3 Sept 2022

3 Sep 22 - Lightning Strikes Twice & It Feels Good

I moved down to live in the Swanage area in July 1996 to spend more time watching the St Aldhelms & Winspit patch. However, after a few tough years of Birding without a lot of reward, I switched to spending more time watching Durlston. By the early 2000s, I had moved my focus to Studland & Poole Harbour, and largely avoided the Purbeck coastline.

In Summer 2017, I decided I should return to watching the St Aldhelms & Winspit patch again as it really was neglected with few Birders watching it. Soon after I returned to St Aldhelms, the Two-barred Greenish Warbler was found & that was the final confirmation that St Aldhelms needed a lot more of my time.

My first reward for the Birding visits was finding an Ortolan on 6 Sep 18 in the top of Pier Bottom Valley. I hadn't taken my scope that morning & I was struggling to figure out a Bunting sitting in front of the bushes at the back of the field. Fortunately, I had the camera & grabbed some photos. Looking at the back of the camera shots, the Bird looked like an Ortolan. I looked at the area again, but I couldn't see it. I pinged a couple of photos off to my mate Marcus, not really wanting to accept that I had just found my first local Ortolan. He responded quickly with a thumbs up which was good to know I hadn't just made a total balls up of the Id. Looking at the cleaned up photo, it was a blatantly obvious Ortolan, but I sometimes struggle with small images on the back of the camera. I ended up spending the next two or three hours trying to relocate it, with no joy.
Ortolan: St Aldhelms (6 Sep 18)
Fast forward to Sep 22. The alarm went off far too early, but I was keen to get out to St Aldhelms after a few days being side-tracked with Brownsea & Brands Bay Waders. I knew my mate Phil Saunders would be out early & also knew it can be dangerous to leave Phil looking at St Aldhelms when I wasn't there: just too much chance of missing something good that he had found.

Phil had arrived a few minutes before me & between the two of us, I think we covered the area pretty thoroughly by the time we reached & then checked Quarry Ledge and the sea. We also hadn't had that much reward, apart from two distant Wigeon that Phil picked up flying East over the sea, when we were at Trev's Quarry. They were clearly the Birds of the Day as they were a long overdue Patch Tick for both of us. Otherwise, all I had to show for about 4 hours effort was a few Whinchats, a Wheatear and a few common Warblers. We decided to knock it on the head, with Phil walking back on the main track, while I planned to walk along the coast path and return up Pier Bottom Valley.

Soon after saying goodbye to Phil, I heard a call I couldn't figure out or pin down the source. I could see a Bird perched in a bush about 90 metres away. I was struggling to identify it and I'm still not sure if that was what I heard calling. After another scan, I still couldn't see anything else calling & grabbed a few photos of the Bird I could see. Checking them, they were of little help as the Bird had turned away & I could only see the back of the head and the wings. I tried again & blew up the images on the back of the camera. Lightning struck twice as I could see a pale eyering on one photo & a pale moustachial on the other photo. I looked again & the Bird had gone: lightning really was striking twice. A couple of calls to Phil went unanswered and I figured he was probably out of range by Trev's Quarry. I left a message & followed up with a text.

I started searching for the Ortolan, but drew an initial blank. But at least Phil had rung back & was on his way. He joined me & we repeated the search. Just as I think we were both thinking this wouldn't turn out well, Phil heard it flying over our heads & he recognised it from the many months he spent living in Cyprus in his younger days. We both got onto the Bird and watched in dismay as it kept flying and flying, before circling and dropping into the top of Pier Bottom Valley. Phil found the flight call on the excellent Xeno-Canto website & that sounded a good match for what we had just heard. We had a good look in the fields around the top of Pier Bottom Valley, but failed to relocate it. It was time to call it a day, given we had both spent over six hours covering St Aldhelms. In addition to the Ortolan, there had been a bonus Pied Flycatcher and I also had a Hobby over the car park just before I left.

It had been hard work, but a rewarding day in the end. According to Steve Morrison's All Time Birds of St Aldhelms List on Bubo, this is only the ninth record he is aware of for the St Aldhelms/Winspit patch.
Ortolan: The best photo showing the pale eyering
Ortolan: The best photo showing the moustachial stripe