Archive for February 2012

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

3rd and 4th February bits and pieces   Leave a comment

Over these two days I searched the frozen Lytchett Bay and Holes Bay for cold weather immigrants like Smew and Jack Snipe. With temperatures only just getting above zero, the ground remained frozen. There were plenty of ducks and waders about but nothing really unusual.

On the 4th I also visited Soldier’s Road near Arne where a Short-eared Owl had been seen. From the recently cleared (of pine trees) hill I had great views over Wareham Channel and Arne Moors in front of me and Hartland Moor behind. After several days of still and cold weather the approaching warm front brought snow flurries and then heavy rain. Before I was forced to depart I saw four Marsh Harriers and a Peregrine but no Short-eareds.


A frozen Holes Bay



Avocet flocks have a characteristic appearance and can be identified at great distance.



Eleven Little Egrets on the Holes Bay bridge



The waste ground near Kerry Foods used to be a good spot for Jack Snipe in cold weather but has recently been trashed by off-road bikes and fly tipping.


On the evening of the 4th Margaret and I attended a dinner dance in a Bournemouth Hotel organised by the Barclay House Choir to commemorate the retirement of Jim Grocott, the choir’s musical director for the last thirty or so years. It was an excellent meal with a good number of the choir and orchestra turning up in spite of the dreadful weather.


The Barclay House Choir dinner dance


Jim Growcott's retirement speech.







Posted February 6, 2012 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

1st – 2nd February – various dips   Leave a comment

With the cold spell upon us and morning temperatures as low as -6 I have been looking out for birds associated with cold weather movements. As there has (yet) been no snow there hasn’t been noticeable movements of Fieldfare and Redwing, but I hoped for some good waterbirds as fresh water lakes elsewhere froze.

One area that has proved excellent in cold weather is north-east Holes Bay, as warm water outfalls keep it ice-free. I had a good bash around there on the morning of the !st hoping for a Smew or, in particular a Jack Snipe along the margins, but to no avail. Jack Snipe is a regular, but elusive winter visitor that is usually only seen when flushed underfoot and last year I the only ones I saw were ones trapped for ringing. There were plenty of gulls, waders and wildfowl to search through, so the visit had its rewards.


Waders, ducks and gulls at Holes Bay


In the afternoon I decided to have a look at Coombe Heath at Arne where a Short-eared Owl has been seen recently. This has been a good year for this species, probably because of a vole population explosion in their breeding grounds, but so far I haven’t connected with one. It was bitterly cold at this exposed location but the views were wonderful. The tide was still out and the flocks of waders that often fill Middlebere Channel were distant, even so, over 300 Avocets could be seen near Round Island.

Coombe Heath, Arne looking eastwards Harbour mouth. Brownsea and Green Island are visible and to the centre right, the chain ferry at the Harbour mouth can be seen.

Coombe Heath looking southwest towards Hartland Moor


On the morning of the 2nd I headed for Lytchett Bay n hoping for Jack Snipe. I trudged around the frozen ‘far fields’ and along the Turlin shore and flushed about 15 Common Snipe but no Jacks.

Much of Lytchett Bay was frozen this morning including the margins of the salt water areas.


In the afternoon I heard that there were two Great White Egrets outside the visitor centre at Radipole in Weymouth. I departed as soon as I could but I didn’t get there in time as they had flown before I arrived. After a walk to the North Hide to check that they hadn’t doubled back, I headed for Lodmoor where a Long-billed Dowitcher had been seen. Very likely one of the birds that was around at the start of January, this bird had also flown but I did get some compensation in the form of a Bittern in flight.

At Radipole even this Grey Heron was sheltering from the cold wind and there was no sign of its big white relatives.

The Hooded Merganser was still at Radipole. This bird was first seen as an exhausted first year and gave rise to hopes that it might be a genuine vagrant from America, however it has stayed for several years and is widely considered an escape. It belong to a group of ducks called sawbills, and you can just see the serrated edge of the bill in this photo.

Posted February 3, 2012 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

31st January – Southampton and Blashford   Leave a comment

Yesterday I only managed a short visit to Lytchett Bay, so today I opted for a full days birding.

This year has been remarkable for an influx of Iceland and to a lesser extent, Glaucous Gulls. These are high Arctic breeding gulls, Glaucous has a circumpolar distribution, Iceland breeds in Greenland and eastern Canada (not Iceland!). As a scarce winter visitor Glaucous used to outnumber Iceland ten to one but in recent years it has been the other way round.

These two gulls have identical plumage characteristics and plumage successions as they mature so identification is made solely on structure. The first photo below shows two Icelands and one Glaucous Gull taken in Spitsbergen and shows the smaller size, daintier build, more attenuated shape, smaller bill and longer primary projection of Iceland. The second photo shows a 1st summer Glaucous, similar to juvenile except that the upperparts would be more universally biscuit coloured in a juvenile.

Bottom to top: 2nd summer Iceland, adult Iceland, adult Glaucous. Spitsbergen June 2009


Ist summer Glaucous: Spitsbergen June 2009


This January by far the biggest numbers of Iceland and Glaucous Gulls have occurred in western Ireland, the Western Isles and Shetland, indeed my friend Paul reported seeing 132 Icelands at the weekend in Shetland. Few Icelands have reached the south coast, by far the most reliable has been a second winter in the centre of Portsmouth that I saw on the 16th January. Over the last few days a juvenile Glaucous Gull has been roosting in the centre of Southampton then flying up Southampton Water to the Redbridge area, so this was where I headed this morning.

I first tried a search at Eling but most large gulls were up near the A35 at Redbridge. From the bridge the sun was in my eyes, so I negotiated a maze of footpaths and backstreets to reach Redbridge railway station and a way across the line. In spite of spending over an hour here I had no luck but whilst eating my lunch back at the car the juvenile Glaucous flew over. The views were brief as I didn’t realise what it was until it was flying away but I saw the diagnostic features. Soon afer Dave Unsworth, one of the participants on my Tibet trip in 2005 turned up and suggested I try Testwood Lakes which was in the direction the gull was flying. I had no luck there so headed home via the Blashford lakes where once again I failed to find Bramblings but did have good views of the adult Caspian Gull at Ibsley Water North.


With the A35, A36, M271 and two railway lines converging at Redbridge, access to Southampton Water is fraught with difficulty.


Lower Test Marshes where the Glaucous was seen heading northwards


I couldn't photograph the Glaucous Gull so I had to make do with photographing a 'glaucous' pigeon


Little to report at Testwood Lakes


At Blashford there were plenty of Chaffinches but still no Brambling.


Although we take them for granted now, Collared Doves were unknown in Britain prior to 1955


I find searching for rare gulls amongst the masses of Lesser Black-backs and Herring to be a major challenge.



Only fully recognised as a full species in the last few years, Caspian Gull has been shown to be a regular but scarce winter visitor from its breeding grounds in the Black Sea, Ukraine area. Note the slender, parallel sided bill without an obvious gondeal angle and generally attenuated look Photo from the Internet.






Posted February 1, 2012 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized