20 Sept 2020

20 Sep 20 - A Long Awaited Dream

My favourite Wader on the UK List is Buff-breasted Sandpiper. However, it's a species I've not had a good track record with seeing. My first failure was Sep 80 when Pete Aley & I managed to get a lift from our edge of Kent/London homes down to Cornwall for a Semi-palmated Sandpiper. After seeing it, we carried on to Predannack airfield for a couple of Buff-breasted Sandpipers that had been showing well in previous days. However, there was no sign when we arrived. After a long wait, we picked up two small Waders flying high over the airfield. They looked hopeful, but a Merlin appeared from nowhere, caught one & the other disappeared. A few days later Pete heard the remains of a Buff-breasted Sandpiper had been found. Almost certainly that was what we had seen, but untickable views (UTVs). The following month, I was in the Cley area with my Southampton Birding mates. As we got out of the car & started walking behind the beach, we could see a lone Wader in front of us. Rather than stop & check it with the telescopes, we tried walking closer. As Dave Bishop identified it as a Buff-breasted Sandpiper, it took off West, was seen soon after flying over the East Bank as it left the area. My third set of UTVs. In 1981, things got even worse when we tried for one at the Perry's Oak Sewerage Farm, near Heathrow, but it had left before we arrived. I finally saw one at Pennington after a blow in Sep 1982. We arrived & were pleased to find a Pectoral Sandpiper, until we met the local Combridge brothers who had found my first Buff-breasted Sandpiper. After breaking the duck, I managed to see a couple more on Scillies a couple of weeks afterwards & then two more singles on Hayling Island & the Scillies, in the following year.

It was a long wait to my next Buff-breasted Sandpiper, as I didn't spend a long of time on the Scillies after the mid 80s & I wasn't interested in going a long way to see rarities I had seen before. In 1996, I moved to Dorset & started paying attention to my Dorset list. But circumstances meant I didn't connect with my first Buff-breasted Sandpiper at one of their traditional Dorset sites at White Nothe until Sep 15: in a ploughed field on a high stretch of the Jurassic coastline.
Buff-breasted Sandpiper: White Nothe (17 Sep 15)
In 2011, Nick Hopper found Poole Harbour's first Buff-breasted Sandpiper on Brownsea. It was late afternoon & I was off work for a week of Birding. But I had also put my back out & could hardly walk that afternoon. Normally, I could have made it to the hide within the time available, albeit I would probably have had to run & rely on Nick to be there with a scope. But I had no chance with my bad back. The back wasn't so bad the following morning, but I was too late as it had left overnight. A few years later, Poole Harbour's only other record again departed very rapidly from Lytchett Bay. Had I left when I heard, I should have connected, but getting ready for work & having breakfast cost me the Bird. Clearly, I was back to my standard track record of little success with this species, especially, as I would rather go Birding on my local patches, than twitch another, elsewhere in Dorset.
Redpoll: Not the best of photos, but this early morning individual dropped into the weedy field at the top of Pier Bottom valley with three mates was one of the best species seen on 20 Sep. A good view for St Aldhelms, where typically they flight straight over this area, calling as they disappear
Jumping forward to 20 Sep 20. I was out on the St Aldhelms patch again. Since the August Bank holiday, I have been trying to spend as much time as work & the weather will allow on the patch. I had been out on the previous day, where despite a noticeable NE wind, it had been a good day's Birding with some migrants around. My first Harbour Porpoises off the Head had been a significant bonus. But the NE wind seemed colder on the 20th and there were few migrants around. Around early afternoon, I decided to give up & head home for a very late breakfast. The quickest route was back along the coast path and to cut back up Pier Bottom valley, as it's a stiff walk up the hill to the Chapman's Valley path. Cutting up the valley, gives me the excuse of avoid the steep steps, whilst allowing me the opportunity to check the bushes in the valley.
Pier Bottom Valley: The bushes on the top of the left hand slope can sometimes hold migrants
Given the lack of migrants, I decided I might as well keep to the footpath as it would be quickest route to the car. There is an excellent field to the North of the valley, but I was dismayed to see the farmer had cut the plants in it during the previous week. For the last few years, it's had what looks to be a nitrogen fixing plant perhaps Lucerne in it, which had made it attractive to Autumnal Butterflies. With it cut, I expected I wouldn't be stopping as I walked along it, unless there were some Wheatears & Whinchats in it. When I was about half way along the field's length, I could see four Golden Plovers with a smaller pale Wader in with them. Although I couldn't see it well, I was already speculating that the most likely species was a Buff-breasted Sandpiper. Fortunately, there was nobody else on the footpath, so little chance of the Waders being disturbed before I got to them. I stopped early & grabbed some photos, as I didn't want a repeat of the Cley scenario. I quick look at the back of the camera confirmed the id. Superb: a long awaited dream to find a Buff-breasted Sandpiper & equally good, it was the first St Aldhelms record. I made a few photocalls & put the news out. I wanted to wait until a few others arrived to ensure it didn't move before the first people arrived. First on the scene was Phil Saunders. Phil would typically have also been at St Aldhelms that morning, but had switched to Durlston. The news from Phil wasn't good. Despite the cold wind, both the St Aldhelms & Worth Matravers car parks were full. He had finally found an on road parking place in Worth Matravers, but it would be nearly an hour's wait before he arrived. Peter Moore also was on his way from Portland and experienced similar parking problems. A few more Birders started arriving by mid-afternoon, but were more lucky to find places in the car parks.
Buff-breasted Sandpiper: With a couple of the Golden Plovers. At this point, they were the closest I was to see them. In hindsight, I spent too much time getting the news out compared to getting photographs
Buff-breasted Sandpiper
Buff-breasted Sandpiper: Showing how it gets its name
Golden Plover: This was a darker, less golden, individual than the others
I finally made it home & had my first food for the day about 15:30. It had been a much longer day than I had expected, but I'm not complaining.

14 Sept 2020

14 Sep 20 - The Changing Faces Of The St Aldhelms Patch

The pressure of work & windy weekends made weekend visits to St Aldhelms in August largely impossible this Autumn. It wasn't until the Bank Holiday weekend, that the pressure of work started reducing back towards normal hours & the weather improved. That provided a chance to get out onto the patch, with the added bonus that I could head out for pre-work visits to St Aldhelms (as far as Trev's Two-barred Greenish quarry). So, far in Sep, I've been able to get out on a bit over half of the weekday mornings, as well as, longer visits at the weekend. But this morning, I'm fogged in with 200 metres visibility in the house. This happened on the 3 Sep, but I went anyway just for the exercise: a couple of miles of exercise with less than 100 metres of visibility & nothing of note seen.

The start of the track at St Aldhelms: Normally, I should be able to see for 2 or 3 miles in every direction, whereas the tree in the middle of the track was 30 metres in front of me (3 Sep 20)
This is what the visibility should be like at this point
: Visibility of over two miles, albeit without the snow (2 Feb 19)
Trev's quarry: I never thought I would tire of looking in Trev's quarry, but maybe that changed on 3 Sep

Fortunately, the visibility on other visits has been much better. One of the great things about the St Aldhelms patch is it is a stunningly beautiful site to watch.

St Aldhelms: Looking down Pier Bottom Valley from near to Trev's quarry (30 Aug 20)

The coastal footpath: The Southern end of Pier Bottom descends down steep steps, before ascending again equally steeply on the other side

Pier Bottom Valley: Social distancing on the coastal footpath isn't easy, so I tend to roll under the barbed wire fence & walk through the field to the sets of bushes I'm interested to check out in the valley

The Front Quarry or Quarry Ledge to give its other name: This always looks like it should be an excellent migrant trap, but migrants rarely stick in it

Hopefully, the weather will be better tomorrow.

13 Sept 2020

13 Sep 20 - Ticky Tick, Clicky Click Click Click

Since the August Bank Holiday, I've visited the St Aldhelms patch for short pre-work visits most mornings, with longer visits at the weekends. There has generally been a steady selection of  expected migrants, but in small numbers with Wheatears, the occasional Whinchat or Redstart, as well as, the standard Warblers, Whitethroat, Blackcaps, Willow Warblers, Chiffchaffs & a few Lesser Whitethroats. All three of the regular Hirundines were on the move a couple of weeks ago, but is now largely Swallows. Overall, it's been hard work, although the Bank Holiday Monday was good with my first St A's Dartford Warbler and a Short-eared Owl that flew in off the sea just to the East of the front quarry. The Short-eared Owl was distant & as I was going to struggle to confirm it wasn't a Long-eared Owl at the range it was, I lifted the camera & hoped the photos would help. They did: as well as confirming it was my second patch Short-eared Owl, they also revealed it flew past a Hobby sitting on a fence post that I hadn't seen. Can I add that to the patch Year List?

Last weekend, Phil Saunders, AKA @BeardyBirder, was back on the patch. While Phil is great Birding company, it's quite depressing Birding with Phil as it highlights how many calls, I'm now missing with the tinnitus that has developed in recent years: especially Tree Pipits, more distant or higher species. The worst of which was a Lapland Bunting that Phil heard call (I didn't) & we watched disappear into the distance: I couldn't get anything on it in flight & I had to throw it away. A patch Tick missed.

This morning the alarm went off to get me up again & onto the patch. It had been a tough morning yesterday with a F4 SW wind, a bit too exposed in most areas at St Aldhelms & not a lot of note. The forecast was for a light F2-F3 SW wind. It had looked like the wind hadn't dropped as much as forecast when I got up, so I decided on another cuppa tea, before heading out. Yesterday, I had been on the patch about 06:30, today it was 08:10. I stopped as I always do on the road by the My Time centre near Renscombe Farm to scan the fields. I've seen a few Wheatear in these fields this Autumn, but little else of note. No Wheatears today, but seven Meadow Pipits flew out of the first field & landed on the fence, close to the car. I drove on to check the next field. The seven Meadow Pipits flushed, but landed on the fence again, but had encouraged another eight to join them. I checked them again & the first individual I looked at was a Lapland Bunting: Patch Tick. Fortunately, the camera was on the passenger seat & it was quickly lifted, powered it on, removed the lens cap & poked out of the car window. I'm afraid I'm a Birder & not a togger. Had I been the latter, I would have rushed out of my car, wearing an all in one camo suit & booted everything. But being a Birder, I stayed in the car & blasted away with the camera, hoping the previous day's settings were OK: they were. 
Lapland Bunting: A species I wanted to find locally for many years
It dropped off the fence & onto the grass verge, which allowed more photos. After enjoying a quick view with the bins, I texted a few locals, tweeted a photo out & looked up: no sign of the Lapland Bunting or any Meadow Pipits. They had probably decided to drop back into the field, but further back, as I couldn't see them near the fence. Time to leave it in peace & head onto the car park, as I was keen to get on with the walk to the coastguard's lookout. After about a half mile walk, there is a left hand track, by an open sided metal barn. This is often worth a look. Today it held no migrants, apart from a lone Whitethroat. Just as I was leaving, I heard a call I didn't recognise. I looked up to a chunky Passerine flying over, it looked about the size of a Yellowhammer, but shorter tailed & bulkier bodied, but not as chunky as a Corn Bunting. The flight was strong & level. It carried on SSW over the field for over a mile before I lost it over the coast path to the West of the coastguard's lookout. I couldn't see if it had come down or carried on. I can't be certain if it was the Lapland Bunting, but I've struggling to think what else it could have been. Later in the morning, I had a good look in that area, but with no joy. But the coastal walkers had already been walking past by the time I reached the area. Presumably it reached the coast & then coasted West or been disturbed by walkers.
Lapland Bunting: I may struggle to hear them, but the eyes still work as does the camera trigger finger