Archive for March 2012

30th March – Canford Heath   Leave a comment

This morning I helped Terry Elborne with his ringing site on Canford Heath. Help wasn’t really required as we only caught three birds, but I have said many times before, it’s great to be out soon after dawn on a sunny spring morning, just listening to the song of Chiffchaffs and the drumming of woodpeckers.

On the way back we had great views of a pair of Dartford Warblers and two separate Sand Lizards. I popped back to Terry and Karen’s house for a cuppa and I was amazed how much little Kimberley has grown, the last time I was round at their house she was a newborn baby.


Canford Heath with the Canford Heath housing estate behind. This estate was built a few years before I came to Dorset, fortunately the 1981 Wildlife and Countryside Act stopped the rest being developed and to this day a large block of urban heathland remains.


One of the key heathland species is the Sand Lizard which can often be seen basking on the edges of the paths. Canford Heath is a stronghold for this endangered species.


You shouldn't photograph Schedule 1 species in the breeding season, so here is a photo of a Dartford Warbler I took during the winter in the New Forest.


'Wow, haven't I grown!' - 19 month old Kimberley.

Posted March 30, 2012 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

Thursday 29th March – panic buying on the way to Durlston   Leave a comment


Unfortunately the threat of a tanker drivers strike has set off a round of panic buying. I would have avoided buying fuel under these circumstances but my tank was nearly empty. At Sandford the petrol station had a sign saying ‘no fuel’, at Stoborough they were queuing back onto the road so I headed off to Harman’s Cross where after a long wait I finally filled up.

I had been heading for Rempstone Forest for another attempt for Lesser Spots but now I was well south of there, so I continued southwards and went to Durlston. I arrived about 0930, rather too late for migrant birds but it was another beautiful day so I walked along the coast path to the western boundary seeing a few Chiffchaffs and a couple of Wheatears. Here about a mile from the car park I had a big surprise in the form of a Red Kite, my third in three days.  I returned via the north of the park, a very pleasant hike.

On the way home I called in at Holton Lee where I had left a few guys and pegs from previous ringing attempts as I won’t ring there now until the autumn.

Durlston lighthouse


A flat calm and sunlit sea


The Marines were on exercise.


Resident species, like this Blue Tit .......


... or this Dunnock are in full song and many have already started breeding before the trans-Saharan migrants have even arrived.


But the surprise was this Red Kite. There is a clear movement of this species through Dorset over the last week with maybe a dozen or more seen.





Posted March 29, 2012 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

27th – 28th March – Durlston and Portland   Leave a comment

On the 27th we had a ringing attempt at Durlston. This time we tried the Goat Plots as this would allow us to keep an eye on passing seabirds, however we only caught three birds and one was a retrap Blue Tit! In spite of the lack of migrants, it was quite enjoyable sitting watching the sea in glorious warm sunshine, a pair of Peregrines kept us entertained and the three Greylags flew west. It would be nice to think that the Greylags were wild birds on their way back to Iceland but they probably just came from Poole Park.

The cliffs at Durlston

A pair of Peregrines. Note the female on the left is larger than the male.



During the evening I attended the Dorset Bird Clubs AGM at the Methodist Church in Wareham. About 30 members attended and after the AGM Shaun Robson gave a talk on ‘midnight seawatching and other  Arctic adventures’ detailing the voyage that he, partner Marie and Sue and Roger Howell made around northern Norway. Shaun introduced a new term to the birding lexicon, ‘PSA,’ not the biochemical test that men of my age dread, but ‘pre-sighting anxiety’ to describe Roger’s behaviour as he fretted about dipping on the way to each new bird! Several of us gathered at the Duke of Wellington for a post meeting drink.

I didn’t set off too early on the 28th, so I thought I’d just have a potter around the Weymouth reserves of Radipole and Lodmoor. I was nearly there when I got the news of a Hoopoe at Portland so I drove straight there, however it appeared to have gone (someone saw it later in the afternoon). In the company of Nick Hopper and his partner Claire we searched the west cliffs, a few Meadow Pipits, Sand Martins and Swallows  passed through, quite a few Chiffchaffs hopped around the bushes and I had my first Willow Warbler of the year.



The view from the west Cliffs over the Chesil Bank, Portland Harbour and Weymouth.

This Peregrine put on a great show ....

... and circled below me several times.

A male Stonechat, a local breeder.

Migrant Chiffchaffs fed alongside the footpaths.

At Portland Buzzards only used to be seen on migration but now there are a couple of breeding pairs.

Nick and Claire at stone arch on the west cliff coast path

Nick told me that he is trying a for a big year list as well, but he intends to photograph every one of them!

This female Kestrel posed nicely as I drove away from the Bill.

As I returned home there was a flock of 200+ Black-headed Gulls over Lytchett Minster that I presumed were after flying insects. This behaviour is more typical of hot summers afternoons, but there again we are experiencing summer temperatures. In with the Black-heads were at least 10 Mediterranean Gulls, a recent colonist of this area. As I have never seen this species from my garden and the flock was heading east I headed home and was able to scope at least one from the front bedroom.

Adult summer Mediterranean Gull over Lytchett Minster....

.... and another one.

Posted March 29, 2012 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

March 26th – Wyke Down / Gussage All Saints   2 comments

With Red Kite and Great Grey Shrike in the area I decided to head to Wyke Down near to Sixpenny Handley this morning. The weather was beautiful with temperatures of 20 C, like a warm summer’s day.

Wyke Down, a wonderful area for wildlife, and archeology, there are many Neolithic burial mounds in the area.


Ackling Dyke, a Neolithic track way that crosses the area.



I soon found the Red Kite, which gave prolonged, but distant views, before flying off north, but there was no sign of the shrike.  What was really great was the number of singing birds; the cheesy song of Yellowhammers, the jangle of Corn Buntings and the never ending warble of Skylarks. In addition I must have seen 20 Buzzards during the morning, three pairs of Kestrel whilst Red-legged Partridges scuttled across the road in front of me.


Male Yellowhammer

Listen to Yellowhammer song at

Singing Corn Bunting


Once known as the 'fat bird of the barley' Corn Buntings were once a common site in farmland but have declined precipitously due to agricultural intensification.

Listen to Corn Bunting song at

Buzzard mobbed by a Rook



I drove back via Gussage All Saints and was very surprised to see another Red Kite, perched on a branch overhanging the road. I also saw my first Swallow of the year.


1st year Red Kite.


Are these Kites, wanderers from the Chiltern reintroduction scheme or migrants from Spain on their way to northern Europe?


A picture postcard cottage at Gussage All Saints.



Finally, I called in at the River Stour bridge at Wimborne in the hope I could photograph the pair of Red-crested Pochards that are regularly seen there. I saw them, but they were too far away to photograph, however a close flying Grey Heron made the stop worthwhile.

A lovely morning with some great photographic opportunities.




190 years separates the stone road bridge from the modern footbridge over the River Stour.


A Grey Heron




Posted March 26, 2012 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

23rd – 25th March – a retirement, several dips and a ringing demo.   Leave a comment

Friday 23rd was a fairly quiet day enlivened by a trip back to my old work place at Poole Hospital. Val Farmer, the quality manager for the whole  Pathology was retiring. As I used to be the dreaded Health and Safety man for Microbiology, I had to work with Val from time to time to ensure that we met the relevant regulations. Val was given a nice send off by members of the various pathology departments.

Val's presentation is performed by Pathology manager, Darren Joss (far left)

Saturday the 24th was a beautiful day but I had a lot to do (including sorting things out at home as Gio and Jessica were coming for dinner). Of course I should have been down Lytchett Bay, then I might have seen the Red Kite that flew over, or the three Egyptian Geese that Shaun found swimming in the Bay. I tried for the geese at an area called South Haven without luck, whilst there I heard that there was a Stone Curlew at Stanpit. Stone Curlews (which are not closely related to Curlews at all) are rare breeders on the northern chalk. For years a pair bred on the Dorset/Hampshire border but they have now gone and it is now difficult to see them away from a site in Norfolk. In 34 years of  Dorset birding I have only seen one migrant bird. Big debate, do I stay here and try and get the Gippo Geese or drive for 30 minutes in heavy traffic for the Stone Curlew that may have already flown off? The geese won, well won in the sense that I decided to drive round to Rockley Park where I would get a more panoramic view of the Bay. Result plenty of Brent Geese but no Gippos.

