Archive for the ‘bird ringing’ Tag

Late autumn to early ‘spring’: Birding and ringing from October 2017 to March 2018.   Leave a comment

This post shows a number of photos, mainly of birds, taken between October 2017 and March 2018. The majority were taken in Dorset.

 

The shorter days increased the chance that I was still out birding at dusk allowing me to photograph some great sunsets.

 

The ‘far fields’ at Lytchett Bay (now renamed Sherford Pools and French’s Pools) proved to be quite productive in the autumn with many species of wildfowl and waders present.

 

One bird that the ‘regulars’ had all caught up with at Lytchett Bay but I hadn’t was Great White Egret, as they seldom seem to stay for long. A phone call from Shaun in early December had me shooting down there immediately. Unfortunately I didn’t take my main camera but as I came round a corner of a hedge and it was there straight in front of me. This was taken with my pocket camera on maximum zoom (about 10x).

 

Not a bird but probably one of the most stunning moths to be seen in the UK, the rare and quite enormous Death’s Head Hawk Moth photographed at Portland Bill.

 

I showed a picture of Great White Egret earlier and one of the best places to see this scarce but slowly increasing species is Longham Lakes, about a 20 minute drive north of here. But it wasn’t a Great White Egret or this Green Woodpecker that had me twitching the site in early October …

 

….but a group of four Common Scoter. To be fair I see this species fairly regularly both as a migrant when seawatching from Portland Bill and as a wintering bird in the Poole Harbour area, but Margaret had never seen one well and this was a chance for her to see this group of two males and two females without losing them in between the waves.

 

There are many other waterbirds at this excellent site including several Great Crested Grebes, this one is still in partial summer plumage …

 

… but this individual is in the process of losing it’s ‘sum plum’. Eventually all vestiges of the ear tufts will be lost,the whole cheek will be white and the will just be a hint of a crest.

 

On a visit to Longham  couple of weeks later I saw some birders I knew on the far shore, as I moved towards them I noticed a ‘scaup’ with the Tufted Ducks. Initially thinking it to be the far commoner Greater Scaup, I moved closer and realised it was a Lesser Scaup from North America. Delighted to think I had found this rarity I hurried towards the other birders just as they were phoning the news out to the information services. I wasn’t quite the first to see it!    Unknown in the UK before the mid-eighties, Lesser Scaup (on the left) is now found annually. Again I didn’t have my camera with me so I’ve included this photo I took in South Wales in 2012.

 

During the winter months we visited the feeders at Holton Lee from time to time, both to look at the birds and for ringing. Most of the birds at the feeders were tits and finches but occasionally the larger Jackdaws dominate. Although I have seen this happen often at Holton Lee I actually took this photo at Carsington Water in Derbyshire after Christmas.

 

I pop in to Carsington Water almost every time I visit my brother. It is an excellent reserve situated on the edge of the Peak District, but for me the main attractions are two species that are shown rather poorly in this photo. Tree Sparrow and Willow Tit. Both have been extirpated from Dorset. Willow Tits were regular in Wareham Forest when I first came here, but Tree Sparrows have always been always localised (at least in recent decades) and now seem to have gone. Whilst the ID of Tree Sparrow is straight forwards, Willow Tits are very similar to Marsh Tits but are easily identified by voice. Even in this poor photo the matt cap (as opposed to glossy in Marsh), thicker neck and pale panel in the wing can be seen.

 

One of THE bird events of the winter has been the invasion of Hawfinches, presumably from eastern Europe. A scarce breeder with probably less than thousand breeding pairs, this winter has seen ten to twenty times that number in the UK. Of particular note was a flock of up to 120 birds near Blandford. I visited the area twice, once in late 17 and again in early 2018. It was difficult to get good views as in spite of the numbers the birds were flighty and flew as soon as they saw you. A single Hawfinch has been seen on several occasions at Lytchett Bay but in spite of multiple visits to the area I haven’t got it on my local patch list.

 

Last autumn whilst I was in Australia a North American Stilt Sandpiper turned up near Weymouth. It later moved to Poole Harbour and then to Lytchett Bay, the latter move was particularly frustrating! Luckily when I returned I caught up with it first at Middlebere in Poole Harbour and then later when it returned to Lytchett Bay. Towards the end of the year it was on Brownsea Lagoon but rising water levels meant it left for Christchurch just after Christmas, first in the Avon Valley and later at Stanpit (above).

 

I was keen to see it in 2018 and in spite of its being around Poole in 2017 and our several visits to the USA Margaret had never seen one, so we made a concerted effort to connect with it in the Christchurch area. It took four attempts but eventually we saw it at Stanpit on 9th February. Here it seen with two Redshanks.

 

Stilt Sandpiper is one of the rarer North American vagrants to the UK. This is the fourth I have seen in the UK over the years, There have been about 36 records in all but this is only the fourth juvenile. Larger than a Dunlin (similar in size or a little bigger than a Curlew Sandpiper), it can be identified by the comparatively yellowish long legs (hence the name), slightly decurved bill and prominent supercilium.

 

There is a substantial gull roost at Ibsley Water at Blashford, just over the border in Hampshire, more than 5,000 birds may be involved. The commonest are Lesser Black-backs and Black-headed with smaller numbers of Herring and Common. There are often very small numbers of Great Black-backed, Caspian, Yellow-legged and Mediterranean and recently there has been single Ring-billed and Thayer’s Gulls making ten species viewable on a single visit! Birds come in very late in the day and at a considerable distance and identifying, let alone photographing, them is a considerable challenge. My friend Chris’ father, Tony Minvalla did well to get this shot of the juvenile Thayer’s Gull (just left of the wooden post).

 

Thayer’s Gulls breed in Arctic Canada and winter on the Pacific coast south to California. Formerly considered a race of Herring Gull, then a full species they have. as of late 2017. been lumped with Iceland Gull. Although this robs me of a ‘lifer’ it is a decision I agree with as there seems to be continuum from the pale primaried Iceland Gulls in the east through variable ‘Kumlien’s Gull’ to the darker primaried Thayer’s in the west. There has always been controversy surround this taxon and there are those who consider some aspects of the research that led to it being given species status to be fraudulent. The finely patterned feathers, ‘clouded’ plumage and dark eye mask gives the juvenile a distinctive look (note the Iceland group & Glaucous Gulls do not moult in their first year so technically it is a juvenile not a first winter). This excellent photo of a juvenile was taken by Clay Kempf off California see: http://gull-research.org/thayers/thayers2cy/2cyjan54.html

 

It was another gull that drew me to Lodmoor in Weymouth last week. Initially it wasn’t on show but there was plenty to watch as we waited, a Dutch colour-ringed Spoonbill, Lapwing and Teal plus several other waders and waterfowl …

 

… and good numbers of Mediterranean Gulls both on the mud …

 

… and on the water.

 

Birds would suddenly rise ….

 

…. whenever the local Marsh Harriers appeared.

 

The return of Marsh Harriers as a breeding species to Weymouth and elsewhere in Dorset is one of the great conservation success of recent years.

 

The wait proved worthwhile as suddenly it was there – a beautiful adult Ross’ Gull (in flight top centre). As soon as it landed it was off again …

 

… but it soon returned joining Common, Black-headed and Med Gulls for this family portrait.

 

Over the next couple of days the Ross’ movements became more erratic but it seemed to be coming into Radipole RSPB in the later afternoon rather than Lodmoor. Margaret wanted to see it, so we returned three days later. Whilst we were waiting Luke, one of the RSPB wardens, picked out this 2nd winter Caspian Gull (left) – another Dorset tick for me. Slightly larger, longer legged, with a more attenuated body and a longer bill than Herring Gull and with a more advanced state of moult, the identification of this species from eastern Europe and central Asia remains one of the biggest challenges in bird ID. I have to say that if I was on my own I’d have probably overlooked it.

 

In due course the Ross’ appeared. Initially quite distant, it flew and landed on the island just in front of the Visitor Centre. In better light the pale pink flush to the breast can just be seen. There is a previous record of this species in what is now Dorset, in Christchurch in 1974, however at that time Christchurch was in Hampshire, so strictly speaking it’s a first for Dorset.

 

This is what the bird looks like taken by a proper photographer using a proper camera. Many thanks to my friend Chris Minvalla for permission to use his photo. Much to the relief of the gathered crowd of birders the Ross’ put on a great show. it had been seen briefly by one observer at nearby Ferrybridge the morning two days previously but had flown off, we assumed never to be seen again. It was later seen at Lodmoor that afternoon but again only seen by a few before it flew out to sea. Fortunately it repeated that pattern the following day and many birders (including me) connected with it. The species is named after Arctic and Antarctic explorer captain Sir James Clark Ross whose many exploits (including his voyage to investigate the mysterious disappearance of Sir John Franklin of Franklin’s Gull fame,) are too numerous to mention see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Clark_Ross. Ross’s Gull breeds regularly only in coastal north-east arctic Siberia where I saw several hundred in 1996. Breeding birds have a black collar and a beautiful pink flush to the breast but these features were only just visible on this winter plumaged adult. I have seen three Ross’ previously in the UK, all in the 80s but of course this was a new to my Dorset List.

 

And now to a series of photos on our ringing activities during the period. I continued to ring at Durlston until mid November. Late in the season we caught a few Lesser Redpolls.

 

The balmy days of summer and early autumn were behind us and Ginny and Fenja look a bit chilly whilst waiting to ring some birds.

 

The bird Ginny most wanted to ring was a Sparrowhawk so she was delighted to catch up with one on a brief pre-work visit in late October.

 

Firecrests have gone from being a scarcity to, well if not common, to being at least regular with 27 ringed at Durlston in autumn 2017.

 

At our ringing site at Lytchett Bay we caught three on one net round. This and the next six photos were all taken at the same remarkable ringing session on 3rd November.

 

2017 was a good breeding season for Bearded Tits. Not tits at all, some rename them Bearded Reedlings but they don’t have beards, they have moustaches! Such are the vagaries of English nomenclature. What is important is that they have been shown to be so unique that they are placed in their own family the Panuridae, the only breeding species in the UK to fall into that category. We trapped a number of ‘Beardies’ ringed elsewhere and had several of ours retrapped by others, mainly at ringing stations along the south coast.

 

In the 80s Rock Pipit (sl) was split into three species, Rock Pipit (ss) of the coastal regions of NW Europe, Water Pipit of the mountain alpine zones from the Pyrenees to south China and Buff-bellied Pipit in Siberia and North America. That meant in winter we have to distinguish between our mainly resident Rock Pipits and the Water Pipits that arrive from their breeding sites in the Alps and Pyrenees. This isn’t too hard as Water Pipits prefer fresh water habitats and Rock Pipits rocky shores. Things became more complicated when it was realised that both species also wintered on saltmarshes. We long had our suspicions that the saltmarsh Rock Pipits weren’t our local breeding birds but migrants of the race littoralis from coastal Norway. The capture of a Rock Pipit at Lytchett Bay a few winters ago ringed weeks earlier in Belgium fitted in with this scenario but this capture of a Norwegian colour-ringed Rock Pipit in early November proved that this was the case.

 

The bird had been ringed on the coast of central Norway in September 2017. Race littoralis is very like the local nominate race but may have whiter outer tail feathers. In breeding plumage, littoralis can show a pink flush to the breast and a grey head just like breeding plumage Water Pipits.

 

On the same net round we caught a Water Pipit allowing for direct comparison. See the paler fringed median coverts, longer and paler supercillium and that the white extends all the way up the outer tail feathers.

 

Then later we trapped a third bird which was somewhat intermediate between the two. The supercilium and median covert fringes weren’t quite so marked and the white didn’t extend so far up the inner web of the outer tail feather. We decided it was a Water Pipit, this was probably a 1st year bird and the earlier one was an adult.

 

And then if this was not excitement enough for one ringing trip we trapped a Norwegian ringed Reed Bunting as well! This bird was ringed in September 2016 a bit further south than the Rock Pipit. Wait ages for a Norwegian control and then two come along on the same day (a bit like buses).

 

We used to do quite a lot of wader ringing but most of our attempts recently have been thwarted by bad weather, so when we did manage to arrange a session there was a huge turn out of ringers but unfortunately not of birds. In fact all we caught was two Jack Snipe. However this was far from disappointing as Jack Snipes, due to their skulking nature, are rarely seen let alone trapped and was well worthwhile from a scientific point of view as one of the birds had been ringed at the same site in 2013. Being an arctic breeder only visiting the UK to winter this is an excellent example of winter site fidelity.

 

As autumn turned to winter our focus moved from Durlston and Lytchett Bay to a site near Canford Heath in Poole. This has proved to be very productive for ringing Redwing (at least in November and early December) and several species of finch. Redwings can be aged on the shape of the white fringe to the tertials. The white fringe to the outer web terminating in a distinct ‘step’ indicates a 1st year bird, however 1st years can moult all their tertials and show an adult like pattern so it is important to check the shape of the tail tips as well.

 

Even so, the shape of the tail can be misleading when it comes to ageing birds and caution is advised. Trainee ringers are taught that pointed and abraded tail feathers are indicative of first years (abraded, because in most species adults moult in the summer after the young have fledged so their tail feathers are newer and less abraded than young birds that grew the feathers in the nest). However if a young bird was to lose all its tail feathers (through moult or accident) then the feathers would be regrown in the adult shape. This can be seen in this Reed Bunting tail where the outer two feathers on the right have been lost and are regrowing and are clearly newer and more rounded then the retained first year feathers.

 

The site at Canford has proved excellent for finches with many Greenfinches, Chaffinches and Bullfinches ringed and quite a few Siskin and Redpoll. The unabraded and relatively rounded tail feathers plus the lack of contrast in the median coverts (between moulted and unmoulted feathers) clearly show that this male Siskin is an adult (ie hatched before 2017). Photo by Terry Elborn

 

One real oddity trapped at Canford was this bird, an apparent Chaffinch x Brambling hybrid, a so-called ‘Chaffling’. The orange inner greater coverts, slight orange flush to the breast  are indicative …

 

… but the clinching feature was the partial white rump. Unfortunately these are the only two photos that were usable and we were not able to collect any accidently shed feathers for DNA analysis. The nearest breeding area of Brambling is southern Norway so it must at least have come from Scandinavia, possibly northern Russia. Both these photos by Terry Elborn.

 

And if you were wondering what a real Brambling looks like, we trapped a cracking adult male in February. Brambling numbers are very variable here in the south but a few can be found in most autumn and winters. One of the best times to find them is early spring when birds that have wintered to the south of us return towards their taiga breeding territories. Photo by Terry Elborn.

 

A fairly common woodland species but one that we ring infrequently is (Eurasian) Treecreeper. Here is one ringed at Holton Lee. The reason I put the full English name in parenthesis is because there is another species in the same genus, Short-toed Treecreeper.

 

Although common on the continent in deciduous woodland, Short-toed is incredibly rare in the UK. As ringers we have a duty to check that all our trapped treecreepers are not Short-toed. Apart from in the in-the-field characteristic of brownish flanks there are a number of features in the hand that can tell the two specie apart. The obvious downward step in the pale band on the primaries is an easy and quick way to confirm that you just have a Eurasian Treecreeper. There are many other, subtle features as well. Of course if you thought you actually had a Short-toed then you would need measurements of hind-claw and bill, a detailed feather by feather description and photos of the wing to get the record accepted.

 

Those readers of this blog living in the UK can’t have escaped noticing that we have had a ‘bit of snow’ recently. Poole must be one of the most snow free locations in the entire UK, due no doubt to the many inlets and bays of Poole Harbour such as Holes Bay (above). Even when snow settles all around us Poole usually remains unaffected, or if it does settle it is gone by lunchtime. In 40 years of living here I have only seen enough snow to cause real disruption on a couple of occasions (I missed the severe weather of February 1978 by a few weeks). The infamous ‘beast from the east’ brough dreadful weather to much of eastern UK earlier in the week but it stayed sunny, if cold here but with storm ‘Emma’ approaching from the south it looked like we might get some of the white stuff after all. On Thursday morning, 1st March a few cm had fallen and I thought this was going to be another overreaction by the Met Office (at least as far as Poole was concerned) …

 

… and I found this sign beside a perfectly clear road to be rather amusing. However in the afternoon the snow really set in. Even so I don’t think that much fell, not by the standards of other countries that lie at 50 degrees north, but there again we just aren’t geared up to cope with it. I remember waking up to metre deep snow drifts in Hokkaido, Japan and thinking we would be trapped indoors for the day. The owner of the hostel said ‘of course not – the children have to be a t school by 9 o’clock and sure enough the road was cleared by then. Former work colleagues reported homeward journeys of five hours to drive as many miles that evening and to the east and west of us people were forced to spend the night in their car as the road to Dorchester and through the New Forest became totally blocked.

 

On that morning I checked Holes Bay in the hope of seeing a Smew, a duck that sometimes occurs in our area after bad weather. I scanned the many wildfowl and was amazed to pick up a drake Garganey in flight.

 

Garganey are the only duck that are exclusively spring/summer visitors to Europe and used to be called Summer Teal. Given the current weather conditions this was the last thing I expected. This bird must have left Africa  heading north to breed and run into arctic conditions on arrival. These last two photos were taken near Christchurch under more normal condition for watching Garganey in spring 2012.

 

This photo of the actual bird was taken by Ian Ballam who located it just a few minutes before and a few hundred metres away from where I was standing.

 

Overnight the snow turned to freezing rain. The car, the roads and pavements were covered in snow capped with a sheet of ice. Driving, especially on side roads was out of the question …

 

… so I walked down to Holes Bay. See how the snow on this hedge is topped with a hard layer of ice.

 

It was tricky walking, but with virtually no traffic it was easiest to walk on the road. Upton Park was a winter wonderland …

 

… even if it was the first day of spring.

 

Robins proved quite tame in the harsh conditions and posed for ‘Christmas Card’ photos.

 

Even the seawater around the edge of Holes Bay had frozen. Good numbers of Wigeon and Avocet were sheltering from the wind.

 

Over 120 Avocets were resting on the ice. Avocets usually roost at high tide on Brownsea Island lagoon but as the water there is only brackish it is the first to freeze. Poole water treatment works brings warmer water to Holes Bay so at least part of the Bay remains open in adverse conditions.

 

Other Avocets swam in shallow water or fed at the water’s edge.

 

Black-tailed Godwits waited for the tide to fall so they could start feeding again.

 

Although Godwits are long-legged they can’t feed whilst swimming like Avocets do. These birds are all from Iceland, a few ‘Blackwits’ of the European race breed in the East Anglia but none are seen in the UK during the winter.

 

There were perhaps 500 wigeon in Holes Bay but I didn’t do an accurate count.

 

Gadwall is much rarer than Wigeon on these salt water habitats but as a species is doing well and in some places is commoner than Mallards.

 

Unlike Blashford lakes or Weymouth, Holes Bay doesn’t host a gull extravaganza but these Lesser Black-backs sat dejectedly on the railway embankment. By the 4th the snow and ice was melting and temperatures were up to 10c by the 4th. For us at least the cold snap was over.

 

Of course I understand that much of the UK endured (and in some case are still enduring) far, far worse conditions than we did during these few days but the 48 hours of 1st and 2nd of March were unusual times for all of us. I’ll leave with another ‘Christmas Card’ photo of a Robin.

 

 

 

Birthday birds: species I have seen on my birthday over the past 40 years.   Leave a comment

I have recently returned from a trip to the Lesser Antilles Islands in the Caribbean. As always it will be a while until I have sorted, edited and labelled my many photos but in the interim here is a ‘post with a difference’.

Whilst away I had my birthday and it was a very good day, or at least morning, for birds. This got me thinking, what other notable birds have I seen on my birthday?

I have searched the database and found that I made bird notes on 17 out of the 41 birthdays that have passed since I started birding. Of course many birthdays were spent at work, sometimes on call. It also looks like that on many of the times when I was at home I didn’t bother to go birding on the ‘big day’ as there is often entries for June 8th and/or June 10th but not the one in between.

As I didn’t start digital photography until 2003, many of the photos below were not taken on the date implied or were taken from Internet sources.

Although my first ever binoculars and field guide were supposed to be a birthday present in 1977, I actually got them in May as we had an early June holiday booked, so I was back in Leeds and at work on the 9th. The first birthday when I recorded what I had seen was 1980.

 

By 1980 I had started training to ring birds.  On June 9th I was ringing with my trainer Trevor in the reedbeds at Lodmoor near Weymouth. I will always remember him taking a bird like this one out of a bag and in his inimitable style saying ‘birthday or no f***ing birthday, you’re not ringing this!’ The next time I was to see (as opposed to hear) a Savi’s Warbler in Dorset was on 14/5/11 when another occurred at Lodmoor, in precisely the same spot as the one we trapped in 1980. Photo from the Israeli Ringing Blog.

 

In 1982 my late wife Janet and I had a holiday in Scotland. On June 9th we were on Skye enjoying better weather than when this photo (of the Quiraing) was taken in June 2012.

 

Of the various birds we saw that day, I suppose the highlight was a Golden Eagle, just like this immature that I photographed on Skye in June 2012.

 

On 9/6/84 Janet and I arrived in Torremolinos in southern Spain at the start of a two-week tour of Andalusia and Extremadura. It was well into the evening by the time we had collected the hire car and found a hotel and we had no time for birding. As we sat outside the hotel we saw many swifts flying low overhead. It wasn’t until later in the trip that we realised that the vast majority of them would have been Pallid Swifts, not the familiar Common Swifts. Most British records of Pallid Swift are in the late autumn, I think that any that occur when Common Swifts are abundant would probably get overlooked. This one (pursued by a Goldfinch)was photographed in Christchurch, Dorset on 25/10/13.

 

It takes a view like this to be really sure you have seen a Pallid Swift and we were to get many such views as our Spanish trip progressed. This Pallid Swift was photographed in Sicily by gobirding.eu. Key ID features compared to Common Swift include the scaly underparts, paler head and throat, a paler area in the outer secondaries and inner primaries compared to the rest of the wing and darker underwing coverts compared to the body.

 

Breeding Lapwing have declined greatly in the UK over the last 30 years due to agricultural intensification and draining of wetlands. In 1985 Lapwings were still breeding near to my house and on 9th June I was able to ring one or more chicks. Photo by Garry Prescott https://blashfordlakes.wordpress.com/

 

During the 80s our ringing group was conducting an intensive study into the biology of the European Nightjar, something that continues, albeit at a lower level, to this day. On 9th June 1987 I was ringing Nightjars in Wareham Forest. The lack of white marks on the wing and tail tips identifies this bird as a female.

 

In 1988 Janet and I plus two friends drove all the way from Helsinki in Finland to northernmost Norway. After a week of driving we reached Vardø on 9th June, a town on an island at the head of Varangerfjord in far north-eastern Norway Nearby I saw my first ever Brunnich’s Guillemots, although I didn’t get views as good as this. Photo taken in the Kurils, far-eastern Russia in 2016.

 

We also saw a number of King Eiders. Unlike the last, this photo was taken in Varangerfjord, but not until we returned there in March 2015.

 

In June 1989 Janet and I spent a few days in Jersey, taking the ferry over from Poole. Although a United Kingdom Crown Dependency, birds on the Channel Islands are not added to the British List as they are not part of the British Isles (being so close to the French coast). Only one species breeds there that doesn’t breed in the UK and that’s Short-toed Treecreeper. I can’t find any notes on my trip so I’m not really sure if I saw this species on my birthday or not, but we were certainly in Jersey at that date. Photo taken by Aleix Comeis in Catalonia, Spain.

 

Tree_swallow_at_Stroud_Preserve

My birthday in 1990 was quite notable. Janet & I had returned from an excellent trip to Canada at the end of May only to find the UK was flooded with megas from all points of the compass. Having been away for several weeks it wasn’t easy getting time off work, so I was unable to twitch them and I became stressed out about all these ‘once in a lifetime’ UK ticks slipping through my fingers. On the 8th June I had a social gathering with friends to celebrate my birthday. Mid-evening I heard there was a Tree Swallow on St Mary’s, Scilly. I had to cut my social event short so I could get to Penzance and catch the Scillonian the following morning. I think this was a watershed moment. After those stressful few weeks I concluded that I didn’t HAVE to twitch every rarity if it wasn’t convenient, and although I continue to this day to chase some UK rarities, very few cause a reaction like the 1990 Tree Swallow did. Photo from Wikipedia Commons.

 

No more notable birthday birds until 1996 and then it was just a Raven at Studland. But the following day I set of the most adventurous trip I have ever done – three weeks in the Arctic tundra and forests of north-east Siberia. The trip was the most travel disrupted I have ever been on. It would be fair to say that when it ran to schedule it was the best travel experience ever and when it wasn’t, it was the worst.

 

After having the tour cancelled in 2003 due to the SARS outbreak I finally got to Tibet on a private trip with five friends in June 2005. On the 8th we climbed up the Er La massif (but not to the summit, we did that later in the trip) seeing many excellent high-altitude birds. We probably reached 4700m that day.

 

Accommodation in the area was basic and our hotel (similar, if not worse than this one) had filthy black carpets, an outside loo across a muddy yard inhabited by ferocious dogs and most importantly was 4500m up. I got out of breath just getting dressed. On the morning of my birthday I awoke after a dreadful night’s sleep, absolutely exhausted with a resounding high-altitude headache. It looked like it was going to be the worst birthday ever ….

 

…. that is until a few miles down the rough road we saw a Grey Wolf harrying some Yaks.

 

Mind you I think the Yaks saw the Wolf off pretty quickly. The headache quickly vanished and I received the best birthday present of my life!

 

No more birthday birds until 2008 when Margaret and I were in Cape Town. We didn’t do a lot of birding that day, just a quick visit to Strandfontein water treatment works were we saw birds like Cape Shoveler ….

 

…. and Cape Teal.

 

Later in the day we crossed the Cape Flats, by-passing the notorious squatter camp of Khayelitsha and climbed up to Sir Lowry’s Pass. It was very windy on the pass and we had no luck at all with birds in this area. Later we drove to the town of George where we stayed with Margaret’s cousin and his wife. The day before we had birded the Cape Peninsula seeing Penguins and a host of other good birds and the following day I birded De Hoop NP seeing Blue Cranes and Denham’s Bustards, so I’m afraid the birthday birding, although better than being at home, wasn’t the best of the trip.

 

Fast forwards to June 9th 2012 and I was on Skye again, part of my attempt to see over 300 species in the UK in a calendar year. I covered year this extensively on my blog so please peruse the archives if you are interested. Today Margaret and I left Skye and headed for Harris/Lewis in the Outer Hebrides, more for sightseeing than anything else. Fortunately as it was a Saturday we made sure we had a full tank of fuel and some snacks with us, as nothing at all was open on  Sunday in mega-religious Harris/Lewis.

 

On route we saw a lovely summer plumaged Red-throated Diver ….

 

…. whilst good numbers of Gannets and Manx Shearwaters cruised by. Unfortunately I didn’t get to see European Storm-petrel on either crossing and failed to get this species on my year list.

 

It was quite late in the day when we landed with little time for birding, however we could admire the Hebridean race of Song Thrush, which lacks the buffy wash on the breast and flanks.

 

This brings us to the Uganda trip in 2013, a superb mixture of bird and mammal watching which also was covered on my blog. On the 9th we birded the ‘Royal Mile’ a forested area in the west of the country. Our main target was Nahan’s Partridge, a strange species that seems (along with Stone Partridge) to be basal to the New World Quails! The thought is that New World Quails originated in Africa and spread via Europe, Greenland and North America to their current distribution in Central and South America. If you understand the movement of the continents with time this makes sense. The remainder of the ‘new world quails’ were then wiped out in the Old World by competition with Old World partridges and francolins. Of course I didn’t photograph such a retiring species but I know someone who did! Photo by Pete Morris/Birdquest.

 

OK they’re not birds (but neither was the Tibetan Wolf). Birding and bird photography was rather tricky today but the butterflies were superb.

 

As I have little to show from 9/6/13 I’ll chuck in a photo from earlier on in the trip, – Northern Red Bishop.

 

For much of my retirement years I have purposefully spent early June abroad. It’s not a great time for birding or ringing in the UK and lots of good foreign trips go at this time. In 2014 we were just winding up a great three-week trip to Eastern USA. We had travelled from North Carolina to Canada, birding on land and at sea, sightseeing in Washington and New York and visiting various friends. We ended the tour in coastal Maine.

 

The main targets in Maine (excuse the pun) were Saltmarsh (above) and Nelson’s Sparrows, two closely related species that exist in sympatry here.

 

One of the last species we saw before we drove to the airport was the Willet (really should be called Eastern Willet as the eastern and western races are different enough to deserve specific status). We were talking to an American couple who seemed quite knowledgeable until a Willet flew past, when one exclaimed ‘Mountain Plover’. This just goes to show that you cannot take everything a birder tells you at face value. My birthday celebration that night was sipping a warm beer on a transatlantic flight out of Boston.

 

Back to normality in 2015. We did go to America again that year but in March/April. On 9th June I was in Wareham Forest in Dorset where I saw a Red Kite.

 

I had some serious delays coming home from the Russian Ring of Fire cruise in 2016 so I spent my birthday more or less on my own on the island of Sakhalin. Birding the Gagarin Park near the hotel gave me views of ….

 

…. the beautiful Narcissus Flycatcher ….

 

…. and many Pacific Swifts (an example of which turned up in Scotland yesterday!) Unfortunately time constraints meant that the 2014 Eastern USA and the 2016 Russian Ring of Fire photos never got fully edited and uploaded to the blog. One day perhaps.

 

So we conclude with photos taken three weeks ago on the French island of Guadeloupe. We only had a morning to appreciate the island’s bird life but it was one of the best mornings of the trip. In one small area we saw and photographed the Caribbean endemic Mangrove Cuckoo ….

 

…. Bridled Quail Dove, known only from Guadeloupe and Dominica ….

 

…. Plumbeous Warbler which is also known only from Guadeloupe and Dominica ….

 

…. Forest Thrush which is a bit more widespread and is found on Dominica, Guadeloupe, Montserrat, and Saint Lucia ….

 

…. Purple-throated Carib, which occurs from Antigua south to St Vincent ….

 

…. and best of all, the single island endemic Guadeloupe Woodpecker, which is unusual in being almost entirely glossy black with just a hint of purple on the breast. The afternoon was taken up with returning to the airport and flying on to Martinique – but that’s another story which will be told in due course.

 

So by choosing just one day of the year, albeit one of special importance to me, I can show that on over a third of occasions over the past 40 years I have been involved in something out of the ordinary and have seen (more often than not) some special birds. Perhaps that’s not so surprising when you consider how relatively easy quality birds have become to see and how birding has developed into such an absorbing and rewarding hobby.

January – March 2017: a few, mainly birding, activities.   2 comments

This post covers a number of (mainly) bird related activities during January, February and March.

Apart from our week in France we’ve been having a relatively quiet time during the first three months of the year.  I made a New Year’s Resolution to do some birding every single day and so far I have stuck to that, but I haven’t travelled outside of Dorset and West Hampshire (except to travel to Paris) but have done a fair bit of local birding within that area and a lot of bird ringing at our regular sites.

Also I haven’t taken many photos, often deliberately leaving my camera at home. This is because I still have photos to edit and reports to complete on trips I did in 2016, so it seemed pointless adding even more to the ‘to do’ pile.

 

A sunset is usually placed at the end of set of slides not at the start, but early this winter these has been a sizeable roost of Starlings near Shell Bay at the entrance to Poole Harbour and so the sunset has to come first.

 

Many thousands of birds have come into roost, often performing the wonderful aerial acrobatics known as a ‘murmuration’. On this occasion the wind was rather strong and the flocks just flew in to roost.

 

I have birded many places in Dorset, mostly around Poole but sometimes going as far as Weymouth, Abbotsbury or the New Forest. On one particularly sunny day Margaret and I went back to Shell Bay.

 

For those who have never visited this is a particularly beautiful part of the Dorset coast. On the other side of the Bay is Sandbanks, one of the most expensive areas of the UK. The Haven Hotel and the chain ferry that permits vehicular access to the Studland peninsula can be seen.

 

Our target was this Snow Bunting which was feeding on the beach where Shell Bay meets Studland Bay. Although a regular wintering bird in reasonable numbers on the east coast, I have only seen this species seven times in Dorset, all singles except in early ’82 when a flock of 6-7 occurred in the Studland area.

 

As I said earlier I haven’t been taking my camera with me very much this year and these photos were hand-held digiscoped, hence the lack of quality.

 

Two races of Snow Bunting occur in Britain, nominate nivalis (from northern Europe and northern Canada) and the Icelandic insulae. All the evidence points to this being the nominate race.

 

 

The area around Mordon Bog and Sherford Bridge can be very good for birds but if you want to explore the area around Mordon Park Lake you need to cross this very dodgy ‘bridge’.

 

A distant Great Grey Shrike was the best bird I saw in Wareham Forest this year.

 

Leaving the birding scene behind for a moment, on one clear night I visited my friend and former work colleague Tim to look through his astronomical telescope. Unfortunately living in the middle of Poole, ambient lighting rather spoilt the images. No planets were in view but we did look at some star clusters and nebulae ….

 

…. but my favourite object that Tim was able to show me was galaxy M82, one of the Messier objects, 110 diffuse nebulae, planetary nebulae, open clusters, globular clusters and galaxies that were catalogued by Charles Messier as he searched the heavens for comets. Our view of galaxy M82 was nowhere near as good as this one (taken from Wikipedia) but it becomes the furthest object I have ever seen. At 12 million light years (or just over 100,000,000,000,000,000,000 km) the light would have left this galaxy in the Miocene era, even before human’s ape-like ancestors walked the earth.

 

I have done many trips in the UK and a few abroad with my friend Roger (here seen on a pelagic trip in the Azores) ….

 

…. so it was very pleasing to be able to attend his 60th birthday party. This unusual cake (made by his wife Sue) is complete with a model of Roger birding from a park bench.

 

Although I have I have little or no interest in gardening it’s probably Margaret’s favourite occupation. Deciding the front path was getting a bit grubby she bought a power washer and before I was even aware what was going on she had cleaned the lot.

 

Though she looked like she had a bad case of measles when she had finished.

 

Most of my activities during this period have involved bird ringing which I have been keen to continue through the winter period. This winter we have started ringing at a new site on heathland to the north of Poole which has proved very productive, especially for finches. This is the view on a frosty morning from our ringing site.

 

Here are a few photos of birds in the hand: I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Blackbird with such incredibly rich colour to the bill and eye-ring before.

 

Understanding and recognising moult is key to telling the age of a bird and telling the age of a bird is key to understanding population dynamics. But there are always exceptions to the rule. This Robin has just moulted its three innermost primaries but not the rest. This is not a usual moult strategy and might have occurred after the feathers were lost after an attack by a predator.

 

Goldcrests can be aged by the shape of the tail feather, pointed in first years, rounded in adults. This first year Goldcrest has lost the three outer tail feathers on the right-hand side and although obviously it is still in its first year it has regrown the feathers with an adult shape. Thus if the bird was to loose all its tail feathers and regrow them in the shape of an adult, it would be incorrectly aged.

 

Some birds can be easily sexed in the field (for example Chaffinch or Bullfinch), other can only be reliably sexed in the hand such as this Greenfinch. The diagonal shape of the yellow on the outer webs of the inner primaries shows that this is a male. On a female the yellow would run parallel to the shaft leaving a black streak between the yellow and the shaft for the entire length of the feather.

 

Goldfinches can be only aged on the combination of a number of features and then only reliably in adult birds. The red extending behind the eye, more extensive red chin and longer bill indicate that the bird in the foreground is a male. Although on average, the male is slightly larger than the female, this is exaggerated in this photo as it is being held nearer to the camera.

 

We usually catch a few Redpolls in the autumn on migration at Durlston but its a long time since I’ve ringed one in it’s its breeding finery. We have caught a Redpoll that was ringed elsewhere and look forwards to learning where it came from and when it was ringed.

 

Redpolls are comprised of 5 or 6 subspecies divided into 3 (BOU list) or two (IOC list) species. The BOU has stated that as from the start of 2018 it will follow the IOC checklist, so we will loose our breeding form Lesser Redpoll as a separate species as it will be lumped with Common Redpoll. This however is just the start of the story, recent genetic research has shown that all the races of Redpoll are genetically identical and a proposal is being considered to lump the lot, so we will go from having three species on the British list to just one.

 

Another bird that we usually only ring in the autumn is Pied Wagtail when the majority are in drab first-year plumage. This smart male was ringed in one of our group member’s garden close to Lytchett Bay.

 

Another species we only ring occasionally is Jay, an aggressive and noisy bird in the hand and one that will leave deep marks on your fingers if they get anywhere near its bill. We have ringed four recently at our new site, it would be nice to get a recovery.

 

One of the ongoing puzzles that ringing may solve is the issue of ‘Siberian’ Chiffchaffs. This bird seen and ringed at one of our sites in Poole calls and sings like a Siberian (race tristis) has the whitish belly and green fringes to the flight feathers, yet in certain lights shows greenish tones in the upperparts. Body feathers accidentally shed in the ringing process have been sent for DNA analysis but as only mitochondrial DNA markers are available this will merely tell us what its mother was! Tristis is increasingly being touted as a full species, based mainly on its unique vocalisations, so robust identification criteria are needed.

 

Over the last few months I have been ringing with a young lady named Fenja. She recently returned from a voluntary research expedition to the lowland rainforest of south-east Peru where she assisted in wildlife censuses and ringing. During her stay they trapped 32 species of rainforest birds, all but one have been seen by me in one place or another, but I am quite envious of the photos of her holding a Hairy-crested Antbird, a species I have never even seen.

 

Towards the end of March our ringing group held its AGM, this time in a more professional looking location than my conservatory. As always it took ages to work through the agenda because we kept getting side-tracked (but some of us expected that and brought some beer along). L-R: Shaun Robson, Andy Welch, Olly Slessor, Ginny Carvisiglia, me, Chris Minvalla, Mike Gould, Daniel Whitelegg, Paul Morton, Carol Greig, Sean Walls, Bob Gifford and Brian Cresswell. Out of shot are Ian Alexander, Kath Clay and Terry Elborn. We thank Brian and Sean for allowing us to use the Biotrack offices for the meeting.

 

At the end of every AGM Bob awards the so-called ‘Stoate Award’ for the worst data submission in the last year. This time he performed it in the manner of the Oscars, calling on Shaun to open the envelope and read out the ‘winner’, then declaring a mistake had been made and then having it read out again. As expected I was the recipient, but I pointed out that I entered 64% of all the data submitted last year and therefore more mistakes were to be expected. The actual award is an unidentifiable ornamental bird, I’d rather it was the stuffed Eagle Owl in corner of the photo.

 

However the worse sin was that occasionally, when the program rejected a bird’s biometrics on the basis of it being too heavy, I would type ‘fat bastard’ or ‘who ate all the pies’ in the comments box. Judging from the photo above I think that’s a case of ‘the pot calling the kettle black’!

August – October 2016: Two trips to Spurn – we went through Hull and back (twice)   Leave a comment

At the end of August my friend and trainee ringer Chris and I went to the Bird Observatory at Spurn in East Yorkshire. I had hoped that Chris would get to ring a lot of new species and learn some new ringing techniques and I hoped I would have a chance to do some wader and tern trapping and see how ringing is performed at one of Britain’s best migration hot spots.

In the event, for a number of reasons, it wasn’t as good as I expected but it was still well worthwhile.

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In East Yorkshire the north shore of the enormous Humber estuary turns southwards at its mouth and forms the Spurn Peninsular. Recent erosion has cut the road to the lighthouse and it is now a three-mile walk or cycle to the point. In this photo the lighthouse is at the tip of the peninsula whilst the shoreline to the right of the lighthouse is the south side of the estuary and is in Lincolnshire.

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Setting off at 0600 and with an hour-long stop at my brother’s in Derbyshire, we arrived at Spurn Bird Observatory about 1300. As ringing was over for the day we immediately went to the nearby ‘canal’, an area of reeds growing near an overgrown ditch in search of a Barred Warbler that had been there for several days.

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The Barred Warbler was distant and only showed intermittently. My photos weren’t worth reproducing so I have taken this one from Wikipedia. Virtually all British records of the central European species are of first years which lack the barred plumage and pale eye of an adult and look rather like a large Garden Warbler (with the addition of pale fringes to the wing coverts, flight feathers and tail tips). A regular, if scarce migrant mainly to the east coat of the UK, this was one of the species I had hoped to see in the hand at Spurn. I have seen the species 19 times in the UK but this was a first for Chris.

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The North Sea off Spurn used to be a migration stopover for thousands of migrating Arctic, Common and Sandwich Terns and I had hoped we might be able to ring a few of these at night on the beach. Local birders told me that the number of terns has reduced drastically since the building of this massive offshore wind-farm.

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Gravel pits between the Humber estuary and the North Sea provided a high tide roost for thousands of waders, mainly Dunlin, Knot and Ringed Plover but also included flocks of Grey Plover (above) and a few Turnstone, Sanderling, Little Stints and Curlew Sandpipers.

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Most Grey Plovers we see in Dorset are in their drab grey winter plumage but here we saw flocks fresh in from Arctic Siberia still in their beautiful silver and black breeding plumage. Americans call this species Black-bellied Plover based on the summer plumage, but I like the French Pluvier argenté which translates as Silver Plover, a perfect counterpart to its cousin the Golden Plover.

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During our time at Spurn we worked at two different locations ringing a small number of migrant and resident birds. It was clear we hadn’t coincided with a large migratory movement and with a freshening wind on the second day we trapped relatively few birds. One thing we tried on the first afternoon of the course was the spring trapping of small waders such as this Little Stint, but although the stints walked up to and around the trap they refused to trigger the spring mechanism. We did catch a Yellow Wagtail by the same method though.

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Returning from the unsuccessful wader ringing trip we were told that a surprise awaited us at the Observatory. It proved to be an immature Gannet that a villager had found trapped in some netting in his garden. One of the wardens is keeping hold of its dagger like bill, which could course some damage if it was not restrained.

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Having not ringed a single bird at this stage I quickly volunteered to ring this monster of a bird. However the ring didn’t fit well and it appeared that one leg was swollen. In case the bird was unwell (which indeed could be why it crash landed in someone’s garden) the ring was removed and the bird taken to the shore and released. Photo by Chris Minvalla.


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It was whilst attempting and failing to catch stints that we heard that on the other side of the Humber, at Alkborough Flats in Lincolnshire, there was a Western Swamphen (not ‘Purple Gallinule’ as some people call it, that is an unrelated American species) about an hour and a half’s drive away. This species has been seen once before in the UK, earlier this year in Minsmere, Suffolk. Earlier records refer to the closely related Grey-headed and African Swamphens which are undoubted escapes from captivity but the two records in 2016 appear to be part of an influx from the western Med into northern Europe. Chris and I were very interested in twitching it, but the following day it wasn’t seen at all, so we assumed it had gone. I photographed this individual in Mallorca this May.

 

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There was a lovely sunset over the Humber that evening. Very early in the morning (0230) we got up to do some wader ringing on the gravel pits, the early start was needed to coincide with the high tide. We ringed a few Redshanks, Knot and a Curlew and Oystercatcher, eight in total one for each on the course. Photography wasn’t allowed as it would take the birds eyes some time to recover so I have no shots of this activity.

 

On the second day of the ringing course Chris and I took our turn at the ringing station at the ‘breach’, the neck of the peninsular where the road has been washed away. Using mist nets and spring traps we trapped a few birds but the strong wind prevented us from catching much. An afternoon attempt to spring trap Wheatears also ended in failure. We were able to get a few hours much needed rest in the afternoon.

Back at the Obs we prepared some dinner and got ready to go out in an attempt to trap terns after dark, but then Chris heard the bad news that his father was seriously ill and had been taken to hospital. There was no alternative but to pack up and return immediately to Dorset, arriving about midnight. Fortunately Chris’s father made a total recovery after about a week in hospital, but it could easily have been so much worse.

So the ringing course concluded with me ringing just two birds, a Redshank and that Gannet, and the latter had to have the ring removed. Further frustration ensued when we found the Swamphen was seen again once we were back in Poole and remains there to this day.

 

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Fast forwards about six weeks and Chris and I were back at Spurn, this time with our friend Roger. This time our destination was the unglamorous setting of the nearby Easington Gas Terminal, where the North Sea gas is pumped ashore.

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During early October there was a strong easterly airflow arriving all the way from Siberia. This brought with it a whole run of Siberian goodies including thousands of Yellow-browed Warblers. I have published some photos of Yellow-broweds in the hand in my last post. Far rarer was the occurrence of Britain’s first Siberian Accentor (a high latitude cousin of our Dunnock) in Shetland. This was followed by a second one at Easington a few days later and then another five scattered between Shetland and Cleveland. There was a huge twitch at Easington especially over the weekend where the crowd was measured in the thousands and a queuing system was in operation. This is a still from a video that appeared on ‘Penny Clark’s blog http://pennyshotbirdingandlife.blogspot.co.uk/

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I had seen a pair of Siberian Accentors twenty years ago in Arctic Siberia (otherwise I would have left immediately) and I dithered for several days about making the 600 mile round trip again. It was my friend Roger returning from Scilly on the 18th that made all the difference, he was very keen to go. I’m so pleased we went the following day as the bird wasn’t seen on the 20th. we arrived mid morning to find a modest crowd watching. The bird had moved between two lines of security fencing feeding contentedly on weed seeds. The only problem was that because of the close weave of the fence you could only see when looking at 90 degrees to the fence. It must have been a nightmare at the weekend.

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Even so, Chris with his 500mm mega lens was able to get some really nice photos. Breeding in a narrow zone from the northern Urals to Chukotka and wintering in eastern China (a time of year when few birders visit China), this was a once in a lifetime chance for most birders to experience this charming species.

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An added bonus was that only a few hundred yards away was an Isabelline Wheatear, a species I have seen on 19 foreign trips to its breeding grounds in Central Asia and wintering grounds in East Africa, but never in the UK. Whilst I wouldn’t have gone all the way to Spurn for this alone, it was a most welcome addition to my British List. Heavy rain and a habit of feeding in a muddy field has stained its face black, but the upright stance, long legs, short tail, the black alula contrasting sharply with the rather plain ear coverts ….

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…. and in this photo, the extensive black in the tail with only a short projection of black towards the rump on the central tail feathers all indicate an Isabelline Wheatear. According to Wikipedia the word ‘isabelline’ may derive from Isabella I of Castile and the eight-month siege of Granada by Ferdinand II of Aragon starting in April 1491. She vowed not to change her chemise until the siege was over, which took rather longer than she anticipated (other versions of this legend are available). The name Wheatear of course derives from the Anglo-Saxon ‘white-arse’. Both the photos of the wheatear and the Siberian Accentor were taken by Chris Minvalla and are used with permission.

There had been no news about the Western Swamphen and the three of us headed home in the afternoon well pleased with what we had seen. The next day, of course, we heard that the Swamphen was being seen again in Lincolnshire. Never mind as Meat Loaf once sang ‘two out of three ain’t bad’. Indeed on this occasion it was bloody marvellous!

Mid July to October 2016 – Where have I been hiding for the last three months?   Leave a comment

Readers of this blog may have wondered whether I had abandoned it completely, was spending the last three months abroad or just had nothing to write about.

For a while I did nothing for the blog because I had used up all my storage space and was reluctant to pay for more. I’ve now capitulated and paid up for the extra space, although I will be uploading lower resolution photos in the future.

The main reason I have not updated this blog is because I have been incredibly busy manning the ringing site at Durlston near Swanage. Since 17th July I have visited no fewer than 50 times. My near-daily schedule has been getting up about two hours before dawn, arriving a good hour before sunrise and getting the nets up and ready for when the birds start moving. We have had the most successful season ever, by mid October we had ringed nearly 4500 birds, far more than any previous year with at least a month of autumn migration still to go.

Much of the afternoons have taken up with uploading the data onto my PC and sending it off via our group secretary to the BTO, preparing for the next day and sometimes having a nap after an early start. Hence the lack of blog posts. I have also been uploading our daily ringing totals from Durlston to the migration website Trektellen http://www.trektellen.org/ Go to captures and then select Durlston RS, the daily and annual totals. Summaries and graphs of occurrence for each species can be found by navigating the site. I have also been doing the laborious job of loading the daily totals from past years onto Trektellen. I have completed 2013-15 and have just got 2011-12 to do.

This post deals solely with ringing in Dorset at our sites at Durlston, Lytchett Bay and Fleets Lane in Poole from mid July to mid October.

By far the largest number of birds ringed were the two species of Phylloscopus warbler, Willow Warbler (below in the photo) and Chiffchaff (above)Whilst superficially similar they do have a lot of characteristics that tell them apart. Chiffchaff is smaller overall, has shorter primary projection, darker legs, darker flanks, more rounded head, a less prominent supercillium, but the most conclusive features that can only be seen in hand are the length of the second to fourth primary and the presence (Chiff) or absence (Willow) of an emargination on the 6th primary.

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Although I said that Willow Warblers were larger than Chiffchaffs there is some overlap. Small female Willow Warblers (left) certainly overlap in wing length and weight with largest Chiffchaffs. The bird on the right is a large male Willow Warbler with a wing length of 70mm. Only a proportion of Willows can be sexed on wing length as there is overlap between the sexes. In both the Willows above the long primary projection (the projection of the primary feathers beyond the tips of the tertials) can easily be seen.

 

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The following graph taken from Trektellen shows the numbers of Willow Warblers ringed at Durlston (averaged out per hour of ringing activity). The gap from early May and late July is partly because we do little ringing at this season but also because the species no longer breeds at the site, the range having shifted north with climate change. A few migrants are seen in spring, but numbers are dwarfed by the huge influx that occurs in late July and early August. By early September only a few are seen with the odd straggler occuring into early October. In total 942 birds were ringed with a maximum of 212 on 5th August this is our best year ever at Durlston and is well in excess of the previous maximum of 626 in 2013.

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Chiffchaffs show a different pattern, Again migrants/returning breeders are seen in spring but because the birds breed locally they continue to be recorded into mid May and in late July to late August (no ringing took place between 14th May and 17th July). At the time when the Willow Warbler migration is tailing off Chiff numbers rise rapidly reaching a peak in late September to early/mid October. 1382 have been ringed so far this year, a huge increase on the best ever year (2013 – where 875 were ringed) and more than triple what was ringed last year. This is partially due to ringer effort/availability but also undoubtedly points to a bumper year for the species.

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The third most ringed bird in 2016 has been Blackcap. The total of 796 doesn’t quite match the bumper year of 2014 when 860 were ringed but the season isn’t quite finished yet. After the post-juvenile moult, Blackcaps can easily be sexed by the eponymous black cap of the male and the brown cap of the female. This bird presents a conundrum but it is far more likely to be a male that is showing some female-type brown feathers than a female that has somehow grown some extra male-type feathers. The colour and structure of the brown crown feathers does not fit that of the juvenile plumage and I think the entire crown has been moulted.

This biggest surprise of the year has been the capture of 102 Grasshopper Warblers, compared to the annual average of 16 over the last five years. It is true that we have been getting to the site earlier to try to catch this crepuscular skulker before the sun is up but that can only be part of the story.

We have also had our best ever year for Meadow Pipits with 220 ringed to date (although that was mainly down to one very successful day where we ringed 126). We have yet to get a recovery on any of the Meadow Pipits ringed at Durlston but we hope this year’s batch will change all that. Some Meadow Pipits can be hard to age but this one is easy. The brown not blackish centres and the diffuse buffy borders of the greater coverts and the unmoulted white edged median coverts showing a small black tooth clearly show it is a first year bird.

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Common Whitethroats are regular breeders in the park and surrounding area and also occur as migrants. Young birds are easy to age due to their dark, rather than hazel coloured eyes.

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Another aging feature is the muddy brown rather than white on the outer tail feather plus a restricted pale area on the 5th (penultimate) tail feather. This first-year bird is unusual in that it has lost its left hand outer tail feather but not the right. The replacement has grown back as an adult type, clearly different from its first-year counterpart.

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Whitethroats show an interesting pattern of occurrence. As a common breeder in the park we ring quite a few in the spring (one trapped on 1st May was ringed as a juvenile in July 15 – an example of natal philopatry) and would probably continue to trap some in late May – mid July if we had been active during that period. The spike in late July/early August represents locally bred juveniles before the main migration gets underway in mid August. The migration tails off rapidly in early September.

 

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Now for some of the birds we ring less often. A first year Whinchat ….

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The species can easily be identified by the white bases to the outer tail feathers.

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Although quite a common migrant, they prefer more open ground. We have ringed just two Wheatears this year. Both were of the Greenland race leucorhoa which leaves its breeding grounds in Greenland and eastern Canada and makes a non-stop flight across the Atlantic to Europe before continuing on to its wintering grounds in Africa.

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Common Redstarts weren’t all that common with an about-average showing of 15 . All but one showed the brown (rather than grey) tipped greater coverts of a 1st year bird

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The grey head and black chin, still fringed with white tips (which will wear away by next spring) indicates that this is a male.

 

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Although common inland, especially in coniferous woodland, Coal Tits are very unusual in our ringing area and this is the only Coal Tit to be ringed there this year.

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Melodious Warblers occur as close Dorset as northern France but are still no more than scarce migrants to the county. This bird was trapped on the early date of 26th July and is only the second to be ringed in the Park. Although its wing length is comparable to that of a Willow warbler, it is much stouter, has a much broader based bill, a plain-looking face with a beady eye. The short primary projection helps distinguish it from the similar Icterine Warbler.

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The group has been called on to do two public ringing demonstrations in 2016, one at Durlston and one at Lytchett Bay. At Lytchett (above) we had a good turn out of both ringers and public with about half of the group arriving to help. L-R Tony Taylor, me, Kevin Lane, Claire Young, Mike Gould, John Dowling and newcomer to the group Kath Clay, group ringing secretary Bob Gifford is at the front sat down. Photo taken by Lytchett stalwart Shaun Robson who did all the public demonstrating.

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The weather has been quite good throughout the period concerned with little rain and without protracted periods of wind and this has helped boost our totals, However for the first two weeks of October the winds blew strongly from the east and brought exceptional numbers of Siberian birds to the eastern shores of the UK. Few filtered down to Dorset (with the exception of Yellow-browed Warblers – see below) but we did see an exceptional number of Ring Ouzels. Although they are a scarce breeder in the uplands of Britain, they occurred in such numbers that they must have been augmented by birds from Scandinavia or beyond. For several days the winds were too strong to ring at Durlston so I fell back to our more sheltered site at Fleets Lane in Poole where this Ring Ouzel was trapped. Another was trapped by Shaun and Bob at Lytchett Bay. Photo by Terry Elborn.

YBW DCP SB

Yellow-browed Warblers breed in the Siberian taiga zone as close as the Ural Mountains, but migrate to SE Asia to winter. Numbers have been increasing in Britain in recent years (and wintering has been proved in SW Iberia and in the Canaries) but 2016 has seen the biggest influx ever. Counts at single sites in Yorkshire have exceeded a hundred on a single day and the total in the UK must run to many thousands. Even as far south as Dorset records have been broken.

ybw-flc-041016-per-pm

Between 2004 and 2015 our group has ringed six Yellow-browed Warblers (3 of those in 2015) this year we have ringed twelve already. None of these has been retrapped indicating rapid onwards movement. It would be wonderful to get a recovery on one of these Siberian waifs and help elucidate where they are going and why some have taken up a new migration strategy and maybe country-wide the BTO will, but on numerical grounds the chances of any of our twelve birds being recovered is slim.

 

This article has discussed the various birds that we ring and their identification and aging/sexing characteristics. The timing and variation in migration year on year plus the ability to age and sex the birds concerned provides valuable ornithological data. However what we all hope for is that our birds will be trapped elsewhere by another ringer (controlled) or recovered by a member of the public.

Although this year has been good for the number and variety of birds ringed it has also provided us with many recoveries: those received in 2016 pertaining to Durlston are shown below. We have also got three more controls in the pipeline.

DCP = Durlston Country Park

Species Ringed Ringed at  Date recovered Where recovered
Goldcrest 08/11/2015 DCP 13/03/2016 Milton Abbas, Dorset cat
Chiffchaff 12/10/2014 DCP 25/03/2016 Longis Pond, Alderney, Channel Islands retrapped
Willow Warbler 02/09/2015 DCP 27/09/2015 Arneiros, Querenca, Faro, Portugal retrapped
Blackcap 25/09/2013 DCP 19/04/2016 Longis Pond, Alderney, Channel Islands retrapped
Blackcap 01/09/2014 DCP 17/04/2016 Chew Valley Lake,  Somerset retrapped
Reed Warbler 18/06/2016 Chew Valley Lake,  Somerset, 06/08/2016 DCP retrapped
Willow Warbler 06/08/2016 Billinge Hill, Merseyside, 14/08/2016 DCP retrapped
Pied Flycatcher 13/06/2015 Kentmere Hall Plantation, Cumbria, 18/08/2016 DCP retrapped
Whitethroat 17/07/2016 DCP 14/08/2016 Gravelly Marsh, Needs Ore, Hampshire retrapped
Blackcap 21/09/2016 DCP 24/09/2016 Brook Farm, Reculver, Kent retrapped

In addition there have been many recoveries/controls of birds ringed at Lytchett Bay including many Reed and Sedge Warblers that moved to France, as well as others that were recovered nearer to their ringing location.

Each recovery adds to the complex jigsaw that makes up the life history of our birds.

2015 – That was the year that was   Leave a comment

With 2015 over this post looks back over the year at some of the places we have been, birds we have seen, music we have heard and people we have met.

Of course, much more detailed accounts can be found clicking on the relevant month from the list on the left of the screen (or sometimes the month after if the post was uploaded a while after the event).

IMG_4325 Purps

The year started with the traditional New Year’s Day bird boat, kindly arranged by Mark and Mo Constantine for Dorset birders. These Purple Sandpipers were photographed on the Sandbanks side of the chain ferry on 1/1/15 . Also in early January I took part in the annual winter bird race, recording an amazing 126 species in Dorset in 12 hours.

IMG_0533 Lear's Macaws

The first foreign trip was to NE Brazil which lasted more than three weeks but resulted in me seeing over 70 life birds – by far the most of any trip of the year. There were many highlights, one being cracking views of the wonderful Lear’s Macaw in a very dramatic setting.

IMG_1818 rainbow

Here I photographed the nearby town through a rainbow whilst staying at the lovely and very birdy Serra Bonita reserve.

IMG_2550 Rick Wakeman

As well as travelling we both have a keen interest in music – be it old favourites from my past like Rick Wakeman, whose keyboard skills in the band Yes were much appreciated in my youth ….

IMG_0315 Paloma Faith

…. to more modern acts like Paloma Faith. We saw Rick Wakeman in February and Paloma about a month later in Poole and Bournemouth respectively.

IMG_2841 North Cape

In early March we took advantage of a charter flight to Tromso in arctic Norway where we boarded the Hutigruten coastal steamer and journeyed around North Cape at the top of Norway in the hope of seeing the Aurora Borealis ….

IMG_2713 aurora (best)

…. which indeed we did on four nights out of five. We were lucky as some do this trip yet come away disappointed, but if we had gone about 10 days later we might have had a truly spectacular display as the aurora was seen as far south as Norfolk.

IMG_3665 Sandhills

We booked on the Birdquest tour to Colorado that started on April 1st but we spent the last week of March on our own touring Nebraska, South Dakota and Wyoming. The main reason for this visit was to see the incredible gathering of hundreds of thousands of Sandhill Cranes on Nebraska’s Platte River. We also visited the Badlands of South Dakota ….

IMG_3987 Mt Rushmore

…. saw the Presidents heads at Mount Rushmore, the Devil’s Tower in Wyoming and even drove into Montana to look for the ‘dental floss bushes’.

IMG_4439 WT Ptarmigan

For one reason or another I never got round to editing all my photos of Colorado nor did I post any on the blog but it was a superb trip and one of the highlights was finding these almost invisible White-tailed Ptarmigan at 12500 ft in the Rockies. Perhaps I can find time this year to sort out the Colorado pics.

IMG_7191 The Matterhorn

Early May saw us taking a fortnight in the Alps and southern France, seeing such wonders as the Matterhorn (above), Mont Blanc and the Eiger. I also saw what was probably the last regularly occurring European bird that I needed, the elusive Rock Partridge.

IMG_8055 Elizabeth and Marc

The whole trip was a prelude to attending Margaret’s nephew’s Mark’s wedding to Elizabeth in Donbirn in western Austria. The only downside to the trip was that I found out whilst there that my next tour, a cruise in far North-east Russia had been cancelled as the necessary permit hadn’t been issued by the Russians.

IMG_8656 WW Black Tern

Late spring brought some great birds to the Poole Harbour area, such as the Red-footed Falcon that hung around the Wareham water meadows or this White-winged Tern at Swineham gravel pits.

IMG_8606 Margaret

In June Margaret had the privilege of being invited to a garden party at Buckingham Palace. It was the centenary of the WI and each one of the 8000 or so WI groups across the UK was invited to send one representative.

IMG_8696 Moody Blues

Back to music again: we went to a very entertaining concert by the Moody Blues in June. Some great old songs with a great visual effects, the three founder members and four new ones all performed very well.

IMG_6213-Nightjar-fem-for-email

During the summer our group was asked to undertake an intensive radio tracking study on Eurasian Nightjars on one of the local heaths. The data is still being analysed but the initial results seem very interesting.

IMG_8786 Amber and Kara

At the end of the spring term our granddaughter Kara (R) left school to attend a sixth form college. During the summer she and a friend visited relatives in the Caribbean. Her sister Amber (L) left Dorset to study and work in Cornwall.

IMG_8829 Margaret & Jennie

Staying on the subject of family; during late June and early July Margaret and I visited her daughter in Essex and my brother in Derby. We also visited several sets of friends including Jennie, a friend from university days, seen here with Margaret at Wicken Fen reserve in Suffolk.

IMG_9006 Leds Town Hall

We continued on to Leeds where we spent time with Nigel, another friend from school and university days.

IMG_6416 Lytchett Heath dawn

Much of July and August (and indeed the rest of the autumn) was spent in our ongoing ornithological research at Lytchett Bay and Durlston. We were able to start ringing at a new and highly productive site at the north end of Lytchett Bay where this photo was taken soon after dawn.

IMG_9121 Hen Harrier Day Poster_edited-1

One issue that featured heavily during the summer was the campaign to save England’s remaining Hen Harriers. Although this has highlighted before on the blog it deserves repeating. All the evidence points to a systematic, ruthless and totally illegal program of raptor extermination in Britain’s uplands by a small number of people in an attempt to raise grouse stocks to hugely inflated numbers. The loss of these beautiful raptors is a national disgrace and the campaign for their protection will continue unabated in 2016.

IMG_6399 Killian and DIMW

We met many old friends at the Bird Fair in Augustand attended a number of talks. Without doubt the most inspiring was vetran birder Ian Wallace’s account of his best ever day’s birding. His contribution to ornithology and birding is immense. Here he is seen talking to another birding legend, Killian Mullarney fro Ireland.

IMG_6430 Wryneck DCP

Ringing continued on a regular basis throughout the autumn producing many interesting recoveries and useful data. The most unusual aspect was the enormous influx of Goldcrests in late October and November, but I suppose the individual bird that gave me the most pleasure was this Wryneck that I trapped at Durlston in September.

IMG_6437 Guy & Lila

It’s always good to stay in contact with old friends and it was good to see Guy Dutson in early September, back for a short visit from Australia with his daughter Lila.

IMG_0585 dawn Laguna Blanca

In late September/early October I went on a tour to Paraguay. The birding was excellent and the company good but it was very hot, particularly in the first week and the mammal sightings were disappointing. Compared the mountainous parts of South America, the scenery wasn’t that awe-inspiring, but the mists over Laguna Blanca at dawn were most photogenic.

IMG_0328 WW Nightjar

We saw some wonderful birds, non more so than these two species: White-winged Nightjar ….

SW Nightjar J Newman

…. and Sickle-winged Nightjar. The latter was of particular importance to me as it was the 8000th species I have seen. The bird was trapped by the tour leader as he is taking part in a research program on this threatened species and he wanted to see if it was one of the individuals he had already ringed. In my photo the bird has closed its eyes which looks less appealing so I have used one taken by my friend Jonathon Newman.

IMG_1444 Hagia Spohia

The last trip of the year was in late November to Turkey. It was a cultural, rather than a birding trip and we visited some great sites in Istanbul such as the magnificent Hagi Sophia ….

IMG_1769 calcite formations

…. and some natural one too like the beautiful calcite formations at Pamukkale.

IMG_2244 Jools Holland

Also in the latter part of the year we went to a couple more musical performances, veteran folk singer Judy Collins in Wimborne and Jools Holland and his Rhythm and Blues Orchestra at the BIC.

IMG_6777 Boxing Day dinner

And the year ended, as all years should with get togethers with family and friends at Christmas time.

As I said at the start each picture above is taken from a blog post during the year. If you wish to see more photos from that event then cloick on the relevant month on the side bar.

Well, may I take this opportunity to wish everyone a happy 2016, if you are a birder like me, may the year bring you lots of excellent sightings, if you are not perhaps you ought to give it ago, buying a pair of binoculars and a field guide back in 1977 was one of the best decisions I ever made.

Catching up: ringing, coastal walks, slide shows and music. Mid October to late November 2015.   Leave a comment

This post covers the six weeks between my return from Paraguay and now and deals mainly with bird ringing and a few other activities.

 

 

DCP demo

Immediately after my return from Paraguay our ringing group held a public demonstration at Durlston. Fortunately other group members were able to organise it, but in spite of some jet lag, I was still able to participate. Here my colleague Ian Alexander explains some of the findings that bird ringing has revealed whilst we wait for some new birds to be captured.

Forage Festival2

At the end of October we also did a public demonstration at Arne RSPB for their Forage Festival. A number of country crafts and home produced food outlet stalls were on show in this field.

Forage Festival 3

…. and there was a big climbing frame for the kids.

Forage Festival

We had some nets erected nearby and birds caught were shown to the public. Two-hatted Paul Morton was representing both the Sound Approach and Stour Ringing Group from the same stand. Here Paul (left) is talking to Simon Constantine, son of the Sound Approach’s founder Mark Constantine.

Goldcrest DCP

The big story this autumn has been the arrival of large numbers of Goldcrests. We haven’t seen influxes like this since the 80s. Our ringing totals for the last five years at Durlston have been: 2011 – 39; 2012 – 85; 2013 – 29; 2014 – 53; 2015 – 445. The number ringed this year might have been even higher had we been able to man a site known as the ‘goat plots’, as in previous years this spot yielded the highest numbers of crests.

Goldcrest poss coatsi

The large numbers of Goldcrests has been noted on the continent as well, with ringing stations in Denmark and Holland reporting really big catches. It has been suggested (see Martin Garner’s excellent Birding Frontiers’ website) that some of these birds, especially those with a ‘grey shawl’ like this bird, may belong to the race coatsi, which breeds no closer than western Siberia. Quite a journey for a bird that only weighs 5 grams.

Firecrests 3

The normally scarce Firecrests have been much commoner this year as well with 29 ringed in October and November. including these three at the same time on 12th November

Redwing LH

We have also been able to ring quite a number of Redwing at both Durlston and Lytchett Bay.

Redwing LH2

Aging Redwing is quite straightforward. The white step on the outer web of the tertials indicates that this bird is in its first year, although a surprisingly high proportion of the birds we have ringed have been adults.

Redwing undertail

Another identification criteria highlighted in Martin Garner’s Birding Frontiers blog is that of of the Icelandic Redwing race coburni, which has more heavily marked breast and under-tail coverts than the nominate race from northern Europe. So far all the birds we have trapped have been of the nominate race.

Green Woodpecker DCP

The capture of not one, but two Green Woodpeckers at the same time was noteworthy (photos of the two together proved unsatisfactory).

Lesser Redpoll DCCP

The capture of a few Lesser Redpolls was also of note. Like many finches large numbers fly overhead at Durlston but few come down into the trapping area. It has long been debated whether the six races in the Redpoll complex consists of two, three, five or even six species. Now the answer is clear – there is just one, and the different forms look different not because they have different DNA but due to the way that DNA is expressed. So unfortunately I expect to lose a couple of ticks on both my British and World list before too long.

Coal Tit DCP

We catch large numbers of Coal Tits at our site at Holton Lee but they are rare on the coast at Durlston, so when we ringed this bird in November we speculated about it being the nominate continental race, but although the black bib looks particularly broad, the mantle doesn’t seem blue-grey enough to ascribe it that subspecies.

YBW DCP3

There has also been quite an influx of Yellow-browed Warblers, especially in the northern isles. One was ringed at Durlston during my absence in early October and I hoped that we would get another one after I returned, which indeed we did on 20th October.

YBW DCP2

Breeding no closer than the Urals, this tiny warbler goes all the way to SE Asia to winter, although an increasing number seem to be heading SW to western Europe each autumn

IMG_6617 Siskin EHF

We ring very few Siskin at Durlston but do catch a few at Holton Lee where this bird was ringed on 23/11. Clearly a male ….

IMG_6622 Siskin male

…. it can be aged as an adult by the striking yellow greater coverts with only very fine white edging. Also the tail feathers are much rounder than on a young bird.

I regularly post pictures of birds that we ring but seldom get round to reporting where our birds get recovered. Here is a selection of Durlston recoveries and controls (ringed birds retrapped by another ringer).

 

Species Date ringed Ringed at Date found Recovered at Time lapse Distance
days Km
Willow Warbler 10/08/2011 Durlston, Dorset, England 14/08/2011 Gillingham, Dorset, England 4 52
Chiffchaff 30/07/2011  Castlemorton Common, Worcs, England 29/09/2011 Durlston, Dorset, England 61 165
Blue Tit 20/02/2010 Woolsgarton, Dorset, England 26/08/2011 Durlston, Dorset, England 552 9
Whitethroat 10/08/2011 Durlston, Dorset, England 17/08/2011 Lychett Bay, Poole Harbour, Dorset, England 7 19
Chiffchaff 17/08/2011 England, Yorkshire, York, Thornton, England 07/04/2012 Durlston, Dorset, England 234 376
Chiffchaff 19/09/2012  Kenfig, Bridgend, Wales 27/09/2012 Durlston, Dorset, England 8 163
Goldfinch 09/09/2012 Martinstown, Dorset, England 18/11/2012 Durlston, Dorset, England 70 42
Chiffchaff 15/09/2011 Durlston, Dorset, England 31/03/2012 Portland, Dorset England 198 37
Chiffchaff 21/09/2012 Durlston, Dorset, England 28/09/2012 Sandouville, Seine-Maritime, France 7 203
Blackcap 04/09/2012 Durlston, Dorset, England 18/09/2012 Icklesham, East Sussex, England 14 188
Greenfinch 11/02/2013 Durlston, Dorset, England 18/07/2013 Barnham, West Sussex, England 157 97
Chiffchaff 29/09/2011 Durlston, Dorset, England 18/10/2011 Embalse de Pedrezuela, Guadalix de la Sierra, Madrid, Spain 19 1099
Sparrowhawk 03/09/2011 Durlston, Dorset, England 19/07/2013 Christchurch, England 285 22
Willow Warbler 06/07/2013 Eskmeals, Cumbria, England 27/08/2013 Durlston, Dorset, England 52 429
Garden Warbler 12/07/2013 Roydon Village Mariner, Essex, England 19/08/2013 Durlston, Dorset, England 38 190
Blackcap 08/09/2013 Durlston, Dorset, England 16/05/2013 Herberg, Utsira, Rogaland, Norway 250 1042
Chiffchaff 19/09/2013 Durlston, Dorset, England 22/09/2013 Haseley Manor, Arreton, Isle of Wight, England 3 52
Goldfinch 07/11/2013 Durlston, Dorset, England 10/12/2013 Braytown, near Wool, Dorset, England 33 23
Chiffchaff 05/10/2013 Durlston, Dorset, England 07/10/2013 Hastings Country Park, Warren Glen, East Sussex, England 2 185
Chiffchaff 14/10/2013 Durlston, Dorset, England 08/11/2013 Portland Bill, Dorset, England 25 37
Chiffchaff 22/09/2013 Low Newton-by-the-Sea, Northumberland, England 13/10/2013 Durlston, Dorset, England 21 547
Lesser Redpoll 13/10/2013 Durlston, Dorset, England 14/01/2014 Ferndown, Dorset, England 93 25
Chiffchaff 17/08/2013 Lychett Bay, Poole Harbour, Dorset, England 26/09/2013 Durlston, Dorset, England 40 19
Chiffchaff 21/08/2013 Wintersett Reservoir, Wakefield, W Yorkshire, England 01/10/2013 Durlston, Dorset, England 41 339
Blackcap 22/08/2013 Thorne Moors, nr Doncaster, S Yorkshire, England 08/09/2013 Durlston, Dorset, England 17 345
Goldfinch 13/10/2013 Durlston, Dorset, England 09/03/2014 Laval, Mayenne, France 147 293
Chiffchaff 01/10/2013 Durlston, Dorset, England 01/04/2014 Margam Park Nursery, Dywyll, Neath Port Talbot, Wales 182 165
Blackcap 07/09/2013 Durlston, Dorset, England 12/09/2013 Beachy Head, East Sussex, England 5 156
Chiffchaff 04/09/2013 Durlston, Dorset, England 04/09/2013 Smallridge, Devon, England 287 78
Dunnock 13/08/2014 Durlston, Dorset, England 16/11/2014 Swanage, Dorset, England 95 0
Chiffchaff 15/10/2013 Durlston, Dorset, England 04/05/2014 Kenfig Pool, Bridgend, England 201 163
Blackcap 29/09/2011 Durlston, Dorset, England 17/03/2014 Garrapilos, Jerez de la Frontera, Cádiz, Spain 900 1581
Willow Warbler 10/08/2013 Durlston, Dorset, England 04/05/2014 Ballynafgh, Kildare, Ireland 267 448
Blackcap 14/08/2014 Beachy Head, East Sussex, England 05/10/2014 Durlston, Dorset, England 52 156
Willow Warbler 07/09/2013 Durlston, Dorset, England 04/05/2014 Bardsey Island, Gwynedd, Wales 293 311
Blackcap 14/10/2013 Durlston, Dorset, England 23/09/2014 Stanford Reservoir, Northamptonshire, England 348 212
Chiffchaff 09/09/2014 Durlston, Dorset, England 12/09/2014 Squire’s Down, Gillingham, Dorset, England 3 52
Chiffchaff 22/07/2014 Millwater, Crewkerne, Somerset 01/09/2014 Durlston, Dorset, England 41 70
Blackcap 08/06/2014 Northward Hill, Rochester, Medway, England 06/09/2014 Durlston, Dorset, England 100 200
Chiffchaff 07/09/2013 Durlston, Dorset, England 12/03/2015 Jew’s Gate, Gibralter 544 1629
Chiffchaff 08/07/2014 Durlston, Dorset, England 01/03/2015 Jew’s Gate, Gibralter 174 1629
Tree Pipit 21/08/2011 Durlston, Dorset, England 01/05/2015 Coleg Elidyr,Rhandirmywn, Camarthanshire, Wales 1349 209
Swallow 23/09/2015 Durlston, Dorset, England 10/09/2015 Hook Park, Hampshire, England 717 54
Willow Warbler 15/04/2014 Lundy, Devon 11/08/2014 Durlston, Dorset, England 483 202
Reed Warbler 03/09/2015 Beddington Sewage Farm, Greater London, England 08/09/2015 Durlston, Dorset, England 5 155
Goldcrest Outstanding 08/1102015 Durlston, Dorset, England
Goldcrest 15/10/2015 Bawdsey Hall, Bawdsey, Suffolk, England 28/10/2015 Durlston, Dorset, England 13 281
Song Thrush Belgium (outstanding) 02/11/2015 Durlston, Dorset, England
Blackcap Spain (outstanding) 25/10/2015 Durlston, Dorset, England
Blackcap 08/08/2015 Slapton Ley, Devon, England 10/09/2015 Durlston, Dorset, England 33 125
Common Scoter

Now onto other subjects. Every month from September to March birders across the UK take part in the Wetland Birds Survey (WeBS), the idea that counts in a given area ar coordinated so the birds aren’t counted twice or missed. My area is the south-east of Holes Bay, which usually isn’t that exciting, at least compared the bird rich north-east sector. On the October count however, I was surprised to see two male Common Scoter, a bird associated more with the open sea in winter than sheltered inland bays. I didn’t have my decent camera with me so I only have this mediocre digiscoped shot.

Margaret, Gio and Jessica2

One day in late October Margaret and I met up with my old friend and former work colleague Gio and his wife Jessica and went for a walk along Ballard Down from Ulwell Gap to Old Harry and back to the pub at Studland. Very enjoyable with great views over Swanage, Poole Harbour and Poole Bay.

Devizes

On consecutive nights in early November I gave my ‘what came first – the Archaeopteryx of the egg?’ talk to the Wiltshire Ornithological Society in Devizes and Christchurch Harbour Ornithological Group in Christchurch. The talk has taken at lot of researching and has been extensively rewritten since I first showed it a couple of years ago. And although I say it myself, I was pretty pleased with the outcome. It was quite a long drive across Cranbourne Chase and Salisbury Plain to Devizes, not helped by a large diversion due to road repairs, but I’m glad I did it. This photo shows Market Square in Devizes.

Tivoli Wimborne

On an entirely different note, Margaret and I spent a very pleasant evening at the beautifully restored and wonderfully old-fashioned Tivoli Theatre in Wimborne.

judy_collins_1

We had gone to see the legendary American folk singer Judy Collins,famous for her renditions of ‘Send in the Clowns’ and ‘Amazing Grace’. Now aged 76 she still has a wonderful, powerful voice and gave a totally spellbinding performance. Between songs she told tales of the past from her friendships with Joan Baez and Bob Dylan to working with famous producers like Stephen Sondheim and revealed that the Crosby, Still and Nash anthem ‘Suite: Judy Blue Eyes’ was written for her. Photography is not allowed during the performance so I have used one of her publicity pictures.

Rachael Sage2

I found the support act captivating as well. American singer Rachael Sage played a beautiful set of quirky songs that reminded me a little of Tori Amos. She was selling CDs in the foyer during the interval and I got chatting and asked if she minded if I took her photo ….

RS_Blue-Roses_Web_grande

…. and of course I was obliged to buy her rather excellent CD after that.