Archive for the ‘Lytchett Bay’ Tag

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:


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: 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.




Birding, ringing, Blandford, gardening and social events: August – October 2016   Leave a comment

This post is the final part of my trio of summer/autumn catch ups and deals with some birding, a bit of the ringing that has occurred in late October and a few general non-birdy activities.

For most of this time general birding has very much taken a back seat whilst I concentrated on ringing. With the exception of a couple of visits to Portland (one successful, the other not) most of the birds I have seen away from the ringing sites have been at nearby Lytchett Bay.


Aquatic Warblers are a rare and declining visitor to our shores from their breeding grounds in eastern Europe. Stour Ringing Group have had a long history of catching these elusive migrants with a total of 98 ringed over the years, although in recent years I missed them all by being at the Bird Fair or elsewhere at the time. Being highly elusive, ringing is about the only way to establish how many of these birds are passing through the UK. Whenever the winds turn to the south-east from late July to early September a ringing session is convened at Lytchett Bayin the hope that we might get lucky.. This year we had no luck but Lytchett Bay regular Ian Ballam found one at the wader view-point on 1st September. I was at Durlston at the time but fortunately the bird was still showing, albeit distantly, when I arrived about midday. I have seen 26 Aquatic Warblers in the UK but only three; on the Fleet, Dorset in 1987, Scilly in 1990 and this one have been seen in the field. Photo by Ian Ballam taken when the bird was first discovered and before it moved to the back of the marsh.



Just about all the identification features of Aquatic Warbler can be seen in these two photos. It separated from the similar and far more numerous Sedge Warbler by the central crown stripe, tiger-striped back, bronze patch above the bill, pointed tail feathers and lightly streaked flanks. I wrote a whole blog post on the occurrence of this magical little warbler in the UK see        Photo by Ian Ballam.


Credit where credit is due, both Shaun Robson and Ian Ballam show enormous dedication to birding at Lytchett Bay, but Ian has the advantage that he works nights so as soon as his shift is over he can get to the Bay for dawn. His record of finding good birds there is quite remarkable. Great improvements by the RSPB to the wet fields, now known as French’s Field and Sherford Field have resulted in large numbers of waders using them as a high tide roost. As well as goodies like Curlew Sandpiper, Little Stint, Wood Sandpiper and Ruff, Ian found this Lesser Yellowlegs on 19th September. Again I was at Durlston at the time but saw it later in the day, but the tide had pushed it the back of the marsh and the sun was now glaring. I had better views the following day but not as good as the ones Ian had when he took these photos.


Lesser Yellowlegs are a common species in North America, breeding almost exclusively in Canada and Alaska. They are one of the commoner Nearctic waders to reach the UK with about 7 occurrences per year, but this is only the 3rd I have seen in Dorset. Photos by Ian Ballam.

IMG_4069 Whooper Swan

Hat trick time for Ian Ballam when he found yet another goodie at Lytchett Bay on 20th October. This time I was at home, not at Durlston and was able to get down quickly to see this adult Whooper Swan, which was a good job as it flew off soon afterwards. Whooper Swans are winter visitors from Iceland but are rare as far south as Dorset. This is only the second record for Lytchett Bay. I was unable to get of photo of the Lytchett bird so I have used one I took at Welney, Norfolk in February of this year.


A spell of windy weather at the end of August prevented any ringing at Durlston so on 20th August I went to Portland in the hope of seeing Balearic Shearwaters. This species is classed as critically endangered due to the huge decline in breeding numbers in the Balearic Islands due to introduced predators. However post-breeding the entire population appears to relocate to the Western Approaches where gales can push them eastwards towards Lyme Bay and Portland Bill. I saw at least 60 but over the course of the whole day in excess of 500 were seen, which must represent a large proportion of the entire world population. Birds were of course too distant for photos, so I have included one that I took near the breeding grounds in Mallorca in May of this year.


Watching the Balearics from the Bird Observatory was interrupted with news that Portland birder Charlie Richards had found a Long-tailed Skua at Chesil Cove (the north-western corner of the Isle of Portland).

ltskua Nick Green

I quickly drove to Chesil Cove as I have only seen this species twice before in the UK and I am relatively unfamiliar with the juvenile plumage as most birds I have seen abroad have been adults. PBO warden Martin Cade located it on the sea but it immediately it took off and flew out of sight. This photo by Nick Green taken from the internet of a juvenile Long-tailed at Dungeness shows almost exactly what I saw, the pale head, barred plumage, fine white shaft streaks in the outer primaries, photographed against a stormy sea.


I was able to add a new mammal to my British list this autumn when I joined fellow ringer Kath Clay, the warden of Thorncombe Woods reserve, and members of the Dorset Mammal Group in checking the Hazel Dormouse boxes. We had brief but good views of one as it ran up the tree trunk. Photo from Wikipedia Commons.


As autumn has progressed the numbers of our regular migrants at Durlston like Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps have declined markedly. There has been an increase in Goldcrest numbers, but nothing on the scale of last year’s influx. We have however had some success in catching Redwing with some 50 ringed. This photo shows how the species got its name.


Aging Redwings is straight forwards. The white edges to the tertials with a marked step at the shaft shows this is a first year bird.


On 24th October we had a surprise and found a Tawny Owl in our net just before dawn. Identified as at least a three-year old male it gave us a few scratches from those powerful talons before it was released.


Another pre-dawn surprise was this long-eared bat which was found in one of our nets at Durlston. It was suggested that this could be the rare Grey Long-eared on fur colour and length of the thumb but bat expert Nick Tomlinson has said it is probably a juvenile of the commoner Brown Long-eared (based partially on the shape of its willy). For me at least manning the site at Durlston for this year is almost over. It has been our most successful year by a long way and I think those of us who worked it regularly can give ourselves a collective ‘pat on the back’.


Moving on to non-birdy things now, We remain members of the organisation Phoenix, which is the local successor to Nexus, the organisation via which we met. These days we attend few of their events due to other commitments, but we did join a guided walk around Blandford Forum in September, a town about 12 miles north of Poole.



The fire started in the premises of a candlemaker and the town was rebuilt in the Georgian style by the brothers John and William Bastard – hence this commemorative plaque.


This old house was one of the few to survive the fire and as a result has been adorned with a ‘blue plaque’.


I wonder exactly which nuisance this notice prohibits.


Some of the shops have wonderfully decorated Georgian interiors.


And as usual on these walks we concluded the afternoon in this quaint tea room.


In the summer my friend and former colleague Giovanni (Gio) invited some of us for a meal to celebrate the release of his daughter Carmela’s band’s first album. From right to left seated. My former boss Andy, his wife Cherie and daughter Megan, Margaret, my former colleague Anne, Tim a long time friend, former colleague and my best man at our wedding. Standing R-L Gio, his wife Jessica and Tim’s ever cheerful son, Simon.


Unfortunately, as Carmela lives in London she couldn’t be there. She has been part of a band called ‘Colour Me Wednesday’ but now plays in her own group Ay Carmela!’ As well as the usual chat we listened to the Working Weeks CD (in the indie-punk style) and played some other music too.


Whilst I have been spending my time putting metal rings on birds legs, Margaret has done wonders to the garden both front and back. You might wonder what the pipes going into the upstairs window are for.


During the summer we had the inside of the roof coated with a special insulating material, both to protect against the ravages of time and to provide further insulation. Along with our solar panels this has reduced our heating bills to about half that of the national average.


If our garden wasn’t enough to keep her busy Margaret has also been working at her allotment.


Enormous courgettes and giant pumpkins have been on the menu at home.


Kara, our fitness fanatic granddaughter, easily lifts an 8kg pumpkin above her head.


And finally this October marked ten years since Margaret and I met so we invited family and a few friends around for a meal. Right to left: Margaret’s daughter Janis, granddaughter Amber (now doing an apprenticeship in leather work), our friend Christine, me, Margaret, granddaughter Kara (now at 6th-form college) and Janis’ partner Nigel. Photo taken by Nigel’s son William.

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

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

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

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

Red-footed falcon1 Chris Minvalla

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

IMG_4760 Pom Skua

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

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

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

IMG_4966 Caspian Stonechat

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

IMG_4941 Caspian Stonechat

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

IMG_4949 Caspian Stonechat

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

IMG_4956 Caspian Stonechat

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

IMG_4946 Caspian Stonechat

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

IMG_4945 Caspian Stonechat

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

IMG_4971 Caspian Stonechat

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

IMG_4979 BW Stilt

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

IMG_4976 BW Stilt

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

IMG_4975 BW Stilt

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

IMG_4993 Glossy Ibis

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

7F1A2267 GS Cuckoo

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

7F1A2278 GS Cuckoo

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

7F1A2282 GS Cuckoo

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

Great Spotted Cuckoo1 Chris Minvalla

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

IMG_4383 Daniel, Ginny and Chris

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

HB Mustafa Sozen Turkey

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


2015 – That was the year that was   Leave a comment

With 2015 over this post looks back over the year at some of the places we have been, birds we have seen, music we have heard and people we have met.

Of course, much more detailed accounts can be found clicking on the relevant month from the list on the left of the screen (or sometimes the month after if the post was uploaded a while after the event).

IMG_4325 Purps

The year started with the traditional New Year’s Day bird boat, kindly arranged by Mark and Mo Constantine for Dorset birders. These Purple Sandpipers were photographed on the Sandbanks side of the chain ferry on 1/1/15 . Also in early January I took part in the annual winter bird race, recording an amazing 126 species in Dorset in 12 hours.

IMG_0533 Lear's Macaws

The first foreign trip was to NE Brazil which lasted more than three weeks but resulted in me seeing over 70 life birds – by far the most of any trip of the year. There were many highlights, one being cracking views of the wonderful Lear’s Macaw in a very dramatic setting.

IMG_1818 rainbow

Here I photographed the nearby town through a rainbow whilst staying at the lovely and very birdy Serra Bonita reserve.

IMG_2550 Rick Wakeman

As well as travelling we both have a keen interest in music – be it old favourites from my past like Rick Wakeman, whose keyboard skills in the band Yes were much appreciated in my youth ….

IMG_0315 Paloma Faith

…. to more modern acts like Paloma Faith. We saw Rick Wakeman in February and Paloma about a month later in Poole and Bournemouth respectively.

IMG_2841 North Cape

In early March we took advantage of a charter flight to Tromso in arctic Norway where we boarded the Hutigruten coastal steamer and journeyed around North Cape at the top of Norway in the hope of seeing the Aurora Borealis ….

IMG_2713 aurora (best)

…. which indeed we did on four nights out of five. We were lucky as some do this trip yet come away disappointed, but if we had gone about 10 days later we might have had a truly spectacular display as the aurora was seen as far south as Norfolk.

IMG_3665 Sandhills

We booked on the Birdquest tour to Colorado that started on April 1st but we spent the last week of March on our own touring Nebraska, South Dakota and Wyoming. The main reason for this visit was to see the incredible gathering of hundreds of thousands of Sandhill Cranes on Nebraska’s Platte River. We also visited the Badlands of South Dakota ….

IMG_3987 Mt Rushmore

…. saw the Presidents heads at Mount Rushmore, the Devil’s Tower in Wyoming and even drove into Montana to look for the ‘dental floss bushes’.

IMG_4439 WT Ptarmigan

For one reason or another I never got round to editing all my photos of Colorado nor did I post any on the blog but it was a superb trip and one of the highlights was finding these almost invisible White-tailed Ptarmigan at 12500 ft in the Rockies. Perhaps I can find time this year to sort out the Colorado pics.

IMG_7191 The Matterhorn

Early May saw us taking a fortnight in the Alps and southern France, seeing such wonders as the Matterhorn (above), Mont Blanc and the Eiger. I also saw what was probably the last regularly occurring European bird that I needed, the elusive Rock Partridge.

IMG_8055 Elizabeth and Marc

The whole trip was a prelude to attending Margaret’s nephew’s Mark’s wedding to Elizabeth in Donbirn in western Austria. The only downside to the trip was that I found out whilst there that my next tour, a cruise in far North-east Russia had been cancelled as the necessary permit hadn’t been issued by the Russians.

IMG_8656 WW Black Tern

Late spring brought some great birds to the Poole Harbour area, such as the Red-footed Falcon that hung around the Wareham water meadows or this White-winged Tern at Swineham gravel pits.

IMG_8606 Margaret

In June Margaret had the privilege of being invited to a garden party at Buckingham Palace. It was the centenary of the WI and each one of the 8000 or so WI groups across the UK was invited to send one representative.

IMG_8696 Moody Blues

Back to music again: we went to a very entertaining concert by the Moody Blues in June. Some great old songs with a great visual effects, the three founder members and four new ones all performed very well.


During the summer our group was asked to undertake an intensive radio tracking study on Eurasian Nightjars on one of the local heaths. The data is still being analysed but the initial results seem very interesting.

IMG_8786 Amber and Kara

At the end of the spring term our granddaughter Kara (R) left school to attend a sixth form college. During the summer she and a friend visited relatives in the Caribbean. Her sister Amber (L) left Dorset to study and work in Cornwall.

IMG_8829 Margaret & Jennie

Staying on the subject of family; during late June and early July Margaret and I visited her daughter in Essex and my brother in Derby. We also visited several sets of friends including Jennie, a friend from university days, seen here with Margaret at Wicken Fen reserve in Suffolk.

IMG_9006 Leds Town Hall

We continued on to Leeds where we spent time with Nigel, another friend from school and university days.

IMG_6416 Lytchett Heath dawn

Much of July and August (and indeed the rest of the autumn) was spent in our ongoing ornithological research at Lytchett Bay and Durlston. We were able to start ringing at a new and highly productive site at the north end of Lytchett Bay where this photo was taken soon after dawn.

IMG_9121 Hen Harrier Day Poster_edited-1

One issue that featured heavily during the summer was the campaign to save England’s remaining Hen Harriers. Although this has highlighted before on the blog it deserves repeating. All the evidence points to a systematic, ruthless and totally illegal program of raptor extermination in Britain’s uplands by a small number of people in an attempt to raise grouse stocks to hugely inflated numbers. The loss of these beautiful raptors is a national disgrace and the campaign for their protection will continue unabated in 2016.

IMG_6399 Killian and DIMW

We met many old friends at the Bird Fair in Augustand attended a number of talks. Without doubt the most inspiring was vetran birder Ian Wallace’s account of his best ever day’s birding. His contribution to ornithology and birding is immense. Here he is seen talking to another birding legend, Killian Mullarney fro Ireland.

IMG_6430 Wryneck DCP

Ringing continued on a regular basis throughout the autumn producing many interesting recoveries and useful data. The most unusual aspect was the enormous influx of Goldcrests in late October and November, but I suppose the individual bird that gave me the most pleasure was this Wryneck that I trapped at Durlston in September.

IMG_6437 Guy & Lila

It’s always good to stay in contact with old friends and it was good to see Guy Dutson in early September, back for a short visit from Australia with his daughter Lila.

IMG_0585 dawn Laguna Blanca

In late September/early October I went on a tour to Paraguay. The birding was excellent and the company good but it was very hot, particularly in the first week and the mammal sightings were disappointing. Compared the mountainous parts of South America, the scenery wasn’t that awe-inspiring, but the mists over Laguna Blanca at dawn were most photogenic.

IMG_0328 WW Nightjar

We saw some wonderful birds, non more so than these two species: White-winged Nightjar ….

SW Nightjar J Newman

…. and Sickle-winged Nightjar. The latter was of particular importance to me as it was the 8000th species I have seen. The bird was trapped by the tour leader as he is taking part in a research program on this threatened species and he wanted to see if it was one of the individuals he had already ringed. In my photo the bird has closed its eyes which looks less appealing so I have used one taken by my friend Jonathon Newman.

IMG_1444 Hagia Spohia

The last trip of the year was in late November to Turkey. It was a cultural, rather than a birding trip and we visited some great sites in Istanbul such as the magnificent Hagi Sophia ….

IMG_1769 calcite formations

…. and some natural one too like the beautiful calcite formations at Pamukkale.

IMG_2244 Jools Holland

Also in the latter part of the year we went to a couple more musical performances, veteran folk singer Judy Collins in Wimborne and Jools Holland and his Rhythm and Blues Orchestra at the BIC.

IMG_6777 Boxing Day dinner

And the year ended, as all years should with get togethers with family and friends at Christmas time.

As I said at the start each picture above is taken from a blog post during the year. If you wish to see more photos from that event then cloick on the relevant month on the side bar.

Well, may I take this opportunity to wish everyone a happy 2016, if you are a birder like me, may the year bring you lots of excellent sightings, if you are not perhaps you ought to give it ago, buying a pair of binoculars and a field guide back in 1977 was one of the best decisions I ever made.

Early September 2015: mainly ringing and a couple of get togethers with old friends.   Leave a comment

The early part of September has been dominated by bird ringing. When I’ve not been out in the field I’ve been catching up on the considerable amount of paperwork that this activity generates.

However there has been time to catch up with two old friends. Two years ago I reported on this blog that Guy Dutson, someone I have known since the early 80s had returned from Australia with his wife and newborn daughter Lila to meet up with his relatives (see ). Well, two years later Lila has grown somewhat, our get together was, due his crowded itinerary, typically brief but it was really great to see them again. We must make plans to visit all our friends in Australia but as always, there is so much to fit in.

IMG_6437 Guy & Lila

Guy with two-year old Lila.

IMG_6442 Margaret & Bronwyn & Lila

Margaret and Lila with Lila’s grandmother, Bronwyn.


Another get together with an old friend occurred last week when a bunch of us got together with Ewan Brodie to celebrate his 60th birthday. I have been friends with Ewan since the late 70s and we have been on at least five foreign trips and countless twitches together. Changing shift patterns and other commitments has meant that we haven’t seen each other for a few months, so it was good to catch up.

France 09 Ewan and Tim

In 2009 Ewan (seen here on the right) and my friend Tim from work went on a week-long birding and sightseeing trip to northern France. The trip was beset with difficulties from having my car broken into and gear stolen to not being notified that the hotel had changed ownership causing us hours of unnecessary searching. That said, we had a good time seeing tens of thousands of Common Cranes and many other birds, visiting Fontainbleu and Paris, seeing the Bayeux Tapestry and getting together with my University mate John and his family. Maybe one day I’ll post the photos on the blog.

IMG_6454 Grillo bottle

As anyone who reads this blog will know, my nickname is Gryllo, (if you don’t know why then read the very first blog entry in June 2011). I was surprised and pleased when fellow birder Graham Armstrong kindly presented me with a bottle of Grillo wine (not spelt quite the same, I’ll admit – grillo being Italian for grasshopper, obviously from the same root as the scientific name for mole cricket). My verdict, a lovely gesture from Graham but a mediocre wine.


Now back to the main subject of this post, our continuing bird ringing program. In September I only made two visits to Lytchett Bay, one to try to catch Swallows and another for general ringing. The most numerous reed bed species, Sedge and Reed Warblers have largely left the UK by this time, although a few will persist into October. We will continue there however, as other species such as Reed Bunting and Pied Wagtail become commoner as the autumn progresses.

IMG_6434 Winchat

This first year Whinchat was ringed at Lytchett Bay on 4th September

IMG_6436 Winchat

The characteristic white bases to the outer tail feathers can be seen well in this photo.

Our program of ringing at Durlston continues, however with most of the group at work mid-week most of the sessions have been understaffed and it has fallen to me to keep it going. Details of migration counts and numbers of birds ringed at selected sites across Europe can be seen at We now upload our ringing totals to the site, whilst local birder Hamish Murray uploads his ‘vis mig’ counts. For example, details of a very busy morning for me on the 17th  can be seen at . The totals page can be accessed by clicking on ‘totals 2015’ in the top right and by clicking on each of the dates above the word ‘Durlston RS’ will give our totals for the nine visits I have made in September.

Here are a few photos taken at Durlston this month.

IMG_6445 Common Redstart

The brown fringes to the coverts indicates that this Common Redstart is a first year bird. The black chin and white band on the head shows that it is a male.

IMG_6453 Sand Martin

We have been able to ring small numbers of all three hirundines, including a few Sand Martins.

IMG_6452 Sand Martin

The white edging to the flight feathers, especially the tertials and the scalloped rump and uppertail coverts show that this is a first year bird.

IMG_6430 Wryneck DCP

Ringing is all about researching the movements and population dynamics of our regular species and probably the most significant events of the last few days were the trapping of two ‘controls’, a Reed Warbler and a Blackcap ringed elsewhere in the UK, and the notification that a Swallow we ringed at Durlston was retrapped recently in Hampshire. But there is no doubt which event was the most enjoyable, ringing this Wryneck, the first I have seen in the hand in the UK was the highlight of my Durlston ringing this year.


Well that is all for both blogging and ringing for several weeks. In a few hours I leave for South America, my 16th visit, this time to Paraguay. I hope to upload some interesting photos on my return.

Posted September 18, 2015 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

Saturday 17th May – the Patagonia Picnic Table Effect   Leave a comment


The expression ‘Patagonia Picnic Table Effect’ was coined by American birders after Rose-throated Becards were discovered breeding near a picnic are at the town of Patagonia in Arizona. Birders coming to see those birds found other good birds in the area and so yet more birders came and even more goodies were found. Something similar occurred at Lytchett Bay on May 17th.

Saturday 17th was put aside for packing for our upcoming trip to the States and for Margaret’s choir concert so local birding was the last thing on my mind.

I was busy sorting out gen for birding in New Hampshire when a text from Ian Ballam said there was a Wood Sandpiper at Lytchett Bay. I used to describe Lytchett Bay as my ‘local patch’ but in all honesty I don’t go there often enough for it to maintain that description. That is clearly my loss, as stalwarts like Shaun Robson, Ian Ballam, Paul Morton and Nick and Jackie Hull continue to turn up interesting migrants.

Wood Sandpiper is a regular but scarce migrant in Dorset; there quite a good chance of encountering one if you bird Stanpit Marsh, Christchurch or Lodmoor, Weymouth on a regular basis in early autumn, but I have only ever seen six at Lytchett Bay over the past 36 years. So although all my optics were packed for travel I hurried down there and found Ian Ballam still watching it.

Margaret spent the entire afternoon at St Peter’s Church in Parkstone for the dress rehearsal with the orchestra for the evening’s performance. Having dropped her off I returned to complete my travel arrangements. I was supposed to pick Amber up and take her to the concert but then just 50 minutes before I had to leave I had news that Paul Morton whilst looking for the Wood Sandpiper had found a Temminck’s Stint at Lytchett Bay. This was the first record for the Bay and was not to be missed. This tiny wader breeds in Arctic Norway and Arctic Russia and is a very scarce migrant, usually seen in mid May. Once again the optics were hastily unpacked, wellies donned etc and a quick yomp over the wet and muddy fields followed. On arrival I found three birders including Ian Ballam (who had taken time off from the FA Cup Final to search for this bird) but none had seen the bird. After a few minutes I had to leave or I would not pick Amber up in time, but then a faint but shrill trilling was heard and the Temminck’s shot out of the marsh and towered up flying strongly to the north never to be seen again.

We got to the concert on time and I have to say that the Barclay House Choir and St Peter’s Orchestra’s rendition of Karl Jenkin’s ‘The Armed Man’, John Rutter’s ‘Gloria’ and Bob Chilcott’s ‘The Little Jazz Mass’ was just wonderful. Their new musical director has introduced some great modern pieces and hugely widened their repertoire.

Unfortunately my camera was packed so I have no photos to illustrate this remarkable day, which is a shame as we had seats at the front within feet of the orchestra. A single photo of the Wood Sandpiper from Ian Ballam and a thumbnail from Paul Morton is all I have to post.


WoodSand LB IB

Wood Sandpiper, Lytchett Bay – photo by Ian Ballam.

This tiny thumbnail was all that was left after Paul massively enlarged his image of the Temminck’s Stint. Only the size of a sparrow and a some considerable distance away, it is remarkable that anything was photographed at all.

Temmink's Stint LB PM

20th April 2014 – Lytchett Bay   2 comments

The exact moment that I uploaded my last post I received a text from local birder Ian Ballam to say that he had seen a Little RInged Plovers and three Yellow Wagtails at Lytchett Bay. As both are scarce migrants down the Bay I hurried down in the hope they would still be there. As I am in blogging mode I thought a short post script would be in order.

The Little Ringed Plover was on view but it was into the sun and quite distant but the Yellow Wagtails were showing well on what has been nicknamed ‘Folly Pond’, which didn’t seem so much of a folly now.




IMG_0055-Yellow-Wag-LB IMG_0046-Yellow-Wagtail-LB



Also around the pond were a large number of Swallows and House Martins, the Swallow in the picture below was preening on an overhead wire.


Posted April 20, 2014 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

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