South Haven, the most southeasterly point of Lytchett Bay adjacent to the railway line.

I had just got home when I received a text from my friend Paul in Christchurch that the Stone Curlew, which had been flushed from its original location and then hassled by crows and was now showing well at Priory Marsh. This time I set off ASAP and arrived 30 minutes later to hear that it had just been booted by walkers and had disappeared to the north. Oh and by the way, a Red Kite had just flown in from the west, almost certainly the bird that I could have seen at Lytchett earlier in the day. To quote the Led Zeppelin song ‘nobody’s fault but mine’ !

The Stone Curlew free zone that is Stanpit Marsh

We had a very pleasant evening with my old colleagues Gio and Jessica, however I was aware that we were going to lose an hours sleep tonight as the clocks were going forwards and I had a very early start the next day, so made sure we didn’t chat late into the night.

Simon, the Durlston warden had arranged that we would give a public ringing demonstration. Billed as a chance to see migrant birds in the hand, it was a tad too early in the year but were able to show the punters a Chiffchaff and a Blackcap in the hand. We only caught a few birds but there was a steady turn over of Blue and Great Tits and Dunnocks and plenty of time to answer questions. About 30 people turned up and was deemed a great success.

Shaun demonstrates how to ring a bird whilst Ian does the paperwork.

Chiffchaff, a common spring migrant and our most ringed bird at Durlston in 2011

This Great Tit has a deformed bill. This is not that unusual and the fact that the bird has survived the winter shows that it must be feeding well. The apparent 'plasticity' of birds bills allows for rapid evolution under certain conditions. If mutants like this have an advantage then this bill shape will be selected for. This rapid evolution of bill shape can be seen in Darwin's Finches on Galapagos and in Crossbills.

Durlston Castle has been redeveloped as a visitor centre and late several off us popped over there to see the exhibits, which included a superb four screen video of views of and events at the park. Well worth a visit.

After only five hours in bed last night I needed a rest this afternoon, but later on our evening meal was interrupted by the news that Shaun had found a Little Ringed Plover at Lytchett Bay, this time I connected and had good views of this uncommon migrant.

The Little Ringed Plover (usually known as LRP) at Lytchett Bay.


Posted March 25, 2012 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

22nd March – Portland and Radipole   Leave a comment

This morning I made my first spring visit to Portland. I have only been there once this year and that was a whistle-stop visit on the January bird race. It was nice to visit the Bird Observatory again and find that the activities and conversations hadn’t changed much since my last visit in the autumn. Unfortunately I hadn’t chosen a day when early spring migrants were arriving in numbers, about five Chiffchaffs, 2 Wheatears, a Black Redstart plus the expected Little Owl, Rock Pipits, Gannets and Fulmars were all I saw. Although it was often sunny the easterly wind was strong and it was surprisingly cold.

On the way back I called into Radipole where this time I saw the Glossy Ibises. The view was brief though as they shot out of cover by the North Hide and headed off up the river valley. A Marsh Harrier was also quartering the reeds. Lets hope they breed again this year.


The Pulpit Rock at Portland. There was nothing on the sea and just the eponymous pipits and a single Purple Sand on the rocks.


This Little Owl can often be seen sunning itself in this gap between the rocks of the Obs Quarry.


Although often dismissed as the archetypal 'seagull', adult summer Herring Gulls are really quite smart birds.


Black Redstarts are both passage, migrants, winter visitors and summer breeders, in all case in small numbers. This male has taken up temporary residence in the hut field.


To many the first Cuckoo heralds the spring, but I think the sight of your first Wheatear, one of the earliest trans-Saharan migrants, is every bit as significant.


The steep footpath at Pennsylvania Castle can be good for migrants, but not today.


It must be great to have a house overlooking Radipole and be able to watch Marsh Harriers from your window.


The two Glossy Ibises flew out of cover and away behind the hide so quickly that I only managed one half decent photo. It is rumoured that this recent influx will lead to them being removed from the official rarity list.

