Archive for May 2014

Saturday 17th May – the Patagonia Picnic Table Effect   Leave a comment


The expression ‘Patagonia Picnic Table Effect’ was coined by American birders after Rose-throated Becards were discovered breeding near a picnic are at the town of Patagonia in Arizona. Birders coming to see those birds found other good birds in the area and so yet more birders came and even more goodies were found. Something similar occurred at Lytchett Bay on May 17th.

Saturday 17th was put aside for packing for our upcoming trip to the States and for Margaret’s choir concert so local birding was the last thing on my mind.

I was busy sorting out gen for birding in New Hampshire when a text from Ian Ballam said there was a Wood Sandpiper at Lytchett Bay. I used to describe Lytchett Bay as my ‘local patch’ but in all honesty I don’t go there often enough for it to maintain that description. That is clearly my loss, as stalwarts like Shaun Robson, Ian Ballam, Paul Morton and Nick and Jackie Hull continue to turn up interesting migrants.

Wood Sandpiper is a regular but scarce migrant in Dorset; there quite a good chance of encountering one if you bird Stanpit Marsh, Christchurch or Lodmoor, Weymouth on a regular basis in early autumn, but I have only ever seen six at Lytchett Bay over the past 36 years. So although all my optics were packed for travel I hurried down there and found Ian Ballam still watching it.

Margaret spent the entire afternoon at St Peter’s Church in Parkstone for the dress rehearsal with the orchestra for the evening’s performance. Having dropped her off I returned to complete my travel arrangements. I was supposed to pick Amber up and take her to the concert but then just 50 minutes before I had to leave I had news that Paul Morton whilst looking for the Wood Sandpiper had found a Temminck’s Stint at Lytchett Bay. This was the first record for the Bay and was not to be missed. This tiny wader breeds in Arctic Norway and Arctic Russia and is a very scarce migrant, usually seen in mid May. Once again the optics were hastily unpacked, wellies donned etc and a quick yomp over the wet and muddy fields followed. On arrival I found three birders including Ian Ballam (who had taken time off from the FA Cup Final to search for this bird) but none had seen the bird. After a few minutes I had to leave or I would not pick Amber up in time, but then a faint but shrill trilling was heard and the Temminck’s shot out of the marsh and towered up flying strongly to the north never to be seen again.

We got to the concert on time and I have to say that the Barclay House Choir and St Peter’s Orchestra’s rendition of Karl Jenkin’s ‘The Armed Man’, John Rutter’s ‘Gloria’ and Bob Chilcott’s ‘The Little Jazz Mass’ was just wonderful. Their new musical director has introduced some great modern pieces and hugely widened their repertoire.

Unfortunately my camera was packed so I have no photos to illustrate this remarkable day, which is a shame as we had seats at the front within feet of the orchestra. A single photo of the Wood Sandpiper from Ian Ballam and a thumbnail from Paul Morton is all I have to post.


WoodSand LB IB

Wood Sandpiper, Lytchett Bay – photo by Ian Ballam.

This tiny thumbnail was all that was left after Paul massively enlarged his image of the Temminck’s Stint. Only the size of a sparrow and a some considerable distance away, it is remarkable that anything was photographed at all.

Temmink's Stint LB PM

12th May – New Forest birding   Leave a comment


 On the 12th May, Margaret and I spent the morning in the New Forest , followed by a brief visit to Coward’s Marsh at Christchurch on the way back.



We first visited the raptor watch point at Acre’s Down. There is a panoramic view over the forest and indeed this is the only spot I know in our area where no human artifacts are visible.


It didn’t take long until our target, a Goshawk was seen. This large bird, presumably a female was seen circling over the forest.



A dreadful, greatly enlarged image, but one that shows several Goshawk ID features: the deep chest, bulging secondaries, a long tail with a wide base and rounded tip (square tip in Sparrowhawk)



Goshawks soar on flat wings, unlike similarly sized Buzzards. The white undertail coverts can even spread out and be visible on the upper tail as can be just  seen on this shot.


The bird drifted towards us and entered a blue patch of sky. The prominent white supercilium can just be seen on this picture.


Nearby a Wood Warbler was in song. This Phylloscopus warbler is much rarer than than either Willow Warbler or Chiffchaff and in our area is confined to mature beech woodland in the New Forest.


Later we headed for Coward’s Marsh near Christchurch. Close to the viewing spot newly fledged Starlings were being fed by their parents.


They were pretty distant, but we soon located the pair of Glossy Ibis that had spent the last few days on the banks of the River Avon. Once a mega-rarity in the UK, increased numbers breeding in Spain has led to a small numbers occurring each autumn, although spring records are still pretty unusual.


6th – 11th March 2014 The Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico part 2. Chichen Itza, Felipe Carillo Puerto and Calakmul   Leave a comment

This is my fourth and final report on my February/March trip to Mexico and the second report on the Yucatan part of that tour.

IMG_0827 Chichen Itza

After some early morning birding at Rio Largatos on the northern coast of the Yucatan Peninsula we drove south to famous Mayan ruins at Chichen Itza. As it is within easy reach of Cancun and the coastal resorts this is by far the most popular of the Mayan sites. This partially restored pyramid dominates the site. Each side has 91 steps, so with one for the top there is 365 in all, one for each day of the year. it is astronomically aligned and at certain times of the year the rising sun on the edge of the steps casts a serpent like shadow which appears to move as the sun rises.

IMG_0813 ball court Chichen Itza

The famous ball court. The Mayan civilisation had already faded when the Spanish conquistadors arrived and thus there are no written records.


IMG_0810 Chichen Itza

This ball court was certainly used for competitive games, the object being to throw a ball through the small circular ring on the wall, although there is no proof of the legend that the losing team (or at least their captain) was offered up as a human sacrifice.

IMG_0854 Iguana

Iguanas were commonly seen around the ruins.


IMG_0874 Chichen Itza

The visit to Chichen Itza was most enjoyable but as the morning drew on crowds of grockles from Cancun arrived and it became quite crowded. One aspect I didn’t enjoy was that the ruins were dotted with stands selling souvenirs, something that should be restricted to an area outside the ancient monuments.


IMG_0860 TB Motmot

We had wonderful views of Turquoise-browed Motmots in the surrounding forest.

IMG_0967 Yucatan Fly

From Chichen Itza we traveled south to Felipe Carrillo Puerto where we spent a day and a half birding the locals woodlands. Birds were abundant and included this endemic Yucatan Flycather, a member of the genus Myiarchus which contains 22 very similar looking species.

IMG_0876 Grey hawk

This Grey Hawk were observed on the roadside ….


IMG_0933 Roadside Hawk

..,. whilst this Roadside Hawk wasn’t!

IMG_1135 Yucatan Jay

Other goodies included the endemic Yucatan Jay ….

IMG_0926 FPO

… and the widespread Ferruginous Pygmy-owl

IMG_1065 Royal Fly

A particular treat was multiple sightings here and at Calakmul of Northern Royal Flycatcher. One of a group of four similar species, none of which are easy to see, we had repeated good views of birds building nests over the road. When in display/alarmed the birds raise their crests, which uniquely are held across rather than along the head. I have never been lucky enough to see this amazing sight but apparently it occurs regularly with birds in the hand.

Something I would love to see: a Northern Royal Flycatcher trapped for ringing and with its crest fully extended. Photo from

IMG_0980 Lodge at Calakmul

We continued on to Calakmul where we stayed at a pleasant lodge in midst of the woodland.

IMG_1033 Ocellated Turkey

It is something like a 40km drive from the lodge to the Mayan ruins at Calakmul. We were given special permission to drive the road at dawn which was so worthwhile, as over the two days we were there we saw a total of 38 Ocellated Turkeys on the road in the early morning. Unlike its widespread and domesticated northern relative, this species is restricted to the lowlands of the Yucatan and neighboring Guatemala.


IMG_1078 Calakmul

We eventually arrived at the Calakmul ruins only to hear from a Dutch couple who were driving behind us that we had just missed the Puma that crossed the road in front of them!


Most of the group at Calakmul. Leader Mark van Beirs is taking the photo and participant Leslie  Coley opted to stay behind. L-R Riita Viinanan, Audry Baker, Martin Hill, Anne Hill, Andre D’Penha and me.

IMG_1084 Anne and Martin at Calakmul

The spectacular view from the top of the highest pyramid. Situated in the 7200 square km Calakmul Biosphere Reserve there is a 360 degree vista of forest stretching to the horizon.

IMG_1088 Calakmul

The view to an adjacent pyramid.



IMG_1168 Howler

We saw and heard Howler Monkeys near the ruins and at our lodge. They produce the loudest noise of any land animal and would be in severe breach of Health and Safety if the regulations were applicable to monkeys!


It’s not often you see a ‘danger bats ahead’ sign along the highway ….


IMG_1179 bat cave

… but the hundreds of thousands, if not millions of bats that emerge at dusk from this sinkhole, can at times sweep down over the road and present a traffic hazard.

IMG_1194  bats

You can stand on the edge of the sinkhole and have thousands of bats pass with inches of your face yet not one  will collide with you or with each other, so accurate is their echo-location.

IMG_0989 bats

Broad-eared Bats. We watched this amazing emergence for over 45 minutes until it was too dark to see.


IMG_1176 juv Gt Black Hawk

A juvenile Great Black Hawk clung to the sides of the sinkhole but in spite of being spoiled for choice it seemed to be having a hard actually catching a bat. Over our two visits we saw Zone-tailed, Cooper’s, Roadside, Bicoloured, Short-tailed and Great Black-Hawk, Hook-billed Kite and Bat Falcon turn up for their bat supper.



From here it was just a matter of returning to Cancun the next day in time for our overnight flight. The two trips, El Triunfo and The Yucatan were excellent. I have already birded Western Mexico, I need to complete the set of Birdquest Mexico trips and do Southern Mexico soon.

April 29th – May 7th 2014 – this week’s birding and ringing.   Leave a comment



Of course to be able to ring birds you need a licence to show that you are properly trained. There are three classes of licence, T for trainee, which means you must be under direct supervision, C which means that you can ring on your own but your activities remain under the control of your trainer and A which means you are responsible directly to the Ringing Committee. If an A permit holder wishes to take on trainees they must have a trainer’s endorsement. I have assisted in the training of many trainees for decades but have only recently decided that I ought to take on trainees in my own right. To obtain a trainer’s endorsement you need to convince another trainer of your merit, by being observed supervising a trainee. This prevents cliques forming where bad practices are passed of from trainer to trainee ad infinitum.

With my friend Paul being ready to be assessed for his C permit we made arrangement s for us both to see Pete Morgan, a well know and long-standing ringer at Portland Bird Observatory on Tuesday 29th May. The first day would mainly be about Paul’s assessment and then we would both return later in the week for my assessment. However we were in luck, our visit coincided with a ‘fall’ and there were so many birds around that Pete could easy assess both of us on the same day.

During the day over 300 birds were ringed allowing plenty of opportunities for Paul to demonstrate his ringing abilities. The majority were, as expected, Willow Warblers, but there was a selection of other migrants including, Pied Flycatcher, Whinchat, Wheatear, Garden Warbler, Sedge Warbler,  Blackcap, Common Whitethroat and Chiffchaff. Away from the nets I also saw Lesser Whitethroat and Yellow Wagtail.


Here are some of the birds that were ringed that morning: a beautiful male Whinchat


Female Whinchat


Female Pied Flycatcher


‘Greenland’ Wheatear. Most nominate race Wheatears pass through in late March and early to mid April. By early May the larger Greenland race leucorha predominates.  From their African wintering grounds they briefly refuel in the UK before crossing the Atlantic to Iceland, Greenland and eastern arctic Canada, an incredible migration for such a small bird.



Margaret and I returned on Friday 2nd May for some general birding. This Peregrine was soaring overhead


In complete contrast to three days earlier there were few migrants around, however a good number of Wheatears, mainly of the Greenland race were around the Bill.


Skylarks were everywhere filling the air with their joyful song.


Later we headed down to Lodmoor where we had great views (but not photos) of Beared Tits and saw a number of Pochards above), presume local breeders


What is hiding behind this Coot?


Just one of their bizarrely plumaged chicks.


On 3rd May we performed a public ringing demonstration at Durlston. We have been requested to do this as part of our permission to ring there and it helps people appreciate the birds that occur in the park. However once again we found ourselves short of anything to demonstrate with. Over the two hours that the public were about we only ringed nine birds, but we filled the time explaining what has been learned through ringing and what needs to be learned in the future.

Monday 5th I birded around the Sherford Bridge/Mordon Bog part of Wareham Forest. I should have returned to Portland as there was a large passage of seabirds, including many Pomerine Skuas. The previous night two of my friends had independently heard Spotted Crakes making their ‘whiplash’ calls from the wet meadows near Wareham. On the 6th I got up predawn and listed for them at Bestwall and Swineham. The wind was quite strong and the rhythmic banging of ropes against masts from distant yachts didn’t help. By the time I got to Swineham the dawn chorus was already underway, I am fairly sure I heard a few calls distantly but I would prefer to have another attempt. At the moment the weather is unsettled with high winds, but when that passes I’ll try again.

For a selection of recordings of singing Spotted Crakes click here:



it was a beautiful dawn which gave rise to a sunny morning. The church at Wareham seen from Swineham


The River Frome at Swineham




Later on the 6th I returned to the Mordon Bog area. This photo was taken in the cloudier conditions on the 5th


Both Meadow and Tree Pipits were in song allowing close comparison of both their plumage and vocal characteristics. Tree Pipits (above) have finer flank streaking than Meadows and a shorter hind claw and a subtly different face pattern. Tree Pipits nearly always end their song flight on the top of a tall tree, whilst Meadow Pipit land on or near the ground. The song is different too see the links below.

Song of Meadow Pipit:

Song of Tree Pipit:


Mistle Thrushes are regularly seen in the filed adjoining the Bog


Both conifer and deciduous trees fringe the Bog, which along with wet and dry heath  gives a mosaic of habitats



On the 7th I returned to Portland. I didn’t coincide with either a fall of migrants or a large seabird passage but did see some new species for the year. It was very overcast with heavy showers but this soon passed to give a pleasant morning.


