Archive for September 2011

Thursday 29th and Friday 30th September – ringing again   Leave a comment

I am making the most of the Indian Summer by continuing to ring birds each day.

On the 29th we went to Durlston and had yet another successful day with 137 birds ringed, but again variety was low, during the first two hours we only ringed two species, Chiffchaff (103) and Blackcap (28), but towards the end six birds of a further four species were trapped.

A Wryneck was briefly heard at dawn but searching drew a blank, after ringing Warren and I went looking for the Wryneck he saw yesterday but found only a Redstart and a Stonechat.

The most significant bird of the morning from a ringing perspective was a ‘control’ Chiffchaff i.e. a bird that has already been ringed by someone else. Only through this mark and recapture can most birds migrations be monitored.

We wait with anticipation to learn where this Chiffchaff was ringed.

A male Goldcrest, one of the very few non Chiffs.


and another non-Chiff !

Stonechats have declined severely recently so it is good to see them at Durlston


Ali and I were ringing in the arable field at Lytchett Bay this morning but with limited success (17 new birds only). The Goldfinch flock seems to have moved on and there after a few clear nights long distance migrants seem to have departed. It was well worth getting up for the stunning dawn.

If you don't get up early.......


... you won't see sights like this!

Posted September 30, 2011 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

Wednesday 28th September – Lytchett Bay   Leave a comment

A beautiful misty morning followed by a very hot day for late September.

A misty morning at Lytchett


Morning light on the arable field.

Ringing in the arable field at Lytchett produced 50 new birds, Chiffs again were the most numerous bird (14) but assorted finches and Reed Buntings made up most of the rest.

In male Greenfinches the yellow on the primaries is more extensive and reaches the shaft near the base


The reduced yellow in the primaries of a female Greenfinch can be seen. The colour of the greater coverts and shape of the tail indicate a first year bird.


The white collar and black head of a breeding plumage Reed Bunting is acquired by abrasion not moult. Buff tips to the feathers wear away during the winter to reveal the white or black feathers below.


Paul and I were joined by Carol Grieg, another of Kevin Sayer’s all female band. Later Carol and I cleared a wet ride that we use for catching Pied Wagtails. It was a very high tide and the ride was flooded.  I managed to find a deep hole and got two bootfulls and was soaked up to the waist.

Posted September 28, 2011 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

Monday 27th September 2011 – Durlston and Middlebere   Leave a comment

After spending all of yesterday on non-birding activities, I was glad to get back to Durlston this morning.

Ringing was very rewarding, busy, but not exceptionally so, with an interesting mix of species. For once Chiffchaffs were not the most numerous birds handled, that honour went to Swallow, with 44 trapped. We also caught a few Sand and House Martins. The species mix is changing again, still plenty of Blackcaps and Chiffs, with a few Whitethroats still around, but Robins, Dunnocks, Goldcrests and Meadow Pipits are becoming more obvious. A total of 123 birds were ringed of 15 species.


Sean Walls (L) and Mick Cook (R) are joined by visiting ringer Warren Clayden (seated)


Visible migration now involves more than just hirundines. There was a steady passage of Pied Wags, Meadow Pipits and Siskins in the early morning.


The first Meadow Pipit of the year to be trapped at Durlston, hopefully the first of many


In the afternoon I headed to Middlebere in hope of seeing the remarkable flock of 20 Spoonbills that has been present recently. Unfortunately only two were there, I later learnt that the other 18 were on Brownsea.


90% of the flock was missing !


A lone Spoonbill and 500+ Black-tailed Godwits


Also present were a female Marsh Harrier, 550 Black-tailed Godwits, 4 Knot and a Yellow-legged Gull.

A near-adult Yellow-legged Gull. Middlebere is a regular site for this species which seems to prefer to feed in areas where fresh water drains into the harbour.

Posted September 27, 2011 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

Sunday 25th September – Pennington / Keyhaven   Leave a comment

Feeling in need of a lie-in after the last couple of days, I didn’t get up until 0700 today!

Later we headed for Keyhaven near Lymington and walked along the coast path towards Pennington. Our target was a Semi-palmated Sandpiper, just one of a remarkable number of American waders that have reached Britain after the remnants of Hurricane Irene passed to the north. Very hard to separate from the Old World Little Stint, only about 100 have ever been recorded in the UK (but that is far commoner than the Long-toed Stint that I failed to see last Thursday).

These stints, or peeps as they are known in America, are tiny - about the size of a sparrow. Compare with the Dunlin in the background

Juvenile Semi-palmated Sandpiper. Compared to a Little Stint it is greyer, lacks an obvious white V on the mantle, less streaking on the neck and has a straighter, shorter and more blob-tipped bill. The semi-palmated toes are almost impossible to see!

Some of our friends from the Nexus organisation were doing a walk in the area and having lunch at the White Horse in Milford-on-Sea. We had time to join them for lunch if not for the walk. Later we returned to the Keyhaven area where two juvenile Sabine’s Gulls (presumably the same individuals that were at Avon Beach) were feeding distantly on a ploughed field.

Were the juvenile Sabine's the same birds that I photographed off Avon Beach on 13th September?


Posted September 25, 2011 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

Saturday 24th September – Lytchett Bay   Leave a comment

After yesterdays large fall it was nice to ring a smaller number of birds at a more relaxing pace. The arable fields at Lytchett Bay delivered again with 57 birds, a mixture of Goldfinches, Chaffinches, Chiffchaffs plus a few Robins, Dunnocks, assorted tits etc.

Just Bob and I attended and with no trainees present we had the  time to examine the finches in detail. In particular ageing several of the Goldfinchs was problematic, with partially moulted tails, suspended moults and so on provoking discussion.

If you wonder why ageing of birds is so important to ringers, it is because much of the current BTO investigations are into population dynamics and for this can be undertaken accurate ageing of the bird population is essential.


Clearly a male Chaffinch, but ageing depends on assessing the shape of the outer tail feathers and the darkness of the tip of the central tail.


Juvenile (L) and adult (R) Goldfinch. As well as the obvious differences in head pattern the yellow in the wing is more saturated in the adult.


The same birds, the adult (above) seems to have suspended its moult as the outer four primaries are un-moulted. However there were some features of the tail that didn't fit in with this scenario!

Janis was returning from visiting the yacht in Gran Canaria at 1730 so I picked her up from Hurn Airport. A report of a remarkable 49 Black Terns at Ibsley Water, Blashford caused a detour on route, but by the time I arrived, all terns had gone and there were just thousands of roosting gulls.

Ibsley Water, Blashford


Posted September 25, 2011 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

Friday 23rd September – Durlston and Kinson   Leave a comment

When I retired the question I was regularly asked was ‘what will you do with all that spare time’. I thought it would be great to document what I was doing with the new-found spare time by writing a blog. Little did I realise that I would be so busy that sometimes there wouldn’t be time to write that blog.

A classic example of this was on Friday. Mick Cook, our trainee ringer Ali and I set up the nets at Durlston at dawn. It was soon obvious that there was a big arrival of migrants. By 1300 we had ringed 258 birds, the vast majority (182) Chiffchaffs, followed by Blackcap (57). We could have ringed many more if we had the manpower. Although numbers were high, variety was low. The only other long distance migrants trapped were two Whitethroats and four Swallows.

We were busy (but not swamped) but there was no time to photos, so I will just enclose a photo of a Chiffchaff taken at Lytchett Bay the following day.

Chiffchaff - the ubiquitous autumn migrant

Although the purpose of ringing is to gather data about the migration, longevity, population dynamics etc of our birds, there is no doubt that we all secretly (and sometimes not so secretly) hope to catch something rare. In this regards at least the autumn so far has been a disappointment, indeed Hamish, tongue-in-cheek (I hope) said that if don’t catch something rare by the end of the month we will get the boot from Durlston!
After catching up on some paperwork in the afternoon, Margaret and I joined some of our friends in the Nexus organisation at a quiz organised by the Dorset Wildlife Trust in Kinson.
The questions ran over ten rounds and were very hard (which I don’t mind) but we had little time to answer each question. It might have been due to the acoustics of the room, the shortcomings of the microphone or some other reason, but the quiz mistress’ voice came over with a penetrating shrillness and it was often hard to catch the questions. However in spite of all these issues, our team of Margaret, three other Nexuns and myself beat the other 19 teams and won!

DWT quiz at Kinson Community Centre. Guy Dutson's parents John and Bronwyn are sitting bottom right.

Posted September 25, 2011 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

Thursday 22nd September – Burpham   Leave a comment

Today I went on an old-fashioned twitch. In recent years I haven’t travelled much outside of Dorset and west Hampshire for rare birds, but some birds grab my attention more than others.

In 1982 I was offered a lift to see a Long-toed Stint in Cleveland, I could get the day off but couldn’t get anyone to swap an on-call duty that evening.  At long last the opportunity to rectify that dip occurred. A stint present for several days on a reservoir near East Grinstead, Sussex, was finally identified as the mega-rare Long-toed Stint yesterday. I found my friend Paul Morrison was heading to Sussex by train to see a Pallid Harrier at Burpham, near Arundel, so we planned that I would give him a lift to the stint and then go for the harrier later.

Well the inevitable happened, after a reasonably long stay the stint left overnight. As we were already on the road when we found out, we went straight to Arundel where we soon saw the juvenile Pallid Harrier. Also present were a male Hen Harrier, Hobby, Red Kite, Peregrine and several Buzzards and Kestrels.

The farms around Burpham must be signed up to the agro-enviromental scheme, as there were wide weedy margins, conservation headlands, beetle banks etc. The area was full of Linnets, Skylarks, Red-legged and Grey Partridges. Perhaps the most interesting sighting of the day was watching a Stoat kill and then drag a large rabbit into the hedgerow. As it pulled the rabbit which was at least three times its size close to the hedge a second Stoat came out to help.

Well I didn’t get a British tick, but I fully enjoyed raptor watching in Sussex.


Male Hen Harrier - Burpham


Pallid Harriers were once extreme rarities but have become annual in recent years. I have seen one before in the UK, Kent 2002. They breed in the steppes of western Asia but have spread into European Russia. In juvenile plumage they can be told from the similar Montague’s Harrier, by the dark ‘boa’ around the neck, pale collar and dark secondaries contrasting with the paler primaries. 


My photos of the Pallid Harrier were so distant that I have included one from the internet


Female Kestrel, Burpham


Red Kite


Grey Partridges have declined markedly in recent years and I seldom see a sight like this any more. Photo taken at Burpham.


Stoat killing a rabbit - photo from the internet

Posted September 22, 2011 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

Wednesday 21st September – Lytchett Bay   Leave a comment

With rain throughout the night and drizzle at dawn, today was never going to be a great day for migrants. I had hoped that we would be able to catch many of the Goldfinches that have taken up residence in the maize field at Lytchett Bay but they largely seem to have moved on.

Paul, Shaun and I were joined by Sharon O’Reilly, another of the self-styled ‘Kevin’s Angels’, i.e. one of Kevin Sayer’s trainees. We caught a total of 46 birds including 27 Chiffchaffs, a late WIllow Warbler and regular fare such as Dunnocks, Robins and Chaffinches, all good practice for trainees.

Paul get-the-tape-on Moreton and Sharon


Willow Warbler (below) and Chiffchaff. Willows trapped recently have been more like Chiffchaffs in their plumage tones, but note how much further the primaries extend beyond the tertials in Willow Warbler, plus the more attenuated head.


You can tell the age of a Robin by the colour of the inside of the upper mandible. Who ever thought to look there in the first place!

Posted September 21, 2011 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

Tuesday 20th September – Coventry   Leave a comment


For the second time since I started this blog I have had to attend a funeral. This time it was not as unexpected as the death of my friend Clive, as my aunt Doris has passed away at the age of 84.

I must admit that in recent years I haven’t seen much of my aunt’s, uncles and cousins and have no recent pictures of Doris, but I do have a photos of my mother and her brothers and sisters taken in 1987, at yet another funeral, that of my maternal grandmothers.


L-R: Tommy, Doris, my mother Margaret, Audrey and Gwylim at my grandmother's house, Coventry 1987

Between them these five brothers and sisters had seven offspring. They also posed for photos in 1987.  But the big mystery is –who owns the hand that can be seen between Simon and Julian?

There were some who insisted it was our grandmother waving goodbye!

L-R: Alan, Elaine, my brother Simon, Julian, myself, and Doris' sons John and David. Coventry 1987.


However I think it's an optical illusion caused by a wide-angle lens......


....if you look at the same group taken at the same time on my camera, you can see that John who has his hand on my shoulder could easily have reached behind Julian.

Well 24 years later how things have changed, Tommy has passed away, my mother is wheelchair bound and couldn’t attend, Audry was unavailable and Gwylim can only walk with a zimmer. Six of the seven cousins were present and after we had paid our respects to Doris, we had to have that photo taken again. Some have changed more than others in the last quarter century.

24 years later, L-R: Alan, Simon, Julian, John, Ian and David

My mother’s side of the family originally came from South Wales, but moved to Coventry in the 30’s as there was no work in the coal mines. My mother, Doris and Audrey were with my grandparents through the worst of the blitz, whilst all the houses around them were flattened.

The old Coventry cathedral after the Blitz.

My mother met my father when both worked in Sainsbury’s during the late 30’s and they married in 1940. They were still living in Coventry when I was born in 1951 but we moved to Kettering in 1955 and then to Derby in 1965, where my mother and brother still live. The rest of the family remained in Coventry, with the exception of Tommy (and Julian his son) who with his Navy connections moved to Torpoint in Cornwall. The following photos are from the internet.
Apart of course for the story of Lady Godiva….
…..Coventry is best known for the rebuilt cathedral, opened in the sixties. It still is to my mind an architectural marvel.

Posted September 21, 2011 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

Italian Sparrows   Leave a comment

Steve Smith sent me a link about the Italian Sparrow. This form has been considered a full species recently, e,g in the Collins Guide.

Apparently recent genetic research has confirmed that although the form italiae was derived from hybridising House and Spanish Sparrows, it now does not interbreed with either and should be considered a separate species.

Five years ago last July I went on a rather unsatisfactory walking holiday to the Dolomites. Great scenery but a host of other issues….

Dolomite mountains, northern Italy
However the trip did give me the chance to look at lots of Italian Sparrows.

Most sparrows had the brown crown and white cheeks indicative of Italian Sparrow....


...but some had whitish cheeks and a partial grey crown. Are these just House Sparrows occurring sympatrically or is there a hybrid zone?

Narrow hybrid zones do not necessarily place a ban on full species status (e.g. Carrion and Hooded Crow) but I doubt if the last word has been written on the Spanish / Italian / House Sparrow complex, or for that matter on the migratory ‘Bactrian Sparrow’  of Central Asia which only arrives to breed on cliffs after the House Sparrows in the villages are already well into the breeding season.

Posted September 19, 2011 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized