Archive for the ‘Durlston Country Park’ Tag

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.

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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.

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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.

1st – 22nd August – a ringing update.   Leave a comment

August can be one of the best times of the year for bird ringing, the weather is still mild, although a bit windy this year, autumn migration is in full swing and the variety of trans-Saharan migrants is at its peak.

I have spent as much time as possible ringing this month at Lytchett Bay and Durlston Country Park although the remnants of hurricane Bertha and getting up at 0430 everyday have proven to be obstacles.

Early in the month there were phenomenal numbers of migrants, especially Sedge Warblers on the move. A couple of visits to Lytchett Bay resulted in nearly 500 birds being ringed, most of them Sedges. Mid-month the weather changed to an unending run of westerlies and the numbers of birds present has been much lower.

Sedge Warblers are usually encountered in wetland habitats but can be seen on migration in scub and low vegetation.

Very common in the reed beds at Lytchett Bay with over 750 ringed this autumn, we have also trapped about 20 in the scrub at Durlston. Sedge Warblers winter in the Sahel, the arid region that lies to the south of the Sahara.

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The heathland at Lytchett Bay has recently been purchased by Dorset Wildlife Trust. We applied to renew our ringing permission with the new owners and they asked us to do a public ringing demonstration. We have only caught a few birds on the heathland but a ‘dress rehearsal’ at the adjacent reed bed has produced a large number of Reed and Sedge Warblers and required us to call in reinforcements to help. Unfortunately the remnants of  hurricane Bertha prevented the actual demonstration from going ahead.

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Whilst taking down nets at dusk we trapped this Brown Long-eared Bat. It might look undignified but this is the correct way to hold a bat, as it does not involve touching the delicate wing membranes.

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Kingfishers appear in the early autumn every year at Lytchett Bay. We presume they migrate down the local rivers to winter in Poole Harbour. In 2014 we have ringed 8 new birds and retrapped one from last year, showing that the single kingfisher seen on each visit is not necessarily the same bird. We have retrapped several in subsequent years, showing year on year site fidelity, but have also retrapped a Lytchett Bay bird in a subsequent winter at Fleets Lane in Poole indicating that this is not an inviolate rule. In this picture a pristine first year (L) contrasts with the ragged adult (R) which is the process of moult. Accurate aging is essential for an understanding of population dynamics which is one of the main investigations conducted these days on ringed birds.

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Grasshopper Warblers, with their graduated tails and long speckled undertail coverts are always a delight to ring. So far this autumn we have ringed 17 at Lytchett Bay and 7 at Durlston. Because of its secretive habits this species has one of the lowest recovery rates of all ringed birds and much is still unknown about its movements and life history.

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Lytchett Bay is the only site where we regularly ring Cetti’s Warblers. An inhabitant of scrub adjacent to wetlands this species is not a true migrant but young birds do disperse as shown by a recovery of one of our birds from Norfolk. The mouse grey-brown plumage, short wren-like wings, broken white eye-ring and just ten rather than the usual twelve tail feathers are all identification features, but most birders will know it by it’s incredibly loud staccato voice.

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We have ringed over 60 Garden Warblers this autumn, mainly at Durlston. It might look like the archetypal ‘little brown job’ to the uninitiated but the stubby bill, narrow grey shawl and plain upper parts with pale tipped remiges give a very characteristic appearance.

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Unlike almost all other members of the genus Sylvia, adult Garden Warblers moult in the winter in Africa rather than before migration. Thus an adult on migration will be more abraded than a young bird. This can be quite subtle, the faded tips to these primary feathers are caused by bleaching by the sun over time and thus belong to an adult bird. It has recently been shown that Sylvia warblers are not warblers at all but representatives of the  mainly Asian babblers.

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However caution is required when aging birds, the tail of this Garden Warbler might look abraded but this can happen in the nest. The presence of a growth bar shows that it is a first year bird. Changes in the availability of food whilst the tail is growing is reflected in the colour of the feathers. The fact that the growth bar occurs across all feathers means that all feathers grew simultaneously and therefore must be from a first year bird.

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Common Whitethroats (the full name is needed to distinguish it from the next species) is a common breeder at Durlston but migrants also move through the Park in some numbers. The dark eye and lack of pure white in the outer tail show that this is a young bird.

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Lesser Whitethroats are (as the name would suggest) smaller than the last species and also are much paler with white underparts, have a pale grey head and lack rufous in the wing. Small numbers breed at Durlston – we have ringed 12 so far this year.

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Breeding mainly in the west of Britain – Devon, Wales and SE Scotland, Pied Flycatchers are pretty scarce on migration where we ring, however the trapping area comprises mainly of low scrub and is not ideal for these arboreal birds.

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In common  with the last species, we have only ringed a single Spotted Flycatcher so far this year, although their migration extends well into September, so there may be more.

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Tree Pipits are regular overhead migrants in late August – early September, usually just after dawn. The fine flank streaking, face pattern and (when you can see it) shorter claw length separate them from the similar Meadow Pipit. In the field the call is diagnostic. So far seven have been ringed at Durlston this August.

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Juvenile Blackcaps have a dark brown crown. This changes during the post juvenile moult to the familiar black of a male or tawny-brown of a female. Note the crown of this bird: this not a mixture of black first year and brown juvenile feathers but rather first winter feathers with brown tips. These will presumably abrade to give the pristine black crown by the spring.

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Most birds fly off immediately on release but some pause to ‘gather their bearings’. This Willow Warbler had a little rest on Margaret’s woolly hat before flying off into the nearby scrub.

9th – 20th April 2014: Spring migrants return, plus a ‘flash-mob’ in the shopping arcade.   Leave a comment

 

 

As spring gathers pace we have resumed our ringing program at Durlston Country Park was well as continuing to ring at Fleets Lane in Poole. Migration has been slow so far this year, although as usual in spring Portland Bill has seen seen some large falls of migrants. Peak numbers out of three or four visits to Durlston have been between 30 and 40 birds ringed per session and numbers have been much lower at Fleets Lane.

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Another spectacular Durlston dawn.

 

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This male Green Woodpecker was an unusual catch at Durlston.

 

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One of the delights of spring is seeing the return of the sub-Saharan migrants like Sedge Warbler ……..

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….. Lesser Whitethroat and ….

 

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….. this beautiful male Common Redstart

 

 

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On the 15th I gave a talk to the Bournemouth Natural Sciences Society on the subject of ‘What Came First The Archaeopteryx Or The Egg’ The talk started with a section on the evolution of birds from feathered dinosaurs before I went rapidly through the various groups of birds extant today, describing their origins and explaining how they got to be where they are today. This, the cover of the forthcoming ‘Illustrated Checklist Of The Birds Of The World’ nicely demonstrates, the current best fit for entire bird family tree (with the exception of the Passerines which will be in a the second volume) and represented the baseline for my talk. Unfortunately the slide show didn’t go without a hitch, many of my slides had white lettered captions on  a black background. For some reason when I showed the slides in Bournemouth, the white text projected black and the captions disappeared!

 

 

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Like all teenagers, Kara is growing up fast. On the 10th she joined a school friend and her family on a holiday to the Canaries. She called in the night before to show off her new party dress.

 

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The 12th was a very busy day. I was up at 0500 to go ringing at Fleets Lane, Margaret had some former work colleagues from her days in Southampton round for lunch and in the evening we visited my old friend and former ringing trainer, Trevor Squire at his house in north Dorset. We were just about to leave for Trevor’s when we heard that Paul Morton had found a pair of Black-winged Stilts at Swineham. A mad dash ensued and although I only saw them from a distance, the views were acceptable; and we got to Trevor and Sheila’s in time for dinner as well! Photo by Paul Morton.

 

 

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After an early start on the 12th and a very enjoyable, but late evening at Trevor and Sheila’s, we were slow to get going on the 13th. We opted for a short walk from Langton Matravers to the coast at Dancing Ledge. On arrival we found that due to erosion during the winter storm, the footpath was closed.

 

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However it didn’t take much of a detour to get us to the scenic spot.

 

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Good number of Early Spider Orchids were in bloom.

 

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For the first time in decades Puffins failed to arrive at Portland Bill in March. There had been a mass mortality along the coasts of Biscay and to a lesser extent along the English south coast as a result of the winter storms and we feared the local breeding population had been wiped out. We  also failed to see any at Dorset’s only other site, Dancing Ledge, but fortunately a couple were seen on my next visit to Portland on the 15th.  This photo was taken in Shetland in 2012 and previously posted on the blog in this small format.

 

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The only bird that came close enough to be photographed was this obliging Rock Pipit.

 

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Rock Pipit, Dancing Ledge.

 

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On the 15th I visited Portland. There were very few grounded migrants but seawatching was pretty good with Hobby, Merlin, Common Scoter, two species of Diver and as mentioned above, Puffins seen. Seawatching at Portland Bill. Out of the wind and out of the sun.

 

 

 

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A Whimbrel was the only migrant to come close enough to be photographed. unfortunately is was just disappearing around the Obelisk when I pressed the shutter.

 

 

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After an early visit to Durlston on the 17th I joined former colleagues for a post-work curry and drinks at Wetherspoons in Poole. Some like Dave,  (on the left) are still stuck in the lab but Tash on the right has made a bid for freedom and now works as a primary school teacher.

 

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On the 19th we put on a ringing demonstration at Arne RSPB reserve as part of their ‘meet the wildlife day’. On the same day in 2013 they invited two RSPB employees with ringing permits from elsewhere and the ringed over 100 birds during the day. This year we put on the demo and caught just nine! The reason was the dreadfully cold April in 2013 delayed the onset of the breeding season but this year birds have left the vicinity of the feeding station early for their various breeding sites.

 

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I had to leave the demo at Arne in the capable hands of Shaun, Carol and others and hurry back to Poole in Bank Holiday traffic conditions to see Margaret’s choir perform a ‘flash-mob’ in the Dolphin shopping arcade. The choir suddenly appeared out of nowhere and gave a good rendition of Handel’s ‘Hallelujah Chorus’ from the Messiah. They drew a large appreciative crowd but unfortunately it was over far too quickly and most drifted away wishing there had been more.

 

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Margaret and Christine (bottom right) singing as part of the Barclay House Choir  ‘flash-mob’. Christine came round for dinner about a week ago. She is currently studying for a teacher’s qualification in Bognor and regaled us with tales of the activities of her fellow students, activities that she clearly disapproves of !

 

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This morning (Easter Sunday) I set off early for Portland Bill. There was a strong wind, it was quite cold and in spite of clouding over during the night there were few migrants about. However I was delighted when a Serin was found feeding close to the Bird Observatory patio with some Goldfinches.

 

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View initially were quite brief but later it returned to the same area and gave better views. Although common on the near continent, Serins are scarce in the UK with most records coming from southern watch points like Portland. My last decent view of one in the UK was in spring 2000, again at Portland.