Archive for September 2012

25th- 27th September – Shetland update 2   Leave a comment

The morning of the 25th saw the Islands buffeted by a strong NE wind. I tried seawatching from Sumburgh Head, but although I saw lots of Gannets, Fulmars and Kittiwakes plus a scattering of Razorbills and Bonxies, birds that would have been new for my year list like Sooty Shearwater or either of the storm-petrels were absent.

The wind died somewhat during the morning and I combed the fields around Sumburgh Farm for migrants, but apart from the odd Wheatear and Goldcrest I saw little, a Merlin was probably the best bird. As I was heading back to the car Paul texted me to say that a Lanceolated Warbler (a Siberian species related to our Grasshopper Warbler) had been ringed on the island of Whalsay. Having established that it had been released back into the small pine plantation where it had been trapped, I headed northwards and caught the ferry from Laxo to Whalsay, arriving mid-afternoon. The plantation was very small yet surprisingly dense; for over an hour, myself and three other birders saw only Goldcrests. I had a glimpse of a bird on one of the lower pine branches which was only a few inches off the ground and on investigating saw a small greyish-brown warbler creeping through the grass like a mouse. It flicked over a broken twig showing the long undertail coverts characteristic of the genus then vanished for good. This ultra skulking nature is typical of the Lancies I have seen in Siberia or on wintering grounds in South-east Asia, but given the right viewing condition they can sometimes be seen well.

The island of Whalsay.

The little plantation at Skaw. The trees might only be six feet high but it was a devil of a job to find the Lancie.



On the 26th I tried to get a flight from Tingwall to the island of Foula as several rare birds had been seen recently. It is about a 40 minute drive to Tingwall from Paul’s so an early start was required but unfortunately all the seats on the seven seater plane were taken. As I was in the area I opted to look at the big plantation at Kergord. A few Bramblings and Chaffinches were in the area along with a few Chiffchaffs and a single Yellow-browed.



Kergord, the only truly wooded habitat on Shetland.

This could be a lane in Devon……


I returned to Virkie via the Loch of Tingwall where I saw a pair of Whooper Swans along with a few ducks. The wind had dropped now so I opted to put up the nets in Paul’s garden and soon trapped five Goldcrests and a Dunnock. The latter may be a common garden resident in Dorset but in Shetland it is a  scarce but regular migrant. I also saw another Yellow-browed in the garden.


The orange feathers in the crown of this Goldcrest show that it is a male.


I later headed for Scatness where a Little Stint was seen with the Dunlin, a Great Northern Diver swam offshore and a Redstart was seen along with an influx of Song Thrushes. I heard from Paul that there was Little Bunting at Quendale and headed there but had no luck, however whilst searching Paul rang again to say he was watching another Little Bunting at Sumburgh quarry. I retraced my steps past Scatness and reached Sumburgh quarry just before dusk, but still in time to watch the bunting feeding in the open.


It was too dark to photograph the Little Bunting, so I took this picture of a very similar looking bird from the internet.


On the 27th Paul arranged for me to meet his mate Micky Maher on the northern island of Unst. I had to leave at 0715 to get the ferry to Yell and then on to Unst, arriving about 1000. I met Micky at Haligarth, the northernmost wood in the UK. We soon had good views of a Blyth’s Pipit that had been there for a few days. Later Micky took me to the northernmost house in the country at Skaw where we saw five ‘north-western’ Redpolls, the large Greenland/Iceland form of Common Redpoll. We then headed to the northwestern peninsula of Lamba Ness where we saw two Snow and two Lapland Buntings. Other migrants in the area included a few Redwings, Bramblings, Goldcrests, Willows, Chiffs, Blackcaps and Robins. A crop field held a Wood Warbler, a bit of a surprise to those of us who are used to seeing them singing high in oak in the New Forest.


Redpolls have been considered to consist of one, two, three, five or even six (but never four) species. Currently the British recognise three species, the rest of the world recognise two!

Larger and more heavily streaked than the nominate race of Common Redpoll, the rostrata and icelandica races are rare visitors from Greenland and Iceland respectively.

The pale, yet heavily streaked rump is characteristic of ‘northwestern’ Redpolls.

Blyth’s Reed Warbler, a vagrant from eastern Europe/western Siberia/central Asia. A colder shade or brown than Eurasian Reed Warbler with a supercillium that shows mainly in front of the eye.

The short primary projection and plain tertials can be seen in this photo. A brownish panel in the wing was visible from certain angles.

I really enjoyed my time on Unst but as I headed back south and got phone reception again, I heard of the other birds I had missed; a flyover Rough-legged Buzzard and a Booted Warbler on Unst, a Red-flanked Bluetail on Whalsay and an Isabelline Shrike and Olive-backed Pipit back at Toab near Virkie. I headed for the Whalsay ferry but missed it by minutes, so decided instead to head back to Virkie where two good birds awaited me. On arrival I found a lot of disappointed birders, both the shrike and pipit were being seen occaisionally, but both were ranging over big areas and I didn’t catch up with either.

Returning to Paul’s, I found he had opened the nets in his garden and trapped five Linnets, two of which had already been ringed, apparently some five miles away.

Posted September 30, 2012 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

22nd – 24th September – Shetland   Leave a comment

On the 22nd I flew from Southampton to Sumburgh via Edinburgh arriving at 1330. I picked up my hire car and headed for Pail and Liz Harvey’s house, where I would be staying for the next two weeks. Paul had just got back home and was with his friend Roger Riddington, the editor of the famous British Birds journal. It was a beautiful warm day, almost unprecedented by Shetland standards and we had a spot of lunch in the garden. The first bird I lifted my binoculars too proved to be a Yellow-browed Warbler, a scarce but regular autumn visitor from Siberia.

In spite my soaking up the glorious sunshine and the stunning view over Sumburgh Head with Fair Isle in the distance, Paul reminded me that the wind was in the east and there were good birds to be found. Roger, Paul and I headed for Sumburgh Farm where we stomped around the edge of the fields and eventually saw an obliging Barred Warbler near the farm-house.

Although almost all Shetlanders welcome birders onto their land, a few do not and at nearby Grutness ‘private gardens – no loitering’ signs have been erected. This seems a bit unfortunate as the garden is on the opposite side of the road from the house, so privacy isn’t being invaded, nobody actually enters the garden and being the first cover birds encounter after making landfall on the Head, it’s a cracking birding spot. Whilst briefly pausing there and attempting to make our loitering as inconspicuous as possible, we saw two Lesser Whitethroats and an incredible three Yellow-browed Warblers, the first time I have seen more than one of this species anywhere in the UK.

One of the best gardens for rare birds in southern Shetland (photographed on a dull day later in the week)

Lesser Whitethroats showed well but the following species stole the show, at least as far as I was concerned.

High in a sycamore a tiny fast-moving warbler showing a pale supercillium and an obvious wing bar is glimpsed, this is the stuff that drives birders to endure rain and autumnal gales on remote headlands. Most like this will prove to be a Yellow-browed but the much rarer Hume’s Leaf, Arctic, Greenish or even the ultra-rare Green or Two-barred Greenish Warblers remain possible.


I first met Paul when I moved to Poole in 1978 and it was he, along with Ian Alexander and Pete Christian who first introduced me to ringing. Since he left the job as warden on Fair Isle, Paul’s ringing has mainly involved seabirds but we had agreed that during my stay, if wind conditions allowed, we would try some ringing in his garden. We erected a 40 foot net and immediately caught a few Blackbirds and Sparrows, pretty standard fare for anywhere in the UK, but just before dusk we trapped a Yellow-browed, a new bird in the hand for me. What an excellent start to my stay in Shetland.

I have had a long-standing wish to see a Yellow-browed Warbler in the hand, unfortunately the light was fading by the time it was caught.

During the evening Paul and I joined a number of other birders for a drink at the Sumburgh Hotel. I had a chance to former Birdquest leader Iain Robertson, who I had travelled with to South Africa and Madagascar in the early 90s and top West Palearctic lister Pierre-Andre Crochet who is a member of the BOU taxonomic sub-committee. However the early start of the last few days was really catching up with me and by 2330 I was pretty much out of it.

On the 23rd Paul and I birded on the Scatness peninsula but saw little of note. Paul phoned Roger to see if he had see anything and Roger invited us round for a cuppa. He also has a lovely house with a view over Grutness Bay. Roger had been out early that morning but like us had found little. Whilst we were there we were informed that a Buff-breasted Sandpiper had been found on Scatness, on the very pool we had walked past a short time before. We hurried down to Scatness, where along with other Shetland birders, we quickly located the sandpiper, a bird whose breeding range is almost totally confined to arctic Alaska. It was in the company of a Sanderling and gave cracking views until it was flushed by a Merlin and disappeared in the direction of the airport.

All the way from Alaska, yet Buff-breasted Sandpiper is one of the commoner North American waders to reach the UK……

…. and a shot showing the buff breast.

Suddenly the Sanderling and Buff-breast took flight. The startling white underwing is used in display where the wings are raised one at a time.

The culprit wasn’t inconsiderate birders or over eager photographers but this Merlin.

Later in the day we stomped around the ditches and iris beds at Quendale, but the best birds were seen close to the road by the old water-mill. A Red-breasted Flycatcher and three or four Yellow-broweds flitted around the bushes and even allowed photo opportunities. By the time we had climbed over multiple gates and styles and thrashed around along the stream bed I was really knackered and after checking out a number of roadside spots we returned home.

The characteristic white bases to the tail of this Red-breasted Flycatcher can be easily seen in this shot.

Although there were good birds in south Shetland it was clear as the afternoon that the best were on the remote islands of Foula and Fair Isle. Paul suggested I try to fly to Fair Isle on the 24th as they had ringed a Lanceolated Warbler that afternoon, a UK tick for me, however before I could even consider this he received the stunning news that a Magnolia Warbler had been found on Fair Isle that afternoon. This was only the second record for the UK of this American warbler and would be a British tick for just about everyone. Then Paul’s phone went crazy with local birders trying to arrange a visit. Paul explained to me that although I was staying with him, first places on any flight would have to go to the top seven Shetland listers. In the end they managed to get on a school flight to Fair Isle, albeit at considerable cost, (the plane normally goes out empty and returns bringing Fair Isle kids to school on the mainland).

I had a fairly troubled night but was up at six, Paul suggested I drive to the little airport at Tingwall just in case any of the seven Shetland top listers was a no-show. As expected this wasn’t the case; they all headed off to Fair Isle but the Magnolia had gone (although several other rarities provided some compensation).

I drove north to Muckle Roe where a Citrine Wagtail had been seen yesterday. It was a lovely location with great panoramas but there was no sign of any vagrant siberian wagtails. However I was able to relocate a somewhat distant male Surf Scoter with a flock of 200 Eiders. Not a year tick for me but a more attractive bird than the female I saw in Devon early in the year. I also birded in the Vidlin area but to little avail. Not content with seeing a load of good birds on Fair Isle, Paul and Roger met me at Quendale in the late afternoon where another three Yellow-browed were seen.

The beautiful vistas of Muckle Roe

Fresh in from Iceland, these Whooper Swans showed well.

A migrant from northern Europe or Iceland or a local breeder? the origins of this Golden Plover is unclear

Posted September 25, 2012 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

12th – 21st of September – mainly ringing.   1 comment

Over the last week or so I’ve been ringing at various times, but done little else in birding terms.

On Wednesday 12th we tried ringing Swallows at Lytchett Bay, we only caught a few but at least we were all set up for an early morning visit on the 13th. I got up early the next day but was surprised to find I was the only one there. I started unfurling the nets, but became a bit concerned by the breeze. I finally checked my phone and found a message from Shaun at 0530 ‘too windy to ring, meet at 0700 to take down’. Well, I could have had another hour in bed, but whilst I waited for the others I saw a Pintail fly over, a rare visitor to the Bay, and an Osprey fishing in the channel.

After taking in the gear some of us reconvened at the more sheltered location of Paul Morton’s garden where we were able to ring close to 20 Goldfinches.

The morning of the 15th saw six of us go to Durlston. We had enough manpower to man both the Garden and the Goat Plots and it proved to be a very busy morning indeed. We ended up with 79 birds ringed at the Goat Plots and 205 in the Garden. Surprisingly exactly the same number of Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs were caught, 118 of each (sounds like an advert for directory enquiries!). There was little variety, but we did ring two Grasshopper Warblers a few Whitethroats and Willow Warblers.

Sunrise at the Goat Plots, the last time that morning that there was time to stop and take photos.

This Chiffchaff’s tail has sheared along a fault bar. As mentioned before these fault bars occur when there is a severe shortage of nutrients when the birds are growing tail feathers in the nest. Heavy rain this summer would have produced these food shortages.

This dragonfly was photographed in Durlston garden as we were leaving. I know little about dragonfly identification, can anyone help me with the identification?


On the morning of the 17th Shaun and I had another go at ringing Yellow Wagtails and Tree Pipits at the Lytchett Bay maize filed. The maize is nowhere near as high as last year, when it was more than head height, this year it hardly comes up to my waist. We were able to improve on our experience of last week and ringed four Yellow Wags and one Tree Pipit, plus a Linnet and a few Chiffchaffs.


Early morning at Lytchett Bay



The stunted maize field, another victim of this summer’s unseasonal weather..


Yellow Wagtails and Tree Pipits sat on the wires above the maize field before dropping down into the crop.


Yellow Wagtails have declined notably and no longer breed in Dorset but they still can be seen on migration. The pale tips to the greater coverts show that this is a first year bird.



Along with Sean Walls and Mike Gould, I went ringing at Durlston on Friday 21st. I had hoped for a fairly short session as I still had to pack for my trip to Shetland but it was not to be. By the time Sean and Mike left for work at 0845 we had ringed over 60 birds, almost entirely Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs, but there was plenty more to come. Blackcaps and Chiffs kept arriving, with the occasional Whitethroat. A Robin in complete juvenile plumage was a surprise for the latter half of September was a surprise. As the morning progressed huge numbers of hirundines arrived and I ringed about a hundred Swallows and House Martins plus a couple of Sand Martins. A total of 227 birds were ringed, I didn’t get away until about 3pm, much later than I had hoped for but it was a great experience. Lets hope we get a few recoveries from all those birds.


An adult Woodpigeon was an unexpected capture. I didn’t have time for photography later in the day.


And finally a couple of photos from home. I will be away visiting my friends Paul and Liz in Shetland for a couple of weeks, but hope to do some blog updates from there.


Grandmother and Auntie sort out Amber’s fringe.


Anita adopts a characteristic pose when texting.




Posted September 21, 2012 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

14th – 15th September – another leaving do and visit from a bronze medalist.   1 comment

After some early morning ringing , on the 14th I went back to the lab for yet another leaving do. Natasha (Tash) Barrow was leaving to take up a teacher training post. She is about the 7th person to leave since I retired 15 months ago. Tash started in the lab in the 80s but moved to Southampton when the environmental work (foods and water microbiology) was transferred there. She later came back, working first in Biochem, then again with us. She has a wonderful sense of humour and a great taste in music, I’m sure my former colleagues will really miss her.


The lab staff and a few of us retired folks gathered in the pathology tea room to wish Tash well.


Tash expresses surprise as she unwraps her leaving presents.


As Tash was leaving to become a teacher, a lot of the staff dressed up as school kids and wore a fake ‘tash’. L-R: Lisa, Polly and Dave.


Sue displays an impressive tash ……


…. and Louise wears her school gym kit.


In the evening some of my ex-colleagues headed for the Bermuda Triangle at Ashley Cross for a farewell drink with Tash. I was up at 0530 that morning and planned to do the same again on Saturday, so we didn’t stay long.



L-R. Dave (with the troublesome tash), Tash and my fellow retiree, Giovanni.


L-R: Andy, Simon, Sam, Emma and Dave (who is still trying to keep that tash in place).


Over the weekend Janis, Amber and Kara popped round from time to time. Kara brought her bronze Taekwondo medal for us all to admire, but was still hobbling following a foot injury at the championship. I also replaced my camera (for the second time) following the dip in the Sherford back in August, so I should be posting better quality photos again.


Kara shows off her bronze medal – third in the whole country in her weight class – well done girl!


The best sporting award I got at school was a swimming certificate!



















Posted September 17, 2012 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

13th September – Weymouth, Portland and few birding updates   Leave a comment

The tame Layson Albatross, becalmed on the island of Rusa off New Ireland. It was fed from a bowl and kept inside at night for protection.

First a few birding updates.

The Laysan Albatross that we saw on the island of Rusa at the northern tip of New Ireland, Papua New Guinea was ringed as a chick on 1/6/1990 on the French Frigate Shoals in the Hawaiian Island chain.

Ringed at location B and ring read in the field at location A. How many miles has this bird flown in the intervening 22 years?

We have alsso had a few interesting ringing recoveries. A Fieldfare ringed in North Dorset in November last year was killed by a cat in central Sweden in the spring and a Sedge Warbler we ringed at Lytchett Bay last autumn was controlled as a breeding bird in Norfolk this spring.

On 1st August I visited Brownsea Island to look for a White-rumped Sandpiper that had been seen the day before. I dipped, but later found that there had always been some doubt about the identification. We knew that the original finder of the bird came from the Rutland area and investigations by local birder Ian Stanley tracked him down. Photos and sketches of the bird on John Wright’s blog confirm that it wasn’t a pure White-rumped Sandpiper and a hybrid origin, possibly with a Dunlin, was postulated.

The small wader or ‘peep’ can be seen at the bottom of the flock, just left of centre. A fine black line down the white rump can be seen which is clearly wrong for a White-rumped Sandpiper. Click on the image to enlarge. Photo by John Wright.

I had seen the Short-billed Dowitcher at Lodmoor on the 4th before its identification had been fully established. I returned with Margaret at the weekend but the bird was not on show. On the 13th the dowitcher showed OK, but no better than when I first saw it. However some excellent photos have been obtained by other birders. The one below was posted on Surfbirds website by Mike Lawrence.

Short-billed Dowitcher, Lodmoor. The well-marked tertials can be seen. Photo by Mike Lawrence.

Unlike the dowitcher this young Grey Heron showed very well.

I continued on to Portland where a North American Monarch Butterfly had been seen for the last few days. It is presumed that the butterfly arrived on the same winds that brought the dowitcher, however a population of Monarchs exists on the Canary Islands (presumably a result of an earlier trans-Atlantic invasion) and some postulate it may have come from there. The local paper states that ‘over a thousand Lepidopterists have descended on Portland’. This should really have a read ‘a small number of Lepidopterists and a thousand twitchers (who came to Lodmoor see the dowitcher and made a short drive to see an unusual butterfly) descended on Portland’.

Monarch Butterfly usually occur in the UK following the passage of fast-moving autumnal weather systems, the same systems that bring American birds to our shore.

Monarch butterflies are highly migratory and travel from all over North America to winter in their millions in a few valleys in Mexico.

I continued on to Portland Bill where few birds were in evidence but we had a good views of the old paddle steamer ‘the Waverley’ that now runs tourist cruises around the coast.

Two interesting moths that Martin had caught overnight … Beautiful Gothic …..

…. and The Delicate.

Posted September 16, 2012 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

5th – 11th September – Friends and Family update.   Leave a comment

A few bits of family news.

Within two weeks of arriving in the UK, Anita and John have managed to find a flat in Upton (which they will move into at the end of the month), buy a car and have their gear, including their computers, delivered from Austria (where they had left them at Margaret’s sister ‘s place prior to travelling around Europe).

Having found a gap in their busy schedule, they left on Friday 7th to visit friends in Kent, the Peak District and Anglesey. Prior to them leaving we all went out to an ‘open mike’ folk session at the Portsmouth Hoy on Poole Quay on the 5th. We met up with Tim, Gio and Jessica, unfortunately Janis couldn’t make it, as the girls were returning to school the following day after the summer break.

Before we arrived at the pub we paused to watch and listen to some morris dancers on the quay.


The Dorset Buttons are a well-known ladies morris dancing group. The light was fading fast by the time we arrived.

L-R: Anita, John, Andy, Margaret, Jessica, Tim and Gio at the Portsmouth Hoy.

I don’t know this ladies name but she sang some beautiful songs with a clear, yet soft voice.

On Thursday 8th Amber and Kara started back at school. Amber returns to Purbeck School at Wareham, but Kara has now left Sandford Middle School and has started at Lytchett School which is much closer. It hardly seems a year since I drove them to school for their first day.

Amber arriving at school a year ago. She says she doesn’t like this picture as she has a ‘cheesy grin’, but I think it’s rather cute.

With John and Anita away and the girls back at school, the house suddenly went quiet. On Friday 8th Kara had the day off school to attend the Taekwondo national competition in Manchester. She travelled up from Southampton with others in the club, the competitions were held on Saturday and Sunday. Kara had to weigh under 38 Kg to get in the required category and had starved herself for several days before hand. It was her first real competition but managed to come third, i.e. got the bronze medal. Well done Kara.


Kara and auntie Anita just before she leaves for the competition.

I haven’t got a photo of Kara at her Taekwondo competition but here she is demonstrating her high kicks recently on our visit to Derby.

On Sunday 9th we were invited for drink with Christine and her friend Malcolm and several of her other friends to celebrate her 23rd birthday. We first met Christine through birding but later she joined Margaret’s choir.

Christine and Malcolm photographed this time last year.

We retired to play billiards. I don’t think I’ve played billiards or snooker since I left University 40 years ago, and it showed!


On the 11th Margaret had her first choir session, which unfortunately clashed with our first birders pub for some time.  Ten of us met for a drink and ran through the expected range of subjects: why had it taken so long for Dorset birders to identify (the admittedly very tricky) Short-billed Dowitcher, what was the real identity of the possible White-rumped Sandpiper on Brownsea and why can’t we get a decent view of the Swineham gravel pits any more.


Bird pub L-R: Roger Howell, Steve F Smith, Kevin Lane, Mark Constantine, Mo Constantine, Jackie Hull.


and on the other side of the table L-R: Nick Hull, Trevor Warwick, Shaun Robson.


And finally I had to include this cartoon. No I don’t think they miss me too much at work, the reality must be more like the final picture rather than the dream sequence!





Posted September 12, 2012 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

6th – 9th September – various ringing and birding trips.   Leave a comment

On the 6th, 7th and 8th of September I went ringing at Durlston. The weather had been still and clear for nearly a week and migrants must have taken the opportunity to leave for southern climes as numbers declined markedly as the week went on.

The 6th saw a large movement of hirundines and we were able to trap over 50, (mainly Swallows, but with a few Sand and House Martins as well). The 7th saw a scattering of Willow Warblers, Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps, plus single Reed and Sedge Warblers. Now by early September Willow Warblers are being replaced by Chiffchaffs and Whitethroats by Blackcaps. On the 8th we had a similar number of migrants which included two Redstarts, two Goldcrests and a Grasshopper Warbler.

On the 8th several of the group decided to ring at Lytchett Bay as well, they had fewer migrants than we did at Durlston, but did catch three control Sedge Warblers, i.e. birds that have been ringed elsewhere; we look forwards to hearing where they were ringed.


These graphs of Willow Warbler/Chiffchaff and Whitethroat/Blackcap ringing dates in 2011 were prepared by Shaun Robson. Note that the small number of Chiffchaff and Blackcaps in August would relate to local breeders. It is clear that mid September onwards represents the main Chiffchaff migration. In 2012 Blackcap migration has started about a week later than in 2011. I had to photograph the graph on the laptop screen to blog it, hence the poor quality image.



As adult Grasshopper Warblers have a complete moult on their wintering grounds, the wings and tail are very abraded by autumn. First year birds will show fresh flight feathers.

Mick tries flicking for Swallows, raising the net just as the birds leave after drinking at the pond, we caught far more seed heads than birds and returned to using a static, tethered net.

Adult Swallows can be told from 1st years by the rufous chin, glossier plumage and much longer tail feathers.

Adult and young Swallows have a complete moult in Africa. This adult however, has moulted its secondaries and greater coverts recently as can be seen by the contrast in the wing.

House Martins, like Swifts, maintain an ariel lifestyle away from the breeding grounds and hence have a much lower recovery rate than Swallows or Sand Martins.

On the afternoon of the 8th, Margaret and I headed to Lodmoor so she could see the Short-billed Dowitcher (see previous post). Unfortunately the bird flew into an inaccessible area of the marsh ten minutes before we arrived. We were able to watch Mediterranean Gulls, Sandwich Terns and Sanderling whilst waiting so it wasn’t a totally wasted trip.

Black-headed and Mediterranean Gulls and Sandwich Terns at Lodmoor.

A Mediterranean Gull in adult winter plumage.

For those who were unsatisfied with their views of the mega rare Short-billed Dowitcher, Trevor Warwick has kindly provided a picture of another Mega.

Nice one Trevor!

Sunday 9th was the date for the first WEBS count of the autumn. The WEtland Bird Survey, is a monthly coordinated count all over the country. My section is Holes Bay and I try to count all the birds on the eastern side. Most wintering wildfowl and waders have yet to arrive, and it was a neap tide with little mud showing. Even so I counted over 340 Black-tailed Godwits and saw a small numbers of wintering Wigeon.

A large part of the western shore of Holes Bay is taken up by Cobb’s Quay.

Along with Wareham Channel and Poole Park, Holes Bay is one of the main areas for Mute Swans in Poole Harbour.

Posted September 11, 2012 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

4th – 5th September – a difficult bird and an easy moth.   Leave a comment

Long-billed Dowitcher is a small wader than breeds along the north coast of Alaska and extreme north-east Siberia. It is a common migrant and wintering bird in the USA and has been recorded in the UK several hundred times. In the winter of 2010/11 one commuted between Lodmoor in Weymouth and Poole Park and during winter 2011/12 two were present at Lodmoor, so when Durlston on the 3rd Sep I received a text to say ‘Long-billed Dowitcher at Lodmoor’ I wasn’t unduly bothered as I considering it to be one of the wintering birds returning.

Apparently late on the 3rd a message went out saying that some had queried the identification and wondered if it could be a Short-billed Dowitcher. This very similar wader breeds much further south, mainly in the Canadian prairies and migrates about a month earlier than its long-billed relative. Back on Durlston on the 4th I was asked by Shaun if I was going to see the dowitcher after the ringing session. There has only been one previous record of Short-billed in the UK and that was in Scotland. Although it breeds closer to the UK than Long-billled its earlier migration (before the autumnal storm tracks have developed) and more southerly route (which doesn’t take it out over the Atlantic) compared to Long-billed, means it is far less likely to occur over here.

News that it was still at Lodmoor didn’t come through until I was leaving Durlston so I decided to head straight for Lodmoor where the bird was showing intermittently. The key features for separating this species pair are not as you might examine, bill length, but call and in juveniles, the pattern of the tertials and greater coverts. This bird was over 100 yards away but the tertials could just be seen through a scope, they looked patterned as in Short-billed but some people had heard it call and claimed it sounded like a Long-billed.

The overall conclusion was that it was a very well-marked and very early Long-billed and I left Lodmoor believing that I had seen a scarce American migrant that I had already added to my year list, rather than a major rarity and a British tick.

Knackered after so many pre-dawn starts, I was woken about midnight by an urgent message that the bird had been conclusively identified from photographs as Short-billed. I would have set my alarm to be there at dawn but instead was able to go back to sleep well in the knowledge that I already had it ‘under the belt’.

The following five photos were taken by Kevin Lane and have been intrumental in the identificcation of this bird. The bill appears particularly long, but there is considerable overlap in this feature between the two species, the internal markings of the tertials are quite clear and the internal barring of the greater coverts can just be seen.

Back at home on the 4th I found this unusual, beautiful and large moth on the bathroom window. It is called an ‘Old Lady’ presumably because of the old lace like pattern of the wings. As it was resting on glass I couldn’t use flash and trying to move it just caused it to fly off.

Posted September 5, 2012 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

30th August – 4th Sep – daily ringing trips   Leave a comment

The recent spell of relatively settled weather has meant that I have spent every morning of the last week ringing. As we also have Margaret’s daughter Anita and husband John staying with us, I have been rather busy and have fallen well behind in my blog entries.

On the 30th I agreed to go ringing with trainee John Dowling, but it was too windy to go to Durlston, so I contacted Trevor Squire and we headed to his private ringing site in north Dorset. It was still rather windy and we only ringed about ten birds, but four of them were Grasshopper Warblers (plus caught another which was a retrap). It was nice to see Trevor again and it was John’s first visit to his site.

Trevor and John in the ringing hut.

A first year Grasshopper Warbler. We only trap a few ‘Groppers’ at Lytchett and Durlston but Trevor has ringed over 90 this year!

As we left Trev’s news came through of a Sabine’s Gull at Portland. This high Arctic species is pelagic away from its breeding grounds and most UK records are of juveniles on a seawatch during gale force winds, however this was an adult in breeding plumage and was sat in a field near Portland Bird Observatory; too good an opportunity to miss. I persuaded John that a trip to Portland was worthwhile and set off south along Dorset’s narrow lanes. I went as fast as I could but clearly not fast enough, as we arrived to find it had flown off ten minutes before! There are good photos of this bird on the Portland Bird Observatory website.

John at Portland Bill – not seeing a Sabine’s Gull

On Friday 31st we headed for Lytchett Bay. The forecast looked good for Durlston, but Shaun could only ring at the Bay up until 0800 and needed another qualified ringer to continue the session. In the end it was an excellent morning with 67 birds ringed, a very good total for the Bay. Most of the catch was Sedge Warblers, the best birds being two Grasshopper Warblers and a Wheatear. There was good birding too with two Ospreys, a Marsh Harrier and a Hobby present, plus two Whinchats that sat on the top of the net but wouldn’t go in and a number of Yellow Wagtails overhead.

We later learnt that there had been a big fall of migrants at Durlston, but what the hell, you can’t be in two places at once and we had a good time at Lytchett.

A common migrant, but one that has only been ringed a few times at Lytchett Bay, as most ringing takes place in reed beds.

Saturday 1st September saw a group of us at Durlston. It was quite cool with a reasonable breeze and birds were much fewer than yesterday’s reports would indicate. Even so we ringed 52 birds with a nice selection that included a Whinchat and a Firecrest. Margaret, Anita and John visited us at about 0830 (having got lost in Swanage) but the best birds had gone by then. Even so it was a chance to explain the purpose and methods of ringing to our South African visitors.

Whinchat is a regular migrant, breeding mainly in the north of the UK, but being more of a bird of open country is seldom trapped at our site at Durlston. The white base of the outer tail feathers is just visible.

I have already mentioned the large number of young birds we have caught this year with fault bars in their tails, caused by poor nutrition during development in the nest. Less often seen are prominent fault bars in the wing as shown by this Whitethroat.

A beautiful male Firecrest. Most of our Firecrests occur in October, so this bird was exceptionally early.

This Whitethroat can be aged as an adult by its hazel coloured eye and the pure white in the outer tail feathers. The grey head indicates this is a male.

Wishing to avoid a fourth 0430 start I asked trainee Paul Morton if he would like to attempt to ring the Goldfinches that were visiting his garden in Worth Matravers. This was very succesful with 21 Goldfinches and 3 Greenfinches ringed, valuable experience for Paul and further work to monitor the population dynamics and movements of this species that has only recently taken to feeding in gardens in large numbers.

Juvenile Goldfinches do not obtain their red head feathers until much later in the autumn.

Monday 3rd and Tuesday 4th saw a return to Durlston. Both days were relatively quiet with 37 and 41 birds respectively ringed. Good birds included two more Pied Flycatchers and two Lesser Whitethroats, five Redstarts (all on 4th) and another Grasshopper Warbler.

Lesser Whitethroat

A first year male Common Redstart lacks the white border to the black face mask.

None trapped in 2011 but 13 in 2012, so far. This Pied Flycatcher can be aged as a first year by the step in the white fringe to the central tertial feather.

The step in the white fringe of the tertials is more obvious in the spread wing.

Particularly frustrating on the 4th was the sight of a very large warbler (with a Willow next to it for size comparison) perched on a bush at the end of a net ride. I had a reasonable view and Kevin (who was processing a bird at the time and hence had his hands full) got a glimpse. It was uniformly coloured except for a thin wing bar and was almost certainly a first year Barred Warbler, a scarce migrant from central Europe. However the description isn’t good enough to get it through the local records panel, of which Kevin is the chairman. As another member of the panel was to say to me later that day, ‘frustrating of course, but you would have voted against a brief description like that when you sat on the records panel’. Fair comment I suppose!

Posted September 5, 2012 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized