Archive for April 2012

27th – 28th April – Partial sucess, then failure at Durlston.   Leave a comment

After the winds of yesterday it looked like it would be still enough to ring at Durlston this morning. It was still quite windy and huge shower clouds rolled in from the sea but Sean, Mick and I only had to rush and close the nets once. We only ringed 14 birds plus 4 but this involved 15 species ,three of which are shown below. On the migrant front we saw Willow and Chiff, Blackcap and Lesser Whitethroat (which was singing in the garden) and a retrap Common Whitethroat from last year, (which was also holding territory in the garden) and there was a light passage of Swallows. Migrants aren’t exactly pouring in but at last there is steady trickle.

The threat of more heavy rain caused us to pack up about 0930.


Although the winds were lighter than yesterday heavy shower clouds rolled to either side of the park.


Jays are normally very aggressive in the hand but this bird was unusually docile.


Jays can be aged by the pattern and number of black bars on the outer greater coverts. This is an adult.


The pair of Mallards chased each other around the site until they blundered into one of the nets, but the female got out before we reached it.


Mick released the Mallard which then walked to the pond, preened, then climbed out the far side and went to sleep. Proof that ringing doesn't scare birds.


This penetrating gaze of a Sparrowhawk is probably the last thing many a small bird gets to see.


On the Saturday we were booked to give a public ringing demonstration at Durlston. I got up at 0430, arrived there at 0530 where seven of us hung around in our cars for an hour and half waiting for the rain (which the met office had failed to forecast) to end, before we gave up and headed home.

On Sunday evening my old friend and former ringing trainer Trevor Squire and his wife Sheila came round for a meal. We had an excellent evening recalling some of our former ringing adventures and hearing some of Trevor’s scary stories of ringing in various parts of Africa.


Sheila and Margaret listen intently ....


... to one of Trevor's hair-raising tales.


Trevor brought along some study skins from ringing in east Africa, top to bottom: River, Marsh and Reed Warbler.


I would love to have the chance to ring a Thrush Nightingale, but I guess that isn't going to happen at Durlston or Lytchett Bay.






Posted April 29, 2012 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

25th – 26th April – A tale of two lighthouses.   Leave a comment

As a birthday present for Margaret I took her to a Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra concert at Poole Lighthouse (formerly Poole Arts Centre) on Wednesday evening. For those who know about these things the performance was Stravinsky’s Fireworks, Prokofiev’s Sinfonia Concertante and extracts from Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty. I must admit I didn’t recognise any of the music except one part of  The Sleeping Beauty.

I got tickets in the choir stalls behind the orchestra, this had the advantage of giving a wonderful view of what was going on. I did wonder if the sound balance would be OK from behind the orchestra and to some extent this was true, as the cello soloist sounded a bit faint and the trombones were almost deafening but we then were only a metre away. Although I like some classical music, I have been to very few concerts, but the playing was excellent and we both really enjoyed it, but I do find some of the conventions such as no applause until the entire piece is completed, to be rather restrictive.


The view from the choir stalls.


On Thursday it was the turn of a real lighthouse, the big red and white one at Portland Bill. I had been looking forwards to a good seawatch for some time, but every time it was windy, either the wind was from the wrong direction, it was pouring with rain or I was otherwise engaged. Today I finally made it and arrived at the Bill at 0630, it was worthwhile getting there early as I was able to get a sheltered location close to the obelisk.



Force 6 SW but without rain, ideal for seawatching.

The earlier you arrive, the more shelter you get from the obelisk but if you are third in line .....

... the 'pay as you go telescope' for the grockles blocks your view as you are tracking birds along the horizon.

Looking straight out from the obelisk you get the full force of the wind and spray in your face.


Over the next three hours there was an excellent run of skuas, 20+ Great, 6 Arctic and best of all, 2 Pomarines and lots of Manx Shearwaters. There weren’t any terns or divers and I missed two distant Little Gulls, but it was a great seawatch and I was very pleased to add the scarce Pomarine Skua, with its spoon like central tail feathers, to my year list.


Great Skua or Bonxie (a Shetland name that is now universally used).

Arctic Skuas come in both light and dark phases.

Pomarine Skua - with a full set of cutlery.


Others were seawatching from Chesil Cove where the Chesil Bank meets the Isle of Portland. Birds get blown into the Bay then either cross Ferrybridge into Portland Harbour or battle their way southwards and around the Bill. I had word that there three Pom Skuas (including the rare dark phase) sat on the sea, although by the time I got there they were fairly distant. I also saw another four Arctic Skuas whilst I was there.

A casual reader of a field guide might think that a skua is just a variant on the theme of a gull. This couldn’t be further from the truth, skuas are powerful, fast hunters often seen chasing terns and gulls making them disgorge their last meal. Seeing skuas, especially in numbers, is one of the joys of seawatching.


Chesil Cove - looking along Chesil Bank.

Heavy squalls blew in from the south.

Posted April 27, 2012 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

23rd – 24th April – at home, Wool and New Forest   Leave a comment

There is one sure way to make it rain, the government declares an ‘official drought’!

'Drought conditions' - the car park at the gym.


Heavy rain on the 23rd kept me at home for much of the day, but late morning I received information that there was a White Stork near Wool. I went straight away and saw a very bedraggled stork hunched up in the middle of a ploughed field. It was good job that I went when I did as the bird flew as soon as the rain stopped in the early afternoon.


I have seen about ten white Storks in the UK and over 10,000 abroad but none have looked as miserable as this one.


We have a pair of Magpies nesting near our garden, one has a severely damaged bill with the lower mandible being turned through 45 degrees. It must be managing to find food although it is looking a bit ragged.


As it was her birthday Margaret and I met up for lunch. In the evening Janis and Andy and the girls came round to wish her a happy birthday.


Kara had learned to play 'happy birthday' on the guitar especially for Margaret's birthday. The large plant is a present from Janis.


When I got back from Derby I found our conservatory had filled up with teenage girls. Kara has passed the first audition in a talent competition and the girls were helping her practice. L-R Jade, Emma, Charlie, Amber and Kara


On the 24th I spent the morning in the New Forest. First I called in at Blashford Lakes where a Black Tern had been seen yesterday. No luck with that, but I did see a Little Ringed Plover, a few Common Terns and many Sand Martins.


Most ducks have left Blashford for their northern breeding areas and mainly Tufted Ducks remain.


About 7,000 pairs of Tufted Duck breed in the UK but many more arrive for winter.


I spent the next few hours around the Bolderwood / Anderwood area. Blackcaps were common, I saw six Redstarts, several Treecreepers, Nuthatches and two Hawfinches but Wood Wablers hadn’t arrived yet and I only heard one Cuckoo.


At this time of the year some trees are in leaf whilst others are still bare.


This tiny Grey Squirrel must have just have left the drey.



Posted April 24, 2012 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

21st April – mainly Attenborough, Notts   Leave a comment

Attenborough NR is an excellent reserve near Nottingham. Lying beside the River Trent it comprises a  series of well vegetated old gravel pits with some wet meadows and reed beds. Recent management has increased the area of reed bed and has constructed islands for LRPs and artificial cliff for Sand Martins. The reserve is close to Long Eaton where my late wife Janet’s family lived and I have been visiting there since the late seventies.

Attenborough nature reserve with the Ratcliffe-on-Soar power station in the distance.


Recent habitat improvement has included planting new reed beds and building nesting islands.


It’s obviously further away from Simon’s house than say Carsington reservoir, but the range of habitats and hence birds, is greater. I left Simon’s at 0730 and spent about two and a half hours at the reserve. I normally go on a long hike to search for Willow Tit, but having recently seen a pair I spent my time around Clifton Pool with some success.


Coots were nesting ..........

.... and vigorously defended the area against all comers.


Common Tern and Sedge Warbler were new for my year list, I heard Reed and Grasshopper Warbler and Cetti’s were singing all over the place. Introduced Egyptian Geese and Red-crested Pochards provided further photo opportunities.


A singing Sedge Warbler.

This is the first time I have seen the highly vocal Cetti's Warbler at Attenborough.

Tree Sparrows were present here in the seventies, but this is the first time I have seen them here for 34 years.

This dainty Stock Dove was giving excellent views on the branch .....

..... and whilst feeding on the ground below.

Although some Red-crested Pochards seen in the UK are thought to be from wild European populations most are of feral origin.

These three male Red-crested Pochards were particularly tame......

.... and gave stunning views.

This Egyptian Goose flew past on its way to the car park looking for a free handout.


There is no question about the origin of Egyptian Geese, they certainly don't arrive here from sub-Saharan Africa.


A quick visit to another site near Derby gave me the far the most interesting bird of the day, an immature male Ruddy Duck. Half a dozen of this rather cute American species escaped from Slimbridge in the 1950s and before long a feral population of several thousand pairs had built up, mainly from the Midlands southwards. This bird looked to become a welcome addition to our avifauna, until it was demonstrated conclusively that Ruddies were spreading across Europe and hybridising with the highly endangered White-headed Duck in Spain. Population modelling showed that this would lead to the global extinction of the White-headed Duck. The argument that Ruddies in Spain were actually wild transatlantic vagrants was disproved genetically. The outcome was that the government initiated not just a cull, but a whole scale eradication program. This has been successful and only a handful of Ruddies still exist and these are to be removed this year. My personal feelings are that it is a shame they have to be shot, but if this is what it takes to stop White-headed Ducks becoming extinct, then so be it. Either way, with my ‘year listing hat’ on I was delighted to see this bird, as I had written off any chance of finding one this year, indeed this will almost certainly be the last one I see in the UK.


This first year male Ruddy Duck is very like the bird I saw. Photo from the internet.


The adult male Ruddy Duck is a very attractive bird and it is easy to see why its eradication has not been popular with birders. Photo from the internet.


... all to protect the globally endangered and charismatic White-headed Duck. Photo taken in Armenia in 2010.

I was back in Duffield at Simon and Viv’s by 11.30 and Simon and I went to the nursing home to see Mum. There will be no photos this time, she is now bed bound and spends almost the entire 24 hours asleep. I felt sadness of course, but it was not to the following day when I listened to a track by sixties singer Melanie Safka called ‘the saddest thing’ that the true enormity of the situation hit me.

The return journey was much better than the drive up. I was pleased to see so many Red Kites between Oxford and Newbury, including six together near the M4 / A34 junction and one well south of Newbury.

Posted April 23, 2012 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

20th April – West Sussex to Derby   Leave a comment

One bird that has been around all year is the Rough-legged Buzzard wintering at Burpham, near Arundal, West Sussex. Although I have been to West Sussex several times this year, I have always run out of time or hit bad weather and have never made it to Burpham, indeed I thought it had gone, until two friends of mine twitched it a few days ago.

My mother’s health continues to deteriorate so I decided to head for Derby, however my brother and family wouldn’t be in until late afternoon so there was time to detour via West Sussex.

My first stop was at the village of Apuldram near Chichester. Here a potential Iberian Chiffchaff has taken up territory. I say potential, as opinions is divided as to whether it is one. This species which breeds in northern Spain and south-west France can only be safely identified on song. This bird sings Iberian Chiff phases but also give the familiar ‘chiff chaff, chiff chaff’.  It is more likely that these ‘mixed singers’ are Iberians that have learnt Common Chiff song than that they are hybrids.

It looks like a Chiffchaff, it sometimes sounds like a Chiffchaff but is it an Iberian Chiffchaff?

I continued onto Burpham and the area known as the Burgh. This is the same area that I visited last autumn to see a Pallid Harrier, however unlike the harrier which could be seen from the road, seeing this buzzard took a bit of a hike. I soon saw the bird flying over a distant hillside but wishing better views I continued on. Rough-legs are the larger and more robust version of our Common Buzzard. This is the ninth I have seen in the UK, it is a scarce but regular visitor to eastern England, indeed I should have seen one in January but the car break down thwarted our plans.

Rough-legged Buzzard, Burpham, photo from the Internet. Closer photos of this bird are on the net but this illustrates nicely the sort of views I obtained.

The Burgh is an area that is farmed sympathetically for wildlife, this might largely be due to shooting interests as there are feed bins everywhere. I don’t like the shooting of bird for recreation but agree that if it leads to a landscape as full of wildlife as this then it can only be beneficial. Skylarks, Corn Buntings and Linnets were everywhere, a Red Kite flew by and hares and both partridges were seen.

Notice the wide conservation margins to the fields, ideal for partridges and ground nesting passerines.

Singing Skylarks were abundant.

Many Corn Bunting were singing, this one flew in....

... and perched in the midst of the oil seed rape.

It was sunny when I arrived but soon black clouds rolled in. The first storm passed to the north and only resulted in ten minutes of heavy rain but the second an hour later was a torrential downpour mixed with hail that got me soaked.


The first storm passed to the north and largely missed the area.

... but soon the clouds were back....

Lets hope this helps with the drought situation in the south-east!


It’s as far from Arundal to Derby as from Poole to Derby, so I expected the journey would take the usual 3.5 hours. How wrong I was. Driving on the M25 and M1 on a Friday afternoon took five hours. It was too late to visit Mum’s nursing home, but I went to see my sister-in-laws parent’s Dennis and Ida whilst Simon and Viv helped Miriam prepare for her Duke of Edinburg award expedition this weekend.

My niece Miriam has to walk 16km with all this camping gear, set camp and walk back the next day for her Duke of Edinburgh bronze award.

In spite of recent major abdominal surgery and continued treatment, Dennis remains cheerful and full of beans - as usual.

Posted April 22, 2012 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

19th April – What a difference a year makes.   Leave a comment

I finally made it to Portland on the 19th. The wind was in the west again. There were very few grounded migrants although there were a lot of Manx Shearwaters offshore. Several hours of watching from the Observatory resulted in a group of five Great Skuas and a few Sandwich Terns.

I later visited Lodmoor where I saw my first Whimbrel of the year. At least ten Reed warblers were singing but I heard no Sedge Warblers, usually Sedge Warblers arrive well before Reeds. Again there were no hirundines about and I have yet to see a Whitethroat.

From Lodmoor Hardy's Monument was showing well against the leaden sky.

Beachdown Way, the central track on Lodmoor.

All of these birds will make it to Britain when the weather improves, but a late arrival reduces the chance of two broods and so will affect the numbers seen and ringed on autumn migration. As well as good numbers of common species in the first 19 days of April 2011 I had seen in Dorset or the New Forest: Red-flanked Bluetail 2/4/11, Short-toed Lark 7/4/11, Whiskered Tern 10/4/11, Woodchat Shrike 10/4/11, Black Stork 16/4/11, Ortolan Bunting 17/4/11 and Night Heron a year ago today.

I saw this species in the New Forest on 19th April last year but all of us except Shaun missed it when it re-appeared over Lytchett Bay shortly afterwards.
Black Stork photographed in Armenia in 2010.

Posted April 19, 2012 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

19th April – Longham Lakes   Leave a comment

I didn’t do much birding on the 18th. I had lunch with Margaret in town. She has asked for a second shed for her birthday next week so much of the time was taken organising delivery etc.

In the mid-afternoon I called in at Longham Lakes as a flock of 11 White Wagtails had been seen in the morning. Soon after I arrived the heavens opened, but I thought as I’m here now, I might as well press on. The wagtails were in a ploughed field near the lake and the presence of half a dozen local breeding Pied Wagtails allowed for direct comparison. In the end I counted 17 plus about 20 Stock Doves.

White Wagtails are the nominate race of the Pied/White complex are only considered a species in their own right by the Dutch. I have received a few ‘why bother, you can’t count those’ comments from other birders but I think that is missing the point. Spring White Wagtails with their crisp grey and black plumage are beautiful birds and I never seen anything like this number in spring in the UK before. I wonder if they were on their way to Scandinavia or Iceland.


I didn't take my camera with me as it was tipping down, but here is a White Wagtail I photographed two years ago in Armenia.







Posted April 19, 2012 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

17th April – Mordon Bog   Leave a comment

I had been looking forwards today. The forecast gave southerly winds and heavy rain clearing by mid-morning. This should have been ideal for seawatching from Portland Bill, but a quick call to the Observatory before I left indicated that the rain had already cleared and the winds were now westerly and hadn’t produced very much, so I decided to stay local. By the end of the day they had amassed a good number of Bonxies (Great Skuas) but not, considering the time of year, a lot else.

I ended up at the Sherford Bridge / Mordon Bog area, but was unable to find the Hobbys, Cuckoos and Tree Pipits that had been seen by others in recent days. All was not lost as I saw a couple of Crossbills, a Raven, heard a Woodlark and had a few Swallow pass by. The woodland areas allowed me to photograph a Treecreeper, Goldcrest and Mistle Thrush.

Decoy Pond lies in the middle of heathland and usually supports a couple of pairs of Tufted Duck and Little Grebes. It is not to be confused with the nearby but much larger, Mordon Park Lake, which is surrounded by dense deciduous woodland.

The remnants of Decoy Cottage. When I first started birding in this area 33 years ago the cottage was intact, yet abandoned. It is said that the ghost of the last owner still walks the forest!

With grey skies and intermittent rain, most birds were silent, except of course several Mistle Thrushes which were living up to their old name of 'Storm Cock'.

This Treecreeper seemed oblivious to my presence.

A male Goldcrest raising its crest in display.

It remained cold and windy all day. The temperatures are at least 10 C lower than they were last month and migration, which seemed so promising in late March, has ground to a halt. With reports of bad weather to the south and even snow in Morocco, this is perhaps not surprising. A transient desert lake on the fringes of the Moroccan Sahara was bone dry in mid-March but measured 10km by 3km and had diving Little Grebes on it two weeks ago!

Posted April 19, 2012 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

16th April – Ower, Middlebere and Lytchett   Leave a comment

On the 16th I opted for Ower on the south side of Poole Harbour. Things had changed a lot since my last visit in March. Treecreepers, Nuthatches, Marsh Tits and Siskins, although all still present, were far less conspicuous, whilst the air was filled with the sound of Chiffchaffs, Willow Warblers and Blackcaps. Of course there was no sign of my main target, whose name I shall now refrain from uttering until I actually see one!


Ower copse


The banks of the stream are carpeted in Primroses.

The Wytch area of Poole Harbour, the site of Europe's largest on-shore oil field.



I then headed for Middlebere on the way back. An Osprey had been seen the previous day. Ospreys predilection for this area has led to the RSPB erecting dummy nests in the hope that a migrant pair will stop and join the party. This hasn’t happened yet, but it’s become a reliable site for them in autumn and sometimes in spring as well.

Very little was showing from the hide but along the access lane  whilst watching a singing Chiffchaff,  a Dartford warbler appeared right next to me allowing a great photo opportunity.


Singing Chiffchaff. I thought I'd 'go large' on these three images.


A very obliging Dartford Warbler.


Garden moluscicides have led to big losses in the Song Thrush population, but this year they seem to be everywhere. lets hope a recovery is underway.


Finally I called in at Lytchett Bay, where I finally got a glimpse of a Reed Warbler but not much else.


Last year the farmer left a wide 'conservation margin' around this field which proved excellent for buntings and finches in the autumn. This year its been ploughed right up to the hedge.


Posted April 19, 2012 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

14th – 15th April – Durlston and home.   Leave a comment

Saturday morning saw three of us ringing at Durlston. Unlike our very succesful visit on Thursday there were few migrants about and only 15 birds were ringed, mainly Chiffchaffs, Willows and Blackcaps, but three Bullfinches was noteworthy. It was particularly cold and it seemed to take until mid afternoon to get warm again.

Although I have seen a few female Blackcaps in woodland, most migrants I see at this time of year are males.


As well as differences in leg, flank and overall body colour, wing formula and wing length, Chiffchaffs have a more domed head, a more obvious eye ring and a less prominent supercillium compared......

.... to a Willow Warbler.


Once slaughtered in their thousands due to the damage they inflict on the buds of fruiting trees, Bullfinches were also kept as cage birds and whistled at until they learned a tune (as mentioned in 'Tess of the d'Urbervilles). Fortunately neither activity is performed today!

The classic method of ageing Dunnocks is on eye colour, muddy brown in first years, mahogany in adults. Unfortunately by the turn of the year this feature become unreliable.


We have been looking into the using the black bar on the primary covets as an ageing feature in Dunnocks, well-defined in first years, diffuse in adults. The results so far look promising.


On Sunday we settled down to various chores at home. Margaret spent much of the day in the garden, the benefits of which can be seen below. I continued on with my copying of old cassettes on the PC; listening to sixties legends as Janis Joplin, The Rolling Stones and Jeffereson Airplane took me back to my youth. I am also attempting to tidy up and modify the taxonomy on my Wildlife Recorder database and have been running into big problems. More of that when the problems are resolved.


This was the garden when Margaret moved in four and half years ago .......


..... and this is it today!

Posted April 17, 2012 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized