20 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

16 Jun 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.

8 May 2024

8 May 24 - A Greylag Goose Family

This Greylag Goose family provided good views of the new family on the DWT Brownsea lagoon.
Greylag Goose: This was one of the several Greylag Geese families on the lagoon
Greylag Goose

30 Apr 2024

30 Apr 24 - Wall Lizards At Durlston

After an unsuccessful seawatch at Durlston where I had been hoping for a passing Pomarine Skua, I checked the Durlston Castle wall. This was more successful with three Wall Lizards seen. As previously mentioned on this Blog, the presence of these Wall Lizards is down to an illegal release.
Wall Lizard: They are generally visible on warm, sunny conditions on the Durlston Castle
Wall Lizard
Wall Lizard

24 Apr 2024

24 Apr 24 - Chicken Of The Woods

This stunning Chicken of the Woods Fungi has been on show on the base of a tree close to the DWT Brownsea villa for the last few weeks.
Chicken of the Woods

18 Apr 2024

18 Apr 24 - Bonaparte The Third

I had just finished eating after a day volunteering on the DWT Brownsea reserve, when I got a phone call about a probable Bonaparte's Gull on the River Piddle floodplain by Wareham hospital. I arrived about fifteen minutes later, to hear that the Gull had already flown down the Piddle and been lost to sight. A few of us tried to unsuccessfully relocate it that evening.
Bonaparte's Gull: First Summer. Note, the small and delicate black bill, small head and small black ear covert spot
The following morning, I received an early morning call to say it was back in the same area. I headed up after breakfast to find it was still on the open water on the floodplain and visible from the car park next to the hospital. However, it quickly flew to the far side of the floodplain close to the bypass, where it started feeding. It had been feeding in that area, before it flew to land on the water in the middle of the floodplain. As it was distant, I walked along the bypass pavement, where I watched it feeding for the next hour & a half. Apart from one brief period where it flew off & landed about a hundred metres away, it spent all its time feeding about thirty or forty metres from the bypass. During this time, I was bemused why other observers insisted on watching from the hospital at two or three hundred metres away. It was totally unworried about my presence or the occasional passing cyclist.
Bonaparte's Gull: First Summer. This Black-headed Gull provides a useful comparison of how small and compact Bonaparte's Gulls are
Bonaparte's Gull: First Summer. This was an excellent find by local patch watcher Adam Day
Bonaparte's Gull: First Summer. Bonaparte's Gull was described by George Ord in 1815 and named after Charles Lucien Bonaparte who lived and worked in the US for eight years as a well-known naturalist. Charles Bonaparte was the nephew of Napolean Bonaparte
Bonaparte's Gull: First Summer
Bonaparte's Gull: First Summer
This is only the third Bonaparte's Gull in Poole Harbour with one on Brownsea in late July & August 17 and one at Lytchett Bay in Feb 22. For the next few weeks, this individual hung around on the River Piddle, albeit within a few days it had moved to close to the wet fields where the River Piddle meets the Wareham Channel. As a consequence, it carried on teasing the Purbeck Birders, as it remained close to, but outside of, the Historic Isle of Purbeck.
Bonaparte's Gull: First Summer
When I had given up all hope of it being relocated in the Historic Isle of Purbeck, I had a call from Purbeck stalwart James Leaver to say he had relocated with a group of Black-headed Gulls on the Holmebridge floodplain on 14 May 24. I arrived about fifteen minutes later, to hear that it was still present, but out of sight on the wet fields. After a few minutes, I picked it out with the scope & saw it briefly fly up, before dropping back onto the fields. It showed on one final occasion, a few minutes later when Rob Johnson & James saw it fly upriver and outside of the boundary. We stayed for another couple of hours, but it failed to return.
Bonaparte's Gull: First Summer

25 Mar 2024

25 Mar 24 - To Santander For An Ice Cream With ORCA

The 2024 season of ORCA ferry survey has just started. I am now training as a team leader for ORCA and part of the training is to gain additional experience of each of the routes I could be team leading on in the future. My first team leader training was on the Plymouth to Santander route. I met the others, Karen Griffin (team leader), Terry Carne & Magda Debiec, in late afternoon of 24 Mar at the Brittany Ferries terminal at Plymouth.
Magda Debiec, Karen Griffin & Terry Carne in Santander
We quickly boarded and we were pleased to see that we were going to get the best part of an hour before it got dark. However, by the time we had cleared Plymouth Sound and been allowed onto the bridge, there would only have been the time for a thirty minute survey. Therefore, the decision was we would pop up to the top deck and run a deck survey from there for that thirty minutes.
The outer breakwater & fort: Work on the breakwater was started in 1811 & completed in 1814. Work on the fort was started in 1860 and completed in 1865 (24 Aug 24)
None of us had brought enough clothes for a deck watch and so it was a chilly early evening. But it was worth getting cold for our first Short-beaked Common Dolphins of the trip, as well as, a Great Northern Diver & good numbers of Manx Shearwaters.
Eddystone Lighthouse: The Eddystone Lighthouse lies eleven miles outside of the breakwater. To the right is the base of the third lighthouse which was completed in 1759. It was superseded in 1882, when the current lighthouse was finished (24 Aug 24)
The top of the third Eddystone Lighthouse on Plymouth Hoe: The stone from the upper part of the third lighthouse was dismantled and rebuilt to acknowledge the revolutionary design of that lighthouse (16 Aug 18)
It was an early start on 25 Mar and we were on the bridge in the half-light about 05:50. With it being an early spring trip, we had already crossed the continental shelf in the dark and we were over the deep abyssal plain. We were all pleased to find the sea was relatively calm for the Bay of Biscay: there was a large swell, but not too many white-caps, with overcast conditions which minimised the glare during the crossing. As soon as there was enough light to survey we started the bridge survey at 06:00. Within the first twenty minutes of the survey, I picked up the first of several pods of Short-beaked Common Dolphins on the starboard side.
Striped Dolphin: In the books, their range extends up to the top of the Scottish mainland. But in reality, they are hard to see in UK or Irish waters
After I completed my first thirty minute survey on the starboard side, I was officially off survey and able to rest or more generally switch to Birding. This was followed by a thirty minute port survey. My final thirty minutes was spent recording the following: the start time for each rotation; the ship's position; the sea state; swell; glare and visibility. Subsequent changes to any of these conditions are also recorded, along with any sightings. This two hour cycle was then repeated until we reached Santander. As we were over the abyssal plain I didn't see many Seabirds, apart from the occasional Lesser Black-backed Gull moving North for the breeding season and a few feeding Gannets.
Striped Dolphin: The same individual
At one point we saw two distant Whale blows. Terry saw one of these Whales breach and confirmed it was a Humpback Whale. A few minutes later, we picked up one of these Whales a few hundred metres ahead and on the port side. It was good to see the crew manoeuvre the ship away from the Whale to reduce the risk of a collision. I also saw a couple of Long-beaked Pilot Whales: which unusually for Pilot Whales didn't give good views. But the clear highlight was a pod of six Striped Dolphins which came in to bow-wave the ship for several minutes. I've seen a lot of Striped Dolphins over the years, but I think this is the first time I've seen them bow-waving: although I have seen them approach the ship before.
Striped Dolphin: A close up of the same individual. I was surprised how good these pictures were considering they were photographed through the thick bridge windows
Striped Dolphin: Another close up of the same individual
Striped Dolphin: A different individual with a thinner black stripe and not showing a diffuse pale band on the top of the body in front of the dorsal fin
Striped Dolphin: One final leap before they were off
After eight hours surveying, we were about twenty minutes away from the Spanish coast and we stopped the survey and left the Pont Aven bridge before she entering the port of Santander. There was time for a late lunch in the restaurant, before we were heading off the ship. On paper the ship is in port for three hours, but with check-in closing about one hour before the ship departs, the reality is there was only enough time to have a quick stretch of the legs ashore. The custom seems to head to a small ice cream cafe which is just across the quayside park. We were all pleased to find the cafe was open, despite it being a chilly day in late March.
Magda Debiec, Karen Griffin & myself outside the ice cream shop in Santander
There was a good selection of ice cream to choose from
Lemon & Lime on Mint Chocolate: A good combination
After that there was time for a short walk around the nearby streets, to have a look at the cathedral from the outside and discover a good-looking pizza restaurant, where we only had time for a coffee. Perhaps a future venue to check out.
Santander Cathedral
The Santander Cathedral entrance
There wasn't time for more than a few minutes of watching from the top deck before it got dark. But it was pelting it down and so we skipped that option.
Leaving Santander in the rain: It was a lot worse than this photo suggests
The day before we left Plymouth, the forecast was for a low in the Bay of Biscay with a four metre swell on the return journey. I woke in the early hours of the morning to find that the swell had got up & it was choppy. Fortunately, the sea had quietened down by 05:50, when we reached the bridge in the half-light. We were all relieved to find we were ahead of the front. Again, we had crossed the continental shelf in the dark and we could see a lighthouse off the South West corner of the Brittany coastline on our starboard side. A couple of hours after dawn we were cutting between Ile de Sein and the coast. This was followed by cutting between Ushant Island and the coast, which is another spectacular journey.
The Phare de la Vieille Lighthouse on the Brittany coast (26 Mar 24)
The Tevennec Lighthouse: This is actually a small lighthouse, albeit it looks more like a small chapel on this rock near to the Phare de la Vieille Lighthouse (26 Mar 24)
Overall, it was a quieter than the previous day for Cetaceans, but we saw a few pods of Short-beaked Common Dolphins and three Bottlenose Dolphins. It was also great to see fifteen Bonxies in the Western Approaches, albeit some of the sightings could have been duplicates by the Bonxies flying on ahead and then dropped back onto the water. Again there were good numbers of Manx Shearwaters off both coastlines.