1st – 6th January – a New Year boat trip, some ringing and a wonderful Bird Race.   Leave a comment

There have been three major events during the first week on 2013. At 11am on New Years Day about 70 Dorset birders assembled to take a trip around Poole Harbour. Mark and Mo Constantine very kindly hire one of the Brownsea ferries to give us all a New Year treat and this year (unlike last year’s downpour) we had a flat calm sea and beautiful sunshine. Birds didn’t disappoint either, masses of waders and ducks on Brownsea lagoon, 16 Spoonbills at Arne, Red-necked Grebe, Black-throated and Great Northern Divers were among the highlights.


All those people haven’t turned up to see us of. Our departure from the Quay coincides with the annual New Year raft race


Brownsea laagoon was full of birds but identifying the trickier species from a moving boat can be problematic.


Built in Henry VIIIs time to defend the entrance to Poole Harbour, Brownsea Castle looked great in the winter sunshine.


The sandy cliff at Shipstall Point, part of the RSPBs Arne reserve.


On the 3rd I did the first ringing of 2013 at Holton Lee. A large flock of Long-tailed Tits made up much of the catch but most of the Blue, Great and Coal Tits were retraps,. By far the most unusual bird (from a ringing perspective) was a Jackdaw, only the second I have seen in the hand. Regrettably we were so busy that I forgot to photograph it! Although we are mainly ringing common woodland birds at this site, I feel we are beginning to get some data on productivity, survival and site fidelity.


We forgot to photograph the Jackdaw but here is one that was trapped as part of the Grampian Ringing Groups colour ringing program.


This female Great Spotted Woodpecker was more docile than most and didn’t attempt to drill holes in Kevin’s hand.


The yellow rather than white tips on the median coverts (just below my thumb) of this Siskin shows that it is an adult. We have to remeber to change the age codes for birds in the New year. 2’s become 4’s, 3’s become 5’s and 4’s become 6’s. Confused,well it takes a lot of trainee ringers quite a while to get the hang of it.

A lot of the rest of the week was taken up with end of year ringing figures that have to be submitted ASAP, preparing for a talk to an RSPB group next week and doing a recce for the Bird Race on the 5th.



A poor digiscoped shot of the Hatch Pond Bittern. This winter the bird is hanging out on the far side which reduces photo opportunities. Shame it wasn’t there on the Bird Race!


The Bird Race on the 5th was an amazing event. After a couple of years with little interest there was real enthusiasm this year. Four teams of four and one of two took part; on my team were Nick Urch, Trevor Warwick and Paul Morton. We started at 0500 from my house, a night-time visit to Baiter failed to produce any waders so we headed west in search of owls. A Little Owl called at West Mordon, Tawny Owls called in Wareham Forest and we saw a Barn Owl in front of the hide at Middlebere.

Rather than do the long drive to Portland Bill for seabirds we had opted instead for Durlston but low cloud and drizzle meant we saw little except a few Shags and Guillemots, but a Woodcock and a Firecrest proved valuable additions to our list. Studland, Brands Bay and the area around the ferry all gave up their goodies, from distant Knot in Brands Bay, Dartford Warblers in the gorse or the Purple Sandpiper that fed near the ferry at North Haven.

Sanderlings at Shore Road, a Black-throated Diver near Evening Hill were noted as we hurried through Poole Park and on to Holes Bay where we hit our first major dips, there was no sign of Common Sandpiper or Spotted Redshank nor of the Bittern at Hatch Pond. A Chiffchaff showed behind PC World where we took advantage of the ‘Hopper short cut’ to save a few minutes.


Chiffchaffs are common breeders and migrants but are rare and local in winter. The sewage works outflow behind PC World provides a warm and sheltered habitat for wintering birds.

It was then on to Arne where thanks to Paul having worked there as a warden we could drive down to Shipstall Point where 16 Spoonbills and a Long-tailed Duck showed well and a pair of Marsh Tits were seen in nearby Slepe Copse. Birders in the hide at Middlebere were surprised when we rushed in, ticked the resident Yelllow-legged Gull and shot off, in spite of the wealth of waders (already on the list) in front of us. I think we were there longer at 0630 looking for Barn Owl than our late morning visit. The drizzle that had persisted all morning was now easing off and the rest of the day stayed dry.


Marsh Tits have declined dramatically in recent years so it was great to see a pair near Arne.

After a quick visit to Nordon sewage works, where we added Grey Wagtail and Siskin, we headed to the floods in the East/West Holme area, just west of Wareham. This area has held Egyptian Goose, Whooper Swan, Pink-footed Goose and Mandarin Duck recently, all local rarities, but we only connected with the first two (although Kingfisher and Shoveler were compensation). A quick stop at Tincleton cress beds was followed by a stop where Bewick’s Swans are occasionally seen, we quickly located a distant swan with a yellow bill and just as quickly ticked it. It was only at the end of the day that we heard that Kevin Lane (who was not on a race) had conclusively identified it as a Whooper, a far rarer bird in Dorset but one that we had already counted.

The Monkey’s Jump/Bats Lane area west of Dorchester yielded Linnet, Stock Dove and Golden Plover but there was no sign of Corn Bunting or either partridge. We then headed to Weymouth where we located Common Scoter and Eider in Portland Harbour, saw the Snow Bunting at Ferrybridge and then finally caught up with our missing seabirds at Portland Bill. We ended the day at Lodmoor where in the gathering gloom where Marsh Harrier, Water Rail and Cetti’s Warbler brought our list to a very respectable 120.


Not much time for photography on a Bird Race, but it was almost over when I took this shot. Paul, Nick and Trevor seawatching at Portland Bill.

We were now pretty tired as we had spent the last 13 hours constantly on the go without even pausing for a coffee. We drove back to Upton and by 6.30 all the bird racers had assembled at our house. Mo and Kevin also came and Margaret had invited Christine Arnold and Amber to help so we had 23 packed into our small house. Margaret had made four turines of delicious soups and apple crumble for us all. As always the post race banter flowed freely as teams compared experiences as well as scores, our 120 was good enough to put us in second place but Shaun, Mark, Hamish and Nick Hopper had scored an amazing 127, so even if we had have been right about the Bewick’s Swan we wouldn’t have won.


Although we only heard the bird, Cetti’s Warbler was our 120th bird of the day.

Bird racing is not a sport enjoyed by all birders, in fact many hate it with vengeance, but as a once a year friendly competiton followed by a social event it is greatly enjoyed by all the participants.

The 6th was the date for another WeBS count but it was rather foggy. I did the best I could at Holes Bay but when I got back I heard that the fog was so bad in parts of the harbour that the monthly survey had been postponed. Thank goodness it wasn’t like that yesterday!

Posted January 6, 2013 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

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