Archive for the ‘Redwing’ Tag

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.

Catching up: ringing, coastal walks, slide shows and music. Mid October to late November 2015.   Leave a comment

This post covers the six weeks between my return from Paraguay and now and deals mainly with bird ringing and a few other activities.



DCP demo

Immediately after my return from Paraguay our ringing group held a public demonstration at Durlston. Fortunately other group members were able to organise it, but in spite of some jet lag, I was still able to participate. Here my colleague Ian Alexander explains some of the findings that bird ringing has revealed whilst we wait for some new birds to be captured.

Forage Festival2

At the end of October we also did a public demonstration at Arne RSPB for their Forage Festival. A number of country crafts and home produced food outlet stalls were on show in this field.

Forage Festival 3

…. and there was a big climbing frame for the kids.

Forage Festival

We had some nets erected nearby and birds caught were shown to the public. Two-hatted Paul Morton was representing both the Sound Approach and Stour Ringing Group from the same stand. Here Paul (left) is talking to Simon Constantine, son of the Sound Approach’s founder Mark Constantine.

Goldcrest DCP

The big story this autumn has been the arrival of large numbers of Goldcrests. We haven’t seen influxes like this since the 80s. Our ringing totals for the last five years at Durlston have been: 2011 – 39; 2012 – 85; 2013 – 29; 2014 – 53; 2015 – 445. The number ringed this year might have been even higher had we been able to man a site known as the ‘goat plots’, as in previous years this spot yielded the highest numbers of crests.

Goldcrest poss coatsi

The large numbers of Goldcrests has been noted on the continent as well, with ringing stations in Denmark and Holland reporting really big catches. It has been suggested (see Martin Garner’s excellent Birding Frontiers’ website) that some of these birds, especially those with a ‘grey shawl’ like this bird, may belong to the race coatsi, which breeds no closer than western Siberia. Quite a journey for a bird that only weighs 5 grams.

Firecrests 3

The normally scarce Firecrests have been much commoner this year as well with 29 ringed in October and November. including these three at the same time on 12th November

Redwing LH

We have also been able to ring quite a number of Redwing at both Durlston and Lytchett Bay.

Redwing LH2

Aging Redwing is quite straightforward. The white step on the outer web of the tertials indicates that this bird is in its first year, although a surprisingly high proportion of the birds we have ringed have been adults.

Redwing undertail

Another identification criteria highlighted in Martin Garner’s Birding Frontiers blog is that of of the Icelandic Redwing race coburni, which has more heavily marked breast and under-tail coverts than the nominate race from northern Europe. So far all the birds we have trapped have been of the nominate race.

Green Woodpecker DCP

The capture of not one, but two Green Woodpeckers at the same time was noteworthy (photos of the two together proved unsatisfactory).

Lesser Redpoll DCCP

The capture of a few Lesser Redpolls was also of note. Like many finches large numbers fly overhead at Durlston but few come down into the trapping area. It has long been debated whether the six races in the Redpoll complex consists of two, three, five or even six species. Now the answer is clear – there is just one, and the different forms look different not because they have different DNA but due to the way that DNA is expressed. So unfortunately I expect to lose a couple of ticks on both my British and World list before too long.

Coal Tit DCP

We catch large numbers of Coal Tits at our site at Holton Lee but they are rare on the coast at Durlston, so when we ringed this bird in November we speculated about it being the nominate continental race, but although the black bib looks particularly broad, the mantle doesn’t seem blue-grey enough to ascribe it that subspecies.


There has also been quite an influx of Yellow-browed Warblers, especially in the northern isles. One was ringed at Durlston during my absence in early October and I hoped that we would get another one after I returned, which indeed we did on 20th October.


Breeding no closer than the Urals, this tiny warbler goes all the way to SE Asia to winter, although an increasing number seem to be heading SW to western Europe each autumn

IMG_6617 Siskin EHF

We ring very few Siskin at Durlston but do catch a few at Holton Lee where this bird was ringed on 23/11. Clearly a male ….

IMG_6622 Siskin male

…. it can be aged as an adult by the striking yellow greater coverts with only very fine white edging. Also the tail feathers are much rounder than on a young bird.

I regularly post pictures of birds that we ring but seldom get round to reporting where our birds get recovered. Here is a selection of Durlston recoveries and controls (ringed birds retrapped by another ringer).


Species Date ringed Ringed at Date found Recovered at Time lapse Distance
days Km
Willow Warbler 10/08/2011 Durlston, Dorset, England 14/08/2011 Gillingham, Dorset, England 4 52
Chiffchaff 30/07/2011  Castlemorton Common, Worcs, England 29/09/2011 Durlston, Dorset, England 61 165
Blue Tit 20/02/2010 Woolsgarton, Dorset, England 26/08/2011 Durlston, Dorset, England 552 9
Whitethroat 10/08/2011 Durlston, Dorset, England 17/08/2011 Lychett Bay, Poole Harbour, Dorset, England 7 19
Chiffchaff 17/08/2011 England, Yorkshire, York, Thornton, England 07/04/2012 Durlston, Dorset, England 234 376
Chiffchaff 19/09/2012  Kenfig, Bridgend, Wales 27/09/2012 Durlston, Dorset, England 8 163
Goldfinch 09/09/2012 Martinstown, Dorset, England 18/11/2012 Durlston, Dorset, England 70 42
Chiffchaff 15/09/2011 Durlston, Dorset, England 31/03/2012 Portland, Dorset England 198 37
Chiffchaff 21/09/2012 Durlston, Dorset, England 28/09/2012 Sandouville, Seine-Maritime, France 7 203
Blackcap 04/09/2012 Durlston, Dorset, England 18/09/2012 Icklesham, East Sussex, England 14 188
Greenfinch 11/02/2013 Durlston, Dorset, England 18/07/2013 Barnham, West Sussex, England 157 97
Chiffchaff 29/09/2011 Durlston, Dorset, England 18/10/2011 Embalse de Pedrezuela, Guadalix de la Sierra, Madrid, Spain 19 1099
Sparrowhawk 03/09/2011 Durlston, Dorset, England 19/07/2013 Christchurch, England 285 22
Willow Warbler 06/07/2013 Eskmeals, Cumbria, England 27/08/2013 Durlston, Dorset, England 52 429
Garden Warbler 12/07/2013 Roydon Village Mariner, Essex, England 19/08/2013 Durlston, Dorset, England 38 190
Blackcap 08/09/2013 Durlston, Dorset, England 16/05/2013 Herberg, Utsira, Rogaland, Norway 250 1042
Chiffchaff 19/09/2013 Durlston, Dorset, England 22/09/2013 Haseley Manor, Arreton, Isle of Wight, England 3 52
Goldfinch 07/11/2013 Durlston, Dorset, England 10/12/2013 Braytown, near Wool, Dorset, England 33 23
Chiffchaff 05/10/2013 Durlston, Dorset, England 07/10/2013 Hastings Country Park, Warren Glen, East Sussex, England 2 185
Chiffchaff 14/10/2013 Durlston, Dorset, England 08/11/2013 Portland Bill, Dorset, England 25 37
Chiffchaff 22/09/2013 Low Newton-by-the-Sea, Northumberland, England 13/10/2013 Durlston, Dorset, England 21 547
Lesser Redpoll 13/10/2013 Durlston, Dorset, England 14/01/2014 Ferndown, Dorset, England 93 25
Chiffchaff 17/08/2013 Lychett Bay, Poole Harbour, Dorset, England 26/09/2013 Durlston, Dorset, England 40 19
Chiffchaff 21/08/2013 Wintersett Reservoir, Wakefield, W Yorkshire, England 01/10/2013 Durlston, Dorset, England 41 339
Blackcap 22/08/2013 Thorne Moors, nr Doncaster, S Yorkshire, England 08/09/2013 Durlston, Dorset, England 17 345
Goldfinch 13/10/2013 Durlston, Dorset, England 09/03/2014 Laval, Mayenne, France 147 293
Chiffchaff 01/10/2013 Durlston, Dorset, England 01/04/2014 Margam Park Nursery, Dywyll, Neath Port Talbot, Wales 182 165
Blackcap 07/09/2013 Durlston, Dorset, England 12/09/2013 Beachy Head, East Sussex, England 5 156
Chiffchaff 04/09/2013 Durlston, Dorset, England 04/09/2013 Smallridge, Devon, England 287 78
Dunnock 13/08/2014 Durlston, Dorset, England 16/11/2014 Swanage, Dorset, England 95 0
Chiffchaff 15/10/2013 Durlston, Dorset, England 04/05/2014 Kenfig Pool, Bridgend, England 201 163
Blackcap 29/09/2011 Durlston, Dorset, England 17/03/2014 Garrapilos, Jerez de la Frontera, Cádiz, Spain 900 1581
Willow Warbler 10/08/2013 Durlston, Dorset, England 04/05/2014 Ballynafgh, Kildare, Ireland 267 448
Blackcap 14/08/2014 Beachy Head, East Sussex, England 05/10/2014 Durlston, Dorset, England 52 156
Willow Warbler 07/09/2013 Durlston, Dorset, England 04/05/2014 Bardsey Island, Gwynedd, Wales 293 311
Blackcap 14/10/2013 Durlston, Dorset, England 23/09/2014 Stanford Reservoir, Northamptonshire, England 348 212
Chiffchaff 09/09/2014 Durlston, Dorset, England 12/09/2014 Squire’s Down, Gillingham, Dorset, England 3 52
Chiffchaff 22/07/2014 Millwater, Crewkerne, Somerset 01/09/2014 Durlston, Dorset, England 41 70
Blackcap 08/06/2014 Northward Hill, Rochester, Medway, England 06/09/2014 Durlston, Dorset, England 100 200
Chiffchaff 07/09/2013 Durlston, Dorset, England 12/03/2015 Jew’s Gate, Gibralter 544 1629
Chiffchaff 08/07/2014 Durlston, Dorset, England 01/03/2015 Jew’s Gate, Gibralter 174 1629
Tree Pipit 21/08/2011 Durlston, Dorset, England 01/05/2015 Coleg Elidyr,Rhandirmywn, Camarthanshire, Wales 1349 209
Swallow 23/09/2015 Durlston, Dorset, England 10/09/2015 Hook Park, Hampshire, England 717 54
Willow Warbler 15/04/2014 Lundy, Devon 11/08/2014 Durlston, Dorset, England 483 202
Reed Warbler 03/09/2015 Beddington Sewage Farm, Greater London, England 08/09/2015 Durlston, Dorset, England 5 155
Goldcrest Outstanding 08/1102015 Durlston, Dorset, England
Goldcrest 15/10/2015 Bawdsey Hall, Bawdsey, Suffolk, England 28/10/2015 Durlston, Dorset, England 13 281
Song Thrush Belgium (outstanding) 02/11/2015 Durlston, Dorset, England
Blackcap Spain (outstanding) 25/10/2015 Durlston, Dorset, England
Blackcap 08/08/2015 Slapton Ley, Devon, England 10/09/2015 Durlston, Dorset, England 33 125
Common Scoter

Now onto other subjects. Every month from September to March birders across the UK take part in the Wetland Birds Survey (WeBS), the idea that counts in a given area ar coordinated so the birds aren’t counted twice or missed. My area is the south-east of Holes Bay, which usually isn’t that exciting, at least compared the bird rich north-east sector. On the October count however, I was surprised to see two male Common Scoter, a bird associated more with the open sea in winter than sheltered inland bays. I didn’t have my decent camera with me so I only have this mediocre digiscoped shot.

Margaret, Gio and Jessica2

One day in late October Margaret and I met up with my old friend and former work colleague Gio and his wife Jessica and went for a walk along Ballard Down from Ulwell Gap to Old Harry and back to the pub at Studland. Very enjoyable with great views over Swanage, Poole Harbour and Poole Bay.


On consecutive nights in early November I gave my ‘what came first – the Archaeopteryx of the egg?’ talk to the Wiltshire Ornithological Society in Devizes and Christchurch Harbour Ornithological Group in Christchurch. The talk has taken at lot of researching and has been extensively rewritten since I first showed it a couple of years ago. And although I say it myself, I was pretty pleased with the outcome. It was quite a long drive across Cranbourne Chase and Salisbury Plain to Devizes, not helped by a large diversion due to road repairs, but I’m glad I did it. This photo shows Market Square in Devizes.

Tivoli Wimborne

On an entirely different note, Margaret and I spent a very pleasant evening at the beautifully restored and wonderfully old-fashioned Tivoli Theatre in Wimborne.


We had gone to see the legendary American folk singer Judy Collins,famous for her renditions of ‘Send in the Clowns’ and ‘Amazing Grace’. Now aged 76 she still has a wonderful, powerful voice and gave a totally spellbinding performance. Between songs she told tales of the past from her friendships with Joan Baez and Bob Dylan to working with famous producers like Stephen Sondheim and revealed that the Crosby, Still and Nash anthem ‘Suite: Judy Blue Eyes’ was written for her. Photography is not allowed during the performance so I have used one of her publicity pictures.

Rachael Sage2

I found the support act captivating as well. American singer Rachael Sage played a beautiful set of quirky songs that reminded me a little of Tori Amos. She was selling CDs in the foyer during the interval and I got chatting and asked if she minded if I took her photo ….


…. and of course I was obliged to buy her rather excellent CD after that.