10 Nov 2013

10 Nov 13 - Hello & Goodbye

Today, the conditions were looking promising for Woodpigeons to be on the move and I was out early at South Haven: my regular migration viewpoint at the Northerly tip of Studland. Before I moved to Dorset in 1996, I had assumed that our Woodpigeons are basically a static British species that do not migrate. In the last decade, I realise that isn't the case. Locally, in early November, Dorset can get vast movements of tens of thousands of Woodpigeons heading South & West depending on the weather & wind conditions. My best day was early Nov 2011, when I had 26,800 in a 2.5 hour window moving along the Sandbanks peninsula at the Poole Harbour mouth. The bulk moved over SW over Brownsea, but smaller numbers continuing South over Studland. Flocks often exceeded 1000 on that date. Unfortunately, while the Woodpigeons were on the move today, they were moving further West through Poole Harbour & were too distant to pick up from my regular viewpoint at South Haven. I later ran into this small flock of about 250 birds.
Woodpigeon on the move: I've leave you to do the exact count
Just to confuse the situation, Woodpigeons can be seen throughout the year flying across the Poole Harbour mouth, but these are birds moving locally to feed. They fly both ways and are nice & low and in small parties or on their own. This contrasts with the birds on the move, which are in large parties and generally very high.
Woodpigeon: This one was on a local feeding trip across the harbour mouth today
The general feeling is the moving Woodpigeons are British birds which are moving South for the winter as people haven't seen big flocks arrivals on the East coast from Northern Europe. As for where they are heading, I think some head to the SW for the winter, whereas others head South to Europe & presumably also Spain. In previous Autumns, I've seen thousands of birds moving South across Swanage & observers at Durlston have seen them heading out to sea. Not all make it across the channel, as on a number of occasions when the weather has been mixed, I've seen flocks returning and dropping rapidly into the local woods & fields. I can only conclude is they have hit adverse conditions out at sea & turned back. Often on those days, as the weather improves, birds will collect up to try heading South again. So while I was disappointed to not see the Woodies on the move, South Haven was still interesting. Just outside the harbour mouth this Great Northern Diver was happily feeding close to the shore.
Great Northern Diver
While photographing the Great Northern Diver, this juvenile Red-throated Diver popped up in the same place.
Red-throated Diver: Juvenile
Popping home for some food, I wasn't surprised to see a couple of Red Admirals feeding on the ivy in the garden. Ivy is a great plant help sustain Butterflies and other insects at this time of year. Well worth growing some in your garden.
Red Admiral
What was a total surprise was seeing a warbler in my apple tree. Grabbed the bins & realised it was a Lesser Whitethroat. Most Lesserthroats pass through Dorset in mid Aug - mid Sept and it's unusual to see one in Nov. There was one at Portland Bill a few days ago, but given that's one of the best migration spots on the South coast, that is more understandable. This is only my second garden record and I only heard the first one singing. So I was very happy with this bird.
Lesser Whitethroat
Lesser Whitethroat
Given that date, there is a chance this might be one of the Eastern races of Lesser Whitethroat, rather than a late British bird. However, you need to see the wings & tail very well to try and figure out the race. Although it was side on when I first saw it, I didn't watch it with the bins as I was more interested in grabbing the camera. So sadly I will never know, unless it reappears again.