Archive for the ‘Firecrest’ Tag

Autumn 2018: a dip on a whale, a visit to Westminster, some ringing, a prog-rock legend and an act of remembrance.   Leave a comment

This post covers a number of activities during the autumn of 2018.

 

Generally these days I don’t travel far for species that I have already seen elsewhere. As I have seen Grey Catbirds many time in North America I didn’t bother to travel to see what was probably the most reliable UK rarity this autumn. However the Beluga Whale that turned up in the Thames at Gravesend in Kent was another matter as I have never seen one anywhere in the world. Having said that I made a dog’s breakfast of the whole thing, I had already arranged to go ringing on the Wednesday and Thursday of the week it turned up, I felt too tired on Friday after a very busy ringing session (see Swallow photo below). Over Saturday and Sunday the M27 was closed for repairs and I knew there would be traffic chaos, so I left it until the Tuesday, a week after it was discovered so I could go with my friend Daniel. You’ve guessed it, we dipped. We spent seven to eight hours in the car and four hours staring at this less than attractive view. Later information indicated it had moved downstream, I’ve only got myself to blame!

 

The following day I was by the Thames again, this time in central London. I had applied for an Indian visa and had to go to the visa centre near the Barbican at a specified time. Margaret came as well so we could do some sightseeing afterwards. After the disappointment and effort of the day before I wasn’t’ best pleased when we found the M3 was closed and all the traffic was diverted. We arrived 40 minutes late and had to get a taxi, but once there everything went smoothly. Afterwards we opted to walk to Westminster along the Embankment.

 

Heading west along the north bank we passed the London Eye …

 

I went on the London Eye years ago and enjoyed the panoramic views over the city, but Margaret doesn’t like heights and refused to take advantage of the opportunity.

 

We passed Cleopatra’s Needle, this 21m high granite obelisk was given as a gift to the Britain by the ruler of Egypt in 1819. It was impossible to get a decent photo of the actual monolith from close up so I’ve just posted a pic of the accompanying bronze sphinx.

 

Moving on we reached Westminster Bridge.

 

Due to the recent tragic and appalling terrorist attacks the pavements on Westminster Bridge are now flanked by barriers as is the approach to Parliament via Abingdon St.

 

The Palace of Westminster (also known as the Houses of Parliament) is undergoing a major refurbishment so doesn’t look as attractive as usual. Although a palace has stood here since the 11th C it has twice been destroyed by fire. Parliament has met here since the 13th C. The current building dates from the 1840s.

 

We weren’t here to visit the Houses of Parliament but the adjacent Westminster Abbey.

 

Photography isn’t allowed inside the Abbey so these photos have been taken from their website. This shows the quire with the nave beyond.

 

Nave of Westminster Abbey. According to Wikipedia: It is one of the United Kingdom’s most notable religious buildings and the traditional place of coronation and burial site for English and, later, British monarchs. The building itself was a Benedictine monastic church until the monastery was dissolved in 1539. Between 1540 and 1556, the abbey had the status of a cathedral. Since 1560, the building is no longer an abbey or a cathedral, having instead the status of a Church of England “Royal Peculiar”—a church responsible directly to the sovereign. According to a tradition first reported by Sulcard in about 1080, a church was founded at the site (then known as Thorn Ey) in the seventh century. Construction of the present church began in 1245, on the orders of King Henry III.  Since the coronation of William the Conqueror in 1066, all coronations of English and British monarchs have been in Westminster Abbey. There have been 16 royal weddings at the abbey since 1100.  

 

So many famous historical figures are buried in the Abbey; Kings and Queens, famous military figures as well as poets and scientists. This is the tomb of Edward the Confessor, one of the last Saxon kings of England whose death in 1066 led to the conflict between King Harold and William the Conqueror, the Battle of Hastings, which ended Saxon rule and started the Norman occupation.

 

Many famous scientists are buried in the Abbey, the most recent has been placed between the graves of Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin, a fitting place for one of the world’s most accomplished scientists.

 

Photos were allowed in the nearby cloisters and chapels.

 

We slowly made our way back to Victoria coach station via St James’ Park.

 

We had plenty of time to admire the ornamental fountains …

 

… as well as the ornamental wildfowl.

 

As I mentioned in an earlier post St James’ has a wide collection of wildfowl and other birds …

 

… some like this Grey Heron are undoubtedly fully wild, even if they are a bit on the tame side …

 

… others like this Rosybill from southern South America are undoubtedly of captive origin.

 

Many of the rest like this Red-billed Pochard …

 

… the tame Greylag Geese that beg for food off any passerby …

 

… and Ruddy Shelduck were originally of captive origin but now have feral populations somewhere or other. Actually the situation with Ruddy Shelduck is a bit more complicated, on the British List due to an influx of supposed wild birds in 1947, this species is now seen every year, usually in early autumn. These could be (and surely sometimes are) from the wild population in Turkey or Central Asia but most likely from established feral populations in Europe. Either way it deserves a place on Category C of the British List (established introductions) if not Category A (fully wild birds recorded since 1950).

 

Back in Dorset much of my free time has been spent with our ringing program. Part of my time has been helping my friend Shaun with ringing at Lytchett Bay which has been successful with good numbers of Bearded Tits ringed as well as the usual mix of Sedge and Reed Warblers etc. As with previous years a few of our Reed and Sedge Warblers have been retrapped later in the autumn by ringers working on the Atlantic coast of France.

 

We have also trapped a number of Pied Wagtails at roost. This is an easy way to ring reasonable numbers of this species. As it is dark by the time the birds are extracted, the birds are ringed in Shaun’s garage (who lives nearby) roosted in boxes and returned to the ringing site before dawn the next day. This is an established and safe way to research the movements and demography of these birds. Although we haven’t had many recoveries in recent years, previously Lytchett Bay Pied Wagtails have been retrapped or found as far away as Scotland and Algeria.

 

But it has been our site at Durlston Country Park that has taken up most of my time. We have ringed just over 3000 birds this year, a significant drop compared to recent years but this has hardly been a typical year. Dreadful weather in the spring meant that many migrant birds arrived weeks late and probably failed to raise two broods as a result. Hot weather in the summer may have helped, but many are reporting that numbers of migrant species are well down this year. The weather in August and September has been ok in parts, but not settled like July, whilst October was decidedly stormy with strong westerlies. Numbers would be much lower if it were not for a remarkable week in late September where we ringed over 1000 birds. Over a couple of days over 320 hirundines (Swallows, House and Sand Martins) were ringed, this occurred immediately before my double trip to London (see comments with the first photo above) so it is easy to see why I was knackered.

 

As always we ringed large numbers of Blackcaps throughout the autumn. This bird shows unusual white feathering on the greater coverts, this is not staining and it was bilateral. Birders (especially those new to the hobby) should consider an aberrantly plumaged or partially leucistic individual when confronted with a bird with unusual marking. Although not really applicable in this case, leucistic finches and sparrows have been identified as Snow Buntings and all manner of other rarities by the unwary.

 

We haven’t had much in the way of unusual species this autumn but Stonechats are seldom seen within our trapping area, although are common elsewhere in the Park.

 

Similarly Linnets are commonly seen migrating overhead but seldom descent to net level. This bird was ringed on a still, but very foggy morning.

 

Without doubt the rarest bird we have ringed at Durlston in 2018 was this Yellow-browed Warbler. Although nowhere near as rare as it once was, seeing and especially ringing, one of these Siberian gems is always a delight. It is still not known if the birds that now migrate to western Europe and sometimes winter there successfully return to the Siberian taiga, but until a satellite tag small enough to be fitted on a 6 gram bird is developed, ringing will be the only way we can find out.

 

As October morphed into November the weather got stuck in a windy unsettled rut. Not a single day has passed where ringing at our more exposed site at Durlston has been practical. However our site on Canford Heath, where we have set up a feeder station, is both sheltered and productive. although it can be cold and even frosty on a clear morning.

 

We have caught lots of birds this autumn and got some good retrap data on birds from previous winters. Most birds ringed have been finches and tits but one highlight was this tiny Firecrest (photo by Terry Elborn).

 

What was even better was that he brought his mate along too! (photo by Terry Elborn).

 

It’s really pleasing when someone you have been training to ring over several years gets their ringing permit. Both Fenja (centre) and Ginny (right) have been assessed by an external body and shown to have achieved the necessary standard. Fenja has left for a six-month job as a research assistant working on a detailed study involving both ringing and genetics of Blue Tit populations in southern Germany. We wish her well and look forwards to her return in the spring (a bit like the Swallows really).

 

On an entirely different subject I went to see the prog-rock legends King Crimson recently in Bournemouth. I saw them first in Leeds in the early 70s and again in Poole in the 80s. Hardly easy listening, but tremendous musicianship led as always by Robert Fripp’s incredible guitar playing. There have been many virtuoso electric guitarist but Fripp’s style based around his e-bow and ‘Frippatronics’ is totally unique.

 

Only Fripp (top right) remains from the original line up but every member has a top rate musician. The sound and rhythms from the triple drum kit was amazing. The band put a total ban on photography so these shots are taken from their promotional material. Apart from the 1969 seminal ‘Court of the Crimson King’, I find the albums ‘Lizard’ and ‘Islands’ to be most enjoyable. Although ‘Starless and Bible Black’ and ‘Red’ showcase some excellent playing they are more difficult to assimilate.

 

This weekend, particularly yesterday, the whole country has been remembering the First World War and the tragic loss of life, in what seems with the benefit of a hundred years of hindsight, a wholly pointless war. My thoughts have turned to my grandfather Thomas who served in Flanders, suffered from a chlorine gas attack and was awarded the Military Medal for rescuing a team of horses from no-mans land under enemy gun fire. The story was always told that he refused to accept the medal saying he only did it for the sake of the horses, but of course these tales can grow in the telling. Here he is sometime in the mid-50s with me on his knee.

 

Like most of the country we paused at 11 o’clock on the 11th of the 11th month to mark the 100th anniversary of the end of WW1. Photo of the Armistice Day memorial service taken from the TV.

 

I am not an avid Royalist but do think our Royal Family, or at least the key players, do an excellent job and at times like this most of the country looks up to them (in this case literally, as the Queen, the Duchess of Cornwall and the Duchess of Cambridge were watching from a balcony).

 

But let’s end with another photo of what pioneer birding guru DIM Wallace always called ‘the seven-striped sprite’ – the beautiful male Firecrest. (Photo by Terry Elborn)

 

 

April – early May 2018: a few spring migrants   Leave a comment

I returned from Vietnam at the end of March and for the first time in several years I was at home during the peak spring migration period.

That said I didn’t benefit much from it. Cold weather at home and in particular bad weather in Europe and North Africa has delayed or aborted spring migration. Many species, most notably the hirundines (swallows and martins) have arrived in very small numbers and although early arriving migrants like Blackcap and Chiffchaff are here in good numbers, many of the later arriving species are not. Seawatching, at least for me, has been poor. Most of my visits to Portland have been on days when seabird passage was light or I manged to miss the key species like Pomarine Skua by scanning the horizon when they were in fact passing just under my nose!

That said April and early May was not without its benefits. Here are a selection of the most memorable birds I have seen this spring.

 

There has been a Bonaparte’s Gull hanging around Longham Lakes near Poole for some time. I visited on 7th of April when it was in winter plumage. Hearing that it was rapidly moulting into summer plumage and gaining a full black hood, I returned on the 26th and took these shots.

 

Bonaparte’s Gull wasn’t named after Napoleon Bonaparte but his nephew Charles (1803-1857). Born in France, yet raised in Italy Charle Bonaparte later moved to the USA. He is known for discovering Moustached Warbler and Wilson’s Storm Petrel.

 

Superficially like a small Black-headed Gull, Bonaparte’s has blackish rather than chocolate-brown head, all black bill and whiter underwings. The isolated dark mark in the outer primaries indicates that this is in third-summer plumage rather than a full adult. This species seems to have a got a lot commoner in the UK in recent years but whether this is due to one or two wandering individuals I’m not sure.

 

Also at Longham was this lovely Greater Scaup, seen her with two Tufted Duck. This species was once regular on Littlesea at Studland but the (? deliberate) introduction of predatory fish has changed the ecology of the lake and now there are no ducks at all wintering. A few Scaup often winters at Abbotsbury Swannery but views are usually distant. Good views of this drake were therefore greatly appreciated. Photo by my friend Chris’s father Tony Minvalla.

 

I usually find Portland Bill to be the best area in the county to experience spring migration. Sticking seven miles out into the Channel it acts as a magnet for birds flying from the Continent. In autumn larger numbers seem to congregate along the Purbeck coast, eg at our ringing site at Durlston.

 

This spring has been unusually poor for migrants at Portland and elsewhere see https://www.portlandbirdobs.com There was only one large fall and that was on a day when I wrongly judged conditions to be unsuitable for migration and only birded locally rather than go to Portland or Durlston! However I have managed to see a reasonable selection of spring migrants and of course the usual resident species like this Common Kestrel.

 

The highlights of this spring were this Hoopoe that graced the ‘top fields’ and the Crown Estate fields opposite Portland Bird Observatory. Photo by my friend Roger Howell.

 

Hoopoes are common over much of southern Europe, Middle East and North Africa in summer and migrants sometimes ‘overshoot’ and end up on the British south coast in spring. Resident populations in tropical Africa are often treated as a separate species, African Hoopoe based on differences in wing pattern. Photo by Roger Howell.

 

This photo, also by Roger Howell, of the Portland bird shows the typical wing pattern of Eurasian Hoopoe. African Hoopoe’s wing pattern lacks the broad white band in the outer primaries and has much more white on the secondaries and greater coverts.

 

Another highlight of the spring was a pair of Golden Orioles seen in the ‘top fields’. During my visit the female showed very well but the male appeared only briefly. There was a time when it looked like Golden Orioles might colonise parts of the UK with regular breeding occurring in East Anglia. Unfortunately they have ceased to breed in the UK, despite suitable habitat remaining and are now no more than a scarce migrant. The female of the pair was photographed by Chris Minvalla.

 

I have only been on one out-of-county twitch this spring and that was to see a rather dodgy bird that had taken up residence in this small cul-de-sac at East Budleigh in east Devon.

 

Italian Sparrow is a rather dodgy recently evolved species formed by hybridisation of House Sparrow and Spanish Sparrow, but it has been decided that it is valid and has been accepted as a species by the IOC. The question is – is this individual a genuine Italian Sparrow from the core of its Italian range or the  the hybrid offspring of a vagrant Spanish Sparrow that just happens to breed with a British House Sparrow? Add to that the question whether it could have got here on by its own steam or hitched a ride on a ship and the significance of the deformed bill (that could indicate captive origin) and you can see why opinions are highly divided about this bird. Photo from Devon Birds www.devonbirds.org/news/bird_news/devon_bird_sighting

 

I was persuaded to go by my friend Olly but although I didn’t rate the sparrow very highly I enjoyed the trip partly because of the lovely scenery on the nearby Devon coast.

 

Part of the world Heritage Site Jurassic Coast, these sandstone cliffs are actually from the earlier Triassic period when the first dinosaurs were evolving. I have walked the coast from near Beaulieu in the New Forest to Beer in Devon but have yet to walk this section. One day ….

 

The detour to the coast was well worthwhile as we had great views of a male Cirl Bunting. Careful management and a Cornish reintroduction scheme is helping the threatened Cirl Bunting regain territory lost to agricultural ‘improvement’ in recent decades. Apart from a single bird seen in west Dorset a few years ago, all my sightings have been in south Devon, however the species has now crossed the Exe River and is now breeding in the coastal habitat between the Exe and the Dorset border. This photo was taken near Exeter in 2011.

 

There is no good news to report about Turtle Doves though. It has never been common during the 40 years I’ve been birding but there was always a realistic chance of seeing one when out birding, either on its breeding grounds inland or on migration on the coast. Now the triple whammy of habitat destruction at home, desertification in the African wintering grounds and relentless hunting pressure in autumn and spring (especially in Malta) is driving this lovely bird to extinction. I now know of only one location where it can be seen locally, just over the border into Hampshire at Martin Down, where we saw and heard four individuals a few days ago.

 

Of course I’ve carried on with the ringing program at Durlston this spring, but eight visits in April and three in May resulted in the capture of just 137 birds. It was not all bad however, we retrapped birds that ringed in almost every year between 2011 and 2017, including an eight year old Great Tit plus Lesser Whitethroats, Common Whitethroats and Blackcaps that had returned from Africa to breed at Durlston, some for several years in succession. Gathering information like this concerning longevity and natal philopatry (returning to your birth place to breed) is more important than ringing a large number of birds, that will never be heard of again. The commonest migrant was of course Willow Warbler. Willows have a longer and more pointed wing shape than Chiffchaffs but as any trainee ringer soon learns it is the lack of emargination on the 6th primary that is the clincher.

 

Olive-grey coloured Willow like this one may be Scandinavian birds of the race acredula

The movements of Firecrests at Durlston is a bit of a mystery. As can be clearly seen in the above graph, the vast majority occur in late October and November and probably mainly represent post breeding dispersal of British bred birds and birds from the near continent, The very few records in August and early September may be of locally bred birds. There have only been two records in spring on 21st April 2014 and 28th April 2018 – so where might they have come from?

 

This bird was ringed on 28th April this year. It looks in bad condition but it’s not. The black matted feathers around the bill is due to pollen which it has either fed on directly or has picked up whilst feeding on small insects attracted to the pollen. Chiffchaffs often arrive in the UK in spring looking like this and it is a generally held opinion that they pick up the pollen from stop-over sites in Spain (I haven’t got the actual reference so I’m being a bit cautious about the location here). It could be that this female Firecrest, which didn’t have a brood patch so was not yet breeding, had arrived all the way from wintering grounds in Spain.

 

Two Common Whitethroats, a female on the left and a male trapped at Durlston. The female was newly ringed but the male was ringed as a 1st year bird in August 2017.

 

Ringing at our site at Canford Heath was successful throughout March (although I wasn’t around to enjoy it) so it was decided we would continue into April. Three visits in the first half of the month produced the goods but another on the 19th after a spell of fine weather produced little, showing that the birds ringed earlier had migrated elsewhere as soon as the opportunity presented itself. A few Siskins hung around to breed but most departed with the change of the weather.

 

A comparison of the wing pattern of a first year male (age code 5) Siskin (top) and an adult male (age code 6) below with some welly boots included for good measure.

 

But an outstanding feature of the ringing at Canford this spring was the Lesser Redpolls. we catch a few throughout the winter but numbers really built up in  early April with 31 ringed compared to 3 during the rest of the winter. These must have been birds migrating through the area to points further north. Some had the classic red ‘poll’ whilst other had an orange ‘poll’. It’s not clear if these ‘orangepolls’ are all first year birds as some had adult type tails.

 

An adult male Lesser Redpoll in breeding plumage is a bit of a stunner.

 

I have neither the time or space to go through the complex vagaries of redpoll taxonomy except to say that Lesser Redpoll is the form (now usually treated as a species) that breeds in UK, Western Europe and the Alps whilst  Mealy Redpoll breeds all around the northern hemisphere in the temperate zone. Mealy (or Common) Redpoll is a scarce winter visitor the UK (but in some years it is irruptive and occurs in much larger numbers). Here in the south of the UK we get very few Mealies so the bird we caught on 9th April and again on the 11th was the first undisputable Meal;y Redpoll to ringed by our group. Its frosty appearance, pale pink breast and large size (wing of 78 compared to 68-73 of the Lesser Redpolls handled the same day) all confirm it as a Mealy.

 

Ringing of migrants is just about over for the spring. Some ringing of chicks in the nest and an important Nightjar study is about to start but I’ll be taking a break for a little while.

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

… and on the water.

 

Birds would suddenly rise ….

 

…. whenever the local Marsh Harriers appeared.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

… even if it was the first day of spring.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

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.

Birding/Ringing in the last week – 16th – 22nd February 2015   Leave a comment

 

 

During the last week I have rather busy with paperwork and all of Wednesday was taken up with a trip to London (see next post) but we have got out a few times for birding or ringing.

 

IMG_2583 New Forest

On the 16th we went to Blashford Lakes near Ringwood but saw little of note. It appears that many waterfowl are already leaving for their breeding grounds. Winter seems to be getting shorter every year, which might sound like a good thing, but isn’t from a birding perspective. Later we continued to an area of the New Forest where Hen Harriers are known to roost.

IMG_2589 Fallow Deer New Forest

Surprisingly, in spite of staying until dark we didn’t see any harriers but a Merlin put on a good show as did this herd of Fallow Deer.

IMG_2592

This is a bachelor herd of about 25 males. Unlike Red Deer which shed their antlers after the rut in November, Fallow Deer (a species introduced to England by the Romans) shed their antlers in April/May.

IMG_2596 Great Bustards

We had heard that three Great Bustards were spending the winter along the Purbeck coast. These birds are from the re-introduction program on Salisbury Plain, an ambitious and worthwhile project which is returning this magnificent bird to its former home. On arrival on the morning of the 22nd we saw the birds in the distance but after a while they took off and flew towards us…..

IMG_2602 Great Bustards

…. giving good flight views before settling in an other field. An adult male Great Bustard is one of the heaviest flying birds in the world. As far as I am aware this group consist of an immature male and two females. I really hope that this enormous, stately bird becomes re-established (the native population was shot out in 1832) and that winter occurences in Dorset become the norm.

A distant Great Grey Shrike

We continued on to Mordon Bog/Sherford Bridge area where we met a couple who had just relocated the highly elusive wintering Great Grey Shrike. Two or three Great Grey Shrikes have been found this winter in Dorset with the same or slightly more in the New Forest, however they are often elusive and highly mobile, often flying for half a mile or so before perching. Our views were distant and brief so I have included a photo of another distant, but more co-operative individual, that I photographed in the New Forest in 2012.

IMG_2574 Bufffinch 5f

I spent a morning ringing at Holton Lee on 17th and Feet’s Lane on 21st. The former was predictably busy with common species like tits, Nuthatch etc trapped. After four winters of ringing there we are building up an interesting picture of the site fidelity and longevity of the birds, with retraps of several individuals that were hatched in 2011 or earlier. This female Bullfinch was ringed at Fleet’s Lane. The grey, brown edged alula and primary coverts indicate it is a first year bird, however the best ageing characteristic is brown edging to the carpal covert, a small feather that can only be seen on the closed wing.

Firecrest-no6

We also retrapped a Firecrest that had been ringed earlier in the winter at Fleet’s Lane showing that it is remaining site faithful throughout the winter.

IMG_2568 Chiffchaff

Our main reason to ring at the Fleet’s Lane site is to study wintering Chiffchaffs. Chiffs, normally a summer visitor arriving from late March onwards and departing from September to October, have become an increasingly common bird in winter. Nobody knows if the wintering birds are British breeders that have opted to stay for the winter or migrants from elsewhere. We have retrapped three or more birds over a number of winters, showing winter site fidelity and have failed to retrap wintering birds after March indicating that they depart to breeding grounds in spring. This individual is typical of the nominate western European race colybita.

IMG_2569 Chiffchaff best

This individual is slightly duller but is still typical of colybita …..

8224SibeChiff1

…. but this bird, photographed by Ian Ballam and used here with permission, is more typical of the Siberian race tristis. I presume that this bird, which is still showing well, is the individual ringed by others in our group on 27th January. The grey tones to the upperparts, pure white belly, very fine wing bar and green edging to the primaries all indicate tristis. If it is the same individual then it was sound recorded on the date of ringing and shown to give the characteristic lost chick call of tristis. So we know that at least some of the Chiffchaffs that winter in the UK come from the eastern side of the Ural mountains, the cloest breeding grounds of tristis. Some consider tristis to be sufficiently differentiated to be considered a separate species.

IMG_1582 Woodcock

The only other ringing I have done this week is joining one of other group members near Corfe Castle  catching Woodcock at night . This is a very interesting species to ring, as the breeding grounds can be far to the east in Siberia, even on the same longitude as Burma (but of course much further north). As Woodcock are regularly shot for food, both when wintering in the UK and on migration , then the ringing return rate is high.

IMG_1583 Woodcock

Sometimes after processing the birds can be placed on the ground and remain still for long enough for photos to be taken.

IMG_1585 Woodcock

We ringed two individuals and saw at least 15, however most flew long before we could get near them. We also saw a Jack Snipe which stayed hidden until the last-minute before erupting at our feet.

IMG_1563 Raven TOL

As I mentioned above, Wednesday was spent in London, after the necessary tasks were performed, Margaret and I spent the day in the Tower of London where the pinioned Ravens performed for the crowds. More of our visit to the Tower in the next post.

 

23rd October – 7th November 2104: three musical concerts, more bird ringing and WeBS   Leave a comment

This post updates what I have been up to over the last couple of weeks since I returned from the Madagascar / Comoros.

IMG_0246 John Mayall Bluesbreakers

On the 23rd we went to see John Mayall’s Blues Breakers at Salisbury. This legendary blues player has played a pivotal role in the development of modern blues and rock music. Although he is now 80, he still plays harmonica, piano and guitar, although perhaps his keyboard skills aren’t what they used to be. The backing band, mainly from Chicago were excellent. I have enjoyed his music since I was at school. I last saw John Mayall in 1972 during an amazing week when we saw Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones and John Mayall at Leeds University during a eight day period. I forgot my camera so this blurry shot was taken on my phone.

The-Bluesbreakers-007

The picture is from the cover of the classic 1965 album: L-R John Mayall, Eric Clapton, John McVie (later of Fleetwood Mac) and Hughie Flint. The album might be nearly 40 years old but its still one I play regularly today. The number of musicians who came to prominence by playing with John Mayall reads like at who-who of modern blues and rock: Eric Clapton (Cream), Peter Green (Fleetwood Mac), Jack Bruce (Cream), John McVie (Fleetwood Mac), Mick Fleetwood (Fleetwood Mac), Mick Taylor (The Rolling Stones), Don “Sugarcane” Harris (played with Frank Zappa), Harvey Mandel (Canned Heat), Larry Taylor (Canned Heat), Aynsley Dunbar, Hughie Flint, Jon Hiseman (Colosseum), Dick Heckstall-Smith (Colosseum), Andy Fraser (Free) and Johnny Almond just to name a few from the period 1965 – 1973

IMG_1065 Anglo-italain evening

Now for something completely different. My friend Giovanni runs the Anglo-Italian Society. On the 28th they hosted a musical event where Patricia Bonelli (piano), Rachael Mathews (centre) and Elizabeth Senior (right) played and sang a history of Italian Opera. They performed many lovely songs and arias but i have to admit I had only heard of one piece and two composers before. Here Rachael and Elizabeth sing a piece by Rossini comprising entirely of the word ‘meow’.

IMG_1055 Anglo-italian evening

What is really remarkable is that Rachael is only 17 and has had no formal training. The Anglo-Italian Society meets in the rather ancient Chiropractic College in Bournemouth. It seems strange listening to such lovely music in such a old fashioned and cluttered lecture theatre.

IMG_1083 Gigspanner

On the 2nd we went to Bournemouth’s Folk Club to hear Gigspanner, the new folk trio led by Peter Knight who has been the fiddle player for Steeleye Span for over 45 years. I first saw him play in Leeds in 1969 when the entrance fee was a mere 2 shillings (10p). Gigspanner have left behind the traditional folk jigs and reels and play some beautiful, thoughtful and highly entertaining music.

IMG_1053 Bruce Pearson exhibition

One morning whilst at Durlston I went down to Durlston Castle to see ‘Life, Light and Landscape’ an wildlife art exhibition by Bruce Pearson and Anne Shingleton. Here Bruce Pearson chats to Tasie Russell and Mo Constantine. Bruce and Anne were brought to our ringing station by one of the wardens earlier that day but unfortunately we had no birds to show them at that moment.

IMG_1973 Trick or treat

Of course 31st October brough ‘trick and treat’ and the local kids hit the street.

IMG_1041 Arne Ringing demo

We are asked to do a number of public ringing demonstrations over the course of the year. This allows us to explain the purpose of our research and hopefully will convince the public to report any ringed bird that they might discover and show that that ringing can be carried out without harming the birds. Here Paul Morton is showing the public a Great Tit at the Arne Forage Festival on 25th October.

IMG_1045 Arne ringing demo

Know how to tell the age of a Blue Tit? Paul will explain.

IMG_1075 DCP dawn

We are still ringing at Durlston whenever the wind and rain allows it. Migration of grounded migrants has tailed off considerably but vis mig continue apace with large numbers of Woodpigeons, Goldfinches and Linnets overhead.

IMG_1048 Reed Bunting

Common enough at Lytchett Bay, Reed Buntings are a bit of rarity at Durlston, at least in the hand.

IMG_1077 ad Linnet

This adult Linnet is much cleaner in appearance with well marked wings and tail and broad tail tips compared to a first-winter bird.

IMG_0245 Redwing

The mild conditions that persisted until recently haven’t been conducive to big thrush movements but we did trap this Redwing on 30th October.

I have been assisting with the training of ringers for many years but I haven’t had any trainees registered in my own name. However in the last few weeks I have taken on two trainees who are currently learning the basics of how to hold, measure, weigh and age birds in the hand.

IMG_1087 Rik

Rik McCoy

DSCF4420

Ginny Carvisiglia

IMG_1068 Firecrest

Rik was lucky on only his third outings to ring a Firecrest ….

IMG_1071 Jay

.. and this Jay, although great care had to given to make sure that the Jay didn’t sink its vicious bill into his fingers.

IMG_1073 Marsh Tit

Whilst Ginny ringed the increasingly rare Marsh Tit at Holton Lee, a bird a lot of experienced ringers seldom see in the hand, at least in Dorset.

IMG_1074 Marsh Tit

The glossy cap, lack of pale wing panel and less muscular neck all help separate Marsh Tit from Willow (which no longer occurs regularly in Dorset). However the best field characters undoubtedly are vocalisations.

IMG_1975 Holes Bay waders

On the 2nd I did the monthly WeBS (wetland birds survey) count in Holes Bay. Numbers of common species have really built up in recent weeks with over 600 Wigeon in the NE sector of the Bay alone.

IMG_1977 Holes Bay Mute Swans

Holes Bay is one of the few places in Poole Harbour where Mute Swans congregate. it is not the most pleasant part of the Harbour to go birding, bounded as it is on two sides by dual carriageways and on one other by a railway line, but it does hold a lot of birds.

IMG_1974 Coastguards

Attempts to make accurate counts were not helped by the Coastguards simulating a rescue of someone trapped in the mud!

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.

 

IMG_0075-Corfe-ridge

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.

 

IMG_0084-Nightingale

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.

IMG_0078-Nightingale

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.

IMG_0089-Corfe-ridge

Sunset over the Corfe ridge.

P4260336-Portland-Bill

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.

P4260334-Portland-bill

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.

IMG_0109-Ravens

A couple of Ravens were in the Bill area.

IMG_0098-Raven

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

IMG_0104-raven

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.

IMG_0094-Arctic-Skua

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.

IMG_0093-Manx-Shearwater

Manx Shearwaters were moving past the Bill in small numbers.

IMG_0096-Whimbrel

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.

IMG_0111-Radipole-sculpture

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!