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