Archive for February 2012

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

13th February – Swineham area.   Leave a comment


A Glossy Ibis was seen in the Wareham area on Sunday and was seen to go down behind Swineham gravel pits at dusk. Although I have seen this species before in Dorset and have it on my year list from the one seen in Devon, the chance see watch one in Poole Harbour couldn’t be turned down. Glossy Ibis has had a huge status in status in the last three or four years, from rare vagrant to scarce autumn and winter visitor. This has gone hand in hand with a population explosion in southern Spain and if we are lucky we may see breeding in the UK some time in the next decade.

I searched the area around the gravel pits, along the banks of the Piddle and out to Swineham Point. Although I failed to find the Ibis, my time wasn’t wasted as I saw five Marsh Harriers, five Spoonbills, 32 Avocets and on the pits three ‘redhead’ (female or immature) Smew. The latter were particularly engaging as they were perched upright on the ice exposing their normally hidden white bellies. I also heard a most peculiar twanging sound caused by Canada Geese bending, but not cracking the ice as they tried to take off.

Swineham gravel pits are one of the few areas of fresh water around Poole Harbour.


In Dorset it is unusual to see three Smew together (photo from the internet)


The peculiarly named River Piddle enters Poole Harbour at Swineham. To the right of the river is the saltmarsh of Swineham Point, to the left is Keysworth where Stour Ringing Group ran a very succesful ringing program in the late eighties and nineties until the estate changed ownership.

The Marsh Harriers were all to far away for photos, so here's one I took earlier - in Ethiopia! Unlike Hen Harriers which are suffering badly from misguided persecution, the fortunes of Marsh Harriers are on the up.


Just inside the River Piddle sea wall is Suppressor's Pond, named after an unfortunate incident several decades ago.


I spent the late afternoon at Lytchett Bay just in case the Ibis had made it that far and in the hope a Woodcock might fly over at dusk but the best I could manage was 14 Avocets and six Fieldfares.

Posted February 14, 2012 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

9th – 12th February – Holton Lee, Southampton and Christchurch   Leave a comment

On the 9th I had a ringing session at Holton Lee with trainee ringers Ali and Kevin and had a repeat session on the 11th with John. On both occasions we ringed between 40 and 50 birds, mainly Blue and Great Tits but with more interesting species such as Great Spotted Woodpecker (3), Nuthatch (4), Marsh Tit, Siskin and Goldfinch. There has been a notable increase in Robins recently with 10 trapped on the 11th, presumably as a response to the cold weather. We are already getting some good data, for example a Great Tit ringed at Lytchett Bay in 2006 was retrapped at Holton making it at almost six years old. It has been bitterly cold on these morning and it is hard to keep your fingers from freezing. We make every attempt to minimise the time the birds are in the net and process them as quickly as possible in these conditions.

I have ringed a few Nuthatches before, but four in one day!

A male Siskin was a nice addition to our ringing totals

Marsh Tits seem to be following Willow Tit into local extinction. Once common at several sites around Poole, they have declined greatly in recent years.

Most afternoons, either Amber, Kara or both call round after school, sometimes with their friends. Whilst I like to think they have a strong desire to visit Grandad, I’m sure its the attraction of our telly that is uppermost.

Kara and her friend Jade making themselves at home.

Although I did get flight views of Southampton’s juvenile Glaucous Gull on the 31st, I have been keen to get good views and if possible photographs of it. As Ewan and I dipped last Sunday afternoon, Margaret and I decided to get to Royal Pier early as it has been leaving the area about 0930 each morning. We met up with her friend Angela from Southampton, who does some birding but has never seen a Glaucous, at 0830, only to find that today the bird had decided to fly off at 0820! Apart from a few Great Crested Grebes and a Kingfisher the only notable sighting was of a Grey Seal feeding just off Mayflower Park. We later tried the mud flats at Redbridge for the Glaucous to no avail. Angela was meeting someone else at 1100 and I wanted to head back to Christchurch where a Long-tailed Duck had been seen, so we went our separate ways.

In Grey Seals, the distance from the tip of the nose to to the eyes is the same or more than the distance from the eyes to the back of the head. In Common Seal the former is shorter than the latter.

Also Grey Seals have broad, widely spaced nostrils unlike the slit like nostrils of Common Seal.

At Christchurch we headed for Mudeford Quay but couldn’t locate the Long-tailed Duck in spite of a mirror calm sea. This species is regular in winter to Dorset in very small numbers, but this year has been conspicuous in its absence. We then stopped at nearby Fisherman’s Bank in Christchurch Harbour as a Spotted Sandpiper, a different individual to the Lyme Regis bird, was found there recently. It was proving elusive but we got flight views as it headed into a hidden creek. This normally is a very rare vagrant from North America but this winter there have been four in the South-west of England alone. The remnants of a hurricane brought unprecedented numbers of American waders to our shores last autumn and some have remained through the winter.

