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

4 Dec 2019

4 Dec 19 - The Last Carefree Twitch

On 18 Nov 19, I was surprised to see a Hermit Thrush had turned up on St Mary's. It was only the thirteenth UK record and there are only two Irish records. It was a late date for an American Passerine to turn up. It was still a Tick for me and a species that I have tried unsuccessfully to see in the past. On 17 Oct 87, I flew onto the Scillies and joined a lot of other Birders who tried to see one on St Agnes. Unfortunately, it proved to be a two day individual and we tried on the third day. To make things more interesting, we got back for one of the last flights of the day off St Mary's, only to find the helicopters were grounded due to adverse weather. We were given the option of trying to find a room in Hugh Town at our expense or to stay in the heliport overnight. The heliport provided blankets and stretchers to sleep on & kept the cafe open later than normal. It worked out better than the plan to camp or sleep in the car in Cornwall. They laid on the cancelled flights the following morning.

My next half-attempt at a Hermit Thrush came in at the end of Oct 13. I had decided to twitch the Cape May Warbler on Shetlands using a charter flight from Yorkshire. Having got back to Yorkshire that evening, there were two top quality Ticks in the UK for me. A Hermit Thrush that was showing on & off at Porthgwarra in Cornwall or a Mourning Dove on the Island of Rum in the Hebrides. In the end, I decided to drive to Scotland as I was halfway there & hope I could day trip the Mourning Dove, before heading for Cornwall. I reasoned that if I went South to Cornwall, that I wouldn't want to drive all the way up to Scotland again. Due to adverse weather, there was a change in the ferry timings for Rum: the result was I would have to stay for two nights on Rum before I could get off. I was happy with that. But it meant that the Hermit Thrush had departed before I could drive to Cornwall. I guess that is better to know that it had left, rather than get there & find I had missed it by one day again.

Since the 1987 individual, there had been another eight UK records. But they had all been on distant islands and only for one to three days. Hermit Thrushes had proved to be a tricky species to see. This new individual was found on a Monday & I was working on a hectic contract. It would be difficult to take a day off, as I had so much work on. Plus if I don't work, I don't get paid as there is no holiday pay in the contract world. Losing a day's work would cost me more than the cost of the twitch. I planned to see how things went during the week & to try getting a flight over at the weekend, as the Scillonian doesn't run for passengers in the Winter season. As it got closer to the weekend, the Hermit Thrush was still there, but all the places on the flights were booked. It's not surprising as the planes were the only way the islanders could get on or off the islands.

I left it for another week & it was the same the following weekend. Would it stay till my Christmas shutdown at work. That meant gambling it would stay for another three weeks & there were few places on flights with Christmas holidays anyway. The other problem was the weather was often grim with winds and or rain. But the Hermit Thrush was still present. I wasn't ready to fully give up on it as it was clearly hanging around, which historically they haven't done. Finally, I saw a break in the rough weather with a mild, sunny & still day for Wednesday 4 Dec 19. When it was present on the Monday, I bought my plane tickets for a day trip to Scillies. The first flight I could book left at 10:55, but I could stay on the island until it was dark. The only worry having bought the ticket, is Thrushes are nocturnal migrants and tend to move on clear night skies.
Waiting for the call for boarding
I arrived early at St Just airfield in the hope that somebody wouldn't show on an earlier flight. But there were no last minute cancellations. Had there been, then there were a couple of Birders Steve & David Lawton who were due to fly twenty minutes before me & they would have grabbed the earlier flight. Still at least there would be three of us looking for the Hermit Thrush & they should be on site a few minutes before me. The flight went on time & I was quickly out of the heliport and walking down to Kitty Down. It seemed excessive to jump into a taxi to get there a few minutes quicker. I arrived to hear the news that they hadn't seen it. The good news was the Hermit Thrush was still present that morning, but the bad news was it had disappeared about forty minutes before they arrived. An hour after I had arrived and we still hadn't seen it. One of the local Birders had wandered by for a short visit, but that extra pair of eyes hadn't helped.
The field had been roped off to avoid disturbing the Hermit Thrush: It was good the area was still roped off, even though the weekend crowds were not visiting
It was a big area to cover with just the three or four of us
Song Thrush: The local Song Thrushes have a reputation for being very tame
Song Thrush: Lovely, but this is the wrong species of Thrush
I wandered along the field edge & after ten minutes, I had it fly in from a nearby area & land on view. I had enough time to look at it, wave to the others and grab a few photos. But it disappeared before they appeared.
Hermit Thrush: My first view. Unfortunately, it flew before either of the Lawtons could reach me
After another fifteen minutes, one of the Lawtons found it feeding in an open area under the trees, along the left hand side of the field. We had to watch it from the main track at the bottom of the field & had to make do with it not being close. But at least we were far enough away to not disturb it. Fortunately, it stayed there for the next hour and we could watch it feed. Only once did it come out into the field edge, but it was quickly chased back into cover by a Song Thrush.
Hermit Thrush: This was species 542 for my British & Irish List, including six species only seen in Ireland
Hermit Thrush: They are a small Thrush with a noticeably rufous tail
Hermit Thrush
Hermit Thrush: It stayed around until 7 Dec, but that was its last day: I only made it with a few days to spare
Hermit Thrush: Soon after this photo was taken, it hopped into the trees & we didn't see it again in the nest half hour. It was time to move on
It was now early afternoon. I had a bit of time to go Birding. The quickest option was to head for Porth Hellick in the hope of finding a late Autumn Phyllos Warbler: but the best Bird was a Firecrest. Porth Hellick was equally quiet. There was time to carried on & have a quick look at the sea from the bay there. This produced at least three Short-beaked Common Dolphins feeding offshore with a large Gannet & Kittiwake flock. It was time to headed back to the heliport for my 16:30 flight off.
Moorhen: I had hoped for something more interesting than this Moorhen at Porth Hellick
I cut back from Porth Hellick to the airport along the path through Salakee Farm. I found a Hedgehog here. This is an introduced species to the Isles of Scilly and one that isn't fully welcome, given they are introduced. They should be hibernating by this date on the mainland, but I guess the combination of the milder winters and the last truly sunny day of the year had brought it out to look for food. Even though they are introduced, I was pleased to see a Hedgehog as I see very few these days. When I was a kid living on the Kent London borders, we had a Hedgehog that lived in the garden for several years while I was in my teens. I enjoyed watching it. Sadly, it is a species that is effectively extinct in the Dorset countryside. A combination of pesticides, ripping out of hedge lines with the remaining ones shared with Badgers, which are a significant predator have resulted in their loss. Fortunately, they are still hanging on in the urban areas in Dorset.
Little did I know this was to be my last carefree national twitch for a couple of years. Four months later was the first of the C19 lockdowns. My only twitch that year was a nervous one to Portland for the Yelkouan Shearwaters. I didn't do any more twitching in 2020. I didn't twitch the Northern Mockingbird in Devon in Mar 21, but I did when there was an opportunity for a more socially distanced twitch when it moved to Pulborough.
The obligatory last light photo: Just another five hours or so, before I would get home. Then another short night's sleep before the normal hour & three quarters drive to Winchester for work

10 Nov 2019

10 Nov 19 - Two Interesting Wagtails

On 7 Nov 19, RBA mentioned that there was a probable Eastern Yellow Wagtail on the marsh & beach at Corporation Marshes to the South of Warbleswick, which had been present for eleven days. There was a message later that day that it was probably a Yellow Wagtail, based upon a sonogram. The next day, RBA were stating that the probable Eastern Yellow Wagtail had been seen again. On Saturday 9 Nov, it was confirmed as an Eastern Yellow Wagtail, with an accompanying Yellow Wagtail. That explained the negative sonogram. There were recordings of the Eastern Yellow Wagtail which supported its identification.

The Sunday looked good for a trip with sunny & still weather on the forecast. Given it had been showing on & off throughout the Saturday, it didn't seem necessary to be there for dawn. I was up early and was on the road by 08:00 as soon as positive news came through that it was still there. I arrived about lunchtime and had a half hour walk up the beach to the area of marsh & wet pools that the two Wagtails were favouring.
Looking up the beach to Warbleswick & Southwold: This would be an interesting place to live with some great Birding spots on the doorstep
Soon after I arrived a Wagtail showed, but it was easy to confirm it was the Yellow Wagtail. I had spent some time that morning reading up the identification of the two species and also looking at photos & a Blog detailing the two Wagtails that were present at the Corporation Marshes. This proved to be a real help for me when one or other of the Wagtails showed themselves.
Yellow Wagtail: Note, the pale lores & the open-faced appearance
On a casual view, the two Wagtails looked similar. However, one of the key identification features is Eastern Yellow Wagtails have dark lores, whereas Yellow Wagtails have much paler lores and this gives a different paler and more open appearance to this part of the face. Having spent some time reading about this feature and looking at the photos of the two species, then it was very easy to focus in on this feature. Clearly, many of the twitchers who were there that day hadn't done their homework before they left home. As a result, when either Wagtail showed, there were a lot of shouts of "I've got a Wagtail", which was also clear that the person calling it out wasn't sure which species it was. Unfortunately, this wasn't the correct species, but it was good to feel confident on how to separate the two Wagtails. After a while the Yellow Wagtail flew away from the area.
Yellow Wagtail: This individual was as interesting as the Eastern Yellow Wagtail, as this doesn't look like a regular British Yellow Wagtail. So, I wonder what subspecies this might be & how far West it flew to get to Warbleswick
There was no sign of either of the Wagtails over the next couple of hours. However, the time passed quickly, helped with a Rough-legged Buzzard that steadily drifted South along the coast: a real treat for a Dorset Birder like me who rarely leaves the county.
Rough-legged Buzzard
Rough-legged Buzzard: One of the local Marsh Harriers look exception to the Rough-legged Buzzard getting all the attention
Rough-legged Buzzard: There are very few pukka Rough-legged Buzzard records in Dorset & it's still a county Tick for me
Rough-legged Buzzard: At one point, the Rough-legged Buzzard went into a steep dive before equally quickly pulling out. It's not a great photo, but it does give a good view of the upper tail pattern
There was a flock of eight Snow Buntings that were coming & going on the beach.
Snow Bunting
Snow Bunting
At one point, a flock of around 250 Barnacle Geese flew South over the sea: another treat, but one we have a chance of occasionally seeing in Dorset, albeit in smaller numbers.
Barnacle Geese: This was only a small part of the 250 strong flock or so that flew South
Barnacle Geese: A closer crop
Finally, a Wagtail dropped onto the beach close to the marsh. A quick look at the lores. Bingo: this was the Eastern Yellow Wagtail. It spent about five minutes on the beach, before flying into the marsh. For the next half hour, it was on view in the marsh.
Eastern Yellow Wagtail: The dark lores stand out to give a very different facial pattern
Eastern Yellow Wagtail
Eastern Yellow Wagtail: This Dutch Birding paper is well worth a read
After a while, the Yellow Wagtail flew over & dropped into the marsh. This made it more interesting when the views became more spasmodic as they moved in & out behind vegetation. However, the facial pattern worked on every view to figure out which species I was watching.
Yellow Wagtail: Head, shoulders and pale lores photo
Eastern Yellow Wagtail: A comparable head, shoulders and dark lores photo
I was happy I had seen both Wagtails well during my visit. Eventually, it stopped showing in the marsh: it as time to walk back down the beach. It had been a good day trip & a good learning exercise. It's taken me to Aug 23 to sort these photos out & write this Blog Post. This has the advantage that I can add in a photo that I took of an Eastern Yellow Wagtail during the Banda Sea Cruise for comparison at an identical time of the year.
Eastern Yellow Wagtail: Wilbur confirmed this is the tschutschensis subspecies. Damar, Indonesia (3 Nov 22)
Having got back from this trip, I dug out the photos from a day trip that Pete Moore & I did to St Mary's at the end of Oct 16. There had been an odd House Martin around during the week which was being touted as a putative Asian House Martin. It hadn't been worked out by the Friday morning, but it was still there. We decided to book a day trip on the plane on the hope it would still be there at the weekend. That afternoon, the news was updated to indicate it was most likely an odd House Martin. It became academic as it wasn't present on the weekend. But having been confirmed as an odd House Martin, there were probably few Birders looking for it. However, there was also a probable Eastern Yellow Wagtail on St Mary's which had been around for a while. This would have been a UK Tick for both of us at the time. As far as I can make out, this was never submitted. I guess in those days, there was a feeling that if there isn't any DNA or a recording, then it won't be accepted. But looking at these photos, in the light of seeing these two Wagtails in Suffolk, then it makes me think the finders should submit the record.
Eastern Yellow Wagtail or Yellow Wagtail?: St Mary's (29 Oct 16)
Eastern Yellow Wagtail or Yellow Wagtail?: St Mary's (29 Oct 16)
Eastern Yellow Wagtail or Yellow Wagtail?: St Mary's (29 Oct 16)

