31 Dec 2014

31 Dec 14 - Are There Two Races Of Purple Sandpiper?

The last day of 2014 ended brilliantly with a finding a Green-winged Teal on the patch. But it wasn't too bad before that. I started at South Haven, on the South side of the Poole Harbour mouth, hoping to relocate a Black Guillemot that local patch Birder, Graham Armstrong, had found earlier than morning. I wasn't surprised about not seeing it as the tide was racing out of the harbour & it would have quickly been swept out of the harbour mouth. I could see the 3 local Purple Sandpipers feeding just above the water's edge in front of the Haven Hotel, on the Sandbanks side of the harbour mouth. So I  caught the ferry & within a few minutes I was watching them at close range. They were totally unfazed by me being only a few metres from them. Although they had been getting flushed by less considerate members of the general public & their dogs earlier on. It gave me some good opportunities to have a play with the SX60. All photos apart from the first photo are with the SX60.
Purple Sandpiper: An initial photo with the Canon 7D & 400mm lens. After that I switched to the SX60 as I got closer
Purple Sandpiper: I should be able to get better photos, so clearly I need to learn how to set up the SX60 better than the settings I've been using so far
Purple Sandpiper
Clements believe there is only the nominate race of Purple Sandpiper. But I think there is clear evidence that there are two subspecies involved, although only one race reaches the UK. This is the soft subspecies (which migrates South), whereas the hard subspecies stays up near the Arctic circle over the Winter - see Tormod's great Post of the hard subspecies.

Moving onto Brands Bay, I was pleased to see a couple of Spoonbills feeding in the bay. Despite Spoonbills being resident now in Poole Harbour and Brownsea not more than about a mile from the bay, then Spoonbills are a scarce species in the bay. One or two will appear for a day or a few days and that will be it for the rest of the year. Even better, one was close to the hide.
Spoonbill: First Winter with the black wing tips just showing in the closed wing, but they were very obvious in flight
Avocets are a more regular Winter visitor to Brands Bay, but are still absent on most visits. Again surprising given there are well over 1000 wintering in Poole Harbour. Generally a flock of more than ten is unusual & I've only exceeded 35 once, when I had a flock of 158 on 26 Oct 14. I can only assume there was a lot of disturbance at their regular feeding areas to get a flock of that size in Brands Bay.

31 Dec 14 - When Vertical Is Best

I had a great morning today photographing Purple Sandpipers at the North side of Poole Harbour mouth. But I will leave those to a future post. Then I dropped into Brands Bay on the way home on the low tide. Yesterday, the bay was packed with Wildfowl & Waders and today it was just the same. But fortunately, the selfish bastards with shotguns I had to put up with yesterday, hadn't returned. It was difficult to know where to start as there were so many Birds. But after a quick scan of the near part of the bay, I started counting the Teal on the first proper scan. I got a bit over the 150 mark, when the next one I looked at was a male Green-winged Teal: a Studland Tick & the first one I've found. As you can imagine, I never completed the count. Next thing was to grab the phone, ring Paul Morton who is doing a Poole Harbour Year List & a couple of others to get them on their way, before getting some photos. After that is many more phone calls to locals & a couple of emails/tweets, before the battery died. Still the news was out, resulting in a minor twitch of seven Birders, including Paul. Most of the Harbour Listers have seen two or three so not a big turnout. The Green-winged Teal performed well & was still on view from 12:30 till 15:30 when Graham Armstrong & myself left (we were the last to leave).
Green-winged Teal: Male with the vertical stripe with a Male Teal (with the horizontal stripe) 
Green-winged Teal: Male. The vertical stripe is still very obvious head on
The bird was several hundred metres from the hide, but I'm not that impressed with the quality of the photos. I've now found out that the camera wasn't on the largest file size for jpg photos. So hopefully it will still be there tomorrow, now I've switched to the largest file size.

This is the fifth record for Studland, with the previous records being all males:-
Littlesea (22 Jan - 29 Jan 1983)
Brands Bay (2 Feb 1985)
Brands Bay (20 Nov 1985)
Brands Bay (10 Mar 2002)
Hopefully, it will stay around for the New Year.

Happy New Year to all the Readers of the Blog

24 Dec 2014

24 Dec 14 - Happy Christmas

Just a short Post to wish all the readers of the Blog a Happy Christmas. Robins are the most popular Birds on Christmas cards in the UK, so I thought I would follow that theme with a Robin photographed down under in 2001.
New Zealand Robin: Tiritiri Matangi Island off the coast of Auckland (14 Nov 01)
The great thing about bumping into New Zealand North Island Robins which sadly aren't common due to the number of introduced predators in New Zealand, is they are very confiding. The above photo was a snapshot from this piece of video. I was experimenting with a video camera at the time & did not have a proper camera. Apologies for anybody wanting to view the following two videos on an Apple device. As Apple products are crap & won't allow Flash to run on it, then you will have to find a PC to view the videos.
New Zealand North Island Robin: Tiritiri Matangi Island off the coast of Auckland (14 Nov 01)
They particularly like it if you turn over a patch of earth on the track, so they can look for food.
New Zealand North Island Robin: Motarua Island, Malborough Sound, South Island (10 Dec 01)
Happy Christmas

21 Dec 2014

21 Dec 14 - Communal Bath Time

I've already written a Post about one of the Top Ten Birds that I've seen. Fortunately, I get to see this species regularly as Long-tailed Tits are a fairly common British species. They are erratic visitors to my garden. I have spells when I see or hear them every few days & then gaps of several weeks or months before they start visiting again. One of the reasons I like them it they are one of the most social of UK Passerines. There has been a party visiting the feeders recently, but today I caught them in the front garden pond & found that they all communally bathe as well. All photos taken through the front window.
Long-tailed Tit: Initially, just two Long-tailed Tits
Long-tailed Tit
Long-tailed Tit
Long-tailed Tit: But no surprise when the rest of the group joined in
Long-tailed Tit
Long-tailed Tit
Long-tailed Tit
Long-tailed Tit
It just goes to show that you don't need to go to far flung destinations to see some great Birds. Albeit my other nine Top Ten Birds do require travel to exotic locations.

16 Dec 2014

16 Dec 14 - Catching Up

With all the posts from the Pitcairn trip, I never got around to Posting about a mid December visit to Portland Bird Obs. Portland Bill is one of the top South Coast Birding sites for migrants. Not just Birds, as it has a good reputation for migrant Moths as well. I don't tend to visit very often, as I prefer to work my own local patches closer to home. But every now & them a rarity tempts me. In mid December, it was a Barred Warbler, which was about two weeks into a four week stay (it disappeared after Christmas). Unlike the UK's East Coast where Barred Warblers are regular, but scarce migrants, they are probably less than annual in Dorset. With several records this century having been single observer or brief sightings, then a Barred Warbler being seen well daily at the Obs, meant I couldn't resist. This individual was hanging around the edge of the Obs garden & defending the apples that had been put out. Every now & then it went missing for a few minutes, allowing the Blackcaps to appear, before they got chased off again.
Barred Warbler: It generally hung around the artificial apple tree
Barred Warbler: Only my second Dorset record, with the other being an individual in Winspit on 23 Sep 1995 (which my mate Edge found while we were Birding there)
Barred Warbler: There are two subspecies, but I've not seen anything indicating which subspecies was involved. The nominate nisoria European subspecies would be the obvious one, but given Portland's track record of attracting Eastern vagrants in late Autumn, then the merzbacheri subspecies from Western Siberia can't be dismissed out of hand. I've not seen any comment on the Obs website about the subspecies involved (or even if they can be separated in the hand)

14 Dec 2014

14 Dec 14 - In Defence Of The Canon 7D (As Presently By Mr Blyth)

In a recent post I reviewed the Canon SX60 camera as a good camera for Birders. I did end that review saying it was likely that if I had to take a series of photos in a burst mode I would stick to the Canon 7D. There are several reasons for that. Firstly, I am more familiar with setting up the 7D & being able to quickly to under or over expose photos and change the other settings such as the focusing area. Secondly, the 7D is very fast with its auto focus, which will be essential for a flying subject. Thirdly, it is also very fast at writing to the memory card & finally, I still get a childish thrill at hearing my motor wind going off. But beware that have been plans for the EU to limit the number of frames/second on camera motordrives (see the excellent satirical Leicester Llama Post on this subject).
The wet field the Blyth's Pipit was frequenting
For the last week or so, there has been a Blyth's Pipit near Wakefield. As this was my commonest UK mainland tick left then I finally cracked: I've excluding Lanceolated and Pallas's Grasshopper Warblers as they are virtually all on the Northern Isles. Each day I have been checking weather forecasts & reports of the previous day's sightings. But I was put off for several days by the combination of the weather forecast & people generally getting flight views only. But eventually, I decided that I needed to put the alarm on for a 03:00 wake up call on Sunday morning. No point ringing around to fill a car, as nearly everybody I know locally has seen a Blyth's Pipit or two over the years, especially given two hung around at Portland for several weeks (when I was in Argentina in 1998). After a straight-forward journey I was pulling off the M1 soon after first light & joining the gathering group of Birders. About 09:00 the finder & another local did a careful walk into the wet field. They had to walk around most of the field, before the Meadow Pipits I had seen disappearing into the long grass finally went up & then there was a shout as they put the Blyth's Pipit up. It flew around silently before dropping back into the back of the field. Not tickable views, but at least I knew it was still here. After no further signs over the next two hours, it was getting decidedly cold waiting, especially on the feet (shouldn't have worn the wellies). Finally, a Red Kite drifted over and spooked the Meadow Pipits and then the Blyth's Pipit. It called twice which was great and then circled the field. I dived for the camera & rattled off about 35 shots while it was over the back of the field. No chance of hearing any more calls at the range it was, so the noise of the motor drive wasn't a problem. But given how far away it was I was amazed that it locked on, in such poor light conditions. The photos are grainy, but acceptable shots considering it was between 60 & 80 metres away. Had it circled at the front of the field, then the photos would have been a lot better, but it was another example of being able to see more on the Bird from the photos, that I would have been able to see with bins against the sky at the same range.
Blyth's Pipit: Showing the dark median coverts and the pale tips to the secondary coverts & how the coverts contrast against the flight feathers. Unfortunately, not good enough to make out the shape of the dark median coverts
Blyth's Pipit: Proof that Birds close their wings in flight
Blyth's Pipit: With the Swarovski 10x32 bins, I would have been struggling to see more than the size & shape of the Blyth's Pipit at 80 metres
Blyth's Pipit: It hovered briefly several times as it looked for somewhere to land
Blyth's Pipit: That is number 517 for my British & Irish list following BOU/IRBC rules (so no Micky Mouse species - the full list is on Bubo)
It would have been great to get better views on the deck, but that didn't look likely & I eventually decided to head South around midday. Still I did see several well feeding in India, but no photos. Finally, in case you think the photos aren't as good as some of the flight photos that have appeared on line (& they clearly aren't as good), then here is the uncropped original. Which goes to show I will continue to carry the Canon 7D & 400mm on all my Birding trips (although the Canon SX60 will generally be on my waist belt).
Blyth's Pipit: The uncropped original photo first photo

30 Nov 2014

30 Nov 14 - Photospot7: Western Palearctic Partridges

I have been lucky to see all the Western Palearctic Partridges this year, with the exception of See-see Partridge. Maybe I be able to rectify that on a return trip to Turkey at some point in the future. I saw it there on my trip in 1986, but I won't have any photos as my camera could only take insect & general photographs in those days.

So here is the perfect excuse for another Photospot to look at the Western Palearctic Partridges in a bit more detail. Note, this post following the boundaries as defined in the Birds of the Western Palearctic, rather than the latest idea that has come from an author who has redefined the boundary to include the whole of the Arabian Peninsula to help him sell a book in the future. The problem I have with that approach is parts of the Southern Arabian Peninsula contain a good selection of species which are primarily of African origin, with a few Indian subcontinent species also occurring in the Southern Arabian Peninsula. Clearly, there are Palearctic species that also occur. I think the BWP authors got the boundaries right in the Arabian Peninsula & think that it is better to treat the Southern Arabian Peninsula as a separate area in its own right. As a consequence, this post will not include Philby's Rock Partridge and Arabian Red-legged Partridge as neither occur in the BWP boundaries that I have always followed. Hopefully, I will get to parts of their range in the future, in which I may get the chance to write a Photospot on the Arabian Peninsula Partridges.

There are 4 Alectoris Partridges in the Western P & this group is typical of the observations of Alfred Russel Wallace: who is the relatively unknown scientist who was working in parallel on theories of evolution. It was his observations & letters that seemed to finally spur Charles Darwin on to publish his Origin of Species & ended up with major credit for the theories of evolution. During his time travelling in Central & Eastern Indonesia, Wallace found that as he moved around the Indonesian Archipelago, that time & time again he was seeing species which looked similar to, but were not the same as the species from another area he had already visited. He deduced there must have been an original species that had evolved in different areas of its range, until the populations in the different parts of the original species range could be considered as different species. The 4 Alectoris Partridges (Rock Partridge, Chukar, Barbary Partridge, Red-legged Partridge) are good examples of this as they are all variations on a theme. Philby's Rock Partridge, Arabian Red-legged Partridge & Przevalski's Partridge (found in the Qinghai & Gansu provinces of China) are the remaining 3 Alectoris Partridges in the world.
Rock Partridge: Male. Velji Do, Cavtat, Croatia (4 May 14). Note, the thin white supercilium and black line along the full depth of the upper mandible
Rock Partridge: Male. Velji Do, Cavtat, Croatia (4 May 14). Note, the lack of any spotting below the clean cut black gorget. This species occurs in the Alps (France, Switzerland & Austria), the Italian Appennines, parts of the former Yugoslavia to Greece & Bulgaria. Another race with a broken gorget occurs on Sicily & is being proposed as a potential candidate for splitting from Rock Partridge
Chukar: Beit Yatir, Israel (8 April 14). Note, there is no obvious white supercilium and the black goes across the forehead, but does not extend down the side of the upper mandible. This species occurs from SE Bulgaria to Turkey, Syria, Israel, Iraq, Iran. It also occurs on Crete, Rhodes & Cyprus. There are other subspecies found outside of the Western P in Tajikstan, Afghanistan to Nepal, Mongolia, Tibet & China
Barbary Partridge: Oued Massa, Morocco (14 Feb 14). Clearly, the most diverse looking of the Alectoris group. Note, the light grey throat (white in the other 3) and black gorget with white spots. This species occurs in North Africa from Morocco to Libya & NW Egypt. It has been introduced to the Canaries, Southern Spain & Sardinia
Red-legged Partridge: Win Green, Wiltshire (28 June 14). Note, the broad white supercilium. The natural range of Red-legged Partridge is the Spanish Peninsula, France, NW Italy & Corsica. It was introduced into the UK in the 17th Century. It has even managed a cameo appearance in Once Upon a Time in the West (one of my all time favourite films & filmed in East Spain!!!)
Red-legged Partridge: Win Green, Wiltshire (28 June 14). Note, the diffuse gorget which merges into the extensive breast streaking. The black lores meets the side of the bill, (rather than the black continuing onto the base of the forehead as in Rock Partridge & Chukar)
Now for the other Western Palearctic Partridges. There are 2 Ammoperdix Partridges, both of which occur in the Western Palearctic.
Sand Partridge: Wadi Salvadora, Israel (7 April 14). Male. Males have this broad white facial pattern and broad flank stripes. Females do not have the white facial pattern or flank stripes. They occurs from Israel, Jordon to Saudi Arabia & Northern Egypt
Sand Partridge: Amran Pillars, Israel (10 April 14). Male. The superficially similar looking See-see Partridge is another semi desert species which occurs in Turkey, Syria, Iraq & Iran to SW Russia & Pakistan. Male See-see Partridges have a stronger white facial pattern with the white extending in front of the eye & a black line above the white band. Females look fairly similar to the female Sand Partridges, but can be separated on range
The final Western Palearctic Partridge is Grey Partridge. This is the only Perdix Partridge in the Western P. The remaining 2 Perdix species are found further East: Daurian Partridge (Mongolia, Manchuria & China) and Tibetan Partridge (Nepal to Tibet).
Grey Partridge: Sixpenny Handley, Dorset (13 June 14). Male on the right. This species has a fairly large Western P range occurring in most of Europe, except Northern & Central Scandanavia & most of the Iberian Peninsula. Another subspecies occurs in Transcaucasia
I've always regarded the Francolin group as closely related to the Partridges, but not Partridges. But as I've managed to photograph one of the 2 native Francolin species that occurs in the Western Palearctic, I've decided to included them in this post. They are Black Francolin & Double-spurred Francolin. I have seen Double-spurred Francolin in the mountains of Western Morocco in 1990, but unfortunately I have no photos. There is another subspecies which occurs in Senegal & Gambia to Central African Republic.
Black Francolin: Kfar Ruppin, Israel (13 April 14) Male. Female are essentially a scaly brown colouration. They occurs from Turkey, Israel, Iraq & Iran with other races occurring as far as the Northern parts of the Indian Subcontinent

29 Nov 2014

29 Nov 14 - Insect Photospot5 - Dorset Hawk Moths

The recent Oleander Hawk Moth has given me the urge to put together a Post of the Dorset Hawk Moths. I very erratically get in the mood to run my Moth trap for a few months, before the Birding or work commitments puts an end to running the trap. Over the last 17 years of living in Dorset, I've just about managed to get through all the seasons, but with the months spread over several years. I only really worry about running the trap in the garden & haven't worried about trying to run a trap elsewhere. Occasionally, I will make the effort to see the occasional good Moth that other people have caught, but I don't do this often. Hoping one of these years, I will get more time to run my Moth trap more regularly & catch some of the more regular vagrants I've yet to see in the garden. Anyway, for a touch of colour & elegance on the Blog, here are the Dorset Hawk Moths.
Convolvulus Hawk Moth: I have only seen one Convolvulus Hawk Moth (due to not having made any effort to go & see them since seeing my first one). I currently don't have any photos of this scarce migrant Hawk Moth. There are a number of photos on the Dorset Moth Group website, including this one: Convolvulus Hawk Moth taken by Weymouth Birder Paul Harris
Death's-head Hawk Moth: This is a rare migrant to Dorset with 72 records listed on the Dorset Moth Group website. Unfortunately, it is a species I have yet to see. A photo taken by Les Hill can be found on the Dorset Moth Group website
Privet Hawk Moth: This is a fairly common & widespread Hawk Moth in Dorset. Swanage (8 July 10)
Pine Hawk Moth: This is an uncommon & restricted resident in Dorset. Swanage (28 July 10)
Lime Hawk Moth: This is an uncommon & widespread resident in Dorset. Swanage (30 June 10)
Eyed Hawk Moth: This is an uncommon & restricted resident in Dorset. Swanage (12 June 10)
Poplar Hawk Moth: This is a common & widespread Hawk Moth in Dorset. Swanage (22 June 10)
Narrow-bordered Bee Hawk Moth: This is a rare & local resident. Powerstock Common (18 May 14)
Broad-bordered Bee Hawk Moth: This is a rare & local resident. A poor photo, but despite several attempts this Summer, I failed to photograph any of the individuals seen. Studland (2 June 13)
Hummingbird Hawk Moth: Despite being a erratic but regular migrant visitor to my garden, I still need to get a decent photo of a Hummingbird Hawk Moth. A great photo of a Hummingbird Hawk Moth in flight by Martin Cade can be found on the Dorset Moth Group Website
Oleander Hawk Moth: I was lucky to see a tweet that one was recently on display at Durlston and could get there with the camera before it was released that evening. This is a vagrant species to Dorset & it is only about the 5th Dorset record. Resting in a display box at the Durlston Castle isn't an ideal location for a photo, but it better for the Moth than being moved around to allow people to photograph it, with the risk it will become active & try escaping. Durlston (24 Oct 14)
Bedstraw Hawk Moth: This is a rare migrant with less than 40 Dorset records & one I have still to see in the UK. A photo of two Bedstraw Hawk Moths at Portland Bill can be found on the Dorset Moth Group website
Striped Hawk Moth: This is a species I haven't seen in the UK. The Dorset Moth group website lists this as a scarce & coastal migrant with about 450 records. Fortunately, I have seen this great looking Moth at En Gedi, Israel (7 April 14)
Elephant Hawk Moth: This and the next species are just great Hawk Moths. I never tire of seeing them. Swanage (15 June 14)
Small Elephant Hawk Moth: This is smaller & less commonly caught in my Moth trap. Swanage (26 July 10)
Silver-striped Hawk Moth: This is a species I haven't seen & the Dorset Moth group website lists this as a rare migrant with just 24 records. A photo of a Silver-striped Hawk Moth with a Striped Hawk Moth for comparison can be found on the Dorset Moth Group Website

28 Nov 2014

28 Nov 14 - Insect Photospot4 - Dorset Damselflies

This is the second Dragonfly Photospot, covering the Damselflies & Demoiselles that are found in Dorset. The main aim is to give the readers an appreciation of the variety of species that can be seen in Dorset, rather than focusing on the identification. There are plenty more photos of these species as well as useful identification features in earlier Posts: just click on the Label links on the right hand side of the Blog.
Banded Demoiselle: Male. This is a common species on a number of the clean Dorset rivers. Throop Mill (23 June 14)
Banded Demoiselle: Female. White Mill, Sturminster Marshall (28 June 14)
Beautiful Demoiselle: Male. This is more of a heathland pond species. Rempstone Forest (3 Aug 14)
Emerald Damselfly: Male. Currently, this is the only Emerald Damselfly found in Dorset, but there are other species that have recently colonised Kent & East Anglia and hopefully in time, they will reach Dorset. Rempstone Forest (3 Aug 14)
Emerald Damselfly: Female. Rempstone Forest (3 Aug 14)
White-legged Damselfly: Male. Canford School Water Meadows (29 June 14)
White-legged Damselfly: Female. Canford School Water Meadows (29 June 14)
Red-eyed Damselfly: This species seems to really like resting on water lilies well away from the water's edge. Throop Mill (23 June 14)
Red-eyed Damselfly: Mating Pair. Throop Mill (23 June 14)
Small Red-eyed Damselfly: This species is less widespread than Red-eyed Damselfly in Dorset with the Weymouth area being one of the more reliable sites to see it. It is a species I have yet to photograph
Large Red Damselfly: East Holme Water Meadows (6 June 14)
Large Red Damselfly: Mating Pair. Brownsea (21 June 14)
Small Red Damselfly: This species is smaller & daintier than Large Red Damselfly and is a heathland specialist. Arne (11 July 14)
Blue-tailed Damselfly: This is the common Blue-tailed Damselfly species in Dorset. Bestwall (19 June 14)
Scarce Blue-tailed Damselfly: This is a rarer of the two Blue-tailed Damselfly species in Dorset with a limited number of sites. It likes good boggy conditions or habitats with open edges to water and doesn't seem to be much of a flier compared to its commoner relative (4 Aug 14)
Common Blue Damselfly: Male. White Mill, Sturminster Marshall (28 June 14)
Azure Damselfly: Arne (8 June 14)
Southern Damselfly: This is the scarce species of the three Blue Damselflies. The main features to separate the 3 Dorset Blue Damselflies can be found here (9 July 12)