Friends of the Fowey Estuary

2 May 2014

We were lucky with the weather this time with an almost cloudless sky and a gentle breeze from the South West. We arrived about an hour after low tide, (neapish) so there would be the possibility of adults being absent fishing. Ian McCarthy joined Claire and Jago, Pete Edwards an myself, armed with his digital SLR camera and a long lens.

Noted while walking from the Haye Farm to the survey spot was a Yellowhammer perched on bushes along the old lane. We have seen them here in the past, and presumably they nest in the vicinity.

On reaching the usual survey point, the presence of Egrets in the nesting area was immediately  apparent, and later we were able to see them moving nest material around; were they taking this from the Heron's nests or finding it within the trees themselves? This raised the possibility that the Egrets build their own nests within the Heron Colony, rather than taking over the Heron's own nests.

Counting the Herons' nest was impaired by the fresh foliage on the trees, but our best estimation was eleven nests, which was a conservative estimate, and roughly agrees with last year's figures. We counted up to 12 Herons and 7 or 8 Egrets either on nests or perched in the area.

As far as we could tell their were no adult of juvenile Herons standing in the adjacent field, a feature of last year's survey, but it may be too early for that. I walked over Golant Downs on Sunday 4th May, at roughly high tide, and again there were no Herons squatting in that field. With binoculars I could make out 2 Egrets in nesting area, and while I was watching another flew in and landed much further up the hillside, disappearing from my view.


Heronry Survey 2016

 This will be our fourth annual survey of the Penpoll Heronry. The birds start to re-colonise the site in February, and breeding commences towards the end of the month. Over the years we have adopted a routine which starts with a ’walk-under’ or ground survey of the site in January, and then, to avoid disturbing the nesting birds, a series of 3 or 4 visual surveys carried out through the early Spring from a vantage point in a field opposite at Haye Farm, courtesy of Nigel and Alix Vincent. The Herons usually vacate the site during April and May, after which it appears that the Little Egrets move in and start their own breeding season.

  Saturday 23rd January saw the start of this year’s events when six of us embarked in the ‘inflatable’ kindly loaned by Encounter Cornwall. Having landed four of us to survey the heronry on the south bank, the remaining two set off to retrieve two ‘trail-cams’ set up earlier in the week to monitor possible sites of otter activity, after which they would return to survey the heronry on north side site. The weather was not particularly clement with drizzly rain, mist and a strong southerly breeze. However once ashore conditions improved for us and a detailed survey using GPS to fix each nest site carried out.

In some instances it is difficult to determine which are the Heron’s nests as there are many smaller nests, possibly new Herons’ or Egrets nests, mixed in with them. Strangely the Herons choose to build their nests in the more shrubby kind of tree, such as hazel, rather in strong single stemmed trees such as oak or ash. The nests are built high in the canopy among the weaker outermost branches, possibly to prevent predation although the eggs are never left unattended by the parents.   (Anecdotally we know this practice also frustrated young would-be egg collectors in earlier generations!)

We know that the Egrets use the same site as the Herons, after the heron young have fledged, but it is uncertain that they use the same nests, or possibly just rob the Herons nests for materials.

On this occasion our initial reaction was that there slightly fewer nests, and in particular a recently fallen tree had brought down two of the old nests. This was confirmed when our leader, Claire Hoddinott, later transferred the GPS records to the map of the site, with 2015 results plotted alongside for comparison. Claire’s plot gave totals of 12 large and 21 small nests, compared with 16 large and 20 small in 2015.   

The separate survey of the north side, Hay Point, site was inconclusive, no nests being found, although we know the side was used with up to four nests in 2015. Fortunately this site can be viewed from the top path on Golant Downs so hopefully we will be able to monitor any activity there fairly easily. Visual surveys of the main site from Haye Farm will begin in February. The trail cams revealed no evidence of otters, but this survey of likely sites of otter activity will continue.

  If you would like to be involved in the Heronry Survey, please get in touch (  and we will let you know when we plan to visit Haye Farm.

Stuart Young - Volunteer

Heronry Census Thurs. 9th April 2015. Penpoll South Side Site. Peter Edwards & Self.

Pete and I arrived at Haye Farm about 9.00 a.m. and on Nigel's advice followed a different route to the viewing point which took us around the contour of the hill rather than over the top as previously. This brought us out to the field below the one we have used in the past so we were a few metres lower in height.The weather was warm and sunny, and the tide was just beginning to fall.

The left hand group of nests and birds were plainly visible so we could account for all five of the previous sites (A,B,C, D & F perhaps), but we also observed birds flying in and landing out of sight in the same area, so possibly two more nests. The right hand side was less active, and our immediate conclusion was that this area is depleted. E was present, but G seems to have gone, as previously noted. However, after some study we found 4 occupied sites ( in the area I, J, K, L, possibly) and one more possible, so accounting for 9 definite nests and 3 possibles, making a total of 12 which roughly equals the previous counts. Two Egrets wer also present perched around.

On the way back out we stopped to talk to Alex, who in passing mentioned regularly sightings of Yellowhammers, along the hedges by the farm and in their yard, although we did not see any on this visit.

Friday 10th April, Penpoll North Side Site. (Hay Point). Peter Edwards & Self. (And Lilly, guest dog.)

We viewed this from Golant Downs at about 14.30. Again the weather was fine, but the tide was out.

After about 30 minutes of watching for activity, birds arriving and moving around, we concluded that there are definitely 4 nests in this site.One of the nests is very prominent and can be spotted easily with binoculars. At one point a bird standing on this nest moved to another adjacent site   and was greeted by other birds, possibly chicks, so we concluded that this was another nest. However as we watched the bird that had flown in picked up some nesting material, and flew back to its original site with it!

So adding the two sites together we are certain of 13 definite nests and 3 possibles, although we have been told that they will be recorded as separate sites by BTO.

I suggest one more visit to Haye Farm, before the end of the month to try another definitive count, particularly of the right hand group, maybe from the original viewing point which might give us a better view into the area.
Pete and I will keep an eye on the Hay Point site whenever either of us walks the path over the Downs.

Stuart Young

4 March 2016

14 March 2016

As Friday's forecast for the next day looked so good PE and I took a last minute decision to make a visit.

The weather turned out as promised, with mainly clear skies, high clouds and a gentle sourtherly breeze. It was half-tide on the ebb, I think.
We had better luck than on the previous Saturday and in all counted 8 birds/nests. These were mainly situated in a group of five, high up and to the left of the area. Referring to the original drawing we found A, B, C, F, and a later discovery, one directly   below B, but not marked on that drawing. Three more were located at approx G, L, and R. There was no aerial activity whilst we were there, so no nests hidden from view could be surmised.

There were no Egrets about, nor could we see any Herons fishing on the shorelines visible to us.

At one point a large flock of Black-headed gulls (I think) performed aerial displays over the heronry and a Buzzard joined in that as well, but that did not seem to cause any reaction from the herons.

Earlier, on the way to Haye Farm, we saw a Yellowhammer perched in a shrubby tree at the T-junction to the farm lane as we approached from Lerryn. This seems to be a favourite spot for them as we have seen birds there many times in the past. Also whilst enjoying a cup of coffee at Haye Farm we spotted a bird perched and singing in the nearby hedge, which I later concluded was a Skylark.

Pete and think one more visit should be carried out before the foliage obscures the site. Date TBA

During the previous week I had been walking the top path on Golant Downs regularly, courtesy of guest dog, and I am reasonably confident that there are four nest sites visible on Hay Point. On one occasion, Thurs. 10th March, I counted five birds visible there, but conclude the 5th was just perching. It was a windy day, but not so bad as the previous day, when blew F10 northerly, which gave spectacular 'white horses' over the incoming tide.   

Stuart Young

16 Feb 2016

I took the 'scope up to the Downs just now and had a peek at both sites. Weather was mainly cloudy with a good southerly breeze. It was half-tide on the ebb, I think.

There were no birds visible on the Hay Point site; I could just make out two birds on nests on the main colony. However I found a group of 18 herons on the beach on the north side of Penpoll, just east of the line of moored boats. These birds were above the high water mark, not fishing, just hunched up and inactive. I counted them twice and got 18 then 19. There was one heron fishing on the east side of the main estuary opposite Golant Quay. I didn't see any herons flying around, not did I see any Egrets anywhere. 

Again, rather inclusive, but will try to keep looking whenever I feel strong enough to climb up there with the 'scope.

I had a brief look at the BTO Heronry Survey project online, and wonder if we should not start to include the Egrets in our survey?

Stuart Young

Peter, Bruce, Annie and I met at Haye Farm on Sunday morning for our first visit of 2017 to view the Penpol Heronry.

After a wet and windy few days of Storm Doris, we were not sure what to expect...I am glad to say we were pleasantly surprised.

There was lots of nest-building activity going on with herons flying in with sticks.

After watching the site for about half an hour we counted 23 herons and identified 12 nests.

We have not had such a high count so early in the year before, we wonder if a mild winter has got breeding activity going earlier than usual.

We then went on to Hay Point to look for nests but despite a good search we didn't find much activity or many nests, we will continue to survey this site though.

On our walk back to the farm we called by the osprey poles which are looking in good order. Our local National Trust team have managed to straighten one of the poles which was leaning awkwardly, so thanks to them for their help. A lovely spot... let's hope the ospreys think so too!

Thanks as always to Alix and Nigel at Haye Farm for allowing us on their land.

We will let you know the date of the next visit

Best wishes


Heronry Survey  24/04/2016

Peter Edwards and I arrived at the survey point about 10.30, a couple of hours after a high Spring tide. Weather was sunny with a strong northerly breeze.  Approaching the site it was immediately obvious that there was a lot more activity visible than on previous visits, with both Herons and Egrets visible. After about half an hour of study we concluded that we were certain of 13 occupied nests, with a further two ‘possibles’. Referring to our earlier plan of the colony, (see attachments) the left hand side was particularly active and we counted 7 birds on nests, one with a chick visible, plus a further 2 partially obscured possibilities.  The central group provided 4 definites, and the lower right group 2 more definites. Dotted around the herons, and moving about frequently were up to 10 egrets, flying and perching but not on nests as far as we could see. Of the herons’ nests nearly all were occupied by just one adult.

So it appears that this colony is still healthy and with the four more definite nests on the north side, Hay Point, site, we have a total of 17 nests, possibly more, which compares well with previous counts, or Year's Best Estimates.

The trees are now coming into leaf so further study will be difficult, but Peter and I will continue to study the Hay Point site, which is more accessible to us, and will report any unusual observations.

Stuart Young