We walked round to Stanpit Marsh where I managed to get good flight views of a Jack Snipe, a species I have been trying hard for recently. We then received a phone call from my friend and Stanpit regular, Paul Morrison, to say he had just had, of all things, a Glaucous Gull fly by Fisherman’s Bank in the direction of Mudeford. We hurried back, picked him up and drove back to Mudeford Quay  but in spite of intensive searching there was no sign. This bird was relocated by others in the afternoon and was shown, after prolonged views, to be an Iceland Gull, a species with identical plumage phases to Glaucous which can only be differentiated on structural grounds. We had had a rather low hit rate this morning, but I was very pleased to get a good view of a Jack.

As I didn't get a photo of a Jack Snipe in flight I have included a shot of one we trapped when wagtail ringing last autumn.

Later the family joined us for dinner and I spent most of the evening compiling this blog, only to accidentally delete the entry as I was attempting to upload it, hence the delay!

In the evening Janis, Amber and Kara joined us for dinner.

Posted February 13, 2012 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

7th February – Sutton Bingham Resevoir   Leave a comment

I have made a number of attempts to see a Great White Egret (GWE) this year. For the last decade a GWE has wintered at the Blashford Lakes near Ringwood, but given the number of lakes in the area finding it can be quite problematic, also this colour-ringed bird departs in mid January for its breeding colony in central France, so it needs to found soon after the turn of the year, something I have failed to do. I also tried for a GWE on Thorney Island at the weekend and two at Radipole in Weymouth on the 2nd of February, all unsuccessfully.

I was therefore pleased to hear that two GWEs (probably the Radipole birds) had taken up residence at Sutton Bingham Resevoir on the Dorset / Somerset border. These birds were very easy to see, they were clearly visible from the road, indeed a local bus driver stopped and asked what those really big egrets were.

GWEs differ from Little Egrets by their larger size, longer necks, yellow bill, neck with a distinct kink, and lack of yellow feet.



Although you tend to take them for granted in the world's tropical areas, in the UK a GWE in flight is a magnificent sight. For any county listers who may be reading this, I was in Somerset when I took this photo but the birds were in Dorset!



GWEs were once really rare in the UK, for example there are only 10 records prior to 1974, but in the late seventies the species colonised the Netherlands and now breeds in France. This winter a group of eight GWEs can be seen in Somerset Levels and it only seems a matter of time before they breed.

GWEs have an almost cosmopolitan range, being commonly found throughout the tropics and many temperate regions of the world. However differences in bare part colouration during the breeding season, display and genetic distance indicates that several species may be involved.


GWE is now placed in the genus Ardea, the same as the Grey Heron in this photo. All other egrets are placed in Egretta.






Posted February 7, 2012 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

5th February – Pagham Harbour   Leave a comment

On the first of the month news was released of a Paddyfield Warbler overwintering at Pagham Harbour in West Sussex. I have never seen this rare warbler in the UK and only a couple of times abroad (it breeds from the Black Sea eastwards into central Asia and winters in India). I wanted to go immediately but news of its elusive behaviour made me delay. It was not seen on the 3rd and I wondered if it had succumbed to the big freeze, however it was seen again on Saturday, so I opted go on Sunday. After last night’s dinner dance it was a struggle to get up at 0500, but as the warbler had only ever been seen soon after dawn I had little choice. Ewan was able to come, but he was even sleepier than I was!

The south coast missed the heavy snow that had blanketed most of the UK and the heavy rain had passed, so the journey went OK except for some localised flooding. Although above freezing, the breeze and light drizzle made today’s 2 degrees feel much colder than the -6 of yesterday morning. There was no sign of the warbler along Pagham Harbour’s seawall, but a few of the fifty or so birders present saw it at 0820. By 1015 Ewan and I were feeling pretty cold and had resigned ourself to the dip. We decided to leave and were just about to turn out of sight of the crowd when an approaching dog walker said ‘I don’t know if it matters to you, but they are all running’. We turned round to see the crowd legging it along the seawall. We went after them as fast as we could and soon were getting cracking views of the Paddyfield.

Over a thousand Brent Geese left the estuary and headed inland to feed during the first hour or so.

Several waders such as this Grey Plover fed close to the seawall

I didn't get a sharp photo of the Paddyfield Warbler, but here is one that I took in Armenia in May 2010.

We had hoped to go to the South Downs to look for a Parrot Crossbill that had been there all week but were advised that given the recent snowfall that the roads would be treacherous. Instead we headed for Thorney Island and searched for a Great White Egret in the shadow of the military base. Having failed there we headed to Warblington where the Cattle Egret I saw back in January was still in the same field, before driving to Southampton where we had another attempt at the Glaucous Gull, which apparently turned up soon after we left.

This Cattle Egret has remained faithful to the same small area all winter.

Daily from 2005 - 2006 Margaret used to catch the ferry to Hythe from here. She didn't see any Glaucous Gulls either.

The Glaucous chooses the decrepid Royal Pier as a roost site.

Posted February 6, 2012 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized