Birding, ringing, Blandford, gardening and social events: August – October 2016   Leave a comment

This post is the final part of my trio of summer/autumn catch ups and deals with some birding, a bit of the ringing that has occurred in late October and a few general non-birdy activities.

For most of this time general birding has very much taken a back seat whilst I concentrated on ringing. With the exception of a couple of visits to Portland (one successful, the other not) most of the birds I have seen away from the ringing sites have been at nearby Lytchett Bay.


Aquatic Warblers are a rare and declining visitor to our shores from their breeding grounds in eastern Europe. Stour Ringing Group have had a long history of catching these elusive migrants with a total of 98 ringed over the years, although in recent years I missed them all by being at the Bird Fair or elsewhere at the time. Being highly elusive, ringing is about the only way to establish how many of these birds are passing through the UK. Whenever the winds turn to the south-east from late July to early September a ringing session is convened at Lytchett Bayin the hope that we might get lucky.. This year we had no luck but Lytchett Bay regular Ian Ballam found one at the wader view-point on 1st September. I was at Durlston at the time but fortunately the bird was still showing, albeit distantly, when I arrived about midday. I have seen 26 Aquatic Warblers in the UK but only three; on the Fleet, Dorset in 1987, Scilly in 1990 and this one have been seen in the field. Photo by Ian Ballam taken when the bird was first discovered and before it moved to the back of the marsh.



Just about all the identification features of Aquatic Warbler can be seen in these two photos. It separated from the similar and far more numerous Sedge Warbler by the central crown stripe, tiger-striped back, bronze patch above the bill, pointed tail feathers and lightly streaked flanks. I wrote a whole blog post on the occurrence of this magical little warbler in the UK see        Photo by Ian Ballam.


Credit where credit is due, both Shaun Robson and Ian Ballam show enormous dedication to birding at Lytchett Bay, but Ian has the advantage that he works nights so as soon as his shift is over he can get to the Bay for dawn. His record of finding good birds there is quite remarkable. Great improvements by the RSPB to the wet fields, now known as French’s Field and Sherford Field have resulted in large numbers of waders using them as a high tide roost. As well as goodies like Curlew Sandpiper, Little Stint, Wood Sandpiper and Ruff, Ian found this Lesser Yellowlegs on 19th September. Again I was at Durlston at the time but saw it later in the day, but the tide had pushed it the back of the marsh and the sun was now glaring. I had better views the following day but not as good as the ones Ian had when he took these photos.


Lesser Yellowlegs are a common species in North America, breeding almost exclusively in Canada and Alaska. They are one of the commoner Nearctic waders to reach the UK with about 7 occurrences per year, but this is only the 3rd I have seen in Dorset. Photos by Ian Ballam.

IMG_4069 Whooper Swan

Hat trick time for Ian Ballam when he found yet another goodie at Lytchett Bay on 20th October. This time I was at home, not at Durlston and was able to get down quickly to see this adult Whooper Swan, which was a good job as it flew off soon afterwards. Whooper Swans are winter visitors from Iceland but are rare as far south as Dorset. This is only the second record for Lytchett Bay. I was unable to get of photo of the Lytchett bird so I have used one I took at Welney, Norfolk in February of this year.


A spell of windy weather at the end of August prevented any ringing at Durlston so on 20th August I went to Portland in the hope of seeing Balearic Shearwaters. This species is classed as critically endangered due to the huge decline in breeding numbers in the Balearic Islands due to introduced predators. However post-breeding the entire population appears to relocate to the Western Approaches where gales can push them eastwards towards Lyme Bay and Portland Bill. I saw at least 60 but over the course of the whole day in excess of 500 were seen, which must represent a large proportion of the entire world population. Birds were of course too distant for photos, so I have included one that I took near the breeding grounds in Mallorca in May of this year.


Watching the Balearics from the Bird Observatory was interrupted with news that Portland birder Charlie Richards had found a Long-tailed Skua at Chesil Cove (the north-western corner of the Isle of Portland).

ltskua Nick Green

I quickly drove to Chesil Cove as I have only seen this species twice before in the UK and I am relatively unfamiliar with the juvenile plumage as most birds I have seen abroad have been adults. PBO warden Martin Cade located it on the sea but it immediately it took off and flew out of sight. This photo by Nick Green taken from the internet of a juvenile Long-tailed at Dungeness shows almost exactly what I saw, the pale head, barred plumage, fine white shaft streaks in the outer primaries, photographed against a stormy sea.


I was able to add a new mammal to my British list this autumn when I joined fellow ringer Kath Clay, the warden of Thorncombe Woods reserve, and members of the Dorset Mammal Group in checking the Hazel Dormouse boxes. We had brief but good views of one as it ran up the tree trunk. Photo from Wikipedia Commons.


As autumn has progressed the numbers of our regular migrants at Durlston like Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps have declined markedly. There has been an increase in Goldcrest numbers, but nothing on the scale of last year’s influx. We have however had some success in catching Redwing with some 50 ringed. This photo shows how the species got its name.


Aging Redwings is straight forwards. The white edges to the tertials with a marked step at the shaft shows this is a first year bird.


On 24th October we had a surprise and found a Tawny Owl in our net just before dawn. Identified as at least a three-year old male it gave us a few scratches from those powerful talons before it was released.


Another pre-dawn surprise was this long-eared bat which was found in one of our nets at Durlston. It was suggested that this could be the rare Grey Long-eared on fur colour and length of the thumb but bat expert Nick Tomlinson has said it is probably a juvenile of the commoner Brown Long-eared (based partially on the shape of its willy). For me at least manning the site at Durlston for this year is almost over. It has been our most successful year by a long way and I think those of us who worked it regularly can give ourselves a collective ‘pat on the back’.


Moving on to non-birdy things now, We remain members of the organisation Phoenix, which is the local successor to Nexus, the organisation via which we met. These days we attend few of their events due to other commitments, but we did join a guided walk around Blandford Forum in September, a town about 12 miles north of Poole.



The fire started in the premises of a candlemaker and the town was rebuilt in the Georgian style by the brothers John and William Bastard – hence this commemorative plaque.


This old house was one of the few to survive the fire and as a result has been adorned with a ‘blue plaque’.


I wonder exactly which nuisance this notice prohibits.


Some of the shops have wonderfully decorated Georgian interiors.


And as usual on these walks we concluded the afternoon in this quaint tea room.


In the summer my friend and former colleague Giovanni (Gio) invited some of us for a meal to celebrate the release of his daughter Carmela’s band’s first album. From right to left seated. My former boss Andy, his wife Cherie and daughter Megan, Margaret, my former colleague Anne, Tim a long time friend, former colleague and my best man at our wedding. Standing R-L Gio, his wife Jessica and Tim’s ever cheerful son, Simon.


Unfortunately, as Carmela lives in London she couldn’t be there. She has been part of a band called ‘Colour Me Wednesday’ but now plays in her own group Ay Carmela!’ As well as the usual chat we listened to the Working Weeks CD (in the indie-punk style) and played some other music too.


Whilst I have been spending my time putting metal rings on birds legs, Margaret has done wonders to the garden both front and back. You might wonder what the pipes going into the upstairs window are for.


During the summer we had the inside of the roof coated with a special insulating material, both to protect against the ravages of time and to provide further insulation. Along with our solar panels this has reduced our heating bills to about half that of the national average.


If our garden wasn’t enough to keep her busy Margaret has also been working at her allotment.


Enormous courgettes and giant pumpkins have been on the menu at home.


Kara, our fitness fanatic granddaughter, easily lifts an 8kg pumpkin above her head.


And finally this October marked ten years since Margaret and I met so we invited family and a few friends around for a meal. Right to left: Margaret’s daughter Janis, granddaughter Amber (now doing an apprenticeship in leather work), our friend Christine, me, Margaret, granddaughter Kara (now at 6th-form college) and Janis’ partner Nigel. Photo taken by Nigel’s son William.

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