18 Nov 2018

18 Nov 18 - A Great Bustard Visits The Patch

The morning started off with strong & cold Easterly winds & I decided not to head out Birding. I saw an interesting message on twitter of five Great Bustards flying along The Fleet in West Dorset. Just before lunchtime, they were picked up again flying over Ferrybridge & there have been no more subsequent sightings. These days, there is a reasonable chance of one or two Great Bustard sightings in West Dorset towards the end of the year, as some individuals disperse from the Salisbury Plain captive breeding program site. As I understand the movements, females are more likely to Winter in the UK, whereas some males can travel as far as central France for the Winter. In response to this news, local Lytchett Bay Birder, Ian Ballam, mentioned that he had seen photos of a lone Great Bustard on facebook which was somewhere in the Purbeck area at an undisclosed site, along with the suggestion was it had been present for a few days fairly recently. This sighting was more interesting as I live in the historical Isle of Purbeck & therefore the site must be within a few miles of the house. The Western boundary of the historical Isle of Purbeck boundaries is determined by two streams that run off Luckford Lake. One runs into the sea at Arish Mell just to the West of Tyneham & the other runs into the River Frome. The River Frome is the Northern boundary. Poole Harbour forms the logical Eastern boundary, with the islands within the harbour included within the Isle of Purbeck area. More recently Wareham has been annexed into the modern political boundaries of Purbeck (not to be confused with the Isle of Purbeck).
Great Bustard: This will be one of the reintroduction individuals from the Salisbury Plain, rather than a genuine vagrant from one of the European populations. The last accepted vagrants were seen in Suffolk & Norfolk in late Winter 1987. I unsuccessfully looked for them when they first turned up & I was in Kenya when some were finally pinned down. It is going to be a lot harder to be sure any future East Coast sightings are genuine vagrants, as some of the reintroduction individuals have wandered to East Anglia in the past
I asked Ian for more information as I don't have a facebook account & he kindly sent me some details. There were two photos showed a Great Bustard standing in a weedy field with a fence line behind it & sky in the background. Two fields on my St Aldhelms patch immediately came to mind & looking at the photos more closely the crop appeared to be Red Clover. Bingo, that matched one of my fields. I let Ian know that I thought I knew the field & decided to pop out & have a look.
Great Bustard: Frustratingly, there was a long stay individual in late Winter 1978 near Stodmarsh, Kent as I was getting keener on my Birding. This was about fifty miles from home in my school days. Pete Aley & I discussed going for it, but we didn't have a lot of information on it. In the end, we never made the effort & both of us still need it as a British Tick
After fifteen minutes of walking from the Renscombe Farm car park along the coastal footpath, I arrived at the large Red Clover field. There wasn't any obvious sign at the Northern end of the field, but the field is close to a half mile long & I couldn't see the Southern half. A few minutes later, I could see a large brown lump at the far end of the field. It was still too far to see for sure that it was a Great Bustard, but I could see it wasn't one of the local Roe Deer & there weren't any other options. Another few minutes & I reached a point where I had a good view of that end of the field. The brown lump had gone, but after a couple of minutes it stood up again & was clearly the Great Bustard. Time to get some photos & ring some of the locals to let them know. That was my excuse for moving onto the lee side of the coastal footpath to get out of the bitterly cold Easterly wind that had been fully in my face.
Great Bustard: I can't see a wing tag on either wing. The Red Clover is too long to be sure see any colour rings on the legs. While I was watching it, it spent all it the time about 80 metres away as the back of the field
I returned on 22 Nov on the day with the best weather during the week & had a longer walk checking both the Red Clover field & many of the other neighbouring fields. However, I failed to relocate it. It is possible that it had moved to one of the other fields closer to St Aldhelms Head as I didn't check the fields closest to the headland.