10 Jul 2024

3 Jul 24 - My first Wildlife Officer Role For Marinelife To Guernsey

Back at the end of Apr 24, I took part in my first Marinelife survey on the Condor Liberation bridge from Poole to Jersey, via Guernsey. It proved a lot of fun. Recently, Marinelife have asked for volunteers from their surveyors to support having a Wildlife Officer on the Liberation about once a week. I was pleased to be the first Wildlife Officer of this season. The Marinelife WLO role is very different to the surveying role. The main differences are, the WLO is on the top deck engaging with and pointing out to the public about the Birds, Cetaceans and other marine life along the route, as well as, to promote the important work that Marinelife does. However, there isn't any formal surveying during the crossing. Finally, there is the opportunity to get off in Guernsey to stretch the legs for a few hours, whereas, during the formal surveys, the surveyors stay on the bridge to Jersey.
We pulled out as the MV Pelican was coming towards the quay: The shipping channel is narrow in Poole Harbour, but the two bridge crews must have practiced this manoeuvre on many occasions
The check-in was very quick at the Poole terminal and soon we were being called to board the Liberation. I introduced myself to the information team on the ferry and they helpfully broadcast that there was a Marinelife Wildlife Officer on board. By that time, I was already on the top deck and chatting to passengers before our departure. The departure from Poole is always delightful, as the ferry passes the Dorset Wildlife Trust Brownsea Island lagoon: where there were distant views of the breeding Black-headed Gulls, Common and Sandwich Terns. This was when I felt a little bit guilty as normally I would be on Brownsea on a Wednesday. I will look forward to seeing my Red Squirrel mates this week.
The Brownsea Castle & quayside
Next we passed through the Poole Harbour mouth and the immensely beautiful Studland Peninsula, followed by Old Harry Rocks, before heading out to sea.
The Studland Ferry with part of my Studland patch in the background
There was a significant South West wind and I switched to the port side of the ship for the rest of the journey, along with a few other passengers who stayed on the top deck. There were nearby rain squalls as we left the Dorset coast, but we were lucky and the top deck stayed dry.
The weather looked ominous off Old Harry: This is the Southernmost point of my Studland patch. Fortunately, we missed the rain squalls
As the ship headed out to sea, there were a few Razorbills and Guillemots from the nearby breeding colony at Durlston and the adjacent Purbeck coastline. Surprisingly, the only other Seabird was a lone Gannet. About fifteen miles out from the Purbeck coastline, a party of five Swifts headed North: presumably a post-breeding dispersal?

Thirty minutes before we reached Alderney, I picked up a pod of three Common Dolphins jumping out of the water as they attempted to reach the Liberation before we were passed: unfortunately, they didn’t close the distance before we passed them. Another two Common Dolphins repeated the manoeuvre a few minutes later and presumably they were part of the same extended pod. It was good to be able to point them out to the hardy passengers who were still on the deck.
Short-beaked Common Dolphin: Unfortunately, I didn't get any photos on this occasion, as the sightings were brief & the priority was to point out the Dolphins to the passengers. This photo was taken during the West African Pelagic in the Bay of Biscay (9 May 18)
As we got closer to Alderney, we started to encounter feeding Gannets from the Gannet colony on Ortac Rock, which had about four hundred Gannets sitting on it.
I could see around four hundred Gannets on view on the Ortac Rock in my photos
Three hours after our Poole departure, there was a Mediterranean Gull feeding outside the harbour as we entered Guernsey’s picturesque St Peter Port.
This hazard buoy outside the St Peter Port harbour has seen clearly some grim seas
The Brehon Tower off St Peter Port: The fort is modelled on the Martello Tower design and it was completed in 1857
I joined the day tripping passengers for a look around the town. Some headed off to the shops and restaurants, but I had an enjoyable time exploring the historic Castle Cornet and its three museums. There was plenty of interesting history to see in the two hours I was there, before a gentle walk back past the harbour to the ferry terminal. There will be more on this to come.
St Peter Port: The weather had improved a bit compared to Poole, but it was still cloudy & windy
Castle Cornet: The Castle dominates and protects the St Peter Port harbour. Originally, the Castle was built on an island, but in 1860 it was connected to the main island of Guernsey and it is now connected into the breakwater
Oystercatchers: These two Oystercatchers are enjoying a nap on the outer edge of the Castle Cornet defences
After another quick check-in, I was back onto the top deck and engaging with the passengers before the prompt departure. The weather had improved for the return journey, except for the wind, but it was reasonably sheltered on the starboard side. The birds picked up as well with a Balearic Shearwater tracking alongside the ship for a few minutes, followed by two more distant Manx Shearwater and some feeding Gannets from the Ortac Rock. It was good to engage with the passengers who remained on the top deck and explain the migrations of these two species of Shearwaters and other Seabirds that occur along this route during the year.
Balearic Shearwater
The weather had improved a bit as we passed through Studland Bay. Plus, the local Marines were putting on a training session in the bay to entertain the passengers. It provided a good end to an enjoyable day which had allowed plenty of passenger engagement.
Old Harry on the way back
The Royal Marines on a training exercise
Thanks to Condor Ferries and the crew of the Condor Liberation for making me welcome on board and for their support to Marinelife.
South Haven & the Poole Harbour mouth

18 Jun 2024

18 Jun 24 - Wall Mason Wasp

I've recently had a conservatory added to the house. I was sitting in the conservatory, when I spotted a small, slim Wasp fly in through the open door and into a two or three mm hole in the kitchen door frame. This was the old outside door, but is now an internal door. I had freshly painted this door a few weeks ago & this hole wasn't there at the time. I saw the Wasp fly out of the hole & head back into the garden. It returned a few minutes later, when I managed to get these photos with the mobile. I don't have any books on Wasp ID, so I forwarded the photos to my mate Steve Morrison who is up on his Wasps. He has replied it is a Wall Mason Wasp, Ancistrocerus parietinus.
Wall Mason Wasp
Looking it up on the BWARS website, it looks to be a relatively widespread species in England & Wales up to Yorkshire, with less frequent records in the far North of England & Scotland. June & July are most likely flying months with less frequent sightings in May & August. The BWARS website states it is a tube-dweller and often nests in the stems of bramble and elder. The Flowers visited are Sea-holly, Bramble, Hogweed and Thistles. There are certainly plenty of Brambles in the field next to my house.
Wall Mason Wasp
Unfortunately, I was on Brownsea yesterday and the conservatory door was locked. Today, I've been in the conservatory with the door open, but I've not see the Wall Mason Wasp. I'm guessing it has given up & looked for a better nesting hole. A pity, as I wouldn't have objected sharing the old backdoor with the Wall Mason Wasp.
Wall Mason Wasp
Wall Mason Wasp
Wall Mason Wasp
Wall Mason Wasp

29 May 2024

29 May 24 - Irish Hares

This was day two of the Yellow-crowned Night Heron twitch. After successfully seeing the Yellow-crowned Night Heron, Pete Aley & I ended up at The Mullet by the end of the first day. On the second morning, I was pleased to get good views of an Irish Hare at Cross Lough, before picking Pete up from his hotel. I have seen Irish Hares on my last two visits to Ireland, but this was the first time I've had good close views.
Irish Hare: Irish Hares are the endemic hibernicus subspecies of Mountain Hare. Unlike most of the other populations of Mountain Hares, which occurs across the North of the Old World from the UK to Eastern Russia, they remain brown throughout the year
I saw another Irish Hare chasing another individual around as we were heading off to Annagh Marsh.
Irish Hares
Irish Hares
Irish Hare: The first individual
Irish Hare: The second individual
Irish Hare: The second individual
Irish Hare: The second individual
Irish Hare: Racing over, it was time for a rest

29 May 24 - Spring Birding On The Mullet

This was day two of the Yellow-crowned Night Heron twitch. After successfully seeing the Yellow-crowned Night Heron, Pete Aley & I ended up at The Mullet by the end of the first day. I dropped Pete at his hotel & headed to Cross Lough to kip in the car. I was up early the following morning to have a look around the Lough in the hope of seeing the Black Duck. Unfortunately, I couldn't find it. But there was a distant over-summering Whooper Swan, several Wheatears & some Northern Marsh Orchids.
Meadow Pipit
Northern Marsh Orchid: There were a few near the edge of the Lough, but I didn't stop to photograph any this time (8 Jun 22)
Looking at the Southern end of Cross Lough from the road
There are a few interesting small roads around Cross Lough
There are also some interesting fields
One of many patches of Yellow Flag Iris
After picking Pete up from his hotel, we went & had another look for the Elegant Tern in the Tern colony on Inis Doire Island, which was close to Pete's hotel. We gave up looking after a half hour without any success. Next we headed off to Annagh Marsh on The Mullet. This turned out to be a very large field about a quarter of a mile long with a predator proof electric fence around it. We had been told by some of the Irish Birders on the previous afternoon, it was worth a look, when we said we were thinking of visiting The Mullet. It was an impressive site, with damp meadows and plenty of Sedge-fringed pools. It was clearly a good place for breeding Waders with Lapwing, Snipe and Redshank all present and breeding there. It was a good example of what can be achieved if breeding Waders can be protected from Mammalian predators.
Annagh Marsh: The field is surrounded by this predator proof fence with electric strands
Annagh Marsh: Looking over the predator proof fence
Lapwing: We saw a few youngsters, but they were too far away for photos
Snipe: This Snipe perched on the post next to the road and gave lovely views
There are Corncrakes on The Mullet: But we didn't see or hear any. But it's another similarity with the Outer Hebrides
We did also see some nice Irish Hares on The Mullet, but I will cover them in the next Blog Post.

28 May 2024

28 May 24 - Overnight For A Night (Heron)

One the afternoon of 26 May 24, reports appeared on twitter & RBA of a Yellow-crowned Night Heron in Ireland, with the initial twitter suggestions that it was probably ringed. At the time, I dismissed this as an escape on the basis of it being ringed and I carried on with the decorating I was doing. I didn't look at the phone again for any subsequent updates until I finished painting that evening. The updated news was it had been seen by some of the nearest Irish Birders, who had photographed it and confirmed it clearly unringed.

I had a think about a trip over to Ireland While I was eating. I looked at the logistics to get to County Mayo. The good news is I had driven to within a few miles of its location on my last trip to Ireland and so I knew the roads. There wasn't room on the ferry from Pembroke Dock with the start of the UK's half term and it would have mean a longer drive up to Fishguard. But that was an earlier departure and it was getting very tight to try & catch the overnight ferry from Fishguard to Rosslare. The news suggested that the Yellow-crowned Night Heron might have been around for a while and therefore there was a good chance that waiting for a day wouldn't be a problem. It would also allow time to see how the first UK Birders fared in their various routes to get there.

I had another look at ferries to Rosslare when there was early news that the Yellow-crowned Night Heron was still there. There was a smaller ferry running from Pembroke Dock and the day time crossings were full. The first option to get across was that evening's overnight ferry. This is my preferred option anyway, as the ferry arrives around breakfast time the following morning & it allows the full day to get to the location and hopefully see the target species. My other preference is a day time return crossing a day or two later, which allows a bit of contingency time in Ireland, some Irish Birding and a good night's sleep. The day time crossing also allows for some Cetacean and Seabirds to be looked for on the crossing. However, with the smaller ferry & the school holidays, the return daytime ferry was full & I couldn't book the car on it. In the end I decided to settle for two overnight ferry crossings with two days and one night in Ireland. I booked the car onto the ferry & rang my old mate, Pete Aley to confirm I was going & my plans. Pete had been looking at various options for getting across, but after a few minutes, he rang back to say he was interested in teaming up.

In the old days, I would meet up with the Plymouth Birders for an Irish trip at Aust services. This was just before the Severn toll bridge. We would park one of the cars and then carry on with the remaining car. This caused a few problems as the on road parking site we used wasn't ideal & more so, there was one trip where the Plymouth car followed the M4 & before they knew it, they had crossed the toll bridge. They had to return to England again to follow the M48 to Aust services. An expensive mistake in the days before we had mobile phones. Anyway, with the tolls abandoned, we decided to meet up on an urban road, just over the bridge at 22:30, where we could park Pete's car for a couple of days. This gave us plenty of contingency time to get to Pembroke Dock before the last arrival time of 01:45. We arrived about an hour early. We were quickly out of the car on the ferry with our sleeping bags and pillows, and were just in time to grab the last seats we could lie down on in the lounge. However, I don't think I got more than a broken hour or two of sleep on the three & a half hour crossing. But I had enjoyed a few hours of sleep before I left the house & that was enough to keep me going for the following day.
This was the same road I had travelled on to The Mullet after seeing the Least Tern and I did enjoy seeing this group of statues near Tullamore again (8 Jun 22)
We were off the ferry just before 08:00 and five hours later, we were pulling up in the small village of Belcarra about forty miles North of Galway. It had been a pleasant drive across Ireland, on the quiet by English standards, roads. The drive had given Pete & I to have a good chat about Birding on various trips and also put a tentative plan in place for the rest of the trip. Belcarra is halfway between Galway and The Mullet and we were both up for heading in that direction later in the day. I was also keen on looking for the Irish endemic Cryptic Wood White Butterfly on the journey back to Rosslare. I had a couple of good sites in Northern Ireland, but that wasn't on our route. But there was a site about thirty minutes off our route on way back.
Another of the Tullamore statues (8 Jun 22)
We met an Irish Birder as we pulled up, who confirmed that the Yellow-crowned Night Heron was on show & roosting in a tree behind the community centre. A few minutes later, the car was parked up & we were watching it with a handful of other Irish Birders and bemused locals who were seeing what all the fuss was about.
The Yellow-crowned Night Heron was roosting in these trees behind the community centre
Yellow-crowned Night Heron: Initially it was sleeping, but it kept waking up & moving. After a couple of hours it moved to give a good view without any leaves in the way
Yellow-crowned Night Heron: A slightly better view of the yellow crown
There was also a lower path next to the river. We checked it out a couple of times, but the views were never as good as behind the community centre.
Yellow-crowned Night Heron from the lower path: The hope was the Yellow-crowned Night Heron would drop down to the river to feed, but it was still in the trees when we left around 17:30
At one point, I popped back to the car & an Irish guy started asking me questions about the Yellow-crowned Night Heron. After a couple of minutes, he explained he was an RTE reporter & when his cameraman arrived, he asked if he could do a short interview. The result was both Pete & I made it onto the RTE national news that evening, along with Eric Dempsey of Birds Ireland Photography: fame at last.
The RTE camera gear: And there's me thinking my Canon R7 & 100-400mm lens was heavy. This was about as large as the crowd got with three or four others on the lower path
We had to shelter a few times in the community centre as several short, sharp showers arrived, but they cleared after a few minutes. We had been hanging in the hope that the Yellow-crowned Night Heron would drop into the river to start feeding on the local White-clawed Crayfish, but it didn't. But I did manage to see my first native White-clawed Crayfish from the lower path as we waited.
Grey Wagtail: The local pair of Grey Wagtails were finding plenty of food for their chicks
Eventually, we decided to head off to The Mullet. There was an Elegant Tern hanging around a Sandwich Tern colony, which also had a few Arctic Terns in it. After a ninety minute drive, we arrived at a small croft, where we could distantly scope the colony. Google Maps showed that the island the colony was on was only one kilometre away, but with the poor light it seemed further. We had been told that at any time we would see about fifty or so Sandwich Terns, but that number would increase to a couple of hundred or more Terns, if they were spooked. This was the best chance of seeing the Elegant Tern, unless we saw in fly in or out of the colony. We spent about forty-five minutes looking, but without any joy. The plan for the evening was Pete was booking into a local three star hotel, while I had a booking in the Focus Hotel at Cross Lough. There is a toilet at the Lough and it's a great place for sleeping in the car, with the added bonus of some early morning Birding. We found a great pub in Belmullet for evening, where I managed to avoid the Guinness: Ireland is about the only place I half-regret giving up drinking back in 2011.
Irish Biscuits: Fortunately, we didn't quality to buy these Twitcher unfriendly biscuits
I said goodbye to Pete about 22:00 & headed off the short distance to Cross Lough for the evening. I arrived at the same time that another couple arrived & I was ready to get some well-deserved sleep in the car while they were still mucking around with putting a tent up. It had been a good successful day and the UK/Irish List has increased to 563 with eight species only seen in Ireland.

20 May 2024

20 May 24 - An Unexpected Urban Turn Up

On the afternoon of 18 May 24, news broke of an Indigo Bunting on an urban garden feeder in Whitburn, just a few miles North of Sunderland. When photos appeared on twitter, it was clear it was a very blue individual. Initially, I was undecided whether I would be travelling North the following day. But as the day continued, news came through to confirm it was an unringed First Summer individual. I was up early the following morning in the hope of early news. But the Indigo Bunting wasn't seen. It wasn't seen until around 13:00, but with a journey of about six & a half hours, it was too tight to have a realistic chance of seeing it before it got dark.

The following morning, there was positive news that it had been seen singing in the allotments close to the house where it was initially seen. I quickly finished my breakfast & was heading off for Whitburn. I finally arrived about 14:30 after a few delays on the journey. Talking to some of the waiting Birders, it was clear that the Indigo Bunting hadn't been seen for an hour & a half and that sighting only involved a few individuals. This clearly wasn't going to be easy.
Tree Sparrow: There were reasonable numbers of Tree Sparrows around the allotments
After about thirty minutes, I saw a Bird fly from the houses over the allotments & disappear into the trees by the adjacent cemetery. To my eyes, it looked to be the Indigo Bunting, but I couldn't be one hundred percent on the views I had. Others closer to the houses shouted that was it the Indigo Bunting, but it remained untickable.
Tree Sparrow
There were a couple of worker Early Bumblebees feeding on the allotment flowers. I was struggling to figure out what they were, so grabbed a few photos with a plan to identify them when I got home. I was still struggling with the identification, but a twitter appeal produced an quick identification from the walking natural history encyclopaedia Sean Foote.
Early Bumblebee: Worker. I'm slowly getting more familiar with Bumblebee identification, but sometimes I really struggle to figure out the identification
Early Bumblebee: Worker
Early Bumblebee: Worker
Early Bumblebee: Worker
Early Bumblebee: Worker
Early Bumblebee: Worker
It was a bit over three hours of waiting, before there was a shout that the Indigo Bunting was in view in the small road next to the original garden. But it had dropped into a heavily bushed garden by the time I arrived. I had just asked some Birders to move off a private parking area to placate an irate neighbour, when the Indigo Bunting flew out of the garden & back in the direction of the allotments. As I rounded the corner, I saw raised bins & a camera pointing towards the allotment trees, which was a good sight that other Birders were watching the Indigo Bunting. A quick request for some directions & I was onto the Indigo Bunting. This was my 562nd species for the UK & Ireland, with just seven species seen in Ireland.
Indigo Bunting: It was on view for about five minutes before it flew along the edge of allotment and disappeared
Given it is First Summer individual, then there must be a reasonable chance that it arrived last Autumn and has been located on its Spring migration. This was its final day before disappearing. With a Myrtle Warbler and two Dark-eyed Junco sightings this Spring in the UK, then it looks to have some good supporting species to back up this sighting as a pukka vagrant. However, I will have to see if BBRC are equally convinced about it being a wild individual.