5 Dec 2023

2 Dec 23 - A Misty Jurassic Coast

There was a mid-afternoon email about an unseasonal Wheatear at Swyre Head which is the highest point in the Historic Isle of Purbeck. It had been foggy all day in Swanage with eighty metres visibility, which briefly rose to four hundred metres before quickly closing in again. With the combination of no details on where the Wheatear was and the foggy conditions, I carried on making the late lunch that I was just starting. As I was eating, I had texts from locals James Leaver & Rob Johnson to say that Swyre Head wasn't foggy and they could see Portland Bill nearly twenty miles away. I quickly finished my food & drove to the car park to start the mile long walk to the headland. I was spurred on by a photo of the Wheatear, that looks like an Isabelline Wheatear. I arrived to find James & Rob looking in different directions. They confirmed it had flown down off the top to the well-vegetated hillside, but they didn't see where, or if, it landed. Sufficient to say we didn't see it that evening & a nearly four hour search in three heavy rain squalls failed to relocate the first Dorset record of Isabelline Wheatear.
The Jurassic Coast: There was a nice evening view of the fog rolling over the headlands, but it wasn't a lot of compensation

28 Nov 2023

28 Nov 23 - Studland Wings - Part Three

The third in the trilogy from Studland from Jerry's Point on the vague theme of wings. This Great Northern Diver was just off Jerry's Point & I couldn't resist taking a few photos.
Great Northern Diver: I like their scaly wing coverts when I get to see them close
Great Northern Diver
Great Northern Diver

28 Nov 23 - Studland Wings - Part Two

There has been a Slavonian Grebe around Jerry's Point, Studland for over a week & finally it was close enough for some photos on nice still & dunny conditions.
Slavonian Grebe: Showing the clean well-demarked facial pattern
Slavonian Grebe: Another view of the clean-cut facial pattern which curves up behind the eye, before finally turning down
Slavonian Grebe: Slavonian Grebes have a small pale patch at the base of the bill, but they are rarely close enough to be able to see this
Slavonian Grebe: Showing the classic low & flat head shape and facial pattern and the stout bill
Slavonian Grebe: The sizes in the field states they are about ten percent larger than Black-necked Grebe, but realistically that is of little use without a lot of experience of judging their size in the field, unless you get to see both species together. However, the Great Crested Grebes can sometimes be used to judge their size
Slavonian Grebe: The peak of the head is at the rear of the crown
Slavonian Grebe
Slavonian Grebe
Slavonian Grebe: The crown looks more puffed up now as it was taking a break from diving
Slavonian Grebe
Slavonian Grebe
Slavonian Grebe: Despite seeing 242 Slavonian Grebe bird days & 5501 Black-necked Grebe bird days around Studland over the years, I've only seen a Slavonian Grebe fly once & I've yet to see a Black-necked Grebe fly: they just swim to move around & will dive if they feel threatened
Slavonian Grebe: They are separable in flight or if they flap their wings, as the white is restricted to the secondaries on Slavonian Grebes, but the white continues onto most of the primaries on Black-necked Grebes. But this isn't a particularly useful feature when they won't fly at Studland & they are mainly nocturnal migrants
Slavonian Grebe: Another wing shot
Finally, a Black-necked Grebe for comparison which shows the peak of the head is above the eye, the black clearly curving below & behind the eye with the black fading into the white facial pattern and a thinner bill. They always look like large Dabchicks to me with shorter looking bodies and proportionally thinner necks, whereas, Slavonian Grebes look like small Great Crested Grebes, with longer bodies, proportionally thicker necks, a lower crown, the black curving up behind the eye before turning down with a cleaner-cut facial pattern & thicker bills.
Black-necked Grebe: Jerry's Point (10 Jan 22)

28 Nov 23 - Studland Wings - Part One

I had a good look around the South Haven part of the Studland Peninsula on the morning of 25 Nov, but I didn't see much of note beyond two Great Northern Divers, a Red-throated Diver, a Slavonian Grebe and a very distant Black-necked Grebe. So, it was a bit galling to find that there had been a Black-throated Diver and a Long-tailed Duck seen that afternoon. Albeit, I was watching the American Golden Plover at Lodmoor that afternoon, so I can't complain too much.

I did see the Long-tailed Duck from the Brands Bay hide, when it popped into view briefly just beyond Redhorn Quay on the afternoon of 27 Nov, but it was a long way off & pelting down with rain at the time. This morning, it reappeared from behind Redhorn Quay & then hung around in Brands Bay, but it was about one kilometre away from the hide. Later in the morning, I was counting the Great Crested grebes & Red-breasted Mergansers at Jerry's Point, South Haven, when it dropped in close to the point. I paused the count to get some photos. It was a good thing that I did as within a couple of minutes, it was flying back towards Brands Bay again. It wasn't clear what disturbed in from Brands Bay, but it does seem to quickly fly when disturbed and then rapidly move on again.
Long-tailed Duck: Female
Long-tailed Duck: There are a less than annual species at Studland, but in the last five years they have become more regular
Long-tailed Duck: This would make a good mystery photo
Long-tailed Duck: With a photo-bombing Common Seal
Long-tailed Duck: A closer crop of the last photo
Long-tailed Duck: A final flight shot as it continued off in the direction of Brands Bay

23 Nov 2023

23 Nov 23 - A Bonus Tick On A DWT Brownsea Members Day

Brownsea Island closes for the winter at the end of October school holiday. This allows the National Trust & Dorset Wildlife Trust to get on with essential maintenance work on the island. However, there are a few days when the island is open for visitors e.g. the DWT Members Days. As a volunteer, I get the chance to visit on some of these days to show the members the Birds on the lagoon and to get involved with general public engagement. It's also an excuse to have a look at the lagoon over the winter. There was a reasonable selection of Waders on the lagoon to show to the members. But as the tides were heading to neap tides, many Waders were roosting closer to their preferred feeding grounds, rather than on the lagoon.

I spent most of the day in the Avocet hide talking to members and showing them the Spoonbills, Waders & Ducks on the lagoon and telling them how to identify them and various other snippets of information. Finally, in mid-afternoon we had a change over with volunteers in the hides and I decided to have a wander around other parts of the DWT reserve. There was time for a quick visit to the Lake hide, which confirmed there was nothing on the lakes, other than a couple of Mallards & a couple of Canada Geese. Then I spotted this Western Conifer Seed Bug on one of the windows. It's a species I've seen photos of on a number of occasions from the Weymouth area, but it was a Tick for me.
Western Conifer Seed Bug: This is an introduced Bug from North America that occurs to the West of the Rocky Mountains from California to British Columbia and as far East as Idaho & Nevada. In recent times, it has expanded its range to Eastern North America and it has been introduced to the UK, parts Europe, Chile & Argentina through imported timber products
I walked off the reserve with one of the other volunteers & as we had a few minutes to spare, we decided to walk up to look for some more Red Squirrels by the church. In normally don't walk up to this area, as it's usually very disturbed by visitors in the summer. But it was quiet today as the members were heading to the quay for their boat. As expected, there were several Red Squirrels in the area. But as we heading off the reserve to find the gentle path to the area, we saw this female Mallard right next to the path & typical for Mallards in this area, she was very tame & approachable.
Mallard: Female
It soon became clear, why she was particularly approachable as she wasn't on her own. She had three youngsters in tow & this was late Nov and not early June. I hope there is a mild winter which will increase their chances of survival.
Mallard: This should be a photo from June, not late Nov
The members had a four hour trip onto Brownsea & there has been a lot of positive feedback to the DWT team from the members. It had been a good day.

1 Nov 2023

1 Nov 23 - November Butterflies

The weather looked OK for an interesting seawatch off the Isle of Purbeck coastline and I decided to join my local Birding mate, James Leaver, at Peveril Point at Swanage. I was hoping for a Leach's Storm-petrel as there was a strong onshore wind as a low came in from the Atlantic. Unfortunately, it didn't produce much of note on the sea in about three hours of watching. A Red-throated Diver East and then into Swanage Bay & five Golden Plovers West & in were the highlights.
A tatty Painted Lady enjoying the sun
But as I walked down to the point, I found a little sun trap where there was a small hollow in the ground. A tatty Painted Lady & a Red Admiral were enjoying the November sun. There may not be too many more days left this year to see either, especially the former species.
This Red Admiral was only a few inches from the Painted Lady: The Autumn isn't over yet
As I was writing this Blog Post, there was a Speckled Wood in my garden: my third Butterfly for November.

24 Oct 2023

24 Oct 23 - Happy Tenth Birthday

It's ten years ago since I decided to buy a decent digital camera. My mate Pete Moore recommended I bought a Canon 7D & 400 mm lens. Pete also helped me get up to speed on the best settings for this combination. My first trip out was eventful as I was photographing a Kingfisher at Middlebere, when news broke about a Pallid Swift at Christchurch. I ended up getting thrown in at the deep end with trying to photograph a Pallid Swift in flight that afternoon. This was my first Blog Post.
Pallid Swift: This Pallid Swift on my first day out with the camera really pushed my comfort zone (24 Oct 13)
I've written another 885 Blog Posts since that first Blog Post. For this tenth birthday Blog Post, I will pick my favourite Blog Post from each Blog year. This is a particularly hard task as there are so many Blog Posts to choose from.

I'm not sure how I managed to get out Birding in the first year of having the camera, as I managed to create 229 Blog Posts during the first Blog year. I took a year off between contracts to travel to the Andamans & mainland India in Dec 13 to Jan 14, quickly followed by a short nine day trip to Morocco & Western Sahara in Feb 14, a week in Israel in Apr 14 and a three day trip to Croatia in May 14. With so many Blog Posts to chose from it is difficult to work out a favour Blog Post, so I've based it on this photo of four Wild Asses walking across a salt pan at Desert Coursers in Gujarat, India.
Four Wild Asses walking across a salt pan: Desert Coursers in Gujarat, India (17 Jan 14)
I was still taking a break between contracts at the start of the second Blog year, but that was because I was about to head off on the expedition ship, Braveheart, to Pitcairn Island, Henderson Island and remote French Polynesian islands. Pitcairn and Henderson Islands had been high on my list of places that I dreamt of visiting, with Pitcairn Island for its history of the Bounty mutineers and neighbouring Henderson Island for its endemic species. However, I never thought would be possible to visit this remote British dependence, until I saw Wildwings were offering a two week trip on the Braveheart to Pitcairn and Henderson Islands and some nearby French Polynesian islands with a few days on Tahiti. I booked up as soon as I saw that trip advertised. One of the other attractions was the opportunity to land on remote uninhabited islands in French Polynesia which were the home to several more island endemics: the highlight of which was obvious the enigmatic Tuamotu Sandpiper.
Tuamotu Sandpiper: The sweet-toothed Wader, Tenararo, French Polynesia (12 Nov 14)
It is a different subject for my favourite Blog Post of the third Blog year. I had spent a fair bit of this Blog year working on a long contract in Winchester & that limited my travelling. But there was an opportunity for a mini break to Ireland with Dave Gibbs & Paul Chapman that Autumn for a Royal Tern. After getting good views of the Royal Tern, we headed down to The Dingle for the evening where Dave & Paul planned to run a moth trap. There wasn't room in the accommodation for the three of us, so I headed off and found a B&B in the nearby village of Annascaul. By chance this is the village with the famous South Pole Inn which was owned & run by legendary Polar Explorer, Tom Crean. Crean travelled to the Antarctic three times with Scott & Shackleton and he was one of the three men, along with Shackleton & Worsley, to cross the South Georgia mountain range. He is one of the unsung heroes of the Golden Era of Polar Exploration and his story is as inspiration as Shackleton's story in my eyes.
Tom Crean's statue: This great statue sits in a small park to commemorate Tom & it is opposite his pub, the South Pole Inn (28 Aug 16)
The fourth Blog year was a quiet year where I was having to focus on the Winchester contract. There was no opportunity for foreign travel. I will stick to the historical theme of the last Blog Post. I drove past the Fovant Badges in Wiltshire in Apr 17 & this was a good opportunity to see the new Badge that had recently been carved into the down. The lost London Rifle Brigade Badge had been re-carved, one century after the Badges were originally carved. The others were created by the regiments who were training in the area before they were sent to the First World War trenches. Sadly, for many soldiers this area will have been the last part of England that they spent a lot of time in. It's great to see that volunteers are spending the time to not only look after the existing Badges, but to re-carve one of the lost ones.
The Fovant Badges: The lost London Rifle Brigade has been re-carved between the Post Office Rifles and the Devonshire Regiment (11 Apr 17)
Finally, the contract came to an end & I was free to travel again in the fifth Blog year. I planned a three month trip away, started in Colombia on a Birdquest tour with my late good mate Brian Field. I then squeezed in a couple of weeks on my own exploring Chile before flying to Ushuaia and boarding the Oceanwide Expeditions ship, Plancius, for a seven week trip from Ushuaia to Holland via South Georgia, Tristan da Cunha, St Helena, Ascension Island and Cape Verde. It is very hard to pick a standout day in such an amazing and varied three months. Ultimately, it would have to be a Blog Post from the time spent on the Plancius during the Atlantic Odyssey or West African Pelagic. On this trip, I saw about forty percent of the World's Seabirds, twenty-six of the ninety one Cetaceans and four of the seven species of Sea Turtles. I also got to visit another couple of remote British dependencies. I think the highlight Blog Post has to be the one where we saw a group of Flying Squid. I wasn't aware that Flying Squid existed, until we saw them & I'm glad to have got a photo of one group.
Flying Squid sp.: At Sea Tristan da Cunha to St Helena (15 Apr 18)
I spent most of the sixth Blog year working on another long term contract back in Winchester. Again, there was no time for foreign travel, so the Blog year was mainly local Birding and other Wildlife. But I couldn't resist the opportunity to spend a weekend on Shetland twitching the Tengmalm's Owl. For me, this was one of those mythical species on the British List which I never thought would occur again, let alone give Birders a chance of seeing it. It was one of the memorable twitches, but it was spoilt a bit by bad behaviour from two unknown twitchers that evening.
Tengmalm's Owl: Bixter with lighting thanks to Pratt-boy who insisted on turning on his torch against the instructions of the locals & houseowners (23 Feb 19)
The main event of the seventh Blog year was the C19 outbreak, especially losing the whole of the Spring to the lockdown. I was restricted to blogging about #BWKM0, Birdwatching at Kilometre zero which was a hashtag that was used a lot for Birders watching from home. However, the standout trip for me was my last carefree pre-C19 twitch to see a long staying Hermit Thrush on St Mary's. I spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to day trip to St Mary's to see it over a weekend. Eventually, I bit the bullet and took a day's unpaid leave on about the last nice weather day of the year. I saw it just in time as it departed a few days later.
Hermit Thrush: St Mary's (4 Dec 19)
Continuing to work from home was the one positive of the second year of C19. I was doing a lot of local Birding, but it took me some time to get back into the twitching and I ensured that the handful of twitches I went on were conducted in a safe way as far as C19 was concerned. So, masks in garages & shops and no lift sharing. The stand out twitch was to Tenby in Wales to see Wally, my first Walrus. However, I wasn't expecting Wally to be upstaged by a very showy Harbour Porpoise who put on a superb display that evening.
Wally the Walrus: Tenby (16 Apr 21)
Harbour Porpoise: Tenby (16 Apr 21)
The nineth Blog year saw me take early retirement from the IT world and look forward to more Birding opportunities. I managed two enjoyable and C19 safe mini-breaks to Ireland to see the Egyptian Vulture & a Northern Harrier, with the showy Baikal Teal on the Somerset Levels on the first trip & the Least Tern on the second trip. But the best day of the Blog year was another memorable twitch to the Scillies for the Blackburnian Warbler. This was upstaged on the way back by finding a Loggerhead Turtle on the return journey: there less than two hundred & fifty UK records.
Blackburnian Warbler: Bryher (17 Oct 22)
Loggerhead Turtle: At sea St Mary's to Penzance (17 Oct 22)
The tenth Blog year finally saw the return to overseas travel with a spate of C19 delayed foreign trips. It started with seven weeks returning to Indonesia with Bird Tour Asia trips to the Banda Sea & Remote Moluccas. I then had a few days Birding in Sulawesi, Bali & Java looking for Birds I had missed in the sixteen weeks I had spent over three long visits in 1991 & 1992. In Jan, I was travelled again with a week in Argentina before rejoining the Plancius & heading for the Falklands, South Georgia & Antarctica. In the late Winter, I was off again for my third trip to New Zealand looking for & seeing my last three Kiwis before joining what was to be a badly run and very disappointing West Pacific Odyssey from New Zealand to Japan, where the ship failed to put basic rules in place to manage a C19 outbreak onboard. The result is we were not allowed to land at Truk in Micronesia or on the planned Japanese islands. I will provide more detail of how badly Heritage Expeditions mismanaged the trip when I get around to sorting out the photos. For now I will not recommend anybody travels with Heritage Expeditions. Having completed all the C19 delayed trips, I managed to squeeze in a bonus trip to Angola with a couple of good mates, Phil Hansbro & Richard Carden in June. Again it's going to be hard to select a single Blog Post to adequately sum up the year. But in contrast to the disastrous Heritage Expeditions trip, the Oceanwide Expeditions cruise to Antarctica was a delight & another well-run trip with this excellent & professional expedition company. I've not had chance to sort out the photos, but I will leave this as my favourite photo of the trip & one of my favourite photos of the last ten years.
King Penguin: St Andrews Bay, South Georgia (22 Jan 23)
These are only a few of the 886 Blog Posts that I've written to date. There are many more Bird, Cetacean, Sea Turtle, Butterfly, Dragonfly or other Posts. I hope this has wetted your appetite to explore other Blog Posts which can be searched for on date or using the species lists on the right hand side of the Blog. Finally, thanks for helping to generate the over six hundred thousand Blog hits over the last decade. Hopefully, the next decade will be as varied and enjoyable as the last decade.