Archive for April 2012

11th – 13th April, Portland, Radipole, Durlston and Lytchett Bay.   Leave a comment

On the 11th I returned to Portland. With less wind there were fewer seabirds, I saw a number of Manx Shearwaters from the Observatory patio, along with a few Scoters. There was a good number of birds ringed, mainly Willow Warblers (I usually don’t get involved in the ringing at Portland as many ringers take holidays there specifically to ring and I wouldn’t want to get in their way).

This is the view from the Bird Observatory patio. Most seabirds pass in the tidal race, the area of white water in the mid distance.

The most interesting bird as far as I was concerned was a ‘Greenland’ Wheatear  in the hand. This larger and brighter subspecies of Northern Wheatear breeds in Greenland and eastern Canada but like all other Wheatears it winters in Africa. This bird was trapped along with a nominate Wheatear and it was great to see a side-by-side size comparison in the hand, something I haven’t been able to do before.

The larger and brighter Greenland race of Northern Wheatear, in less than a week it could be in Arctic Canada.

Northern Wheatears have an almost circumpolar distribution; birds have spread into Alaska and western Canada from Asia and eastern Canada from Greenland.  It had long been thought that Northern Wheatears that breed in the New World winter in Africa (as well as the entire Old World population, but proof has only recently been available through GPS tagging and stable isotope analysis. The journey from Alaska is about 15,000 km, that from eastern Canada is about 8,000 km but most of it is over the Atlantic. More details can be found in the most recent edition of Birding World.

On the way home I had just got to Dorchester when I received information that there was a Black-winged Stilt at Radipole, I quickly turned round and headed back.  After receiving a worrying text that it had just flown off, I arrived at North Hide to find it had returned and I was giving good views, if not good photos.  This species is a regular but rare overshoot to the UK in early spring. I have seen nine individuals in the UK (one that stayed for years in Norfolk was seen many times) but this was only the second I have seen in Dorset, the last being in 1985.

The view from the north hide at Radipole. The Stilt spent most of its time behind the bush at the back left of the picture.

Record shot of the Black-winged Stilt. Far better photos exist on the Dorset Bird Club web site.

A heavy shower was brewing and these Mute Swans flew directly towards us with the ominous sky as a back drop.

The following day I did some ringing at Durlston. Four of us had a productive morning, with 72 birds ringed. This is probably our best ever total for a spring session. We are seeing plenty of Willow Warblers moving through but other species are conspicuous in their absence. Hirundines (swallows and martins) have hardly put in an appearance at all. Up to the 12th I had seen less than ten, however there was a small movement today and I even got to see my first House Martin of the year.  We also heard a Cuckoo and a Grasshopper Warbler nearby, but it was surprising that we heard anything at all given the unholy din that emanated from people training their dogs just the other side of the garden wall. When we took the nets down I nearly stepped on an Adder but it slithered off into the undergrowth before I could get a photo.

Peter Williams from Worth Matravers had an even closer encounter with an Adder, whilst gardening this Adder bit him on the hand. This is of course our only poisonous snake and he spent much of the Easter weekend in A&E.
Photo by Peter Williams.

In the evening I paid another visit to Lytchett Bay as the Cattle Egret had been seen again. I think I must have arrived too late as all the Little Egrets had gone to roost, presumably taking the Cattle Egret with them.

Late evening at Lytchett Bay

Much of the 13th was taken up with various tasks but another late afternoon visit proved third time lucky and the Cattle Egret showed well. I also heard my first Reed Warbler of 2012.

Cattle Egrets are becoming much commoner, this is my third bird of 2012.

Another bird that has increased greatly in numbers is the Mediterranean Gull, now breeding in moderate numbers in Poole Harbour, their loud mewing could be heard all the time this evening.

Posted April 13, 2012 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

10th April – Portland   Leave a comment

Yesterday we had our first really wet day for ages, what the BBC weathergirl called ‘usable rain’, but today was clear and sunny if quite windy. The wind was blowing from the south-west, so there was the promise of some seabirds at Portland.

First I called in at Barleycrates Lane in the hope of another Ring Ousel but all I found was a Blackcap so I headed for the Bill a bit of seawatching.

The trouble with seawatching is that often that is exactly what happens, you end up watching the sea rather than seabirds.


Along with several of the Portland regulars I was able to see my first Manx Shearwaters and Puffins plus a few Sandwich Terns. Later back at the Observatory a couple of Arctic Skuas put on a great show offshore, chasing Kittiwakes and Sandwich Terns over a protracted period.


Manx Shearwaters were seen with the Gannets off the Bill Photo from the Internet.


This dark phase Arctic Skua gives a pretty good idea of the sort of view I was getting from the Observatory patio. Photo from the Internet.


On the way back I called in at Lodmoor where a pair of Bearded Tits and a Marsh Harrier where the best birds, before heading back to Upton and Lytchett bay where a Cattle Egret had been seen earlier. At least a dozen Little Egrets were present but no Cattle, perhaps it had gone off in search of some cows.

Posted April 10, 2012 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

7th – 8th April – Durlston and New Forest.   Leave a comment

On Saturday a group of us tried ringing at Durlston. I say tried because it took two hours before the number of birds ringed exceeded the number of ringers present. However, we did have two gems, a control Chiffchaff (ie one that had been previously ringed elsewhere) and a Grasshopper Warbler, one of the very few I have seen in the hand in the spring. It was a cold and breezy morning and we couldn’t help feeling that summer has already been and gone!

Grasshopper Warbler. In most years I only hear their insect like buzz in the spring and have to wait until autumn ringing sessions to actually see one.


On Sunday Margaret and I birded a few sites in the New Forest, I was hoping for a few spring migrants like Redstart or perhaps even a Cuckoo, but all we managed was a few Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps and a single Willow Warbler. Of course what I really wanted to see was the bird that is fast becoming my nemesis, Lesser Spotted Woodpecker. I went to three sites where they have been seen, Cadman’s Pool (where I have heard them drumming), Bolderwood and Anderwood. Best birds were a pair of Marsh Tits at Cadman’s Pool plus a Firecrest and a pair of Hawfinches at Bolderwood. Again it was a grey and rather cold day, but there were lots of cyclists on the trails and the Bolderwood car park was full to overflowing.


Distant Fallow Deer near Bolderwood.


Although Hampshire is under a drought restriction, i.e. a hosepipe ban, the New Forest streams seem to be at a healthy level.

Posted April 8, 2012 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

4th – 6th April – four out of four in Devon.   Leave a comment

On the 4th and 5th I just did a bit of birding at Lytchett Bay. The weather was mainly cool and grey and there were only a few migrants about, a Greenshank was probably the best bird, although a male Redstart was seen on the 5th by Paul Morton.

A cool and grey day at Lytchett.

With a couple of good birds in eastern Devon, Margaret and I headed there on Good Friday. First we drove to Budleigh Salterton as a Purple Heron had been seen near the River Otter for the last couple of days. It was pretty cold but gloriously clear but no amount of searching could reveal the heron so we assumed it had gone.

The River Otter at Budleigh Salterton.

We then drove on to Teignmouth but as we were going to be driving close to Exminster, it seemed sensible to try to see Cirl Buntings on route. I had tried at the same spot in January without success but they may have been wintering elsewhere It took about 20 minutes of searching to find a male, which conveniently briefly sang before it flew.

A male Cirl Bunting photographed in the same area last June.

With at least one year tick under the belt, Little Haldon golf course near Teignmouth was our next destination. We arrived to hear that the Hoopoe had been showing well but now there were many golfers on the course and it had become very flighty. Stopping for the Cirl didn’t seem like such a good idea now. It took a while but then we saw it in a gap in the vegetation on the edge of the course, just time for a couple of photos before it flew.

Time for a quick photo .......

... and then it was off !

A short break for lunch at Teignmouth was hindered by the masses of grockles along the seafront, what this place must be like in August!

The beach at Teignmouth, not too many on the beach but the car parks and esplanades were packed ......

... and the estuary was busy too.

Pied Flycatcher is a scarce but regular migrant in coastal Dorset, but I often miss them in spring when the males are in their breeding finery and end up searching for drab autumn birds. Breeding is confined to the Sessile Oak woods of western Britain and there was one such wood just 12 miles away. As it was still early April and to the best of my knowledge only a single migrant had been seen in Dorset this year, so my expectations were low. However we soon found a singing male by the hide.

A breeding plumaged male Pied Flycatcher is a sight to behold.

Wintering in tropical west Africa and breeding in western UK, this species has benefited from nest box schemes.

Back near the car park there was two pairs of Mandarins and a Wood Duck on a woodland pool. Mandarins were first introduced to the UK in the early 20th century and is slowly spreading from its stronghold around London. Wood Duck occupies the same niche in eastern North America and although it has been released in the UK it not established a self-sustaining population. There has been speculation that wild might birds might reach us from the USA, following records in the Azores and Iceland.

East meets west in deepest Devon. A pair of Mandarin and a drake Wood Duck (at the back) on a woodland pool. With a Wood Duck in Devon and another at Abbotsbury there must be an influx from the States (!)

The amazing 'sails' on a drake Mandarin are modified tertial feathers.

We were just about to leave for home when I discovered that the Purple Heron had been see, It hadn’t gone after all! We quickly returned, as I approached some birders pointed out where it was, only to add  ‘ its just gone into the ditch’. I had missed it by two seconds! After ninety minutes of waiting it appeared on the far side of the wooded ditch for just a few seconds, only myself and another birder saw it and all the rest, including Margaret who were on the other side, dipped.

If the Purple Heron had chosen this ditch to feed then there would have no problem seeing it .......

... but it choose the ditch to the south where it fed out of sight. Photo of the same bird from the Internet.

Two vagrants, a scarce resident and a localised summer visitor plus a couple of introduced ducks, not bad for a day in Devon.

Finally a conversation with a passer-by went something like this:

Q so where does this heron come from?

A probably it was flying from tropical Africa to Spain and it overshot and landed here.

Q So it like a normal heron, I mean is it smaller?

A no it’s not really smaller but it is a lot slenderer.

Q Is that because its flown such a long way?

Posted April 7, 2012 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

April 3rd – Portland   Leave a comment

A cold front moving south, which was to lead to snow and high winds in the north the next day, looked like it would produce a fall of migrants, perhaps comparable to the one that occurred last Saturday. As a result I made the effort to get up at 0515 and get to Portland by  0645.

Instead of heading straight for the Observatory, I checked out the Barleycrates/Reap Lane area, about a mile north of the Bill, as this is where most Ring Ouzels have been seen. These ‘mountain Blackbirds’ are a scarce but regular early migrants. There is a good chance that I will see one in Scotland in June  or on autumn migration but it seemed prudent to get one in the spring. In the event I saw a female, but only in flight.

Far more satisfying was several Common Redstarts in the area and up to 60 Wheatears, although most of the latter arrived a couple of hours after dawn. Phylloscs, ie Chiffchaff and Willow Warblers, were quite common, with Willows predominating. Other interesting birds included a Golden Plover overhead, a Peregrine and a small pale warbler that looked just like a Lesser Whitethroat but about ten days too early!

Later I headed down to the Observatory where they had a busy morning ringing, but not on a par with Saturday. As the rush of migrants was now over, I headed home.

Barleycrates Lane, Portland.

A male Redstart, perhaps on route to south-western Scotland or central Wales.

Willow Warblers outnumbered Chiffchaffs

A male Wheatear, a common breeder in Britain's upland areas.

A short distant migrant, Meadow Pipits are common in the early spring.

A male Linnet, another local breeder and partial migrant.

Stonechats seem to have declined in recent years but several pairs can still be seen around Portland.

This male Kestrel perched on fence posts......

... before pouncing on prey in the fields...

.... before returning.....

.... to its original post.

Posted April 4, 2012 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

1st April – Kingcombe and Winyards Gap.   Leave a comment

On the Sunday morning we headed back down the hill to Kingcombe centre, where Nick had left the best of his moth trap for guests to see. Dotted Border was a new species for me.

When we had assembled we drove (in a convoy) to Winyards Gap, from where we set out for a five mile walk down into Somerset and back. Many had a pub lunch at Winyard’s Gap and then continued on another walk, but we decided to head home as we now felt pretty knackered.

We woke to a gloriously sunny morning...


Upper Kingcombe Lodge has a series of private fishing lakes.


Hebrew Character, a common early season moth.


Oak Beauty is a moth of oak woodland and not one that I see in Upton.


Dotted Border, an early season moth of woodland


A aerial matrix near Kingcombe was once used to broadcast the BBC world service.


The view from Winyards Gap into Somerset.


Woodspurge, a green flowered plant.


An isolated farm with some unusual garden ornaments.



Posted April 2, 2012 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

30th – 31st March – Kingcombe, West Dorset   Leave a comment

Every year the Nexus group books the Kingcombe Centre in west Dorset for a walking weekend. We have been to two such weekends and have really enjoyed them. We left on the Friday evening soon after Margaret got back from work and arrived at Kingcombe about 7pm. This time we were booked into Higher Kingcombe Lodge, a nice B&B just up the road, although we ate at the Kingcombe Centre.

On the Saturday we met at the centre and headed off on a 10.5 mile walk, first to Nettlecombe where we had lunch at the Marquis of Lorne and then, climbing over Eggardon Hill Fort we descended to Tollor Pocorum and returned to Kingcombe.

After the sunny conditions of previous days, today was grey and cool. However these conditions had deposited literally thousands of migrants onto Portland Bill, something I would have loved to have seen. I had to make do with singing Chiffchaffs, Blackcaps and a single Sand Martin.

Over 30 Nexuns gathered at the Kingcombe Centre on Friday evening.

A couple of orphaned lambs proved a big hit.

Chani took on the role of surrogate mother.

We stayed at the attractive Upper Kingcombe Lodge about a mile away from the centre.

The following morning we gathered at the Kingcombe Centre prior to the hike

In this area there were picturesque old cottages in need of attention.....

... and others in perfect condition.

Shaun the Sheep brought his mates along to meet us.

Some of the tracks in west Dorset are a bit on the steep side.......


... including this climb up Eggardon Hill.


A welcome rest at the top was shortened by the cold wind. It was a bit murky, apparently you can see from St Catherine's Point on the IOW to Start Point in Devon on a clear day.


Part of the summit is occupied by a Neolithic hill fort.


It's a dogs life!


In the evening, the centre's manager (and former RSPB warden) Nick Tomlinson gave us a short talk on future plans for the centre and the extensive wildlife reserve.

Posted April 2, 2012 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized