20 Aug 2015

20 Aug 15 - Not All Cockroaches Are Bad

Ask the vast majority of people in the UK about Cockroaches, then they are likely to tell stories about an unpleasant incident in a hotel abroad or a third hand story about why they will never visit a particular restaurant or food establishment in the UK. However, few people probably know the UK has three native Cockroaches: Tawny Cockroach, Lesser Cockroach & Dusky Cockroach. All three species are small and easily overlooked. Unlike the introduced Cockroaches in the UK, the native Cockroaches prefer to live outside & are not pest species. Having said they live outside, the only species I've seen, up to today, was a single Tawny Cockroach which was walking around on the counter at the local Durlston Country Park visitors centre back in Aug 1996. Today I visited South Haven for an early morning visit. Having checked the the Waders on the beach (seven Ringed Plovers & a Greenshank), I decided to have a look at the sea. After all there was a ten knot Southerly wind at 05:00 this morning. The highest viewpoint is a sand dune behind Pilots Point, on the seaward side of South Haven.
Pilots Point & Shell Bay: Pilots Point is the far point & the high dune is at far right hand side (6 Oct 14)
Just as I saw down on the sand, I noticed what I initially thought was a small Beetle. As I was about to move it out of the way, I thought I had better have a second look. This confirmed it was one of the native Cockroaches. Checking the excellent Grasshoppers, Bush-crickets & Allies of Dorset book, I believe it is a Tawny Cockroach.
Tawny Cockroach: The only time it stopped running around was when it was sitting on my hand or fleece. As soon as I put it back on the sand, it was off (hence the unattractive background to the photo). It was probably about 7 or 8 mm long so it is easily overlooked
The Grasshoppers, Bush-crickets & Allies of Dorset book describes it as a golden-brown Cockroach making it relatively easy to identify, being intermediate in size between larger Dusky Cockroach and the smaller Lesser Cockroach. They are found on dry heathland or calcareous grassland. The heaths around South Haven are a known area for Tawny Cockroach. The heaths start right behind the high dune. I should add, the obvious question is why the interest in Cockroaches. Well they are part of the Order Orthoptera which also includes Grasshoppers, Bush-crickets, Crickets, Stick Insects & Earwigs. They just happen to be at the less glamorous end of the Order.

Earlier, as I was walking down the beach toward Pilots Point, I noticed HMS Protector, the Royal Navy Ice Patrol ship steaming into the bay. I wasn't surprised given the Bournemouth Air Show starts today & clearly it is one of the guard ships for the air show.
HMS Protector (A173): Steaming into the bay with Hengistbury Head to the left of the photo
HMS Protector (A173): Close up of the ship which is likely to enjoy the calmest few days of this year's deployment
Tenacious: Also offshore was the Jubilee Sailing Trust ship, Tenacious. She is one of the JST ships used to promote the integration of peoples of all physical abilities at sea in sailing ships
Having put the scope up, I tried a quick scan of the bay when I picked up a Balearic Shearwater flying away from me. I had thought I might be lucky to see one on the horizon. But this was just beyond the end of the the rocky breakwater which extends out from Pilots Point (so less than a quarter of a mile out). No chance to grab the camera for a photo, but plenty of time to enjoy watching it flying out towards Old Harry.

16 Aug 2015

16 Aug 15 - Emperor Dragonfly

Dragonflies are a family of Insects that I associate primarily with water: after all, they need water for their larval stage. So I was a little bit surprised to find this Emperor Dragonfly patrolling along the bush edge near the wood at Old Harry. This is a chalk headland and there is no standing water. The nearest standing water that I am aware of is the small pond in Studland village: which is over a mile away. I have no explanation as to why it was patrolling so far from the nearest potential breeding habitat. But given its coastal location, perhaps it was feeding whilst on a local movement. I saw a second large Dragonfly further along the hedgeline: which I assume might have been a second Emperor Dragonfly: as I haven't seen Hawkers in this part of Old Harry before.
Emperor Dragonfly: Male. The blue abdomen confirms this is a male
Emperor Dragonfly: Female. A photo of an egg-laying female from last year. Arne (8 June 14)

16 Aug 15 - Just Like Buses

I have Birded the Studland/Ballard patch for quite a few Autumns now & I have never seen a Fritillary within the patch. So I was quite surprised to find this Silver-washed Fritillary feeding on Buddleia as I walked through the Glebelands estate on Ballard Down. Even more surprising was to see it then chase off a second tatty individual. I must have been past this patch of Buddleia on a number of occasions in August over the years.
Silver-washed Fritillary: Glebelands estate
Having walked all over Old Harry & the top of Ballard Down, my next stop was the Greenlands Farm area. I was even more surprised when I saw another Silver-washed Fritillary here. This was quickly followed by another two individuals. This was a corner of Greenlands Farm where I have spent even more time Birding in August. So by the end of the morning, I had seen five Silver-washed Fritillaries at two widely separately parts of the Studland/Ballard Down patch. Asking around, it turns out that local Birder, Graham Armstong, had seen them at Greenlands Farm in the past. However, the Glebelands site doesn't appear to be have been known about. It just goes to show that no matter how well you think you know your local patch, you can always be surprised.
Silver-washed Fritillary: Glebelands estate
I was also pleased to see this Wall at Greenlands Farm, which is an uncommon species which I've bumped into at a number of locations within the Studland/Ballard Down patch: but never in numbers.
Wall: Greenlands Farm

16 Aug 15 - Why Do I Live In Dorset

I moved to Dorset in Summer 1996 for the Birding. Initially the move was to allow me to spend more time Birding the Dorset coastline around Winspit & St Aldhelms Head. After a few seasons, I switched to Durlston for a few seasons. The last decade has seen me settle on Studland/Ballard Down as the main patch, with the Southern side of Poole Harbour providing some alternative Birding venues. Even on the dull days, then the patch can provide stunning scenery.
Studland & Poole Harbour from Ballard Down: Studland village is in the foreground, with the Studland peninsula heading off to the right with Sandbanks in the far right
The Studland peninsula: The foreground is the Glebelands estate with part of the Studland village at the back. The lake in the Studland peninsula is Littlesea. Behind the Studland peninsula is Brands Bay with the Goathorn peninsula enclosing Brands Bay. The urban conubation at the very back is Poole
Poole Harbour mouth: With Sandbanks on the far side of the harbour & the Eastern end of Brownsea to the left
Studland Bay: With Old Harry at the right foreground & Bournemouth in the far distance. The Poole Harbour patch continues along the shoreline to Branksome Chine
Poole Harbour is the second largest natural harbour in the world (behind Sydney Harbour). So far I've seen 260 species within the area covered by these photos. All but two of these, Bean Goose & Lapland Bunting, have been seen since I moved to Dorset. There are a handful of species that probably occur within the Poole Harbour boundaries occasionally, that I have still to connect with: Sooty Shearwater, Stone-curlew, Long-tailed Skua, Serin & Snow Bunting. There are still another fifty-five or so species on the Poole Harbour List that I have still to see. So plenty of reason to keep Birding the area.

11 Aug 2015

11 Aug 15 - What A Prediction

The morning started in a similar way to a number of recent mornings. An early alarm call followed by breakfast & a dash to South Haven to be on the beach before 07:00. Shell Bay beach is on the seaward side of South Haven, next to the harbour mouth. As a result, it attracts Waders which have just arrived. At 07:05 the first ferry arrives from the Poole side bringing the likelihood of dog walkers doing their best to flush any Waders. Sadly, Shell Bay beach is ruined by grockles & their uncontrolled dogs soon after the ferry starts running & the Waders quickly disappear. I checked the beach & found a Curlew, 2 Ringed Plovers & 2 newly arrived Turstones on the beach and had a Whimbrel fly over. The Waders were checked just before being booted by the first dog walkers & beach types heading South for the nudist beach. Waders checked, it was time to head into the dunes & bushes surrounding the South Haven pool, to see if there are any Passerine migrants.
Brittany Ferry: A more predictable migrant heading off to France. South Haven (8 Aug 15)
The last week has seen small numbers of Autumn migrants heading South. Generally in previous Autumns, I have focused on Ballard Down & Greenlands Farm as early Autumn migrant sites within the Studland patch. But this Autumn, I've been trying South Haven first in the hope of an interesting early morning Wader e.g. Little Ringed Plover or Little Stint. As a result there were a number of common migrant species I hadn't seen at South Haven until the last week: Lesser Whitethroat, Garden Warbler & a real goodie for South Haven, a Pied Flycatcher. But now all the easy Warblers are on the South Haven list. I saw Graham Armstrong had appeared & wandered over to join Graham looking at the bushes. Graham has a different strategy to me when checking the bushes. I tend to walk along the edge of the bushes surrounding the pool, whereas Graham tend to pick spots & wait to see if anything pops out in the next few minutes. We spent the next fifteen minutes chatting & watching the bushes. For once they were quite busy with several Garden Warblers, at least five Willow Warblers & the local Reed Warblers. While we were Birding, we were discussing what we would like to find at South Haven. For me it was a Greenish Warbler or later on a Red-flanked Bluetail: both of which would be Harbour firsts. For Graham, it was a Hippolais Warbler: Melodious Warbler or Icterine Warbler (either would have been a Poole Harbour Tick for him & he wasn't needing to find one of the really rare Hippos).
Pied Flycatcher: This popped out of a seemly quiet bush after a ten minute wait. This was a bonus for me as Pied Flycatcher is one of the species I would probably see, but can't guarantee I will see it for the Studland/Ballard Patch Year List. It stayed for two days, but was never easy to see in the open for long. I'm clearly going to have to try Graham's strategy more often. South Haven (7 Aug 15)
I was thinking we should move on, when Graham called out Hippolais, fully in the open. The only problem was there was a mass of bushes & I couldn't see anything. After ten or fifteen seconds, I saw a Warbler flit left & dive into a bush: that was it & all I saw was it was probably a Warbler. It then flicked up & over the top of the bush & was gone. Nothing else moved, so that must have been it disappearing out of sight. After several minutes of waiting, it had not reappearing, so Graham decided to try twenty metres further left. Soon after a whistle, but it had gone before I got there. At this stage, it was a definite Hippolais & presumed Melodious (as that is the commoner Dorset species), but on both occasions it had been head on for Graham. After two hours of searching, we hadn't seen it again. Had it gone? I was getting more frustrated as this is a Poole Harbour rarity & I still hadn't got the bins on it: so it obviously couldn't go near my list. Then fortunately, I relocated it close to where Graham had seen it the second time. This time it was only me who got onto it, as Graham was about eighty metres away. My views were brief, but good enough to confirm I had seen my first Melodious Warbler or Icterine Warbler in Poole Harbour. On both sightings, I quickly dropped the bins & tried to get the 7D onto it. But on both occasions, it had already moved back into cover. Soon after that, Graham had a side view which indicated it was probably a Melodious Warbler. Then another hour went by with no more sightings & Graham decided to leave. As he left local Studland Birder, Steve Morrison, arrived. When we had seen it, it seemed to be associating with a mixed Warbler flock. But the Willow Warblers & Garden Warblers had disappeared again. Steve & I spread out to look for the flock. Steve found a Warbler flock along the edge of the pool which also had a family of Blue Tits with it. Was it the same flock as they hadn't been around earlier. It seemed the Blue Tits had joined the flock as Steve had just seen the Hippolais. I joined Steve & we both had views on & off over the next twenty minutes. I had a couple of good views of the wing & could see it was short winged. Strictly, one of the main features for separating Melodious and Icterine Warblers is the primary extension (the distance the primaries project beyond the tertials), but with this wing length, the primary projection was clearly wrong for an Icky. But frustratingly it had moved back into cover before I could accurately assess the primary projection. Still I was happy it was a Melodious Warbler on the views I had seen.
Melodious Warbler: A record shot from Steve Morrison (who has kindly allowed me to publish the photo & retains copyright)
Soon after the flock disappeared & we assumed it had crossed over to the far side of the South Haven pool. By this time we had been joined by Mark & Mo Constantine & Paul Morton. We tried the bushes along the edge of the car park, but I never managed to get onto it again. The flock seemed to move away from the boardwalk & we lost it. Eventually, after over ten hours in the field at South Haven, I decided to call it a day. A quick look at Brands Bay & I was off home for dinner (having missed out lunch completely). There are only a handful of previous Poole Harbour records & nearly all have been at Studland or Ballard Down. I believe only one of these individuals was twitchable. So it was a really good Bird to see on the patch. It brings my Poole Harbour List to 260 & Studland/Ballard List to 217 (not counting a heard Nightingale).

Graham was also talking up Middlebere as where a Black Stork would be if one of the recent arrivals appeared in Dorset. That was three days before one was seen there at the weekend. I will now try & convince Graham about being more adventurous in his predictions: maybe White's Thrush or Siberian Thrush for the South Haven Thrush season.

8 Aug 2015

8 Aug 15 - Black Stork Madness

Late afternoon, I was about to grab some food when I thought I should check the RBA news. With a few migrants in Dorset, there was always a chance something mildly interesting might have been found. I wasn't hopeful & I certainly wasn't expecting the breaking news of a Black Stork at Arne. There was no further information as the news had only got onto the breaking news feed at that point. A few quick calls to locals to get the news out while I was making a coffee to take with me: I expected a long search. By this point, the local RBA channel was saying it had been seen from the Arne approach road at 17:25-17:40 before flying West. But it was still only 17:50 so very recent news. I rang Paul Morton again, who couldn't get away & got Paul to phone the news on. He couldn't drive or get away to look for it, and I needed to be on the road at this point. First stop was just after six on Soldiers Road: but no joy. Then a drive along the Arne Road & back again as far as Sunnyside Farm. Plenty of potential places for it to pitch down, but no joy. The next stop was probably where I should have gone first, the Slepe Heath viewpoint which gives views over Swineham & the lower Frome valley. A quick scan over the water meadows didn't reveal any Black Storks. Then I looked towards Arne & realised it was flying just to the East of the Arne Triangle. I had a good view as it flew low toward the upper end of the Middlebere channel & appeared to drop into the fields.
Black Stork: Juvenile. Flying over the upper Middlebere fields toward Middlebere farm
I made a quick call to Nick Hopper who was the nearest Birder, to send Nick to the viewpoint overlooking Middlebere & another call to Paul & a couple of locals to get the news out. Nick got there first, but no sign of the Black Stork. He left for the high ground by the Middlebere Harrier hide, while I stayed put, in case went up again. Twenty minutes later, there was no news from Nick & I had had no further sightings, but I had made more phone calls to locals. So I decided to join Nick. I arrived close to the first viewpoint over the Harrier hide creek, only to see the Black Stork appear over where I had just been on the road. I rang Nick, but the call was going to answerphone, so had to resort to the old fashion communication & shouted as loud as I could, thinking Nick was within 100 metres. Fortunately, I was on high ground & my shout carried the 600 metres or so to where Nick was. He looked up to see the Black Stork flying towards him as it passed over the cottages. It then swung around & came back into my view as it went across the creek in front of the Harrier hide & off towards the Wytch causeway area. This is an area of private roads, with a few public footpaths. A few of the locals (myself included) have permission to enter this area for survey work. Forty-five minutes later, it reappeared from the Wytch causeway area & dropped in into the marshy field, at the far end of the creek in front of the Harrier hide. By this time Nick & I had been joined by Aidan Brown.
Black Stork: Juvenile. In the marshy field in front of the Harrier hide. No sign of any rings (or a bill). It's grainy, but the SX60 was being balanced on top of the telescope & was on 260x (65x optical & 4x digital: the biggest zoom)
Black Stork: Juvenile. With the Spoonbills
More phone calls to update the locals as more were now out looking. The calls were brief as I was trying to get photos as well as get the news out. I knew Nick's mobile had been dead for over an hour & my battery life was now on its last legs. Fortunately, the Black Stork walked into the creek & dwarfed the three Spoonbills feeding in the water. After been on view for about thirty minutes, locals, Ian Lewis, Mark & Mo Constantine & Graham Armstrong had joined us. Soon after it flew again. This time it disappeared into the trees & presumably went to roost. I would expect anybody at the Harrier hide first thing in the morning, will have a good chance of connecting with it. This is not only the best viewpoint, but about the only public accessible area that it is likely to be visible from.
The Black Stork twitch: Mo Constantine, Mark Constantine, Graham Armstrong, Julian Thomas, Nick Hopper, Aidan Brown, Ian Lewis & Mike Cross (who unfortunately arrived five minutes too late) (left to right)