Archive for the ‘Portland’ 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.


Late April 2015 – local birding and ringing   Leave a comment

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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

April 29th – May 7th 2014 – this week’s birding and ringing.   Leave a comment



Of course to be able to ring birds you need a licence to show that you are properly trained. There are three classes of licence, T for trainee, which means you must be under direct supervision, C which means that you can ring on your own but your activities remain under the control of your trainer and A which means you are responsible directly to the Ringing Committee. If an A permit holder wishes to take on trainees they must have a trainer’s endorsement. I have assisted in the training of many trainees for decades but have only recently decided that I ought to take on trainees in my own right. To obtain a trainer’s endorsement you need to convince another trainer of your merit, by being observed supervising a trainee. This prevents cliques forming where bad practices are passed of from trainer to trainee ad infinitum.

With my friend Paul being ready to be assessed for his C permit we made arrangement s for us both to see Pete Morgan, a well know and long-standing ringer at Portland Bird Observatory on Tuesday 29th May. The first day would mainly be about Paul’s assessment and then we would both return later in the week for my assessment. However we were in luck, our visit coincided with a ‘fall’ and there were so many birds around that Pete could easy assess both of us on the same day.

During the day over 300 birds were ringed allowing plenty of opportunities for Paul to demonstrate his ringing abilities. The majority were, as expected, Willow Warblers, but there was a selection of other migrants including, Pied Flycatcher, Whinchat, Wheatear, Garden Warbler, Sedge Warbler,  Blackcap, Common Whitethroat and Chiffchaff. Away from the nets I also saw Lesser Whitethroat and Yellow Wagtail.


Here are some of the birds that were ringed that morning: a beautiful male Whinchat


Female Whinchat


Female Pied Flycatcher


‘Greenland’ Wheatear. Most nominate race Wheatears pass through in late March and early to mid April. By early May the larger Greenland race leucorha predominates.  From their African wintering grounds they briefly refuel in the UK before crossing the Atlantic to Iceland, Greenland and eastern arctic Canada, an incredible migration for such a small bird.



Margaret and I returned on Friday 2nd May for some general birding. This Peregrine was soaring overhead


In complete contrast to three days earlier there were few migrants around, however a good number of Wheatears, mainly of the Greenland race were around the Bill.


Skylarks were everywhere filling the air with their joyful song.


Later we headed down to Lodmoor where we had great views (but not photos) of Beared Tits and saw a number of Pochards above), presume local breeders


What is hiding behind this Coot?


Just one of their bizarrely plumaged chicks.


On 3rd May we performed a public ringing demonstration at Durlston. We have been requested to do this as part of our permission to ring there and it helps people appreciate the birds that occur in the park. However once again we found ourselves short of anything to demonstrate with. Over the two hours that the public were about we only ringed nine birds, but we filled the time explaining what has been learned through ringing and what needs to be learned in the future.

Monday 5th I birded around the Sherford Bridge/Mordon Bog part of Wareham Forest. I should have returned to Portland as there was a large passage of seabirds, including many Pomerine Skuas. The previous night two of my friends had independently heard Spotted Crakes making their ‘whiplash’ calls from the wet meadows near Wareham. On the 6th I got up predawn and listed for them at Bestwall and Swineham. The wind was quite strong and the rhythmic banging of ropes against masts from distant yachts didn’t help. By the time I got to Swineham the dawn chorus was already underway, I am fairly sure I heard a few calls distantly but I would prefer to have another attempt. At the moment the weather is unsettled with high winds, but when that passes I’ll try again.

For a selection of recordings of singing Spotted Crakes click here:



it was a beautiful dawn which gave rise to a sunny morning. The church at Wareham seen from Swineham


The River Frome at Swineham




Later on the 6th I returned to the Mordon Bog area. This photo was taken in the cloudier conditions on the 5th


Both Meadow and Tree Pipits were in song allowing close comparison of both their plumage and vocal characteristics. Tree Pipits (above) have finer flank streaking than Meadows and a shorter hind claw and a subtly different face pattern. Tree Pipits nearly always end their song flight on the top of a tall tree, whilst Meadow Pipit land on or near the ground. The song is different too see the links below.

Song of Meadow Pipit:

Song of Tree Pipit:


Mistle Thrushes are regularly seen in the filed adjoining the Bog


Both conifer and deciduous trees fringe the Bog, which along with wet and dry heath  gives a mosaic of habitats



On the 7th I returned to Portland. I didn’t coincide with either a fall of migrants or a large seabird passage but did see some new species for the year. It was very overcast with heavy showers but this soon passed to give a pleasant morning.


A Whimbrel paused on migration at the Bill




Within minutes of arriving at the Bird Observatory, three pale morph Pomarine Skuas went by. A further 90 minutes at the Bill failed to produce any more so I hit it just right. Photo by Paul Bowerman


Ferrybridge, where the waters of the Fleet run into Portland Harbour is not only a good site for Little Terns and various waders but marks the spot where Margaret first made landfall in the UK when she arrived by yacht (all the way from South Africa) in June 2002.





Posted May 9, 2014 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

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11th October – dipping at Portland and Weymouth.   Leave a comment

After last year’s attempt for a big year list I decided that this year I wouldn’t bother too much about chasing rarities and concentrate on ringing and foreign birding, the posts on this blog testify that this was indeed the case.

We had planned some ringing for this morning but for various reasons it was cancelled. So as a number of rarities had been seen in Weymouth and Portland. In total of five goodies were seen today and I managed to miss them all!

Unusually I have chosen to illustrate this post with pictures of birds I didn’t see, but it wasn’t all bad – I saw my first Fieldfare and Redwing of the autumn, saw four species of raptor (including a Merlin), flocks of Linnets, Meadow Pipit, Skylark and Goldfinch and as always, had a nice chat to the regulars at the Bird Observatory.


A Short-toed Lark had been seen on the 10th and early on the 11th at Portland Bill. I would have seen it had I stayed put at its most regular spot instead of going walk about. Photo taken in Israel April 2013.


This week a Red-breasted Flycatcher was seen daily at Camp Road, Weymouth. Daily that is until today. Photo taken in Shetland in September 2012.


A Thrush Nightingale was ringed at Portland Observatory and retrapped today. I was dipping on the RBF at the time. It was not seen again after release. This photo taken in Israel in April 2013.


A Yellow-browed Warbler was seen in a private garden in Southwell in Portland. I had a look in the sycamores along the nearby roads and later searched around Pennsylvania Castle, a favoured locality for this species, but to no avail. This bird was photographed in Shetland in September 2012.

During the earlier part of the week I made three visits to Durlston to continue our ringing program. The first two, on the 7th and 9th were highly successful with about 100  birds ringed at each session but the third visit on the 10th was blighted by a strong breeze ad was abandoned after just 23 birds were ringed. As before, Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs made up almost the entire catch.

Posted October 11, 2013 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

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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


Bagsy poses with his eponymous new motor.


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


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.


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.


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.


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


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

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