29 Apr 2014

29 April 14 - Daytime Badger

A few days ago I bumped into my this Badger. I see Badgers erratically on the quieter Dorset roads at night, but this is this first time I've ever seen one alive in the daytime, albeit during the early evening.
Badger: The first I've ever seen in daytime
Badger: Not the best of photos as it wasn't as close as I would have liked, but great to see
Sadly, Badgers haven't had a good last year. The Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, DEFRA, are insistence than they need to kill them to tackle bovine TB. We had several years of scientific culling in the Blair era that looked at culling & concluded that a cull was likely to make things worse, not better. However, the DEFRA minister Owen Paterson ignored this scientific evidence & decided culling will be better under his leadership. But the 2 pilot culls failed miserably last year, even after DEFRA's solution of moving the goalposts by reducing the estimates of Badgers in the cull areas (to make their cull percentages look better), extending the cull to try & hit their targets (which they still failed to do) & blame the Badgers for not cooperating with the cull. The official independent expert investigation into the cull concluded it was 'ineffective & not carried out humanely'. In March, a full day back bench discussion in Parliment concluded with an MP vote of 217 - 1 that the cull had 'decisively failed'. Frustratingly, despite the strong scientific evidence & views of Parliment, Owen Paterson has insisted it's right to carry on this failed process this year in the 2 cull areas as well as stopping the independent monitoring. We can only hope that the public which is not in favour of the cull, remove him in the next general election. For further information of the campaign to oppose the Badger cull & how to support it, have a look at the League Against Cruel Sports.

27 Apr 2014

27 April 14 - One Of Dorset's Most Impressive Soldiers

During the spring & Autumn migrations when I visit the local Studland patch, I nearly always fit in a few minutes in Studland churchyard. Not because I have any religious interests, as birding is my religion, but because it's a good local migrant trap, with the prospect of Warblers, Firecrests, Spotted & Pied Flycatchers, Restarts & Black Redstarts. It also has a separate small church garden which would be perfect to find a Yank Warbler in. Right that's the tenuous bird stuff done :-)
Studland Church gravestones: Always worth a check for Flycatchers, Restarts & Black Redstarts. The Beech tree at the back is also a good tree to check, especially in the Autumn as it lies on the Vis Mig route from South Haven to Durlston
Studland Church: Another view of the Flycatcher perches with the churchyard
Studland Church: Looking from the other side of the church
Placed upon its own on the grass to the left of the church entrance, is a single gravestone to Sergeant William Lawrence.
Sergeant William Lawrence's gravestone
Sergeant William Lawrence had a significant military career. The inscript says:-
To the honoured memory of
Serjeant William Lawrence
(of the 40th Regiment Foot)
Who after a long and eventful life in the service of his country
Peacefully ended his days at Studland
November 11th 1869
He served with his distinguished regiment
in the war in South America 1805
and through the whole of the Penisular War 1808 - 1813
He received a silver medal and no less than ten clasps for the battles in which he was engaged
Roleia, Vimiera, Talavera, Ciudad Rodrigo, Badajoz
(in which desperate assult being one of the volunteers for the forlorn hope he was most severely wounded)
Vittoria, Pyrenees, Nivelles, Orthes, Toulouse
He also fought at the glorious victory of Waterloo
June 18th 1815
While still serving with his regiment during the occupation of Paris by the allied armies Serjeant Lawrence married Clotilde Clairet at St Germain-en-Laye who died Sept 26th 1853 and was buried beneath this spot
 Sergeant William Lawrence's gravestone: On the reserve side, is the inscription to his French wife Clotilde Clairet who is buried with him
A few years ago, I tried to find out a bit more about this well decorated soldier & was surprised with the information I found. He was born in Bryant's Piddle, Dorset in 1791. After joining the 40th Regiment Foot, based in Dorchester, he travelled & fought in many campaigns. The 40th Regiment Foot has long since been amalgamated within the British Army & was incorporated into the Duke of Lancaster's Regiment in 1881. A few years after Waterloo, he finally left the army & settled in Studland, where he ran the pub for many years (presumably the Bankes Arms). Once he left the army, he arranged for an autobiography to be written about his military career. The book can be downloaded (for free) Autobiography of Sergeant William Lawrence & it's an really amazingly interesting read. I suspect there aren't that many autobiographies from this period, with the vast majority of those that do exist coming from the wealthy officer class, rather than from the ranks. It is also interesting as it shows the difficulty of living as a member of the British army at the time & how they had to life off the land. It's a remarkably honest account of daily life as a soldier. It would be a great subject for somebody like Dan Snow to cover in a TV program. So next time your birding in Studland, check out this gravestone & perhaps you will be rewarded with some interesting migrants as well.
Spotted Flycatcher: Not sitting on the gravestones, but photographed on the churchyard fence (August 2010). (Phew managed to get a bird into the post at the end)

26 Apr 2014

26 April 14 - Great-crested Newt

Every few days I check out the Great-crested Newts in the pond. They are best seen after dark as they are fairly shy. Was really pleased to see I've now got 3 males & a female: which is a nice improvement on the single male of last Summer & the pair seen earlier this Spring. Couldn't resist a few more photos of my favourite garden resident.
Great-crested Newt: Male number 1. Males have a jagged crest
Great-crested Newt: Male number 2 with a female Smooth Newt showing how large the Great-crested Newts are compared to the other British Newts
Great-crested Newt: Male number 3
Great-crested Newt: Female. Females do not have the jagged crest of the males
Smooth Newt: Male. Males have a smooth crest along the full length in the breeding season & have clear unwebbed toes. In comparison, the male Palmate Newt (which I've yet to find in the pond) does not have the crest & has webbing black hind feet in the breeding season

25 Apr 2014

25 April 14 - Middlebere Spoonbills

In recent days, the tides have been rising in late afternoon/early evening which is always a good time to visit Middlebere. Middlebere is one of the last places in Poole Harbour that gets covered over & therefore, there it's a good place to look for Waders & other species to congregate on the rising tide. It is also one of the favourite places for Spoonbills to feed undisturbed as well as preen & sleep. It's great to be able to see them feeding so actively, as all my early memories of Spoonbills in the UK were of sleeping birds at places like Minsmere.
Spoonbill: 1st Summer birds have black wing tips
Spoonbill: With Black-tailed Godwit, Oystercatchers & a Black-headed Gull
Spoonbill: This is the first time I've seen then in the side creek nearest to the hide
Spoonbill: Preening
Spoonbill: This one kept stretching its wings after a bit of preening
Spoonbill: They normally don't perform this well
Spoonbill: This is more typical of my early sightings before moving to Dorset (i.e. asleep)
Black-tailed Godwit: About 160 Blackwits flew in at one point
Black-tailed Godwits: Dorset birds are the islandica subspecies & will be off to Iceland to breed in the next few weeks. A real pity one of these birds hasn't got a black underwing

24 Apr 2014

24 April 14 - Lightning Strikes Greenlands Farm Twice

Was settling down this am to start adding the recent Western Sahara sightings to my birding database, when had a call from local birder, Graham Armstrong. Calls from Graham are usually reserved for something interesting on the bird front. This was a bit more interesting than normal: concerning a large Pipit & not a Tawny Pipit on Greenlands Farm, which abuts Brands Bay at Studland. From the mainly flight views he had seen at that stage, he wasn't ruling out a Blyth's Pipit, but was leaning towards Richard's Pipit. Well this is my local patch & any large Pipit would be a Studland Tick, with Richard's being a Harbour Tick & Blyth's being a UK Tick. Time to press the panic alarm. Grabbing the camera, I had enough time to ring another local, Nick Hopper, & get him to phone some news on as I was heading out to the car. Normally, I tend to phone the news out around the locals, but this was one of those cases where I just needed to scramble asap. Arrived about 15 minutes later & started to walk down the track to Greenlands Farm. As I got to the first field on the right hand side, I saw a pale orangey-pink lump at the back of the field. Told myself it was a Hoopoe as I raised the bins, knowing that it would be for the next 10 seconds until I got the bins onto it & reidentified it as a horse turd or piece of wood. After all Hoopoe would be a patch Tick & while the field looks great for a Hoopoe, I've checked it many times over the years & never seen anything better than a Redstart in it. Got the bins on it & wow, it was a Hoopoe.
Hoopoe: Only my third in Poole Harbour & a nice self found local bird
Hoopoe: Another view 
Whilst grabbing some record shots, I rang Graham to tell him about the Hoopoe as he was only 100 metres away. Two conflicting thoughts running through my mind at this point. Elation about finding a patch tick, but frustration about getting Graham to leave the much better quality Pipit (wasn't even aware that Graham had now put the news out as a definite Richard's). Still the Hoopoe was happily feeding & should be quick to show it to Graham, so we could then concentrate on the Pipit. Rang the Hoopoe news out locally as Graham arrived. Looked up to find no Hoopoe, but fortunately, picked it up soon after flying into a tree at the back of the field. Once Graham had seen it, we could head off for the Pipit. Graham said he had seen the Pipit fly a couple of times & head it call, but not the typical shreep call, but was happy it was a Richard's Pipit. But he had lost it before my arrival in the corner of the main Greenlands Farm field. We headed back & after a good walk about in that area for 10 minutes, picked it up on call & then had a flight view as it went overhead giving a two note call I didn't recognise. There again, I've not seen that many Richard's Pipits, so not recognising the call wasn't a negative thing for the identification (more a sign I would rather listen to music at home than bird recordings). I could see in flight it was a large bulky Pipit with a long dark tail with white outer tail feathers. It then flew around a couple more times on quite long flights, calling regularly as we stayed in the same area. But on each occasion it came down out of sight. We didn't want to move as we could now see Nick walking down the track. He quickly stopped to see the Hoopoe (surprisely a Harbour tick for him despite having a bigger Poole Harbour list that me). Eventually, he joined us & we explained it had gone down on the adjacent Godlingston Heath & again out of sight. Nick had some calls of Richard's which he was playing to us to see if we recognised the call. All he had was the more typical shreep call which he was playing when it went up again & flew towards us & was now giving an identical shreep call. Confirmation in my mind as to the identity as I had still only had flight views. It flew several times after that, at its own choice as we weren't moving around much as we could now see Paul Morton, who runs the Birds of Poole Harbour website. Again Paul arrived quite slowly as he got distracted by the Hoopoe he had to walk past. Then we could finally walk towards it. But it saw us well before we saw it & another couple of long flight views ensued. In two or so hours I was looking for the Richard's Pipit, I only managed to see it once on the ground & that wasn't close views, even with the telescope. Certainly, too far for a photo, but fortunately, I managed a few shots as it was flying around.
Richard's Pipit: A Poole Harbour Tick & a rare Spring bird in Dorset. Calling in flight. Paul Morton returned early afternoon with his recording equipment & managed to get some flight calls. They can be heard on the Birds of Poole Harbour Sightings Page.
Richard's Pipit: A big blow up of the wing coverts
Richard's Pipit: Quite a strong dark moustachial stripe & whitish supercilium
Richard's Pipit: It was quite buffy on the upper breast
Richard's Pipit: Frustratingly, it didn't land on this post. But at least it gives a nice view of the tail feathers as well as the 2 pale wingbars
Richard's Pipit
Richard's Pipit: A clear view of the 2 pale wingbars and the dark medium covert bar
Finally, a big thanks & well done to Graham Armstrong for finding the Richard's Pipit. A great bird to find locally & his second for Studland. Graham found the last Studland Hoopoe (last year as it flew over the harbour mouth) & coincidentally, I think the last Greenlands Farm Hoopoe was found by another Poole Harbour local, Steve F Smith (no relation).
Graham Armstrong: At the South Haven Vis Mig watch point (August 2010)

22 Apr 2014

22 April 14 - Photospot2: Desert Warblers

One of my first long distant twitches in the UK was for a Desert Warbler at Meols. I remember it was a great bird to see. I decided to blow part of my university grant on an overnight train there from Southampton, but hitching back South to save some money for what my student grant was meant to be used for. In those days, it was just a single species. However, about 10 years or so ago, the 2 subspecies were split into separate species: Asian Desert Warbler & African Desert Warbler. The former is still a very rare bird with only a dozen accepted records up to 2012 in the UK. This is a regular migrant as many leave their harsh, high altitude, desert habitats to winter in India & NE Africa and it's not too surprising that they occasionally end up in Western Europe as vagrants. The latter is at best a local migrant (perhaps moving in response to rain or the lack of it) in the North West African deserts & has never occurred in the UK. I've been luck to see & photograph both species this year. Therefore, it's an ideal opportunity to recycle some photos into another post, as well as posting some additional unseen photographs. But it is also an opportunity to look in more detail at two closely related species.
Asian Desert Warbler: CEDO, Gujarat (20 Jan 14)
Asian Desert Warbler: CEDO, Gujarat (20 Jan 14)
Asian Desert Warbler: Desert Coursers, Gujarat (17 Jan 14)
Asian Desert Warbler: CEDO, Gujarat (20 Jan 14)
Most of the birds in the deserts in NW India are Winter visitors, but they were feeding in small parties & were moving around with a Desert Wheatear in each case. This is much the same behaviour as my local Dartford Warblers following their Stonechat friends on the local heathlands. I'm not sure what the Desert Wheatears & Stonechats get out of the relationship, but the Warblers get a good lookout which frequently perches up high. 
Desert Wheatear: CEDO, Gujarat (20 Jan 14). This was the lookout companion for the Asian Desert Wheatears
Asian Desert Warbler: Desert Coursers, Gujarat (17 Jan 14). They were feeding in small parties & were quite mobile in this arid habitat
Asian Desert Warbler: CEDO, Gujarat (20 Jan 14). There were feeding on the ground for a lot of the time & frequently flitted, close to the ground, between bushes
The African Desert Warblers were a lovely pale golden brown colouration, whereas the Asian Desert Warblers were a colder grey brown. African Desert Warblers have plain tertials & central tail feathers, in comparison to the dark centres to the tertials & central tail feathers on the Asian Desert Warblers. Of the two, the African Desert Warblers were easily the better looking bird, but both are great species to see. Their feeding habits were very similar, both feeding on or close to the ground & moving quietly between clumps of vegetation. I didn't hear calls from either species whilst I was watching them.
African Desert Warbler: Aoussard Road, Western Sahara (8 Feb 14)
African Desert Warbler: Aoussard Road, Western Sahara (8 Feb 14)
African Desert Warbler: Aoussard Road, Western Sahara (8 Feb 14). Like the Asian Desert Warblers, they are very well camouflaged to march their habitat
I was surprised to find that the more resident African Desert Warblers were feeding unobtrusively & didn't appear to have any Desert Wheatears around them. Perhaps there are more subtle habitat differences which separated these two species (where I saw them), as both appear to be resident in the Western Sahara.

21 Apr 2014

21 April 14 - Brands Bay

The title of this blog is Birding Poole Harbour and Beyond. Well there has been plenty of Birding & Beyond, but surprisingly little of Poole Harbour so far. So guess I had better start addressing that. One of my favourite sites in Poole Harbour is Brands Bay, Studland. This is split into the inner bay, which has a bird hide & the outer bay where the bay extends into the direction of the Brownsea channel. A recent visit on the rising tide confirmed that the typical Spring migrants were around.
Brands Bay: About half tide. Thanks to the panorama function on the iphone
Brands Bay: Looking towards Redhorn Quay (the sandy spit), with Brownsea Island in the background (on the right hand side)
Brands Bay: Looking left. Some great mud areas which are popular on the rising & falling tides for the Waders & Wildfowl & marshes for them to hide in at high tide
Shelduck: Male as it has a knob on at the base of it's bill (you can do the obvious jokes)
Shelduck: Some breeding locally, but there always seem to be a lot more that don't breed given how few young I see in Brands Bay out of the 190 or so present today. As the tide rises they congregate in this grassy area to rest & display
Oystercatcher: Adult as it has jet black plumage. Up to about 50 can be found in the bay in the winter, but numbers are down to about 10 non-breeders at that moment
Oystercatcher: The brownish flight feathers indicates this is a 1st Summer bird
Black-tailed Godwit: Icelandic birds arrive in the Autumn with wintering numbers in Poole Harbour around 3000 or more birds. Then at the start of Jan they disappear en mass to the Avon Valley to feed on the flood plains before returning a few weeks later. The last leave for Iceland around the second half of May. Apparently, moving to the Avon Valley seems to be a good strategy as they have a longer lifespan than the East Anglian birds, which stay on the mudflats throughout the winter. There was an excellent documentary on Radio 4 on this last year, featuring an old mate of mine from Portsmouth, Pete Potts, who has been heavily involved in ringing studies on Blackwits for many years
Whimbrel: There are normally a few in Brands Bay during the Spring & Autumn passage periods. The crown stripe and distinctive call give them away
Whimbrel: The short bill is another good identification feature. But at longer range, the darker overall look and short legs are also good features to pick them out (when you are too far to see the crown stripe)
Yellow-legged Gull: Adult. An erratic visitor to Brands Bay, given how frequent they are at Middlebere & around Poole
Yellow-legged Gull: Adult. Every few minutes it jumped up half out of the water, before plunging in after some food. A great opportunity to photograph the reduced white mirrors in the wingtips (compared to Herring Gulls) 
Yellow-legged Gull: Adult. Another view of the wing pattern
Raven: One of the local Ravens flew through the bay
Raven: But it got some significant hassle from one of the local Carrion Crows, which had only just seen off a Buzzard over the nearby Greenlands Farm