8th – 20th July 2014: its not all been about the birds   Leave a comment


Its been a fortnight since I returned from Borneo and, as always, I have been pretty busy. One of the main projects has been to edit all the photos taken on the trip. Unfortunately my ‘bridge’ camera was ruined by a sudden downpour just a few days into the trip and after a number of days of being unable to take photos, the leader Chris Kehoe offered to lend me his camera as long as I took enough to illustrate the tour report. This was an arrangement that suited us both as he had no interest in photography, but it meant that editing my shots had to be given a high priority on my return.

To birders autumn starts as soon as south bound migration commences, which can be as early as late June. Certainly by mid July we were ringing southbound Sedge Warblers at Lytchett Bay, at least two weeks earlier than usual. At Fleets Lane we have trapped 22 juvenile Blackcaps showing that there has been an exceptional breeding season at this very small site but most seem to have already departed.

I have also tried ringing in my garden, where juvenile Robins, Starlings and House Sparrows have  featured. Now that the BTO’s ringing emphasis has shifted from understanding migration routes to population dynamics, the ringing of these common garden birds is as valuable as the ringing of long distance migrants.


Juvenile Starlings can be a pitfall for the less experienced birdwatcher and indeed Margaret was puzzled when they gathered on our feeders. This bird is losing its grey juvenile feathers and adult type feathers can be seen on the primary, lesser and greater (but not median) coverts and a few spotted feathers are appearing on the flanks.



Starlings are unusual in that juveniles undergo a complete moult. This juvenile can be seen to be moulting its primaries. In all of the British passerines this moult strategy is shared only by Long-tailed and Bearded Tits, House and Tree Sparrows and Corn Bunting.



We have been out to various places in Dorset and Hampshire recently. An attempt to locate a reported Short-toed Eagle in the New Forest (a bird I missed in Dorset when I was in the USA) drew a blank , hardly surprising as that sighting (but not the original) referred to a pale Buzzard. Inland of the Purbeck Ridge in Dorset there is a lot of forest surrounding the heathland and this can be good for raptors.



It is outrageous that even in these so called enlightened days there are those who would persecute raptors, be it by egg collection or in a misguided belief that their game rearing interests are more important than the existence of a healthy raptor population. As I result I cannot reveal the site where this Honey Buzzard was photographed. With a UK population of just 50 or so pairs we can’t take any chances. Photograph by Ian Ballam


A week ago my friend Paul Harvey came down from Shetland to visit his family. He spent a few days with his parents in Poole before going to stay with his daughter and her family in Devon. One day he went out with Ian Alexander and myself and instead of birds we targeted Butterflies and Dragonflies.


Most of our time was spent at Holt Heath near Wimborne where we found this Beautiful Demoiselle, which clearly lived up to it’s name.


A Gold-banded Dragonfly


and a Keeled Skimmer


A heathland specialist, the Silver Studded Blue Butterfly.


But the real surprise came later in the day when we heard of the existence of a rare ‘rogeri’ variant of Painted Lady. As with the Honey Buzzard the exact location cannot be revealed, as those who prefer to see butterflies pinned in a display cabinet rather than on the wing or in their cameras memory,  would pay good money for someone to collect it.


A view of the underwing.



The following day we went round to Paul’s parents, Terry and Margaret. As well as Paul and family, both his sisters, who I haven’t seen for about 30 years, and their children and grandchildren were there. Above – Paul with his wife Liz, and grandsons 9 month old George and 3 year old Harvey.



Harvey last appeared on this blog two years ago, he’s grown a bit and turned into Spiderman since then.



Paul and Liz’s daughter Bryony with her son George.


On another evening we took a  dusk walk to Upton Heath which lies just the other side of the Upton by-pass from our house. It didn’t take long before we saw several Nightjars displaying.



Another bird I failed to see on spring migration was the Turtle Dove so a few days ago Margaret and I spent the morning at Martin Down, one of the few sites were it can still be found.



An extensive area of chalk downland on the border of north Dorset and Hampshire, the site is a haven for chalk land plant and butterfly specialities.

The increasingly scarceTurtle Dove

We soon heard and eventually saw a couple of Turtle Doves but without a telephoto capability failed to photograph it. This shot was taken in 2011 at the same site. Turtle Dove have declined by 95% in recent decades, a combination of agricultural intensification in the UK, destruction of their wintering grounds and shooting on migration in the Mediterranean have taken their toll.


Pyramidal Orchid, one of the many chalk grassland plants to be found at Martin Down.

On Sunday we were just leaving for walk to Swineham near Wareham when we head that Lytchett Bay stalwart Ian Ballam had just found a Spotted Crake. I have seen this species before at the Bay 33 years ago (!) but the views this time were far, far better. Well done  Ian (who also took this photo)


That evening we put on a braai (South African for barbecue) for our friends in the ringing group and their partners. As usual Margaret excelled with the food and a good time was had by all. Some group members couldn’t make it as they were away, others were stuck down the Bay trying in vain to see the crake! Clockwise: Ivana Gifford, Jane Dowling, Janis, Kimberley Elborn, Margaret, Paul Morton, Bob Gifford, Mike Gould, John Dowling, Ian Alexander, Terry Elborn, Karen Elborn.


Terry, Karen and three year old Kimberley.


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