30 Jun 2018

30 Jun 18 - Island Butterflies

The previous Post covered the trip to the Isle of Wight for Southern Emerald Damselflies. This Post covers some of the Butterflies seen at Bouldnor Forest. With the Southern Emerald Damselflies being the main target, I only spent a few minutes photographing the Butterflies. However, it is clearly a reasonable site for Butterflies & would be clearly worth exploring if time permitted. I saw several Marbled Whites, White Admirals, Silver-washed Fritillaries & a Purple Hairstreak without making any effort to search for Butterflies.
White Admiral: There were several along the entrance track
Purple Hairstreak: It was feeding on salts in the mud. I've seen Butterflies doing this on muddy edged puddles on many occasions in the Tropics, but I've not seen them do it very often in the UK. One of the Silver-washed Fritillaries was also doing the same, but it wouldn't pose for a photograph. It was also nice to see a Purple Hairstreak on the ground rather in the treetops

30 Jun 18 - An Island Dragon

I'm sure there are plenty of early maps with Dragons on remote islands & the plan for the weekend to go Dragon hunting on an island. The sun was shining & it was baking hot. I left early to ensure I didn't get held up with traffic & arrived just after 9:15 for the 10:00 pelagic. I was due to meet mate Gav MacLean just before the start of the pelagic, but I had a last minute text that South West trains had chosen not to do joined up thinking & hold his Brockenhurst connection for a minute to allow him to join me. Better to leave 30 passengers on the platform than wait a minute for them. After handing over a small fortune I was off Dragon hunting on my own. But first there was a pelagic.
The start of the Hampshire pelagic goes past a Tern & Gull colony: Unfortunately, no golden-billed Royal Terns with them today
Hurst Castle: Given it's Hampshire it is not up to the standard of Florida's Dry Tortugas for Birding. I'm surprised that the Brexit camp haven't started refortifying it again keep the Frenchies out
The Needles: The other Western gateway to the Solent
Fort Albert: Having been completed in 1856 to help protect the Solent from attack by Napoleon III, it was obsolete soon after. However, the military didn't finally leave until 1957. It has now been converted to private flats
The pelagic was over after just 40 minutes as the ferry pulled into Yarmouth: One Gannet on the IoW side was the highlight
Yarmouth Castle cannon
It was a 2 mile walk to Bouldnor Forest, the Dragon site: Fortunately, I avoided the guarding Red Squirrels
After about 45 minutes, I arrived at a clearing in Bouldnor Forest & started looking for the Dragonfly pools. There were a number of medium to large interesting looking pools surrounded by knee high vegetation. I spent an hour looking around them. However, they were far too open to be the pools I was interested in. My target for the day was the recently arrived Southern Emerald Damselfly. They were first found in Norfolk in 2002 & have been recorded at a few sites on the East coast of East Anglia & Kent. I was discussing with my mate Edge about looking for them this year in Kent & Edge said they had recently been discovered at a site on the Western end of the Isle of Wight. He was planning to go over with Gav this summer. Unfortunately, Edge wasn't available this particular weekend. Gav was still up for going & with two of us heading over, our chances of seeing them would be increased by having more eyes looking. Pity South West Trains had other ideas. We didn't have a lot to go on other than local Dragonfly photographer Peter Hunt's excellent Blog http://isleofwightdragons.blogspot.com. This is a great blog with lots of good photos of the Island's Dragonflies & other wildlife. The blog showed photos of the two heavily overgrown breeding pools that Peter had seen the Southern Emerald Damselflies around. It was Peter's photographs of the Southern Emerald Damselflies that allowed a sharp-eyed Dragonfly records officer at the British Dragonfly Society to identify them as a new species for the Isle of Wight in 2017. Subsequent checks through Peter's photographs confirmed that they had been present since 2015. Unlike the Kent & Norfolk populations of Southern Emerald Damseflies which are best looked for during the school holidays, the IoW ones are on the wing in June. So it was getting towards the end of their season, especially given how hot & dry the last few weeks have been.
Emperor Dragonfly: Female egg laying
Broad-bodied Chaser: Male
Blue-tailed Damselfly: Female. Thanks to Peter Hunt for correcting me on the identification of this as a female Blue-tailed Damselfly & probably the rufescens form (which I misidentified as a teneral Emerald Damselfly)
Water Strider: This is the largest UK Pond Skater & favours still water
Water Strider: Their large size & the presence of two upturned spurs at the end of the abdomen makes this easier to identify than most of the other Pond Skaters. Only the left hand spur is visible in this photo
Interesting as the pools were with many Dragonflies, I knew I still had to keep looking to find the right pools.
The smaller of the two pools: Virtually dried up so I assume that Southern Emerald Damselflies are able to lay eggs which can survive for a number of months without water
Finally, I stumbled on the smaller of the two pools, just as Gav was arriving after catching the ferry an hour after my ferry. Gav headed off to check the other pools. I carried on looking & soon after found the other pool with somebody else there. Not surprisingly it was Peter Hunt who had arrived between Gav & myself, but he had gone straight to the breeding pools. I called Gav over as Peter had seen one individual, but when we looked it had moved on.
The larger of the two pools: Even more dried up. I guess being able to survive until the next rains fill the pools up helps to cut down the competition for food & being eaten by other Dragonfly larva
Southern Emerald Damselfly: My initial view
Southern Emerald Damselfly: Getting better. The two-tone pterostigma are one of the features for Southern Emerald Damselflies
Southern Emerald Damselfly: The wings are typically held at 45 degrees to the body. Note, the reddish colouration in the wings is purely the way the light is catching the wings
Southern Emerald Damselfly: Close up showing the pale sides to the thorax & the pale patch at the back of the head which are also important features
Southern Emerald Damselfly: Close up of the two-tone pterostigma (Emerald Damselflies have uniform dark pterostigma)
Southern Emerald Damselfly: The second individual
Southern Emerald Damselfly: Close up of the head & thorax
Southern Emerald Damselfly: The second individual
Southern Emerald Damselfly: All Dragonflies & Damselflies are amazing close up. You wouldn't want to meet them if you were a small Insect
Southern Emerald Damselfly: At last a better photo
Southern Emerald Damselfly: Close up of the head & shoulders markings
Southern Emerald Damselfly: Close up of the two-tone pterostigma
It had been a good day trip seeing my last regularly breeding English Dragonfly. I have just got to see Dainty Damselfly if they get pinned down again, all the the Scottish Dragonflies & a few more vagrants.
Southern Hawker: Male perched up along the track back to the road
I had expected the pelagic back was going to be pretty quiet, so the lure of a coffee & cake got the better of me after several hours in the strong sun. However, as the final photo showed it threw up a surprise find.
I didn't expect to see a Jackass type Penguin as we left Yarmouth

27 Jun 2018

27 Jun 18 - An Old Friend?

Early evening I had a call from local Birder, Peter Williams. I don't get many calls from Peter, but generally when I do get a call it will be due to something good. So my mind was already whirling around to try & figure out what it might be in late June, with Rose-coloured Starling being the most likely candidate. Peter beat my candidate: a Hooded Crow that was sitting in his garden in Worth Matravers. He was pleased as it was a Garden Tick & he is now only a handful of species left to reach 150 species seen from the garden, with well over 100 species actually in the garden. But his house in Worth Matravers has great views down Winspit valley, which many Birders will remember as the site of the first twitchable mainland Red-flanked Bluetail. I asked if he would mind if I popped up & he said that would be fine. I stopped long enough to grab the camera & bins on the way out of the door. A few minutes later I arrived at Peter's & he opened the door saying it was still there.
Hooded Crow: It looked clean from the front
The Hooded Crow was happily sitting in his pine tree & was visible from Peter & Yvonne's patio. Most of my photos have been taken through the patio glass. When Peter first found it, it was feeding on his lawn.
Hooded Crow: After a while it turned around confirming the upperparts also looked good for a Hooded Crow
Hooded Crow: I'm not aware of any previous records for Winspit or St Aldhelms
Finally, it turned around & dropped onto the lawn to feed for few minutes. Fortunately, the patio door was open & I could carefully pop my head & camera out of the door.
Hooded Crow: A great looking individual
After five minutes on the lawn, it returned to the Pine tree again. Unfortunately, soon after it was spotted by the local Carrion Crow which arrived & chased it off towards the West of the village. The Hooded Crow seemed slightly smaller & less bulky in flight than the Carrion Crow, but I only had a brief comparison in flight. The Carrion Crow didn't take long to return, so perhaps the Hooded Crow didn't go too far to get outside of the Carrion Crow's territory. I had a quick look in the fields immediately to the West of the village, but I couldn't see it. However, I didn't have time for a more extensive search. The big question was this the Hooded Crow that I found back on 27 Aug 17 at Ballard Down on my Studland patch. It remained around Ballard Down up until early Jan 18, but there have been no further sightings to my knowledge. So is it the same individual that had wandered about five miles further West? The Studland individual was only the fifth record for Poole Harbour & the first since 1991, so they are clearly rare in the local area. But I guess we will never know for sure.

24 Jun 2018

24 Jun 18 - One That Got Away

I had a mid morning call from Paul Morton from the Birds of Poole Harbour team. He had just seen an email from a member of the public. A distant summer plumage Plover, but which he though looked like an American Golden Plover. The initial photo taken by Debbie Derrick has been published on the BoPH June 18 Sightings page. It had been seen on 4 occasions between 18 & 22 Jun. Looking at the photo, it certainly looked a reasonable identification, albeit it was distant. I was about to leave when Paul rang back. He had forwarded the photo to Killian Mullarney & Paul had a thumbs up to the identification.

It had been photographed on the outer side of Redhorn Quay, which is the point that separates Brands Bay from what most locals regard as the outer Brands Bay (but pedantically is Plateau Bay). I arrived about ten minutes later & headed straight for Redhorn Quay, while local Poole Birder, Shaun Robson headed to Jerry's Point. Jerry's Point is closer to the ferry & gives views over the outer part of the Studland peninsula. We both had excellent views of people, uncontrolled dogs & people who are into the latest craze of standing on boards & paddling around on them close to the shoreline. But sadly, no sign of the American Golden Plover. We both planned to meet up in the Brands Bay hide. This gives better views of Brands Bay, but I had already had a fairly reasonable view of Brands Bay so I was fairly confident it wouldn't be on view from there: I was correct. On the way to the hide, I ran into my mate Peter Moore who having arrived & already heard the negative news was getting distracted with the Silver-studded Blues. It seemed the best option in the circumstances.
Silver-studded Blue: They seemed to be having a good year locally with the current heatwave
A had another look at Brands Bay in the early evening as it should have quietened down & there was footie to keep most of Joe Public indoors. Unfortunately, still no joy. Then it was onto the Middlebere hide in the hope it might have relocated to Middlebere on the rising tide. Again, no luck, but there was a reasonable selection of Waders to keep me occupied & a 1st Summer Spoonbill.
Spoonbill: 1st Summer. This was presumably the individual that had been moving around Poole Harbour in recent days. It disappeared to roost soon after I arrived. Middlebere is a popular Spoonbills pre-roost site, but they don't roost there
After grabbing a few photos of the Spoonbill, I carried on scanning the exposed mud in the hope that the American Golden Plover would arrive. As a result, I never saw the Spoonbill depart. Subsequently, this would have been interesting to have seen it go to see the extent of the black in the wing tips. At the time, I aged this Spoonbill as a first summer on the basis of the bill colour, lack of plumes & white breast. As I'm writing this Post I thought I would have a quick check on ageing of first summer Spoonbills & found an article on Surfbirds by Alexander Hellquist. This shows that ageing isn't as straight-forward as I though & second summer individuals Spoonbill should also be considered. First summer individuals sometimes show a white tuft instead of full plumes, but often won't show a crest, do not show the adult's yellow breast band, have an extensive yellow tipped bill with a grey base, grey legs, a (brownish) red iris (far too far away to determine iris colour) & have extensive black in the wing tips (not seen in flight). In comparison, second summer individuals generally show a short white plume, will not show the adult's yellow breast band, have more yellow in the bill tip than adults, have darker grey legs than a first summer (but no others for comparison), have an intensive red eye & little in the way of black in the wing tips. There appears to be a bit of fleshy pink colouration in the base of the bill (which juvenile individuals show) & coupled with the lack of a crest (although that isn't diagnostic), then I guess this is still a first summer individual. But I would welcome any comments.
Spoonbill: 1st Summer
Spoonbill: 1st Summer. A closer crop. Does the pinkish edges to the bill & the lack of any crest make it more likely to be a first summer
Spoonbill: 1st Summer
Spoonbill: 1st Summer. A closer crop. The bill tip looks fleshy, but there is generally a warm evening light at Middlebere at this time of the year
There was no sign of the American Golden Plover, but I was pleased to see a flyover Great White Egret which was in heavy wing moult on the innermost primaries. We weren't aware there had been a Great White Egret in Poole Harbour since early Spring, so had it just arrived or been overlooked. I saw it again in flight on the following evening. I've now given up on the search for the American Golden Plover & as the tides aren't great for Middlebere at the moment, I've not been down to see if I can get more views of the Great White Egret. Only four years ago, we had the first properly twitchable Great White Egret in Poole Harbour. After four years of overwintering involving up to three individuals then we are now fairly balse about local Great White Egrets: how times change.
Sika Deer: Seen enjoying the evening sun on the following evening's visit to Middlebere (25 Jun 18)

19 Jun 2018

19 Jun 18 - Deja Vu (Almost)

I was sorting out some photos for another Odyssey Blog Post, when I noticed that the Elegant Tern has reappeared in the Sandwich Tern & Mediterranean Gull colony at Pagham Harbour according to the Rare Bird Alert team. Having seen the Elegant Tern there last year when it was finally pinned down to the Pagham colony I wasn't desperately keen to dash back there again, especially as it was the start of the afternoon commute period. A couple of hours later, I checked the RBA website & found that the identification had been updated a few minutes before. It was now considered to be the American Royal Tern that had been moving around between the Channel Islands & Northern France since Feb 17. It was now 18:40 & should be a two hour journey to Pagham. Grabbing the camera & optics, I headed straight out of the door, as I made a few quick calls to locals who might head off straight away for it. Fortunately, the traffic was light as there was some footie on the TV & I pulled into the car park at Church Norton just after 20:30. The car park was packed, but somebody was about to go & I managed to slot into that space. Five minutes later I arrived at the beach & spotted Edge & some of my old Southampton Birding mates. A look through one of their telescopes quickly got me onto where it was walking around in the colony. It's a bit far to the colony for decent photos, but the light was good & it was on view: so I wasn't going to complain. I grabbed a few photos over the next thirty minutes before the light started to fade. I couldn't leave as Peter Moore was still en route & I had said I would stay to ensure he could get to see it. Finally, Peter arrived & the pressure for him was off. He wasn't in when I rang him, so I couldn't have picked him up en route. But I was planning to stay over if I hadn't seen it, so sharing a lift on this occasion wouldn't have worked anyway.
Part of the Pagham Harbour Tern colony: The Royal Tern was just to the right of the bungalow with the white end
Royal Tern: Close crop of the last photo
I had seen the Royal Tern in Ireland in 2016. However, this was a British & English Tick so was worth making the effort. Secondly, this individual has been identified as the American subspecies, whereas the Irish Royal Tern had been identified as the African subspecies (both identified based on DNA samples). There have been suggestions in recent years that the two subspecies could be split at some point in the future. It wouldn't make any difference to my British List, however, there is a potential Tick in those circumstances to my British & Irish List.
Royal Tern: Another harsh crop. However, I'm just grateful I was able to see it that evening as it was too far for many Birders to get there after the news broke
The following morning the Royal Tern disappeared out to sea just after 04:35 & was never seen again. I wasn't too worried at this point as I had seen it, but I did feel sorry for those Birders who hadn't made it by dawn. Generally, I like to wait on news, but rare Terns are the exception that make me want to be there pre-dawn (if I can't see them the evening before), as they have a habit of disappearing out of Tern colonies very early.
Royal Tern: About half an hour after I arrived, the light started to go
I had a pleasant day sorting more Odyssey photos, until 20:15 that evening, when I checked the RBA website & found the Royal Tern had been seen again at Lodmoor, before flying out to sea. Here we go again. I skipped the camera as the light would have been poor & again raced out of the door, whilst ringing locals. Another footie match & quiet roads & I arrived around 20:45. There was a group of about 15-20 locals on the beach scanning the bay & chatting, but it was negative news. Well it was only going to be an hour or so until it got dark, so I decided to wait it out. Around 21:30 a few people started departing, but I was going to stay to close to last light, before moving for a final check of the Lodmoor Tern islands. At 21:35, Marcus Lawson rang to say he had just found it sitting on a buoy out in Portland Harbour & visible from the Billy Winters cafe at Ferrybridge. I shouted the update to the other Birders & ran to the car. Ten minutes later, I was pulling into the Billy Winters car park & was first to Marcus's telescope which was trained on the buoy. I became the first Birder to have seen it on consecutive nights in different English counties. I think Julian Thomas was the only only person to get the double when he arrived after 22:00. Again, it disappeared first thing in the morning & only one or two people managed to see it. As I write this Post at the start of July, it hasn't been refound in the country. But there must be a reasonable chance it will pop up in another Tern colony somewhere on the South coast in the next few weeks.

