10 May 2020

10 May 20 - An Unpreceded Movement For Dorset #BWKM0

This morning I was happily entering old sightings from a trip to South Africa in Nov/Dec 90, with Keith Turner & Jerry Warne. I had been looking out of the window at regular intervals, but it seemed quiet. About 12:20, Westbourne based Phil Saunders rang me to say Sophie, Durwyn Liley's wife, had seen a White-tailed Sea-eagle with some Red Kites, over Swyre Head whilst out cycling. Durwyn had said it seemed to be heading East. There are a few miles between Swyre Head & Swanage, with lots of attractive coastline, including the St Aldhelms cliffs to tempt a White-tailed Sea-eagle to linger. Alternatively, it might end up coasting. It would almost certainly be one of the White-tailed Sea-eagles that were released on the Isle of Wight last Autumn, so clearly not wild or tickable for Dorset, but it was still worth a look. I rang local Durlston Birder, Phyl England, to alert her in case it went over the Durlston part of Swanage. While on the phone, Phyl said she had missed out on seeing any of the Red Kites that had been passing over Dorset this Spring. I then had to apologise as the next Bird I looked at was a Red Kite heading East over Swanage. That was 11:25. I had two more East at 12:05. Then it started getting silly with the following: four at 12:10, five at 12:17, eight more kettling at 12:35, two at 12:40, one at 12:43 & four at 12:45. At this point, it quietened down, until the final one at 13:15. These numbers & times were as they moved over or past my house. On several occasions, I was able to follow & keep track of the individuals that had already moved over the house as they followed the same general route East over Swanage. The maximum I saw at any one time were the eight kettling individuals (which had drifted past the house in the previous ten minutes). Many of the earlier individuals eventually turning North to avoid flying over the sea. They were doing that as I was watching others coming low over the house. None of the individuals were seen to double back. I suspect I might have under counted by one of two individuals, but I'm confident with a minimum total of twenty five in under two hours. This compared to eight all spring over the house. To reinforce these were different individuals, some had extensive wear in the flight feathers & were very tatty, whilst others were in better condition. 

As I watched them, they were flying East towards Western Swanage, before turning North as they saw the sea & reached the more urban centre of the town. A few were in the valley bottom, but still turned North without flying over the town. The eight kettling individuals were particularly interesting, as this seemed to be more a way to get high to check out the lie of the land. They then dropped in height again & like the others I had seen, flew low North towards the Ulwell Gap. I followed a number well towards the Ulwell Gap, where the Swanage road cuts through the gap to Studland, but ultimately, lost them before the pass itself, which is just out of my view. I assume they continued through the pass & either headed over Studland at the Poole Harbour or possibly turned West again over the Rempstone Forest. Not for the first time in local Vis Migging, I've wished I could be in several places at the same time
Red Kite: I did photograph a couple of close individuals today, but they are still in the camera. So here is one that was over the house on 8 Apr 20
After some food, I was back in the study & facing West again. I had a few casual looks out of the window with my naked eyes & bins and picked up another Red Kite heading North East. This individual was further away and would have bypassed Swanage completely. 

Quite a few other Birders in Poole were picking Red Kites up over their houses, include Shaun Robson, who had twenty three heading South West over Upton, Poole around late morning/early afternoon. About 14:15, I rang Phil Saunders to thank him for the earlier call & to hear more about his sightings. Phil had seen amazing sixty three Red Kites heading West over his Westbourne garden Vis Mig site between 10:55 & 12:05, including about thirty in the air at one point. Even more interesting all his Red Kites were moving before I was looking: so how many had I missed? In the twelve minutes we were on the phone, my scanning with the bins picked up another four moving North East. The wind was slowly strengthening, but it wasn't particularly strong, but perhaps it had changed direction & they were coasting more into the wind & missing Swanage.

I was particularly impressed with Phil's total as that was a new Dorset site record. Well the record lasted until mid afternoon, when I saw a tweet from Mike Morse at West Bexington with a hundred & twelve West between 13:00 & 15:15. Later, Tom Brereton had another seventy nine North West between Bridport & Higher Eype between 13:15 & 14:15 & a further eight over Bridport later on.

It was a very enjoyable & amazing movement. But it raises an interesting question: why weren't the Swanage individuals following the same West route as most of today's other Dorset individuals. My guess it they were individuals that perhaps had been going West, but hit the coast around Swyre Head or St Aldhelms & having seen the sea, they started coasting into the wind, until they reached Swanage when they were forced by the local geography to head North again. As I said earlier, it would have been great to head to Studland or the Godlingston viewpoint near the Studland golf course, to figure out what was happening there. But with the lockdown in place, I'm not going to re-interpret the mix messages from this lousy government & use it as an excuse to head out Birding: when it isn't essential travel.

It was a great spot of Birding from the house. A lot more enjoyable that seeing a presumed released White-tailed Sea-eagle. To be honest, I just can't get that excited about most of the recently released species in the UK. Perhaps a bit of irony there, given all today's Red Kites originated from reintroduced schemes. But they started the Red Kite reintroductions a bit over thirty years ago and most of the individuals I saw today would probably be able to trace their family tree back for several generations of breeding in the wild.