Archive for May 2012

29th May – another Last of the Summer Wine walk   Leave a comment

Today I joined two other lab retirees, Gio Pietrangelo and Ann Hitchcoe plus Tim Kellaway (who is still some years away from joining our fortunate position) for another pleasant ramble. Previously Gio had likened us to the three elderly guys in the TV series that go for a long walk and end up in the pub . Ann inevitably gained the nickname of Nora Batty, the series battle-axe with the wrinkly stockings!

We walked from the track to Greenlands Farm on the Studland Road to Corfe Castle along the minor roads and tracks that run on the south side of Poole Harbour, via Ower Quay and Wytch Causeway, about 7.5 miles in total. It was quite hot, at least to start with and we were quite tired by the time we reached Corfe Castle. With a car placed at each end of the walk, at least we didn’t have to hike all the way back.

Few birds were seen, but may were heard. The best sighting was of a Peregrine taking a Jackdaw right in front of us, but we also looked at many plants and also identified a few dragonflies.

Gio, Tim and Ann


Ower Cottage with Poole in the distance

We walked down to Ower Cottage and had good views over the south side of Poole Harbour

The Beautiful Demoiselle, one of the most attractive damselflies.

Nodding Donkeys at Wytch Farm, Europe’s largest onshore oil field.

On an almost completely dry walk Gio finds the only wet crossing in Purbeck.

We discuss where we have just walked over a pint.

This may be my last post for a while as we are heading up to Scotland soon.

Posted May 31, 2012 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

25th – 27th May – bits and bobs at or near home.   Leave a comment

Birding has taken a bit of a back seat recently as I have many tasks to complete before our holiday. As Janis and Andy were away on Friday night the girls stayed with us. Amber said she was concerned that a photo of her I placed on this blog last September appears every time anyone does an image search for Purbeck School! I said that ‘there are many photos of you on the internet, many posted by your Mum’. She answered that was ‘before I had a social life’!

September 2011: Amber arriving at school, ‘before she had a social life’.

Amber taking over our PC last Friday (now having gained a social life).

Kara on the other hand, commandeers the telly in our bedroom to watch cartoons.

Downstairs we watched ‘Have I Got News For You’ chaired by none other than William Shatner. As Star Trek fans, we weren’t sure whether this was good entertainment or just a little embarrassing. However messers Hislop and Merton got some good puns about politicians who managed to ‘cling-on’ to power!



I have just bought a new pocket camera which has got a lovely wide-angle lens, a 10x zoom and megapixels galore. It can do weird things like producing this line drawing of Margaret watching telly.



On the 26th  the Barclay House Choir put on a performance of the music from the Queen’s Coronation. Margaret was busy for most of the day with rehearsals etc. In the evening Janis,  Andy, Amber (Kara was at a sleep over) and I joined Janis’ friends Helen and Suzanne at St Peter’s Church in Parkstone. This was by far the best concert they have given. A double sized choir, a treble chorister from Winchester Cathedral and a full-sized orchestra sounded superb. The only downside was that scenes from the actual Coronation was projected onto a screen above the choir but the projector didn’t always work and the sound was so poor that you couldn’t make out what was going on.


The choir at a packed St Peter’s.


The Barclay House Choir at St Peter’s.


Later we went for a drink across the road. L-R: Amber, Andy, Janis, Helen and Suzanne. Is this Amber’s social life?


On Sunday Janis, Andy, Helen and the girls came round for an extended breakfast which took the whole morning. In the afternoon Margaret and I popped down to the beach and in the evening I joined fellow ringer John Dowling at Kingston Lacy House where he has permission to ring chicks (or pulli to use the correct term) in nest boxes.

The permission to ring pulli is included in my ringing license however it is many years since I have done so. I need a bit more practice so asked to join him when it was convenient. Ringing pulli is particularly useful technique as it fixes the origin of the birds concerned. No fledged bird can be proven to originate in the area it is ringed. Putting rings on pulli is no different to ringing adults, but judging the time to ring is critical, too young and the ring can slip over the toes and cause damage, too late and the birds can ‘explode’ from the nest, i.e fledge prematurely.


