Archive for the ‘Sparrowhawk’ Tag

December 2015 – a few friends and family, locations and birds that kept us busy for most of the month.   Leave a comment

This post covers from when we returned from Turkey on 2nd December until the end of the year.

May I take the opportunity to wish all readers of this blog a very happy 2016


IMG_2203 M, A&J, Lois and Gavin, Maldon

After we returned from our trip to Turkey we braved the M25 rush hour traffic and drove straight to Anita and John’s in Maldon in Essex. They will be in South Africa at Christmas time so we made our Christmas visit in early December. They have John’s sister Lois and her husband Gavin staying with them and this was the first time I had met them. L-R Gavin, Lois, John, Anita and Margaret (with an imaginary selfie-stick).

IMG_2189 Teal

With John and Anita at work we had time on the first two days to do a little birding, first at Abberton Reservoir where large flocks of wildfowl were present, including these Teal but also many Pochard, a bird that was once abundant in Dorset in winter but is now only seen in relatively small numbers.

IMG_2156 GG Grebe

These 16 Great Crested Grebes are just a small part of flock that numbered over a hundred.

IMG_2161 Goose hybrid

I was initially puzzled by this bird, it looks quite like a Cackling Goose, the diminutive relative of Canada Goose, but the black of the neck extending onto the upper breast and the sharp demarcation between the black breast and the grey of the belly is reminiscent of a Barnacle Goose. It must be a hybrid, either between Barnacle and a Canada, or given its small size, between a Barnacle and a Cackling. Hybridisation between geese species is not unusual in feral populations, where the ecological and geographical conditions that would normally separate them during the breeding season, are absent. Its close association with a flock of feral Greylag Geese is a further indication of its dubious pedigree.

IMG_2178 Bewicks & Wigeon

The best sighting of the day was a group of seven Bewick’s Swans, two of which posed nicely for photos.

IMG_2194 Wallasea

Last Christmas we paid a visit to Wallasea, the RSPB’s new 1,500 acre mega-reserve in Essex. A huge area of former farmland has been reclaimed for nature using literally millions of tonnes of spoil from Crossrail project ((I object to the term reclaimed land – changing wildlife rich coasts into farmland cannot be ‘reclaiming’ it as it was never the farmer’s land in the first place – turning farmland back into a nature reserve on the other hand is ‘reclaiming’). Since our last visit much has happened, sluice gates erected, lagoons, both fresh and saline at various heights, have been created to provide feeding habitat at all stages of the time and for the first time in 400 years the sea wall has been breached allowing the former farmland to revert to salt marsh.

IMG_2192 Wallasea

Although our visit in December last year was bird-filled we were a bit disappointed this year, perhaps the very low tide meant most waders and wildfowl were still offshore, leaving the lagoons on the reserve somewhat empty, or perhaps the very mild conditions hadn’t induced many birds to come this far south and west.

IMG_6692 John Gavin

A fair amount of my time was spent accompanying John and Gavin as they visited Maldon’s many pubs. I have been in Poole for 37 years but never know anyone in pubs unless I arrange to meet someone there. John has been in Maldon less than two years and Gavin as many months, but they seem to know everybody. We were often asked what was the relationship between the three of us was, Gavin would reply ‘I married his sister’ and I’d reply ‘I married his mother-in-law’.

IMG_6698 free beer

John even took us to a free beer tasting event hosted by the local brewery.

IMG_6700 Yellow Snow

Noticing an ale called ‘yellow snow’ I commented that was the title of a Frank Zappa song, the barman nodded in agreement and pointed me to the label on the barrel. They also had a beer called ‘elementary penguin’ so the brewers clearly have a good taste in music (as well as in beer).

IMG_6696 brewery

As I said, John knows everybody in Maldon, so we also given a tour of the micro-brewry by the head brewer.

IMG_6728 tree bud

Back home, mid-December was absurdly warm with temperatures reaching 15c and not dropping much lower at night. Flowers are in bloom, butterfly and bumblebees are on the wing, birds are in full song and trees are in bud. I like four seasons a year not one and half.

IMG_6769 Chris & Ginny

I had hoped to spend a fair bit of time with my two trainee ringers, Chris and Ginny, however the incessant wind that has accompanied the warm weather has reduced the opportunities.

IMG_6709 Sparrowhawk

However we have taken advantage of the few lulls between the storms and have visited several of our local patches, ringing birds like this immature male Sparrowhawk ….

IMG_6726 Redpoll

…. and this breeding plumage Lesser Redpoll.

IMG_6706 Goldfinch abnormal bill

As birds are supposed to be in normal health before they are ringed we released this Goldfinch with a deformed bill without ringing it.

IMG_6718 Chiffchaff ELR143 12 12 15 FLC

At our Fleets Lane site we trapped three wintering Chiffchaffs. One was a typical nominate collybita, but this very brown bird just might be the Scandinavian race albietinus.

IMG_6713 Chiffchaff ELR135 12 12 15 FLC

This bird, trapped on the same day lacks the yellow tones of collybita but does show some green on the bend of the wing and on the fridges of the primaries, together with the prominent supercillium and the whitish belly this could indicate that it is the race tristis from Siberia. A feather from each bird, accidentally dislodged during the ringing process, will be forwarded for DNA analysis.

IMG_6766 Holes Bay

Away from ringing, I have only done a little birding but did take part in the monthly wetland bird count. My area, the southern part of Holes Bay, failed to turn up very much, but the dramatic shower clouds propelled across the Bay by a brisk SE wind were photogenic.

IMG_6719 Star Wars premiere

Being science-fiction fans we managed to get tickets to see the new Star Wars film on its opening day. The steps of the Empire Cinema in Poole were littered with stormtroopers and Jedi knights.

IMG_6730 Phoenix Xmas dance

We only attended one pre-Christmas party, the annual Phoenix dinner-dance (the organisation where Margaret and I met nine years ago). Here Margaret found herself seated next to the only other South African in the Poole group.

IMG_6757 Phoenix Xmas dance

We never had lighting like that when I used to attend discos, a glitter ball was the highlight!

IMG_2206 B mouth Xmas market

Also just before Christmas we visited Bournemouth but paused only briefly at the entertainments near the Winter Gardens ….

IMG_2244 Jools Holland

…. as we were on our way to see Jools Holland and his Rhythm and Blues Orchestra play at the BIC

IMG_2227 Jools Holland

A superb line up of top class musicians playing rhythm and blues and boogie-woogie. This is the third time I have seen him play and have enjoyed every minute of it.

IMG_2241 Ruby Turner

As always the ‘queen of booie-woogie’ Ruby Turner gave a splendid vocal performance ….

IMG_2222 KT Tunstall

…. as did guest star KT Turnstall.

IMG_2250 Jools Holland

All of which more than deserved a standing ovation.

IMG_6776 Adrian Dominique Francesca A&K Xmas 15

This brings us on to Christmas. This year, along with Janis, Amber and Kara we were invited over to their friends Adrian, Dominique and Francesca’s in Southampton. Amber and Kara have been friends with Francesca since nursery school. Amber has spent the last few months working in Cornwall but came back for Christmas. L-R: Adrian, Amber, Francesca, Dominique, Kara.

IMG_6777 Boxing Day dinner

We had similar good fortune on Boxing Day when we were invited for dinner to Winterbourne Abbas near Dorchester by Janis’ boyfriend Nigel. L-R: Margaret, Nigel’s daughter Ellie, Amber, Nigel’s son George, Nigel, Nigel’s younger son William, Janis and the children’s grandmother Ros. (Kara is absent as she was invited to go to France by a friend and her parents for the rest of the holidays).

On the 27th we drove up to Duffield in Derbyshire to visit my brother Simon and his family. We also visited my sister-in-law’s parent Ida and Dennis, old friends from school, Martin and Tricia and Di who I knew from University day and her husband Steve in Breedon-on-the-Hill. We also we met up with Nigel whom I was at school and university with and shared a place with for many years. We also did a little birding at Carsington reservoir, a twenty-minute drive from my brother’s house looking (as usual) for Willow Tit and Tree Sparrow – two birds we never see in Dorset.

I have posted photos of friends, family and scenery in the Derby area at Christmas several times before, see these links if you wish to see more.




2011: also a number of other posts between Christmas Day and New Year



IMG_6783 Nigel and Steve

Nigel and Steve cooking pizza, Breedon-on-the-Hill, Derbyshire.

IMG_2252 red sails

As it is Christmas we decided to treat ourselves to a very nice painting, called Red Sails. It is mounted at the top of the stairs. It was painted by Margaret’s sister Cathy in Austria.


And finally I would like to pay tribute to my dear father Brian. It is 30 years today since he died and 29th December marked 100 years since he was born. Photographed here in 1940, the year that he and Mum got married. I learned so much from my father and it was from him that I got an enquiring mind and the love of discovering places, history, landscapes and wildlife. Both Mum and Dad are greatly missed of course, but their memories are with us always.

Early September 2014 – a ringing update   Leave a comment



Just a quick blog update before, once again, I go on my travels, this time to northern Madagascar, however the Air France pilot’s strike has already caused problems and threatens to wreck the whole trip.

The settled dry, easterly conditions have been good for ringing at Dulston, although it has been a bit on the windy side at times. Since the start of September we have ringed nearly a thousand birds with Blackcaps occurring in unprecedented numbers (550 in the first 18 days of September). Over the last few days there has been a large movement of Meadow Pipits and close on 100 have been ringed.

IMG_0019 Yellow Wagtail

We also have done some ringing at Lytchett Bay. Sedge Warblers were still present at the start of the month and we ringed a few Yellow Wagtails at dusk one evening.

IMG_0030 Mipit

Meadow Pipits have been ringed in large numbers over the last few days. The whitish fringes to the unmoulted median coverts with the centers forming a downward pointing tooth indicate it is a first year bird. Another first year feature is that the  unmoulted greater coverts are not very dark centred and have a diffuse brown fringe. Contrast them with the two longest tertials which are darker with a better defined fringe.

IMG_0031 Mipit

The heavily streaked flanks and long hind claw are good features to separate Meadow Pipits from Tree Pipits (which seem to have all left for Africa). The constant pheet-pheet-pheet call is a bit of give away too.

IMG_0033 Blackcap 3&4

Telling a first year male Blackcap (L) from an adult (R) involves checking for contrast in the wing coverts, fault bars on the tail and pointed outer tail feathers, all first year features. Additional pointers shown in this photo are, the presence of brown fringes to the crown feathers, a brown wash to the ear coverts and slightly less richly coloured eye.

IMG_0022 Wilwa abberant wing

This is the wing of Willow Warbler but an unusual one at that. Normally the longest feather is the 3rd primary (counted from the outside in – and remember that the 1st is vestigial and largely hidden by my thumb) but in this case it seems to be the 5th. However it can be seen that the 6th – 10th primary are unmoulted whilst 2- 5 are new, so is the 3rd still growing? I must admit I forgot to check this at the time. Adult birds should complete their moult before migration but this bird has either suspended its moult mid way though or is migrating with moult in progress. Not all birds fit the rules.

IMG_0020 ringing demo

We are asked to perform two public ringing demonstrations annually. One on the 14th was attended by about 20 people. Here Sean Walls is explaining  the use of radio tags on birds.


IMG_0034 Sparrowhawk juv male

It’s a shame that we caught this Sparrowhawk the day after the public demo, rather than during it. The pale eye and chestnut fringes to the feathers show it is a juvenile, the small size shows it is a male. Male Sparrowhawks are so much smaller than females that they take a different ring size.


IMG_0041 Redstart

We trapped a Common Redstart the day of the demo, but soon after dawn well before the public arrived.



DSCF4423 WEO and Christine

Last Friday our young friend Christine Arnold came round for a meal. She was about to return to teacher training college and was keen to catch up with our news. She has been staying on Brownsea Island and was most impressed that Bill Oddie was staying there as well. I don’t know if this is in his guise as Autumn Watch presenter or as a private holiday. Either way Christine was most impressed to be in the company of a wildlife celebrity and asked that I post this photo on my blog.

Posted September 18, 2014 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

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5th – 6th October – Dorset’s first Bird Fair at Durlston Castle   Leave a comment

Throughout this week I have been continuing our ringing program at Durlston.  Most of the birds ringed were Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs but we had one or two surprises – like the Sparrowhawk shown below.


This Sparrowhawk can be aged as a first year by the brown fringes to the coverts and mantle. The pale yellow eye darkens with age and becomes a rich orange in an adult.



On the 5th October Dorset’s first Bird Fair was held at Durlston Castle. Compared to the Bird Fair held at Rutland Water every August, this was a very small scale affair with just a dozen or so exhibitors. Several bird walks were organised, as well as series of talks and we gave a ringing demonstration. This was very well attended with over 30 people. We were very busy that morning, with close to 200 birds ringed and I had to do the demonstration by myself, taking  just a few birds to show to the public on the patio outside the garden, whilst the rest of the ringers checked the nets and ringed the majority of birds within the garden.

After the public and most of the ringers had departed we caught a couple of Wood Larks. Whilst not a rarity, this scarce breeder is seldom trapped for ringing and I have never seen one in the hand before.




Short crest, short tail, white edges to the primary coverts and alula, a distinctive face pattern and vocalisations all separate this species from the commoner Sky Lark


As well as the ringing demonstration several moth traps were run. A number of interesting species like these Convolvulous Hawk-moths were caught.


At least a dozen of these large moths were trapped over the two days, here are nine of them.


… but the star moth was this beautiful Crimson Speckled, a major rarity from southern Europe. Sorry its still in the plastic container, no one wanted to take it out of the pot in case it flew off.



There were also a series of talks from invited speakers, however the venue used was quite unsuitable. Unable to fully exclude daylight, the projected pictures were very washed out and the area used was only divided from the rest of the room by a movable partition, so the conversations of those attending the exhibitors stalls drowned out the speaker. On Saturday I attended two talks other ringing group members, Sean Walls talked about modern bird tracking technology and Paul Morton gave a presentation on the Birds of Poole Harbour educational charity. Both talks were well attended with around 25 people but this was not the case on the Sunday. Margaret and I turned up about midday and attended a couple of talks before my presentation on the Birds of New Guinea. I only had six people, including Margaret, for my talk, all of them friends.


Durlston Castle was recently redeveloped as a visitor centre, centered around a restaurant. The Sound Approach and Dorset Bird Club’s exhibition stands were in a small room above the restaurant, accessed by this ornate spiral staircase.


The location of the exhibition room wasn’t ideal, as many passers by wouldn’t even know it was there but it was a great place for ‘vis mig’ ie watch the visible migrants like Swallows and Meadow Pipits passing.


The view to the north, Peveril Point, Swanage Bay, Old Harry and in the distance Bournemouth seafront.


In conclusion Dorset’s Bird Fair was a mixed success, Saturday’s events were well attended but this was not the case on Sunday. A better venue is needed for talks and there needs to be more information available on what is going on, but all in all, a very successful event.

Posted October 10, 2013 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

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