28 May 2015

28 May 15 - April: A Variable Spring For The Studland/Ballard Patch Year List

Somehow I spent too much time out Birding earlier in the Spring & didn't get the chance to do an April round up for the Studland/Ballard Patch Year List. Well now the Spring migration is almost over, I had better do a quick catch up. Having finished March one ahead of my target of 130, I decided on an ambitious 150 for the end of April. All I needed to do was to hit a couple of good migrant arrival days & it should be possible. The month started off quietly with the Easter Bank Holiday on 3 - 6 April. Good Friday, true to form for a Bank Holiday, was a write off of constant rain. It finally cleared & allowed me to get out that afternoon. The highlights of which were my first Hirundines: a party of six Sand Martins, followed by a single Swallow North over South Haven. A scan in the evening revealed the Great Grey Shrike was still present on the edge of Godlingston Heath (I last saw it the following evening). Wildfowl were on the move on the next day, with a departure of 54 Brent Geese & 3 Canada Geese and eight Common Scoter flying East past the harbour mouth. More unusual, were singles of Jackdaw & Rook moving North over the harbour mouth. Despite being common species at the Ballard/Greenlands Farm end of the patch, they are fairly scarce visitors at South Haven & are only seen as they move North in small numbers over the harbour mouth. Most of the records are late Autumn & I think these are my first Spring records. It was slim pickings on Easter Sunday, despite spending a fair bit of the day in the field. Finally, the cold wind dropped on the Easter Monday and left clear sunny skies. A good day to check out Ballard Down for migrants. I was pleased to find a small fall here. I quickly added Blackcap & Willow Warbler to the Patch Year List. I'm sure Blackcaps must Winter around the gardens in the village, but it is a species I rarely see until the Spring. However, it was still fairly quiet with a couple of parties of Wheatears and just the occasional Swallow & Sand Martin quickly moving through.
Wheatear: It's always a good day when I bump into parties on the patch (6 Apr)
Yellowhammer: Male. Old Harry & Ballard Down are easily the best places in Poole Harbour to see this species (6 Apr)
The highlight came when I reached the ridge of Ballard Down: a Red Kite appeared over the ridge by the trig point, right above my head. I had a short opportunity to grab a few photos, before it slowly drifted off towards Old Harry. I thought it would turn to follow the Studland Peninsula North, but instead it headed steadily out into Studland Bay. I lost it about a mile out, still heading for central Bournemouth. I added the first House Martin to the Year List later in the morning.
Red Kite: A species I only gave myself a 50-50 chance of seeing as they are mainly erratic Spring migrants through Dorset on days of fine sunny weather & light winds. I was very relieved to have seen a Red Kite without any effort. I had expected to spend a lot of time sitting & scanning for one this Spring (6 Apr)
The sun brought out Butterflies, with small numbers of Small Tortoiseshells, Peacocks & Brimstones on the wing. I have managed to see Butterflies in every month of the year on the patch so far this year. It should be easy to keep seeing them until Nov.
Peacock: (6 Apr)
Small Tortoiseshell: (6 Apr)
It was slim picking the following weekend. After a week of warm, sunny conditions, the weekend saw a return to colder Northerly based winds which quickly halted the migration. The highlight of the weekend was a lone Redstart, hanging around a group of Wheatears in one of the Old Harry fields. The same pattern seemed to reoccur the following week, but I wasn't able to get out on the patch over the weekend (due to the twitch to Scillies for the Great Blue Heron).

I was keen to get out for the final weekend of the month. It didn't take long to find the first Whimbrels & Common Terns in Brands Bay. Slightly more surprisingly was my first Whitethroat was on the edge of Greenlands Farm. I typically expect to see them first on territory at Old Harry, but they hadn't arrived by the second weekend of the month (when I saw the Redstart). A distant Cuckoo calling was another recent arrival, but I had to wait until the start of May before I finally saw one. The other two highlights were a couple of Whinchats at Greenlands Farm, & as expected, the Reed Warblers were back on territory at South Haven. However, the most unusual record of the day was a Red-legged Partridge on Greenlands Farm: nearly ten years after my only other record in Oct 2005 of four individuals. I wonder where that came from.
Whinchat: One of two with a Stonechat party on Greenlands Farm (25 Apr)
The final April visit started with an early visit to South Haven. Frustratingly, over the two decades the beach has been severely impacted by dog walkers. When I first moved to Dorset, there used to be a good high tide roost of Waders at Pilots Point. Some days, it seems that half of Poole & Bournemouth feel the need to let their dogs run unhindered & crap wherever they like on the beach. The result is you need to be out early to stand any chance of Waders on the beach. This morning I got their before the hordes & found three Whimbrels on the beach. Even better there was a big feeding flock of Common Terns off the harbour mouth, with a couple of Little Terns in with them. This was a species I only gave myself a 50-50 chance of seeing on the patch, so I was really pleased to see them. The final highlight of a day spent covering as much ground as I could, was a Garden Warbler feeding on the edge of the South Beach wood. This brought my end of April total to a disappointing 147 species. While I managed to add 16 species in April, it was the first end of the month I had dropped behind my 2009 reference total. By the end of Apr 2009, I was on 148 & finished the year on 176). However, I had managed to miss a number of common Spring migrants this April, so I wasn't too surprised.

24 May 2015

24 May 15 - May Butterflies From Old Harry & Ballard Down

I'm trying to see at least one Butterfly on the Studland/Ballard patch in every month of the year. There will be no problems adding it to every month until I get to November & December. I reckon I will find some late Butterflies in November, so that will just leave me scrambling to get out on a very late sunny December day. So that will be a particular challenge. But for now, seeing Butterflies in the next few months will not be hard. Here are a few more species seen in May on the Studland/Ballard patch that haven't made it onto any other Posts.
Small Copper: Old Harry (24 May 15)
Brown Argus: Old Harry (24 May 15)
Brown Argus: Old Harry (24 May 15)

22 May 2015

22 May 15 - Playing It Cool

On the Wednesday morning of the 22nd while I was in London, I saw a tweet from local Dorset Birder, Marcus Lawson, to say there was a Red-footed Falcon on the Wareham floodplain visible from a garden on the edge of Wareham. This was quickly looked for, but not found. But within a couple of hours it had been relocated on the Wareham bypass, by the bridge over the River Frome. A place I often stop to check the floodplain. Partly because I've seen two Cattle Egrets from this bridge in Spring 2009 and I heard last Spring's Spotted Crake calling from the same field. But also, it provides a good & safe view of part of the floodplain around the bypass. After a bit of thinking about it, I decided I wasn't going to try dashing back from London for it. I saw the male in May 1987 on Godlingston Heath, so it wasn't a Harbour Tick. However, it was frustrating as decent photos appeared during the afternoon & evening. I looked close to dusk the following evening, with no joy. There had been no sightings since early morning, but given the numbers of local Birders who had connected on the first afternoon, then I wasn't expecting many locals to be looking. With the negative news, then this would also deter Birders from further afield. But fortunately, somebody was out looking the following lunchtime & the news was out it was back again. Now my problem was my car was in the garage & the car didn't reappear until nearly 19:00. But it was a nice warm evening & I was quickly on my way. The problem was the light wasn't brilliant, the Red-foot was keeping 80 - 100 metres out in the fields & all the flight shots were blurred.
Red-footed Falcon: 1st Summer female. More of a habitat shot really
It frequently disappeared from view for five to ten minutes. It appeared to be working a circuit, but would reappear after a while. On one occasion, it appeared from behind me as it flew over the bypass. The camera was still set to underexpose the photo, which was better for when it was over the fields, but useless for when it was silhouetted against the sky.
Red-footed Falcon: 1st Summer female. The only time it came close & I had the camera set up to underexpose the shot
Finally, it started to perch more. But it was still at the back of the field and after 20:30. So I switched to plan B which was to try & get a perched shot with the SX60. I am surprised about how good the photo is, considering it is was on 65x zoom & the light was really grim. Fortunately, the bridge was very stable, which allowed me to balance the camera on it & use the delayed shutter action.
Red-footed Falcon: 1st Summer female
The bridge list now has Red-footed Falcon & 1st Summer Little Gull added to it. I wonder what the next goodie will be?

19 May 2015

19 May 15 - Have You Seen An Orange Dove In The UK This Summer?

The results of this May's UK National Bird survey are in and it has highlighted an 86% drop in Orange Doves in the UK in the last five years. In the last survey, this species was found in 57 pockets scattered from the South West & Southern England to its strongholds in Scotland, especially in the Highlands & Islands. But the latest survey has shown the Orange Dove has crashed in all these areas, with just eight isolated populations left in the UK.
Orange Dove: A rare species I have yet to photograph (so I had to borrow this image - copyright the Lib Dems) 
When asked for an official government comment, a senior spokesman looked up briefly from his plate of roast Grouse & Peasant (surely a typo Ed) & laughed. After recovering his composure, he blamed the Badgers & promised to extend their slaughter. Off the record, he admitted the Badger slaughter in the last few years was a secret trial to protect the Orange Doves in the South West. The cull to reduce TB was purely a cover story. Despite its failure, with no Orange Doves found in the latest survey, the spokesman was adamant the Badger cull had to press on to protect the Orange Dove. When asked what scientific evidence backed up the cull, he pointed out the lack of Badgers on the Shetlands, the only place in Scotland where the Orange Dove has clung on.
Badger: The cause of the decline of Orange Doves according to a Government spokesman. Poole Harbour (Apr 14)
He then added, don't be complacent, Foxy, we know you are guilty as well & will be coming for you, just as soon as we have introduced tax breaks for anybody who likes to wear a red jacket & white jodphurs whilst riding their horses.
Fox: Another species implicated in the decline of Orange Doves according to the Government spokesman. Middlebere (12 Sep 14)
The President of the leading IQ40 Bird Watching Club was surprisingly elated. Mr 'Bear' Lee Credible has been known to birdwatchers for many years for his extreme views. He quoted, Mr Farfetched, the press officer of UKIQP, the IQ40's political arm of the IQ40 club, who has blamed the decline of Orange Doves on Foreign Doves coming over here & causing the problem. But ever the opportunist, Bear Lee encouraged people to sign up for his Round Britain tours which will visit the remaining strongholds for Orange Doves.

Many conservationists are worried about the future of the Orange Dove as historically this species has been on long term decline. It was widely established across the UK, but has been in terminal decline since the widespread planting of Red Roses in the UK after the First World War.

17 May 2015

17 May 15 - Palmate Newt

On a recent walk over the Studland patch, I had seen a few Newts in one of the acidic ponds. They looked smaller & darker than my Smooth Newts in my garden pond. The views were very short, as they only occasionally moved into view, before quickly disappearing into the large amount of vegetation again. The murky water didn't help. After an hour of looking, I had only seen a few brief views & sadly no photographs. However, I was fairly confident they were Palmate Newts, given the acid rich habitat & they looked smaller & darker than my Smooth Newts. A quiet day of Birding, gave me the excuse to head back to this pond, with local Birder & general Naturalist, Steve Morrison. But the views were even more fleeting at this pond. After more searching, we did find some more shallow ponds & this Palmate Newt. Guess I will be heading back to this pond for more photos later this Summer.
Palmate Newt: This was smaller than my Smooth Newts, with a distinctive face pattern. One of the key features is the unspotted throat (spotted in Smooth Newt), but that wouldn't be easily seen in the field. In the breeding season, males develop black webbed rear feet. I did see a black rear-footed male, but it dived back down into the pond, before I had the chance for any photos, but at least that was good to confirm the identification

17 May 15 - A Metallic Double-Decker Beetle

At this time of the year, as the sun warms up the heaths, it is not difficult to find the stunning half inch long Green Tiger Beetles. Without any attempt to search for them, I had seen close to ten in a couple of hours of general Birding & walking on the Studland heaths. They often reveal themselves by flying up & travelling a few metres, before landing again. This mating pair gave me the opportunity to try out the macro zoom on the SX60 camera.
Green Tiger Beetle: Good to see there should be another generation on the way
Green Tiger Beetle: A close up of the head
Green Tiger Beetle: A close up of the abdomen. They really are stunning when seen well

17 May 15 - A Groundhopper Tick

After an unsuccessful walk over Godlingston Heath on the Studland patch, to check out a historical site for Tree Pipits with Steve Morrison, Steve spotted this cute Common Groundhopper on the track. This individual was a bit smaller than a centimetre long, but is more or less fully ground. This is the commonest & more widespread of the three UK Groundhoppers. All three species occur at Studland, so perhaps I will have to spend more time looking for the other two species this year. The Grasshoppers, Bush-crickets & Allies of Dorset book states they can occur in damp, open habitats which includes tramways, woodland rides, old sand & gravel pits, heathland around slumping cliffs and they are also found in drier areas like chalk downland. This individual was on a sandy track across the heath.
Common Groundhopper: They come in a variety of exciting colours providing you like brown with patches of blackish, greenish, reddish & white (according to the habitat): a real Birder's insect
The main features are the pronotum doesn't extend beyond the length of the hind knees & it typically has short wings which do not extend beyond the pronotum. This gives it a short robust appearance. It also has a prominent keel (the area behind the head at the front of the abdomen). The other two species, Cepero's Groundhopper & Slender Groundhopper have a pronotum which extends well beyond the hind knees.
Common Groundhopper: Getting the SX60 camera on the ground & angling the pop out screen made it easier to get this low angle macro shot. The sand grains give an idea of scale. My first attempt at a macro type photo with the SX60 & I was impressed with the result

15 May 2015

15 May 15 - My Last Native Amphibian

Given this is post number 300, then it is great to have a special Amphibian for the Post. It is also close to the 80k number of hits (in 19 months of blogging). So thanks to all of the readers who have helped get me to the first 80k. Hope you have enjoyed the Blog.

I am not sure when I first got into Amphibians, but it would have been well before the age of seven. It was the first wildlife group I got into & pond dipping was the route in. Within a few years, I had expanded to Butterflies, while the Birds didn't start to when I was about thirteen. So it is perhaps a bit surprising that I have gone all these years & not seen all the UK native species of Amphibians. The one that has eluded me was Natterjack Toad. This is a scarce species & it largely nocturnal. It is also restricted to a limited number of locations in the UK. Hengistbury Head is the only remaining site in Dorset. Unfortunately, they died about there in the 1950's. But there has been a successful re-introduction program which started in 1989. Now they are doing well in the area. My rules are re-introductions into natural range are tickable so this looked a good place to look. I had tried in May 2012, but only succeeded in seeing a large number of unidentifiable tadpoles. Almost certainly, these would have been Natterjack Toad tadpoles, but I didn't consider them as tickable. So I needed a plan to try & see Natterjack Toads & local CHOG Birder, Chris Chapleo, managed to get me a place on one of the guided walks that the rangers lead to look for Natterjack Toads. Generally, I'm not a guided walk groupie, preferring to look on my own or with a group of friends. However, this was a great walk & I would strongly encourage anybody else who wants to look for Natterjack Toads to join one of the walks. There is no certainty that you will see them, but it probably gives you the best chance. Also it was great to learn more about the Natterjack Toad's life history & the Hengistbury Head project to protect them.

We checked out the ponds as it was getting dark, but there was no sign of any adults. But it was only just getting dark, so we still had time to try again on the way back to the cars. But we did see over a thousand tadpoles. Our guide, Brian, confirmed these were all Natterjack Toad tadpoles, as they survey the ponds throughout the Spring to look for spawn. The only spawn found was from the Natterjack Toads. Frogs breed elsewhere on Hengistbury Head & there are no Common Toad sites within the SSSI. As we started to walk back, I was getting less confident, but the penultimate pond, came up trumps. Brian is fully licensed to handle the Natterjack Toads & brought one from the pond to show the group. Whilst not an ideal way to see my first Natterjack Toad adult in the hand, it is a pragmatic approach to avoid having a group of about 15 people walking up to the pond edge in the dark & running the risk of somebody accidentally trampling one (which has happened in the past). But I wonder how many Birders have ticked Birds seen in a ringer's hand.
Natterjack Toad: It's finally on the list. Note, handling them would be breaking the law unless you have a licence to do so (as Brian has)
There was the opportunity for a quick couple of photographs as it was released.
Natterjack Toad: Now that looks a bit more natural
I would certainly recommend anybody who wants to see a Natterjack Toad at Hengistbury Head to join one of the guided walks. I certainly learnt a lot about this fascinating species which has a really interesting life history. Join a walk & find out more.

9 May 2015

9 May 15 - Sanderling

I popped down to South Haven in the early evening to see if the were any interesting Terns feeding off the Poole Harbour mouth. There was only a few of the local breeding Sandwich Terns & Common Terns. However, there was this lone gorgeous breeding plumage Sanderling at Pilots Point. It's not uncommon to see Sanderling around South Haven providing you can get out before the hordes of dogwalkers feel the need to let their animals run riot on the beach & flush every Bird in sight. But normally they are in a Winter plumage or transitioning to Summer plumage at this time of the year. But it's not often I see a Sanderling looking this smart.

9 May 15 - A Common Garden Butterfly

When I first moved to Dorset, I was pleased to discover Holly Blues in my garden. There are two broods. The first brood flies from mid April to the start of June & the second brood from mid July to the end of August. The main attraction in my garden is the significant amounts of Ivy. This is an easy to identify Blue with this distinctive pale-blue underwing pattern. It is larger than the only species with a similar underwing pattern: the Small Blue. But Small Blues are typically a species of coastal grassland, whereas Holly Blues are found in a variety of habitats. A pale blue fluttering high in trees & bushes is most likely to be a Holly Blue.
Holly Blue

9 May 15 - They Are Back

I am pleased to see my Great-crested Newts are back in my pond again this Spring for their third year. I didn't see the first until early Apr. However, the pond was overrun with Canadian Pond Weed & I didn't removed most of it until early Apr. At that point, it was possible to get a better view into the pond & I quickly started seeing them. Therefore, they were probably lurking out of sight below the vegetation. So far I have see two males & a female, which compares to three males & two females from last year. Sadly, there is no evidence that they successfully bred last year, but I will keep looking. Only one photo, so far this year: this gorgeous female.
Great-crested Newt: Female
For comparison, here is one of last year's males which have a distinctive jagged crest.
Great-crested Newt: Male from last year for comparison (18 Apr 14)