Archive for January 2014

2nd – 7th January 2014 – a bird race that wasn’t and other weather affected events.   Leave a comment

In early January several of us usually do a bird race. The idea is to form several teams of up to four birders and then on an agreed date try to see or hear as many species as you can within Dorset. You can start as early as you like but you have to be at the finishing point by 1830. Bird racing is like Marmite, you either love it or hate it. It’s detractors say its not real birding, rushing from A to B seeing each species for a mere second or so; but we only do it one date in the year and its a lighthearted competition between friends that ends with a social gathering to welcome in the New Year. Bird racing involves several skills, not only the ability to pick out birds quickly by eye and ear, but detailed planning to optimise  the route and accurate time keeping to overcome the inevitable temptation of  ‘lets give it another minute or two’ when the target fails to materialise.

The trouble this year is that the weather forecast for the allotted date, the 4th of January, was diabolical and most teams cancelled. Team leader Nick Urch and I opted to try on the 2nd, the only dry day of the week. One of our group had already defected to another team and another was at work so we hastily replaced them with Paul Harvey, my friend from Shetland here visiting his parents and Marcus Lawson who holds the UK winter bird race record of 137 from Kent in 2009. In spite of including these ornithological heavyweights, we didn’t do that well as we had planned to spend the whole of the 2nd and 3rd of January in doing a recce of the route. Starting at 0430 in Poole Harbour we picked up a number of waders in the spotlight beam that would be difficult later due to the tide times, we then went on to get Barn and Tawny Owl but dipped on Little Owl and Woodcock. We arrived at Lodmoor at dawn and were surprised to see the Glossy Ibis that has been hanging around a playing field near Radipole in flight, it must roost on Lodmoor. Visits to Radipole, Portland Harbour and Portland Bill followed but we were already running late so we quickly headed to the Monkey’s Jump area, then Thornecombe Woods and Tincleton Cress Beds before heading to Poole Harbour about midday where we spent the rest of the day.

Although we kept the pressure up and worked hard we only saw/heard 114 species, well short of the Dorset record of 129. We had a lot of bad luck failing to locate common species like Pheasant, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Long-tailed Tit, Fieldfare and Jay but we were hampered by high water levels that caused some species to relocate and the mild conditions that meant some winter birds just hadn’t arrived.


The only photo taken on the Bird Race. The birders were enjoying the range of divers, ducks and auks in Portland Harbour, whilst the kite surfers were enjoying the continuing gale.

As none of the other teams that usually partake have taken part so far, it can hardly be called a race, a better description would be a ‘big day’ but it was enjoyable all the same. As Shetland in winter has very few species, Paul commented that it was the most birds he had ever seen in the UK in a day, but maths teacher Nick  said that if it was a school report he would have commented ‘tried hard but was let down by a lack of preparation’.

The rest of the week has been hampered by continual heavy rain and high winds which resulted in extensive flooding. North America may be suffering from record low temperatures but here it is a very balmy 12c but very wet as depression after depressing sweeps across the Atlantic. After several attempts I did get to see a Smew that has taken up residence in a flooded field at Lytchett Bay, a bizarre occurrence as it is a diving duck that usually requires deep water, a Yellow-browed Warbler at Studland and a few waterfowl and woodland birds at Blashford Lakes in Hampshire, but access to other areas and other birds has been prevented by closed roads. Even the Baker’s Arms pub which we visited with Paul at Saturday is partially closed due to flooding.


Leaden skies, wind and rain dominated all week. These fields at Lytchett Bay are usually grazed by cattle, Water Buffalo would be more suitable now.


You normally come across Smew on a deep gravel pit or a reservoir, but this one is catching fish on a grassy field!


A female or immature Smew, the so-called ‘redhead’. Photo from


‘Red sky in the morning, ringers warning’. Surprisingly there was a short weather window on the morning of the 5th and Paul Morton and I tried to ring a few birds in his garden. Due to the mild conditions and the abundance of natural food ,few birds are coming into gardens and our catch of three Goldfinches and a Blackbird confirmed this.

I know I bring this up year after year but the 6th would have been my first wife Janet’s 67th birthday. It’s nearly ten years since she passed away and so much has happened in that time.

Janet Lewis - Hawaii 2003

Lest we forget.

On the 7th I finally had my ingrowing toe nails removed, so that’s me out of circulation until it heals. Lets hope there isn’t anything really rare that needs boots or wellies to get to in the next week or so!

P1070311-sore toe

‘Sticks out like a sore toe’

Posted January 7, 2014 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

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2013 – a brief summary   Leave a comment

2013 has been a really great year – dominated by foreign travel and bird ringing.

Here is a very quick summary: I did six foreign trips which included visits to 17 different countries (plus I passed through another five countries but never left the airport) this involved some 40 flights and 130 days outside the UK.

I saw or heard 1791 bird species, which is the largest year total ever, beating the previous best of 1719 in 2002. Incidentally the average number of species seen annually over the  last 37 years is 882.

Of this total 245 have been new to my list (although this does include a small number of ‘heard onlys’) which brings my IOC List  to 7561 plus 152 ‘heard onlys’


If I had to pick a single wildlife event as the highlight of 2013 it would have to be the eye-ball to eye-ball encounter with this Mountain Gorilla in Uganda.


As it is the only member of it’s family and is confined to a distant island in the Pacific, then I suppose the Kagu has to be ‘bird of the year’, but once you have got there it doesn’t take that much effort to find.

Less impressive is my record of British birding in 2013. In 2012 I attempted to set a personal record British year list and ended up with 309, this year it was a mere 218 and included just the one addition to my British and county list, the Brunnich’s Guillemot that was seen on Boxing Day.


The only addition to my British List in 2013 – the Brunnich’s Guillemot which was present in Portland Harbour from 26th – 31st December.

Ringing has been highly successful in 2013. I did most of my ringing at Durlston where we ringed over 3,500 birds and whilst I wasn’t present for all of those, I was there for a high percentage. We have done well elsewhere as well and have received notification of a good number of controls and recoveries, many of which I detailed in a previous post.


Although ringing is all about researching common species, catching a rare bird is always a delight. The Melodious and Yellow-browed Warblers that I caught this year were at least ‘on the radar’, but although far commoner in the UK, no-one had predicted we would trap this Wood Lark.

Of course there have been other great events in 2013, music concerts, visits to museums, visits to friends and family and time spent with my lovely granddaughters and wonderful wife. We have remained in good health and I have greatly enjoyed retirement. All in all, an excellent year.


Margaret ‘all goshed out’ in Jerusalem – thank you for all your love, help and support and for agreeing to my travelling to so many wonderful places.

Posted January 3, 2014 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

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28th December 2013 – 1st January 2014 – A Happy New Year to all readers of my blog   Leave a comment

After a quiet Boxing Day, Margaret and I drove up to my brother’s place in Duffield near Derby on the 27th. It was a dreadful journey, heavy traffic meant the normal three and a half hour drive took nearly six.


On the 28th we visited Carsington Water in the Peak District where we found two species that we never see in Dorset, Tree Sparrow and Willow Tit.


It was a longer drive than I anticipated across to Sherwood Forest in Nottinghamshire. We were searching for a group of Parrot Crossbills that are wintering in the area. They were not easy to locate, indeed one birder, with a strong Yorkshire accent, was heard to mutter ‘ if they could loose Robin ‘Ud in this lot, what chance have we got of crossbill’

ParrotCrossbill_from web

After a few false alarms we eventually we came across a group of birders who had located a group of three Parrot Crossbills. These scarce visitors from Scandinavia or Russia have bigger heads and more massive bills than Common Crossbills, an adaptation to feeding on the larger pine cones. A very small number of Parrot Crossbills breed in the Caledonian Forest of Scotland but I have never knowingly seen them there. Photo from the internet.


Sherwood Forest is famous for its ancient oaks. One, the Major Oak is thought to be a thousand years old and Robin Hood is said to have hidden within it, but it was now almost dark and we were very late for our next appointment, so we had to give the Major Oak a miss.


We had planned to visit Dave Murdon, a birder from Nottingham who I had met in Ethiopia and Uganda in recent years. We arrived at his place several hours later than planned but still had a nice chat and a chance to catch up. This photo of Dave was taken in Uganda in June.


The 29th was a day for socialising. My old school and university friend Nigel Mackie was in Derby from Christmas and together we visited Martin and Tricia Gadsby, more friends from our school days. It was great to see Martin (left in the photo) had recovered from the bout of ill health that has dogged him during much of the last year.


Later Margaret, Nigel and I drove to the little town of Breedon-on-the Hill to the south of Derby to meet up with Di, a friend from university days and her husband Steve.


During the evening we joined my brother Simon and his wife Viv in visiting her parents Dennis and Ida.


Viv with her daughters, Jenni (left) and Miriam (right) spent the evening watching a dancing video


… then Miriam decided to show off her moves …


… until grandparents Ida and Dennis (who are in their ’80’s) showed her how to do it properly!


We returned to Poole on the 30th and hearing that my friend Paul from Shetland was back visiting relatives, we quickly arranged a visit to the pub that evening       (L-R: Paul Harvey, Richard Webb, Ian Alexander, Shaun Robson, Trevor Warwick and Marcus Lawson.



On New Year’s Eve Paul, Ian and I went birding around Studland and Arne but it was late afternoon by the time we reached Shipstall Point at Arne.


Birding in Poole Harbour has changed a lot since Paul birded here in the seventies and early eighties. Med Gulls, Avocets, Spoonbills and Little Egrets are now common, or at least regular, whilst Pochard, Scaup and Hen Harrier among others have become much rarer or even absent.


We always look forward to the New Year’s Day boat trip around Poole Harbour, most generously provided by Mark and Mo Constantine. However the weather this year meant we were unable  to even leave Poole Quay. In spite of the conditions about 30 birders turned up and we spent about an hour chatting on the pleasure craft before retiring to the aptly named Storm’s restaurant for delicious soup. A great social event but at the end of the day my 2014 bird list stood at exactly six!

Posted January 3, 2014 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized