Archive for February 2012

27th – 29th February – Ower and Lytchett Bay   Leave a comment

On the 27th I managed to catch up with one bird that has been avoiding me this year, a nice male Blackcap that I saw in Ewan’s garden bringing my year list to 203. Some years I have seen fewer birds in the entire twelve months than I have in the first two of 2012.

For much of the 27th and the 28th I carried on with an non-birding project, the very time-consuming task of transferring music from old cassettes to my PC. The quality has been quite variable, after all some of the music came for old 45s I bought in the sixties, and I may have to put my hand in my pocket and buy new copies of these musical relics.

On the 29th I headed for the Ower area on the south side of Poole Harbour. A copse here has proved to be a good spot for Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, and I have seen them here several times in the past. On arrival I heard a soft tapping coming from fairly low down in the thickets, much searching failed to locate the perpetrator. I know it was too quiet for a Great Spot, too loud for a tit, I didn’t hear any Nuthatches, so I can’t escape the thought that I passed up a Lesser Spot.

The woodland was full of birds, half a dozen Treecreepers, a pair of Marsh Tits, Great Spots and Green Woodpeckers, a couple of Nuthatches (in a different area) a few Redpolls and shed loads of Siskin. I walked past Ower Farm towards Studland but failed to find any thing new. I also checked the woodland at Sherford Bridge for Lesser Spots, again without success.




Damp, mossy woodland at Ower.






Ower Farm with Poole Harbour in the background.


In the late afternoon Carol, Terry and I attempted to ring a Reed Bunting roost at Lytchett Bay. This is the same area that we used to ring Pied Wagtails in the autumn. The net ride is very muddy and seems to have been greatly widened over the winter perhaps by local fisherman. We saw some nice birds, a Peregrine, a 100+ Redwings coming to roost and after dark, a pair of Tawny Owls  but the ringing was most disappointing with a total catch of zero! I think that we have left this attempt to late in the year and that the Buntings no longer are roosting communally and are dispersing to breed.

Posted February 29, 2012 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

26th February – Pennington Marshes   Leave a comment

We had a nice lie in after three early mornings on the run. In mid morning we set off for Pennington Marshes near Lymington where a Red-breasted Goose had been reported. This is probably the same bird that I saw at Christchurch last autumn and failed to see twice on the Exe in Devon earlier this year. It is clearly moving with Dark-bellied Brents and presumably will follow them back to arctic Siberia. whether it actually meets up with any more Red-breasts which have a very restricted breeding range (Taimyr Peninsular only) is a matter of conjecture.

It was a wonderful spring like day, wich temperatures around 15 C. Many birds were in song and many people were out walking the dog, cycling, jogging or birding. We saw the Red-breasted Goose but it was fairly distant and into the sun so photography wasn’t possible. However conditions were ideal for photographing birds on the freshwater lagoons, the results are shown  below.

Skylarks in song: a sure sign of spring

Drake Shoveler and Pintail

Two drake and one female Shoveler

Drake Pintail

A pair of Pintails

Drake Pintail

Spotted Redshank

Ringed Plover and Brent Goose

A flock of Brent Goose

Brent Goose

I was unable to get any photos of the Red-breasted Goose as it was distant and against the light, but here is a photo of what may have been the same bird, taken in Christchurch last autumn.

Posted February 27, 2012 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

25th February – South Kensington, London part 2   Leave a comment

The impressive foyer. The lighting on the arc is constantly moving and the individual dots briefly coalesce to form words

Every time I try to place photos side by side instead of one below the other it goes a bit haywire after a couple of lines. Attempts to correct this usually only make the matter worse! As a result I decided to post my Science Museum article even though it wasn’t completed and then continue with a second post.

You can have a car that's any colour you like, as long as it's black! A Model T Ford

A steam engine, the type of which powered the Industrial Revolution.

The Apollo 10 capsule

The first train, Stevenson's Rocket.

A copy of Babbage's Difference Engine, the first computer, designed in 1849.

The original ERNIE, the Electronic Random Number Indicator Equipment that was used to select wining Premium Bonds in the 50's


Much of the Science Museum now seems to be taken up with the history of innovation, rather than pure science itself, not that this makes it any less interesting. There are many iconic objects on display some of which are shown above.

We eventually managed to reunite all of our group and left at about 1715 for the 1600 coach home, getting back at 2100. It was a wonderful day and the girls really enjoyed it. I hope they learnt some science as well!

Posted February 27, 2012 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

25th February – South Kensington, London part 1   Leave a comment

For a total change of scenery today Margaret and I took Amber and Kara to the Science Museum in South Kensington, London. We caught the 0630 coach to Victoria and after a quick snack and a trip on the tube we arrived at the Science Museum at 1015. We went straight to the third floor where there were many interactive displays that we knew would fascinate the girls (and us as well).

Amber learns about the magnifying effects of lenses....

... whilst Kara finds out that certain lens combinations can cause a distorted image.

A very simple but beautiful display was produced by dropping pellets of dry ice (solid CO2) onto a water film on a backlit black background........

..... jets of CO2 gas escaping from the pellet drive it randomly across the surface.

Margaret and Amber find out that the components of an arch must be assembled in the correct sequence.

.... and we went to a demonstration on explosions and somehow Kara got in on the act!

After a spot of lunch we headed for the other exhibits. Having had an interest in the early days of aviation I found the display of historic aircraft to be fascinating.

A copy of the first ever aircraft, the Wright brother's 'The Flyer' that flew in 1903. The original is in the Smithsonian.

Bleriot's monoplane - the first to fly the Channel in 1909


The Vickers Vimy, the first plane to cross the Atlantic in 1919.

The iconic WWII aircraft - the Spitfire.

.... and the other veteran of the Battle of Britain - the Hurricane.

Messerschmitt Me 163, the world's only rocket powered fighter, Christine's partner, Malcom is writing a monograph on this most unusual aircraft.

We had now all split up as everyone wanted to see different displays. I had a look at the medical dioramas in the Wellcome Foundations exhibition.

A mock up of a Victorian pharmacy .......

.... and a of a 30's Microbiology Lab, not much different to when I started in the labs in the early 70's

Posted February 27, 2012 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

24th February – 200+ in Gwent.   Leave a comment

For the first time this year I left England and headed for Gwent in South Wales. Chris Chapleo offered Paul Morrison and Jol Mitchell and I a lift by  to see a Common Yellowthroat in the little town of Rhiwderin near Newport. This American warbler is an extremely rare vagrant to the UK and probably has been in the country since the transatlantic storms of last autumn. Paul and I had seen this species on Scilly in 1984 but it was a British tick for the other two.

We left my house at 0515 and arrived at a group of fields outside Rhiwderin at 0740. The fact that it was ever discovered wintering in these unpreposing fields in the first place is remarkable. There were about thirty birders present and there was an awful lot of hedgerow to search, but we had only been there about 30 minutes when it was found. It took a while before it showed again but in due course gave good views.

To enlarge any of the photos just click on them.

Crossing the Severn Bridge into Wales.

I didn't get close enough for a decent photo, so here is a shot of the same bird taken from the Internet. Yellowthroats are common in wetland areas in the USA and southern Canada.

Later we headed for Cosmeston Lake to the west of Cardiff. Here another American bird, a Lesser Scaup was wintering. We had good views with Tufted Duck for comparison. Lesser Scaups are most closely related to Greater Scaup, a bird that occurs in both North America and Eurasia, but differs by its slightly peaked crown, blue rather than green gloss to the head, finely vermiculated flanks and smaller size.

Unknown in the UK before the mid-eighties, Lesser Scaup (on the left) is now found annually.

A Whooper Swan was also on the lake but it was very tame and wore a plastic ring, so almost certainly was an escape from captivity.

We debated whether to make a detour on the way back and see a Cackling Goose at Torr reservoir near Shepton Mallet. As I mentioned before when I tried to see a similar bird near Southampton, the problems are twofold, a) is the bird actually a Cackling Goose rather than one of the smaller races of Canada Goose? and b) is the bird a transatlantic vagrant rather than an escape? All the evidence pointed to it being a ‘Richardson’s Goose’ the nominate form of Cackling and by far the best candidate for vagrancy, however it was wintering with feral Canada Geese and was a lot farther south than most Cackling Geese, which are normally found with wintering Pink-feet or Barnacles in western Scotland. 

I think the others in our car hadn't realised how distinctive the tiny Cackling Goose was, it certainly was well appreciated.

To our delight an Iceland Gull flew in and landed by the geese.......

.... before landing on the reservoir.

Before I left my year list was on 198 and I wondered if I could push my list to 200 before the end of February, now it stands at 201 !

Posted February 24, 2012 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

22nd – 23rd February   Leave a comment

Much of the 22nd was taken up in searching for another bird that I get to see most winters, Blackcap, a bird that can often be seen in our garden. but not this year. There is no way I can miss this bird for my year list, as it is an abundant summer visitor and passage migrant, but it would be nice to see a wintering one, and also I am hoping to push my year list over 200 by the end of February and seeing one would definately help!


Later I managed one of my infrequent visits to the gym. Last spring in the run up to the West Papua trip I was going three times a week, but I have found that very difficult to maintain since.


The ground floor of the gym is packed with machines but not with people at this time of day.


The upstairs freestyle section is often a more pleasant area to exercisse..


In the evening we met up with old colleagues, Tim Kellaway and Gio and Jessica Pietrangelo. This is the first time I have seen Gio since he retired in December.


On the 23rd Carol Grieg and I did some ringing at Holton Lee. We caught about 50 birds but two thirds were re-traps. We are catching a few birds that have been ringed elsewhere, most likely nearby Lytchett Bay but it will take a little while to sort the data out. The best bird trapped was a Treecreeper. A wintering Chiffchaff was in the area but we failed to catch it.


A Common Treecreeper



Common Treecreeper can be told from a vagrant Short-toed Treecreeper by the markings on the alula feather and the precise alignment and shape of the pale bar in the wing, especially on the longest primaries.


At times there seemed to be more Squirrels than birds around the feeders. This one amused us by sticking its front paws between the mesh and flicking out bird seeds.


Posted February 23, 2012 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

21st February – Blashford / New Forest and Shapwick   Leave a comment

I started the 21st by dropping some borrowed CDs back at Roger’s house in Alderholt. From there its only a couple of miles to Harbridge in the Avon Valley, where large numbers of swans are wintering. There used to be a flock of one to two hundred wild Bewick’s there 20 years ago but these days we have to make do with just six, although there are close to 200 Mute Swans in the area. Unusually a Whooper Swan, which normally winters no closer than Lancashire or the East Anglian fens, is  alsothere this year.

This flock contained 190 Mute, 6 Bewicks & 1 Whooper Swan, 60 Greylag, 50 Canada and 1 Egyptian Goose

Two Bewick's at the back of the flock. This is our smallest swan with a neat, rounded yellow patch on the bill. The juveniles remain grey all winter unlike the blotchy moulting juvenile Mutes.

Whilst Bewick's arrive here from western Siberia, most of our Whooper's come from Iceland. Note the larger size, longer neck and triangular yellow patch on the bill.

Although Icelandic Greylags to come to Britain to winter, the flock in the Avon Valley is probably of feral origin.

At nearby Ibsley Water I saw a group of five Barnacle Geese (probably of feral origin), six male Goosanders, a Pintail and the usual array of ducks. A brief visit to Ivy Lake produced a Bittern although it remained largely hidden behind a tree, but the Woodland Hide still failed to produced any Bramblings, which are strangely absent this year. After admiring the Siskins and Lesser Redpolls and photographing some ducks I headed for the New Forest.

The drake Gadwall is a beautiful bird when seen well, with its black rear end and finely vermiculated neck and flanks. The female is reminiscent of a female Mallard but has orange sides to the bill and a white 'speculum' in the wing.

The Gadwall's white speculum and blackish greater coverts can be seen in this photo.

Even when the spatulate bill is hidden the drake Shoveler can be easily identified by its striking plumage.


I had been told by several people that the area around Blackwater Arboretum in the New Forest has been good for Brambling, so this was my next stop. I usually go here in the late afternoon to see Hawfinches coming to roost. A couple of hours in the area still failed to produce any Brambling so I set off for a slow drive around the area, stopping everytime I saw a flock of Chaffinches. Again no luck but I did see several Treecreepers, a Marsh Tit and a huge flock of Redwing feeding on the forest floor that must have numbered several hundred.

Before I went home I detoured to the River Stour at Shapwick, to the north of Wimborne. A drake Garganey has been seen here recently but its very early date (most don’t arrive from Africa until late March) and its prediction for a particular female Mallard have some to query its origins.


The Mallard friendly Garganey


Garganey (centre) with two Mallards. Note the grey forewing and the white covert bar and trailing edge to the speculum.


Finally I headed to Lytchett Bay in hopes of seeing a Goosander (a rare bird in the Bay) which had been seen earlier by Nick Hopper. There were 16 of the related Red-breasted Merganser but no sign of the Goosander

Posted February 23, 2012 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

20th February – Hatch Pond   Leave a comment

A visit to Hatch Pond resulted in sightings of three of the four birds present. It never ceases to amaze me that this tiny reed bed surrounded by houses and industrial estates can host four of these elusive birds in winter. Bitterns are usually associated with much larger reed beds. Careful management of reed beds in the last few decades has resulted in the British breeding population incresing to about 100 pairs. It is not known if the Hatch Pond birds are from elsewhere in the UK or from the continent.

Hatch Pond

Bittern number 1 was in front of the viewpoint

Bittern number 2 skulked in the reeds to the left of the viewpoint......

... before stretching forwards to catch a fish. Bittern number 3 was on the far side of the pond, whilst number 4 had flown out of view before I arrived.

Posted February 20, 2012 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

15th – 19th February – Owls, Woodlarks, Crossbills, Skittles, Ibis and WEBS   Leave a comment

Once again I am falling behind with my blog. I have managed to do some birding on each of these days.

On the 15th I spent the afternoon up at Sixpenny Handley. This area has hosted a Great Grey Shrike and several species of owls. It was the latter that I hoped to see today. Short-eared Owls often come out from their roosts well before dark, so I hung around the ‘pumping station road’ from mid afternoon, seeing Red-legged and Grey Partridge, Fieldfares and Redwing but little else, although a guy who got there before me had seen a Red Kite. As the sun set I had a distant silhouette views of a Short-eared Owl, but just as I was about to leave at 1740 one flew over the road and gave great views.  On the way back I saw a Little Owl perched on a barn. Little Owls were introduced to Britain from Europe in the 19th century and soon became established, however in recent years numbers have plummeted and have all but disappeared from around Poole Harbour.

The first Short-eared Owl was seen against this stunning sunset.

Although almost dark, I had as good views as this of the Short-eared Owl. Photo from the internet.

A Little Owl on a barn roof, similar to my view on the 15th. Photo from the internet.

On the 16th trainee ringer Ali and I visited Holton Lee. Birds were not as numerous as on previous visits, which was a bit of a relief as it gave Ali a change to practice extracting and ring all the birds. We ringed 32 new birds, mainly tits but also a few Chaffinches, Dunnocks and Robins.

We ring at the feeders in front of the hide. Ali is extracting a bird from the net.

Ali is measuring this Blue Tit's wing. A record of the wing length can indicate the origin of a population and in some species can be used to establish the sex of the bird.

In the evening of the 16th I went to Lytchett Bay. Best birds were a pair of Goldeneye, a bird that wasn’t seen down the Bay in 2011 and a Woodcock that flew into the stubble field at dusk.

On the morning of the 17th I headed to Sherford Bridge in the hope of locating a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, no luck there, but I had a very enjoyable morning, Song and Mistle Thrushes were in good voice and there were plenty of Siskin, Fieldfares and Redwing about. On the heathland I saw between three and five Woodlarks and several Dartfords.

Woodlarks will sing from the ground or from a tree but the from the longest and most beautiful song is given on the wing.

In the evening I gave my Tropical Updates talk to CHOG, Christchurch Harbour Ornithological Group. Unfortunately the talk was badly affected by technical difficulties, which spoilt it for me, if not for the audience. Later some of us retired to the pub for a few drinks, there Roger Howell mentioned he was twitching the Parrot Crossbill in west Sussex the next day and I asked if I could join him.

Crossbill taxonomy is complex and unresolved. In Scandinavia two very similar species co-exist, Common Crossbill and Parrot Crossbill which differ mainly by the size of the bill (they feed on different species of conifer cones). In the Caledonian Forest in Scotland there is a third species, Scottish Crossbill, that has evolved to feed on Scots Pines. As if it wasn’t hard enough to tell Common and Scottish apart, recent evidence has proved that Parrot breeds there as well.

The West Sussex bird itself is controversial, its bill isn’t as big as would be expected for a Parrot, it is a dead ringer for a Scottish, except that they are considered non irruptive and have never been recorded away from the Caledonian Forest. We arrived soon at Blackdown on the South Downs soon after ten and spent the next three hours watching Common Crossbills coming into to a pool to drink. Most were paired up as Crossbills breed early although there was also a contingent of single males, presumably their mates were already on the nest. The putative female Parrot arrived on its own, gave a slightly deeper cal and showed the necessary ID features,l but although I photographed it none of my pics show the bill! Roger concluded the debate by saying ‘I’m certain we have seen a very interesting bird!’

By early afternoon the cold front that had been forecast arrived and we headed home. Plans to go to Southampton for another Glaucous Gull search were abandoned as the rain become very heavy.

Blackdown is on a ridge high on the South Downs.

We spent three hours watching Crossbills coming to into these trees and dropping to drink at the pool.

A pair of Common Crosbills

The West Sussex Parrot Crossbill, most Parrot Crosbills have much larger bills. Photo from the internet.

We also had good views of Woodlark at Blackdown. Note the short tail with white tips to the outer feathers.

Woodlark have a complex face pattern and a dark alula feather which shows well in this shot.

On the evening of the 18th Margaret and I joined our friends in the Nexus organisation for a skittles evening and a pub meal.

Margaret uses the underarm bowling technique. Behind her Julia maintains the score..

I prefer the 'squat and thrust' technique but it doesn't give me higher scores just sore wrists! Behind me is the organiser Sue and Alwyn from the Sailsbury Nexus group.

On Sunday morning a visit to Wimborne market was delayed when news broke that the Glossy Ibis I had searched for on Monday had been found again at Wareham Common. we had great views on arrival. The bird was colour ringed and we could read the ring number through the scope.

Living up to its name, Glossy Ibis has become a regular if scarce visitor to Britain, probably from Spain. The ring combination will help to confirm this.

The bird liked to feed close to the path, which meant it was often flushed by dog walkers and joggers.

There is the debate whether the area north of the railway line should be included in the Poole Harbour recording area but either way I saw the bird fly over the track before doubling back to Wareham Common.

POST SCRIPT added evening of 20/2/12. The speed of the internet means I have already heard that this Glossy Ibis was ringed at Donana Biological Reserve near Seville, southern Spain in May 2004 as a first year bird. It has been recorded four times since then at various Spanish sites and was also in Devon earlier this year.

In the afternoon I had to do the monthly WEBS (wetland birds survey) in Holes Bay. There weren’t as many birds around as on previous visits. Perhaps some have already started to move north towards their breeding grounds. Highlights were 41 Avocet, 4 Goldeneye and a few Pintail.

The southern part of Holes Bay.

Dramatic skies make counting the birds in the direction of the sun a bit of a problem.

Posted February 20, 2012 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

14th February – Christchurch   Leave a comment

After Sunday’s partially unsuccessful visit to Stanpit and Mudeford, I headed back there today. Unlike Sunday, the Long-tailed Duck was offshore, but as expected was too distant for photos, so the inevitable ‘photo from the internet’ has been posted below. Long-tailed Ducks are unusual in that they have a distinct winter plumage, most male ducks moult into a drab ‘eclipse’ plumage after breeding and moult back into their breeding finery by the onset of winter. Long-tailed Ducks,  which are high arctic breeders moult into their brownish breeding plumage for the summer, into an autumn ‘eclipse’ and then into a winter plumage. Different feather tracts may be replaced once, twice or three times in a single year! Arguably the winter plumage, particularly in the adult male, is more attractive than the breeding plumage.

A winter plumaged female type Long-tailed Duck (photo from the internet).

A male Long-tailed Duck in breeding plumage photographed in Spitsbergen in 2009.

At Fisherman’s Bank the Spotted Sandpiper showed well after a short search. It is a shame that we didn’t get good views on Sunday, as Margaret has never seen one.

The differences in tail length, leg colour, face pattern and covert pattern compared to Common Sandpiper were discussed when I saw the Lyme Regis bird....

..... but this bird is starting to show the best diagnostic feature of all, its spots, are just starting to appear on the rear flanks.

In flight the white wing bar does not extend to the inner wing as it does in Common Sandpiper.

Another 'spotted' bird was present, a Spotted Redshank. Formerly there was a large passage of this species in the spring, many in their gorgeous white spotted black plumage, but in recent years we have seen it mainly as a scarce winter visitor. Spot Reds often swim in the manner of a giant phalarope, as can be seen here.

It is unusual to see Bar and Black-tailed Godwits feeding together, as they prefer different types of mud or sand. Bar-tailed Godwit (two at the front) are smaller, have scalloped backs, slightly up-turned bills and shorter legs (mainly the tibia).

Longer legs means that Black-tailed Godwits have to a adopt a more 'bum in the air' posture when feeding. The huge white wing panel of the 'Blackwit' makes them easy to distinguish in flight.

By mid-February Herring Gulls have lost the streaking on the head and neck..........

... and Little Egrets are growing the 'aigrettes', filamentous plumes that were once in such demand for the millinery business that the species faced extinction.

A short trip into the New Forest to look for singing Woodlark failed, as it was probably too early in the year, however Dartford Warblers were in fine voice.......

.... and showed nicely along the footpaths.

Finally in view of todays date, Margaret and I are off for a candle lit dinner tonight.

Posted February 14, 2012 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized