Archive for October 2013

25th – 27th October – the Forage Festival and a scary granddaughter.   Leave a comment


I ferried Kara to a Halloween party on Friday and got quite a shock when I popped round to pick her up. Dressed as a ‘scary doll’ complete with ‘made in China’ written on her neck, she was hardly recognisable. 



On Saturday Arne RSPB reserve hosted the Arne Forage Festival, a collection of countryside exhibitors demonstrating ancient skills like flint napping and bronze smelting along with stands selling local produce, homemade pottery, basket weaving, jewelry, wrought iron etc.


The exhibitors set up in the field, but the event was marred by wet and windy weather.


We had been asked to give a public ringing demonstration and planned, along with our friends from the Sound Approach, to set up alongside the other exhibitors. However we realised that the only place we could possibly trap birds was in the relative shelter of the reserve visitor centre and so had to change our plans and move our stand at the last minute.


Unfortunately the net was closed more often than not due to rain. Partly due to having few birds to show and partly due to and our stand being tucked away in a corner of the car park, we got few visitors.


The best bird of the day, this beautiful Firecrest was ringed before the public arrived.



On the Saturday evening we met up with Carl and Ingrid Von Hunis, fellow South Africans who live near Christchurch and whom we haven’t seen for several years

Margaret and I met seven years ago this weekend in the New Forest and we planned to go for a walk on the 27th and end up at the cafe at Beaulieu where we had our ‘blind date’ back in 2006, but with the ongoing gales and torrential showers we abandoned the idea for a comfortable afternoon at home.

Posted October 27, 2013 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

25th October – twitching the Pallid Swift – the Sparrowhawk strikes again?   Leave a comment

Feeling I needed to see some rare birds before this autumn drew to a close I headed off to Christchurch to look for a Pallid Swift that was found yesterday afternoon. Although quite common in southern Europe and parts of the Middle East, Pallid Swift is a major rarity in Britain, although the fact that they are so hard to identify in all but perfect light may mean that ones occurring between May and August, when Common Swifts are present, are just overlooked.

My only other experience of this species in the UK was of two on Portland in November 1984.


Although I got some mediocre photos from the field behind the houses, Brett Spencer


For some reason I had thought the swift had been showing close to the 900 year old Christchurch Priory, so I found a car park to the west of there and started walking eastwards.


The area known as Two Rivers Meet where the River Stour and River Avon meet before flowing into Christchurch Harbour is very picturesque.


Although I have been to the Christchurch birding hotspots of Hengistbury, Wick and Stanpit over 100 times I don’t know the Two Rivers Meet area at all, so these exclusive flats with a private harbour and moorings were a surprise.


Eventually, in worsening light, I neared the golf course which lies north of Stanpit Marsh and saw a swift distantly. Any swift species in October is likely to be a rarity as all Common Swifts leave Britain for Africa by mid-August, but views weren’t good enough to allow identification.


I was able to get much closer and get some decent views of the Pallid Swift (here being followed by a Goldfinch)


With my parking ticket running out I returned to the car and drove around to the nearby houses where the bird had been showing well. As I parked it flew over my head. As I stopped to speak to Weymouth birder Brett Spencer we saw a Sparrowhawk appear from nowhere and pass within inches of it. We didn’t see it actually strike as they vanished below the level of the roofs but we assumed it had met an untimely end.

Pallid Swift, Valle di Templi, 27-Apr-12 (3) L

Pallid Swift photographed in Sicily by Key ID features compared to Common Swift include the scaly underparts, paler head and throat, a paler area in the outer secondaries and inner primaries compared to the rest of the wing and darker underwing coverts compared to the body.



Although I got some mediocre photos from the field behind the houses, Brett Spencer, who was much closer and there during the earlier sunny spell got some superb shots which can be seen at


Posted October 25, 2013 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

Tagged with ,

15th – 24th October – an evening with Ray Mears and more birdy stuff.   Leave a comment

One of the most interesting events Margaret and I have attended in the last couple of weeks was a talk in Poole by adventurer Ray Mears. Well known in the UK from his television programs on survival in the great outdoors and the skills of native people, he gave a fascinating talk illustrated with stills and videos on his travels in the boreal forests of Canada, Scandinavia and Siberia and of conservation initiatives that he has been involved in in many parts of the world.


Here Ray Mears explains what to do if confronted by an uncomfortably close Black Bear – apparently the answer is lower your head and don’t look it in the eye.

During the last week the weather has changed markedly. With the wind in the south it has remained unseasonably warm but there has been a lot of rain and high winds which had greatly curtailed our ringing efforts.

However before the change in weather we had great success with our ringing program at Durlston Country Park with catches of between 54 and 122 birds in the week leading up to the 15th, most of these predictably were Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps but we consider it most worthwhile to continue to monitor the movements of these common migrants. On the 15th I was on my own at Durlston ringing a nice selection of birds that included a very late Garden Warbler, two Stonechats and a Treecreeper. Although there were plenty of birds I was coping well, but about lunchtime I started catching a lot of Swallows. Everything else was packed away and I concentrated that afternoon on ringing Swallows ending up with over 160 of them. Back in the 80’s I used to ring a lot of Swallows at roost and got a large number of controls i.e the capture of a bird previously ringed by  someone else but I had no such luck today. Final total was 227 and I was pretty knackered after ringing for nine hours without a break.


Although Stonechats breed at Durlston they are quite rare within our enclosed ringing area.


The first Treecreeper we have ringed at Durlston. Given the sites coastal locality it was carefully scrutinised to make sure it wasn’t the mega rare Short-toed Treecreeper from the continent.


We know that a properly trained ringer can extract and handle a bird without hurting it, however the reverse is not necessarily true! A large female Sparrowhawk sunk both its talons into the back of my hand and the only alternative was to release the bird or pull my hand away until the skin tore. I chose the latter.


One day we trapped a Lesser Redpoll, the smallest, darkest and commonest (in the UK) of the various Redpoll taxa.


With the winds increasing after the 15th I made a couple of visits to Fleets Lane site in Poole which is much more sheltered. The blue rather than bluish-green moustachial stripe, paler legs and most importantly the presence of wing moult identifies it as an adult (the first I have seen in the hand) and the all dark bill as a male. The bird was already ringed and was originally trapped as a first year at Lytchett Bay in 2012.


There was a break in the constant windy conditions on the 24th and I was back at Durlston. There were a good number of birds including a few Meadow Pipits (above) and Swallows passing overhead but the migration of warblers has all but stopped with just a few Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps trapped.


By far the commonest bird was Goldfinch, hundreds flew overhead and we managed to ring over 60. Up to 80% of the British Goldfinch population winters overseas and autumn is the time of peak abundance.


As well as ringing birds I have been involved in fair amount of maintenance work in the last few days with net rides either cut or maintained at Holton Lee, Lytchett Bay and Arne (for a public ringing demonstration on the 26th). The above photo shows the excessively smelly and muddy net ride at Lytchett that we used to trap wagtails on autumn migration.


Now that winter approaches the monthly counts of wildfowl and waders across the country restarts. Unfortunately the count on the 13th was marred by poor visibility and rain. You can hardly see the flats at the south end of Holes Bay let alone pick out small waders in the distance.

Over the last few days there have been a number of rare birds in Dorset however either I haven’t managed to go and see them or my attempts have been unsuccessful. On the 21st a report of an American wader Lesser Yellowlegs at Swineham near Wareham drew a blank and on the 22nd whilst doing some net ride clearance at Holton Lee I heard that a Great White Egret had been seen earlier at Arne RSPB,  again I had no luck but there were 28 Spoonbills at Shipstal Point – I wonder if they will ever stay and breed.


At Arne the woods echoed with the calls of rutting Sika Deer stags. I didn’t take a camera (after all I just went out to do some brush cutting) so this record shot was taken using my phone.


After taking the last photo I heard a clanking noise behind me and turned to see these two stags with their antlers entwined. Again a poor record shot taken on my phone.

Posted October 24, 2013 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

Tagged with , , , ,

19th – 20th September – Kandavu, Fiji.   1 comment

For my final post about the South Pacific trip we go to the small island of Kandavu which lies just southeast of Nadi.

Due to wonderful ways of the airlines getting there wasn’t straight forwards. We left Taveuni in the late afternoon of the 18th and flew not to Nadi as we had hoped, but to Suva where we changed planes before flying on to the capital. Now remember when we flew from Suva to Taveuni we had to go out of our way and fly via Nadi, now we had to go out of our way again. There was no onwards flight to Kandavu that day so we had to overnight in Nadi and then fly to Kandavu late morning of the 19th.

There are few roads on Kandavu and we were transferred from the airport to the resort on a small boat and had to wade ashore.


With little to do at Nadi before we flew to Kandavu I spent time photographing those introduced species that plague the Pacific islands like this Common Myna.


The lodge on Kandavu was right beside the sea. Our time there was limited to one afternoon and most of a morning and there were five endemic birds to find ….


… and Kandavu’s endemic Iguana


The Kandavu Honeyeater (above) was easy to find, the endemic Shining Parrot was seen in flight but the Kandavu Fantail and White-throated Whistler only gave brief views.


.. but the last good bird of the trip was this lovely Velvet Dove, the last of quartet of beautiful doves on Fiji.


The ‘green flash’ that can sometimes be seen as the last rays of the sun shine through the upper layers of the sea.

Well that concludes the South Pacific trip. From Kandavu we flew to Nadi in the late morning of the 20th, my flight to Melbourne was in the late afternoon and I had a long and tiring wait there until 0240 on the 21st. Next stop was Kuala Lumpar and then Dubai. I arrived at Heathrow at 1840 on the 21st and was home by 2300. Adding the eleven hours time difference it was a 47 hour journey from resort to home! I think I experienced worse jet lad after that journey then I ever have done before, in spite of having flown back from the Pacific on several occasions. This was not helped by a nasty chest infection that I picked up on route.

It had been an interesting trip, just 121 species seen (same as a one day winter bird race in Dorset!) but 64 of them were life birds and many of those real stunners. It was a shame I couldn’t get to see the Vanuatu montane endemics but that would require a full on expedition and may have been beyond my physical capabilities or get to the two remaining Fijian endemics, Pink-billed Parrotfinch and Long-legged Warbler but this trip didn’t include them.

Posted October 19, 2013 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

Tagged with , , , ,

16th – 18th September – Taveuni, Fiji   Leave a comment

Posted October 19, 2013 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

Tagged with , , , , , ,

14th – 21st September – Vitu Levu, Fiji   Leave a comment

This post continues my account of my trip to the  South Pacific in September. The final of the three island groups we visited was Fiji, which lies within the tropics at 180 degree longitude, ie the opposite side of the world to the UK.

We visited three islands, the first being the large island of Vitu Levu.  We flew from Vanuatu to the capital Nadi but only stayed briefly before flying on to Suva on the southwest coast.  Our accommodation was beside two lakes surrounded with forest. We soon scored with most of the endemics, seeing twelve of them the first afternoon and five including the stunning Golden Dove the next morning. Suva seafront gave us the chance to add a few waders and seabirds to the trip list and another forested area on the Namosi road produced excellent views of both Fiji Shrikebill and the rare Black-faced Shrikebill and brief views of a Friendly Ground Dove (the latter is named after the Friendly Islands, not its decidedly unfriendly habits).


One of the first endemics we found was this pretty Fiji Parrotfinch just outside the airport at Suva.


Another lovely endemic, this Pacific Robin was in the forest close to our hotel.


Two endemics for the price of one,. A Fiji Goshawk dismembers a fledgling Wattled Honeyeater. Unfortunately the honeyeater was still alive, so this was quite a gruesome sight.


Fiji is a paradise for pigeon enthusiasts. The delightful Golden Dove.


Not as pretty as the Golden Dove but fascinating nonetheless. Sometimes called Peale’s Imperial Pigeon, but I prefer Barking Imperial Pigeon because that is exactly what it does.


Some shots from Suva seafront. A dark morph Pacific Reef Egret.


Pacific Golden Plovers and a Grey-tailed Tattler have flown all the way from the Siberian arctic to winter on these islands.


The white spur in the axillaries identifies this frigatebird as a male Lesser.


Greater Crested Tern

Posted October 19, 2013 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

Tagged with , , , ,

11th October – dipping at Portland and Weymouth.   Leave a comment

After last year’s attempt for a big year list I decided that this year I wouldn’t bother too much about chasing rarities and concentrate on ringing and foreign birding, the posts on this blog testify that this was indeed the case.

We had planned some ringing for this morning but for various reasons it was cancelled. So as a number of rarities had been seen in Weymouth and Portland. In total of five goodies were seen today and I managed to miss them all!

Unusually I have chosen to illustrate this post with pictures of birds I didn’t see, but it wasn’t all bad – I saw my first Fieldfare and Redwing of the autumn, saw four species of raptor (including a Merlin), flocks of Linnets, Meadow Pipit, Skylark and Goldfinch and as always, had a nice chat to the regulars at the Bird Observatory.


A Short-toed Lark had been seen on the 10th and early on the 11th at Portland Bill. I would have seen it had I stayed put at its most regular spot instead of going walk about. Photo taken in Israel April 2013.


This week a Red-breasted Flycatcher was seen daily at Camp Road, Weymouth. Daily that is until today. Photo taken in Shetland in September 2012.


A Thrush Nightingale was ringed at Portland Observatory and retrapped today. I was dipping on the RBF at the time. It was not seen again after release. This photo taken in Israel in April 2013.


A Yellow-browed Warbler was seen in a private garden in Southwell in Portland. I had a look in the sycamores along the nearby roads and later searched around Pennsylvania Castle, a favoured locality for this species, but to no avail. This bird was photographed in Shetland in September 2012.

During the earlier part of the week I made three visits to Durlston to continue our ringing program. The first two, on the 7th and 9th were highly successful with about 100  birds ringed at each session but the third visit on the 10th was blighted by a strong breeze ad was abandoned after just 23 birds were ringed. As before, Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs made up almost the entire catch.

Posted October 11, 2013 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

Tagged with , ,

11th – 13th September – Vanuatu   Leave a comment

The next island group we visited on my South Pacific trip this September was Vanuatu, an archipelago of 83 islands situated to the north-west of New Caledonia.

We landed at the capital Port Villa and spent a few hours birding before flying on to the island of Espirito Santo. Our time at Port Villa was not wasted as we saw the trips only Tana Fruit Dove.


Port Villa. The Vanuatu archipelago has become a popular destination for Australian based cruise ships.


On Espirito Santo we stayed at a pleasant hotel on the east coast. We easily saw the five lowland endemics but the remaining montane endemics that can only be seen after days of arduous trekking, remained out of reach.



The view from our hotel on Espirito Santo


A giant fig tree. Fig seeds are deposited in bird droppings high in trees and send out aerial roots which then grow up around the host tree and eventually kill it, leaving the now mature fig standing on its own.


Looking upwards from where the host tree once stood.


An endemic Buff-bellied Monarch


After a hot walk in the dense undergrowth, a refreshing drink from freshly cut coconuts was most welcome.


Introduced Nutmeg Mannikins were common in some vilages.


The endemic santoensis race of the widespread Collared Kingfisher.


As well as the endemic Tana Fruit Dove we saw the more widespread Red-bellied Fruit Dove


Pacific Imperial Pigeon

Posted October 11, 2013 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

Tagged with , ,

5th – 6th October – Dorset’s first Bird Fair at Durlston Castle   Leave a comment

Throughout this week I have been continuing our ringing program at Durlston.  Most of the birds ringed were Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs but we had one or two surprises – like the Sparrowhawk shown below.


This Sparrowhawk can be aged as a first year by the brown fringes to the coverts and mantle. The pale yellow eye darkens with age and becomes a rich orange in an adult.



On the 5th October Dorset’s first Bird Fair was held at Durlston Castle. Compared to the Bird Fair held at Rutland Water every August, this was a very small scale affair with just a dozen or so exhibitors. Several bird walks were organised, as well as series of talks and we gave a ringing demonstration. This was very well attended with over 30 people. We were very busy that morning, with close to 200 birds ringed and I had to do the demonstration by myself, taking  just a few birds to show to the public on the patio outside the garden, whilst the rest of the ringers checked the nets and ringed the majority of birds within the garden.

After the public and most of the ringers had departed we caught a couple of Wood Larks. Whilst not a rarity, this scarce breeder is seldom trapped for ringing and I have never seen one in the hand before.




Short crest, short tail, white edges to the primary coverts and alula, a distinctive face pattern and vocalisations all separate this species from the commoner Sky Lark


As well as the ringing demonstration several moth traps were run. A number of interesting species like these Convolvulous Hawk-moths were caught.


At least a dozen of these large moths were trapped over the two days, here are nine of them.


… but the star moth was this beautiful Crimson Speckled, a major rarity from southern Europe. Sorry its still in the plastic container, no one wanted to take it out of the pot in case it flew off.



There were also a series of talks from invited speakers, however the venue used was quite unsuitable. Unable to fully exclude daylight, the projected pictures were very washed out and the area used was only divided from the rest of the room by a movable partition, so the conversations of those attending the exhibitors stalls drowned out the speaker. On Saturday I attended two talks other ringing group members, Sean Walls talked about modern bird tracking technology and Paul Morton gave a presentation on the Birds of Poole Harbour educational charity. Both talks were well attended with around 25 people but this was not the case on the Sunday. Margaret and I turned up about midday and attended a couple of talks before my presentation on the Birds of New Guinea. I only had six people, including Margaret, for my talk, all of them friends.


Durlston Castle was recently redeveloped as a visitor centre, centered around a restaurant. The Sound Approach and Dorset Bird Club’s exhibition stands were in a small room above the restaurant, accessed by this ornate spiral staircase.


The location of the exhibition room wasn’t ideal, as many passers by wouldn’t even know it was there but it was a great place for ‘vis mig’ ie watch the visible migrants like Swallows and Meadow Pipits passing.


The view to the north, Peveril Point, Swanage Bay, Old Harry and in the distance Bournemouth seafront.


In conclusion Dorset’s Bird Fair was a mixed success, Saturday’s events were well attended but this was not the case on Sunday. A better venue is needed for talks and there needs to be more information available on what is going on, but all in all, a very successful event.

Posted October 10, 2013 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

Tagged with , , , ,

5th October – Crosby, Stills and Nash at the BIC   Leave a comment

In 1968 three well known musicians, Dave Crosby from the Byrds, Steven Stills from Buffalo Springfield and Graham Nash from the Hollies joined to become one of the best loved bands of all times. Crosby, Stills and Nash’s first album with its beautiful harmonies and sensitive, often politically inspired, lyrics caused quite a sensation. The trouble was I never got the chance to see them in concert, well not until last Saturday when they played at the BIC.

How would I enjoy the band sound 45 years later, the answer was very, very much indeed (although advancing years meant that I found them rather loud!). The beautiful harmonies were as good as ever, especially from Nash and Crosby, whilst Stills produced some blistering guitar solos.

Nash recalled how he wrote certain famous songs, whilst ‘herbally challenged’ and Crosby explained that they all had different song writing roles within the band. Steven would pen the rock and roll numbers, Graham would write the ‘ anthems’, whilst he was responsible for the ‘weird shit’. Their political activist past was not forgotten either with songs like ‘Chicago’ and a short song about today’s political crisis in America.

This was a great concert, which followed on from an excellent day at Durlston; more of that later.






and Nash


Posted October 7, 2013 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

Tagged with , , , ,