A Whimbrel paused on migration at the Bill




Within minutes of arriving at the Bird Observatory, three pale morph Pomarine Skuas went by. A further 90 minutes at the Bill failed to produce any more so I hit it just right. Photo by Paul Bowerman


Ferrybridge, where the waters of the Fleet run into Portland Harbour is not only a good site for Little Terns and various waders but marks the spot where Margaret first made landfall in the UK when she arrived by yacht (all the way from South Africa) in June 2002.





Posted May 9, 2014 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

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A prom, a move and a great concert   Leave a comment


Without wishing to sound like the old Yorkshire men in the Monty Python sketch, ‘it wasn’t like that when I was at school’. The best we had was a sixth form disco at age 18.  Amber, now aged 16, has been excited about attending her school prom for some time now. Imagine the turmoil when Janis phoned to say that her car had broken down on the way back from work and she woldn’t be able to take Amber to the prom at Kingston Maurwood near Dorchester. Even worse she had Amber’s new shoes with her.

We quickly went into action, Margaret went off to help Amber get ready and I went to find Janis and rescue the shoes, whilst she waited for the breakdown services. After much faffing we eventually took a beautifully made up Amber her friend Matt’s house near Wareham, where she met up with her boyfriend Josh. Josh’s mother then took Amber, Josh and Matt to Kingston Maurwood. Sue’s comment ‘wow Amber you look like you are 21’ says it all.

These photos were taken in Wareham before they set off.


IMG_0029 Amber Josh Matt IMG_0028 Amber Josh IMG_0022 Amber Josh

IMG_0027 Amber

On Saturday we went over to Bournemouth for a concert, but first we called into John and Anita’s flat for one last time. They were all packed up for the move to Essex. It has been great visiting the Bournemouth flat, which overlooks the pedestrianised Old Christchurch Road, the scene of many a stag or hen party. Over the last year we have attended lots of interesting events, beach parties, concerts, firework displays etc, of course we can still go to them, Bournemouth is only a 20 minute drive away, but somehow I doubt if we will be quite so motivated.



We were on our way to the BIC to see the 40th anniversary of Rick Wakeman’s ‘Journey To The Centre Of The Earth’, a musical version of the famous Jules Verne novel. I have enjoyed keyboard virtuoso’s music since his days with progressive rock band Yes. I have to say that on the records I prefer ‘The Six Wives Of Henry VIII’ to ‘The Journey To The Centre Of The Earth’ but tonight’s concert was excellent. Any  fears that I might have had after the Martha and the Vandellas concerts that these ‘blasts from the past’ are not worth going to were completely unfounded. The rock band were supplemented by a full orchestra and choir and the concert was very well received by audience.

During the short first ‘half’ Rick Wakeman played just four numbers illustrating various stepping stones on the way to the performance of ‘Journey’, in addition he told hilarious stories about the original productions world tour in the 70’s.

In the second ‘half’ which was three times longer than the first and comprised of the full concert and a lengthy encore. Rick Wakeman appeared with his trademark golden cape and played his usual bank of keyboards.

In the first photo below he is joined by vocalist Hayley Sanderson during the first section, the rest are from the full concert culminating in a standing ovation.












Margaret’s retirement and a family get together.   Leave a comment


Margaret had a significant birthday last week and of course the granddaughters were round with presents …..



…. and a cake



Next door bought a bulldog puppy a while ago, well it’s no longer a puppy and it has started chewing holes in the fence.


Seems like it’s rather keen to get into our garden, Margaret solved the problem by painting the edges of the hole wit Ha chili paste. One more chew on the wood was enough to put him off for good.


Rather than go out on Margaret’s birthday, we waited until the weekend to celebrate when all the family could be there. We went for a meal at the Red Lion at Sturminster Marshall, which had a very nice menu and an extensive gluten free section for Janis.


L_R Anita, Margaret, Janis, Amber, John, Kara and me



John and Anita will be moving within the next couple of days to Essex, where John has already been working for the last few weeks. We will be sorry to see them go but we are looking forwards to exploring a new part of the country  when we visit them.


Sisters ……




… are doing it for themselves !



Kara wanted to look cool and reserved ….


… but balancing a ‘reserved’ sign on her head might have been going a bit too far! (The pint of beer in the last photo is mine, not Kara’s, just in case you were wondering)


I have known the girls for just over seven years and of course they have changed dramatically in that time. However we have really noticed Amber’s transition into young lady within the last few months. By the way, I try not to use flash for indoor photos as I feel the harsh light destroys the mood, even if it does result in sharper pictures.


Margaret retired from her job in a solicitor’s office on the last day of April and is now a lady of leisure. We are looking forwards to doing lots of things together, both in the house, in the UK and abroad.

Posted May 1, 2014 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized