Archive for the ‘Lodmoor’ Tag

Birds and other things – March 2016   Leave a comment

This posts covers a few (mainly bird-oriented) events in March.

Pallas' Leaf W 2 feb 16 Nick Hull

The best bird in Dorset this month and arguably this winter has been a Pallas’ Leaf Warbler that was discovered in the village of Portesham in West Dorset. I went along with my trainee ringer Chris after a ringing session near Poole. We had good views, but in the afternoon the sun was in our eyes and my pics were rubbish. This photo and the next were taken by Nick Hull of Two Owls Birding  and is used with permission.

Pallas' Leaf W Feb 16 Nick Hull

Pallas’ Leaf Warbler is a rare but regular visitor from Siberia to the UK. Most records are in the late autumn, wintering is much rarer but is not unprecedented. Named after German ornithologist Peter Pallas who explored Siberia in the late 18th C, this tiny Phylloscopus warbler is little bigger than a Goldcrest. It is distinguished by the lemon rump, central crown strip, double wing bar, yellowish supercillium and long black eye-stripe. It is arguably the most beautiful of the genus. Photo by Nick Hull.

7F1A5982 RB Merg

I have recently bought a new digital SLR. I failed to get any usable photos of the Pallas’ but afterwards we went down to Portland Harbour where I used in the field for the first time – even so, these Red-breasted Mergansers were too far for a decent shot.

7F1A5972 Robin

I have debated for some time over the best way to photograph birds. My attempts at digiscoping have been pretty poor so I have dropped that. I used to have an old Canon SLR with a 100-400mm zoom lens but the sensor must have got damaged as spots appeared on the image that I was unable to remove. Since then I have gone over to using a bridge camera. Undoubtedly the SLR gives a better image (this one would be better still if I had upgraded my zoom lens as well and had photographed this European Robin on a bright day) but the main problem is weight. The bridge camera weighs 600g, the SLR & lens nearly 2.5kg. Add to that the weight of a telescope and tripod and I’ll be restricting my birding to a few hundred yards walk from the car. Also the bridge camera has a much greater telephoto capacity, 1200mm instead of 400, so four times the reach for a quarter of the weight. Bridge cameras however are useless in taking birds in flight, yes you might get the odd good image, but in general an SLR wins hands down in this category. With a couple of wildlife cruises coming up this year the choice was clear – buy a new SLR and my choice was the Canon EOS 7D MkII.

7F1A6008 Dartford Warbler

Even on a dull day I got a reasonable photo of this Dartford Warbler at Mordon Bog ….

7F1A6003 Dartford Warbler

…. but even with an SLR there is a limit to how far you can blow up the image before you lose resolution.

7F1A6019 Mordon Lake

However, although there were Tufted Ducks, Coots and Great Crested and Little Grebes on Mordon Park Lake none were close enough for anything other than record shots.

IMG_3829 Monties meeting

Several of us joined Paul Morton and Mark Constantine of the Birds of Poole Harbour charity for a drink in order to meet a number of British and Dutch ornithologist researching and conserving the threatened Montagu’s Harrier. Being free the next day I was able to attend their meeting which was held in the LUSH offices in Poole the following day.

IMG_3825 Montie's talk

There are only about a dozen Montagu’s Harrier pairs breeding in the UK and in spite of protection this number isn’t increasing. Certainly some birds have disappeared under suspicious circumstances (possibly mistaken for the similar and much persecuted Hen Harrier) but it may be that the wider countryside in the UK is unsuitable for this species. They are certainly much commoner on the continent as the Dutch speakers were able to demonstrate.

IMG_3828 Montie's routes

We were also told of the amazing results of a Europe-wide satellite tracking program which has shown that Monties winter in the Sahel to the SSW of their breeding locations. British birds, unsurprisingly, winter further west than others in western Senegal.

IMG_3835 Holton Lee

The Holton Lee estate (where I ring birds at the feeders) contains areas of heathland and foreshore currently managed by the RSPB.

7F1A6025 Holton Lee

It is great that I have these ‘wild’ areas on my doorstep, the houses in the distance are in Lytchett Minster, the next village beyond Upton.

7F1A6072 Grey Squirrel

Heading back to the feeders I was able to use my new camera on a bright day for the first time. This Grey Squirrel posed nicely ….

7F1A6036 GS Woodpecker

…. as did this Great Spotted Woodpecker. After many ringing visits to this area nearly all the birds visiting the feeders bear rings. This is allowing us to obtain useful data on longevity, over four winters we have ringed 36 Great Spotted Woodpeckers and have had 49 occasions when one has been recaptured. This has indicated that the average lifespan of the birds here is relatively short, only 2-3 years, less than many of the Blue and Great Tits we have ringed.

7F1A6045 Blue Tit

Speaking of Blue Tits ….

7F1A6061 Goldfinch fem

….but it was this photo of a Goldfinch that proves to me how much better image you get with a SLR compared to a bridge camera.

7F1A6063 Goldfinch fem

Unlike the Bullfinch and Chaffinch, Goldfinches are not easy to sex in the field (and not that easy in the had either). The extent of red behind the eye and the relatively short bill indicates that this is a female.

IMG_3842 Goldfinch 6m

On the other hand this bird that we ringed at Holton Lee on another date appears to be a male, the bill is longer (and it has a long wing length) and the red extends further behind the eye. One feature that I find unreliable is the colour of the nasal hairs, said to be black in males and grey in females. They both appear to be grey so either that feature is unreliable or the red behind the eye is. I find Goldfinches hard to age and sex and try to exercise caution.

7F1A6090 Pied Wagtail

We ring quite a few Pied Wagtails at roost in the late autumn but even the adult males in autumn don’t look as smart then as they do in the spring. This bird was photographed on a subsequent visit to Portland Harbour.

7F1A6085 Helicopter and boat

Whilst searching for ducks, grebes and divers we saw this helicopter practicing landing a crew member onboard a boat.

IMG_3852 Lodmoor

The reason for Margaret and I were in Weymouth on 16th March was that we had agreed to lead a birdwatching walk for our friends in the Phoenix organisation.

IMG_3850 Lodmoor

I chose the RSPB reserve of Lodmoor for the walk because there is a decent, usually dry, path around the reserve and there are always some birds on show and we saw or heard about 50 species.

7F1A6105 Little Egret

Most of the birds we saw on Lodmoor were common species that I would see on every visit  like this Little Egret ….

7F1A6100 Spoonbill Lodmoor

…. but we did get excellent views of three Spoonbills that were well appreciated by the group.

7F1A6099 Spoonbill Lodmoor

There has been a real increase in Spoonbill numbers in the last decade or so with a small breeding colony now established in Norfolk. Most of our birds seem to originate from the Netherlands, some pass through on their way to and from their wintering grounds in Spain, others spend the winter with us – mainly in Poole Harbour.

IMG_3881 Kara

Unfortunately our granddaughter Kara has seriously damaged her knee (again) doing taekwondo, she has been out of action for several weeks and it will be some time yet before she is back to normal. We wish her a speedy recovery.

IMG_3855 ETO Don Giovanni

And finally on the 18th we went to the Lighthouse Theatre in Poole to see a performance of Mozart’s Don Giovanni by the English Touring Opera. Opera is not my favourite musical category but I must say that I quite enjoyed it, I had expected it would be sung in Italian but it was in English with screen displaying subtitles, so I was able to follow the ‘plot’.

Late May to late June 2015: miscellaneous bird news   Leave a comment

We have been back from our trip to the Alps for nearly five weeks now. After a very hectic schedule earlier this year I have been taking it easy and been catching up with things at home, but there has been time for some birding and ringing, something that is covered in this post.

I have already uploaded accounts of us seeing the Red-footed Falcon, White-winged Tern and Greater Yellowlegs in Dorset or Hampshire, here are a few photos of much commoner birds.

IMG_8430 Lodmoor

Back in late May we headed to Lodmoor near Weymouth in the hope of seeing a Purple Heron that was hanging about there. Not surprisingly we dipped, as the best time of day to see it was about 9pm as it flew to roost.

IMG_8409 Common Terns and a Dunlin

We did get to see the local breeding Common Terns and to the lower right of the photo, a summer plumaged Dunlin. The tunnels in the picture are to help protect the tern chicks from attack by aerial predators such as Kestrels. However news received today told that all the chicks on this island have been predated, possibly by a fox or perhaps gulls.

IMG_8424 Grey Heron Lodmoor

No Purple Heron but plenty of Grey ones. This bird looked particularly ragged around the neck.

IMG_8414 Grey Heron Lodmoor

With some blood at the base of the bill I wondered if the heron had been in a fight with a large eel which had wrapped its body around the heron’s neck.

IMG_8574 Mordon Bog

I have made a number of visits to Wareham Forest, especially the area around Mordon Bog. I didn’t get any photos of the local Spotted Flycatchers ….

IMG_8576 Siskin male

…. but this male Siskin preened on a branch just in front of me.

IMG_8587 Mordon Bog

A drake Teal was flushed from this area, unusual record in June – I wonder if they are breeding?

IMG_8683-dog-in-Decoy-Pond

With breeding Little Grebes and possibly Tufted Duck on Decoy Pond, which is part of a National Nature Reserve, it seems regretable that this guy has chosen to take his dog for a swim.

IMG_8447 Yellowhammer Wareham Forest

Other birds seen in the Wareham Forest area included this Yellowhammer ….

IMG_8450 Stonechat Wareham Forest

…. good numbers of Stonechats ….

IMG_8588 Mistle Thrush

…. and on adjacent farmland, this Mistle Thrush.

IMG_8691 Wareham Forest

In early June several birders had distant views of what looked to be a Short-toed Eagle. I was in America last year when a Short-toed Eagle was found and extensively twitched in Wareham Forst, then later in the New Forest. Had it returned for a second summer and was I to get a second chance?

IMG_8692 Charborough Park

Well, I did see a large raptor along side a Buzzard briefly appear over the tree line in the photo, which is in the privately owned Charborough Park about three miles away to the north-east, but again there was nothing conclusive.

IMG_8687 Common Buzzard

After some nine hours of scanning from various vantage points over four days the only raptors conclusively identified were Common Buzzards (above), Kestrels, Hobbies and a single Red Kite.

IMG_8745 Martin Down

We recently spent one morning on Martin Down, just over the border in Hampshire.

IMG_8744 orchid

This wonderful reserve is famed for its chalk downland flora (such as this Fragrant Orchid) and butterflies but along with so many other places much of its bird life has declined in recent years. Nightingales, Willow Warblers, Grey and Red-legged Partridges and even Stone Curlew used to be common or at least regular ….

IMG_8761 Turtle Dove

…. but at least there are still several pairs of Turtle Doves.

IMG_8728 Turtle Dove

This species has undergone a precipitous decline, the result of agricultural intensification here in the UK and on their wintering grounds in Africa and wholesale slaughter on spring and autumn migration in some areas around the Mediterranean.

IMG_8130 Red Kite

Though in many ways its ‘all swings and roundabouts’. Although some of the farmland birds have declined, others such as the beautiful Red Kite are increasing in numbers and I have recently seen two in North Dorset, one over Corfe Mullen and one near Wareham Forest. Don’t pay any attention to those misguided individuals who tell you that the increase in raptors numbers are the cause of songbird decline. It simply can’t be, under that scenario if their prey was declining then raptors would decline too. Also Nightingales and Turtle Doves declined in this area long before Red Kites made a welcome reappearance and Willow Warblers have merely moved their breeding range northwards as a result of climate change (something that others who can’t understand the principle of cause and effect choose to deny). Photo taken recently in Austria.

IMG_8736 corvids

Perhaps less welcome is the large increase in corvids in the Martin Down area. Rooks, Carrion Crows, Jackdaws and even Ravens were regularly encountered, often in large flocks.

IMG_6195-Nuthatch-for-email

Over the last few weeks I have been doing some ringing, but for the type of ringing I usually do, migrants at a coastal locality, it is definitely the quiet period. However I have ringed at several sites, usually with trainee ringers and caught a series of juvenile birds such as this Nuthatch. I have had some interesting retraps including a Chiffchaff hatched at our Fleets Lane site last year that returned there this year to breed.

8224SibeChiff1

Something that we have been involved in during the winter months is the ringing of wintering Chiffchaffs. We recently sent off some feathers for DNA analysis on this bird which looked like race tristis,  the so-called Siberian Chiffchaff and on another which was nowhere near as striking and indeed had lots of green tones in the upperparts. To our surprise both came back with a mitochondrial DNA sequence indicating they were tristis. The individual above had a sequence identical to those Chiffchaffs that breed in the Yenesei Basin in central Siberia. I would like to revisit this subject in a future post as I have been writing an article on it for the Dorset Bird Club newsletter, but for now I can suggest that if you find a Chiffchaff looking like the one above in the winter months then it is almost certainly a tristis. This bird was ringed by Paul Morton in January of this year and photographed by Ian Ballam in February.

IMG_6206-Canford-Heath-for-email

Recently I have been asked if I would like to participate in an exciting project on Nightjars on one of the heathland areas in East Dorset. Researchers want ten electronic GPS tags attaching to Nightjars, which will then recaptured a few days later, the tags removed and their movements downloaded. Our ringing group, which has a lot of expertise in catching and ringing Nightjars, has been asked to help. The tags are attached to the tail feathers, so if any bird avoids recapture the tag will be shed at the next moult.

IMG_6213-Nightjar-fem-for-email

Last night we trapped a female Nightjar, which had been initially trapped on the far side of the heathland area the week before, and the tag was removed. It will be very interesting to see what it reveals. So far we have deployed nine of the ten tags and have recovered one, more will follow in subsequent weeks.

22nd – 30th September – back home in Dorset.   Leave a comment

I returned from Fiji late on the 21st after a journey that lasted 47 hours and involved five flights. Although I have returned from the Pacific on previous trips, I have never felt so jet lagged, probably exacerbated by a nasty cold I picked up on route. My body stayed on Fiji time (eleven hours out), I would fall asleep each afternoon and then not sleep at night!

In spite of this I managed to visit Durlston on the 23rd, 25th and 26th to continue our ringing program, with several of our group away at the moment, I wished to ensure the coverage was as full as possible. We ringed good numbers of birds on the first two dates but the latter was curtailed by increasing wind and rain.

Feeling it would be too windy to ring on the 28th, I visited Portland Bird Observatory. There were very few birds about, but it proved to be an excellent social event, a chance to catch up with news and views from many of the Portland regulars, most of whom I have not seen since the spring. Also there was a chance to browse the Ob’s extensive natural history book store and of course I bought a couple of books.

One birder I haven’t seen for ages (mainly because he has been abroad for much of the year) is Paul Baker, aka Bagsy. Paul manages to update his blog daily, something I would like to do but have failed miserably to achieve. See http://bagsy-thecaptainslog.blogspot.co.uk/

P9280567-Bagsy

Bagsy poses with his eponymous new motor.

IMG_3866-Lodmoor-Spoonbills

I had better luck birding at nearby Lodmoor, here six out of a flock of seven Spoonbills were photographed flying over the marsh.

IMG_3864-Bar-headed-Geese

Birders at Lodmoor seemed just as interested in a pair of Bar-headed Geese out in the middle of the marsh. Although a long distance migrant (breeding in Tibet and wintering in India) the chances of them being genuine migrants are close to zero.

IMG_3852-Med-&-BH-Gull

Up to 50 Mediterranean Gulls dropped in whilst I was at Lodmoor (at least four can be seen here with Black-headed Gulls). Once a scarce visitor to Dorset, now up to 100 pairs breed in the county and gatherings of up to 500 have been recorded in the Weymouth area.

IMG_3862-Grey-Plover

A winter plumaged Grey Plover at Lodmoor.

On the 29th Paul, Ian A and I ringed at Fleets Lane in Poole. We ringed about 45 birds. At this time of year most warblers have left with two exceptions, Chiffchaff and Blackcap. Unlike most migrant warblers that winter south of the Sahara, the majority of Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs winter in north Africa and the Mediterranean. Some over winter in the UK but these are thought (at least in the case of Blackcaps) to be birds from Europe rather than European breeders.

September ended with a very busy morning at Durlston. On a grey and misty morning, Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps just poured through the garden. As always, we had to manage our operation to cope with large numbers and had to close some nets. By midday we had ringed 225 birds, all but 17 being the of two species mentioned above. Also there were large numbers of Swallows and Meadow Pipits moving overhead, involving thousands of birds. Durlston has to be one of the best places in the UK to see the spectacle of autumn migration.

P9300570-Mipit

A small number of Meadow Pipits were ringed. The photo shows the very long tertials that completely cover the primaries on the folded wing.

P9300574-Chiff-&-Willow

At this time of year Chiffchaffs have replaced Willow Warblers as the commonest Phylloscopus warbler. We trapped a single Willow today compared with 77 Chiffs. Although superficially similar, Chiffchaff (left) is slightly smaller, has a shorter supercilium, shorter primary extension, browner flanks and has a more rounded crown.

Posted September 30, 2013 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

Tagged with , , , ,