Birding on Campus: the distractions of studying at Penryn

I thought I would write a post extolling the virtues of the superb campus that I am lucky enough to be studying at: I mean how many university students can start the day trapping Firecrests on campus, plucking a Merveille du Jour moth out of a moth trap, before watching hundreds of Redwings flooding over, and then amble back home (after lectures, that is [yes, we do work!]) and take a look at a Pectoral Sandpiper wandering around on my local birding patch?
Okay, so it’s not like every day is like that, but this week really has been a superb one for seeing a brilliant diversity of species right on the doorstep of campus. This has certainly been helped immensely by the weather: after a week of light south-easterly winds and nippy temperatures, the floodgates have opened for the arrival of classic autumn migrants from the continent: thrushes! The nature of Penryn campus, situated atop a hill on the edge of a gentle valley, seems to lend itself to funneling passage migrants right over the top of uni – and this has manifested itself with some superb movements of passerines overhead in the hours just after dawn this last week. 

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the sunrises have been superb this week – one of the many benefits of getting up early!
A couple of scrub-dominated fields on the southern edge of campus grounds provide a brilliant vantage point for ‘vis Migging’: birding lingo describing the act of standing in a spot and watching birds actively migrating overhead (visible migration). I have headed over to campus on many a morning this week to join a handful of fellow enthusiasts to record these exciting passages, and the results have been great! 
One of the best mornings was on the 10th October, with flocks of Redwings whizzing overhead at regular intervals, flying from the south-east to the north-west in tight groups of between 5 and 120 individuals. The totals for that particular morning amounted to 1, 111 Redwings, 43 Song Thrushes, two Fieldfares (the first of the year!), 34 Meadow Pipits, 5 Chaffinches, 5 Cormorants, 5 Skylarks, 3 Starlings and 47 Woodpigeons. All of the bird sightings we note down from campus get entered into the BTO’s great recording website ‘Birdtrack‘ – as well as contributing to the nation-wide recording scheme, it will be great to try and get a longer-term database for bird records on campus.
We would often follow up ‘vis-migging’ by checking a moth trap that we’d set out the previous night, and that has been turning up some great species recently (see further down). 

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‘Vis Migging’ on campus

Although a lot of the birds have just been flying straight over without stopping off, many flocks drop down into the extensive shrubbery and tree cover provided by Penryn’s diverse campus grounds. A great clump of Yew trees are buzzing with Redwings, Song and Mistle Thrushes, and Blackbirds at the moment – all feasting upon the bounty of juicy red berries adorning the branches…
Redwings in the Yew trees
A couple more shots of migrating Redwing flocks…

As I eluded to in my into – there is great potential for bird ringing on campus, and a small group of students and lecturers (including myself) often carry out a morning of mist netting in the campus orchard. After putting out bird feeders to attract in finches and tits, a morning’s ringing session can result in as many as 30 birds being trapped and ringed, including some superb species such as Firecrests, Nuthatches, Jays, Great Spotted Woodpeckers and Long-tailed Tits. I am looking forward to carrying out more ringing this winter, and seeing what we can catch!

Firecrests are always a lovely surprise to catch in the nets whilst ringing on campus
Moth trapping has been a pronounced activity that a few of us have been carrying out all year here at Tremough. Although a large chunk of the year is lacking from our efforts (the summer months – probably the best time of year for moth trapping!), we’ve recorded some brilliant species from a spring and autumn of setting out Robinson and Heath traps at various locations around campus. Recently, the usual autumn suspects such as Feathered Ranunculus and Square-spot Rustics have been spruced up by the appearance of scarcer moths like Merveille du Jour, the Delicate, Gem, Grey Shoulder-knot and Pinion-streaked Snout. We are taking part in the University Moth Challenge, where different universities compete to see how many species they can record within their campus grounds in a year. It will be interesting to see where we rank when the results are revealed!
Merveille du Jour: ‘wonder of the day’
Feathered Ranunculus
In addition to all the wildlife that can be encountered on campus, some local habitats within throwing distance make it even more difficult to crack down on work when the weather is nice! My local birding patch, Argal and College reservoirs, lie just a few minutes from campus, and provide superb habitat for overwintering wildfowl, grebes, herons and also tit feeding flocks in the surrounding woodland. The last week has seen Wigeons and Teals start making a return to the lake, but the star of the show has been a superb Pectoral Sandpiper which appeared on the 9th. We got some cracking views of this scarce North American visitor, and flushed two Jack Snipe as we approached through the rank vegetation at the lake’s edge.

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Argal Reservoir at sunrise

The lovely Pectoral Sandpiper currently feeding on a small area of gravel on College Reservoir
Wigeons are returning to the reeservoirs, where they will spend much of the winter feeding with Tufted Ducks, Teals and Coots
In addition to the birds, there are some pretty funky invertebrates abounding in the trees, leaf litter, bushes and water bodies at the moment. I was delighted to see my first Pseudoscorpion last week, which was found by a first year zoology student Calum Urquhart (check out his brilliant blog here). These fascinating wee creatures are actually arachnids, represented by around 27 species in the UK. They use their elongated pedipalps (or pincers) to paralyse prey by injecting victims with venom; this act if followed by digesting the meal with the applications of an enzyme-rich liquid, prior to consuming the resulting meal! Prey items range from tiny little springtails and mites through to ants, barklouse, moth and beetle larvae, and small flies. Amazing little things!

So there is just a brief overview of the brilliant array of wildlife that can be encountered on our campus, although bear in mind this is just a snapshot from a week’s birding and insect hunting. Spring provides endless distractions that can make studying all the more difficult!


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