26 Sept 2022

17 Sep 22 - A Day Trip To Cherbourg With ORCA

The alarm went off very early to allow me plenty of time for breakfast & to get out of the house, in time to arrive at Poole ferry terminal just before 07:00. Today was my first trip on an Orca survey from Poole to Cherbourg & back again and there was no option to arriving late. I arrived a few minutes early & the others all appeared within a few minutes. It turns out our team leader, Moira Gainey, had driven down from Oxford & spent a cold night in her camper van, Conor Aynsley had driven down the previous night from Birmingham and stayed in a local hotel and Chris Northwood had had an early start to drive along from the Selsey area. As a result, my thirty minute drive was the shortest journey.

The nice thing about being on an official Orca Cetacean survey is Brittany Ferries kindly provide free parking & boat tickets, as well as, allowing access to the warm bridge for the survey. We were quickly through passport control and waiting to be called to board the ship. The Barfleur left about 08:30 and we headed for the upper deck to enjoy some views over Brownsea & Studland. While I've seen this views on many occasions from the Poole Harbour Bird Boats & ferries, I've not seen the views from such a high viewing position before.
South Haven & the Studland Ferry
As we were now outside of Poole Harbour, we asked if we could go up to the bridge. The drawback of the bridge is the photos had to be taken through the ship's dirty windows.
A final view of the chalk cliffs of Ballard Down with Old Harry at the right hand end taken from the bridge
It was time to start the Cetacean survey. The surveys have a team of four. This allows one of us at each end of the bridge wings, one logging our position and one stood down to give the eyes a break, for food or toilet breaks. Clearly, as a birder used to many hours of dull Isle of Purbeck seawatching, stood down meant the chance for some Birding & looking for Cetaceans. We rotated through the positions every thirty minutes.

When we were surveying we used the Orca binoculars which have a vertical grid on the left eyepiece. The idea is every Cetacean, Seal, Shark or Turtle sighting, has the vertical distance from the horizon to the initial sighting noted, along with angle to the ship's bows with an arrow marker board. This information along with the species, number of individuals, behaviour is all logged. Additionally, the ship's position, course, speed, visibility & sea state are noted. The same ship's details are noted every thirty minutes or for a change of course. This information is submitted by the team leader at the end of the survey and it helps to build up a detailed analysis of Cetaceans along the ferry routes which are regularly surveyed. It's a great system.

The only drawback being the binoculars we use are bulky 7 x 50s with focusing on the individual eyepieces: it's hard to understand why the manufacturer thinks focusing on the individual eyepieces is a good design feature. Fortunately, once the binoculars are focused, then it wasn't really necessary to refocus them. If a Cetacean is seen, it would be possible to switch back to the Swarovski's to improve the chances of identifying the Cetaceans, after the initial details are noted.

The only Cetaceans seen on the crossing were a brief sighting of a pod of three probably Harbour Porpoises as we approached the French coast. Unfortunately, I was on the other side of the bridge wing at the time. But in cases like this, the survey should continue without me racing to the other wing to watch the sighting.

We were there to look for Cetaceans, but not Birds. However, there was enough time to quickly ID & call the more interesting Birds to those nearby, before switching back to Cetacean watching, without losing any survey time. There weren't a lot of Seabirds, but on the crossing to Cherbourg I saw:
  • Five Sooty Shearwaters West (all in French waters)
  • Five Manx Shearwaters West (one in UK waters and four in French waters)
  • A Grey Heron North about ten miles out to sea off the French coast and presumably heading to the UK
  • Singles of Bonxie and Arctic Skua West (in French waters)
  • Ten Razorbills West (in UK waters)
  • Ten Kittiwakes West (six in UK waters and four in French waters)
  • Three Mediterranean Gulls West (one in UK waters and two in French waters).

It was hardly busy for Seabirds, but it helped to keep scanning. I heard the next day that there had been a really good seawatch off Gatteville on the Cherbourg Peninsula involving over five hundred Sooty Shearwaters during our crossing, so it looks like most of the Seabirds were off the French coast and being pushed by the wind in the direction of the Normandy beaches.
It got fairly busy as we crossed the main shipping lanes
After a few hours we were close to the Port of Cherbourg. There is a large outer breakwater which is five and a half miles in length including the two large entrances. This breakwater is protected by a number of historic forts which date to about 1860.
Cherbourg: The main shipping channel into the outer harbour passes the Fort de l'Est
Cherbourg: The Fort de l'Est was totally destroyed during the WW2 Battle of Cherbourg
Cherbourg: The Central Fort appears to have largely survived the WW2 Battle of Cherbourg, but there is clearly a fair bit of battle damage when looked at carefully
One of my local Birding mates, Rob, works on the Condor ferry which also runs into Cherbourg. He said he sometimes sees a pod of up to six Bottlenose Dolphins in the outer harbour. Although we had finished the survey just before we reached the outer harbour, the ship's Captain was happy for us to stay on the bridge. As we entered the outer harbour, I picked up a pod of three Bottlenose Dolphins in the main channel between the inner and outer harbours. We watched as they headed for the fish farms to our right and inside the outer harbour wall. They were noted as an incidental sighting, as they were not seen during the formal survey.

It was time to leave the bridge and join the passengers heading for Cherbourg. We got on one of the three or four coaches for foot passengers heading for the arrivals terminal. We were quickly through immigration & my nice new passport now has two passport stamps: thanks to the dogmatic stupidity of the tories & their poor brexit deal. We had around three hours before we had to return to the ship. It is about a mile and a quarter walk into the town centre and it was a good opportunity to stretch our legs.
Saudi Fast Patrol Boat: I had assumed this was a French Navy Patrol Boat, but apparently it's one of a large order of Fast Patrol Boats being built in Cherbourg for the Saudi Navy
The Sailing Ship Gunilla: She was built as a motorsailor in the 1930s and used as a cargo vessel until 1997, when she was rebuilt into a three-masted barque. She is now used as a Swedish sailing ship for sailors ages 16 to 18 to learn to sail
It was a bit run down in parts on the walk into the town centre, but to be fair, that's typical for a number of ports I've visited over the years. There was time for a leisurely lunch in the sun at a street restaurant in Cherbourg, before rejoining the ship for the return crossing.
A French street lunch for Moira, Chris, Conor & myself (taking the photo)
Titanic Memorial Stone: I wasn't aware that after the Titanic left Southampton, she visited Cherbourg on 10 Apr 1912, before her last port visit to Cobh (formally Queenstown) in Ireland
We were back on ship with plenty of time before we sailed. We waited for the Barfleur to leave the harbour, before asking for permission to return to the bridge.
Cherbourg: Despite a good search before & after the Barfleur's departure, we failed to see the Bottlenose Dolphins again
We didn't see any Cetaceans on the return crossing, but did see a further four Sooty Shearwaters heading West before it got dark. It was dark just before we reached mid channel. We thanked the bridge team and headed to the restaurant for an evening coffee. My first ORCA Cetacean survey had been a lot of fun & I will look forward to the next one.
This sunset confirmed the survey was nearly over

24 Sept 2022

22 Sep 22 - Head & Shoulders

This Southern Hawker posed nicely by the track by Trev's Quarry at St Aldhelms. It makes a change from seeing a Southern Hawker constantly flying around with no intention of stopping.
Southern Hawker
Southern Hawker: Dragonflies look so good when seen this close & I always wonder what the world looks like through these amazing eyes

22 Sept 2022

16 Sep 22 - Migrant Hawker

This male Migrant Hawker posed nicely by the track by Trev's Quarry at St Aldhelms. A few years ago, I was struggling to understand why I was regularly seeing Migrant Hawkers at Trev's Quarry, given there appeared to be no water source nearby to the quarry. Then a conversation with one of the quarrymen who works there confirmed they breed in a couple of small water tanks in the quarry: mystery solved.
Migrant Hawker: Male

5 Sept 2022

26 Aug 22 - 22 Spots

I have seen a number of the lovely 22 Spot Ladybirds over the years, but this is the time I've taken a photo.
22 Spot Ladybird

3 Sept 2022

3 Sep 22 - Lightning Strikes Twice & It Feels Good

I moved down to live in the Swanage area in July 1996 to spend more time watching the St Aldhelms & Winspit patch. However, after a few tough years of Birding without a lot of reward, I switched to spending more time watching Durlston. By the early 2000s, I had moved my focus to Studland & Poole Harbour, and largely avoided the Purbeck coastline.

In Summer 2017, I decided I should return to watching the St Aldhelms & Winspit patch again as it really was neglected with few Birders watching it. Soon after I returned to St Aldhelms, the Two-barred Greenish Warbler was found & that was the final confirmation that St Aldhelms needed a lot more of my time.

My first reward for the Birding visits was finding an Ortolan on 6 Sep 18 in the top of Pier Bottom Valley. I hadn't taken my scope that morning & I was struggling to figure out a Bunting sitting in front of the bushes at the back of the field. Fortunately, I had the camera & grabbed some photos. Looking at the back of the camera shots, the Bird looked like an Ortolan. I looked at the area again, but I couldn't see it. I pinged a couple of photos off to my mate Marcus, not really wanting to accept that I had just found my first local Ortolan. He responded quickly with a thumbs up which was good to know I hadn't just made a total balls up of the Id. Looking at the cleaned up photo, it was a blatantly obvious Ortolan, but I sometimes struggle with small images on the back of the camera. I ended up spending the next two or three hours trying to relocate it, with no joy.
Ortolan: St Aldhelms (6 Sep 18)
Fast forward to Sep 22. The alarm went off far too early, but I was keen to get out to St Aldhelms after a few days being side-tracked with Brownsea & Brands Bay Waders. I knew my mate Phil Saunders would be out early & also knew it can be dangerous to leave Phil looking at St Aldhelms when I wasn't there: just too much chance of missing something good that he had found.

Phil had arrived a few minutes before me & between the two of us, I think we covered the area pretty thoroughly by the time we reached & then checked Quarry Ledge and the sea. We also hadn't had that much reward, apart from two distant Wigeon that Phil picked up flying East over the sea, when we were at Trev's Quarry. They were clearly the Birds of the Day as they were a long overdue Patch Tick for both of us. Otherwise, all I had to show for about 4 hours effort was a few Whinchats, a Wheatear and a few common Warblers. We decided to knock it on the head, with Phil walking back on the main track, while I planned to walk along the coast path and return up Pier Bottom Valley.

Soon after saying goodbye to Phil, I heard a call I couldn't figure out or pin down the source. I could see a Bird perched in a bush about 90 metres away. I was struggling to identify it and I'm still not sure if that was what I heard calling. After another scan, I still couldn't see anything else calling & grabbed a few photos of the Bird I could see. Checking them, they were of little help as the Bird had turned away & I could only see the back of the head and the wings. I tried again & blew up the images on the back of the camera. Lightning struck twice as I could see a pale eyering on one photo & a pale moustachial on the other photo. I looked again & the Bird had gone: lightning really was striking twice. A couple of calls to Phil went unanswered and I figured he was probably out of range by Trev's Quarry. I left a message & followed up with a text.

I started searching for the Ortolan, but drew an initial blank. But at least Phil had rung back & was on his way. He joined me & we repeated the search. Just as I think we were both thinking this wouldn't turn out well, Phil heard it flying over our heads & he recognised it from the many months he spent living in Cyprus in his younger days. We both got onto the Bird and watched in dismay as it kept flying and flying, before circling and dropping into the top of Pier Bottom Valley. Phil found the flight call on the excellent Xeno-Canto website & that sounded a good match for what we had just heard. We had a good look in the fields around the top of Pier Bottom Valley, but failed to relocate it. It was time to call it a day, given we had both spent over six hours covering St Aldhelms. In addition to the Ortolan, there had been a bonus Pied Flycatcher and I also had a Hobby over the car park just before I left.

It had been hard work, but a rewarding day in the end. According to Steve Morrison's All Time Birds of St Aldhelms List on Bubo, this is only the ninth record he is aware of for the St Aldhelms/Winspit patch.
Ortolan: The best photo showing the pale eyering
Ortolan: The best photo showing the moustachial stripe

1 Sept 2022

26 Aug 22 - The Makings Of A Good Day On The St Aldhelms Patch

I am not going to win any photographic prizes with this Pied Flycatcher photo, but it always is a good day when I find a Pied Flycatcher on one of my Isle on Purbeck patches.
Pied Flycatcher

22 Aug 2022

1 Aug 22 - A Garden Wall

As I got back from a morning visit to Studland, I had brief views of an interesting-looking Butterfly in flight, that landed just outside my garden gate. Initially, I couldn't see it until I got closer, when I realised it had its wings closed. It was a Wall. When it opened its wings, it was a lot more obvious. Fortunately, it didn't flush & allowed me the opportunity to get some photos with the IPhone, as I couldn't get my Canon camera from the house without flushing the Wall.

They are an erratic species in the garden. I saw in Aug 21, but the one before that was May 15. It's good to know they are still around locally.

21 Aug 2022

17 Aug 22 - A Brownsea Shoveler

A late visit to the Tern Hide (formally the Mac Hide) on the DWT lagoon produced a close view of this female Shoveler. The nice thing about Brownsea, is I often get closer views than I do on the mainland locally and the chance for some better photos.
Shoveler: Female

19 Aug 2022

17 Aug 22 - A Brownsea Second Brood Brimstone

During a lunchbreak at the DWT villa, it was good to see this second brood male Brimstone fly into the courtyard, land & pose for some IPhone photos.
Brimstone: Male

17 Aug 2022

17 Aug 22 - Brownsea's Colour-ringed Spoonbills

Spoonbills are continuing to build up on Brownsea with increases to the population occurring several times a week. There are now three colour-ringed Spoonbills in the current flock of twenty Spoonbills.
Fifteen of the Spoonbills
Spoonbill: These Spoonbills are NC6U which has been present since 10 Aug at least and NB2V which I've seen for the first time this week (back individual)
I've had an update on Spoonbill NB2V which was ringed as a pullus on 7 Jun 20 at Ouwerkerk, Ouwerkerkse inlagen, Holland and present until 9 Aug 20, after which it was seen at:
  • Wolphaartsdijk, Kwistenburg, Holland on 12 Aug 20
    Middlebere, Poole Harbour, Dorset, UK on 1 Jan 21
  • Long Island, Poole Harbour, Dorset, UK on 13 Feb 21
  • Rye Harbour, Sussex, UK on 1 May 21
  • Walberswick, Suffolk, UK on 6 May 21
  • Holme-next-the-sea, Norfolk, UK on 7 May 21
  • Frampton Marsh Lincs, UK on 4, 6 & 11 Sep 21
  • Middlebere, Poole Harbour, Dorset, UK on 31 Oct 21
  • Brownsea, Poole Harbour, Dorset, UK on 17 Aug 22
The travels of Spoonbill NB2V

Spoonbill: This Spoonbill has been present since 10 Aug at least. The rings are left leg yellow over metal over green and right leg yellow over green over yellow flag

17 Aug 22 - A Brownsea Hummingbird Hawk Moth

This Hummingbird Hawk Moth was found on these flowers right next to the DWT villa steps by one of the other volunteers, Vanessa.
Hummingbird Hawk Moth
Hummingbird Hawk Moth

13 Aug 2022

10 Aug 22 - A Brownsea Silver-washed Fritillary

One of the highlights of my regular volunteering Wednesday on Brownsea was this Silver-washed Fritillary around the DWT villa garden which I found as myself & the other volunteers were about to head back for the boat off the island.
Silver-washed Fritillary: Unfortunately, it was a bit worn, but still nice to see given it's only the second one I've seen on Brownsea this Summer

12 Aug 2022

10 Aug 22 - A Brownsea Southern Hawker

One of the highlights of my regular volunteering Wednesday on Brownsea was this Southern Hawker which perched briefly over the main reserve track. There was just enough time for a few photos before it was off hunting again.
Southern Hawker

11 Aug 2022

8 Aug 22 - Osprey Taster

There was a private boat trip this evening as an excuse for a number of local Poole Birders to catch up with ex-Poole birder James Lidster while he was in town. We started with a trip up the Wareham Channel & the Frome & we finished off with a late evening visit to overlook the Brownsea lagoon.

The highlight in the Wareham Channel was sightings of the two local breeding Ospreys, CJ7 and later O22, both of whom dropped in briefly for dinner. They are both good at catching fish & didn't hang around. CJ7 came closer to our boat, but still not as close as we would have liked. Like the two private boat trips in July, it was a very enjoyable evening with even better weather than July.
Osprey: Female CJ7
Osprey: Female CJ7
The Birds of Poole Harbour team will be running a lot of their Bird Boats in Aug & early Sep into the Wareham Channel in the expectation of multiple Osprey sightings & the hope of other sightings including White-tailed Sea-eagles. Obviously, the birds seen & the views are always going to be a matter of luck of the day, but hopefully they will get some good sightings on those boats. A full list of the boat trips they will be running & how to book a trip is on their website.

8 Aug 2022

8 Aug 22 - Brownsea's "Roseate" Spoonbills

There was a private boat trip this evening as an excuse for a number of local Poole Birders to catch up with ex-Poole birder James Lidster while he was in town. We started with a trip up the Wareham Channel & the Frome & we finished off with a late evening visit to overlook the Brownsea lagoon. Five of the Spoonbills decided to cooperate & move to the Castle end of the lagoon for a quick snack before returning for a final pre-roost preen. This provided some nice opportunities for some sunset photos. Like the two private boat trips in July, it was a very enjoyable evening with even better weather than July.
Spoonbills: Enjoying a last snack
Spoonbills: A sunset shot posing for the camera. I've not played around with any of the colour settings on these final two photos
The Birds of Poole Harbour team will be running a lot of their Bird Boats in Aug & early Sep into the Wareham Channel in the expectation of multiple Osprey sightings & the hope of other sightings including White-tailed Sea-eagles. Obviously, the birds seen & the views are always going to be a matter of luck of the day, but hopefully they will get some good sightings on those boats. A full list of the boat trips they will be running & how to book a trip is on their website.

27 Jul 2022

27 Jul 22 - Head & Shoulders

After the success of a private boat trip up the Wareham Channel & the Frome last week, there was an offer of joining another trip this evening. Despite a busy day of volunteering on Brownsea, there is just about enough time to get off Brownsea, make a cuppa of tea & a very quick snack & get back out of the house in time to get to Poole Quay for an 18:00 departure. Like last week, I made the boat with not much more than five minutes to spare.

It was worth it, when one of the other friends on the boat spotted one of the Wareham Channel White-tailed Sea-eagles perched up in a bush at the water's edge. The skipper stopped the boat & for ten minutes it sat there, while the cameras were clicking & we were about sixty metres away. It was quite unconcerned about our presence, in the same way that birds & mammals are often unfazed by people close up in cars. Even though we were walking around in full view on the boat, the White-tailed Sea-eagle seemed to consider us as a boat, rather than a group of people walking close to it. The nice light was a bonus. Finally, it got bored of watching us & disappeared. I will do a longer Blog Post soon.
White-tailed Sea-eagle
The Birds of Poole Harbour team will be running a lot of their Bird Boats in Aug & early Sep into the Wareham Channel in the expectation of multiple Osprey sightings & the hope of other sightings including White-tailed Sea-eagles. Obviously, the birds seen & the views are always going to be a matter of luck of the day, but hopefully they will get some good sightings on those boats. A full list of the boat trips they will be running & how to book a trip is on their website.

21 Jul 2022

19 Jul 22 - Blast From The Past: 12 Years On

In the last few days, Gavin Haig has caught three Orache Moths in West Dorset. This prompted me to write this Blog Post. Back in late Spring to Autumn 2010, I ran my Moth trap most nights. This put a real strain on the Birding as I was having to get up pre-dawn to stop the local Robins, Great Tits & House Sparrows enjoying a Moth breakfast from all the Moths that were sitting on my patio etc. It didn't help that I was also commuting to Portsmouth four days a week and working at home on the Friday. With these early starts I was generally in bed well before it was dark. But I ended up catching some good local Moths with the best being this gorgeous Orache Moth, which was about the tenth Dorset record at the time.
Orache Moth: A good combination of rare, easy to identify & very pretty

17 Jul 2022

9 Jun 22 - The Crossing From Rosslare To Pembroke Dock

The morning for my crossing back from Rosslare to Pembroke Dock started with heavy rain at dawn. Fortunately, the rain had stopped by the time the ferry departed from Rosslare Harbour, but it remained overcast and murky. Light rain started again as the ferry passed the Milford Haven oil terminal. Still at least it was dry enough to allow me to seawatch from the deck. I had hoped to see some Cetaceans, but no joy. There were just under 500 Manx Shearwaters (nearly all in Irish waters), 90+ Puffins and other expected Seabirds including Gannets, Fulmars, Kittiwakes, Guillemots and Razorbills on the crossing to keep it interesting. As we reached Welsh waters the numbers of Guillemots and Razorbills increased, whereas Puffin numbers were similar in both the Irish & Welsh waters. A few Black Guillemots were present around Rosslare Harbour, but I didn't see any after we had left the harbour.
Rosslare Harbour Lighthouse
Black Guillemot: I normally expect to see a few around Rosslare Harbour & wasn't disappointed on this occasion
Manx Shearwater: It's always great to see flocks of Manx Shearwaters rising off the sea as we pass: most were on the Irish side of the crossing
Stackrock Fort: The Fort was built between 1850 and 1852 to protect Pembroke Dock

15 Jul 2022

15 Jul 22 - Some Clearer Air On The Jurassic Coast

Three nights ago there was a superb sunset along the Jurassic coast from St Aldhelms.
Jurassic Sunset from St Aldhelms (12 Jul 22)
I popped out again for the evening sunset after another long session earlier in the day of trying to return the garden to looking like a garden, rather than the neglected grassland that the flower beds had become. The garden Birds seem to be enjoying being able to get into the more open garden.
Robin: An IPhone photo of one of my adult Robins which was looking for food & distracting me from gardening. There were also two independent juvenile Robins enjoying the bonus food
After several hot hours in the garden, it was good to get a decent walk in at dusk. There has been some fresher air since the first photo was taken & a lot of the dust in the atmosphere must have been blown away. The view was a lot clearer & the sunset lacked most of the red skies from earlier in the week.
Jurassic Sunset from St Aldhelms coastpath
Jurassic Sunset from the St Aldhelms coastpath
One of the best decisions I ever made was twenty-six years ago when I decided that I was going to stop renting in Southampton & start buying my own house in the stunning Isle of Purbeck. All those years of having to commute back to Hampshire for work were worth it.