22 Mar 2015

22 Mar 15 - Vis Mig Produces A Harbour Tick

With the partial eclipse of the sun on the 20 Mar, there has been a close alignment of the sun & moon. The result is there has been incredible set of strong tides over the last few days. With the size of Poole Harbour, holding such a large body of water, there is a lag in time the water takes to leave the harbour & so the low tides never get down to a low tide of 0 metres. Looking at tide tables over the last few years, I don't ever remember the lowest tide at the harbour mouth ever getting lower than 0.3 metres in the tide tables. But this weekend, the lowest tide was a mere 0.06 metres. Correspondingly, there has been the highest tides I've seen in Brands Bay.
Low tide at Brands Bay: (21 Mar 15)
In the last couple of weekends, I have neglected the South Haven part of Studland, in favour of looking for early Black Redstarts & Wheatears in the Old Harry & Greenlands Farm parts of the patch. So this weekend I planned to spend some time at South Haven. The Saturday was fairly uneventful, except for a light Northerly wind which produced a small Northerly Visable Migration (Vis Mig) of mainly Finches across the harbour mouth. Birds like to fly into the wind at low level as they gain lift, which is the same reason that areoplanes pilots prefer to take off into the wind. The highlights were 50 Chaffinches, 5 Meadow Pipits, 2 Bullfinches and singles of Goldfinch, Siskin, Linnet, Reed Bunting & Pied Wagtail. This would be a quiet half hour in the peak Vis Mig month of October, but was good for an early Spring day. There were also 4 Long-tailed Tits that tried on several times to get across the harbour mouth, but despite calling a lot to egg each other on, they never got more than 20 or 30 metres before giving up.
Low tide at Brands Bay: The circular marks aren't a type of marine crop circles, but they are the after effect of the damage that shellfish boats do to the seabed as they spin around & around. They aren't allowed in the inner part of Brands Bay, but some of the boats ignore the rules (21 Mar 15)
Given the Saturday Vis Mig, I decided to give it another go on the Sunday morning, but the news was there didn't seem to be anything on the move before I arrived. I ran into local Birder, Steve Morrison, who spurred on by my news that the Stanpit Birders had seen five Garganey's that morning was tempted to join me to check the South Haven pool. We spent some time checking the pool, but no joy. Then a very large, bulky Accipter flew low over the pool about 30-40 metres from us. This caused panic alarm calls from the local Carrion Crows, which did nothing to fly up and challenge it. We both noted the very large, bulky appearance, deep based wings & long tail. It was larger than the largest Sparrowhawk I've seen. I took it the four or so distinct dark bars on the uppertail, whilst Steve got onto the streaky breast. In less than 30 seconds it had disappeared out of sight. Five minutes later it flew back low over the pool, reinforcing my impressions of the first view & causes the same disapproving alarm calls from the Carrion Crows. As it disappeared, I shouted to alert Steve, who was now on higher ground at the edge of the dunes. He picked it up, as it turned North & out over the harbour mouth and then Brownsea. Going back over the views, we were fairly certain it had to be a male Goshawk: a surprisingly rare Bird in Dorset. I suggested we head back & doublecheck Killian's Collins guide in the car. This confirmed the streaking indicating it was a first winter individual & the size made it a male:a Poole Harbour Tick. News went out at this point on the local Birders email, but I didn't make any further attempt to ring the news out as it was already long gone. So no Finch Vis Mig, yet proof that a Vis Mig watch on an apparently dead day, might still be worthwhile on other days. I have always been sceptical about a number of single observer Goshawk claims in Poole Harbour, given the observer's beliefs that they are commoner locally than they are. I have always thought they are at best a rare species which is a short distance migrant or wandering species within the UK. I was pleased to have had Steve with me, given the Canon 7D was in the car & the SX60 isn't a good camera for reacting quickly for action shots.
Coot: No chance of Goshawk, so I will have to fill this Post up with the news the Coot (my only February patch tick) is still at South Haven
After a celebratory coffee, we decided we should try the Eastern Lake as clearly the Garganey would be there. It's a longer walk from South Haven, but there was the chance the Redpolls that had eluded me all year, might be back in the area: but no joy. However, as we got close to the Eastern Lake, we put up a Jack Snipe from a small wet patch. Although, it looked to come down fairly close to us, it landed out of view. So no chance for more views. This was the second totally unexpected species for the day. Jack Snipe is a very scarce, but overlooked, species at Studland with my only other sighting being three in Brands Bay on 8 Jan 10 during a hard Winter spell. To top off the morning, the Great White Egret was on the Eastern Lake again. Hopefully, it will remain for our final WeBS count this coming weekend.
Finally some high tide pictures from Brands Bay
Even on the highest of normal tides, there are a line of islands dividing the inner bay in two (from left to right): Not today
So unfortunately, no photographs of the two patch goodies from the weekend. I had hoped to get to 130 by the end of March for the Studland/Ballard Year List. These two goodies got me to the 130 mark, without managing to see any early Hirundines, Blackcaps or the elusive Redpoll. There is still a final weekend, when I might get past the March target. There is only fifty species more to reach my end of the year target.

15 Mar 2015

15 Mar 15 - My Head Hurts (Wagtail Confusion)

After publishing the photos of yesterday's putative White Wagtail at Studland, I had some feedback from Dorset Birder, Brett Spencer that it was a first Summer female Pied Wagtail. Brett is one of those Birders in Dorset that when he is talking about tricky identification, then it's worth listening to what he has so say. Having read some more up about White Wagtail/Pied Wagtail identification & followed up with calls then to a couple of other Dorset Birders, then I agree with the Pied Wagtail identification. I will have to wait until I find a nice adult White Wagtail, rather than try to figure out first Summer individuals. I'm still trying to work out in my mind exactly what a first Summer White Wagtail should look like, but think it would have been a bit paler on the mantle, with a less extensive bib & a general cleaner look. I haven't had chance to talk to Brett yet so will be interested to understand what was wrong for him with this individual. Here are the photos again along with another photo. I will be interested to hear any other thoughts on this individual, so feel free to leave a comment with the reasons why.
Pied Wagtail: First Summer (14 Mar 15)
Pied Wagtail: First Summer (14 Mar 15)
Pied Wagtail: Another photo showing a better view of the bib (14 Mar 15)
On an easier identification subject, Brands Bay still had good numbers of typical Wildfowl & Black-tailed Godwits today along with this first Summer Spoonbill. It's frustrating that despite having a Bird hide overlooking the bay, that the National Trust have made no attempt to request people do not walk along the shoreline. This was the result of some bloke taking his bicycle for a walk along the shoreline.
Spoonbill: First Summer

14 Mar 2015

14 Mar 15 - More Migrants Arrive

With the first Wheatears arriving in Dorset during the week, it seemed likely that there would be some around the Studland/Ballard patch today. As a result, I decided to start at Greenlands Farm. It didn't take long to find the two Wheatears on the central path across the centre of the main field. Two males with a party of six Stonechats. Last week a Stonechat party were hosting my first Black Redstart at Old Harry. Today, a different party were welcoming the first Wheatears for Studland this year.
Wheatear: A record shot of number 128 for the patch Year List
Another sign of migration was the arrival of a large flock of Starlings. This Winter numbers around Studland only got into double figures for the first time at the start of the month & even that was a modest 18 Starlings on Greenlands. So a flock of around 130 Starlings by the barn on Greenlands Farm were clearly a migrant flock.
Starling: Just part of the flock (in case you are counting)
Starling: A new species for the Blog
Still good numbers of the Winter dabbling Ducks in Brands Bay along with 400 Black-tailed Godwits & a distant feeding Spoonbill. A quick final check of Middle Beach revealed that there were still five Black-necked Grebes in Studland Bay. But I wasn't hoping for them. Instead I was looking that a group of Eiders would have stopped off in the bay. Surprisingly, there doesn't seem to have been any around the Studland & Poole Harbour area this year. These days, they are more erratic visitors, but I generally expect to see them at some point over the Winter from Studland. I decided to have a quick scan of the field in front of The Pig hotel. This field doesn't get a lot, but it always look promising. I think an Autumn Pied Flycatcher is about the best I've seen in this field. But was rewarded with what I thought was my first White Wagtail for Studland. Note, I've had to rewrite this section following feedback from Brett Spencer that it is a first Summer Pied Wagtail. A chance to learn more about this tricky age & subspecies. More on the next Post.
Pied Wagtail: First Summer
Pied Wagtail: Note, the old greater coverts on this side, which have already been replaced on the right wing

7 Mar 2015

7 Mar 15 - First Signs Of Spring

I've been looking forward to the chance to get out around the Studland/Ballard patch all week as I've been stuck in front of a laptop all week. The joys of finally having to start working instead of being a self (un)employed Birder. Early March is the opportunity for early Spring migrants like Wheatear, Black Redstart & Sand Martin in Dorset. Local Birder, Steve Morrison, had a fly over Woodlark during the week over Studland's high hide, so there was always the chance of another Woodlark: which is an erratic Studland visitor. I started off with a walk over the high part of Ballard Down where the highlights were small parties of Meadow Pipits on Ballard, some of which were probably migrants. Although there was no evidence of them actually on the move. It was also good to see Skylarks up on the high down, presumably getting ready for breeding. A Yellowhammer defending a territory helped to explain why I didn't see any around Manor Farm: as they were dispersing to their local territories.

It was a quiet walk & I was starting to think it was maybe a week or two early, when I saw a distant flash of red fly up to the edge of the Front Wood by Old Harry. Scanning with the bins, I picked up a couple of Stonechats perched up: damn. It wasn't close, so I assumed I hadn't seen the flash correctly, when a Black Redstart dropped back onto the grass: phew. Species 126 for the patch Year List was a female Black Redstart. This is a species I reckon had a better than average chance of getting, but it wasn't one I was certain I would see.
Black Redstart: Female. Number 126 for the patch Year List
Walking back to the village, I saw another Black Redstart: but this time a cracking male. As it was about 80 metres away, I carried on to a nearer viewpoint. But it remained out of view behind the hedge and in private fields. A pity as it was a great looking individual. Carrying on down to South Beach, there was a Firecrest at a regular Winter site. Off Middle Beach were three Summer plumage Black-necked Grebes, along with the two lingering Slavonian Grebes. Interestingly, the Slavs were both in Winter plumage.
Black Redstart: Female. This is the first time a UK Black Redstart has appeared on the Blog, although there have been photos of the same subspecies in Morocco & the Eastern phoenicuroides subspecies at Desert Coursers and CEDO in Gujarat, India
I carrying on to look for an early Sand Martin at Littlesea, hoping to find Dorset's first for this year. No joy, but good views of a near adult female Marsh Harrier flying back to Brands Bay. I was pleased to see that it was a different individual to the sub adult female which has been around quite regularly in recent weeks. I finished off at Brands Bay as the tide was starting to drop. Just two more Blackwits would have made 500 in the flock. A first Winter Spoonbill was feeding in the bay again. Still great to see this normally scarce feeding visitor. Scanning through the bay for about the fifth time, finally provided the reward of a Spotted Redshank dropping into the back of the bay. Great to see species no 127, as I didn't give this more than a 50-50 chance of seeing it for the patch Year List. Too far away for a photo, but not too far to enjoy with the scope. So no Sand Martins (which I will be unlucky to miss in March), but two species I wasn't confident of getting on the patch, which were more than compensation for not finding Dorset's first Sand Martin. That honour goes to Lodmoor. Maybe I can find the first Poole Harbour Sand Martin tomorrow.