Archive for September 2011

Monday 19th September – Lytchett Bay   Leave a comment

An improvement in the weather meant I was back ringing, this time in the arable field at Lytchett Bay. The crop margins continue to be most productive with over 40 Chiffchaffs and good numbers of Goldfinch ringed. Other species ringed included a Grasshopper Warbler, Blackcap, Meadow Pipit, Reed Bunting and a couple of Willow Warblers. A Sparrowhawk was a near miss, getting out of the net before we could reach it.

This morning we were joined by Kathryn Ross, a trainee who normally rings with Kevin Sayer at Hengistbury Head


Chiffchaffs continue to be the commonest bird ringed


As they have a complete moult after breeding, ageing Chiffchaffs can be tricky, solidly dark and broad tail feathers with a lack of nicks (caused by abrasion in the nest) indicates that this is an adult.


If we want to ring in the reed bed and arable field we have to avoid this fella every net round!

Posted September 19, 2011 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

Saturday 17th and Sunday 18th September   Leave a comment

With wind and rain making the conditions unsuitable for ringing I caught up with a lot of domestic chores this weekend. I also took Janis and Andy to Hurn airport. Andy is returning to their yacht Ladycat in Gran Canaria for the time being, Janis is going for a week to sort out and retrieve her possessions. I was most annoyed to find that Hurn airport now charges you to drop off passengers. Am I sounding more and more like Victor Meldrew every day?


Janis and Andy depart for Hurn airport, Amber and Kara with their friends in the background.

Andy will continue his web-based business in Gran Canaria and avoid the British winter. Photo taken in eastern Spain 2010


The girls of course, moved back in with us, which has become a logistical nightmare as they continuously commute between the two houses looking for one item or the other.

On Sunday morning Shaun and I hoped to have a go ringing Goldfinches at Lytchett Bay but the rain arrived much earlier than forecast so the early start was wasted. Later I was able to do a little ringing in the garden and was rewarded with the capture of this feisty Woodpigeon. Although they may seem highly sedentary, there is a large migration of Woodpigeons across Dorset in early November. Little is known about the origins of these birds, so ringing remains of value.


Adult Woodpigeon, Upton.


Posted September 18, 2011 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

Thursday evening and Friday morning 15th / 16th September   Leave a comment

I was invited for a Curry at Wetherspoons in Poole to celebrate my former boss Andy Barber’s birthday. It was great to meet up with old colleagues and get up to date with the happenings at the hospital.

Andy Barber, Tash Barrow and Anna Pietrangelo

Foreground Carmela Pietrangelo and Tim Kellaway, background, Dave Tiller, Gio Pietrangelo and Andy Tucker.


 This morning six of us went to Durlston with the intention of working both ringing sites. It proved to windy to ring on the slopes so we all ended up in the garden. Although threatening at first, the sun soon came out and the wind subsided somewhat.

Red sky in the morning, ringers warning?

We did quite well in the end with 93 birds ringed, mainly Chiffs and Blackcaps again. The main feature was an enormous movement of Swallows, estimated by Hamish to be 16,000 per hour for the first few hours. We also saw 8 Common Buzzards heading east, a Hobby, Sparrowhawk and a Turtle Dove.

We only trapped three out of the tens of thousands that were passing.


I've included this poor photo of a Swallow mid manouver. Not only is the tail spread but the alulas are pressed forwards, acting like the slots on an aircraft wing.


The increasingly uncommon Turtle Dove

Posted September 16, 2011 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

14th and 15th September – Lytchett Bay and Durlston.   Leave a comment

A two days in one post (to try and catch up) Been ringing both mornings, Lytchett Bay on the 14th and Durlston on the 15th.

The reed bed season is drawing to a close, although we need to maintain twice weekly reed bed sessions until the end of the month to fulfil our Aquatic Warbler survey commitments. Acros are now in short supply and the majority of birds ringed at Lytchett came from the margins of the maize field, mainly Goldfinches and Chiffchaffs.

This is an adult Goldfinch undergoing the complete post-breeding moult. The blackish-grey rictal bristles and lack of red behind the eye indicate it is a female.

The wing of the same bird. The outer three primaries are unmoulted, the next is missing, the next is regrowing and the inner four have been replaced.



After a clear cold night with a very light easterly breeze we trapped a remarkable 235 birds at Durlston this morning. Fortunately we had a good number of ringers for the early morning at least. At times the garden has heaving with birds but this tailed off by about 0900.

Numbers may have been high but variety was low compared to say late August. Chiffchaffs predominated with 124 ringed, followed by 69 Blackcaps. Only one Willow was caught and just 6 Whitethroats. More unusual species, at least in the hand, included Woodpigeon and Lesser Whitethroat.

Too busy at Durlston today to stop for photos, just a quick shot of this Lesser Whitethroat was all I could manage.

Posted September 15, 2011 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

Tuesday 13th September – Mudeford and Stanpit   Leave a comment

Christchurch Harbour mouth at Mudeford Quay

Avon Beach looking towards Highcliffe


A visit to Avon Beach to the east of Mudeford Quay proved most worthwhile as well the reported juvenile Sabine’s Gull, a second Sabine’s and a first winter Little Gull were present.

 Sabine’s Gulls breed in the High Arctic, those reaching Britain probably breed in Arctic Canada, they winter off Namibia in the Benguela Current and around the Cape of Good Hope. They are usually only seen in Dorset after strong westerly winds.

Juvenile Sabine’s have a grey head and mantle and although not as striking as the adult, are still one of the best looking gulls in the world.








The Little Gull lives up to its name and looks like a tern in flight. Many of the UK birds originate in western Russia and Finland and winter in the Irish Sea. Best sites for them in the UK are around Merseyside / Lancashire and the Humber estuary as they cross the Pennines to and from their breeding and wintering grounds.

Due to the position of the sun it was only possible to photograph these birds as they flew towards us. The obvious dark M on the upper wings can’t be seen but at least the dark cap and face pattern can.

First year Little Gull

First year Little Gull

Also present was an juvenile Arctic Tern. At this age it can be told from Common Tern by the fine dark trailing edge to the primaries. At all ages the primaries of Arctic Tern look translucent whereas in Common only the inner primaries look translucent.

Juvenile Arctic Tern


Juvenile Arctic tern


Arctic Terns travel from breeding grounds in the  Arctic to winter in the Antarctic and so enjoy more hours of daylight than another living creature. They are fierce defenders of their breeding terrritories as the two photos below show.

Arctic Tern and Norman MacClean, Ny Alesund, Spitsbergen June 2009Arctic Tern photographed with a wide angle lens. Ny Alesund, Spitsbergen, June 2009


Arctic Tern photographed with a wide angle lens. Ny Alesund, Spitsbergen, June 2009

I later headed onto Stanpit Marsh, one of the best birding localities in east Dorset. The tide was now at maximum and there wasn’t much to see except a few Curlew, Bar-tailed Godwits, Lapwing and a roost of 50+ Sandwich Terns.

Stanpit Marsh, ChristchurchStanpit Marsh, Christchurch


Stanpit Marsh, Christchurch


Sandwich Tern roost

And finally I went up to Blashford  where the highlight was a Hobby hunting over Ivy Lake. On my way I stopped to buy a new pair of walking boots at Barker’s in Southampton Road, Ringwood. If you need new boots then I highly recommend them, as they give a level of attention and service unheard of in High Street shops.

Barker's, Ringwood.

By the way: my run in with Currys / PC World over the instalation of digital TV boxes resulted in a £50 voucher. So it pays to complain.

Posted September 14, 2011 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

Sunday 12th August – Portland, Abbotsbury and Lytchett Bay   Leave a comment

With gale force winds seawatching was the only option. I returned to Portland but this time watched from Chesil Cove, where the Chesil Bank meets the Isle of Portland.

Seawatching in Chesil Cove

There were three Grey Phalaropes present, but compared to yesterday views were poor, the birds being invisible on the water surface and only showing when they flew.

Finding a 20cm long grey bird sitting on the sea can be quite a challenge in these conditions.

With news of a confiding Lapland Bunting still being seen west of Abbotsbury I decided to give it a go, but in spite of an hour of searching along the margins of the windswept shingle, I drew a blank.

The Fleet ends at Abbotsbury, but the shingle bank continues westwards as far as Cogden Beach.


I was tempted by news of another storm driven seabird, a Sabine’s Gull at Christchurch, but the traffic by now was dreadful, so I settled for a quick visit to Lytchett Bay, where a few Curlew and Black-tailed Godwits were the only waders on show.

A full low tide at Lytchett Bay results in many waders feeding out of view in the creeks.


The only bird I photographed was this Great Spotted Woodpecker above my parked car.

Posted September 12, 2011 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

Sunday 11th September – Pennington marshes.   Leave a comment

As Margaret was busy this morning we delayed our trip out until this afternoon and went over to Pennington marshes near Lymington. This extensive area comprises of salt marsh and tidal mud flats with a series of freshwater pools behind the sea wall and is an excellent place to see waders and waterfowl.

Pennington marshes

The bird we had come to see was a Grey Phalarope, an unusual wader that breeds in the high arctic and winters at sea, mainly in the Benguela current off Namibia and the Humbolt current off western South America. Young birds are often storm driven towards the coast in the autumn and can be seen on seawatches and occasionally feeding on coastal pools.

Juvenile Grey Phalarope


Although they will feed along margins as in the photo above, they are more often seen swimming in circles, disturbing small insects which they catch in their fine bill.


Although known as Grey Phalarope in the UK, the internationally recognised name is Red Phalarope, after the stunning summer plumage of the female. Photo taken Spitsbergen June 2009.


All three species of Phalarope have a reversed breeding strategy where the duller male incubates the eggs and raises the chicks. Photo taken Spitsbergen June 2009

I had also hoped we might see a Curlew Sandpiper or a Little Stint, small waders from arctic Siberia, but the tide had dropped and all the small waders had left the pools for the mud flats. The wind was now so strong that scoping the tidal flats was impossible and all we saw were nearby Dunlin, Turnstone, Redshank, Ringed and Grey Plovers, plus a few ducks, herons and egrets

Grey Herons struggled into the wind....


... as did the smaller Little Egret.

Posted September 11, 2011 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

Saturday 10th September – Portland   Leave a comment

The wind returned today so Kevin, Shaun and I spent the morning seawatching at Portland Bill. The southerly wind brought a good number of migrant seabirds inshore, but as with my previous visit, the area to the east of the Bill where were birds were passing did not always have the best viewing conditions.

The view to the east of Portland Bill

Good birds included 10 Arctic Skuas, 7 Bonxies, 2 Manx and 4 Balearic Shearwaters, many Common Scoter and a few Common and Sandwhich Terns and Razorbills, whilst a close Merlin, and migrant Yellow Wagtails and Wheatears passed nearby.

Small parties of Wheatears appeared on the cliff edge, but immediatley moved on


Resident Rock Pipits can be found all along the Portland cliffs


This Spotted Flycatcher is perching on the guy line a mist net in the Observatory garden


A rare Ni Moth trapped overnigth at the Observatory.

More photos and information about Portland Bird Observatory can be found at 

Posted September 10, 2011 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

Friday 9th September   Leave a comment

A break in the windy conditions allowed us to ring at Lytchett Bay this morning. The reed beds delivered mainly Reed and Sedge Warblers with the occasional Reed Bunting and Whitethroat. We have started to ring on the edge of an arable filed with a wide margin of corn marigolds. This has proved to be a productive area for Goldfinches, with a flock of up to 40 birds feeding in the area. Chiffchaffs were also using the agricultural margins.

Juvenile Goldfinches lack the familiar red face, which is acquired after the post juvenile moult.


 During the evening our friend Christine invited us and several of her friends to a local pub to celebrate her 22nd birthday.


Malcolm and Christine


Posted September 10, 2011 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

Where have all the Aquatics gone?   3 comments



The Aquatic Warbler is a scarce inhabitant of marshy areas and sedge beds in eastern Europe and has the dubious distinction of being the most threatened passerine in Europe.  The bulk of the breeding population, estimated at 12 – 14,000 pairs, is centred on eastern Poland, southern Belarus and northern Ukraine. Small and critically endangered populations exist in western Siberia and northern Poland / northern Germany.


Post breeding the many migrate westwards through the Low Countries and northern France before turning south towards their winter grounds in Senegal, Mali and Mauritania. The main wintering area appears to in Djoudj National Park in northern Senegal where between 20 – 60 % of the world population may occur.


The purpose of this posting is to draw attention to this declining species and to highlight Stour Ringing Groups involvement in monitoring its migration.
Although always scarce, the above map shows how much the range has contracted in recent years due to habitat destruction. In addition places like Djoudj National Park in Senegal have had water diverted for agricultural development resulting in a huge loss of wintering habitat.

Much of the extensive wetlands in Djoudj National park, Senegal have been lost since this photo was taken in 2005.

Breeding Aquatic Warblers can easily be seen in eastern Poland in the Biebzra marshes or in Hungary on the Hortobagy. in the UK birds there was once a reasonable chance that juvenile birds could be found at Lodmoor RSPB or at Marizion in Cornwall in the last ten days of August. However in recent years very few have been seen in the field.

Aquatic Warbler – Holland – photo by James Lidster.

A similar drop in numbers ringed has occurred in recent years. In the 70’s birds were regularly ringed at Radipole with 22 trapped in one year. This relatively high capture rate led to the species being removed from the British Birds Rarities Committee list in the mid 80’s.
Stour Ringing Group ringed at Lodmoor from 1979 until 1982. Our first Aquatic was trapped in August of that year. As a new trainee I was ringing with Trevor Squire on 22/9/79 when the second was caught. It was made clear that I was extremely lucky to be allowed to ring such a great bird so early in my ringing career. A further 11 birds were trapped between then and 1982 when the RSPB took over management and withdrew our ringing permission.

Aquatic Warbler Lodmoor 1979 – image taken from scanned 35mm slide

Aquatic Warbler Lodmoor 1979 – image taken from scanned 35mm slide

 In August 1983 I obtained my permit and started regular ringing at Lytchett Bay. on 23/8/83 I trapped an Aquatic Warbler one evening. This remains the only Aquatic caught away from the early morning period and was one of only five or so birds trapped that evening.
In the late 80s I did some ringing at Keysworth near Wareham. Realising the potential of the site, the whole group got involved and a considerable amount of manpower and netting was deployed. Also tape lures were used for the first time. This proved very productive and the following were ringed 20 in 91, 13 in 92, 7 in 93, 17 in 94, 5 in 95, 4 in 96, 11 in 97 and 4 in 2000. The low numbers in 95 and 96 and the blanks in 98 and 99 were due to reduced coverage. At the end of this period there was a change of land ownership and we were unable to continue. As well as the expected first year birds we trapped a number of highly bleached and abraded adults. These were a creamy colour with chocolate brown streaking and tails so worn that only the shafts remained.

This is sight that is unlikely to be repeated for a long time. Keysworth, Wareham August 1994. Image taken from a scanned print.

From 2001 to today ringing effort has returned to Lytchett Bay, a mere 4km north-east of Keysworth. In spite of considerable effort including the use of tape lures and signing up to the Europe wide investigation into Aquatic Warbler distribution, not a single bird has been trapped up to 2010
What is the reason for this huge decline?
  • Is Lytchett that much poorer for the species that Keysworth? maybe, the reed bed is smaller, we use fewer nets, but you would have expected at least a few to be caught at Lytchett.
  • Has the population crashed since 1997? the decline continues, but the change could not have been that rapid.  Numbers ringed on the continent have not reduced that much during the period concerned.
  • Is the weather to blame? Probably yes. During this period the number of field sightings have dramatically declined, with few records from Lodmoor, Christchurch Harbour, Portland or West Bexington / Cogden. For the last decade August has been dominated by westerly winds. Aquatic Warblers that migrate to northern France / the Low Countries may arrive here by ‘drift migration’ if the wind is in the south or east.

This August for the first time for years the wind was easterly at the critical time and an Aquatic was trapped at Lytchett Bay on 20th August (regrettably I was in Derby doing decorating at the time)

Aquatic Warbler Lytchett Bay 20th August 2011 and the 95th to be ringed by SRG. Photo by Shaun Robson

Aquatic Warbler Lytchett Bay 20th August 2011. Photo by Shaun Robson



In conclusion: 1) choice of ringing site and ringing effort has reduced the numbers trapped by Stour Ringing Group, 2) breeding and wintering habitat destruction has produced a slow decline in the world population but 3) weather conditions seem to have caused the enormous reduction of birds seen or ringed in Dorset over the last decade.
The ongoing ringing of this species Europe wide allows continuing monitoring of the migrant population and the retrapping in the UK of several Polish ringed birds proves the origin of our birds. However only the protection of the vulnerable wetland habitats in eastern Europe and the oasis of Djoudj National Park and similar areas in Senegal, will ensure long-term survival of this enigmatic species.
For further information including a correlation of arrival dates with wind direction see an article I wrote in the Dorset Bird report for 1995 and for up to date information on this species see

Posted September 8, 2011 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized