These two reservoirs owned by South West Water and managed as nature reserves by the South West Lakes Trust are situated on a south-west to north-east line just 2 miles from the center of Falmouth. There are circular walks around both reservoirs each requiring about an hour and a half (at a birders pace).
College Reservoir at around 35 acres is the smaller of the two but has a fair sized perimeter of deciduous woodland. The main interest arrives in winter on the water when up to 200 Wigeon, 200 Coot, 50 Tufted Duck, 50 Pochard and 50 Canada Geese occur as the most common wildfowl. Of the other birds, Herring Gulls and Black-headed Gulls dominate with the odd Great Black-backed Gull and Common Gull often present. The first few months in 2007 saw several rarer white-winged gulls visit with 2+ Mediterranean, 1 Ring-billed, 1 Glaucous and 2 Iceland Gulls, which certainly made going through the fairly large number of birds worthwhile. Other wildfowl that turns up from time to time in smaller numbers include Goosander, Goldeneye, Great Crested Grebe (which has bred in the past), Little Grebe, Ruddy Duck, Teal, Gadwall, Shoveler and Greater Scaup. There have been rather a lot of scarce and rare winter visitors in the last few years on the water with 5 Ring-necked Ducks, Blue-winged Teal, Ferruginous Duck, and Lesser Scaup. Cormorants are present and roost in trees on the island often with a local Little Egret. Depending on the severity of winter, the woodland fringe sees flocks of Redwings and Fieldfares join up with small numbers of Starlings in the surrounding arable fields. Passerines in the woodland are very varied for such a small area. Marsh and possible Willow Tit are present in tit flocks with Long-tailed, Blue, Great and Coal Tit, Nuthatch and Great Spotted Woodpeckers, Goldcrests, and Chiffchaffs are all present and Firecrest is a real possibility with five seen in the autumn of 2007.
The highlight of spring is a large gathering of migrating Sand Martins. Up to 400 have been reported which must look spectacular on a sunny day. House Martins and Swallows soon join them with 20+ of each. Lesser Black-backed Gulls pass through on passage in decent numbers. The woodland soon reverberates to the sound of Chiffchaffs with a count along the circular walk in 2007 revealing 21 singing males! Blackcaps are present in smaller numbers, their lyrical song brightening up the leaf-shaded pathways with the accompanying carpets of Bluebells providing a great spring experience and making up for the decline in wildfowl. A pair of Marsh Tits often stays on to breed.
Few wildfowl breed with possible Canada Goose, Coot, Great Crested Grebe and Tufted Duck the pick of the crop. Several pairs of Mallard breed with Moorhens and Mute Swans in the bog bean and marsh grasses in the south-west corner of the reservoir.
Kingfishers are present all year although are not thought to nest at the site. If mud is exposed at the edge of the reservoir in the autumn then there is chance of a few waders. The water in 2007 was high all autumn and no waders were recorded here at College but in the past Long-billed Dowitcher and Least Sandpiper has been recorded. This site is less good for visible migration with the closed canopy of trees but similar birds to Argal can be heard flying over in autumn including Skylarks, Meadow Pipits, Siskins, Wagtails and the early arrival of winter thrushes in some years.
Rarities occur on an annual basis and are only beaten in terms of quantity by the famous Stithians Reservoir. Recent rarities have included Purple Heron, Night Heron, Hobby, Merlin and as mentioned already some rare wildfowl.
Argal reservoir at 65 acres is a larger body of water but seemingly less welcome to wildfowl. Fishermen are always present and a new aerating system will not help but the south-west section is designated as a nature reserve (marked by white buoys on the water). The reservoir is surrounded by pastoral farmland and shows up a different selection of birds to College Reservoir. However scarcer water-birds still visit from time to time with Goosander, Goldeneye and Great Crested Grebe all possible. This is a better site for finding Mediterranean Gull amongst the wintering flock of 50+ Black-headed Gulls. Firecrest is a winter visitor which may be found around the car park with tit flocks. Cormorant and Little Egret are present all winter in ones and twos.
Spring has seen small groups of migrating Black Terns arriving often after bad weather and thunderstorms, but are rare in the South-west as a whole. The odd Stonechat may be found over the winter the many brambles which provide homes for summering birds.
The emergent vegetation surrounding the reservoir is perfect for Whitethroats, Blackcaps, Chiffchaffs and plenty of Willow Warblers. Sparrowhawk, Kestrel and Buzzard breed in the surrounding farmland and there is a chance of all three species on any walk. Skylark and Meadow Pipit also breed locally and may be heard from the walk. Garden Warbler and Sedge Warbler pass through on northerly migration in May but only the odd one or two. Grey and Pied Wagtail are present all year and breed nearby. Bullfinch, Goldfinch and Chaffinch all breed around the reservoir with Song Thrush, Blackbird, Robin and Long-tailed Tits.
In autumn the site is good for terns migrating south to their wintering grounds. Sandwich and Arctic have visited in recent autumns, often as juveniles. The water levels were low here in the autumn of 2006 and a Common Sandpiper was noted several times from the hide at the South-west end of the reservoir. Pectoral Sandpiper has occurred and scarce waders might include Curlew Sandpiper, Little Stint, Ruff, Green Sandpiper, Ringed Plover or Greenshank if lucky.
Rarities are noted here less often than at College Reservoir but have included Purple Heron, Pied-billed Grebe and Great White Egret so there’s always reason to be hopeful with a visit to these two bodies of water at any time of year.
Access is off the A39 at the junction for Mabe Burnthouse taking a left turn at the junction at the top of the hill in the village. Follow this road to the next junction taking the left again down a hill and turn off to park on the right signposted Argal Reservoir. Access to College is from across the dam and crossing the road then through woodland for 300m. Both walks require wellies or stout footwear in winter as the paths are often muddy. Viewing opportunities over the water at College are limited but there are more spots on the right hand fork of the path as you approach from Argal but be cautious as this area can become very muddy in winter. The path at Argal Res. follows the water closely and viewing is not difficult. Foxes, Badgers, and Grey Squirrels are all resident and add a bit of spice to the mix of birds. In spring there are many Dragonflies and Damselflies at College in the marshy area.
For more info on latest sightings and photos from this lovely area and other local areas please visit Falmouth Birding website.
Site Guide by Henry Cook. (Photos by H.Cook, P.Freestone, JHJohns and M.Halliday.)