24 Dec 2019

24 Dec 19 - Happy Christmas 2019

I've got a backlog of photos from this Autumn to sort out & add to the Blog, but other projects keep distracting me. Hopefully, I will start clearing this backlog in the next few weeks. In the meantime, this is a quick Post to wish everybody a Happy Christmas & thank you for following the Blog. A nice Christmas photo from last year's travels, albeit not sure when we are going to see a white Christmas again in Dorset.

King Penguin: South Georgia (2 Apr 18)

Happy Christmas & a Great New Year

15 Sept 2019

15 Sep 19 - Migrant Hawker

Light Northerly winds, high pressure & clear skies meant the conditions were sunny & pleasant to be out Birding at St Aldhelms Head. There were large numbers of Hirundines moving slowly over the Head, but on a broad front & generally feeding. The movement was only visible by the periods of low Hirundine numbers. There were fifteen Wheatears & a small scattering of Warblers & other typical migrants. Perhaps the most interesting was this Migrant Hawker which was patrolling the trees by Trev's quarry (AKA the Two-barred Greenish Warbler site). It got me thinking. Most of my sightings of this species have been like this, with Migrant Hawkers patrolling or perching on downland, with no nearby water sources. The nearest water is a small pool of water trapped by a slippage on the undercliff: it is over a half mile away. The Winspit sewerage pond and garden ponds in Worth Matravers are over a mile away. Apparently, this is typical behaviour for the species. Migrant Hawkers are happy to feed well away from water before they are sexually mature & may only appear at water when they are ready to breed.
Migrant Hawker: Male. Perching high up in a tree
Migrant Hawker: Male. It briefly perched low down as I walked back to the car
The larger Dragonflies generally seem to be very territorial on breeding territories. However, Migrant Hawkers seem to be happy in groups before they move to their breeding territories as the next photo shows.
Migrant Hawker: Again a non-breeding location (11 Aug 14)

21 Aug 2019

21 Aug 19 - Wood Mouse

Wood Mice seem to be the regular Mouse species in the Purbeck area of Dorset. I've seen them around the Garden for most of the years I've lived in Dorset. In the Winter, they have a habit of coming into the house, although with all their entry points now blocked up, this is largely a thing of the past. Given they are a cute-looking species, I've never been worried that they are around. They usually can't resist some food (if they get into the house) & get caught & released again in the garden. This individual has taken to feeding under the Bird feeders in the early morning, but it is easy disturbed. It disappears when the back door is open, as the feeders are only a few feet from the door. However, on this occasion, it reappeared when the door was still open & gave me a choice. Grab the camera & be late for work or hope for another occasion. It wasn't a difficult choice.
Wood Mouse: A new Mammal for the Blog. I have photographed them before, but poorly through the back door glass. Great eyes & big ears

30 Jun 2019

30 Jun 19 - Little White Legs

I had spent most of my visit to Longham Lakes to look for & photograph Red-veined Darters. However, I did spent a few minutes photographing this White-legged Damselfly.
White-legged Damselfly
Also, there were good numbers of Common Blue Damselflies in the grassy edges to the lakes.
Common Blue Damselfly

30 Jun 19 - Sunburnt Darters

It was getting to the end of June & as usual, the Dorset Birding was very quiet. Many species have bred & are either moulting or attempting to raise a second brood. The first few Waders have started to appear, but that has just been a trickle so far. My thoughts were turning to Dragonflies and the expectation of trying to get some reasonable photos of Red-veined Darters. They have been seen in low numbers at Longham Lakes in recent years, but I've not been successful in seeing them there in the past. There had been a mid week post on twitter from local Birder, Ian Ballam, that he had seen & photographed some. The weekend looked promising, albeit exceptionally hot & sunny on the Saturday. I contacted Peter Moore on the Thursday evening to see if he was up for a visit, but he was thinking of travelling further afield for Brilliant Emerald on the Saturday. Fortunately, I've managed to photograph Brilliant Emeralds in the past. I made a flippant remark about I would still head there at the weekend & probably find something good. As well as Red-veined Darters, Lesser Emperors have also become established there in recent years. The next day I had a text from Peter saying "Scarlet Darter at Longham Lakes". Clearly, there was something good there, but it had already been found. This is only the second Dorset record, with the first being seen at Longham Lakes on 8 & 9 Jul 17.
Scarlet Darter: I was one of around 15 people who connected with the original individual before it disappeared (9 Jul 17)
In the end I decided to give the Saturday a miss. There is limited on road parking at Longham, unless you fancy a longer walk from the garden centre & I figured that it would be very popular given few people have seen a Scarlet Darter in the UK. The previous Longham Lakes record appears to have been one of the most twitchable individuals & it didn't linger long enough for more than a few locals to connect: as it was only seen on & off for a couple of hours mid morning. I was still keen to visit & the Sunday looked perhaps more promising. It had been in the low 30s the day before, but an overcast morning & more of a breeze was going to keep the site cooler. I grabbed the camera & left. After an afternoon of negative news on the Scarlet Darter, I had no problem in finding somewhere to park the car. After a ten minute walk, I reached the small pond where the Scarlet Darter had been seen the previous day. There had been no sightings, but it is a great looking site & I hung around to have a look. After all, if it was still around, but only liked to show in the mornings, then perhaps it was worth a wait. After about fifteen minutes, a guy I've not seen before said he had a bright red Darter flying over the pool. He said it had red eyes & he was 99.9% certain it was the Scarlet Darter. Being cynical, I didn't think it could be the Scarlet Darter, solely based upon the 99.9% certain statement. But I was also knew that two Red-veined Darters that had been seen on the pond during the previous day. I couldn't see it from where I was looking, so walked across to join him. It reappeared & perched up a few meters into the pond. Time to use the camera.
Red-veined Darter: It wasn't close
Red-veined Darter: A closer crop. I could see the dark edged pale pterostigma which I knew was a feature of Red-veined Darter. Also, it didn't look bright enough on the abdomen. I was trying to remember the other features for Scarlet Darter, but despite looking at the book over breakfast, I could only remember the overall brightness of the abdomen for Scarlet Darter
Having looked at the back of the camera photos, I checked my photo of the original Scarlet Darter & I could see that the pterostigma were dark. It had to be one of the Red-veined Darters. It probably wasn't what the handful of other peeps there wanted to hear, but that's life. It had flown, but returned to the same perch a couple of minutes later.
Red-veined Darter: This time it was side on. I thought that Red-veined Darters have a blue lower eye, but it is hard to see on this individual because of the wings. There is a hint that the lower eye could turn blue, but perhaps that happens over time. I was confused about the white band on the side of the frons. I couldn't remember reading about that it the past, but it was a few years since I looked at Red-veined Darter identification
The dark marks on the side of the abdomen was something that the previous Scarlet Darter hadn't shown. Checking the books, it is something that Red-veined Darters show. It was now happy to sit around & allowed views through the guy's telescope. Somebody had looked up the other features on their phone & confirmed it should have had a broad flat bright red abdomen with no black & no black on the red legs. In the end, we all agreed that it was a Red-veined Darter. It showed a couple of times, before disappearing for most of the next two hours. I hung around and chatted with various friends who were steadily arriving. Eventually, it was time to accept defeat that the Scarlet Darter wasn't round & head off with Olly Frampton & Peter Moore for the North Lake: which had been the stronghold for the Red-veined Darters during the week. Soon after arriving at the North Lake, we had found the second Red-veined Darter. I saw another two on the way back to the car. There had been about thirty seen during the week, but presumably the breeze wasn't helping.
Red-veined Darter: Note, the black marks on the abdomen & the dark bordered pale pterostigma
Red-veined Darter
Red-veined Darter: The dark legs & the facial pattern showing the blue-grey lower face & the white edges to the frons
Red-veined Darter
Red-veined Darter
Red-veined Darter 
Red-veined Darter: A close of the wing showing the red veins & the distinctive pterostigma
Clearly, it wasn't just me that was looking sunburnt that day.

19 May 2019

19 May 19 - Garden Orange-tip

If the weather is warm & sunny, I sometimes see Red Admirals or Peacocks flying around my garden in late Winter, which have hibernated as adults in the previous year. However, one of the first species of the Butterflies to emerge as adults around my garden are Orange-tips. They are also one of my favourite UK Butterflies. Males are always first on the wing of the two sexes and can regularly been seen enjoying my flowers, especially the Bluebells. Females emerge later & are less generally obvious & erratic visitors. So, I was pleased to see one settle on a white variant of my Red Valerian & enjoy a quick roost as the sun went in. She was there long enough to take my first photos of a female Orange-tip.
Orange-tip: A well camouflaged female against the white Red Valerian
The males are far more obvious, especially in flight, when they cannot be confused with any of the other UK Whites.
Orange-tip: Male at Old Harry (4 May 15)

15 May 2019

15 May 19 - A Is For Alexandrine

I was having a final look at the recent Durlston Bee-eaters, before heading home, when three silent Parakeets flew high over the Durlston Long Meadow field. I had a quick look at them with the bins & was surprised to see one was noticeably larger & longer-tailed than the others. It looked large for a Ring-necked Parakeet & so I picked up the camera to take a few photos. They circled the field once before flying back towards Swanage. Locally, Ring-necked Parakeets are a regular, but erratic sight, ever since an ex-publican of the Bankes Arms in Studland released about a dozen or so individuals when he left the area in the early 1990s. I had a quick look at one of the photos on the back of the camera. I saw two were juveniles & the long-tailed individual was an adult. It still didn't feel right, but they were only Parakeets & I assumed perhaps it was an oddly long-tailed individual, being accentuated by the two youngsters. I made a comment about the ages & thought I would have a proper look when I got home. In the end, I had forgot all about them in the few minutes it took me to get home. The following day, I saw a tweet from the country recorder, Marcus Lawson, about an Alexandrine Parakeet at Durlston & it immediately made sense. I hadn't considered other Parakeet species. When I looked at all the photos, I found a photo of the upper wing & the large red wing patch. Clearly, an Alexandrine Parakeet had been released or escaped & joined up with the local Ring-necked Parakeets.
Alexandrine Parakeet: Flying above a juvenile Ring-necked Parakeet
Alexandrine Parakeet: Alexandrine Parakeet is larger, long-tailed & heavier billed than a Ring-necked Parakeet
Alexandrine Parakeet: Had I looked at this photo, the red patch on the wing coverts and heavy red bill would have been immediately identifiable as an Alexandrine Parakeet
Alexandrine Parakeets were named after Alexander the Great. Apparently, they first brought back to Europe as exotic pets following his conquest of the Northern India.
Alexandrine Parakeet: A perched individual from Chiriyi Tapu, Andamans (22 Dec 13)

15 May 19 - B Is For Bee-eaters

I was working at home on Wednesday, when I saw a message at lunchtime of seven Bee-eaters at Durlston: the excellent Dorset County Council reserve at the Southern side of Swanage. I couldn't head up quickly due to work. I could afford to be laid back on this occasion, having been lucky enough to have seen a flock of six Bee-eaters at Durlston on 31 May 97 & a single exactly fifteen years later to the day. Maybe I should pop up on 31 May 27? They were still present when I finished for the day, so it was time to grab the camera & pop up to Durlston. I could see a few parked cars just outside the park entance & a small huddle in the field on the Eastern side of the entrance road. As I walked up to the small gathering, I saw Peter Moore lift his camera: clearly, they were still here. For the next hour they regularly flew over the fields on both sides of the entrance road. I've now seen eighteen good Birds at Durlston: a Red-footed Falcon, a Red-flanked Bluetail, a Hume's Yellow-browed Warbler, a self-found Bluethroat & fourteen Bee-eaters. A bit more variety would be nice!
Bee-eater: They really are too bright for the British countryside
Bee-eater: They are even better on the upperside
Bee-eater: Doing what their name suggests
Bee-eater: An unidentifiable Bumblebee: one of a number of species with a yellow band on the body
Bee-eater: This individual with a lop-sided tail moult and a notch in the inner primaries on the right wing was the most photogenic
I left about 20:00 as the light levels were starting to drop & I didn't think I was going to get any better shots. They must have headed off within the next thirty minutes, as one of my mates arrived about 20:30 & failed to see them. Presumably they roosted locally, but they didn't return to Durlston the following morning. Hopefully, the Dorset Spring isn't over yet.

10 May 2019

10 May 19 - Golden Brown

It's that time of year when there are a number of youngsters from the early local breeders appearing in my garden. Normally, I expect to see two or three young Dunnocks appearing over the course of the breeding season. It not always easy to be sure how many youngsters are around, unless I see them together or can learn the subtle differences in plumage to separate them. Hopefully, I continue to see the same individuals over the following few months, until they become a lot harder to pick out from the two pairs of resident Dunnocks that have territories that include my garden.
Dunnock: Juvenile. Typically my Dunnocks look like this individual photographed at Studland (14 May 14)
However, this year is going to be a lot easier to keep tabs on one of the individuals as it is very distinctive. It's been around for a few weeks now, so clearly has worked out how to survive so far. They get a bit of support from the parents in their first few days of fledgling, but like a number of my other garden Birds, are far too quickly left to sort themselves out.
Dunnock: Juvenile. This cracking golden-brown individual has been around for a few weeks now
These photos were taken through the kitchen window & hence, they aren't as sharp as they would otherwise be.
Dunnock: Juvenile
The pale plumage is going to be a result of some leucistic genes, but I've never seen any of my local Dunnocks look pale before. So, it's possible that a wandering Dunnock has briefly entered the area or perhaps it's just some genes that haven't popped up in the twenty plus years I've lived here. David Attenborough highlighted that the often overlooked Dunnocks have a lot more spicy sex lives than people had assumed. So, it would be nice to think that there is another explanation, that my garden played host to the UK's first African Desert Warbler.
African Desert Warbler: It's unlikely this was a parent, but it looks like it might just have been. Western Sahara (8 Feb 14)

24 Apr 2019

28 Apr 19 - Dotted Bee Fly

I can still remember being shown my first Bee Fly (or Dark-edged Bee Fly to be more precise) at Farley Mount, Hampshire back in late May 1984. It was an excellent looking Insect. In those days, I was doing a lot of Birding, as well as, looking at Butterflies & Moths when the Birding turned quiet with my good mate John Chainey. More recently I've become aware there are three other species of Bee Flies that occur in the UK: Dotted Bee Fly, Heath Bee Fly and Western Bee Fly. I've only seen Bee Fly and Dotted Bee Fly, but I've normally seen them when I've not had a camera with me. Finally, I was pleased to see a Bee Fly sp. in my garden for the first time on 22 Apr 19. But it had disappeared by the time I grabbed the camera from the house. At the time, I thought it Bee Fly. Just under a week later, I saw another Bee Fly sp. & this time, it was still there when I grabbed the camera. This turned out to be a Dotted Bee Fly. As it was only the second garden record of the genus & only a few days after the initial sighting, then the first sighting had to be downgraded to Bee Fly sp.
Dotted Bee Fly: All four species have this excellent proboscis. The chestnut and black body and the dark spots on the views identify as a Dotted Bee Fly and the line of white spots on the abdomen indicates it's a female
There is an excellent short identification paper on the four Bee Fly species here.

1 Apr 2019

1 Apr 19 - Rare 'Scottish' Migrant Roosting At Corfe Castle

The local roads have been very busy over the last couple of weekends as there were many people arriving to twitch the rare 'Scottish' migrant that has recently arrived in the Swanage & Corfe Castle area. I managed to see it on 22 Mar before it left its Swanage roost. Therefore, I felt I could avoid the clogged up local roads over that weekend. After a few days, it moved a new roost site at Corfe Castle. With the clock change, there was the opportunity to have another look after work, as it roosted at Corfe Castle. I had heard it was visible from the platform of the Corfe Castle station.
Corfe Castle: This is my favourite station on the local heritage railway line
Walking to the end of the platform, I found a family had already found the roost site.
Flying Scotsman: She will be at Corfe Castle until 10 Apr
Flying Scotsman: A closer view
The last time the Flying Scotsman visited the Swanage heritage line was 1994 which helped to explain why the visit was particularly well received.
Flying Scotsman: Swanage (22 Mar 19)
It was good to see this impressive & icon steam engine, which was the first British train to exceed 100 mph, in the local area. Hopefully, it will help to generate some additional funds for the heritage railway.
One of the other heritage line trains pulls out of Swanage: With that amount of smoke it's not a bad thing that we have switched to cleaner trains, away from the heritage lines (22 Mar 19)

24 Feb 2019

24 Feb 19 - Exploring Mainland Shetland

When I booked the flights for the Shetland trip, the Tengmalm's Owl wasn't being seen every day & therefore I was trying to maximise my chances of connecting by being on Mainland Shetland for two days. But my hope was that with a few more people looking on a weekend, then I would see it on the first day & I would then have the chance to go Birding in a part of the UK I hadn't visited very often. Many twitchers, myself included, end up travelling long distances, hopefully see the Bird & then head home as quickly as possible. Sometimes, it's time pressures of work or other commitments that make it a necessary strategy, but with offshore islands I am generally keener to spend some time on the island & do some exploring & general Birding if possible. Having seen the Tengmalm's Owl I now had most of the second day for some exploring. I was up at first light for breakfast after a good night's sleep in a hotel in Lerwick. I expected to be grabbing snacks for the rest of the day, so I might as well take advantage of prepaid hot food & drinks. The previous evening, we had been asked to not visit the Tengmalm's Owl garden before 09:00 & told there would be limited access during the day, as there was a family get together planned. It seemed another good reason for going Birding elsewhere on Mainland Shetland. There were a number of other Bird highlights on the island, including a Pied-billed Grebe, an overwintering Scarlet Rosefinch, as well as, the more expected Iceland Gulls etc in the fish processing part of the Lerwick harbour. However, my plan was to avoid all of those & go looking for Otters & Orcas in the North of the island, as well as, some general off the beaten track exploring & Birding. As I walked out to the car, I was pleased to see the wind had dropped noticeably. There was still a wind, but I can't believe that there are many genuinely still days on Shetland. But it was dry & still really mild so about as good as it was going to be for late Feb.
Hooded Crow: A common species on the Shetlands. I had only got a few hundred metres from the hotel when I found this individual feeding on some seed thrown onto the pavement
Hooded Crow: Trying to improve the background for me
The first site I was aiming for the ferry slipway for Yell. It was still early & I was hoping that one of the regular Otters might be enjoying itself in the water: unfortunately not. But there was a selection of commoner Wintering species.
Otter sign: Unfortunately, this was as close as I got to an Otter
After drawing a blank around the Yell ferry slipway, I returned to the main road to the North & carried on explore the North West corner of mainland around Hillswick, before heading further out onto the peninsula.
Bay en route to the Yell ferry slipway
I spotted a sign for some toilets in Hillswick: But there were no more signs after I parked the car. Then I realised the more subtle clues
There was running water in the toilets: So, these outside facilities were no longer needed
Carrying on beyond Hillswick, the small road leads onto the open boggy moors with occasional crofts.
An isolated croft
The moors are very boggy
Shetland Sheep: The numbers of Sheep must outnumber the humans by well over ten to one. The Vikings wandering around Lerwick on the celebration days still can't complete with these Sheep for elaborate headgear
Shetland Sheep: They look even better from head on
Greylag Goose: The standard Shetland Goose species. They can be seen commonly across the Shetlands, but they were immediately wary & start moving away as I stopped the car for photos
Greylag Goose: They seemed a lot more interesting than their tamer cousins around Poole Harbour
Whooper Swan & Wigeon: There were a few parties of Whooper Swans on lochs, but none were particularly close. This must have had a muddy bottom given how dirty their heads are. On this loch, every party of Whooper Swans had at least one accompanying Wigeon, which were clearly picking up smaller bits of food brought up by the Swans
Rock Dove: It's commonly known locally the lack I interest I have in the local Feral Pigeons, but I do enjoy seeing their wild relatives. I saw a number around the island during the two days, but this pair were the only ones I got to photograph
Carrying on towards Eshaness lighthouse, the coastal scenery became even more exposed to the elements: but the nearest land to the West is the Southern tip of Greenland. I was looking for places to look for Orcas, but it was going to be a long shot finding the Orcas along this coastline.
The seas aren't forgiving on the offshore rocks
There must have been offshore rocks close to the surface
There were large numbers of Fulmars, Kittiwakes & the occasional Gannets flying along the coast. These Fulmars seen later in the day were a bit closer.
Fulmar: The local Fulmars were clearly keen to start settling down to breed
Fulmar: They generally seem quite graceful with their landings, but this one was making a hash of its touchdown
I had time for a quick look at Ollaberry on the North East coast.
Overlooking Ollaberry bay
This was more sheltered than the West coast. Over the years, there have been a lot of stories going around about the honest of some of the big listers & the veracity of their lists. What I hadn't expected was that one of the top listers had a property in this part of Shetland.
Fiblister: I wonder which of the big listers owns this property?
Finally, it was time to turn round & start heading for Sumburgh for my late afternoon flight off the Shetlands. I hadn't seen anything exceptional on my travels, however, I would rather have had some time to go looking than follow the beaten route that many of the other twitchers had been taking involving a distant Pied-billed Grebe, an erratically showing Rosefinch & some Iceland Gulls. I will be back on the Shetlands in the future & maybe I will be luckier with Orcas next time. The Loganair flight left on time for Aberdeen.
Flying over the RSPB Loch of Strathbeg & Rattray Head: I visited Rattray Head for a Desert Wheatear the day after I came off the Shetland ferry after the Pine Grosbeak twitch in Feb 2013
 After a ninety minute wait, I was boarding the plane to Heathrow & was back indoors before midnight: seven hours after taking off from Sumburgh. The end of a memorable weekend. It hadn't been a cheap weekend, but the weather had worked out well, I had seen the Tengmalm's Owl as soon as I had arrived & I had enjoyed the chance to have a general look around Mainland Shetland. Crucially, I hadn't had to take any days off work on my recently started new job.