15 Jun 2018

15 Jun 18 - A Risso's In Plymouth

On Mon 11 June, I saw an interesting tweet from my old mate, Pete Aley, that he had found a Risso's Dolphin in Plymouth from the Torpoint ferry. This is a car & passenger ferry between Torpoint on the West side of the River Tamar & the South Western corner of Plymouth. Having never seen a Risso's Dolphin in UK waters, then I was keen to give it a go. However, as it was around 17:30 & I wouldn't have been able to get there before 20:00, I decided that dashing straight down probably wasn't the best policy. I had a quick chat with Pete with a request to give me a shout if it was seen the following morning. Sadly, there was no news the following morning, but it was seen late afternoon again. So again there wasn't much of a chance of dashing down, but at least it had been seen again. I kept an eye on news from Plymouth as the week progressed. Pete saw it again on Weds in the late afternoon & there was also an afternoon sighting on the following day. I had a free day on the Friday, so an afternoon visit seemed the best option. Pete was around in the afternoon, so I arranged to pick him up early afternoon, before we headed across on the ferry to Torpoint as most of the occasional sightings were being seen on that side of the river. This wasn't surprising as the large Devonport dockyard occupied a large part of the waterfront on the Plymouth side to the North of the ferry. But there were some viewpoints from Torpoint's waterfront streets on the Cornish side of the river. It didn't take long from Pete's house to get to the ferry, where there was a nice view of the Devonport dockyard. Having worked with the Royal Navy in my first couple of jobs, then I'm always keen to see naval ships.
HMS Kent (F78): Type 23 Frigate
HMS Somerset (F82): Type 23 Frigate
HMS Argyll (F231): Type 23 Frigate
HMS Talent: Trafalgar Class submarine. We were looking for something a lot smaller that could dive under water
The first place we tried was Marine Drive in Torpoint which gives a nice view over a side bay to the Tamar known as St John's Lake (although it is an estuarine channel). The tide was relatively low & it wasn't ideal. After a while Pete suggested we tried another viewpoint further upriver at Wilcove which overlooks the deep channel at the Northern end of Devonport close to where the River Lynher joins the Tamar. It had been seen in this area on one occasion during the week. This area looked good, but after an hour of looking we had had no joy.
German Navy FGS Augsbury (F213): Type 122 Frigate
PHeM Atlantico (A140): Formally HMS Ocean which has been sold by the MoD to the Brazilian Navy as one of the many defence cuts the Tories made to try balancing budgets so they could continue to cut taxes for their mates. It is currently being recommissioned & is expected to be handed over to the Brazilian Navy by the end of 2018
As the tide was now rapidly coming in, I suggested to Pete we returned to Marine Drive as there should be more water there now & the Risso's Dolphin had been seen from there on a couple of occasions. Fortunately, there was a lot more water in St John's Lake & we settled down on a bench to scan the area. After about five minutes of scanning, I picked up a tall fin which briefly appeared 200-300 metres straight out in the side channel. Given the shape & height of the fin it was clearly a Risso's Dolphin. The couple of prolonged periods of watching Risso's Dolphins on the Atlantic Odyssey in the last few weeks had been really helpful in getting used to their features.
Risso's Dolphin: Unfortunately, it wasn't close
Risso's Dolphin: It was a tall fin
Risso's Dolphin: More of the rear body appears as it starts to dive
Risso's Dolphin
Risso's Dolphin
Risso's Dolphin: It is very graceful as it dives
Risso's Dolphin
Risso's Dolphin
Risso's Dolphin: That's it for another five minutes
There were two groups of barges tied up in the side channel & it was between these two groups, but it quickly disappeared before Pete got onto it. I nipped back to the car to grab the telescope hoping to get some better views. The next time I picked it up it had moved about 100 metres to the right & was near a pale yellow buoy. This time it was up long enough for Pete to get onto it & for me to grab some quick photos. It then disappeared for another five minutes before I finally picked it up back near the barges. A few more photos before it dropped below the surface. I picked it up for the final sighting after another five minutes, when it reappeared back near the pale yellow buoy. This was a bit closer & the chance for some better photos. However, it was never really close for decent photos. Clearly, all the practice at Cetacean watching from the Plancius has paid off.
Risso's Dolphin
Risso's Dolphin: The grey colouration & the pale scaring is typical for Risso's Dolphins. The scaring is believed to be caused by the beaks & suckers of Squid: their main food. However, scars may also be due to the teeth of other Risso's Dolphins
Risso's Dolphin
I thought the identification as a Risso's Dolphin was straight-forward. However, since I saw it there have been Cetacean sightings from other members of the public in the Plymouth area with reports of an Orca being present in the Plymouth area. I have seen a still photo of one of these reports & feel confident that was the Risso's Dolphin. I've also seen a very shaky video which I'm struggling to identify. I've also forwarded one of my photos to Marijke de Boer who was one of the Expedition guides on the Atlantic Odyssey & was one of the Cetacean experts on the Plancius. Marijke has spent a fair bit of time studying Risso's Dolphins & working on Cetaceans in the South West. She has confirmed we saw a Risso's Dolphin. I've subsequently forwarded some of the other photos to Marijke, in case it can be identified to a known individual by the Penzance Dolphin team. I will update the Blog if there is any news on this in the next few weeks.
Risso's Dolphin: A couple of final photos & it was gone
Risso's Dolphin
We carried on looking for at least another 30 minutes but it didn't reappear. There are quite a few moored boats in the side channel so we weren't sure if it had surfaced close to one of those boats & we had missed it. Given it didn't appear to be in the side channel any more, we walked back to the ferry & viewed from there for a few minutes in case it had decided to carry on up towards the dockyard. Again, we had no joy. Finally, we returned to Wilcove & had a quick look from there. We checked with the couple who were still fishing there & they hadn't notice the Risso's Dolphin swimming up the channel. It was early evening now & it seemed a good point to give up, although we had a final scan from the ferry. It had been a successful afternoon.
Time for a celebratory drink & meal with Pete & his wife Ali: It had been a good afternoon & it was good to catch up with two old friends