Archive for March 2012

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

12th and 13th March – Rempstone Forest and Abbotsbury / Weymouth   Leave a comment

Both the 12th and 13th were characterised by grey skies and low cloud/fog. True the sun did come out on the afternoon of the 12th but only after I returned home. The very dry conditions continue, Dorset seems to have avoided the recent hose pipe bans but it will only be a matter of time before they are introduced.

On the 12th I visited Ower copse in Rempstone Forest and Sherford Bridge in the hope a Lesser Spotted woodpecker. Getting to see this declining species as opposed to merely hearing one has become a bit of a mission. Plenty of Treecreepers, Great Spotted Woodpeckers, Siskins and even as few Redpoll were seen, but no LSW.

A misty morning in Rempstone Forest

Flooded woodland at Ower

A heavy dew on the cobwebs

Primroses enliven the woodland floor

 

I had seen Velvet Scoter in Devon earlier in the year but the views were distant, so I drove to Abbotsbury on the 13th as 2 – 3 had been reported there recently. The low cloud was so thick as I drove past hardy’s Monument that i could do little more than crawl along in second gear. Fortunately it was a bit clearer on the coast. On the Fleet only the usual diving ducks and grebes were seen.

Radipole North Hide failed to produce the couple of Glossy Ibis that have been in the area for several days now, the best bird was a Kingfisher by its nest hole. Perhaps I should have gone to Lodmoor where two Spoonbills and a Sand Martin had been seen but instead I called in at Kingston Maurward, just outside of Dorchester where a Cattle Egret was residing with the local cows. In spite of the poor visibility I got some mediocre record shots.

These sheep should have been enjoying a stunning panorama over the Chesil and on to Portland.....

When I dropped down to the Chesil the visibility was reasonable. The northern boundary of the Fleet is on the left and the sea on the right.

I had good views of the pair of Velvet Scoter offshore. Photo from the internet.

A distant Cattle Egret at Kingston Maurwood near Dorchester.

Posted March 14, 2012 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

10th – 11th March – unprepared on Brownsea.   Leave a comment

Brownsea Island was the site of the first Boy Scout camp and ‘Be Prepared’ is the Scouts motto but being prepared was something that I failed to be on our visit to Brownsea this weekend.

Stour Ringing Group has had permission to ring on the lagoon for many years. I haven’t been on many of these outings, mainly because it takes up most of the weekend and the numbers who can attend is restricted.. Catching waders in nets can only be performed at night, is best when a high tide occurs after dark and for obvious reasons cannot be carried out in the breeding season.

I left it late leaving for the 1615 rendezvous at Sandbanks (mainly because I was trying to get the previous blog post uploaded) and ended up rushing. On arrival at the island I found I had left the memory card of my camera in the PC and my water proof coat in the boot of the car. Unlike the Boy Scouts I was far from prepared!

We set up the nets before dark but I was unused to walking in my new chest waders  and soon over-balanced in the sticky mud. Without a waterproof top I got soaked and as the nice warm day had ended, rather cold. Back at the Villa, I tried to get cleaned up and dried out but later needed to borrow a coat from Bob as a cold wind had got up.

Approaching Brownsea from Sandbanks. Photo by Terry Elborne

Brownsea Lagoon seen from the sea wall. Photo by Terry Elborne

It was almost dark by the time the nets were up and I could get back and get cleaned up. Photo by Terry Elborne.

Enough about my comfort, how did the ringing go? Well the last visit trapped over 90 birds but we only caught six, 2 Black-tailed Godwits, 1 Bar-tailed Godwits, 2 Oystercatchers and a Dunlin.  It wasn’t that bad however, all four species were ones I haven’t seen in the hand for a long time, there was time to examine them in detail and best of all, the Dunlin was a control, that is a bird previously ringed elsewhere.

Black-tailed Godwit showing its distinctive wing pattern and the start of the moult to its brick-red summer plumage. Photo by Terry Elborne

Compare the plainer upperparts of Bar-tailed Godwit.

Bar-tailed Godwits have a slightly up-turned bill and shorter legs than Black-tailed Godwits. This bird will be heading for the Arctic tundra whilst Black-tailed breed in wet meadows in lower latitudes.

I don't think I have ever seen these two species in the hand at the same time before. Photo by Terry Elborne

Black-tailed and Bar-tailed Godwits. Photo by Terry Elborne

An Oystercatcher in full adult plumage, age code 8 in ringers parlance. Photo by Terry Elborne

We wait with anticipation to find out where this Dunlin was ringed. Photo by Terry Elborne

 

 

We were back at the Villa by 0115 and although the others had a lie in I was up at 0600 to do some birding before we left at 0900. Great-spotted Woodpeckers were very obvious, I could hear at least five drumming from the same point and Red Squirrels abounded (for those not aware, Brownsea Island is one of very few locations where this species still exists in southern England) and about 15 were seen.  I only had time for a short scan over the lagoon but 24 Knot, 3 Greenshank, 19 Avocets and an incredible 115 summer plumaged Mediterranean Gulls. The main reason for my early departure was to add Golden Pheasant to my year list. Brownsea is only one of two locations in Dorset where this introduced pheasant can be found (the other is Furzey Island, owned by BP and closed to the public) but rhododendron clearance has reduced cover for this species and it has become harder to find. After about an hour of searching I found a pair and had beautiful views.

It might not be a native species, but the male Golden Pheasant is a stunning bird that it always a delight to see. Photo from the Internet.

I got back to the Villa in time to be ferried to the quay for the boat to Sandbanks and home for a well-earned rest. Many thanks Terry for the photos.

The boat back, Brownsea ringers: L-R Michael Gould, Bob Gifford, Sean Walls, me and Andy Welch with Terry behind the camera.

Posted March 11, 2012 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

7th – 9th March – Dorset and Hampshire   Leave a comment

For reasons beyond my understanding the text of this post vanished when I uploaded it, so I have added an abridged version today (March 12th)

The 7th was a quiet day, most of it spent sorting music files. In the evening we joined friends at Nexus for a meal and a drink in Wallisdown. There is a regular ‘bar-night’ every Wednesday, but we only occasionally attend.

Nexus bar night

On the 8th I birded two areas in the morning, Sherford Bridge where I hoped in vain to find a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker (a species I have heard but not seen this year) and later Swineham where I saw several newly arrived Chiffchaffs at least two of which were in song. One was a brown and white type that had been found the previous day and tentatively identified as a ‘Siberian’ Chiffchaff. This bird sang briefly, giving a sppeded up warble as well as a couple odd chiff chaff notes. I am no closer to understanding what constitutes the boiundary between Common Chiffchaff and ‘Siberian’ Chiffchaff. On the way back ther was a flock of Fieldfares feeding on the rugby pitch.

Fieldfares at the Rugby Club.

A 'Siberian' type Chiffchaff

On the 9th Paul Morrison and I travelled to Farlington Marshes near Portsmouth in the hope of seeing a Green-winged Teal, the north American equivalent of our Common Teal. We arrived at 0815 but didn’t find the bird for four hours. We think it flew in on the rising tide as it was not present on our first circuit. Unlike the spring-like conditions of yesterday it was a cold and grey day but we were glad we managed we went and found this rare visitor from the Neartic.

Farlington Marshes lies alongside the very noisy M27.

Brent Geese are the most obvious species on the marsh. The pale tips to all the coverts show this a first year bird.

The sea wall that separates the freshwater marsh from the estuary is in need of repair.

We searched through many hundreds of Common Teal....

... to find the bird with a vertical stripe on the flanks.

Posted March 10, 2012 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

Updates   Leave a comment

In this post I’d like to add to or update some of the pervious postings.

Chris Chapleo kindly sent me photos of some of the birds we saw on 24/02/12 on our Yellowthroat twitch to Gwent. On our return we stopped at Torr reservoir in Somerset and by using a 2 times converter Chris was able to get better shots of the Cackling Goose and the Iceland Gull than I did.

Iceland Gull 2nd winter, 24/02/12 Torr reservoir, Somerset, Photo by Chris Chapleo

'Richardson's' Cackling Goose, 24/02/12 Torr reservoir, Somerset, Photo by Chris Chapleo

Excellent photos of the Common Yellowthroat as well as the Paddyfield Warbler and Parrot Crossbill that I saw in West Sussex on 5/2 and 18/2 respectively can be seen in the recent edition of Birding World which arrived today. There is a good discussion on the provenance of the Parrot Crossbill as well as some excellent photos of that most spectacular of falcons, the Gyr.

On 6/3 well as seeing the Goshawks at Acres Down I also heard a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, but extensive searching of the woodland below the lookout failed to produce a sighting. I am happy to include ‘heard onlys’ on my year list if I have to but would prefer to see the species concerned if possible.

A recording of a calling and drumming Lesser Spots can be heard at http://www.xeno-canto.org/browse.php?query=Lesser+Spotted+Woodpecker+%28Dendrocopos+minor%29+40&species_nr=qwtlfc

….. and finally I was amused when I called in at the farm shop at Acres Down to buy some lunch. The lady there, realising I was a birder complained that ‘all these Goshawks’ had scared the Blackbirds from her lawn and eaten all the Dartford Warblers’. I can hardly imagine a huge Gos diving into a thick gorse bush for such a tiny morsel as a Dartford! I pointed out that Goshawks, Blackbirds and even Dartfords exist side by side on the continent and have done so for millenia, that Goshawks main food is pigeons and corvids and I see no shortage of those, and that the Blackbirds were feeding in the forest not her lawn due to the mild winter. Some people have no idea of a predator / prey relationship and how the presence of a top predator like a Goshawk is beneficial for the ecosystem as a whole.

I also had good views of Wood Lark in song flight and on the ground in the New Forest. My photos from Black Down in West Sussex on 18/2 were too dark so I have repeated them here.

Wood Lark, Black Down, West Sussex 18/2

Wood Lark, Black Down, West Sussex 18/2

Posted March 8, 2012 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized