26 Jul 2018

26 Jul 18 - UK Sundews

After seeing the Sooty Tern, I decided to head West to the Loch Garton area to look for some of the speciality Scottish Dragonflies: Azure Hawker (slim chance), Northern Emerald & Northern Damselfly. All of these would typically be still flying in the second half of July, although it was close to the end of their flying seasons. There were several sites in the Loch Garton area. By the time I arrived, it was early evening & had cooling down quite a bit. However, at least there was no sign of the cold Easterly breeze from the Ythan estuary. There were quite a few Emerald Damselflies going to roost in the long grass & sedges around the pools & a single Common Hawker, which was far too active.
Common Hawker: I was pleased to see this individual at Loch Garton, as I had been unsuccessfully looking for Common Hawkers on my Studland patch in the previous week (where they are a scarce species) (25 Jul 18)
Emerald Damselfly: Female. There are no identification problems here as the other Emerald Damselfly species that occur in the South East of England haven't made it as far as Scotland (yet). Boat of Garton (25 Jul 18)
The plan for the second day in Scotland had been to try getting out on a rib from Gairloch to look for Minke Whales, Short-beaked Common Dolphins & Harbour Porpoise. All three species were being seen regularly on the trips from Gairloch. Given it was a last minute trip to Scotland, I didn't have a booking, but thought I would try my luck by turning up first thing at Gairloch harbour. Not having a booking wasn't a problem, as due to the expectation of strong winds, all the rib trips for the day had been cancelled. Not deterred, I headed to the nearby coastline to the North of Gairloch where I could scan over the sea looking towards the Northern end of Skye & the distance island of Harris & Lewis. A good scan failed to produce any Cetaceans during the morning, but it was a great view. I will be back on a future Scottish trip.
The view looking towards Skye (to the left) and distantly Harris & Lewis (to the right of the photo)
Gairloch is well placed for another of the good Scottish Dragonfly sites I wanted to visit. This was the Bridge of Grudie on Loch Maree which lies alongside the road to Gairloch. Again, the Dragonflies were disappointing with a reasonable number of Emerald Damselflies & a lone patrolling Common Hawker. It certainly seemed that the good summer has meant that the Scottish Summer speciality Dragonflies had gone over early. 
Loch Maree: Looking over to Slioch (3218 ft) which is one of the 282 Monros in the UK
The Sphagnum bog at Bridge of Grudie on the South East side of Loch Maree
I was pleased to see there were some Sundews in the bogs at the Bridge of Grudie on the South Eastern side of Loch Maree. I've never been that interested in Flowers, except for Orchids. However, I am more interested in Sundews given they are carnivorous plants. These Sundews had long, thin leaves, instead of the small round leaves of Round-leaved Sundews. Checking the photos has confirmed that these were Great Sundews.
Great Sundew: I will have to look harder locally as they also occur in the Dorset & New Forest bogs. They also occur on some of the East Anglian heaths, West Wales, the Northern Welsh borders & West Scotland
I am used to seeing Round-leaved Sundews around my local heathland bogs.
Round-leaved Sundew: This is a common species in the Dorset & New Forest bogs like these at Latchmore Brook in the New Forest (23 Jun 14)
Round-leaved Sundew: They are also commonly found in Wales, the Lakes, the East Anglian coastal heaths & Scotland. These were photographed in Dorset (4 Aug 14)
Round-leaved Sundew: Showing how the sticky droplets trap insects like this unfortunate Large Red Damselfly which are ultimately digested. Foulshaw Mere (5 Jun 18)
Finally, it was time to head home to Dorset. It was clear that I wasn't going to make it home in one journey without driving through the night, so I planned to find somewhere to kip en route. In the end the decision of where to stop was taken for me, as the M6 was closed in the Blackpool area & the warning signs as I headed South changed from a 2 hour to a 3 hour delay. Clearly, this looked like a major accident in the area. So, I decided to pull off the M6 as I passed the Lake District & head for Ullswater. There were a number of laybys next to the lake which looked quiet enough to get some sleep. It proved not only a good night's sleep, but an incredibly pretty view in the morning.
The view of Ullswater from the hotel window: I will have to explore this area on a future trip
The hotel was in need of a clean: Old school twitching hotel
It clearly was a good idea to abandon the overnight drive home at Ullswater as the following morning, the M6 was still closed around Blackpool & there would have been very long delays in the area. I was well placed to pop over the Northern Pennines to Scotch Corner & drive home down the A1/M1 route.

25 Jul 2018

25 Jul 18 - Sooty On The Sands

On 7 Jul 18, the RBA team send out a message that a Sooty Tern had been seen on one of the Farne Islands in the late evening. The last twitchable Sooty Tern had been in 2005 when one was moving in & out of a Tern colony at Cemlyn Bay on Anglesea, as well as, visiting the offshore Skerries Islands & County Down. Its erratic movements & other things going on at the time meant I had been unable to go for that one. Had this new sighting been on the mainland & there had been a chance of getting there for dawn, then it might have been worth a punt. However, it was a long distance to consider going on that news, so I waited to see if there were any updates the following day, as rare Terns are notorious for using Tern colonies as one night bed & breakfast locations. Not surprisingly, there were no sightings on either the following or subsequent days, until another brief sighting on 19 Jul 18 at the Farne Islands & then briefly on the nearby coastline. Other commitments stopped me travelling for the following day, but then were no sightings in Northumberland that day anyway. However, it was seen at dusk in the Arctic Tern colony at the Ythan estuary to the North of Aberdeen that evening. True to form it wasn't seen the following morning, but it reappeared on 23 Jul & was still there the following day. After moving some of other commitments around that evening, I was free to head up overnight on 24 Jul. I realised I wouldn't be able to get there for first light, but for the past two days it had been hanging around the estuary, as well as, regularly flying out to sea to feed, before reappearing. It was a slow drive North thanks to 50 mph restrictions for most of the M6 from Birmingham to Manchester, followed by a long delay due to a closed section of motorway. Due to the time lost from this, I eventually hit the wall around Perth & pulled over for some sleep, so I didn't end up reaching the estuary till about 10:00 that morning. Still the good news was it had been seen coming & going in the estuary that morning. The bad news was it had flown downstream & out to sea. So, it was a case of hoping it would reappear in time. I had been expecting a reasonable number of other Birders looking. Perhaps they had already come & left. But there were now only a few locals who had seen it earlier in the week, a Welsh Birder Rob & me looking. After an hour, Rob decided to head a few hundred metres up the estuary to a tin hut which provided a view over the upper estuary. I said I would stay opposite the main Arctic Tern roost in case it dropped in there.
Sooty Tern: Despite being the best part of 100 metres to the Arctic Tern roost on the north side of the estuary, the dark wings allowed it to be easily picked out
Sooty Tern: Although the body size was similar to an Arctic Tern, it was noticeably longer-winged
Fortunately, after about an hour of waiting, I picked it up flying over the Arctic Tern roost on the North bank before dropping into the roost. A quick call to Rob & he & the other locals were also onto it. Great I could try to get a few photos.
Sooty Tern: They have noticeably long tail streamers which are emphasised by the dark grey colouration
Sooty Tern: I struggled to get any worthwhile photos on the sand & this was about as good as I managed
Within a few minutes, something spooked the Arctic Terns & it also flew up, went down channel before turning & making a fairly close pass of my location as it headed up channel, before dropping into the roost again.
Arctic Terns: This was only about half of the Arctic Tern party on the beach
I stuck around for another hour or so, before deciding to head off for some food & to figure out a plan for the rest of the day. I didn't think I was going to get much better photos, especially as I had decent photos of Sooty Terns from Ascension Island as part of the Odyssey cruise. It turns out that I had been pretty lucky to have only had an hour of searching before I saw it. It is still around as I write this Post on 30 Jul, however, on two of the intervening days there were no sightings at all. So, it is clearly not an easy individual to catch up with.
Sooty Tern
Sooty Tern
It was great to have caught up with this major UK rarity which was also a bonus Western Palearctic Tick. I had hoped I might have a chance of seeing one on the Atlantic Odyssey as we were approaching Cape Verde or the subsequent West African Pelagic to see it within the Western Palearctic, but no joy. My last Sooty Terns were a feeding party at sea on the Odyssey about 15 minutes before we reached the Equator, but they were out of view by the time we hit the Equator. This was still two days before we reached the Western Palearctic boundary.

22 Jul 2018

22 Jul 18 - T6 Harvard (G-DHHF) At Studland

I'm always happy to see interesting planes flying over when I'm out Birding so I was keen to grab some shots of this US heritage plane as it went over Littlesea. I'm even happier if they are flying over Studland as they look good over the patch. I was struggling to identify it, but fortunately, local Birder Jol Mitchell knows a lot more about historic planes than I do. Jol identified it as a T6 Harvard, which was used as a World War II trainer for pilots. It's call sign is G-DHHF. It has relatively recently changed hands & is now owned by DH Heritage Flights.
T6 Harvard (G-DHHF)
It is based at the Compton Abbas airfield near Shaftesbury in Dorset. Since changing ownership, it has been repainted to these new colours which didn't help trying to figure out which T6 Harvard it was. It was built in 1942 & served initially with the US air force & later the US navy until 1959 when it was sold to a private owner. It has been owned & flown by a number of owners in the US before finally being sold to DH Heritage Flights & coming to the UK in Nov 2016. More information about its history & the other T6 Harvards that are still flying can be found here.
T6 Harvard (G-DHHF): It looks good in its wartime colours with tail number 431917
T6 Harvard (G-DHHF): It flew South over Littlesea & then over Ballard Down before turning West. Perhaps it was returning from the Farnborough airshow or just on a local heritage flight

22 Jul 18 - Some Of The Resident Wildlife At Studland's Littlesea

In addition to the resident Birds photographed at Littlesea since I found the Purple Heron at Littlesea, I've managed to get some nice photos of some of the other commoner residents, while I've been looking for the Purple Heron during the daytime.
Sika Deer: They often appear around Littlesea & are quite comfortable in the water. This individual was feeding on the fern behind it (20 Jul 18)
Common Lizard: Enjoying the sun (18 Jul 18)
Large Skipper: Male (18 Jul 18)
Emerald Damselfly: Female. This is the only Emerald Damselfly type in Dorset, but I'm checking the ones I see as it can't be long before one of the other recently UK established species appear in Dorset (18 Jul 18)
Emerald Damselfly: Male (21 Jul 18)
Red-eyed Damselfly: Good to see this is relatively abundant at Littlesea after seeing it for the first time in there in 2017. Although I assume it has been there for the last few years (18 Jul 18)
Red-eyed Damselfly: (18 Jul 18)
Blue-tailed Damselfly: A common resident (18 Jul 18)
Water Strider: I saw a few so perhaps this is reasonable common along the edges (22 Jul 18)
White Water-lily: Hopefully I've got the id correct. Not quite Monet standard. The White Water-lilies are a popular haunt of the Red-eyed Damselflies and Small Red-eyed Damselflies (20 Jul 18)

21 Jul 2018

21 Jul 18 - Mediterranean Migrants

Having spent a few hours sorting a backlog of recent UK photos for the Blog, I checked Twitter to see if there had been any interesting wildlife sightings while I had been sorting my photos. A post from local Birder Ian Ballam about a Dragonfly he had photographed at Lytchett Bay (at the other end of Poole Harbour) caught my attention. Ian is out locally most days & this year has been doing a Dragonfly photographic Year List. The photo was clearly not up to Ian's normal standard, was quite some distance away & blurry. Ian asked whether this side-on shot was a Southern Migrant Hawker. Looking at it there were large blue eyes (which looked good), a green thorax & a blue & black abdomen. Potentially yes was my immediate thought. I checked a few photos on the UK Dragonflies website to double check how to rule out the other Hawkers & Emperor Dragonfly. Each were quickly eliminated & I thought I could see thin black vertical lines on the green thorax, but that was just a bit too tricky given the poor quality of the photo. However, it was good enough to think I would need to visit Lyttle-shit Bay (you may gather it's not my favourite part of Poole Harbour). A couple of phone calls with Ian confirmed that Nick Hull, who is another LB patch watcher, had joined Ian. They had now got decent photographs & confirmed the id. My suspicions have now been confirmed that this is a county first. However, they have been breeding in Kent & Essex for at just over a decade since initial sightings in 2006, following a single 20th Century sighting. There have been sightings in the last couple of weeks in Hants & Somerset, which may also be county firsts. Therefore, it's a species that was on the cards for being found this year in Dorset given the warm weather. I had no choice but to grab the camera & head off in the heat (the car thermostat was recording it was the upper twenties outside).
Southern Migrant Hawker: Male. They are superficially similar to male Migrant Hawkers, but have vivid blue eyes & blue colouration on segment two
Southern Migrant Hawker: Male. Segment two
Southern Migrant Hawker: Male. This individual only landed twice in the hour I was there. It frequently got into territorial aerial fights with another male that was also flying around the same nearly dried up pond. There was also one (& occasionally two) individuals on a second dried up pond nearby. No females were seen while I was there, but a probable female was briefly seen the following day
Southern Migrant Hawker: Male
Southern Migrant Hawker: Male. Another feature is the blue-green sides of the thorax with thin vertical black lines
Migrant Hawker: Male for comparison. Note, the full greyish eyes & overall darker blue colouration
Migrant Hawker: Male. Close up of segment two
Migrant Hawker: Male. Note, the broad pale stripes on the side of the thorax
This was my 35th species of Dragonfly in Dorset.
A happy Ian Ballam: Enjoying having a bonus Dragonfly for his Year List as Ian doesn't tend to travel far from Dorset

20 Jul 2018

20 Jul 18 - Some Of The Resident Birds At Studland's Littlesea

Since I found the Purple Heron at Littlesea, I've spent a lot of time looking to try & relocate it during the daytime. I suspect it spends its time feeding at Littlesea, but generally tucked into the reed edges, hence my lack of sightings. However, I have had the chance to get some nice photos of some of the other commoner residents, while I've been looking.
Dabchick: There are a few present most years at Littlesea
Great Crested Grebe: Two pairs have bred this year at Littlesea: this youngster is probably only few days old
Great Crested Grebe: One of the parents of the other pair which had a nearly fully grown youngster with a Roach
Great Crested Grebe: The same parent with the large youngster. The other parent seems to have lost interest in feeding this youngster
Great Crested Grebe: There is also a larger group of non breeding individuals on Littlesea
Great Crested Grebe: Bad hair day
Canada Goose: This family successfully raised these two large youngsters at Littlesea this year
Mediterranean Gull: Moulting adult. Littlesea lies between South & Knoll Beaches and Brands Bay & forms a regular stopover place for a quick freshwater bathing site for the local Gulls
Although I've not seen the Purple Heron during the daytime I have seen it on a number of occasions as it's gone to roost. Unfortunately, it has settled into a habit of going to roost in poor light & remains elusive during the day. Still if it continues to stick around maybe I will eventually get lucky.
Purple Heron: Juv. This individual looks like it is going to become a resident for the next few weeks at least (21 Jul 18)

17 Jul 2018

17 Jul 18 - A Studland Patch First

On 16 Jul 18 I decided to pop down to Littlesea on my Studland patch for the first Little Egret roost count of the Autumn. Part of the hope was that I would also find a Great White Egret as there has been one, & occasionally two, Great White Egrets regularly around the Studland patch in the Autumn & Winter since one appeared in Sep 2014. It was a fairly quiet night with 42 Little Egrets in the roost & most were in before I arrived. At 21:30, I decided it didn't look likely that a Great White Egret would appear & so I packed up to leave. As I was walking off, I spotted another Heron coming into the roost. I stopped to check it, although I knew it would be a Grey Heron, but it looked like a Purple Heron. I only had a short view in the failing light, but enough to be happy with the identification, but not to be able to write a description on that view. It landed in the trees, but out of sight. I quickly walked back up the hill to my viewing point & fortunately, it was still there, but not close. The tripod was unpacked & bingo, it was a Purple Heron. At this point, it flew & I lost it, due as it flew behind a tree I was standing next too. I quickly returned to the high hide as that had a much clearer viewing position. I carried on scanning whilst phoning local Poole Harbour Birders. Realistically, only one had much of a chance to get there before dark from his home, but it was academic as he didn't answer his phone. Still the news was out locally so people had the chance of a pre-work visit the following morning. While I was on the phone to Paul Morton, from the Birds of Poole Harbour team, it flew back towards the roost. I cut the call to get more views as it circled the roost a few times before disappearing into the Southern most bay in Littlesea. I stayed till last light, but I had no more sightings. This was a third record for the Poole Harbour area & a Studland first.
Black-tailed Skimmer: Female
The following morning I spent a couple of hours looking around the Studland area checking South Haven, Littlesea & Brands Bay, but I drew a blank. I didn't check all the possible places as I skipped the Eastern Lake. Too close to the nudists beach to want to carry bins & a decent camera at this time of year. Annoying, as this is the most likely place it would be feeding in, if it was still around. Paul has already had the same result at Littlesea earlier in the morning. I assumed it had probably moved through. But to be sure I decided to pop down to check the roost for a second night. I arrived earlier & there were only a few Little Egrets in the roost. Checking them, one was tucked well in & only showing small parts of its bill at any time. A pale-yellow bill & looked far too thick-based to be a Little Egret. But it really was a struggle to see it clearly. At this point, Graham Armstrong arrived & I tried getting Graham onto it. Before he saw it, it had flown deeper into the trees & was only showing parts of its back. Fortunately, it flew again & sat in the open. Clearly, a juvenile Cattle Egret. This is only the fifth Studland record. I was happy as this was the second good Heron on the patch in 24 hours. The obvious question is, where is this Cattle Egret feeding during the day?
Cattle Egret (with a Little Egret to its right): Only the fifth Studland patch record
We were just admiring the Cattle Egret through our scopes, when the Purple Heron flew in. It circled briefly before landing in the treetops. Frustratingly, I hadn't set the camera up that evening & so all the flight photos were blurred as the camera was still set up from the morning.
Purple Heron: Juvenile. Surprisingly, this photo wasn't too bad given the poor camera settings
I bumped the ISO setting up (probably too high), but at least I would get something it the Purple Heron flew around again.
Purple Heron: Juvenile. It sat in the tree tops for around ten minutes while I was ringing locals as there was enough light to allow people to belt down if they wanted
Purple Heron: Juvenile. After ten minutes it flew again & dropped out of sight into the marsh in Littlesea
Purple Heron: Juvenile
Purple Heron: Juvenile. It stayed hidden out of view in the marsh, until it finally flew into the roost at 21:32 (the same time as the previous evening)
If anybody is looking for it this evening, please only view from the high hide. This can be reached by parking on the road at the entrance to Greenlands Farm. Cross the road & walk East up the obvious path up the small hillside. Follow this through a gully to the hide. It's best to stand in front of the hide, rather than look from this old hide. Please do not try getting closer to the Little Egrets as you are likely to disturb the roost & due to trees, you are unlikely to get a decent view anyway. Also keep off the heaths as there there are nearby Nightjar territories. Any time after 20:00 would be worth a look. But we still don't know where it is spending its time during the day, so there is a chance of seeing it during the day.