Archive for the ‘Whooper Swan’ Tag

Mongolia part 3: Bogd Mountains, lakes of Kholbooj, Orog Nuur and Boontsagaan Nuur and the Khangai Mountains – 26th May – 1st June 2018.   Leave a comment

In the last post I showed some photos of the southern Gobi-Altai Mountains and parts of the Gobi Deserts that lies to the south and north of the mountain range. This post covers part of the Altai known as the Bodg Mountains, the desert/steppe lakes of Kholbooj, Orog Nuur and Boontsagaan Nuur.

As with the last two posts I have included a number of photos from tour leader János Oláh as they are so much better than mine. These were supplied to the clients with the tour report.


As we travelled west from we spent some time to the south of the Bogd Mountains and had to climb up a pass to reach the northern slope. This ‘chorton’ a Buddhist shrike was at the top.


Of course once we had descended to the desert on the northern side of the mountains we saw yet more Pallas’ Sandgrouse … (copyright János Oláh/Birdquest).


… but our main target was one of Mongolia’s avian specialities, Henderson’s (or Mongolian) Ground Jay (copyright János Oláh/Birdquest).


There are four species of ground jay in the world, all inhabitants of arid areas in central Asia and named after ornithological pioneers: Henderson’s (above) Mongolia and northern Tibet, Pander’s in Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, Biddulph’s in NW China and Pleske’s in Iran of which I’ve seen the first two. There used to be a fifth, Hume’s Ground Jay of Tibet but DNA evidence showed that it belonged in the Paridae not the Corvidae – so it went from being the smallest crow in the world to the biggest tit in the world. (although other nominations are available for that honour). (copyright János Oláh/Birdquest).


From these desert plains we continued on to the lakes at Kholboolj Nuur and camped overnight and later went up to the Bodg Mountains above, however as we visited a number of other lakes after our descent from the Bodg I’ll treat all the lakes together and show pics from the mountains first.


The long ascent to the Bogd was up this very rough track.


There were wonderful views to the desert to the desert to the north.


Eventually we reached the top and started scanning the distant ridges.


Having dipped on it in the Gobi-Altai our main quest was the elusive Altai Snowcock. Finding a ‘fat partridge’ in this vast area would be no easy task but eventually one was heard.


The bird, seen here in the bottom left of the photo was eventually found on the far side of the valley. This photo is greatly enlarged. Some of the group saw another in flight at much closer range but I missed it.


Of course I’d like to show what one looks like close up so here’s a photo from Goyo Mongolia Tours


Among the many other sightings we had in this scenic area were Guldenstadt’s Redstart (copyright János Oláh/Birdquest) …



… Ala Shan Ground Squirrel …


… and lower down Chukar (copyright János Oláh/Birdquest) …


… and Hill Pigeon (copyright János Oláh/Birdquest). However we failed to see our other main target White-throated (or Hodgson’s) Bushchat. They should have arrived from their wintering grounds in India by now so we were pretty disappointed not to find this very localised species.


On our descent the views over the desert lakes were stunning.


We spent one night at the lake of Kholboolj Nuur.


Naasta had brought some small mammal traps with him which meant that as well as spotlighting we had a chance to see Gerboas, Jirds etc in the morning.


This is an Andrew’s Three-toed Jerboa (copyright János Oláh/Birdquest).


We spent another night at a lake called Bootsagaan Nuur. The wind would get up in the afternoon and create mini tornadoes on the far shore.


On the north shore of Bootsagaan Nuur was this crescent shaped sand dune know as a a barkan. The wind blows the sand more strongly at the distal parts of the dune and so moves it forwards more creating the characteristic shape.


The barkan made a great lookout, the local lad has cycled over to see what we were doing whilst the local goat shows its indifference (photo copyright Liz Charter). The sparsity of people through this remote part of Mongolia meant you could drive for 20km and see one yurt with a couple of horses or motorbikes outside and a herd of sheep, goats or camels and then drive another 20km before you found another.


I said in the first posts that our Russian vans were uncomfortable although reliable. This was particularly true for our tall Dutch companions, Wim and Willem, although Tim was almost as tall. On most trips there is daily seat rotation but on this trip that was impossible as the taller guys just couldn’t fit into the smaller of the two vehicles.


At Bootsagaan Nuur on one side there was a ridge of alluvial material which could almost hide a camel.


You’re looking the wrong way Naasta! Actually there were three Pallas’ Fish Eagles on the ridge and Naasta is trying to photograph one of the others.


I don’t know how Naasta’s photo came out but János’ were superb! (copyright János Oláh/Birdquest).


There was a great variety of birdlife around the lakes from the local race of Merlin … (copyright János Oláh/Birdquest).


… resident species like Asian Short-toed Lark … (copyright János Oláh/Birdquest).


… to migrant Pallas’ Grasshopper Warblers, affectionately know as ‘PG Tips’ by British birders on the account of the pale tips to the tail. (copyright János Oláh/Birdquest).


Particularly interesting were the Pallas’ Reed Buntings. Peter Simon Pallas must have more birds named after him than any other ornithologist, at least as the colloquial names are concerned. Three races occupy the boreal forest zone from north east Russia to the Pacific but the race lydiae occurs only around the Mongolian wetlands. With the increased amount of white in the wing and a very disjunct distribution it must be a candidate for splitting. (copyright János Oláh/Birdquest).


Of course it was the wildfowl and other wetland birds that were the main attraction around these lakes. We tend to associate Whooper Swans with northern climes as our wintering birds come from Iceland but here were breeding whoopers at the same latitude as Rome! (copyright János Oláh/Birdquest).


Bar-headed Geese are some of the highest flyers of all birds as they overfly the Himalayas at altitudes of 8000m+ to reach their winter grounds in northern India. Birds incredible ability to cope at altitude seems to have a very ancient origin. 250 million years ago all the continents came together to form Pangea, the resultant massive outpouring of volcanic rock and CO2 at the end of the Permian period caused the greatest mass extinction of all time with 95% of species dying out. Oxygen levels dropped to as low as 12% at sea level. One group of reptiles evolved a highly efficient gas exchange system in their lungs, they went on to become the dinosaurs and as O2 level rose again they were able to become massive due to their improved respiration allowing efficient oxygenation of all the tissues. Birds of course were an offshoot of the dinosaurs and after the next mass extinction 65 million years ago they diversified like never before. Other Permian reptile groups that maintained the inefficient earlier lung system became the mammals and eventually us. (copyright János Oláh/Birdquest).


Swan Geese are a rare and localised species seen In Mongolia and parts parts of China and south-east Russia.


Just as Greylag Geese are the wild origin of domestic geese so Swan Geese are the wild origin of the domesticated ‘Chinese goose’ (copyright János Oláh/Birdquest).


The widespread Ruddy Shelduck was plentiful. (copyright János Oláh/Birdquest).


We are used to seeing Goosander on large rivers rather than desert lakes. (copyright János Oláh/Birdquest).


There were plenty of Demoiselle Cranes in the area (copyright János Oláh/Birdquest).


Waders included Greater Sandplovers although we couldn’t find any Lesser Sandplovers in spite of their specific name being mongolicus … (copyright János Oláh/Birdquest).


… and the more familiar Little Ringed Plover – usually abbreviated to LRP, was a regular site. (copyright János Oláh/Birdquest).


Baillon’s Crakes, here of the nominate race which might be a different species from the European ones, patrolled the lake edges. (copyright János Oláh/Birdquest).


This photo allows for some size comparisons. The smaller birds are Common Terns, (here intergrades between our familiar red-billed birds and the eastern race longipennis). The large terns are the huge Caspian Terns but lauding over it all is the massive Pallas’ Gull – yet another species (the 5th in this post alone) that has been named after PSP. The gull asleep in the middle is Mongolian Gull a somewhat variable taxon that no one really knows what to do with.


But probably the most sought after bird on these lakes (except perhaps Relict Gull, which we didn’t see here but did see at the start of the trip) is Asian Dowitcher. I have seen this rare wader a few times in the wintering areas or on migration but this was the first time I’ve seen it in breeding plumage or in numbers – we had 45 in total.


Although its head shape is similar to its North American cousins, this is a bigger bird, more godwit sized and has a striking white underwing. (copyright János Oláh/Birdquest).


Well it was time for us to leave the bird rich although windy lakes and head for the Khangai Mountains. On route we stopped at the town of Bayankhonogor to restock and had our picnic lunch. As well as it being the first town we had seen for eight days it was our first tarmac road for eight days as well.


As we turned off the road and headed into the mountains we passed the Buddhist monastery of Erdenesogt.


Birds regularly seen in the uplands included Red-billed Chough … (copyright János Oláh/Birdquest).


… Upland Buzzard (copyright János Oláh/Birdquest) …


… and Saker Falcons, regrettably a declining species due to trapping for falconry … (copyright János Oláh/Birdquest).


… and the pretty little Mongolian Finch (copyright János Oláh/Birdquest).


We arrived in the Khangai Mountains in the late afternoon and set up camp in this pass. Hume’s Leaf Warblers and Ortolan Buntings serenaded us that evening.


Local yak herders came by on horseback. Much stock herding is now done by motorbike so it was nice to see that the traditional approach is still upheld in some areas.


Some came over to see what we were up to and Liz asked if she could have a photo with them. They insisted she get on one of the horses.


Birds in the area included the widespread Common Rock Thrush, which breeds in the mountains of Europe as well as Asia … (copyright János Oláh/Birdquest).


… and the pretty Eversmann’s Redstart (copyright János Oláh/Birdquest).


Probably the best bird in this area was the lovely Asian Rosy Finch. This is a different form to those I’ve seen in Japan or in the the Aleutian Islands and is good ‘insurance’ against a future split (copyright János Oláh/Birdquest)


The Rosy Finch was seen at the scenic White Rock pass.



We still hadn’t seen the elusive White-throated Bush Chat and we were running out of options. János suggested another mountain range to the north-west and so we headed in that direction. That, the grassy plains of Hustai NP and our return to the Khentii Mountains will be the subject of the final post in this series.







Ireland part 3 – Co Sligo, Co Mayo, Co Galway and the Isle of Man: 8th-14th June 2019   Leave a comment


After our time in Donegal we drove south to Sligo where we spent the night and then continued on along the coasts of Co Sligo, Co Mayo and Co Galway. After returning to Dublin we took the ferry to the Isle of Man where we stayed overnight before returning to Dorset.

The hotel by the river in Sligo.

A walk in the town

We drove along the north coast of Co Sligo, passing a number of old forts. The scenery was interesting but not stunning …

… but further along in Co Mayo the scenery became more dramatic …

… with beautiful coves …

… and dramatic loughs and distant mountains.

We stayed the night in Belmullet and spent the evening exploring the beautiful Belmullet peninsula.

Next day we drove to Achill Island and headed for the westernmost point.

On route I noticed a number of swans on a roadside lough, one didn’t look quite right so I stopped and my suspicions were confirmed. It was indeed a Whooper Swan. This winter visitor from Iceland is quite common in Ireland in winter but it is very rare in summer. Possibly this is an injured bird that was unable to migrate, although I checked the lough again as we left and it wasn’t there, so presumably it was capable of flying.

The road didn’t go all the way to the western tip and it was too far to walk within the time we had available. However the views from the cove at the end of the road …

… looking southwestwards towards Toremore Island and the Galway coast beyond were outstanding.

The wonderful scenery continued as we returned eastwards.

Between Newport and Westport the main roads runs north – south. Offshore are a multiplicity of islands but getting to see them is very difficult. On our visit in 1991 we stayed at a B&B nearby and we were given directions to a great viewpoint. However as hard as we tried we were unable to repeat this experience, we drove down many narrow roads to farms but all ended up as private dead ends

.We stayed overnight at Murrisk and were able to get another perspective on the islands from the south.

The view from the village was dominated by this bare-flanked mountain.

At Louisburg we climbed over the peninsula …

… before dropping down south towards Killary Fjord, Ireland’s only true sea fjord …

… we stopped at the lovely Aasleagh Falls …

… before heading up the south side of the fjord.

On route we stopped to photograph the lovely Kylemore Abbey.

South of Killary Fjord the trip took on a different dimension. Once past the Giant’s Causeway and the Dark Arches we had seen virtually no tourists and the roads only held local traffic.

Now there were tourist busses and kiosks selling leprechauns and other souvenir trinkets. Heading south past Connemara NP we took a side road to the coast to get away from mass tourism and encountered some wonderful beaches …

… this one with a marked route that allows you to cross to a nearby island at low tide.

Moving on again, now to the west, we passed the the mountain range known as the Twelve Pins.

Finally we ended up well to the south at Rossaveal, the start point of our ferry to the Aran Islands. We found a B&B without too much difficulty but finding a restaurant took much longer. We also followed a series of causeways which took us to five low-lying islands (see above) over the course of a thirty-minute drive.

I had wanted to visit the island of Inisbofin (mainly I think because it has hosted a few rare birds, not that any would be there in June) but Margaret wanted to go to the Aran Islands. These comprise of three islands, Inishmore, Inishmaan and Inisheer and we chose to visit the largest island, Inishmore.

There is quite a lot of ‘traditional’ transport on the island.

From Inishmore we had great views across the sea to the Twelve Pins mountain range. The Aran Islands are politically part of Co Galway but geologically are part of Co Claire. The landscape is more typical of the limestone pavements of the Burren than the largely granitic Co Galway.

We were heading for the ancient fort of Dún Aonghasa, situated on a cliff 100m above the sea on the south side of the island.

From Wkipedia: It is not known exactly when Dún Aonghasa was built, though it is now thought that most of the structures date from the Bronze Age and Iron Age. Excavations at the site indicate that the first construction goes back to 1100 BC, when the first enclosure was erected by piling rubble against large upright stones. Around 500 BC, the triple wall defences were probably built along the western side of the fort. The 19th-century artist George Petrie called Dún Aonghasa “the most magnificent barbaric monument in Europe”. Its name, meaning “Fort of Aonghas”, may refer to the pre-Christian god of the same name described in Irish mythology, or the mythical king, Aonghus mac Úmhór. The fort consists of a series of four concentric walls of dry stone construction, built on a high cliff some one hundred metres above the sea. At the time of its construction sea levels were considerably lower and a recent documentary estimates that originally it was 1000 metres from the sea. Surviving stonework is four metres wide at some points. The original shape was presumably oval or D-shaped but parts of the cliff and fort have since collapsed into the sea. Outside the third ring of walls lies a defensive system of stone slabs, known as a cheval de frise, planted in an upright position in the ground and still largely well-preserved. These ruins also feature a huge rectangular stone slab, the function of which is unknown. Impressively large among prehistoric ruins, the outermost wall of Dún Aonghasa encloses an area of approximately 6 hectares. Photo from

I crept on my belly to the edge of the cliff and had dizzying views down to the sea far below.

The wall forms the perimeter of the fort but the steep cliffs continue on as far as the eye can see.

We also visited a group of seven ancient (7th or 8th  century) churches, each dedicated to a different saint.

Margaret at one of the churches.

We aimed to finish our tour around the coast at the City of Galway because from here it is a fairly short drive on the motorway back to Dublin. It was raining that morning and we decided not to bother with a visit to the city but press on eastwards. We stopped for a break at Shannonbridge which, hardly surprisingly, ‘does just what it says on the tin’. After some difficulty with the road system in Dublin we found a hostel near to the docks which was OK but was probably the least salubrious of all the places we stayed in Ireland. The following morning we caught the ferry to Douglas in the Isle of Man.

In 2018 on a tour to Mongolia I met Tim Earl and Liz Charter who live in the Isle of Man. We contacted them ahead of our visit and asked if we could meet up somewhere for a drink. They kindly said we must stay with them and they would show us around. This our view of Douglas as the ferry approached.

Here’s Margaret with Liz and Tim at the top of a very windy Snaefell, the highest point of the island.

Near their house was this public (ie private) school looking like something out of Hogworts.

Tim and Liz took us to the southernmost tip of the island which overlooks the the offshore island known as the Calf of Man. This is a site of a Bird Observatory and is known for attracting a good number of rarities as well as having a lot of breeding seabirds.

Whilst Liz had other things to attend to Tim, Margaret and I caught the steam train back to Castletown where my car was parked.

An old fashioned steam train complete with an old fashioned ticket collector.

Tim insisted that you can’t ride the steam train without a stop in the Railway Siding pub at the other end. Who were we to disagree?

Here is the Castle Rushen in Castletown. The Isle of Man is a self- governing British dependency. It is claimed that the Manx government, known as the Tynwald has been in continuous existence since 979. (The Tynwald is of course situated in Douglas not Castletown).

Castletown has a pretty little harbour.

Another view of Castletown.

In the evening we went for a walk to Dreswick Point. Although it was still early June there was evidence of the first returning waders with both Curlew and Whimbrel seen. Most appropriately we saw a single Manx Shearwater (although first described from the Calf of Man the species is now a rare there although increasing after a de-ratting program).

The scenery was quite dramatic with views southwards towards Anglesey in north Wales.

An offshore rock is known locally as the ‘Drinking Dragon’.

The following morning Tim and Liz took us to Laxey where we caught the tram to the highest point of the island, Snaefel at an altitude of 621m.

The Laxey Wheel (also known as Lady Isabella) is the largest working waterwheel in the world and was built in 1854 to pump water from nearby mines. The wheel is 22m in diameter.

The tram slowly climbs the mountain passing and crossing sections of the famous TT circuit.

The view from the (very windy) top was great but it was rather misty. On a clear day you can see from the Mull of Galloway in Scotland right all the way round the Solway Firth, the Lake District, the Lancastrian coat, north Wales and Anglesey and to the west, from the Wicklow mountains of Eire to the hills of Antrim. In spite of the haze you could still see Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland through the binoculars.

There was some delay in returning as there was a cruise liner in Douglas harbour and the cruise passengers were given priority in boarding the trams, so after a rather chilly wait at the top we descended and lunch in a pretty beach shack near Douglas …

… before visiting Marine Drive just south of the capital. A landslide has closed one end of this scenic route so now it gets far less traffic and a family of Peregrine Falcons has taken to sitting on the road. We had great views of the two adults and three juveniles (as seen above) before it was time to say our goodbyes to Tim and Liz and head for the 3pm ferry to Liverpool.

At the ferry we had a shock, even though we had used identical details in booking the Douglas -Liverpool ferry as we had (with the same company) to book the Dublin – Douglas one, we were only booked on as foot passengers. Fortunately there was space for our car although the additional cost was eye-wateringly high. We arrived at the Liver Building at Liverpool in the rush hour and got stuck in some dreadful traffic jams getting out of the city. We arrived home in Dorset before midnight.

It had been a great trip with fascinating history, good birds and wonderful scenery – all relatively close to home. I’ll conclude with this stunning view of the sunset at Derbyhaven harbour taken from Tim and Liz’s apartment.

We would like to return to Ireland in the not too distant future. Perhaps we will take the ferry to Dublin from Anglesea, drive to Galway and then head south to the cliffs of Moher, the Burren in Co Clare before heading to the Kilarney area before heading to Rosslare via Cork and Waterford. Time will tell if we ever get round to it.

Martin Mere, Lancashire: 16th November 2017.   Leave a comment

We recently have spent some time in Scotland, the main purpose of our visit has been to visit Margaret’s brother and sister-in-law who lives in Aberdeen.

To break the long drive north we spent a few hours at the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust reserve at Martin Mere in Lancashire.


Like many WWT reserves Martin Mere has an extensive collection of captive wildfowl, but interesting as they can be time was at a premium, so we concentrated solely on the lagoons where the wild birds are found.


Martin Mere has a large wintering population of Shelducks.


These are quite independent of the Shelduck population that winters in nearby Morecambe Bay.


There were good numbers of other duck species, Gadwall, Teal, Mallard and (above) Pintail.


Wigeon were also present in good numbers and could be seen grazing along the margins of the mere.


Martin Mere is a famous site for the Whooper Swans that fly to the UK from Iceland for the winter. Around a thousand roost here, but only a few were seen close to the hides ….


…. but many more were on a lagoon in the distance.


Even more impressive were the flocks of Pink-footed Geese that winter here.


About 25,000 were present in the area in mid November but larger numbers occur in October.


When Pink-feet first arrive from Iceland and Greenland they stop off at Martin Mere to refuel, some stay for the winter but around 70,000 continuing on to Norfolk. Other populations winter in Scotland. The reverse migration occurs in spring. We have noticed these movements between Lancashire and Norfolk whilst birding in Derbyshire.


The site of thousands of geese in the air was spectacular.


A view that I couldn’t resist photographing over and over again.


Pink-feet are quite rare in southern Britain, indeed the one that made it to the lakes near Ringwood, just over the border from Dorset became a bit of a local celebrity.


In mid afternoon the wildfowl are fed just in front of the main hide.  At the time we were some distance away and took this photo from another hide ….


…. however we had the sun behind us, the photographers in the pictures might have been close but the light for them would have been dreadful.


As the afternoon wore on more Whooper Swans flew in from the surrounding fields to roost ….


….accompanied by even larger number of Pink-feet. Martin Mere is also famous for hosting a spectacular Starling murmuration but time was pressing, we still had a three-hour drive to reach our B&B near Edinburg so that had to be left for another time.

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.

East Anglia and London: 23rd February to 1st March 2016   Leave a comment

We spent a few days in late February at my step-daughter Anita’s place in Maldon, Essex. Regular readers of this blog may remember that a wildlife cruise I had booked around the Russian Far East was cancelled at short notice in 2015. Well I’ve rebooked for this year, so that means a trip to London to be fingerprinted for my Russian visa (even though they have my fingerprints on file from 2015!). Rather than go to London from Poole we opted to wait until we were in Essex as that was a much shorter journey also we could spend the rest of the day sightseeing.



IMG_3882 The gerkin

We caught the train from Chelmsford to Liverpool St Station and were surprised to find how close we were to ‘the Gherkin’.

IMG_3883 painting

We walked to the Russian visa centre in Gee Street, passing some interesting murals on the way. You have to say one thing about the Russian visa system, once you have spent a day filling in the forms and have actually got to the visa centre, the process only takes a few minutes, so we were done by 0930 and had the rest of the day to ourselves.

IMG_3941 St Paul's

We chose to go to St Paul’s Cathedral which was in within walking distance. This photo was taken later in the day from Ludgate Hill.


Between the early 7th C and 1666 at least four different St Paul’s Cathedrals stood on the site, the fate of the first is unknown, but numbers two and three were destroyed by fire in 962 and 1087  respectively. This drawing of the old cathedral as it appeared around 1561 was taken from Wikipedia.


The fourth St Paul’s was completely destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666. The current cathedral with its iconic dome was built by Christopher Wren starting in 1669 and was consecrated in 1708. The cathedral was almost destroyed when a bomb hit it during WWII. This photo of S Paul’s taken on 29/12/40 by Herbert Mason during the blitz has to be one of the most famous photographs ever taken. Copied from Wikipedia.

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Photography within the cathedral is prohibited so I have taken this photo from Looking eastwards from the nave to the choir and the high altar.

St-Pauls interior

This stunning fish-eye view was taken from and shows the dome and the nave.


It is possible to climb up into the dome and view the ‘Whispering Gallery’ Here you can look down directly into the nave. All sounds from the far side of the gallery are amplified by its curved structure – hence the name. Photo from


The spire above the dome is 365 feet tall, one foot for every day of the year. Spreading the load of the dome was a problem, Wren’s solution was to create a dome within a dome supported by the brick cone seen in the diagram. It is possible to continue up from the Whispering Gallery to the lower ‘Stone Gallery’ and then up a narrow spiral staircase between the brick cone and the outer dome to the ‘Golden Gallery’. Picture from Wikipedia.

IMG_3905 spiral staircase

One place in the cathedral where you are allowed to take photos. Here the brick cone supporting the weight of the outer dome can clearly be seen.

IMG_3808 St Paul's

At the top of the inner dome you can look through an oculus to the floor of the nave far below.

IMG_3894 from St Paul's

From the Stone Gallery and the Golden Gallery you get a wonderful view over London. Light conditions changed rapidly hence the lack of clarity in some of the following.

IMG_3898 from St Paul's

Paternoster Row and the Temple Bar

IMG_3900 The Shard

At 306m The Shard is Britain’s tallest building.

IMG_3910 Millenium bridge

Unacceptably wobbly when first opened – The Millennium Bridge.

IMG_3914 from St Paul's

Looking east towards the Gherkin and other tall skyscrapers. Tower Bridge is just out of sight to the right of the photo.

IMG_3916 PO Tower

Looking north-west to the Post Office Tower.

IMG_3925 The Globe

On the other side of the Thames, The Globe, a reconstruction of Shakespeare’s famous theatre.

IMG_3927 The Eye

The London Eye.

IMG_3928 Templar Chapel

After St Paul’s and some lunch we walked to the nearby Temple Church.

IMG_3934 Templar Chapel

Whilst hardly matching the magnificence of St Paul’s, the Church has an interesting history. Built in the 12th C by the Knights Templar as their English HQ, in the reign of King John it served as the Royal Treasury, making the Knights Templar early examples of international bankers.

IMG_3938 Templar Chapel

The Knights Templar were originally formed to protect Christian pilgrims on their visit to Jerusalem and Solomon’s Temple after the first crusade in 1099 . They grew to be the wealthiest and most influential of the Christian military orders. Although the peak of their power only lasted for 200 years, they bankrolled much of Christendom (inventing aspects of the modern system of banking) and became a feared fighting force in subsequence crusades.

IMG_3939 Templar Chapel

Modern day stories or should I say myths, involve the Templars in the whereabouts of the Holy Grail, the Ark of the Covenant and the origins of Freemasonry and they have of course been highlighted in such influential books as the ‘The Holy Blood and The Holy Grail’ and the Templar Church itself featured in the film ‘The Da Vinci Code’.

IMG_3812 John, Lois, Gavin

We hurried back to Maldon in Essex as we knew that Anita’s husband John and his brother-in-law Gavin wanted to go out for a drink as it was Gavin (R) and his wife Lois’ wedding anniversary. Some of the pubs in Maldon are more like someone’s front room than a typical boozer.

IMG_3815 John Gavin

This one in particular is smaller than the typical living room, you have to wait for someone to leave before you can squeeze yourself in.

IMG_3944 Blackwater estuary#

On the Saturday I popped out to the nearby Blackwater estuary to do some birding but a strong easterly wind was blowing and it was bitterly cold.

IMG_3951 Brent Geese

The tide was coming in pushing the Brent Geese towards to me but they still remained too far away for good photos.

IMG_3957 Avocets and Blackwits

A flock of Avocets in flight with Black-tailed Godwits feeding on the water’s edge.

IMG_3965 Brent Goose

As the tide rose further many of the geese headed for the nearby fields.

IMG_3968 Blackwater estuary

To make matters worse I had left my gloves back at John and Anita’s so when I heard that Margaret and Anita were enjoying tea and cakes at a nearby cafe I abandoned the birds for a bit of warmth.

IMG_3986 Smew female

On Sunday I drove to Abberton Reservoir, a 30 minute drive to the north. I had not expected too much, so I was pleased to see three female/immature Smew.

IMG_3990 Smew drake

We have had a female Smew in Holes Bay near to where I live in Poole but its been a long time since I saw a drake in the UK, well 2004 to be precise.

IMG_3980 Smew Drake

The beautiful drakes seldom turn up west of London except in very hard weather when more easterly lakes and reservoirs freeze up, so I was delighted to see two of them here.

IMG_4009 Gippo

Less exciting was this Egyptian Goose, an introduced species that is slowing spreading westwards from it’s East Anglian stronghold. It is now quite numerous in the Avon Valley on the Dorset /Hampshire border but is still rare around Poole.

IMG_3821 Anita, M, John, Gavin, Lois

So on Sunday evening we said goodbye to the family and headed for Cambridgeshire to stay with my old friend Jenny. L-R Anita, Margaret, John, Gavin and Lois, with me making a guest appearance in the mirror!

IMG_4019 Jennie & Margaret

I have known Jenny since 1972 when she came to Leeds University to study for a PhD. Along with three others we shared a house from 1973-76 and have kept in touch since. Now that we visit Essex on a regular basis, calling in to see Jenny has been so much easier.

IMG_4014 Wicken Fen

Jenny works as a volunteer at Wicken Fen, in Cambridgeshire, mainly doing botanical work and demonstrating wildlife to visiting children The core part of Wicken Fen is a fragment of the original fen habitat that once covered much of East Anglia. With almost all of the fens drained and turned into agricultural land, there is a move now to recreate some large areas of former fen for wildlife. Areas like this on the edge of tWicken Fen have been bought up and are slowly being converted back to their former glory.

IMG_4015 Wicken Fen

The National Trust has a long term plan to restore an area of fen stretching from Wicken Fen in the north to the outskirts of Cambridge, a distance of 25 miles, although they have set a time span of 100 years in order to achieve that.

IMG_4031 Konig horses

The marshes are grazed by Konik horses from Poland, morphologically and genetically closest to the Tarpan, the original wild horse of Europe.

IMG_4034 konig horses

Tarpans went extinct in 1909 although they were probably extinct in the wild for some time before that. Their ability to survive unaided in wetland areas and lightly graze the area to deduce invasive vegetation makes them ideal for the recreation of lost fen habitats. As nice as Wicken was, at this time of year it wasn’t great for birds, so after lunch we headed north to the border of Cambridgeshire and Norfolk to look for wild swans.

IMG_4039 Whooper Swans

From wild horses to to wild swans. In the fields around the WWT reserve at Welney large numbers of Whooper Swans and a much smaller number of Bewick’s Swans were grazing.

IMG_4045 Whooper Swans

We used to get flocks of 100+ Bewick’s in Dorset and just over the border in the Avon valley, but these days they are very rare, just one has turned up this winter and that was only after we visited Welney. Whooper Swans have always been rare in the south. All of these birds are the larger Whooper Swans from Iceland with the triangular yellow mark on the bill. The smaller Bewick’s from arctic Russia have a rounded yellow patch on the bill. Bewick’s numbers have decreased noticeably across the UK in recent years, this may be due to climate change allowing them to winter on the (now much milder) continent ,but hunting on their migration routes must be a contributing factor.

IMG_4067 Whooper Swans & Pochards

The Welney reserve is part of the Ouse Washes, a twenty mile long embanked area where water from the River Ouse is pumped in winter to prevent the surrounding farmland flooding. This results in a haven for wildfowl in the winter and grazing marshes favoured by breeding waders in summer. This type of ‘sacrificial land’ could well be adopted in other flood prone areas, rather than the current system of channeling the flood water away ASAP to the detriment of those downstream.

IMG_4056 Whooper Swan

Around the margins of the flood were many Lapwings, Golden Plovers and the odd Ruff, whilst in the open water we saw many Mute and Whooper Swans and other wildfowl.

IMG_4069 Whooper Swan

The triangle yellow patch on the bill which separates this Whooper Swan from the smaller Bewick’s can be seen well in this photo.

IMG_4077 Pochard drake

Among the many ducks on the reserve where good numbers of (mainly male) Pochard. This species has declined in Dorset in recent years, probably because they are now wintering father east than before.

IMG_4085 Mute & Whooper Swans

At 1530 the swans are fed and the Whooper and Mute Swans come right up to the hide giving excellent views. There was supposed to be both White Stork and Great White Egret on the reserve but they could not be found during our visit.

IMG_4095 Whooper Swans

Whooper Swans migrate from Iceland as a family unit and remain together over the winter. Here an adult pair are accompanying their four cygnets (one is out of shot).

We returned to Jenny’s that evening and headed home the following day with nothing more exciting than a Red Kite seen on route. As before our trip to East Anglia was to see family and friends but its great to combine this with birding in this outstanding part of England.