1 Jun 2015

1 June 15 - May Ends With An Interesting Bird On The Patch (But With A Twist)

May was always going to be an interesting month for the Studland/Ballard Year List as it is one of the best months of the year. The month started with crap weather on the first weekend: well it was a Bank Holiday. Due to the poor weather, I didn't head out until the Sunday afternoon to check out the rising tide at Brands Bay. It all looked fairly normal with a reasonable selection of Waders when I got to Brands Bay on 3 May. A quick scan with the bins & nothing jumped out. I repeated the scan with the scope & started counting the Black-tailed Godwits. Halfway through & there was a small-medium sized Wader with them & a quick check confirmed a near winter plumage Curlew Sandpiper, with just the hint of a few red marks on the flanks as the Summer plumage started to appear: wow. Although Curlew Sandpipers are annual in Autumn & more erratic in Spring in Poole Harbour, this was only my second Studland record (after a juvenile in Autumn 2011) & there are surprisingly few Studland records. So it was a species I didn't think I had any chance of adding to the patch Year List. Also present were 3 Grey Plovers, 11 Whimbrels (only the third time this typical Spring & Autumn Wader had reached double figures); 213 Black-tailed Godwits, 9 Bar-tailed Godwits and 25 Dunlins. The other good species was a single migrant Little Tern: my second sighting of the Spring (not bad for a less than annual Studland species). I was about to give up as the tide was fairly high, when a final scan produced my second Studland Year Tick: a Hobby hunting along the edge of Rempstone. This is a guaranteed species for the patch, but good to see it fairly early in the Spring.
Curlew Sandpiper: A record shot. It was initially fairly close, but by the time Warren arrived it had moved to the back of the bay. True to form for Spring Curlew Sandpipers, it wasn't present the following day, unlike all the other Waders present (3 May)
Unusually, the Bank Holiday Monday had the best weather of the weekend. Decided to try the Old Harry option. Overall it was fairly quiet, but the highlight was a Lesser Whitethroat. I was surprised to have missed this species earlier in the Spring, as there are normally one or two present in April. This was the only species of note, although there were eleven migrant Wheatears present. But the sun had brought out a good selection of Butterflies including: two Clouded Yellows, two Painted Ladies, a Peacock, a Red Admiral, four Holly Blues, three Orange-tips & a Large White.
Orange-tip: Male. One of my favourite Spring Butterflies & one I failed to photograph last year (4 May)
Clouded Yellow: Surprisingly approachable as I found it just as the sun went in (4 May)
Clouded Yellow: Or a Spring Snowman (as Peter Moore described my back of the camera photo) (4 May)
Painted Lady: Looking a bit tatty, so I wonder how far it has travelled since it hatched out (4 May)
Buff-tailed Bumblebee: A fairly common Bumblebee around the Studland patch (4 May)
During the following week, there were good numbers of Skuas on the move along the Dorset coast, although the numbers seen off the nearby Durlston & St Aldhelms Head viewpoints, suggested they weren't moving as close to the Purbeck coastline, as they were in the Portland/Weymouth area. In the Spring, the Skuas are moving East and generally don't come into Studland Bay. Therefore, on 9 May I decided to start at South Haven, rather than try & find a distant Skua off Ballard Down. It was hazy & still conditions, but I was hoping there might be an interest Tern in with the Common Tern & Sandwich Tern flock. There were only a few Terns feeding off the harbour mouth, but as I scanned I was really surprised to find a Bonxie flying around close to the harbour mouth. Not a species on my expected radar as I've never seen one off there before. All my previous Bonxie records have been off Middle Beach or Old Harry/Ballard Down. It was even more surprising as there wasn't a wind to push it in. I'm assuming it drifted in the previous evening in the mist. It was initially being hassled by a Great Black-backed Gull, but quickly dropped to the water once the GBBG moved off. I rang the news out to local patch watcher Graham Armstrong, but before he arrived it was back up & flying further out, before settling very distantly on the water. After a few minutes on the water, I had lost it as it drifted East in the current. This is a species I expected to get, but during an Autumnal gale when the Skuas are more likely to be pushed into Studland Bay. So it was good to get a Spring Skua on the list. More predictable for the patch Year List were two Swifts heading North through Brands Bay. An evening visit also produced my first Nightjar of the Spring churring & calling in the evening air. Both of these species are guaranteed to see in the Spring, so there no real surprises that either were seen.
Gadwall: A regular species around Studland in small numbers, but rarely seen as close as this one. Brands Bay (9 May)
Reed Warbler: A handful of pairs breed at South Haven, with one or two more elsewhere around Studland (17 May)
South Haven: Amazingly this was taken about 10:00 when less than ten people had walked past to the beach in the previous two hours. The previous day's cold winds had stopped most of the grockles getting out early: a rare treat for this normally heavily over-disturbed boardwalk (17 May)
South Haven: Looking North from the boardwalk. The Ferry & harbour mouth are just beyond the trees, with the ferry offices being the buildings on the left (17 May)
A week later on 16 May, the cold wind of the previous day had dropped & it was more pleasant being out Birding. The highlight was a Spotted Flycatcher: a guaranteed Autumn species, but one that is more erratic in the Spring. But it was the first of about a half dozen I saw this May.
Cuckoo: Godlingston Heath (17 May)
The final new species for the patch Year List was a late Yellow Wagtail heading North over the harbour mouth on the 23 May. This brought the patch Year List up to 154. I had set a target of 155 for the end of May, so I'm still tracking fairly close to the target. Despite a lot of searching I failed to add any more new species in the rest of the weekend.
Spotted Flycatcher: Studland Church (24 May)
I wasn't able to get out for more than a few hours on the final weekend of May. This was for a visit for a couple of hours to Brands Bay for the afternoon rising tide. A selection of typical late Spring migrants were present. Due to the overcast conditions, there were a few Swifts & House Martins feeding low on the Insects over the mud. I was about to leave, when more Swifts & House Martins appeared close to the hide. As I scanned through them, I briefly picked up a Swift with a white rump. Although I should have been really excited, it initially appeared to only have white on the left side of the rump. A few minutes later, I picked it up again & realised the white did extend right across the rump, but was fairly narrow. Hopes it might not be a Swift with a rump briefly picked up, but I could see the size & structure looked good for a Swift & I had been able to discard Little Swift & Pacific Swift on size, structure & the extend of white in the rump. Realistically, that only left an aberrant Swift with a white rump or a White-rumped Swift. Not having seen the latter species, since seeing a few individuals in the late 80s in Kenya, I was struggling to remember the features. Fortunately, modern technology allowed me the option of 'phoning a friend'. A quick call with my mate Marcus Lawson, pointed out the features I would need to see to clinch a White-rumped Swift. But it's structure looked good for a Swift & the same size & shape as the other Swifts. I didn't see any white edging to the inner secondaries either. I hadn't really focused on the throat area, so couldn't say how much white there was in the throat area. So there was nothing positively pointing to anything else than a Swift with a white rump. In total, I only had four short, but reasonable, views. There were no further sightings in the next hour, so it was time to go. Just a few final minutes to make a few phone calls to the locals I had told of this interesting Swift, to confirm it wasn't going to be a drop everything occasion. Presumably it still was feeding somewhere locally as the Swifts & House Martins were spread over a wide area. This is only the second aberrant Swift with a white rump that I've seen, so it was a good opportunity to learn. In comparison, I've seen five Alpine Swifts & three Pallid Swifts in the UK, so it is rarer than some of the rare Swifts for me.