Archive for the ‘Honey Buzzard’ Tag

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.


13th – 18th May 2015: Alps trip part 6 – Liechtenstein, Austria and Germany   Leave a comment

From Lucerne we headed for the principality of Liechtenstein before arriving in Dornbirn, Austria for a four night stay. The purpose of coming here was to attend Margaret’s nephew Marc’s wedding and to meet up with other members of the family. Photos dealing with the wedding and associated social events will be uploaded in the next post. This post concentrates on our sightseeing and birding in the three countries mentioned above.

IMG_7983 Vaduz

Before we arrived in Austria we spent a few hours looking around Vaduz, the capital of the tiny principality of Liechtenstein.

IMG_7985 Vaduz

I was last in Vaduz in 1975, a brief visit as part of a long coach trip around Europe. All I can recall from that visit is seeing the castle perched high above the town. Well that looks just the same ….

IMG_7997 Vaduz modern art

…. but the pedestrianised centre is now populated with examples of modern art ….

IMG_8001 Vaduz modern art

…. such as this representation of businessmen riding pigs.

IMG_8011 Vaduz modern art

I particularly liked this jet of water confined between two narrow, high walls. Not a drop fell on you as you stood below. By varying the shutter speed and your position with respect to the sun you could create modern art of your own.

IMG_8018 Vaduz modern art

After a tour around the various statues and pieces of art we drove to Dornbirn, the largest town in western Austria.

IMG_6162 Donbirn

Our first visit to the centre of Dornbirn on the morning before Marc and Elizabeth’s civil ceremony was in heavy rain but ….

IMG_8098 Donbirn market

…. the following morning the weather was much better and the local market was in full swing.

IMG_8128 Black Kite

The Dornbirn area was good for raptors and over the next three days we saw a number of Black Kites ….

IMG_8129 Red KIte

…. Red Kites ….

IMG_8196 male HB

…. and even a few Honey Buzzards.

IMG_8307 meadow

In surrounding meadows ….

IMG_8308 White Stork

…. we found a few White Storks.

IMG_8239 Fussach

We originally thought that some of Margaret’s relatives would still be around on the Sunday following the wedding but it transpired that most had to head for home. With a day mostly to ourselves we drove to Fußach on the shore of the Bodensee for some birding.

IMG_8214 Bodensee

The Bodensee itself was host to a number of Great Cormorants and Red-crested Pochards

IMG_8225 Great Reed Warbler

…. and in the reed beds Great Reed Warblers were quite numerous and their guttural kara-kara-gurk-gurk  song was a feature of the area.

IMG_8301 RFF

The highlight for me was views of five Red-footed Falcons, in particular this male which showed well. these birds are long-distance migrants and have just arrived from their wintering grounds in southern Africa and are pausing on route to their breeding grounds in easternmost Austria eastwards through the steppes of eastern Europe to central Asia.

IMG_8326 Anita & Margaret

We returned to Dornbirn and spent the afternoon with Anita and John, Margaret’s daughter and her husband. We visited the area of Rappenlochschlucht ….

IMG_8336 Rappenlochschlucht

…. a picturesque area with elevated walkways, narrow gorges ….

IMG_8340 Rappenlochschlucht

…. waterfalls ….

IMG_8343 Rappenlochschlucht

…. and lakes.

IMG_8199 Fussach

On our final evening we drove around the east end of the Bodensee and into Germany.

IMG_8379 Lindau

Our destination was the picturesque town of Lindau

IMG_8381 Lindau

We headed for the harbour, the entrance guarded by a lighthouse and an imposing statue of a lion.

IMG_8389 Lindau

From the lion statue we had a great view of the harbour and ….

IMG_8395 Mute Swan on nest

…. and could look directly down on an incubating Mute Swan.

IMG_8405 Lindau

So we concluded our trip with this lovely view of the harbour at Lindau. All that was remained was to drive back to Zürich and fly home. Over the last 17 days we covered 3000 km and visited seven countries and saw some of the best scenery in the world.

8th – 20th July 2014: its not all been about the birds   Leave a comment


Its been a fortnight since I returned from Borneo and, as always, I have been pretty busy. One of the main projects has been to edit all the photos taken on the trip. Unfortunately my ‘bridge’ camera was ruined by a sudden downpour just a few days into the trip and after a number of days of being unable to take photos, the leader Chris Kehoe offered to lend me his camera as long as I took enough to illustrate the tour report. This was an arrangement that suited us both as he had no interest in photography, but it meant that editing my shots had to be given a high priority on my return.

To birders autumn starts as soon as south bound migration commences, which can be as early as late June. Certainly by mid July we were ringing southbound Sedge Warblers at Lytchett Bay, at least two weeks earlier than usual. At Fleets Lane we have trapped 22 juvenile Blackcaps showing that there has been an exceptional breeding season at this very small site but most seem to have already departed.

I have also tried ringing in my garden, where juvenile Robins, Starlings and House Sparrows have  featured. Now that the BTO’s ringing emphasis has shifted from understanding migration routes to population dynamics, the ringing of these common garden birds is as valuable as the ringing of long distance migrants.


Juvenile Starlings can be a pitfall for the less experienced birdwatcher and indeed Margaret was puzzled when they gathered on our feeders. This bird is losing its grey juvenile feathers and adult type feathers can be seen on the primary, lesser and greater (but not median) coverts and a few spotted feathers are appearing on the flanks.



Starlings are unusual in that juveniles undergo a complete moult. This juvenile can be seen to be moulting its primaries. In all of the British passerines this moult strategy is shared only by Long-tailed and Bearded Tits, House and Tree Sparrows and Corn Bunting.



We have been out to various places in Dorset and Hampshire recently. An attempt to locate a reported Short-toed Eagle in the New Forest (a bird I missed in Dorset when I was in the USA) drew a blank , hardly surprising as that sighting (but not the original) referred to a pale Buzzard. Inland of the Purbeck Ridge in Dorset there is a lot of forest surrounding the heathland and this can be good for raptors.



It is outrageous that even in these so called enlightened days there are those who would persecute raptors, be it by egg collection or in a misguided belief that their game rearing interests are more important than the existence of a healthy raptor population. As I result I cannot reveal the site where this Honey Buzzard was photographed. With a UK population of just 50 or so pairs we can’t take any chances. Photograph by Ian Ballam


A week ago my friend Paul Harvey came down from Shetland to visit his family. He spent a few days with his parents in Poole before going to stay with his daughter and her family in Devon. One day he went out with Ian Alexander and myself and instead of birds we targeted Butterflies and Dragonflies.


Most of our time was spent at Holt Heath near Wimborne where we found this Beautiful Demoiselle, which clearly lived up to it’s name.


A Gold-banded Dragonfly


and a Keeled Skimmer


A heathland specialist, the Silver Studded Blue Butterfly.


But the real surprise came later in the day when we heard of the existence of a rare ‘rogeri’ variant of Painted Lady. As with the Honey Buzzard the exact location cannot be revealed, as those who prefer to see butterflies pinned in a display cabinet rather than on the wing or in their cameras memory,  would pay good money for someone to collect it.


A view of the underwing.



The following day we went round to Paul’s parents, Terry and Margaret. As well as Paul and family, both his sisters, who I haven’t seen for about 30 years, and their children and grandchildren were there. Above – Paul with his wife Liz, and grandsons 9 month old George and 3 year old Harvey.



Harvey last appeared on this blog two years ago, he’s grown a bit and turned into Spiderman since then.



Paul and Liz’s daughter Bryony with her son George.


On another evening we took a  dusk walk to Upton Heath which lies just the other side of the Upton by-pass from our house. It didn’t take long before we saw several Nightjars displaying.



Another bird I failed to see on spring migration was the Turtle Dove so a few days ago Margaret and I spent the morning at Martin Down, one of the few sites were it can still be found.



An extensive area of chalk downland on the border of north Dorset and Hampshire, the site is a haven for chalk land plant and butterfly specialities.

The increasingly scarceTurtle Dove

We soon heard and eventually saw a couple of Turtle Doves but without a telephoto capability failed to photograph it. This shot was taken in 2011 at the same site. Turtle Dove have declined by 95% in recent decades, a combination of agricultural intensification in the UK, destruction of their wintering grounds and shooting on migration in the Mediterranean have taken their toll.


Pyramidal Orchid, one of the many chalk grassland plants to be found at Martin Down.

On Sunday we were just leaving for walk to Swineham near Wareham when we head that Lytchett Bay stalwart Ian Ballam had just found a Spotted Crake. I have seen this species before at the Bay 33 years ago (!) but the views this time were far, far better. Well done  Ian (who also took this photo)


That evening we put on a braai (South African for barbecue) for our friends in the ringing group and their partners. As usual Margaret excelled with the food and a good time was had by all. Some group members couldn’t make it as they were away, others were stuck down the Bay trying in vain to see the crake! Clockwise: Ivana Gifford, Jane Dowling, Janis, Kimberley Elborn, Margaret, Paul Morton, Bob Gifford, Mike Gould, John Dowling, Ian Alexander, Terry Elborn, Karen Elborn.


Terry, Karen and three year old Kimberley.