Kingston Lacy during the evening when all the tourists have gone home.

John checking nest boxes.


This Blue Tit pullus is at the upper age limit for ringing for a nest box breeder and would be too old to ring if it was a cup nest breeder (where the risk of exploding is much higher).





Posted May 31, 2012 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

May 24th – Portland and Holt Heath   Leave a comment

After a meeting the previous evening I had some urgent business to deal with, so I got up early went the gym with Margaret and then settled down to get the paperwork done. However over the next twenty minutes message after message came in about goodies in the Weymouth area. Icterine Warbler (in the hand), Common Rosefinch and Golden Oriole were seen at Portland Bill, whilst those watching the Great Reed Warbler at Radipole saw a Black-winged Stilt fly overhead.

It was clear that I should have been at Portland not at home, but by the time I arrived I found the Golden Oriole was long gone, the Rosefinch had only been seen by one person and the Icterine Warbler had only been glimpsed since release. After a couple of hours of searching I gave up and headed home.


The ‘top fields’ at Portland Bill, the last known location of the Golden Oriole.


Now that we have long warm evenings we thought it would be nice to go looking for Nightjars. Nightjars breed just up the road from us at Upton Heath but we went much further, to Holt Heath north of Wareham, in the hope of seeing roding Woodcocks. I saw one Woodcock during the winter, but the view was very brief, so i was keen for a better view. The roding (or displaying) bird flies just over the tree tops making a ‘twisk twisk’ noise. If it passed close enough to you a deep frog like call can be heard as well.

Listen here for recordings of Woodcock.


We saw a roding Woodcock, had great views of displaying Nightjars and saw several Cuckoos, it was a lovely evening marred only by the emergence of countless midges.


Dusk at Holt Heath


A roding Woodcock. Photo from the Internet


A Nightjar displaying at dusk. Photo from the Internet


Click here for recordings of Nightjars.



Posted May 25, 2012 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

22nd May – Radipole and Martin Down   Leave a comment

Birders gather on the new observation platform at Radipole

Quite early on Tuesday morning I received news that a Great Reed Warbler had been found at Radipole at Weymouth. I arrived by 0830 and immediately heard the characteristic guttural ‘kara kara gurk gurk’  of the Great Reed. It took quite a while before I saw the bird, I even got a scope view.This is a rare visitor to the UK, my 5th in the UK but only the 2nd in Dorset, interestingly that bird on 31/5/02 was in exactly the same locality.

Click here for recordings of Great Reed Warbler’s gutteral song.

I had left home without picking up a suitable sun hat. With the hot sun threatening to burn my ‘spam head’ I had no option but to wear a wooly hat that I found in the car to avoid sunburn. Talk about overdressed. The temperature later reached 27 C, 15 degrees hotter than this time last week!

Great Reed Warblers are substantially larger than our familiar Reed Warblers, but are very similar in colouration and shape.

Several Gadwall showed well……

… whilst the local Marsh Harriers flew high overhead.

During the evening I returned to Martin Down with my friend and former colleague, Tim Kellaway. Tim has never seen a Woodchat Shrike in the UK but unfortunately it had gone but we had a pleasant wander seeing Turtle Doves, Red-legged Partridges, Whitethroats and Yellowhammers. A singing Reed Warbler was an unusual find in scrub habitat. There seems to have been a huge increase in Ravens in the area, we saw at least 30 and some have reported over a 100 in the area. Most were first year birds in pristine plumage which could be told from the moulting adults even when high overhead.

Just four of the 30+ Ravens that flew over Martin Down, presumably to roost.


A mixture of farmland, dense heges and chalk downland make the Martin Down area a haven for wildlife.

Posted May 25, 2012 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

20th – 21st May – ‘undisclosed locations’   Leave a comment

I hate having to keep bird locations secret but even in the 21st century sites have to be suppressed for the sake of the birds. This is particularly true in the case of rare breeding raptors.

Reasons really are three-fold:

1) Disturbance at the site from birdwatchers and photographers. In some instances this can be controlled with for example a hide set some difference from the nest but often the location must be kept secret.

2) Egg collecting. Even today there are a few egg collectors who will stop at nothing to get the eggs of rare breeders. One such person has recently  been banned from Scotland during the breeding season for the rest of his life! See

3) Direct persecution. I’m afraid that there are still some gamekeepers who consider anything with a hooked beak to be their enemy. This is especially true in our upland areas. It has been estimated that there is enough habitat for 300+ pairs of Hen Harriers in northern England. This year not a single pair bred succesfully.

The bird I was after on the 21st was Honey Buzzard. Between 30 and 100 pairs breed in the UK, they are no threat to game interests as their food is mainly wasp larvae, but they are susceptible to disturbance and hence should be watched from a distance. A few breed in the New Forest but they have been late returning from Africa this year. I know of anothe site and after about 90 minutes of watching I was rewarded with views of one.

I obtained a view comparable to this, although much further away, as the Honey skimmed the tops of the trees. Photo from the internet.

On the 21st I was after another rare raptor, Montague’s Harrier. This is a very rare breeder indeed, with perhaps less than ten pairs in the entire UK. There used to be a pair that could be seen from an accessible site in north Dorset, but in recent years there have been few sightings. A juvenile bird was seen on the 20th at another ‘undisclosed location’, but as it is less than a year old, it probably was a migrant rather than a bird looking to breed. Either way, searches of the area drew a blank.

I continues on to Martin Down, a wonderful area of chalk downland just over the border into Hampshire. Another Woodchat Shrike had been seen there and after a bit of searching I had good views, considerably better views than the dot in the distance that I saw at Keyhaven just over a week ago. Other interesting birds included a purring Turtle Dove, two Grey Partridges and a singing Quail. Quail arrive late from Africa; in some years we get a second invasion as birds that have hatched in southern Europe move north in their first year before migrating south in the autumn. Almost always located by their lovely ‘wet-my-lips’ song coming from tall or inaccessible vegetation, this is a species that is almost always a ‘heard only’. A link to the song of Quail and Turtle Dove is included below.


Turtle Dove:

The down was carpeted in Cowslips

A Dingy Skipper

This Turtle Dove purred from this branch for some time. A massive decline in recent years means this bird could go extinct as a British breeder in a few decades. Reasons include agricultural intensification, winter habitat destruction in Africa and hunting on migration.

This Woodchat Shrike is hardly a frame filler but its a dam sight closer than the Keyhaven bird. Click to enlarge

There is some good news on the rare bird breeding front. I have just learnt that a pair of Great White Egrets have bred succesfully in Somerset, the first time in the UK!

And finally: maybe summer is on its way. Although cold this morning, the sun came out at lunchtime and for the first time since March the temperature exceeded 20 C

Posted May 22, 2012 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

19th May – north Dorset   Leave a comment


Early on Saturday evening Margaret and I went for a walk around the old disused airfield at Tarrant Rushton. Used in the D-Day invasion in 1944, the base has been decommissioned and the area has reverted to agriculture, the old hangers being used as farm buildings. There is public access are the old perimeter road and the area can be good for the rarer farmland birds like Corn Bunting and Quail.

We had no luck with Quail but did see a couple of Cuckoos, a few Corn Buntings and best of all saw a Barn Owl fly out of one of the disused Nissan huts.



This memorial is to all those who served at the Tarrant Rushton airfield


Old hangers and Nissan huts contain agricultural stores …..



… or have been converted into a wood chipping factory.


A couple of primaries are missing on the left wing of this Barn Owl, however they don’t undergo a full moult until late summer so the feather has probably been lost accidentally.



On the other hand, body and wing covert moult goes on all year, so these pale patches on the coverts are probably due to the pale bases of underlying feathers showing during the moult process.



We continued on to Lydlinch Common near Sturminster Newton and arrived just before dark. Our timing was perfect as a Nightingale started singing soon after we arrived and was still going strong when we left 30 minutes later at 2100. The bird was singing so close that its song was almost deafening but they can be so skulky that all I saw was a brief glimpse. The song of the Nightingale is one of the most complex and richest, not only in the UK, but in the entire world. A link to recordings on Xeno-Canto is included below.



Posted May 22, 2012 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

Thursday 17th May – The Imagined Village   Leave a comment

In the first set Eliza Carthy and father Martin play a duet. I saw Eliza at the Poole Lighthouse last year, but I first heard Martin (now 71) play in 1969 in an early Steeleye Span line up



On Thursday evening Margaret and I along with our friend Jessica Pietrangelo and her son Paul (Gio was back in Italy) went to the Electric Palace in Bridport to see The Imagined Village. This imaginative ten piece folk band was started by Dorset birder Simon Emmerson and has featured a number of folk legends in their line up.

Their music represents traditional folk music updated for today’s multicultural society, with a line up that includes a cello, sitar and Indian percussion along with the expected fiddle and double bass. Their music comprises of their own compositions, traditional numbers and old folk songs brought up to date, for example ‘My Son John’ a song about a returning amputee from the Napoleonic wars has now in Martin Carthy’s words has been ‘tweaked’ to include the current conflict in Afghanistan.

From Jackie Oates’ opening rendition of the tragic ‘Captain’s Apprentice’ to Martin Carthy’s encore, a slow version of Slade’s ‘Cu On Feel The Noize’ it was a wonderful evening that I most certainly recommend, whatever your musical tastes.

Fiddles at dawn! Jackie Oates and Eliza Carthy line up for a duel.

Sheema Mukherjee on sitar and Johnny Kalsi on percussion and dhol drums gives a wonderful Indian flavour to many numbers

L-R Sheema Mukherjee, Jackie Oates and Simon Emmerson

Eliza films dad singing a very slow version of Slade’s ‘Cum On Feel The Noize’ for an encore before joining in on the fiddle.

Jackie Oates, Simon Emmerson, Marin Carthy, Ali Friend (bass), Simon Richmond (keyboards) and Eliza Carthy take a bow. Not featured in the photos are Barney Morse Brown (cello) and Andy Gangardeen  (drums)

Posted May 19, 2012 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

Thursday 17th May – One good tern deserves another   Leave a comment

Regular readers of this blog may be forgiven for thinking that I must have gone into hibernation. The truth is I’ve been feeling a bit under the weather this week, but have taken the time indoors to reorganise and file several years worth of birding journals and sort out my large library of bird books. Just in time too as I found that the existing shelving is coming away from the wall and the whole lot is threatening to crash down on my PC.

I have also completed a job I should have done at the end of 2011, write-up my trip to Ethiopia last November. It’s all done now, if anyone wants a copy then please e-mail me.

I did escape to do some birding on Thursday. News of a Roseate Tern at Lodmoor in Weymouth had me heading there before you could say Sterna dougallii.On arrival I found that the Rosy had gone but as it may have just gone to Weymouth Bay to feed, I hung around. While I was waiting I had plenty of time to admire the 70+ Common Terns present, many of whom were involved in courtship feeding or were copulating, a group of a dozen migrant Sandwich Tern and a single Arctic Tern. The latter bird has been returning to this Common Tern colony for the past four years and attempts to breed with a Common Tern. There is something about this Arctic Tern that doesn’t look quite right, maybe it has a few Common Tern genes mixed in there, but I was having it as a year tick anyway (although they will be abundant when we go ‘up north’ so I don’t have to worry).

These artificial islands at Lodmoor have been highly succesful for breeding Common Terns. The ‘half pipes’ are to allow the chicks to shelter and avoid predation from Kestrels etc.

Terns at a colony undergo what is called ‘dreads’, suddenly all taking off together when there is no apparent predator on view.

Most terns do not return from their African wintering grounds until they are two years old. The bird on the lower left with a white forehead is a first summer bird that has returned early. This plumage was first noted at Portland many years ago and was called the ‘portlandica’ phase until it was realised it was just the normal first summer plumage. Behind the terns 1 Whimbrel and 2 Bar-tailed Godwits and an out of focus Dunlin the foreground.


On the basis that having seen the Arctic Tern then ‘one good tern deserved another’, I hung on for about two hours and eventually the Rosy was found on the mud behind the colony. Rosy’s are our rarest breeding terns, with small colonies in Northumberland and Ireland. Although a pair once bred on Brownsea, we see them almost entirely on migration and it was a pleasing addition to the year list.

A black bill, sometimes with a reddish base, paler overall especially on the wings, longer tail feather with white outers and longer legs identify Roseate Tern. Only birds in breeding condition have the rosy flush to the breast. Too far away for photos, so I took this one from the Internet.



As I have said before, this is a funny spring, some birds arrived very early but most very late. For example,the  Ospreys at Loch Garten were on eggs by 7th April and have chicks now, but migrant Ospreys are still arriving along the south coast in mid-May.



A great sequence from this Grey Heron whilst I was waiting. It lunges at an eel, drops it then tries again.The eel is speared but not held securely …….


…. in order to kill it, the heron flies off to dry land with the still struggling eel ……..


…. but having transferred the eel to between its mandibles, the heron is attacked by two crows who persist until the heron flies off ……….


…. and ends up dropping the eel into deep water, end result, one dead or at least injured eel and three hungry birds!


Posted May 19, 2012 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

Kara on YouTube   Leave a comment

Our granddaughter Kara has uploaded a clip of her singing ‘Perfect Two’ on YouTube.


Please do us a favour and click on the link below and then click ‘like’ It would mean a lot to her.


Kara and her guitar.


Ian and Margaret


Posted May 15, 2012 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

May 13th – Salisbury Plain   Leave a comment

Today Margaret, Ewan and I went to see the Great Bustard re-introduction scheme on Salisbury Plain. My interest was two-fold, to see the bustards and to year-tick the Stone-curlews that nest inside the release pen. You are not allowed to search for the bustards yourself, partly to prevent disturbance and partly because it’s a military area, so we joined the guided tour that left the pretty village of Enford at 0930.


We joined the tour at the pretty village of Enford.

The re-introduction of Great Bustards to Salisbury Plain is not without its critics, some see it as unnecessary waste of money that could be spent on other aspects of conservation, others see that collecting Bustard eggs in Russia might damage the native population. Both criticisms are without foundation. Much of cost is privately funded through subscriptions or donations to the Great Bustard Group and eggs are only collected from areas where the nests would certainly be destroyed by agricultural processes. For more information on the scheme and how to visit see

Although over 150 birds have been released over the last nine years less than 20 are known to still survive, although a few may occupy areas of the Plain that are completely inaccessible due to the high risk of unexploded shells. An 80% mortality is normal in wild reared populations mainly due to fox predation and the foxes on Salisbury Plain have taken their toll. Although several females have bred over the last few years it is not known if any young have reached maturity. One or two non wing-tagged individuals exist but they might be birds that have lost their tags. Several males have reached full size, about the size of a cock turkey, they at least are immune to fox attack.

The release pen is not a cage, the birds are free to come and go as they please, but it is fox proof and the area is planted with the crops they prefer. There are also decoys to attract the birds, which are sufficiently realistic to cause the big male to mate with them. Currently five males, a five-year, a four-year and three one-year olds regularly using the release pen and can be seen from the hide that overlooks the area. It is hoped that most of the females are on eggs somewhere.

The release pen from the quarantine area. The viewing hide is on the hill to the left.


All five birds were by the rear fence of the enclosure. The big male, challenged by the younger male took one of its tail feathers …………..


…. and then proceeded to peck and shake the feather repeatedly before starting to display …..


…. and turned ‘itself inside’ out in the famous ‘foam bath’ display. There is no doubt who is in change on the Plain. Two of the one year old males can be seen in the foreground.


A pair of Stone-curlews take advantage of the fox proof enclosure. This poor digiscoped shot shows the distant pair with a single pullus between them.


During the evening Margaret’s friend Jenny came round for a meal after attending a music workshop nearby. Jenny came on our South African trip in early 2011 along with my friend Ewan.


Margaret and Jenny absorbed watching ‘Countryfile’



Posted May 14, 2012 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized