Archive for the ‘Durlston’ Tag

March 2020 to May 2021 – what’s been going on during the pandemic?   Leave a comment

My most recent post was about my trip to Suriname in March 2020. I returned home on 13th and the first lockdown was imposed within a week. That was in force until early June when some restrictions were lifted, but not all. For the rest of the year there was (or at least seems to have been) a never ending re-imposing and then lifting of restrictions until just after Christmas when major restrictions were once again in force. Most of these are now eased but we are still not free to travel abroad.

I’m not criticising the restrictions, indeed I feel they should have been imposed earlier, but clearly they have had a major effect on my life, just like everyone else in the country (and the world).

We’ve been very lucky, relatives and friends have caught this awful disease but no-one we know has died from it, although one friend is unable to work due to the affects of ‘long Covid’.

Being retired our income has not been affected and although foreign travel has been out of the question, we have been able to go for walks locally, go birding and see other aspects of the natural world close to home, which is one of the great advantages of having an interest in wildlife – it can be found anywhere.

I’ve now slept in my own bed every night for 15 months, the longest such period in my entire life. I’m itching to go somewhere where I can see some life birds. I’ve had a never-ending series (possibly up to ten) booked foreign trips that have either had to be cancelled or rebooked for a future year. We will be going to Scotland in the near-future but but my real joy, birding in some far-flung part of the world, remains unfulfilled.

Here are a few photos from the last fifteen months. I’ve largely given up carrying a ‘proper’ camera at home, I damaged my shoulder last year and can’t manage both a camera and a scope + tripod and as a result quite a few of these photos have been taken by others.

 

So from mid March to the start of June we were restricted to a daily exercise walk (ie bit of birding) close to home. Fortunately I have three good areas within walking distance of home, Lytchett Bay, Holes Bay/Upton Park and Upton Heath. In addition I watched a lot of birds in the garden such as this male Common Starling.

 

Initially the Ringing Office of the BTO said we could not ring birds away from our own property, they later rescinded this providing we gathered in suitably small numbers, socially distanced and checked that landowners did not object. However we were requested to ring birds in our gardens wherever possible to allow the flow of data about our common birds to continue. Some people consider that ringing is all about studying migration routes and now that data loggers can gather so much information from a very few birds captured, large scale ringing is redundant. However by recording the fat and muscle state, weight, size, moult condition and age much is discovered about the birds by continuing to ring on a large scale. Trackers/data loggers are expensive and can only give data on a tiny percent of the population. Here my mist net is set up in the garden. You can clearly see the pole that holds the net on the left but to all intents and purposes on a still day, the net is invisible if viewed again a dark background. In spring 2020 I ringed over 150 Starlings in the garden and was able to study the progress of the complete post-juvenile moult (a moult strategy which only occurs in a handful of species in the UK). Quite a number have been retrapped this spring whilst others have been recovered elsewhere in Dorset.

 

With the very cold spring and lack of invertebrates, the number of Starlings are far smaller this year. However I did get a major surprise (and a nasty nip) when I found this juvenile Carrion Crow in my net recently. Like many crows it shows evidence of partial albinism which may be caused by a lack of the correct nutrients at a critical stage of development.

 

At the start of June 2020 some restrictions were lifted and we were able to ring outside our property again.

 

My favourite site, Durlston isn’t very good at this time of year so I made quite a few attempts at Lytchett Heath, a part of Lytchett Bay.

 

At this time of year we were able to ring a number of breeding Reed and Cetti’s Warblers, Reed Buntings and Stonechats.

 

We caught a Jay here this spring, quite a stunner but also quite a noisy and aggressive bird in the hand.

 

One aspect of ringing that I particularly enjoy is training new ringers. This is Joe who works for the charity Bird of Poole Harbour holding a Kestrel we trapped at Durlston. During the summer of 2020 he was always up for ringing at Lytchett and although numbers ringed were small (at least early in the summer before return migration started) it aided his training and provide information on local breeding birds. Joe has since obtained his ringing licence and is fitting in as much ringing as he possibly can.

 

One of the best birds we regularly catch at Lytchett Bay are Bearded Reedlings (or Bearded Tits) which breed in the wet and very muddy reedbeds. This is an adult male.

 

The bird we are most interested in ringing at Lytchett Bay is the Aquatic Warbler. I once wrote a blog post just about this species see see here . We have now ringed 99 Aquatic Warblers over the years (not just at Lytchett Bay) and ringing often reveals the presence of this species in areas where birders just can’t reach such as dense reed and sedge beds, In 2020 we were lucky to catch this bird on 12th August. Unlike the vast majority of the Aquatics we’ve ringed, it was an adult and could be sexed as a female due to the remnants of a brood patch. Even more amazingly the same bird was retrapped in Palencia, central Spain 16 days and 983km later. In truth I wasn’t there when it was trapped (I was having a much needed rest from ringing due to multiple early starts) but I received a phone call as soon as it was found and as the site is less than a mile from my house, I was there before they had finished processing it.

 

For much of the autumn I spent as much time as I could at the beautiful Durlston Country Park, just south of Swanage. It takes me less than 30 minutes to drive the 18 miles from home pre-dawn but once the ‘grockles’ are about in the summer it can take an hour to get back.

 

Our ringing site is in a fenced off area at the highest point of the park. Migrants tend to move towards this area during the first few hours but unfortunately being the highest point its not that sheltered and wind can disrupt our ringing. From July to November I was able to visit 50 times and we ringed over 3800 birds of 47 species. I have written up all the data, with multiple charts and graphs and presented it to the park managers and county bird recorder.

 

Of course the main reason to ring birds at Durlston is to study common birds, which at this site during peak migration is Willow Warbler in August and Chiffchaff and Blackcap in September and October. These three species make up the bulk of the birds processed. This Willow Warbler is unusually grey and might be of the Scandinavian race acredula.

 

In August lots of Tree Pipits fly overhead and we manage to ring quite a few but after the first week of September they are replaced by Meadow Pipits (shown above), there is surprisingly little overlap between these two similar species. Surprisingly we have had more recoveries of Tree Pipit (one in Wales and one in Scotland) than we have had the commoner Meadow Pipits.

 

By mid October most warblers have moved through but its a good time to ring finches and Goldcrests and if you’re lucky a few Firecrests (shown above) as well.

 

Scarcer birds, particularly in August include Pied Flycatcher …

 

… and Spotted Flycatcher, both seem to have declined in recent years, particularly Spotted of which are annual totals have varied from one to eight over the last ten years.

 

Sparrowhawks are such magnificent birds in the hand that the occasional capture of one delights the newer ringers. Before you ring one you have to determine the sex and males take a smaller ring size than females. The grey head and mantle indicates a male but wing length is the deciding factor.

 

We were lucky enough to catch a female Sparrowhawk this spring, the brown mantle and larger size made it easy to sex.

 

There is one aspect of ringing that isn’t appreciated by most (who think its all about studying migration) and that is recording moult. This male Stonechat was ringed at the end of May. It can be aged as a 1st year ie hatched in 2020 by the very worn flight feathers. Adults will have undergone a complete moult a month or so after the juveniles grow their feathers and the feathers are usually of a better quality, so are less worn by the following spring. In addition it can be seen that this bird has moulted the greater covers, tertials and some tail feathers as well as the body feathers. The primaries, primary coverts, secondaries and the central and outer pair of tail feathers have not been moulted. Studies of moult not only identifies what the bird is doing at each stage of its lifecycle but also may indicate its level of fitness, the hypothesis being that those juveniles that have a more extensive post-juvenile moult than average are the fittest individuals and are so more likely to survive the winter.

 

This spring we caught a lovely adult male Whinchat, the migratory cousin of the Stonechat. This is only the 4th Whinchat to be ringed at Durlston and the first in spring.

 

I was hoping we might catch a Whinchat this spring, but this bird was not on my radar at all. I had wondered if we would ever catch one of the dull-brown and quite unremarkable 1st year Common Rosefinches in autumn, as they are rare but regular especially in the Northern Isles and on Scilly, but a stonking adult male was beyond my expectations. There was just myself and new trainee present when we found it on the 28th May although two members of park staff were nearby and able to pop in. In the UK I’ve seen twelve Common Rosefinches; nine juveniles on Shetland or Scilly, an adult female on Shetland in the autumn, a male on Portland in spring years ago and this one. I have to say this was the most richly coloured one I’ve even seen (probably including the 150+ I’ve seen all across Eurasia).

 

With a range from Eastern Europe right across Siberia, this isn’t a rare bird within its range but it migrates south-east to India to winter and so the regular migration route avoids western Europe. For a while it expanded its range into western Europe and a few pairs even bred in the UK but they have since retreated. The presence of reddish tips to the greater and median coverts confirms that this is an age code 6 ie hatched in 2019 or before.

 

As well as ringing on Canford Heath in the winter our group also has a major study of Nightjars there and on other heathlands in East Dorset. It is magical being out there a the light fades and Nightjar’s rhythmical churring starts. Due to Covid I didn’t join the Nightjar researchers this year …

 

… but I was able to catch and ring eleven migrants pre-dawn as they passed through Durlston in later summer. This does require a very early start though!

 

A feeding station in a remote area of Canford Heath has proven to attract many birds and in late autumn and through the winter this site has been covered at least once a week. It does however sit in a frost pocket and can be very cold especially on misty mornings like this one.

 

One of the species we have caught there regularly is Greenfinch. The population of this species has dropped recently due to Trichomoniosis, a parasitic disease, however numbers may have started to recover, there are still plenty on Canford Heath.

 

During the spring and summer we also started ringing at a site in Wareham Forest. This is close to admin buildings, so we are only allowed access at weekends when the staff are absent. We caught a good number of Siskins, there and are amassing some interesting retrap data.

 

In 2020 I restarted mothing, something I tried in the ‘naughties’ but had let slip. This is my moth trap outside the conservatory door. I have already written a post about this in 2020 see here for the link.

 

In 2021 I started mothing again in late February. I wasn’t expecting much but thought it would pick up by late March. It didn’t, and April and nearly all of May went by with virtually no moths. Some nights the trap was empty, sometimes there were just one or two. I wasn’t alone, the dreadful weather of April and May has had a huge effect on invertebrate population and this is turn has affected the brood size and success of early nesting birds. A very few tit boxes that I’ve examined have either been empty or contain just three or four chicks. This is a Pale Tussock caught in early June.

 

There are 880 species illustrated in the ‘macro moth’ field guide but this is only one third of the total. The remainder are considered ‘micro moths’ (although there is some overlap in size between members of both groups). I find these far harder to identify, photograph and in some cases even see than the ‘macros’. Adding to the confusion is the fact that almost all micros in the field guide lack an English name. Recently English names have been introduced but as they’re not in the book, no-one uses them. I’m finding it very hard to remember all the names and since the weather and hence catches have improved I’m finding that its taking me all day to identify photograph and record all the species. This is a Epinotia bilunana which has recently acquired the name of ‘Crescent Bell’.

 

Although I wasn’t able to see as many birds as I usually do in 2020, especially in spring when we were advised to stay within walking distance of home, but during the summer and autumn and into 2021 I did get to see a few goodies. Each summer a number of the critically endangered Balearic Shearwaters arrive off Portland Bill from the western Mediterranean. This photo was taken off Mallorca in 2016.

 

In 2020 they were joined by a single Yelkouan (or Levantine) Shearwater from the eastern Mediterranean. Superficially similar, separating it from the commoner Balearics as they ‘sheared’ past the Bill was a bit of a challenge, but I eventually got good views. This was only the second record for the UK. This photo was taken off Tunisia in 2019.

 

We had a few days grace in early January 2021 before lockdown three came into place. During that time I visited the Avon valley on the Dorset/Hants border. One of the many birds I saw that day included a flock of five Ruddy Shelduck. This species is currently officially categorised as an escape from captivity in the UK which is ludicrous. I accept that most probably don’t come all the way from their breeding grounds in Central Asia (but probably did in 1994 when there was a Europewide influx) but there is now a substantial feral population in Europe involving many hundreds of birds which is surely the origin of most of our records. It’s doubtful that any wildfowl collection would allow five of their Ruddy Shelducks to escape simultaneously. Photo © Chris Minvalla taken at Radipole, Weymouth. Although the Weymouth bird could have been an escape (as it was quite tame) I consider the Avon valley flock to be of European origin if not genuinely wild..

 

Great Egrets were once very rare in the UK, now several pairs breed most notably on the Somerset Levels. Near us three or four can be seen at Longham Lakes. This is my photo, but I haven’t recorded where I took it, and as the species is almost cosmopolitan, it could be anywhere.

 

This Whiskered Tern, initially seen at Abbotsbury in west Dorset this spring conveniently moved to Longham Lakes a mere 15 minute drive away. Photo © Chris Minvalla.

 

A big surprise was the occurrence of a Red-billed Chough at Portland Bill in spring 2021. I have seen this species previously in Cornwall, Wales, western Scotland and Eire but only once before once before in Dorset at St Aldheim’s Head in 2003. Photo © Roger Howell.

 

Up to the end of May I had only left Dorset or West Hampshire once since mid March 2020 and that was just before Easter this year. A Northern Mockingbird (3rd record for the UK) had been in Exmouth, Devon for about a month but it wasn’t until  Eastertime that travel restrictions were lifted. Viewing conditions weren’t great, you had to scope across a busy road, over a number of gardens and wait until it flew up into a tree or a telegraph pole. Many birders ignored lockdown restrictions to twitch it but we remained ‘legal’ and waited until they were eased. This is only the third Northern Mockingbird record in the UK and the first twitchable one. The bird left Exmouth just a few days after we saw it but remarkably was then re-found in gardens in Sussex and then after a short gap again in Northumberland. Photo © Chris Minvalla.

 

Vagrants come and vagrants go but hopefully these birds are here to stay, well at least during the summer months. The biggest ornithological event of the year wasn’t any vagrant but the pairing up of two Ospreys in Poole Harbour. They are part of a reintroduction program started in 2017 and organised by the Birds of Poole Harbour and the Roy Dennis Foundation. The female CJ7 returned in 2019 and paired up with a male from the reintroduction program in early summer, but it was too late for them to breed. Hopes were high for 2020, however the male didn’t return but the female stayed around the nest and laid infertile eggs. The same happened this year but eventually another male O22 turned up, but again it looks like he arrived too late to breed. The reintroductions had to be halted last year because of Covid but will resume this summer. This was the first nesting attempt in southern England for 200 years! It will be a few years before we have a viable Osprey population in Poole Harbour but I’m sure it will happen.  Although I saw the female several times last year, I’ve yet to catch up with either of them this year. This nest camera from which this shot was taken can be seen on the Birds of Poole Harbour website by clicking this link

 

Of course the hardest thing about lockdown has being not seeing your friends and family. I haven’t seen my brother and his family since Christmas 2019 but have managed to see some of Margaret’s side of the family. We see her daughter Janis fairly regularly and a few months ago her granddaughter Kara moved from London to Bournemouth because she could do almost of all of her work online. This was taken on the Bournemouth seafront. Kara had shaved off all her hair for charity a few days earlier and had raised £1100 for Action Aid. In addition to the Osprey reintroductions, White-tailed Eagles are being reintroduced to the Isle of Wight and several of them have strayed to Dorset. I was sitting here having lunch with Margaret and Kara when a friend called to say a White-tailed Eagle had just gone over his house and was heading for mine!

 

I’ve been able to meet up with my friends from the ringing group as we are allowed to meet in small numbers for the purpose of volunteer research, but social meetings with other birders has been restricted to the weekly online ‘virtual pub’. Towards the end of May as restrictions eased a group of us were invited to my friend’s lovely old property just outside Wareham, our first face-to-face social event since Christmas 2019.

 

he and his wife are MDs of a major international cosmetic company, well known for its environmental credentials.

 

Within the grounds is this lovely walled garden, where various plants are being trialled for use in their products …

 

… along with methods for sustainable environmentally friendly production.

 

Much of the rest of the site is being managed as a nature reserve and includes a river floodplain, woodland and grassland. It has not been intensively managed in the past and the biodiversity is already high. The future looks bright for nature in this part of Dorset.

 

Our activities from June 2021 onwards will be the subject of our next post.

Ringing and birding Summer 2017- plus an unexpected bonus in October.   Leave a comment

This post covers a few of the ringing and birding activities during the summer of 2017 plus a post script about a Dorset Mega in October.

 

Most of the birds we ring at Durlston and beyond are small passerines so I felt it would be useful for my trainees to get some experience in handling larger birds such as geese or swans. Fortunately we were all free to join the annual Canada Goose ringing session at Chew Valley Lake in Somerset.

 

Margaret, my trainees Ginny and Chris, Olly, another ringer from our group and I drove up to Chew Valley. Most of us went out on the boats to round the geese up. Unfortunately for the ringing program many of the geese were feeding in a shallow, weed filled area where the boats couldn’t get so the total number ringed/processed was smaller than usual.

 

As they moult most of their flight feathers simultaneously the geese are flightless in early July so using some well-practiced boat maneuvers, the flock was shepherded ashore and into a corral.

 

Each of us was handed a goose and we proceeded to the a table where the ‘scribe’, ably assisted by Margaret, handed out the rings and recorded the details.

 

Although they had never held such a large bird before Ginny and Chris managed very well and were able to close the large ‘L’ rings around the goose’s tarsus.

 

Chris enjoying his visit to Chew Valley. This may be a rather inelegant view of a Canada Goose but it is the safest and easiest way to carry one.

 

Closing a large ring on a large bird involves a very different technique to say ringing warblers or garden birds. Although an introduced bird, the monitoring the movement and population growth of alien species like Canada Geese is very important, so ringing these birds is so much more than just an outing for trainees.

 

In the end the ringers compared their ‘war wounds’, a torn t-shirt, a few scratches and a bit of (human) blood on your sleeve.

 

A Collared Dove was an unusual bird ringed in my garden this summer. This species naturally colonised the UK from the 1950s onwards and now is an established breeder throughout the country. However they were introduced to the Caribbean from where they have spread to the USA and in a very short period colonised much of North America.

 

Our ringing at Durlston commenced on the 19th July with local breeders like this  Common Whitethroat (note the grey head and pale eye of an adult)  ….

 

…. but the highlight was this 1st year Nightingale. As we also trapped an adult in the spring it is likely that the species has bred locally. Like many woodland birds Nightingales have declined markedly. Our ringing group had ringed 99 Nightingales prior to 2017 but none of those were after 1994 showing the scale of the decline.

 

Details of wing length, weight and moult status are recorded. This year a few Willow Warblers must have bred near or at Durlston as we trapped a few adults in moult as well as juveniles. Willow Warblers used to be common breeders but with climate change their range has shifted northwards. This bird is missing its 6th primary, a little tricky, as the exact shape of this feather is what proves categorically that it not a Chiffchaff. However there were enough other features to prove its identity beyond doubt.

 

One feature that is sometimes seen on young birds is ‘growth bars’. As a bird is growing its remiges and retrices (primaries, secondaries and tail feathers) in the nest, the quantity and quality of food delivered to it will vary depending on the weather. This can affect the growth of the feathers and as the feathers are grown simultaneously appear as a bar across the tail. Growth bars across the primaries and secondaries are usually much less obvious than across the tail. This Reed Warbler is notable because of the strength of the growth bars across all the flight feathers. It must pointed out that this is not a plumage characteristic of the species but an anomaly in this particular bird.

 

Of the more unusual captures, this Northern Wheatear was notable.

 

One of the features of ringing this summer/autumn was the capture of nine Nightjars, seven in August and two in September . All were juveniles and presumably were on migration, or at least undergoing making postnatal dispersal prior to migration as the species is not known to breed on the limestone grasslands and scrub at Durlston. Most likely we only discovered their occurrence in the park because this year we took to arriving on site that bit earlier, typically about 0430 in August.

 

On one occasion a Nightjar was trapped just on dawn so we were able to photograph it in what appears to be daylight. In fact it was still quite gloomy, I was just using a very slow shutter speed!

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Another benefit of getting the nets up before dawn has been the capture of a record number of Grasshopper Warblers. Most years we ringed 10-30 of these skulky little warblers, last year that rose to over 100, this year to over 200 with 65 on a single day. This huge increase cannot just be attributed to earlier starts, the species must have had a very good breeding season. We also had our first Grasshopper Warbler ‘control’, a bird ringed last autumn in Hampshire. We also ‘controlled’ a Tree Pipit, a Willow Warbler and two Reed Warblers, all ringed in various parts of the UK but our only Bullfinch recovery was a bird we ringed in the spring that was found killed by a Sparrowhawk in a garden less than a mile away.

 

I mentioned in my previous st that we visited London for the day. On our way from Victoria coach station to Trafalgar Square we passed through St Jame’s Park.

 

Many people think the only ‘wildlife’ in London parks are the pigeons but in fact a lot of wildlife lives there.

 

That said many of the wildfowl are introduced, if this female Smew had been seen on a reservoir in the east of the UK in winter it would unhesitatingly be treated as wild but in St Jame’s Park in July – no way.

 

The existence of free flying birds like this White-headed Duck (WHD) in ornamental collections confuses the true status of any potential vagrants to the UK. Before Ruddy Ducks escaped from captivity and became established in the UK, WHDs (away from collections) were very rare. The commoner Ruddy Ducks became the more vagrant WHDs were seen. Logic was that British Ruddy Ducks wintering in Spain were pairing up with WHDs and returning to the UK with them in tow. Of course it was this interbreeding with Spanish native WHDs that forced the UK authorities to eliminate the Ruddy Duck, but guess what once the UK Ruddy Ducks were gone then so were apparently wild WHDs as well. Clear evidence that those WHDs away from collections in parks etc were genuine vagrants from Spain.

 

Whatever you think of the status of wildfowl, there is no doubt that this Grey Heron was wild even if it was walking around on well used public footpaths.

 

Although I continued my ‘New Year Resolution’ to go ringing or birding every day, July wasn’t a great time for rare birds. A few nice waders were seen at Lytchett Bay but a highlight of early August was this American Bonaparte’s Gull that pitched up on Brownsea Island. Bonaparte’s Gull was not named after Emperor Napoleon but after his ornithologist nephew Charles.

 

Several weeks later, on 22nd August to be precise, we had a most unexpected treat when an another American bird, a Yellow Warbler turned up on Portland. This is migrates relatively early in North America and so seldom gets caught up in the severe weather systems that propel migrant New World warblers all the way across the Atlantic. However the remnants of a hurricane reached the UK just the day before and was undoubtedly the reason why the lovely bird graced our shores. Photo by Chris Minvalla.

POST SCRIPT

Nothing to do with summer 2017 but yesterday (17/10/17), only minutes after I had returned from a very busy morning’s ringing at Durlston I heard that a warbler first seen two days ago at St Aldhelm’s Head had been identified as a Two-barred Warbler (formerly known as Two-barred Greenish Warbler). So it was an immediate turn round and a quick return to Purbeck, the site is just 4 miles west of Durlston. The weather by this time had deteriorated, but in spite of the rain I had nice views but got no photographs. I left about 4pm by which time less than 20 birders had seen the bird. Along with the Yellow Warbler above this was a new species for my British and of course Dorset, Lists. Fortunately for twitchers across the UK it remained overnight and was seen by hundreds today. Fortunately my ringing colleague Chris and his father Tony saw the bird well and Tony has given me permission to use his excellent photo.

 

Two-barred (Greenish) Warbler – formerly treated as a race of Greenish Warbler, hence the inclusion of ‘greenish’ in its former name, breeds no closer than central Siberia from the upper Tungusta/Lower Yenisey rivers east to Sakhalin, northern China and North Korea. Although formerly lumped with the more westerly cousin it has been shown to act as a separate species in the area of overlap. This is about the 6th record for the UK but the first for Dorset. This ends a 30 year bugbear, I ignored reports of a ‘funny Yellow-browed Warbler’ on the island of Gugh, Scilly in 1987 only to find the day after I returned home that it was the UK’s first Two-barred! So it wasn’t just hurricane strength winds that occurred in mid-October 1987 and mid-October 2017. Photo by Tony Minvalla.

 

Great birds in May: 7th – 14th May 2016   Leave a comment

With no updates for two months regular readers of this blog could be forgiven for thinking I had given up with it. In fact Margaret and I have recently returned from a very long trip known as the Atlantic Odyssey, a repositioning cruise that is available once a year as a tourist ship ends its program in the Antarctic at the onset of the southern winter and moves to the Arctic for the northern summer. On top of that we went straight from Cabo Verde, the end point of the cruise, to Mallorca to join our friends at Birdquest in Mallorca to celebrate their 35th year of operation. It total we were away 45 days.

We arrived home on 6th May with many thousands of photos to sort and edit. Whilst I am making good progress, it will be some time before I can upload more than a few. On our return we found there was a whole suite of quality birds locally, which has greatly delayed progress on sorting photos and other matters. So my first post since returning will not be about the Atlantic Odyssey or Mallorca, but  on the good birds I have seen in the last week.

On Saturday 7th I was keen to get ringing again, especially as I had not seen my ringing colleagues for several months. Ringing at Durlston this spring has been pretty slow, but thanks to local ringer Mick Cook the site has been manned on eleven occasions. We have only ringed 72 birds over the spring but retraps have included a number of migrant birds that were ringed in previous years which have returned to breed, this is very useful data. Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff, Lesser Whitethroat and Common Whitethroat (above) have made up the bulk of migrant birds.

Red-footed falcon1 Chris Minvalla

After ringing my trainee Daniel and myself stopped off at Mordon Bog, he heard a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker drumming and a Cuckoo but the prize was this beautiful female Red-footed Falcon that hawked insects over the bog. Unfortunately the views were quite distant, but my other trainee ringer Chris Minvalla provided me with this superb flight shot he took a few days earlier. There has been speculation that this is the same individual that was seen at Wareham in 2015, but we will never know either way.

IMG_4760 Pom Skua

On Sunday 8th I went to Portland in the hope of seeing some of the spring migrants, but many have already passed through to their breeding grounds and I won’t be seeing them until the autumn. I was also keen to do some seawatching and in particular look for Pomarine Skuas, as the first ten days or so of May is the best time of the year to see them. In the event I saw three, along with two Arctic Skuas and a few Manx Shearwaters. Of course birds seen from the Bill are far too distant for photography, so I have included a shot I took from a pelagic off Cape Hatteras, North Carolina in May 2014. Note the lovely spoon-shaped tail feathers of an adult bird in spring, in the local vernacular ‘with a full set of cutlery’.

A full low tide at Lytchett Bay results in many waders feeding out of view in the creeks.

During the last few days the flooded fields and mudflats of Lytchett Bay have been attracting good numbers of migrant waders. A visit on Monday 9th gave me views of two Ruff and other birds but not the Whimbrels that have been regular at this site recently.

IMG_4966 Caspian Stonechat

Late on Tuesday news broke of a ‘Caspian’ Stonechat at Titchfield Haven in Hampshire so my friend Roger and I decided to pay a visit on Wednesday morning.

IMG_4941 Caspian Stonechat

The taxonomy of the Stonechats has been complex and controversial. DNA studies confirm what has long been suspected that at least three species (probably four) occur; African, Siberian and European. The trouble is that the DNA studies didn’t include the very distinctive ‘Caspian’ races of Siberian Stonechat variagatus and hemprichii.

IMG_4949 Caspian Stonechat

Siberian Stonechat is an annual vagrant to the UK with about 10 records annually but this is only the 6th record of ‘Caspian’ Stonechat. Whether this is considered a subspecies or a species, this is a bird well worth travelling for.

IMG_4956 Caspian Stonechat

One of the features of Siberian Stonechat is the black underwing coverts and the paler rump, in addition the ‘Caspian’ races also show extensive white in the tail …

IMG_4946 Caspian Stonechat

… the white rump, uppertail coverts and the base to the tail can be seen in this and later photos.

IMG_4945 Caspian Stonechat

There had been heavy rain that morning but Roger and I turned up just as it cleared up and the bird perched up to preen and dry out.

IMG_4971 Caspian Stonechat

Moult pattern clearly shows this is a second summer bird (one year old). The primaries and most of the flight feathers have been retained, whilst the tertials and outer secondaries and the remaining coverts have been moulted.

IMG_4979 BW Stilt

Whilst still at Titchfield Haven we heard that a Glossy Ibis had been seen at Lytchett Bay, less than a mile from my house, a first record for the site. We decided to return once we had the fill of the stonechat but later heard that it had flown off. Late that evening I had the news that a Black-winged Stilt had been found there, second record for the site but my first. I arrived with very little light left and a mist descending. Through my scope I could see a faint black and white blob but little else. Hardly a satisfying patch tick.

IMG_4976 BW Stilt

The following morning (12th) I had already arranged to visit Durlston with Daniel, Chris and Mick but only a few birds were around. Hearing that the stilt was still at Lytchett we packed in early and returned to Poole. To our delight we found that the stilt was showing well.

IMG_4975 BW Stilt

Himantopus stilts are another group with complex taxonomy, the six forms have been considered to fall into one, two or five (curiously never six) species, but the differences between the five ‘pied’ forms is rather slight, so perhaps two species is the best approach. Whatever the taxonomy, stilts are common in the tropics, subtropics and milder temperate reasons worldwide. The occurrence of another at Lytchett was not wholly unexpected, but was very welcome indeed.

IMG_4993 Glossy Ibis

Whilst admiring the Black-winged Stilt we learned that yesterday’s Glossy Ibis had returned, but was now in hiding. After a while all the Shelduck took to the air and the Glossy Ibis with them. Another Lytchett tick and a Poole Harbour one too. 

7F1A2267 GS Cuckoo

Friday’s schedule was greatly disrupted by the discovery of a Great Spotted Cuckoo on Portland. Initially the views weren’t great, as it was buried deep in a bush but later it perched up giving better views.

7F1A2278 GS Cuckoo

It returned on a number of occasions to this bush bordering a footpath (where it was sometimes spooked by passers-by) as there was a good supply of Brown-tail caterpillars.

7F1A2282 GS Cuckoo

Great Spotted Cuckoos are scarce summer visitors to Iberia, southern France, Turkey and parts of the Levant. There is also a breeding population in tropical Africa. Nowhere near as well known as Common Cuckoo, this species parasitises corvids, especially Magpies. On average one is found in the UK annually. This is the third record for Dorset but the first to be seen by more than one observer. This is the third I have seen in the UK (Humberside in 82, Hampshire in 00) and only the 22nd worldwide.

Great Spotted Cuckoo1 Chris Minvalla

Although it was sunny in Poole when I left there was rain, often heavy, at Portland not making for ideal conditions for photography. In poor light and rain I failed to get any flight shots, but again it was Chris Minvalla to the rescue, who turned up just as I was leaving and offered to share this wonderful photo with me. Note the rusty-brown tones of the primaries, these are unmoulted first year feathers and indicate that the bird is in its second summer.

IMG_4383 Daniel, Ginny and Chris

It was back to reality on Saturday, I was joined at Durlston ringing station by Mick Cook and my three trainee ringers, L-R Daniel, Ginny and Chris. I think this is the first time I have ringed with all three of them at the same time. However the results didn’t justify the effort, just two birds were ringed, a Whitethroat and a Willow Warbler. As far as the majority of migrants are concerned spring migration is over and we won’t man the site again until the start of autumn migration in mid-July.

HB Mustafa Sozen Turkey

That said, the morning wasn’t wasted as we had distant and rather brief views of a Honey Buzzard to the north of the ringing station. Of course I didn’t get a photo, so here is one from Internet Bird Collection taken by Mustafa Sozen in Turkey. Our success was short-lived as whilst we were taking down the nets we completely missed a Black Kite that was seen flying over the car park.

 

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.

Late April 2015 – local birding and ringing   Leave a comment

With just a few weeks between our return from the USA and the upcoming get together with Margaret’s family in Austria for her nephew’s wedding, spring birding and ringing, has of necessity, taken a back seat. However I have managed a few trips out in the field and three ringing visits to Durlston (it would have been more but I was hampered by strong winds for much of the time). This short post highlights some of the more interesting birds ringed.

P4260336-Portland-Bill

I made two visits to Portland and later to Lodmoor and or Radipole and was able to catch up with some of the spring migrants. Here in a photo taken in spring 2014 a group of birders are scanning for seabirds/passage migrants at the Obelisk at Portland Bill. On my last visit I saw Great and Arctic Skuas, Manx Shearwater, Common Scoter, Whimbrel and Sandwich Terns passing this point as well as the commoner or resident species like Common Guillemot, Razorbill, Puffin, Shag, Gannet, Fulmar and Kittiwake.

IMG_5971-Mordon-Bog

The area round Mordon Bog in Wareham Forest is a favourite of mine and although it hasn’t delivered many new birds for my year list recently, birding here is always a pleasure. Dartford Warbler, Woodlark and breeding grebes and ducks on the nearby lake are always nice to see and a heard only Cuckoo added enjoyment. I will have to leave it until my return from the Alps to see Hobby and Tree Pipit though.

IMG_5972-Leswh

Spring ringing at Durlston has always been a hit or miss affair. Unlike Portland migrants seldom seem to linger and we get far fewer birds than in Autumn. Various hypotheses based on the geographical positions of the two headlands have been put forwards. A small number of Willow Warblers, Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps have been trapped as well as the five species shown in this post. This Lesser Whitethroat was ringed on 21/4/14 and was retrapped almost to the day and presumably breeds somewhere at Durlston.

IMG_5975-White

Common Whitethroats are as the name suggests, a much commoner birds with anywhere from 50 -100 pairs in the Park. Young birds have dark eyes but by the spring both second-calender year birds and adults have the same eye colour. A few can still be aged on the colour of the outer tail, white in adults, fawn coloured in second year birds, as having a complete moult after breeding these will be the same feathers that they migrated with in the autumn. The dark grey head is indicative of a male but many intermediates between this bird and the brown head of a typical female occur.

IMG_5993-Garwa

Garden Warblers belong to the genus Sylvia along with Common and Lesser Whitethroats (actually they are not warblers at all but babblers – but that is a different story). Unlike their congeners they undergo a partial moult post breeding and both adults and young undergo a complete moult in Africa. Thus adults are abraded when they migrate to Africa in autumn but both adults and second year birds are pristine on the return, as can be seen by the fresh pale tips to the primaries, secondaries and tertials and so cannot be aged.

IMG_5989-Common-Redstart

I was pleased to ring this female Common Redstart on the 23rd of April as we seldom trap many in the spring….

IMG_5987-Black-Restart

….but far more rewarding was its the capture of its cousin, a female Black Redstart. This was the first Black Redstart to be ringed at Durlston and the first I have seen in the hand. Common Redstarts breed in mature woodland, our migrant birds are probably heading for Wales and NW Scotland. Black Redstarts however are seen in the UK as winter visitors, summer visitors and passage migrants. They prefer rocky outcrops, cliffs, abandoned buildings, industrial sites etc to breed but are nowhere common. A pair has bred on the cliffs at Durlston for years but are never seen away from the immediate area. It is far more likely that this bird was a passage migrant.

We have fewer ringers to man the ringing site at Durlston this year but come the autumn I intend, weather permitting, to put in as much time as I can to help monitor migration at this outstanding location.

19th – 26th April 2014: recent birding and ringing.   Leave a comment

Over the last week I have made several attempts at ringing at both Durlston and Fleets Lane but none have been overly successful, culminating with an attempt at Durlston on the 25th which resulted in the capture of just two retrap Wrens. We did ring our first Common Whitethroat early in the week at Durlston and Mick caught a couple of retrap Whitethraots that we ringed as first years last autumn

 

P4210315-Whitethroat

Common Whitethroat at Durlston.

 

P4210311-Firecrest-f

Firecrests are usually a bird of late autumn, with very few occurring in spring, so it was pleasing to trap this female on 21st April, especially was in breeding condition, so confirming local breeding.

 

P4230316-Hedgehog

As I was leaving for Durlston early one morning I saw this Hedgehog on the front lawn. It had rolled into a ball, but I supposed this was in reaction to my presence. Later Margaret called me to say it was obviously sick and she had put it in a box in the conservatory. With no improvement by mid-afternoon I contacted a local animal hospital, who later took it into care.

 

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I had a number of immovable appointments on the 24th, which was a bit frustrating as both a Richard’s Pipit and  a Hoopoe where found near Studland. In the end Margaret and I did get out but not until late evening when we went to a spot near Corfe Castle hoping to hear a Nightingale sing.

 

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Nightingale numbers have declined markedly in recent years with them now absent from several previously reliable locations. However I usually get to hear one or two singing birds each year, either on migration or at a known breeding site, but I seldom see anything more than a brief glimpse. I was very surprised when we arrived at the site on the south slope of the Corfe to Ulwell ridge to find this Nightingale was singing out in the open.

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It was well past 8pm and the light was fading so the image quality isn’t the best, but I think this is the first Nightingale I have ever photographed in the UK, apart that is from the odd bird that we have ringed.

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Sunset over the Corfe ridge.

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On the 25th I spent the morning at Portland Bill. Once again I failed to connect with a large arrival of migrants but with a strong southerly wind the conditions were ideal for seawatching, something that clearly occurred to every other birder in the area.

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Most birders scan the area just to the right of the Pulpit Rock, hoping to get onto east-bound seabirds at the earliest opportunity, they can be tracked until they pass behind the Obelisk. Views to the east of the Obelisk are into the sun and involve birds rapidly disappearing. I stuck it out from 0645 – 1015 but still there were a few good birds that passed soon after I departed.

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A couple of Ravens were in the Bill area.

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Raven numbers have increased considerably in recent years. This may be due to a cessation of direct persecution or finding  alternative sources of food.

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Powerful birds, Ravens will feed on the eggs and young of many birds but the abundance of road killed mammals may form a large part of their diet.

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During the seawatch I saw four Great Skuas but they were always at a fair distance. This dark phase Arctic Skua flew directly overhead but was into the sun before I got my camera on it.

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Manx Shearwaters were moving past the Bill in small numbers.

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It’s not just shearwaters, skuas and terns that can be seen on a spring seawatch. A pair of Gadwall flying by out to sea was an unusual sight. More expected was this flock of twelve Whimbrel moving between their African wintering and Scandinavian/Siberian breeding grounds.

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I had to call into Radipole RSPB reserve on the way back to  look at this bit of ‘modern art ‘that has caused so much controversy. Erected as part of a local art exhibition, it has caused outrage among some local birders, whilst others have suggested that such ‘works of art’ will encourage those who are not committed to conservation to enjoy the beauty of the local wildlife reserves. For an extreme view see Brett Spence’s blog http://bretteeblahblahblah.blogspot.co.uk/ but don’t click if you are offended by strong language!

7th November (mainly) – another day at Durlston and a local twitch.   2 comments

Again, the week from the 4th to the 11th of November has been affected by wind and rain. I managed to make a short visit to Holton Lee on the 4th where I ringed or retrapped a nice selection of woodland birds. As this is now the 3rd winter we have operated there, I am getting some interesting data on site fidelity and longevity of the woodland birds.

On the 7th several of us had a very successful visit to Durlston (see below) but strong winds prevented further ringing later in the week. Margaret and I joined our friends from the Phoenix (previously Nexus) organisation for a meal on the 6th and we had a very pleasant get together with our birding friends on the 7th.

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Bonfire Night used to be celebrated just on the 5th of November, the date in 1605 when Guy Fawkes was caught attempting to blow up the Houses of Parliament, as part of a Catholic plot to assassinate the Protestant King James. These days fireworks are set off anytime between late October and mid November, which sort of ruins the whole idea of Bonfire Night being a date where we celebrate an historic event. We didn’t go to any displays this year, I just watched a few fireworks in a neighbour’s garden.

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Some birds ringed at Durlston this week. Goldfinches are present in large numbers as they migrate to Europe for the winter. On the 7th we trapped 158 of them. The deep red on the head indicates that this is an adult, and the extension of red behind the eye, that it is a male.

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The wing of the same bird. Lack of contrast between the greater and primary coverts, the reduced brown fringing to the lesser coverts and bright yellow in the remiges confirm that this is an adult bird.

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Female Goldcrests show no orange/gold in the crown whatsoever.

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On the other hand, a female Firecrest shows a limited amount of orange, but nothing like the stunningly bright crown of a male.

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A male Bullfinch.

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The wing of the same bird. The outer two greater coverts are unmoulted, and the brown-fringed unmoulted carpal covert (just below the tip of my thumb) show that this is a first year bird.

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Later on the 7th I went over to Studland to look for an immature Surf Scoter that had been found by my friend Paul Morton. This American duck occurs in the UK in very small numbers every year. I have seen 15 before in Britain, 4 in Dorset but this is my first one in the Poole Harbour area. Note the stout Eider like bill, the two pale patches on the head, which distinguishes it from Common Scoter and the lack of white in the wing which separates it from Velvet Scoter.

Posted November 12, 2013 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

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29th Oct – 2nd Nov – bit more ringing.   Leave a comment

During this week the windy weather interspersed with heavy showers has continued. Not very conducive to our autumn ringing program but I have managed to get out on three occasions.

On the 29th our trainee Carol and I visited Holton Lee, the private estate on the south side of Lytchett Bay. I was keen to see how many of the birds I had ringed last winter were still coming to the feeders. The answer seemed to be not many, as only one Blue Tit and one Nuthatch out of the 142 birds we ringed last winter were re-trapped. Of course more of last years bird might be in the vicinity, just not coming to the feeders that morning, but it does show what a rapid turn over occurs, even among sedentary birds like tits, woodpeckers and Dunnocks from year to year due to natural mortality.

We trapped three Great Spotted Woodpeckers, all young males, a new Nuthatch, several Goldcrests and two Marsh Tits. There also seemed to be a new influx of Robins, as seven were ringed. Being highly territorial in the winter, it seems unlikely that they had been around for long as you would expect a resident bird to chose and defend a territory against all comers. Although a local breeder there is definitely an influx of migrant Robins every autumn.

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There has been a significant decline in Marsh Tit numbers in recent years. This has been variously attributed to competition with increasing numbers of Blue and Great Tits for food and nesting sites and to the destruction of their favoured understory by a burgeoning deer population.

On visit a Durlston on the 30th we saw a good number of finches, Redwings and even a  few Swallows on migration. We ringed 35 birds, predominately Goldfinches. It would seem that the large numbers of migrant warblers we experienced since we commenced autumn ringing at the start of August is now over.

On the 2nd, Mick was joined by his friend and former trainer Mick Netherwood who was visiting from London. I have known both of them for many years since we used to ring at Chapman’s Pool, the annual visit for a week or so by the ‘two Micks’ was a firm fixture in the ringing calender. As I haven’t seen Mick N for several years, I joined them, although I have to admit the conditions weren’t promising. Increasing wind and showers meant we had to pack up by 0930 but although we only trapped 21 birds, we had a couple of corkers.

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This was the first Firecrest we have trapped at Durlston this autumn. Numbers of this, our smallest bird (along with Goldcrest), seem to be increasing with more breeding pairs being discovered. It is not yet known if the Firecrests that breed in the UK are represented among the migrants encountered on the coast but ringing recoveries have indicated that many of the migrant birds come from the near continent.

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The real surprise was the capture of this Yellow-browed Warbler. No longer a rarity, this species is best considered a scarce migrant. From 1968-84, 0-5 were recorded annually in Dorset, from 1985-99 up to 29, but these days over 40 are seen, with Portland taking the lion’s share. Probably a couple of thousand pass through the whole of the UK each autumn. Whilst the vast majority of the population breed in Siberia and winter in SE Asia, it may be that the most westerly breeding population is establishing a separate wintering ground in western Europe.

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Today was the first date since the start of August where we haven’t trapped either a Willow Warbler or a Chiffchaff at Durlston. However in world terms YBW is perhaps the most numerous of the genus Phylloscopus, breeding across vast swathes of the Siberian taiga. This species needs to be distinguished from the very similar, but considerably rarer, Hume’s Leaf Warbler (with which it was once considered conspecific) but Hume’s is greyer, has a reduced median covert bar, all dark bill, darker legs and paler centres to the tertials and coverts. They also differ considerably in vocalisations, but that would have been of no use in this circumstance. Photo by Simon Breeze.

Posted November 2, 2013 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

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15th – 24th October – an evening with Ray Mears and more birdy stuff.   Leave a comment

One of the most interesting events Margaret and I have attended in the last couple of weeks was a talk in Poole by adventurer Ray Mears. Well known in the UK from his television programs on survival in the great outdoors and the skills of native people, he gave a fascinating talk illustrated with stills and videos on his travels in the boreal forests of Canada, Scandinavia and Siberia and of conservation initiatives that he has been involved in in many parts of the world.

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Here Ray Mears explains what to do if confronted by an uncomfortably close Black Bear – apparently the answer is lower your head and don’t look it in the eye.

During the last week the weather has changed markedly. With the wind in the south it has remained unseasonably warm but there has been a lot of rain and high winds which had greatly curtailed our ringing efforts.

However before the change in weather we had great success with our ringing program at Durlston Country Park with catches of between 54 and 122 birds in the week leading up to the 15th, most of these predictably were Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps but we consider it most worthwhile to continue to monitor the movements of these common migrants. On the 15th I was on my own at Durlston ringing a nice selection of birds that included a very late Garden Warbler, two Stonechats and a Treecreeper. Although there were plenty of birds I was coping well, but about lunchtime I started catching a lot of Swallows. Everything else was packed away and I concentrated that afternoon on ringing Swallows ending up with over 160 of them. Back in the 80’s I used to ring a lot of Swallows at roost and got a large number of controls i.e the capture of a bird previously ringed by  someone else but I had no such luck today. Final total was 227 and I was pretty knackered after ringing for nine hours without a break.

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Although Stonechats breed at Durlston they are quite rare within our enclosed ringing area.

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The first Treecreeper we have ringed at Durlston. Given the sites coastal locality it was carefully scrutinised to make sure it wasn’t the mega rare Short-toed Treecreeper from the continent.

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We know that a properly trained ringer can extract and handle a bird without hurting it, however the reverse is not necessarily true! A large female Sparrowhawk sunk both its talons into the back of my hand and the only alternative was to release the bird or pull my hand away until the skin tore. I chose the latter.

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One day we trapped a Lesser Redpoll, the smallest, darkest and commonest (in the UK) of the various Redpoll taxa.

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With the winds increasing after the 15th I made a couple of visits to Fleets Lane site in Poole which is much more sheltered. The blue rather than bluish-green moustachial stripe, paler legs and most importantly the presence of wing moult identifies it as an adult (the first I have seen in the hand) and the all dark bill as a male. The bird was already ringed and was originally trapped as a first year at Lytchett Bay in 2012.

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There was a break in the constant windy conditions on the 24th and I was back at Durlston. There were a good number of birds including a few Meadow Pipits (above) and Swallows passing overhead but the migration of warblers has all but stopped with just a few Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps trapped.

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By far the commonest bird was Goldfinch, hundreds flew overhead and we managed to ring over 60. Up to 80% of the British Goldfinch population winters overseas and autumn is the time of peak abundance.

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As well as ringing birds I have been involved in fair amount of maintenance work in the last few days with net rides either cut or maintained at Holton Lee, Lytchett Bay and Arne (for a public ringing demonstration on the 26th). The above photo shows the excessively smelly and muddy net ride at Lytchett that we used to trap wagtails on autumn migration.

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Now that winter approaches the monthly counts of wildfowl and waders across the country restarts. Unfortunately the count on the 13th was marred by poor visibility and rain. You can hardly see the flats at the south end of Holes Bay let alone pick out small waders in the distance.

Over the last few days there have been a number of rare birds in Dorset however either I haven’t managed to go and see them or my attempts have been unsuccessful. On the 21st a report of an American wader Lesser Yellowlegs at Swineham near Wareham drew a blank and on the 22nd whilst doing some net ride clearance at Holton Lee I heard that a Great White Egret had been seen earlier at Arne RSPB,  again I had no luck but there were 28 Spoonbills at Shipstal Point – I wonder if they will ever stay and breed.

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At Arne the woods echoed with the calls of rutting Sika Deer stags. I didn’t take a camera (after all I just went out to do some brush cutting) so this record shot was taken using my phone.

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After taking the last photo I heard a clanking noise behind me and turned to see these two stags with their antlers entwined. Again a poor record shot taken on my phone.

Posted October 24, 2013 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

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