Archive for September 2011

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?   2 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 centered 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 (regretably 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: choice of ringing site and ringing effort has reduced the numbers trapped by Stour Ringing Group, breeding and wintering habitat destruction has produced a slow decline in the world population but 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

Wednesday 7th September – School run and Lytchett Bay   1 comment

Life keeps bringing new experiences. For the first time in my life (and at the age of 60) I did the school run. I don’t intend to make this a daily event, but as the grandchildren were going to proper school for the first time in three years and were unfamiliar with the bus routes, I thought I’d do the honorable thing and take them.

Kara had never tied a tie before. Margaret demonstrated how yesterday and Kara later told me ‘I expected her to tie it in a granny knot, after all she is the granny’

Unfortunately the girls have to go to different schools, Kara to Sandford and Amber to Wareham ..

Later I went to Lytchett Bay for a couple of hours, still too windy for ringing, but a wander around turned up a Great Crested Grebe, three Common Sandpipers by the sluice, a Green Sandpiper and 10 Little Egrets on the far fields, a scattering of Swallows, House Martins and Sand Martins, a Yellow Wagtail over, several Buzzards and an Osprey.

As the number of breeding Ospreys in the UK grows, the number that stop off in Poole Harbour in the autumn on route to West Africa increases, with up to 5 present in the harbour on some occasions.

Posted September 7, 2011 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized