17th – 26th March – more birding, ringing and a couple of talks.   Leave a comment

News that the Hoopoe that I saw in Hamworthy in February was still about and within the Lytchett Bay recording area had me searching the area, to no avail, on the afternoon of the 19th. It is clearly covering a wide area and is very difficult to track down, as it spends most of its time in private gardens.

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Lytchett Bay from the Turlin Moor shore

Wishing to go further afield I headed for west Dorset on the 20th. I had planned to go to Portland but cold conditions didn’t look good for early migrants, so instead I drove to Abbotsbury and West Bexington

A stop at Monkeys Jump just west of Dorchester produced a singing Corn Bunting but little else in the bitterly cold wind. From Portland Harbour eastwards the Fleet runs some 15km to Abbotsbury. This partially tidal lagoon is separated from the sea by the shingle bank known as Chesil Beach. Formed by the process of long-shore drift, the pebbles are larger at the Portland end than the Abbotsbury end, so consistent is this that it is said that smugglers of old knew exactly where on the Chesil they had landed by the size of the pebbles.

Viewing the lagoon at the west end of the Chesil can be tricky. There are three options, viewing from the road that runs past the Swannery (distant and often into the light), entering the Swannery itself (best views, but expensive and closed in winter) or walking along the shingle to the war-time tank traps (tiring, distant and often looking into a cold wind). I chose the latter and after a short while had reasonable views of nine Scaup and three Long-tailed Duck amongst many commoner wildfowl.

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The war-time tank traps, designed so that if the enemy landed on the Chesil they could not make their way inland. Beyond is the western point of the Fleet with Abbotsbury Swannery in the background.

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The Swannery taken with a telephoto setting from the same location. You can see how distant the wildfowl are, but it was still possible to find the goodies, if not photograph them

Further east the shingle bank continues another 5km to Cogden Beach, although it now does not enclose the Fleet. A mere at West Bexington is a well-known hotspot for birds and I headed there next. My main target was a Snow Bunting that has overwintered on the shingle but in spite of searching for some time I drew a blank. it has not been reported since, so perhaps after a stay of four months it left just before I visited.

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The Mere at West Bexington. Note how fine the shingle pebbles are at this, the western end of Chesil Beach.

During the evening I gave a talk to Sherborne Dorset Wildlife Trust on New Guinea and on the 21st the Dorset Bird Club had its AGM in Wareham. Mark Constantine gave a very good talk based on his recent book ‘Catching the Bug’ about birds and birding in Poole Harbour.

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Sherborne Abbey at night

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Mark gave an excellent talk at the Bird Club’s AGM. With some quality sound equipment provided my Simon Emmerson off the Imagined Village (at back centre) Mark demonstrated the bird soundscapes of Poole Harbour to a capacity crowd.

Much of the weekend was spent around Holes Bay. In spite of the cold conditions there was an appreciable arrival of Chiffchaffs. Shaun, Terry, John and myself tried ringing by the drain at PC World, the site where we have been looking into over wintering Chiffchaffs. We retrapped four wintering birds, caught one control (a bird previously ringed elsewhere) and ringed some 68 new Chiffchaffs as they moved along the drain (the outflow from the nearby sewage works) feeding on the waters edge and the nearby bushes. The most interesting bird was a Chiffchaff of the Siberian race tristis. We have caught a few candidate tristis  over the winter but this looked the real deal. Shaun has been licensed to collect a tail feather from such birds for DNA analysis and we look forwards to the results.

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After months of ‘is it or isn’t it’ this was an undoubted tristis (unless the DNA says otherwise!). Pure grey and white except for some green fringing to the outer webs of the primaries …….

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… and just a hint of yellow at the bend of the wing. The fine wing bar caused by tips to the greater coverts would have abraded away by this time of year. The key identification feature of tristis is the call but they are invariably silent in winter.

We were interested to see how many of the Chiffs remained and how many had moved on, so Shaun and I, along with Simon and Sean were back on at PC World drain Sunday morning (in spite of being tempted by the presence of a Bluethroat at Portland). We caught 12 new Chiffs and 13 retraps showing that in spite of the cloudy conditions many had moved through but still a some remained. Another dull Chiff was trapped but it was not as good a candidate for tristis as yesterday’s bird. A group of ten Sand Martins fed over the drain and later I found a group of six Wheatears along the verge at Holes Bay, showing that in spite of the cold, Spring isn’t far away.

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Although still lacking any green except on the outer webs of the primaries, this bird (captured on the 24th) is much darker on the breast. The tail was very abraded. Tristis has been mooted as a distinct species, but establishing criteria to distinguish all individuals on plumage alone from the Scandinavian race albetinus is proving challenging. The use of a standard grey card as a background is making it easier to evaluate these photos.

The afternoon was taken up with the last WeBS count (waterbird survey) of the winter season and it felt much colder than those counts actually done during mid winter.

With much of the country likely to endure a ‘White Easter’, Margaret and I are heading for warmer climes. More to follow on our return.

Posted March 26, 2013 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

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