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)

14 Sept 2019

14 Sep 19 - Lap-pal

This is a first for the Blog: a Birding palindrome. On Tuesday 10 Sep 19, a photo emerged of a Lapland Bunting at Portland, which seems to have been photographed by visitors, but not seen by anybody at the Portland Bird Obs that day. That was soon rectified by plenty of photos when it was relocated the following day, accompanied by comments of how approachable it was.

When it was still present on the Friday, I decided that I would use it as an excuse for my just about annual visit to Portland Bill. Despite only being just over an hour to the Bill, I get a lot more enjoyment out of kicking around locally within ten miles of my house. I rarely travel out of my local area, except for a Tick. I headed off at lunchtime, when it was still present on the Saturday morning. I had expected there to be plenty of photographers, but the early afternoon arrival meant that there were only one or two others enjoying it while I was there. As it was feeding next to the coastal path, there was a steady stream of people walking past, but it remained unfazed.
Lapland Bunting: The majority of Dorset's Lapland Buntings are fly over calling individuals. So, it was a real treat to get one on the ground that was showing well
Lapland Bunting
Lapland Bunting: My favourite angle for ground Birds is at their height
Lapland Bunting: Do I look better on this side
Lapland Bunting: Or maybe head on?
Lapland Bunting
Lapland Bunting
Lapland Bunting: Normally, I struggle to find a few half reasonable photos. This time I deleted about fifty photographs that were better than my normal quality of photo
Lapland Bunting: With the Obs in the background

26 Aug 2019

26 Aug 19 - The Dorset Hippo Season Is Coming

I'm currently trying to clear a backlog of old UK photos that have accumulating over the last few years and which is clogging up my laptop. Today's Blog Post is appropriate as I'm writing this as the current Hippo season in Dorset is approaching. I had spent the previous day back in Aug 19 emptying and refilling my large pond: the first time for over a decade. I was still aching & when I saw the weather was foggy the following morning, it was a good reason not to go out Birding to St Aldhelms.

However, fellow patch watcher, Phil Saunders, had driven over from Bournemouth & decided to give it a go, as he was there. Phil rang me late morning to say he had found a Melodious Warbler when the fog cleared. It was patrolling around a few bushes at the top of Pier Bottom valley. I rang the news around. Steve Morrison, who was currently in the UK that year from his French home, & I headed down to have a look for it. We spread out when we reached Pier Bottom. It only took a few minutes to relocate and it was in the same two bushes that Phil had seen it an hour earlier. If only other Melodious Warblers were as well behaved. They generally have a habit of skulking & not showing well.
Melodious Warbler
Very quickly, we could confirm it was a Melodious Warbler, not that Phil was going to get it confused with an Icterine Warbler. My other St Aldhelms Melodious Warbler, was identified as an Icterine Warbler on 15 Aug 1996. I saw it poorly on the following day and reidentified it as a Melodious Warbler. This didn't go down well with the finder & the other local Birder who had seen it on the first day. However, they conceded I was correct when we saw it for its final day on the 17th.
Melodious Warbler
Melodious Warbler: Showing the wing formula
Melodious Warbler: Another view of the wing formula
It would be nice to see a local Icterine Warbler.
Melodious Warbler: Another view of the wing formula