Posted March 23, 2012 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

21st March – Reunited with my telescopes – Blashford and the New Forest   Leave a comment

Yesterday I had a nasty shock, I couldn’t find my telescope (but I decided to go to Middlebere anyway). Later I contacted the office at Blashford Lakes and to my relief heard that they had found it in one of the hides the day before.  Obviously Blashford was my first port of call today. After collecting the scope I had a look at Ibsley Water in the hope that Sand Martins or LRPs had arrived, no luck but its only a matter of time until they do.

Later I headed for the Anderwood area of the New Forest, another site I had been given for Lesser Spotted Woodpecker. Again I failed to see one, but I not only heard one call but I heard the drumming, something I don’t think I have heard before.

Later I called in at Fritham to have a look at the lake. Usually Mandarins, a beautiful introduced duck from the far east, are common there, but today I only saw one. A Marsh Tit showed well in the car park.

Much of the gorse in the Anderwood area is old and 'leggy'. This doesn't provide cover for wildlife.

... the obvious answer is rotational burning and clearance, allowing new growth to form.

The only Mandarin at Fritham

Marsh Tits are declining but I'm getting to see a lot this year.


I have two telescopes, a lightweight one I use mainly for foreign trips and a heavier 80mm Nikon which has a much greater magnification. The larger scope had been sent away for repair and was delivered back to Margaret’s workplace today. So I was reunited with both telescopes in the same day!

Posted March 22, 2012 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

20th March – Equinox birding   Leave a comment

Today was the spring equinox, from today until the 20th of September the days will be longer than the nights. More time for birding but less time for sleep!

Two days ago a tattler species was reported at Middlebere. Very little is known about the sighting but what we have heard sounded good. The bird was looked for yesterday without success but after the news broke last night, I thought I would have a go today.

There are two species of Tattlers, medium-sized waders with bright yellow legs. Grey-rumped breeds in easternmost Siberia and winters in Australia, whilst Wandering breeds in coastal north-western  USA and Canada and winters mainly on Pacific islands. Wandering has never been recorded in the UK, Europe or the WP but Grey-rumped has occurred twice in the UK.

Predictably the bird wasn’t present; it looks like this will be a mystery that will never be resolved. I spent about three hours in the area, looking from both the Avocet and the Harrier hides, best birds being six Spoonbills and a nice variety of waders.


The Harrier hide looks over the Wytch Channe and lies just to the south of the Middlebere Channel (which would be to the left of this picture). Both channels drain into Poloe Harbour.

One of six Spoonbills present. They will soon be heading back to Holland to breed.

Middlebere is a reliable place to see Yellow-legged Gull

The underwing pattern of a Common Snipe. If you ever claimed a American Wilson's Snipe you would need a photo like this to get it accepted, as the underwing pattern is one of he key ID features.

Posted March 22, 2012 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

18th – 19th March – Christchurch, Blashford and the New Forest.   Leave a comment

We had a fairly quiet day on the 18th, clearing away after yesterday’s gathering and relaxing a bit. In the morning Janis, Kara and Amber came round to wish Margaret a happy mother’s day and in the afternoon I did the WeBS count (the monthly winter coordinated wetland bird survey) in Holes Bay. Most of the migrants have gone, there were no Wigeon, Avocets or Goldeneye and much smaller numbers of Shelduck Teal, Dunlin, Godwits and Redshank. This is the last count until the autumn.

L-R: Amber, Margaret, Kara and Janis

On the 19th I visited River Way recreation ground in Christchurch where a pair of Garganey had been seen on the River Stour. Although I saw a Garganey back in February (also on the River Stour, but upstream north of Wimborne), it was on a very early date for this spring migrant, seemed to be paired with a Mallard and was probably the same bird that was hanging round with a Mallard at Longham last year. I thought the Christchurch birds must have moved on as I walked up and down the riverbank to no avail, but just as I was about to leave, the pair of Garganey flew out from overhanging vegetation, landed on the far side and slowly swam back, giving great views.

The River Stour at Christchurch.

At first I thought the only bird I would get to photograph was this Moorhen.....

.... until this wonderful pair of Garganey was seen!

Garganey are the only duck that are exclusively summer visitors to Europe and used to be called Summer Teal.

The female is superficially like a female Teal, but differs in its striped face with a pale loral spot, longer bill, slightly longer bill and lack of green speculum.

Later I headed for Blashford Lakes. Normally Bramblings are regular at the feeders, but not this year, so I was pleased to see a couple in with the Chaffinches. They probably had been wintering in France or Spain and were stopping off on route to their breeding grounds in Scandinavia.

A female Brambling

This male Reed Bunting joined the Chaffinch flock.

Yet another Nuthatch photo.

It looks like this Buzzard has replaced most, but not all of the secondaries and none of the primaries. Moult in big raptors is complex and can take several years to complete.

The wood was full of singing Redpolls, Blashford has to be the best place around here to see this species. Redpoll taxonomy is complex, with five or six races being squeezed into two or three species. Arctic Redpoll is a rare vagrant to the UK, Lesser Redpoll is a regular breeder and passage migrant whilst Mealy or Common Redpoll is a scarce visitor that sometimes arrives ingood numbers in irruption years. A  Mealy Redpoll was supposed to be present but it wasn’t as well-marked as some that I have seen. The trouble with redpolls is that the most obvious characteristic, overall paleness, seems to form a continuum from dark Lessers, through variable Mealys and paler Arctics, to the little snowballs of an hornemanii Arctic Redpoll.

A male Lesser Redpoll, compact, dark without obvious white braces.

Upper bird: Is this a male Mealy Redpoll? It is slightly larger and more slender, paler overall, with whiter wing bars, paler pink breast but is not as frosty as some that I have seen.

I was told by the warden of an area around Anderwood in the New Forest that was good for Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers, a bird I have only heard this year. Thinking I was on a roll, I headed there but had no luck, its what I call a ‘Meat Loaf morning’ – ‘two out of three ain’t bad’!

No Lesser Spots but great views of this Roe Buck.

Note the antlers are fully grown but still 'in velvet'

Posted March 20, 2012 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

15th – 17th March – Holton Lee, Canford Heath and various other ringing activities   Leave a comment

On the 15th John Dowling and I ringed at Holton Lee, we trapped about 25 birds but 15 of them were re-traps. As spring proceeds wintering flocks are breaking up and birds are dispersing to breeding areas. Even so we were able to ring a nice male Siskin and new Great Spotted Woodpecker. The latter was extracted from the net, placed in a bag and hung over the back of a wooden chain as usual manner, then to our amusement we heard a loud tapping as it pecked at the wood of the chair through the bag!

Blue Tits are by far the commonest bird at the Holton Lee feeders ..........

..... but Coal Tits are regular visitors.

Ageing first year Blue Tits is easy based on the contrast between greenish-blue primary coverts and blue greater coverts......

..... this contrast is present but much harder to see on a first year Coal Tit.

In this feature, Great Tits are intermediate between the two, but this bird was unusually grey and the contrast in the wing on this first year bird was clearly visible.

Although this bird was unusually grey it did demonstrate typical tit aggression.

By spring first year male Blackbirds have developed adult plumage but contrast between moulted black and unmoulted brown feathers in the wing allow them to be aged.

The lack of a red nape identifies this Great Spotted Woodpecker as a female. Unlike most birds woodpeckers are very vocal in the hand and can be quite deafening!

The most attractive bird ringed this morning was this male Siskin.



On the 16th I joined Terry at his ringing site on Canford Heath. This small patch of scrub has proved quite productive and we ringed some 17 birds and 11 re-traps.  Most interestingly we captured a ‘control’ Reed Bunting that we have since heard was ringed at Longham on the 30th September last year. A very feisty Magpie was an unusual capture and left Terry with multiple cuts on his hands.


Terry's fingers suffer as he rings this feisty bird.

A Magpie's bill is a formidable weapon.

The dark face might lead you to believe that this is a male Reed Bunting abrading into breeding plumage, but the shape of the black in the crown feathers, the lack of a white collar and the wing length all go to prove it is a female.



On the 17th Shaun and I went to to Durlston and put the poles and guys in place for the forthcoming ringing season. In the evening the ringing group AGM was held at our house. Of the 17 in the group, 15 attended, it was a bit of a squash but everyone squeezed into our conservatory. We covered a lot of issues and made plans for the future and it was nice to meet up with several members who I haven’t seen in quite a long time.




Posted March 18, 2012 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized