April 15th – 19th 2015 – Dipping at Portland and Radipole – but a few nice birds were seen!   Leave a comment

Caspian Gull, Glaucous Gull, Hoopoe, Red-rumped Swallow even a Puffin. All quality birds that were seen Portland or Radipole, Weymouth on the morning of 19th April, but Margaret and I managed to miss them all ! We arrived at Portland Bird Observatory about 0730 to hear that a Caspian Gull had been seen, but had now gone from Radipole. We soon went down to the Bill where we arrived seconds after a Puffin had drifted by on the ‘race’. One observer on the East Cliffs saw a Red-rumped Swallow fly by but although we were on the Obs patio at the time we saw nothing. A Hoopoe that had been seen the day before was refound in Suckthumb Quarry, but an hour or so of searching failed to deliver the goods and when we got to Radipole we found that a Glaucous Gull outside the visitor centre had just flown off. Further insult to injury occurred when the Hoopoe was relocated on Portland in the afternoon and the Red-rumped Swallow was found at Radipole, both after we were on our way home. The point of all of this is, birding (as is so often stated) is unpredictable by nature and would soon become boring if it wasn’t. Just because a rare or unusual bird is present in an area doesn’t mean you will see it. The key factor is not luck, but skill and persistence. If I had been out birding every day, birded from dawn to dusk or been prepared to turn round on my way home and revisit places I had just left, then the success rate would have been higher, I might even have had found a good bird of my own! Due to my current preoccupation with ringing and foreign birding, I am making birding in the UK a lower priority than I once did and this low rate of success is a direct consequence of that. Margaret takes a much more relaxed attitude than I do, whenever we miss a bird she will point out that ‘the sun is shining, the birds are singing and that Robin over there is every bit as beautiful as any rarity’. Indeed, she calls my pager ‘the disappointment box’ due to my reaction to much of the news that it brings.

IMG_6826 Suckthumb Quarry

Suckthumb Quarry, Portland. Away from the area that is being actively quarried there are many nooks and crannies where a Hoopoe could hide.

In spite of the dips, the visit to Portland and Weymouth was not without its rewards, we saw Common Redstart and Garden Warbler in the hand at the Observatory, had close up views of several common seabirds at the Bill, including Manx Shearwaters and Common Scoter, saw a male Garganey at Radipole and this beauty in the photo below:

IMG_6830 GWE Radipole

This Great White Egret gave us the run around at Radipole. Originally at the North Hide, it had flown to the inaccessible north end of the reserve by the time we had arrived. It was later reported back at the North Hide but in spite of a rapid return there we failed to find it. Eventually it was discovered that it could be seen through a gap in the trees from the adjacent by-pass. This is the first time I have seen a Great White Egret in the UK in breeding plumage. The bill is black with green lores and there are filamentous plumes or aigrettes hanging from the breast and upper tail and (although hardly visible in this photo) reddish legs.

GWW are now placed in the genus Ardea, the same as the Grey Heron in this photo. All other white egrets are placed in Egretta.

Compare with this photo taken at Sutton Bingham in February 2012. In non-breeding condition the bill is yellow, the legs black and the aigrettes are absent.

In fact the migrant birds we have seen over the past few days are the first of the year for us, the reason we have been in the mid-west of the USA since 25th March. Here are a few photos of the best birds we have seen since our return.

IMG_6761 Garganey

On 15th April, we visited nearby Longham Lakes to look for a drake Garganey. Initially it proved to be a bit elusive but soon flew in from behind an island ….

IMG_6799 Garganey

and gave wonderful views.

IMG_6805 Tuftie & Scaup

Longham Lakes has hosted a female Scaup since New Year. Rather than fly off and find a mate it has decided to shack-up with a male Tufted Duck. This species, more correctly called Greater Scaup, provided an interesting comparison with the many Lesser Scaup that we have been seeing in the USA.

IMG_6815 Wryneck LB

On 16th we had a message to say that a Wryneck had been found at Lytchett Heath, a part of Lytchett Bay just a half a mile or so from home. The finder Dave Jones is new to the area and did well to find and identify this often skulking bird. Wrynecks, a species of woodpecker was once common in the UK but is now only seen as a scarce passage migrant, mainly recorded at coastal locations like Portland or Durlston during the autumn. This was the first record for Lytchett Bay.


As the photo above, taken near dusk and at some distance, is of necessity rather poor, I have included a photo of one in the hand taken during my ringing trip to Israel in 2013.

On 17th I made my first visit of 2015 to Durlston and commenced ringing activities, with a brisk north-easterly wind success was low but we did have a few migrants such as Common and Lesser Whitethroat and unusually saw a flock of 8 Greylag Geese fly out to sea. As well as birding with me, Margaret has been busy with her allotment adjacent to Lytchett Bay. I find growing vegetables as enthralling as watching paint dry so, although I have no problem with eating the end results, I normally leave her to it, but here is a photo of her in her element.


Using old shelving to partition the plots Margaret is slowly removing the wild grass that has colonised this abandoned plot and is planting a nice variety of vegetables.

Our trip to the USA was in two parts, a private tour round Nebraska, South Dakota and Wyoming on our own, mainly focussing on the enormous gathering of Sandhill Cranes on the Platte River but also visiting the Badlands, the Black Hills and Mount Rushmore and the Devil’s Tower to the north and also the Birdquest tour of Colorado. Both parts were outstandingly successful and it was one of the most enjoyable trips I have done for some time. I went overboard with photos and have about 3000 to work through so it will be some time before I can post the best on the blog, however here is one to start with.

IMG_4439 WT Ptarmigan

The whitest birds in the world? White-tailed Ptarmigan at 12000 ft asl, Loveland Pass, Colorado.

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