30 Jun 2022

30 Jun 22 - #30DaysWild Day 30 - Clearly Not In Dorset

For the last fifteen years, I thought I had seen a Turkestan Shrike in the UK at Buckton, after seeing the UK's second record of Asian Brown Flycatcher at Flamborough in 2007. At that time, it was a subspecies of Isabelline Shrike. With 'another' Turkestan Shrike being pinned down at Bempton, I thought I had better double check the status of this record on Tuesday evening. I knew the Buckton individual was being touted as a Turkestan Shrike when I saw it & I knew it was accepted by BBRC, therefore, I had thought I was OK.

When I read the BBRC report for 2007, I saw report said "Collectively, these [features] all point to a seemingly clear example of what is assumed to be a young L. i. phoenicuroides ('Turkestan Shrike'). Its rather greyish cast and lack of obvious rufous above pointed towards it belonging with greyer birds included within 'karelini': a poorly understood and highly variable form closely allied to phoenicuroides, but possibly just a distinctive colour morph of that taxon". On the face of it, then it had seemed OK as a Turkestan Shrike.

A bit more checking showed it wasn't listed on the RBA database of previous records as a Turkestan Shrike. Time for some more reading about karelini. Fifteen years on & the position of karelini doesn't seem to be a lot clearer as to whether it is a colour form of the species, with other suggestions that it might be a stable hybrid population with Red-backed Shrike. Had I checked this earlier in the week, then I could have seen it on Tuesday. I couldn't go on the Wednesday as that is my volunteering day on the DWT Brownsea reserve. I spent that day worrying that the Turkestan Shrike would do a bunk on Wednesday night, especially as I had just had to strike the Buckton record off my list.

Fortunately, news came through on Thurs AM that the Turkestan Shrike was still showing at Bempton, albeit at long range. I was on the road North to Bempton before 08:30. This is a journey I think the car can do on auto pilot, given I visited Bempton Cliffs four times last year as I was keen to see the Black-browed Albatross in England (a list I keep for a bit of fun). But the reality is Bempton Cliffs is the prime English Seabird spectacle, especially as no boat is needed a boat to access the site. This makes it a really enjoyable place for anybody who likes Seabirds.

The Turkestan Shrike had proved to be elusive at times on the previous day, but that was as it was spending a fair bit of time on the adjacent Wandale Farm. A group of Birders had been able to arrange access to the farm for £10 per person where it was showing well at times. I arrived just around 15:00 and the latest update suggested the farm was the best option. The farmer's son was collecting the money and he confirmed it was still in the bushes close to the farm buildings. There were around a dozen Birders watching it at the time from about 20 metres away. I don't think I've ever been that close to any Shrike in the UK or abroad. It was quite unconcerned about us & the others were well behaved & just enjoying the views.
Turkestan Shrike: Well worth the £10 entrance fee, given some of the Birders on the previous day had complained about distant views at 150 metres
Not all the locals were impressed by the new visitor. There were at least ten Tree Sparrows, as well as, a House Sparrow in the same area & they were far from impressed with the Turkestan Shrike turning up.
Tree Sparrow: Although I see Dorset Tree Sparrows every two or three years in October, they have all been Vis Mig individuals & if they perch up it is for no more than one minute, before departing again. Most have only been in flight views
After a couple of hours or so, the Turkestan Shrike flew across the field into the next hedgerow. The farmer's son was happy for us to walk along the normally private field edges to the Bempton Cliffs. Eight minutes late I was there, about a half mile South East of the Staple Newk viewpoint. Right in front of me were some very showy Razorbills. It would have been rude to not take some photos.
Razorbill: You don't get views of Razorbills this close on the Purbeck coastline
I walked a couple of hundred metres towards Staple Newk to see if the people there could see the Black-browed Albatross, as that had been seen sitting on sea earlier in the afternoon. I stopped to talk to a Birder & his wife, who said, that the Black-browed Albatross was sitting on the cliff.
Black-browed Albatross: All very easy compared to the times I kept missing it in 2021
The people at Staple Newk couldn't see the Black-browed Albatross. I passed an update onto RBA & waited for a few people to appear, so that others knew where to look. The temperature was cooling down, so I decided to wander back for another view of the Turkestan Shrike. When I got back to the farm, it was in the hedgerow one field away. I clearly wasn't going to get better views & decided that it was time to start the six hour journey back in the daylight. I still have a lot of photos to process & will post more photos soon.

29 Jun 2022

29 Jun 22 - #30DaysWild Day 29 - Sometimes You Just Got Up Too Early As It's Summer

Ever get that feeling that sometimes you just got up too early in the morning as it's Summer? This was the sight that greeted one of the other Brownsea volunteers & myself, as we walked along the boardwalk to the DWT reserve.
Red Squirrel: This morning is a bit too long
The Red Squirrels can be tricky to see on Brownsea, but the benefit of being a volunteer is they are a bit more showy when it's quiet & we have to arrive early so we are ready for when the public arrive. Having said that, I managed to point out two different Red Squirrels to visitors on the day.
Red Squirrel: We've been clocked
Red Squirrel: A bit of acrobatics

28 Jun 2022

28 Jun 22 - #30DaysWild Day 28 - Shiny And Babies

A walk out to St Aldhelms produced a few subjects to photograph including this bright metallic green Rose Chafer. There was also a Small Tortoiseshell & the first Marbled Whites I've seen this year: but they were active & quickly left the footpath for the neighbouring fields.
Rose Chafer: This bright Beetle isn't uncommon at St Aldhelms, but it is the first time I've managed to photograph one. Last year I saw one flying around Quarry Ledge like a large, fast-moving & agile Bumblebee
On the walk out to the Head, I disturbed a female Pheasant & at least five chicks: mum & babies scattered. I quickly moved on. Looking back from ten metres away, I could see mum quickly returned to call her chicks. Nice to confirm that they breed at St Aldhelms, as well as, move in from where they are released on the Encombe estate. It was also good to find these two recently fledged Swallows being fed by their parents. I grabbed some quick photos & left them in peace.
Swallow: These juvenile Swallows are likely to have bred locally

27 Jun 2022

27 Jun 22 - #30DaysWild Day 27 - Sometimes It's Good To Just Chill For A Few Minutes

I went out into the back garden in early afternoon & found this chilled out Blackbird enjoying the sun. It is one of the two males which share my garden. It was so chilled, that I had time to go back, grab the camera & get some shots from about three metres away. I wasn't sure if it has clocked me & wasn't worried, as one of the two males is fairly tame & used to me. But it clearly was alert & wasn't bothered, as it immediately spotted the other male when it flew into the hedge. Sunbathe over, it went off to intercept it.
Blackbird: Male. This is thought to be a good way to deal with parasites & helps with their feather maintenance

26 Jun 2022

26 Jun 22 - Half A Million & Going Strong

I started this Blog back on 24 Oct 13 after I bought myself a Canon 7D & 400 mm lens. A few years ago, I upgraded the camera gear to a Canon 7D Mark II & 100-400 mm Mark II lens. I'm a Birder, who takes photos for my enjoyment, but I don't have the skills, patience or interest in becoming a photographer.

The original aim of the Blog was to use it as a diary for myself where I could put my photos to avoid them being tucked away on my laptop & lost for ever. It's also allows me to quicky dip into some of the days out Birding or longer trips over the last eight & a half years and quickly relive the memories. While this was for my own memories, I quickly expanded the aims of the Blog to "showcase both the excellent birds & other wildlife in the UK as well as abroad".

When I started the Blog, I hoped that other people would also enjoying reading it and would be inspired to visit some of the places documented and enjoy the Birds and other wildlife I've mentioned. I had no idea whether the Blog will be popular or not, but I must be doing something right as I passed the half-million hits on the Blog yesterday. The Blog has been viewed from 165 countries or major regional territories.
The 165 Blog Flags
Over the last few years, the frequency of new Blog Posts have varied based upon my available time to process photos & also whether I've got interesting photos to post. Foreign trips have clearly been a big source of interesting photos and I've thoroughly enjoyed sorting the photos from a foreign trip & writing the Blog Posts. I get the most enjoyment out of foreign trips, by the research & planning that leads into the trip, the trip itself and finally, the post trip analysis of the species seen, including investigating some of the complex identification of some of the species seen.

Travel features highly as a theme and since starting the Blog, I've been lucky to visit many parts of the UK & abroad including: Holland (Nov 13); India including the Andaman Islands (Dec 13 - Jan 14); Morocco & Western Sahara (Feb 14): Israel (Apr 14): Croatia (May 14): French Polynesia and Pitcairn (Nov 14); California (Nov 14); Turkey (Jun 15); Finland (May - Jun 16); Colombia (Feb - Mar 18); Chile (Mar 18); the Atlantic Odyssey from Argentina to Holland visiting South Georgia, Tristan da Cunha, St Helena, Ascension Island & Cape Verde (Mar - May 18); a ferry from the UK to Santander & back (Aug 18). C19 severely impacted the travel plans since it's outbreak, but I've managed trips to Ireland in Aug 16, Mar 22 & Jun 22.

This is the 725th Blog Posts which cover a mixture of mainly Birding related subjects, but also Cetaceans, other Mammals, Butterflies, Dragonflies & other insect groups, Sea Turtles, Reptiles and Amphibians, Orchids and a few other groups. There are also the occasional historical Posts. Over 1150 species of Bird have been included on the Blog, along with another 400 other species of wildlife.

There are too many favourites to detail all the Blog Posts. Expanding the date index allows readers to scroll back to a particular period. More usefully, the Labels section on the right hand side allows readers to click on a species of interest & quickly find all the Blog Posts where that species occurs. To whet your appetite, here are ten of my favourite Blog Posts from the last few years.

I will start with a 2020 Blog Post covering finding the first Buff-breasted Sandpiper for St Aldhelms: my favourite UK Wader.
Buff-breasted Sandpiper: The first for St Aldhelms & one that was on the Self-found Wish List for many years (20 Sep 20)
One of my favourite travel Blog Posts including this gorgeous Tuamotu Sandpiper photographed on an expedition cruise to French Polynesia & the Pitcairn Islands group.
Tuamotu Sandpiper: This mst be the only Wader with a sweet tooth. Tenararo, French Polynesia (12 Nov 14)
I've enjoyed documenting memorable twitches & one of them was the Chestnut Bunting twitch to Papa Westray.
Chestnut Bunting: This Blog covered the private charter flight onto Papa Westray and has had one of the highest hits for a single Blog Post (28 Oct 15)
Another memorable twitch was a mini break to Holland with Dave Gibbs for a Hawk Owl that had taken up residence in the middle of the small town of Zwolle.
Hawk Owl: This ticked a number of boxes including a successful twitch, foreign travel and an Owl: one of favourite Bird families. Zwolle, Holland (27 Nov 13)
One of the things I've enjoyed doing is pulling together an Index of all of the Blog Posts under a certain wildlife group. The Indexes can be found below the Blog's banner. Currently, I've created Indexes for Whales, Beaked Whales, Blackfish, Dolphins & Porpoises and Sea Turtles. Clicking on these Indexes, allows the reader to quickly find all the Blog Posts on a particular wildlife group. I will add some new Indexes in the future. I particular enjoyed the Blog Posts that allowed me to create the Sea Turtle Index.
Leatherback Turtle: At sea between St Helena and Ascension Island, Atlantic Odyssey (22 Apr 18)
One of the Blog Posts looked at the St Aldhelms Continental Swallowtail Butterflies in early July 14. After seeing them, I tried identifying individuals from the photos to work out how many might be involved. Examination of my photographs, along with those from other people, documented five different individuals. The assumption is a female arrived earlier in the Spring, laid some eggs which produced this short-lived group. That year, Continental Swallowtails were seen at a number of other locations in the South East of the UK.
Swallowtail: This was individual B. It's identification from the other four individuals are detailed in this Blog Post (2 Jul 14). A follow-up Blog Post on 11 Jul 14 confirmed there had been no wedding released Butterflies in the previous 3.5 years that the currently vicar had been conducting services at the chapel
One of my passions is to dig deep into the identification of some of the tricky to identify species that I have seen. Initially, this is to confirm what I've seen. In Spring 18, I enjoyed 7 weeks on the expedition ship Plancius travelling from Ushuaia, Argentina back to Holland, stopping at a number of Atlantic islands en route. The first was St Georgia and on 4 Apr 18, the ship entered the Drygalski Fjord, where I saw over one hundred Diving-petrels. The majority were Common Diving-petrels, but we were trying to pick out a handful of the very similar-looking South Georgian Diving-petrels. Like many Birders on the boat, I struggled to pick one out in flight with a complication of very subtle features on fast-flying 'equivalents' of Little Auks at a distance and no previous experience. I'm sure some of the other punters, just ticked a likely candidate after somebody else called it. But I wanted to be sure & spent several hours poring over my photos, along with Id articles and internet photos. Having come to some decisions on what I had seen, I wrote a Blog Post summarising the outcomes. This will be of use to me as I will get back to South Georgia at some point in the future and also I hope it will be of use to others trying to get their heads around this difficult pair of species.
South Georgia Diving-petrel: The separation of South Georgia Diving-petrel and Common Diving-petrel in the Drygalski Fjord, South Georgia, is covered in this Blog Post (4 Apr 18)
On the Atlantic Odyssey, I was lucky to see 26 of the 90 or so extant species of Cetaceans. While many of them were relatively straight-forward to identify, a number were far more tricky. Again the photos that a number of us took of those tricky species were really helpful to identify them. This allowed one of the expedition guides, Marijke De Boer, to subsequently document the records which will help to increase the knowledge on some of these rarely seen species. This was particularly true with some of the Beaked Whales like this Strap-toothed Beaked Whale. I plan to book up for a future Atlantic Odyssey trip once I feel comfortable about travelling abroad again and assuming that this superb trip continues to run in the future. It was one of the best trips I've ever been on.
Strap-toothed Beaked Whale: The distinctive black face & white beak is diagnostic for Strap-toothed Beaked Whale which is shown on this individual within a small pod photographed between Tristan Da Cunha and St Helena. Typically, the lower face would be a paler grey, but none of my photos show that area. I can't see a white tusk sticking up from the beak so I think this individual must be a female. One of the benefits of seeing a small pod is having identified one or two individuals, then it is possible to get photos of even more tricky to identify subadult individuals in the pod (16 Apr 18)
One of my favourite Blog Posts covers the visit to Ernest Shackleton's grave at Grytviken, South Georgia. Shackleton is my all-time hero explorer. However, it's not just Shackleton who stands out on his second Antarctic voyage, but also Frank Worsley & Tom Crean. Shackleton, Worsley and Crean were the three members of the crew who were involved in raising the alarm following the loss of the Endurance in the Antarctic, with their epic voyage in a small rowing boat from Elephant Island to South Georgia, the subsequent climb over the mountains & the dangerous toboggan down the slopes towards the whaling settlement of Stromness. Captain Frank Wild was left in charge of the rest of the crew on Elephant Island and his ashes are buried alongside Shackleton.
Homage to Ernest Shackleton & his expedition: Shackleton grave at Grytviken, South Georgia (3 Apr 18)
I will end on my favourite Bird photo of a Rainbow-bearded Thornbill taken on a memorable Birdquest tour to Colombia with my late good mate, Brian Field.
Rainbow-bearded Thornbill: Hotel Termales del Ruiz, Colombia (25 Feb 18)
Thanks for following the Blog. I hope you have enjoyed it over the years & here's to the next half million hits.

26 Jun 22 - #30DaysWild Day 26 - Roe Deer

Today's #30DaysWild Blog is inspired by the pair of Roe Deer seen from my house. As they were hiding in the long grass of the field next to the house & not showing well, I've used some of my old photos of Roe Deer in the same field. I never tire of watching them & they remain one of my favourite UK land Mammals.
Roe Deer: Male (28 Jun 10)
Roe Deer: Male (28 May 12)
Roe Deer: Female (28 May 13)

25 Jun 2022

25 Jun 22 - #30DaysWild Day 25 - An Evening Walk

I left today's walk to an evening walk to Middlebere to catch the rising tide & in the hope that it wouldn't be as bad for hay fever. I did get the tide right, but the hay fever was worse that I hoped. The highlights from a short watch from the main hide was a 1st Summer Spoonbill flying from Middlebere to the Wareham Channel. There were also 14 Black-tailed Godwits at the water's edge. Twenty 20 Swifts were feeding over the creek or seen on the walk back to the car: sadly none had white rumps.
Spoonbill: 1st Summer. I didn't take a camera so have to make do with one of my old Spoonbill photos from Middlebere. Today's individual was in a heavier wing moult with more extensive black wing tips (11 Jul 18)