Archive for the ‘Bird race’ Tag

Mid to late August 2015: The Bird Fair, lots of ringing and a Bird Race.   Leave a comment

This post covers our visit to the Birdfair and some ringing at Lytchett Bay and Durlston plus a postscipt about a late August Poole Harbour big day.

The annual British Birding Fair, normally just refered to as the Birdfair  is held at Rutland Water near Oakham in Rutland, Britain’s smallest county. Over the three days an estimated 20,000 visitors visits hundreds of stands and go to hundreds of talks and other events. All profits go to Birdlife International and during its lifespan the event has raised 2.5 million for bird conservation.

Now in its 27th year, the Fair seems to just keep growing and growing. There are so many marquees, stands, exhibits and talks to go to that it is impossible to do it justice in one day. What I enjoy more than anything is meeting up with loads of friends from previous trips abroad, old twitches in the UK or fellow birders from back home.

IMG_6402 Royal George hotel

On the 21st and 22nd of August we paid our annual visit to the British Bird Fair at Rutland Water. We stayed overnight some 12 miles away at this pleasant hotel at Cottingham but unfortunately they didn’t do breakfast (which we had already paid for) until after 9 am, far too late as we wanted to be at the Fair by then.

Book signing at the Wild Sounds stand

This photo of book signing on the Wildsounds stand was taken at a previous Bird Fair and shows a typical view of the Birdfair – large numbers of birders perusing books, trying out optics, planning future birding holidays etc.

IMG_6373 WEO

One of the unusual thing about the Birdfair is that ‘wildlife celebrities’ wander around from event to event with all the rest of us and you can find that the bloke in the row in front of you at a talk is none other than Bill Oddie.

IMG_6376 Swifts need you too

Stands selling or promoting wildlife tours and various countries, outdoor clothing, books, optics and wildlife art are joined by numerous conservation organisations such as the RSPB, Birdlife International and Swift Conservation (above).

One talk I especially wanted to go to was by Magnus Robb of the Sound Approach. After his discovery of the Omani Owl in March 2013, which he described as a new species at the time, it has been shown by others that the old type specimen of the closely related Hume’s Owl is a different species from all the other Hume’s Owls (ie those that that are regularly seen in the Levant and Arabia). It has been speculated that the type specimen of ‘Hume’s Owl’, which was collected in Pakistan 135 years ago, is in fact an Omani Owl. Magnus confirmed that their DNA analysis of feathers from a recently trapped Omani Owl proved this to be the case and in addition an owl found trapped on someone’s balcony in north-east Iran also proved to be an Omani Owl. So instead of discovering a new species, the Sound Approach rediscovered one that hadn’t been seen for 135 years and extended it’s range from two narrow wadis in Oman’s Al Hajar mountains to an area that covers NE Iran and southern Pakistan, although of course not all areas in this vast range will actually hold Omani Owls.

For more details see

For an interview of Magnus Robb by Martin Garner go to

For my account of my trip to Oman to see Omani Owl see

IMG_6390 Omani Owl resolved

Magnus shows a photo of the Iranian example of Omani Owl.

IMG_6398 DIMW talk

Perhaps the most entertaining talk was in the evening of the 21st was an account of ‘best days birding in Britain’ from Bill Oddie, Adam Rowlands, Lucy McRobert and Ian Wallace. Each gave a short account of their most outstanding day in the UK. All but one account was about a day full of migrants and rarities but Lucy told of the day she saw all four species of grouse in Scotland. Her best line was when she described a male Capercaillie as the ‘most magnificent cock I’ve ever seen’.

IMG_6399 Killian and DIMW

DIM (Ian) Wallace, here talking to another birding legend Killian Mullarney, is a true legend of the birding scene. Now in his eighties he is known for his eccentric manner, evocative paintings, editorship of the groundbreaking BWP handbooks, his many pioneering identification articles and his indefatigable rarity finding. Some of his discoveries have been mocked by a later generation of rarity experts but we can say that without doubt that many of the field criteria that are routinely used today were first established by DIMW.

The BTO were holding a ringing demonstration and nearby they had a poster showing all foreign UK ringing recoveries accrued over the 100+ years of the ringing scheme. Of course they can’t label every dot to species, so it is interesting to speculate which species are involved in the far-flung recoveries. Without doing any additional research I guess that the concentration off Labrador/Newfoundland would refer to seabirds like Kittiwake, Fulmars and Great Skuas, the coastal South American ones would almost entirely be Manx Shearwaters, coastal southern Africa are various tern species, the Cape and Natal are Barn Swallows, the Australian and southern oceans are Artcic Terns. Presumably most recoveries from the Levant are Lesser Whitethroats but what species were recovered in Canada just east of the Rockies, in interior South America, in Pakistan, Iran, Mongolia and far eastern Russia on the northern shores of the Sea of Okhotsk? Note the paucity of recoveries from north-east Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, showing that with the exception of Lesser Whitethroats few if any British birds enter African via this flyway.

IMG_6403 Ring recoveries map

A map of all BTO ringing recoveries.

The above map leads on nicely to my bird ringing which has kept me pretty busy during this month. Early (0430) starts, the need to keep up to date with uploading the data collected and in addition, my attempts to collate a lot of the data and other articles into a long-awaited ringing group report has meant that I have had little time to work on this blog. But there again its better to be busy in retirement than to sit around watching day-time TV as many retirees do!

I have been trying to get to Durlston as often as I can during the month, hindered though by the unseasonal weather we have been experiencing. Unlike some ringing stations where the ringers live on site and can quickly respond to changes in the weather, Durlston is a 30 minute drive away, so we don’t usually visit on days that start wet then clear later, or are characterised by intermittent rain. That said this ‘autumn’ we have made nine visits in August and three in July, ringed 658 birds of 28 species with a further 127 birds ringed in the spring.

IMG_6362 adult gropper

This time of year is the most interesting both in terms of the variety of species we ring and also in the range of age classes that we see. Freshly fledged juveniles, birds in the middle of the partial post-juvenile moult, freshly moulted first years, juveniles of species like Long-tailed Tit that have a full wing moult soon after fledging, adults in active wing moult, adults that have completed their moult and abraded adults that defer moulting until they reach their winter quarters (like this adult Grasshopper Warbler) can all be seen during the same ringing session.

IMG_6370 Common Redstart - better

One of the most attractive migrants that we see at Durlston is the Common Redstart, this first year was ringed on  18th August ….

IMG_6369 Black Redstart juv

…. on the same day we also trapped this juvenile Black Redstart, a much rarer species that we have only ringed once before. In view of the scarcity of this species and that this bird is a recently fledged juvenile, it is possible that this bird is the offspring of the adult female we ringed on 23rd April this year. Incidently we also trapped a Common Redstart on 23rd April meaning we have had two double-redstart days this year. Photos of the adult birds in April can be seen on an earlier post on this blog.

IMG_6417 Lytchett Heath

We have also been ringing at Lytchett Bay. As well as our usual site in the reeds near the River Sherford we have also been using a new site at Lytchett Heath which has been very productive both in terms of the number of birds ringed but also in the number of controls (birds previously ringed by others) we have encountered. I hope to post a summary of recent recoveries/controls in a future post.

IMG_6414 Lytchett Heath

On a cold morning the dew on the cobwebs is most photogenic …

IMG_6416 Lytchett Heath dawn

…. even more so when the sun rises.

IMG_6365 juv Beardie

This recently fledged Bearded Tit, a species that has recently been placed in its own family, was one of the highlights of a recent ringing session.

P1180532 Bluethroat TE LB

But the real highlight of our recent ringing was this first year male Bluethroat that was trapped on 29th August. We had a public ringing demonstration for the sites owners, Dorset Wildlife Trust, at Lytchett Heath and most of the group were there to help. Some opted to ring near the River Sherford where this bird was trapped. There was just enough time before the demo for those interested to rush over from the heath to the Sherford (leaving the heath site well manned of course) to see it before it was released. Photo by Terry Elborn.

Bluethroat 3 Lyt bay 29.08

The eponymous blue on the throat shows that this bird is a male. At least two populations occur in Europe, white-spotted birds in southern/central Europe and red-spotted ones in Scandinavia but the ‘spot’ within the blue of the throat can only be seen on spring males. At this time of year it is most likely that this bird is of the red-spotted race. Photo by Bob Gifford.

And finally on 30th August sixteen, mainly local, birders took part in a Poole Harbour bird race, that means keeping within the geographic boundaries shown in the Sound Approach’s ‘Catching the Bug’. I have always been keen on doing a January bird race as it seems a great way of kicking off the New Year and it is a good way to meet up with friends that you haven’t seen since before Christmas. During my working years I was always busy when the idea of an August Poole Harbour race, with just two per team, was first mooted. Initially I wasn’t too keen this time either, but when Margaret said she would like to join me we formed a team.

Unlike the keenest we weren’t up at 0430 to try for owls and nightjars but started birding in the Studland area at 0700. We had a stroke of luck when we bumped into Mike Gould and Tom Carly just after they had found a Wryneck, but after that most of the rest of the day was predictable. After birding around Studland we visited the southern edge of Poole Harbour, Middlebere, Arne, Swineham and Lytchett Bay (where the wader bonanza really boosted the list) Having reached the ‘ton’ and with Margaret having hurt her leg getting out of the car we decided to quit but after freshening up we headed for the post-race gathering and managed to pick up two more species, Yellow-legged Gull in Holes Bay and Jay in Poole Park giving us a final score of 102.

With Margaret being the least experienced of the twelve participants and with us taking a fairly relaxed approach it was clear from the onset that we weren’t going to win, but we didn’t come last. The winners, the Sound Approach’s Paul Morton and Nick Hopper, set a new record for birds seen/heard in one day in Poole Harbour with a score of 130, smashing the previous best of 123.

The following pictures show most or all of the participants plus Marie and Mo who came along for the evening. Out usual pub was packed solid with a ‘sausage festival’, the next had run out of beer(!), a third was  closed, so we settled with the ‘Slug and Lettuce’ with a very nice curry at nearby Tandori Nights.

IMG_6418 post race drinks1

L-R: Marie Smith, Mo Constantine, Jackie Hull, Mark Constantine, Mike Gould, Tom Carley, Paul Morton (straight from the race still with his wellies on) Nick Hopper and Shaun Robson.

IMG_6422 bird race drinks2

In addition this photo shows: Steve W Smith (standing far left – his position not his politics), Peter Moore, James Phillips, Steve F Smith, Terry Elborn, Margaret and in bottom right Nick Hull.

Early January and early February 2015 – A brief account of our bird race and two trips to west Dorset.   Leave a comment



To the regular readers of my blog an apology for not updating this blog since early January. I have spent three and half weeks in return Brazil and since my return a week ago I have been busy with shopping, decorating and other onerous tasks.

This post covers the first few days of January and a couple of trips to west Dorset over the last couple of days. I have yet to edit the many photos taken in Brazil, let alone update them to the blog, but they will follow eventually.

IMG_1325 Poole Harbour at night

We had a couple of birding trips before I left for Brazil, to Blashford Lakes and to Wyke Down but the best by far was the intensive birding on our annual bird race on 4th January. Postponed from the day before due to bad weather, we had an excellent day, travelling from the Poole area to Weymouth and back again starting at 0500 and ending at 1730. Three teams took part and we won with a score of 126 species seen/heard during the day, three ahead of our nearest rivals and only 3 short of the all time winter record. Our first destination was Shore Road, Poole Harbour in hope for Bar-tailed Godwit. Why visit the foreshore of Poole Harbour in the dark, when the birds could be so much more easily later in day? Simple, if we could see Barwits before dawn we could later avoid the northern shore of of the harbour and all the potential delays that traffic and the Studland car ferry could produce. I’m glad to say we were successful, seeing the birds by the light of street lamps.


On 7th February Margaret and I had a day out in west Dorset. Our first destination was Tincleton near Dorchester where we located the single Bewick’s Swan in a flock of Mute’s. Bewick’s Swan was once a regular visitor to Dorset and adjacent areas with counts of up to 120 at Tinkleton and similar numbers at Ibsley in Hampshire. Milder winters have allowed more Bewick’s to winter on the continent and feeding at the WWT reserve at Welney has induced most of the birds that reach the UK to stay in East Anglia. The bird we saw at Tinkleton was hidden by trees so I have added a photo of a Bewick’s Swan I took at Ibsley in the Avon valley last year.

IMG_2509 cress beds

Earlier we called in at the cress beds at Bere Regis, a good spot for Green Sandpipers, Grey Wagtails and if you are lucky Kingfishers and Water Pipits, although we had no luck with the latter two.

IMG_2529 Martinstown

We then travelled westwards to Abbotsbury, on the way we passed through the picturesque village of Martinstown ….

IMG_2534 Martinstown

… which comprises a series of charming cottages with a stream for a front garden.

IMG_2528 Harrdy's Monument

From here the road climbs up to Hardy’s Monument with panoramic views in all directions.

IMG_2512 west Dorset

The road that leads from Hardy’s Monument to Abbotsbury is narrow and progress is slow, however the view more than compensates. This is perhaps my favourite drive in all of Dorset, but in the morning the view to the south is always into the sun. The Fleet and Portland can just be seen in the distance. Someday I’ll drive this way on a clear summer’s evening and take some better shots.

IMG_2515 Langton Herring

Abbotsbury Swannery is closed for the winter but distant views are available from the Rodden road. We saw the Greenland Whitefronted Goose briefly before it swam out of view and later we drove on to Langton Herring and walked down to the Fleet at Rodden Hive. The view to the north from Langton Herring is shown above.

IMG_2526 Rodden Hive

The Fleet, the 12 mile long brackish lagoon, separated from the sea by a shingle bank is one of the most outstanding features of Dorset, if not the entire UK. Rodden Hive is the most northerly point that is accessible on foot, with the exception of the Swannery itself. Large numbers of wildfowl can be seen on the Fleet in winter ……

IMG_2522 Barnacle Geese

…. but we had come to see this flock of 16 Barnacle Geese. Barnacle Geese from Svarlbard and Greenland winter in Scotland but there is also a substantial number that winter in Holland It is debatable whether the occasional flock that turns up in Dorset in winter comes from the Dutch wintering population or from the feral population.

IMG_2525 Barnacle Geese

The fact that these birds were wary and flew off soon after we arrived, were unringed and don’t associate with Canada Geese indicate to my mind that a wild origin is probable. In fact using those criteria they are more likely to be wild than the Greenland Whitefront which has been associating with Canada Geese!

IMG_2538 west dorset

Rare bird news seldom breaks when it is convenient. I had just got home when I learned that three Cirl Buntings had been located a few miles from Abbotsbury. This species was once widespread in south of the UK but the range drastically contracted from the 1960’s onwards with agricultural intensification. The last breeding in Dorset was in 1971 and since I’ve been birding they have been lost from Somerset and almost lost from their stronghold in south Devon. Vigorous conservation measures, including a reintroduction program in Cornwall have turned their fortunes around and maybe, just maybe, they are beginning to recolonise west Dorset. The birds had been present for some time but local observers wished to keep this quiet until the site could be made secure from disturbance. This is the same view as above in much cloudier conditions, taken when I returned to see the Cirls on Monday morning.

Male Cirl Bunting - Exeminster

The three Cirl Bunting showed well, if a little briefly. Far too far away for photos, I have included a shot of a male taken in Devon in June 2011, which was I think the first bird photo that I ever uploaded to this blog.

2nd – 7th January 2014 – a bird race that wasn’t and other weather affected events.   Leave a comment

In early January several of us usually do a bird race. The idea is to form several teams of up to four birders and then on an agreed date try to see or hear as many species as you can within Dorset. You can start as early as you like but you have to be at the finishing point by 1830. Bird racing is like Marmite, you either love it or hate it. It’s detractors say its not real birding, rushing from A to B seeing each species for a mere second or so; but we only do it one date in the year and its a lighthearted competition between friends that ends with a social gathering to welcome in the New Year. Bird racing involves several skills, not only the ability to pick out birds quickly by eye and ear, but detailed planning to optimise  the route and accurate time keeping to overcome the inevitable temptation of  ‘lets give it another minute or two’ when the target fails to materialise.

The trouble this year is that the weather forecast for the allotted date, the 4th of January, was diabolical and most teams cancelled. Team leader Nick Urch and I opted to try on the 2nd, the only dry day of the week. One of our group had already defected to another team and another was at work so we hastily replaced them with Paul Harvey, my friend from Shetland here visiting his parents and Marcus Lawson who holds the UK winter bird race record of 137 from Kent in 2009. In spite of including these ornithological heavyweights, we didn’t do that well as we had planned to spend the whole of the 2nd and 3rd of January in doing a recce of the route. Starting at 0430 in Poole Harbour we picked up a number of waders in the spotlight beam that would be difficult later due to the tide times, we then went on to get Barn and Tawny Owl but dipped on Little Owl and Woodcock. We arrived at Lodmoor at dawn and were surprised to see the Glossy Ibis that has been hanging around a playing field near Radipole in flight, it must roost on Lodmoor. Visits to Radipole, Portland Harbour and Portland Bill followed but we were already running late so we quickly headed to the Monkey’s Jump area, then Thornecombe Woods and Tincleton Cress Beds before heading to Poole Harbour about midday where we spent the rest of the day.

Although we kept the pressure up and worked hard we only saw/heard 114 species, well short of the Dorset record of 129. We had a lot of bad luck failing to locate common species like Pheasant, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Long-tailed Tit, Fieldfare and Jay but we were hampered by high water levels that caused some species to relocate and the mild conditions that meant some winter birds just hadn’t arrived.


The only photo taken on the Bird Race. The birders were enjoying the range of divers, ducks and auks in Portland Harbour, whilst the kite surfers were enjoying the continuing gale.

As none of the other teams that usually partake have taken part so far, it can hardly be called a race, a better description would be a ‘big day’ but it was enjoyable all the same. As Shetland in winter has very few species, Paul commented that it was the most birds he had ever seen in the UK in a day, but maths teacher Nick  said that if it was a school report he would have commented ‘tried hard but was let down by a lack of preparation’.

The rest of the week has been hampered by continual heavy rain and high winds which resulted in extensive flooding. North America may be suffering from record low temperatures but here it is a very balmy 12c but very wet as depression after depressing sweeps across the Atlantic. After several attempts I did get to see a Smew that has taken up residence in a flooded field at Lytchett Bay, a bizarre occurrence as it is a diving duck that usually requires deep water, a Yellow-browed Warbler at Studland and a few waterfowl and woodland birds at Blashford Lakes in Hampshire, but access to other areas and other birds has been prevented by closed roads. Even the Baker’s Arms pub which we visited with Paul at Saturday is partially closed due to flooding.


Leaden skies, wind and rain dominated all week. These fields at Lytchett Bay are usually grazed by cattle, Water Buffalo would be more suitable now.


You normally come across Smew on a deep gravel pit or a reservoir, but this one is catching fish on a grassy field!


A female or immature Smew, the so-called ‘redhead’. Photo from


‘Red sky in the morning, ringers warning’. Surprisingly there was a short weather window on the morning of the 5th and Paul Morton and I tried to ring a few birds in his garden. Due to the mild conditions and the abundance of natural food ,few birds are coming into gardens and our catch of three Goldfinches and a Blackbird confirmed this.

I know I bring this up year after year but the 6th would have been my first wife Janet’s 67th birthday. It’s nearly ten years since she passed away and so much has happened in that time.

Janet Lewis - Hawaii 2003

Lest we forget.

On the 7th I finally had my ingrowing toe nails removed, so that’s me out of circulation until it heals. Lets hope there isn’t anything really rare that needs boots or wellies to get to in the next week or so!

P1070311-sore toe

‘Sticks out like a sore toe’

Posted January 7, 2014 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

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