Birds and other things – March 2016   Leave a comment

This posts covers a few (mainly bird-oriented) events in March.

Pallas' Leaf W 2 feb 16 Nick Hull

The best bird in Dorset this month and arguably this winter has been a Pallas’ Leaf Warbler that was discovered in the village of Portesham in West Dorset. I went along with my trainee ringer Chris after a ringing session near Poole. We had good views, but in the afternoon the sun was in our eyes and my pics were rubbish. This photo and the next were taken by Nick Hull of Two Owls Birding  and is used with permission.

Pallas' Leaf W Feb 16 Nick Hull

Pallas’ Leaf Warbler is a rare but regular visitor from Siberia to the UK. Most records are in the late autumn, wintering is much rarer but is not unprecedented. Named after German ornithologist Peter Pallas who explored Siberia in the late 18th C, this tiny Phylloscopus warbler is little bigger than a Goldcrest. It is distinguished by the lemon rump, central crown strip, double wing bar, yellowish supercillium and long black eye-stripe. It is arguably the most beautiful of the genus. Photo by Nick Hull.

7F1A5982 RB Merg

I have recently bought a new digital SLR. I failed to get any usable photos of the Pallas’ but afterwards we went down to Portland Harbour where I used in the field for the first time – even so, these Red-breasted Mergansers were too far for a decent shot.

7F1A5972 Robin

I have debated for some time over the best way to photograph birds. My attempts at digiscoping have been pretty poor so I have dropped that. I used to have an old Canon SLR with a 100-400mm zoom lens but the sensor must have got damaged as spots appeared on the image that I was unable to remove. Since then I have gone over to using a bridge camera. Undoubtedly the SLR gives a better image (this one would be better still if I had upgraded my zoom lens as well and had photographed this European Robin on a bright day) but the main problem is weight. The bridge camera weighs 600g, the SLR & lens nearly 2.5kg. Add to that the weight of a telescope and tripod and I’ll be restricting my birding to a few hundred yards walk from the car. Also the bridge camera has a much greater telephoto capacity, 1200mm instead of 400, so four times the reach for a quarter of the weight. Bridge cameras however are useless in taking birds in flight, yes you might get the odd good image, but in general an SLR wins hands down in this category. With a couple of wildlife cruises coming up this year the choice was clear – buy a new SLR and my choice was the Canon EOS 7D MkII.

7F1A6008 Dartford Warbler

Even on a dull day I got a reasonable photo of this Dartford Warbler at Mordon Bog ….

7F1A6003 Dartford Warbler

…. but even with an SLR there is a limit to how far you can blow up the image before you lose resolution.

7F1A6019 Mordon Lake

However, although there were Tufted Ducks, Coots and Great Crested and Little Grebes on Mordon Park Lake none were close enough for anything other than record shots.

IMG_3829 Monties meeting

Several of us joined Paul Morton and Mark Constantine of the Birds of Poole Harbour charity for a drink in order to meet a number of British and Dutch ornithologist researching and conserving the threatened Montagu’s Harrier. Being free the next day I was able to attend their meeting which was held in the LUSH offices in Poole the following day.

IMG_3825 Montie's talk

There are only about a dozen Montagu’s Harrier pairs breeding in the UK and in spite of protection this number isn’t increasing. Certainly some birds have disappeared under suspicious circumstances (possibly mistaken for the similar and much persecuted Hen Harrier) but it may be that the wider countryside in the UK is unsuitable for this species. They are certainly much commoner on the continent as the Dutch speakers were able to demonstrate.

IMG_3828 Montie's routes

We were also told of the amazing results of a Europe-wide satellite tracking program which has shown that Monties winter in the Sahel to the SSW of their breeding locations. British birds, unsurprisingly, winter further west than others in western Senegal.

IMG_3835 Holton Lee

The Holton Lee estate (where I ring birds at the feeders) contains areas of heathland and foreshore currently managed by the RSPB.

7F1A6025 Holton Lee

It is great that I have these ‘wild’ areas on my doorstep, the houses in the distance are in Lytchett Minster, the next village beyond Upton.

7F1A6072 Grey Squirrel

Heading back to the feeders I was able to use my new camera on a bright day for the first time. This Grey Squirrel posed nicely ….

7F1A6036 GS Woodpecker

…. as did this Great Spotted Woodpecker. After many ringing visits to this area nearly all the birds visiting the feeders bear rings. This is allowing us to obtain useful data on longevity, over four winters we have ringed 36 Great Spotted Woodpeckers and have had 49 occasions when one has been recaptured. This has indicated that the average lifespan of the birds here is relatively short, only 2-3 years, less than many of the Blue and Great Tits we have ringed.

7F1A6045 Blue Tit

Speaking of Blue Tits ….

7F1A6061 Goldfinch fem

….but it was this photo of a Goldfinch that proves to me how much better image you get with a SLR compared to a bridge camera.

7F1A6063 Goldfinch fem

Unlike the Bullfinch and Chaffinch, Goldfinches are not easy to sex in the field (and not that easy in the had either). The extent of red behind the eye and the relatively short bill indicates that this is a female.

IMG_3842 Goldfinch 6m

On the other hand this bird that we ringed at Holton Lee on another date appears to be a male, the bill is longer (and it has a long wing length) and the red extends further behind the eye. One feature that I find unreliable is the colour of the nasal hairs, said to be black in males and grey in females. They both appear to be grey so either that feature is unreliable or the red behind the eye is. I find Goldfinches hard to age and sex and try to exercise caution.

7F1A6090 Pied Wagtail

We ring quite a few Pied Wagtails at roost in the late autumn but even the adult males in autumn don’t look as smart then as they do in the spring. This bird was photographed on a subsequent visit to Portland Harbour.

7F1A6085 Helicopter and boat

Whilst searching for ducks, grebes and divers we saw this helicopter practicing landing a crew member onboard a boat.

IMG_3852 Lodmoor

The reason for Margaret and I were in Weymouth on 16th March was that we had agreed to lead a birdwatching walk for our friends in the Phoenix organisation.

IMG_3850 Lodmoor

I chose the RSPB reserve of Lodmoor for the walk because there is a decent, usually dry, path around the reserve and there are always some birds on show and we saw or heard about 50 species.

7F1A6105 Little Egret

Most of the birds we saw on Lodmoor were common species that I would see on every visit  like this Little Egret ….

7F1A6100 Spoonbill Lodmoor

…. but we did get excellent views of three Spoonbills that were well appreciated by the group.

7F1A6099 Spoonbill Lodmoor

There has been a real increase in Spoonbill numbers in the last decade or so with a small breeding colony now established in Norfolk. Most of our birds seem to originate from the Netherlands, some pass through on their way to and from their wintering grounds in Spain, others spend the winter with us – mainly in Poole Harbour.

IMG_3881 Kara

Unfortunately our granddaughter Kara has seriously damaged her knee (again) doing taekwondo, she has been out of action for several weeks and it will be some time yet before she is back to normal. We wish her a speedy recovery.

IMG_3855 ETO Don Giovanni

And finally on the 18th we went to the Lighthouse Theatre in Poole to see a performance of Mozart’s Don Giovanni by the English Touring Opera. Opera is not my favourite musical category but I must say that I quite enjoyed it, I had expected it would be sung in Italian but it was in English with screen displaying subtitles, so I was able to follow the ‘plot’.

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