Ringed Plover, Dunlin, Bar-tailed Godwit, Knot and Common Sandpipers all passing through lately. Yesterday at Porth Kidney beach at the mouth of the estuary there were 15 Whimbrel and 2 Sandwich Terns roosting on the sands and it was a welcome sight to see so many hirundines feeding in the lee of the wind along the face of the sand dunes: 100 Swallows, 10 House and 8 Sand Martins. A Wheatear was also present here and up to four Whitethroats were present in the scrub - all newly arrived.
Following a productive meeting with RNAS Culdrose on 3rd April, I am happy to report they are to instruct their squadrons not to use our Hayle and Marazion reserves in future for their low flying training exercises. Although there are still other organisations that occasionally overfly the area and flush all the birds off the reserves, these are sporadic by comparison. I am therefore very grateful to the local Air Station for their cooperation and let's hope we get our birds back!
With the prolonged cold weather, many of the overwintering waders, Wigeon and Teal are still around and although relatively late in the year now, it has been a surprise to see Swallows, Sand Martins, Chiffchaffs, Wheatears and the odd Firecrest arriving in the arctic conditions. There has been quite a passage of Sandwich Terns too with a peak count of 76 on 22nd March. An early Arctic Tern joined one group at Porth Kidney on 3rd April. Other notables have been 1-2 little Ringed Plovers at Ryan's Field, a Pink-footed Goose for a day (31st March) on the main estuary and the Water Pipit at Copperhouse may still be present at the time of writing.
We are currently having a real problem with low-flying helicopters which appear to be deliberately targeting the reserve at the main estuary, Lelant Water and Carnsew Pool. Last Sunday for example, I was at Carnsew with 11 volunteers for our monthly litter-pick and at 11:30am an Air Sea Rescue helicopter from RNAS Culdrose approached from the south west on a flight line that would have taken it to the south of the reserve. However, as it came closer it turned to fly directly over the estuary and thereby flushed every single wader, gull and wildfowl on the reserve - before turning north towards St Ives Bay. So far my liaisons with the Culdrose air station have drawn a blank so we have now contacted Natural England (Hayle Estuary is a SSSI) for their help. This is not a one-off and if anybody witnesses any disturbance incidents like this can you please contact me.
Possibly linked to the above, bird reports have been rather slim of late. Numbers of Lesser Black-backed Gulls are rising as they always do at this time of year - there were c500 on Sunday before they were flushed! We've also had up to 14 Med Gulls/day in with the migrating flocks of Black-headeds and sharper eyes have picked out up to 3 Yellow-legged Gulls amongst the Herrings.
Copperhouse Creek appears to be less disturbed by the aircraft and is a good place to see Wigeon and Teal at the moment - and a Water Pipit has taken up residence the last couple of weeks at the eastern end on the saltmarsh.
On Saturday, 2nd Feb a dozen hardy souls joined Jen and I for a morning stroll around the reserve, commencing at the hide at Ryan's Field where a Kingfisher put in a fast fly-by for some. A cold northerly wind accompanied us as we took in Lelant Water and Carnsew Pool but with so many birds on show at this time of year, I would like to say we hardly noticed it - and at least it stayed dry.
With the tide receeding at the main estuary, Lelant Water, the wildfowl and waders became more active and followed it down across the mud. Hundreds of Wigeon and maybe a hundred Teal were feeding actively close to our group now gathered at the Hayle Causeway - the wall at the river there at least giving us some shelter as we scanned through the flocks. Amongst the waders, Curlew, Bar-tailed Godwits, Lapwing, Dunlin and a couple of Grey Plover showed well but when they all suddenly flew up in a panic, we searched for the cause and were not surprised to find a Peregrine as the culprit. What was perhaps surprising was that it had flown in, taken a female Wigeon and was now sitting on the mud right in front of all 14 of us plucking it - and nobody had seen it coming! Obviously the female Wigeon hadn't - but I felt a bit sheepish that as the main leader of this group I hadn't either!
From the north shore of Carnsew Pool, we located the Black Swan which had been present for a week or so in the company of a couple of Mute Swans. I explained of course that this bird hadn't flown here from its native home in Australia but more likely from the Paradise Park zoo opposite! On the Pool itself, a group of four 'redhead' Goosander were present and as they are quite a rarity in this part of the world I was keen to obtain better views for the party so we walked around to where they had beeen loafing just off the south shore. No sooner had we done this, the birds began diving and feeding and became even more difficult to see. An adult Mediterranean Gull followed their progress from the air, probably hoping to catch a fish displaced by the diving ducks. We turned our attention to the Little Grebes instead and a collection of waders including a group of ten Turnstone feeding amongst the rocks forming the banks of the Pool. A number of Redshank now joined some of the waders already mentioned above as the tide dropped further and started to feed actively as the mud became exposed. With food in our minds too now and lunchtime approaching we headed back to the carpark, warm cars and hopefully the promise of a warm lunch ourselves.