27 Mar 2022

27 Mar 22 - A Female Reeves's Pheasant

There are a couple of sites in the historic Isle of Purbeck where there is a reasonable chance of seeing Reeves's Pheasants. The males are stunning Pheasants & despite being an introduced feral population, they are always great to see.
Reeves's Pheasant: Male
The vast majority of the Reeves's Pheasants are males. It's unclear why this is. Perhaps the males are just more prepared to hang around & show off, whereas, the drabber females prefer to keep in cover. An alternative option is the females get shot by the local Pheasant shoot as they could easily be confused with a Pheasant. It would be much easier for a shooter to identify a male Reeves's Pheasant and lower the gun.
Reeves's Pheasant: Female. Seeing this female was surprising as I've never seen a Reeves's Pheasant at this location before or since (27 Mar 22)

14 Mar 2022

14 Mar 22 - A Perfect Level Morning

I had spent the three previous days in Ireland catching up with the Egyptian Vulture and Northern Harrier for my UK & Irish List. It was time to return to the UK. I prefer to catch the daytime ferries back from Ireland, so I can seawatch on the way back. In the Summer & Autumn, there will usually be a few Short-beaked Common Dolphins and maybe a Harbour Porpoise or a Grey Seal, as well as, a few Seabirds. However, I figured it wouldn't be that exciting in mid-March and therefore I might as well I had catch the evening Irish Ferry sailing from Rosslare to Pembroke Dock.

I managed to get a bit of sleep on the ferry, before we were called to prepare to disembark at 00:45. Arriving at this time, leaves a long drive out of Wales in the early hours of the morning. I could have found somewhere to pull the car over for the rest of the night in South Wales, but I had plans for the following morning. So, I carried on until I reached Gordano Services, in the Bristol area. I managed to get an hour & a half of sleep here, until it was starting to get light. After another forty minutes of driving, I pulled into the car park at the Greylake reserve on the Somerset Levels.

It was my first visit to Greylake, but it was a couple of months overdue. On 3 Jan 22, a photographer had published a photo of an odd Duck which was quickly identified as a gorgeous male Baikal Teal. It later turned out it had been there for at least a week before anybody bothered to ask what it was. This is the problem with many Bird photographers, who don't bother to learn about how to identify their subjects. This is a contrast to the Birders, who might still be learning how to get the most out of their cameras, but they generally have good identification skills. In January, I was fully into the start of my 2022 Historic Isle of Purbeck Year List and I never made the journey up to the Levels.

It was a lovely still, crisp and sunny morning, which was perfect weather to visit. I headed straight for the main hide, where there were over five hundred Ducks on a bank running away from the hide or in the water. This included at least one hundred and sixty Teal, four hundred Wigeon, as well as, some Shovelers, Gadwall and Mallards, with more Ducks poorly visible to the left. I asked the two local photographers in the hide about the Baikal Teal, but they weren't looking beyond the first twenty metres from the hide and didn't have any idea if the Baikal Teal was present.
Teal: Males. There were a lot of sleeping Duck in the edges of the reeds
Teal: Male
Wigeon: Male
Shoveler: Male
After five minutes of scanning, one of the Ducks moved to reveal the sleeping make Baikal Teal on the bank. It looking stunning and was closer than normal, according to one of the photographers.
Where's Wally?: This was just some of the mainly Wigeon on the raised bank
Baikal Teal: Wally wasn't that hard to find, once the Wigeon that had been obscuring him had moved out of the way
Eventually, the Baikal Teal woke up and flew a couple of times when the patrolling Marsh Harriers got too close and disturbed all the Ducks. On the second time, the Baikal Teal landed in the water, before heading back to the raised area.
Marsh Harrier: They only passed close to the hide twice, but when they did they flush most of the Ducks
Wigeon: Flushed by one of the flying over Marsh Harriers
Baikal Teal: The Baikal Teal woke up & flushed with the Wigeon, but it quickly came back down onto the water
Baikal Teal: Note, how variable the green colouration in the face is, as the Baikal Teal moves its head
Baikal Teal: It has an interesting head shape when head on
Baikal Teal
Baikal Teal: Finally, it walked back onto the raised bank
It is a great reserve which I will definitely visit again when I'm passing the Levels.
Great White Egret: There were three Great White Egrets further back in the marsh
I stayed for about an hour and a half and left the hide just in time. As I walked back to the car, there was a number of toggers descending on the hide. I was only just starting to use bird hides again after the C19 lockdowns and I didn't want to be in busy hides.
Snipe: This Snipe has just found a worm
Snipe: Sucking up the worm. I love it when I get to photograph a bit of behaviour like this
I later found out that I managed to see the Baikal Teal on its final morning, as it was seen flying off North East in the late afternoon. It wasn't seen again. I was out on the Birds of Poole Harbour bird boats later in March and also at Studland and saw parties of Duck, lift off the water, fly high & leave Poole Harbour on similar clear evenings. So, it looks like they regularly start a migration flight in the hour before dusk.

13 Mar 2022

13 Mar 22 - More Good Birds In Ireland

On the previous evening, I had driven from the Ross's Gull at Mutton Island, Galway to Lough Boora in County Offaly, so I could look for the Northern Harrier that had been there for a few months. Thanks to some Sat Nav problems, it took longer than I expected. But I finally arrived after ten that evening. I got ready for another night in the car, whilst the car was being buffeted by the wind & rain from the front that had started to arrive while I was in Galway. I woke about an hour before dawn & I could still hear the rain hitting the car, as I drifted back to sleep again. Finally, the alarm went off at dawn & it had stopped raining & the wind appeared to have easied a little. It looked like the forecast that it would improve for dawn was right.

I didn't really want to get up, but there was the chance of seeing the Northern Harrier after it came out of roost. Two Cranes flew across the entrance track just as I got out of the car. I was pleased with that, as I wasn't aware that there were any Cranes at Lough Boora. I was parked within a few metres of the bank which overlooked the heath and bog at the Western edge of the reserve. So, I didn't have far to walk. After some time of looking, a Harrier appeared fairly close to the bank, but it was only a Hen Harrier.
Looking North East over the heath & bog
Looking East over the heath & bog
Looking South East over the heath & bog
Hen Harrier
Hen Harrier
Hen Harrier
Over the next hour of waiting I was joined by two British Birders from the North of England. Finally, a second Harrier appeared and it was the Northern Harrier. Frustratingly, it always stayed at the far side of the huge heath. We had views on and off of the Northern Harrier, two Hen Harriers and a Merlin over the next two hours.
Northern Harrier: I won't win any awards for these photos
Northern Harrier
Northern Harrier
Looking back from the bank, there were short grassy fields which held twenty five Whooper Swans, at least fifteen hundred Golden Plovers and my first Irish Hares. It was a superb looking site.
The short grassy fields: None of the Birds were close to the bank & the Irish Hares had disappeared by the time I returned to the car
I was booked on the overnight ferry back to Pembroke. I wanted to be in Rosslare about 19:30 which would have given me well over an hour before the ferry departed. It was now late morning. It was only around a two hour drive to Rosslare, so I had plenty of time. The options were to spend the rest of the day at Lough Boora, or go looking for the Forster's Tern that I had missed twice or head up to Doon Lough in County Leitrim for the Double-crested Cormorant that was showing well there. When I looked at google maps, I reckoned I had the time to get to Doon Lough and still catch the ferry, albeit it was going to be a long drive as I was driving North rather than South West towards Rosslare. I decided to try for the Double-crested Cormorant and see a different part of Ireland to the areas I've seen on previous trips. After a couple of hours of driving I arrived at Doon Lough and the Double-crested Cormorant was perched on its favourite post. It wasn't that close, as it was at the back of the Lough, but at least it was immediately on view.
Double-crested Cormorant: This was only the second Irish record. I saw the only accepted UK record at Billingham back in Mar 89. I couldn't twitch it when it first turned up in mid Jan as I was on an extended trip to Australia & New Zealand. Fortunately, it stayed long enough to allow me to see it
The Double-crested Cormorant didn't move from its post while I was there. After about forty minutes of watching it, I decided to start heading back on the four and a half hour journey back to Rosslare. It was an uneventful journey and I arrived at the ferry terminal with plenty of time to spare. It had been a very successful three day mini-break to Ireland with two UK and Irish Ticks: Egyptian Vulture and Northern Harrier and a good supporting cast of American Black Duck, Ross's Gull, Double-crested Cormorant and my first Irish Hares. It had been a lot of driving, but that was dictated by my main target species and trying to work around the two fronts that arrived while I was there. Additionally, it had been my first foreign trip since the start of the C19 outbreak, which clearly was still a significant risk. I had minimised my contact with other people by travelling at night and sleeping in the car. The trip wasn't over yet, as I had a plan to make the drive back to Dorset more interesting on the following morning. But I will cover that in the next Blog Post.

12 Mar 2022

12 Mar 22 - Much Nicer Than A 70s Memory

In an earlier Post I wrote about my first post-C19 trip abroad to Ireland for the Egyptian Vulture. After seeing the Egyptian Vulture, I drove North from Tracht to The Mullet Peninsula in the dark & found a pull in by the side of Cross Lough about ten that evening. I slept in the car that night. I've slept in cars on so many UK & foreign trips, that it was the obvious option for this short Irish break. This allowed me to arrive late and not to have to look for accommodation & not to lose time for breakfast. Plus, it was a lower C19 risk. After a good sleep that night, I woke at dawn to the alarm & found I was looking at the nicest area I've visited on my nine short trips to Ireland. The Mullet reminded me of the Uist Islands, albeit with more houses, which remains one of my favourite parts of the UK. I'm old enough to remember the bad mullet haircuts from the 70s, hence the title of this Blog Post.
Barnacle Goose: These three Barnacle Geese which flew over and dropped onto the grass close to the car, were a nice start to the day
The view from the 'Focus' Hotel
The reason for choosing to visit The Mullet was to look for an American Black Duck which has taken up residence on Cross Lough. I drove to the Northern end of Cross Lough & started looking for the American Black Duck. It wasn't with the first groups of Mallard in the North East corner, but then I saw a couple of Ducks flying South: a male Mallard and the American Black Duck. They landed at the Southern end of the lake about a mile away. Driving around to the North West corner, I found some picnic benches, which would have been a better place to kip for the night: the disadvantages of arriving after dark at an unknown site. I carried along South to the end of the road, but it was still a long way to where the American Black Duck had dropped in.
The far shore of Cross Lough
Unfortunately, I couldn't see a path that continued along the shoreline & there were a number of barbed wire fenced fields stopping me walking along the lake shore. Equally importantly, there was a flock of Barnacle Geese that I would have flushed had I tried to walk. At this point, several cars arrived, followed by many more to make 24 cars over the next few minutes. It was time for the local park run along the lake shore & back along a track close to the beach. It seemed a good time to move on, given I didn't think I would get better views of the American Black Duck.
Barnacle Goose
Barnacle Goose: While I was looking for a path along the shoreline, some of the Barnacle Geese got jumpy and flew back one field
It was a nice sunny and crisp morning, albeit quite windy. The plan was to spent the afternoon looking for a Ross's Gull near Galway and have another look for the Forster's Tern, that I hadn't located on the previous afternoon. Knowing I had a three hour drive ahead of me, I decided to spend another couple of hours exploring The Mullet before heading South. I drove back to the main road and followed it South. It certainly looks an interesting place and I can see myself returning for a longer trip on a future October Irish twitch. This is a coastline that has a proven potential for American vagrants.
Greylag Geese: Perhaps a wilder origin that the ones that hang around Poole Harbour
Whooper Swan Lookalike?: There were fourteen Whooper Swans and sixteen Mute Swans on Cross Lough, but none were close enough to photograph
The road passed alongside a couple of great looking sandy beaches, both of which had groups of feeding Bar-tailed Godwits. A Grey Seal popped its head up briefly in one of the bays.
The Bar-tailed Godwit Beach
Bar-tailed Godwit
Bar-tailed Godwit
Eventually, the road ran out at the small harbour by the Blacksod lighthouse, where there was a showy Great Northern Diver and a Rock Pipit on the quayside.
The quayside at Blacksod: Albeit with the usual kink that panoramic camera photos introduce
Great Northern Diver: This Great Northern Diver was feeding in the small harbour at Blacksod on The Mullet
Great Northern Diver: It was a lot closer than I tend to see them on my Studland patch
Rock Pipit: This is a very plain looking individual compared to the ones I see around St Aldhelms and Studland, yet it's still the nominate petrosus subspecies
The Blacksod Lighthouse
Tidy fishing gear on Blacksod quay: It's good to see this all tidily stacked as it's easy for birds to get caught in fishing gear
Trees at Blacksod harbour: This could be interesting in October
It was late morning & my time on The Mullet was up. If I wanted to head down to look for the Ross's Gull, I needed to get moving.
Once you get off The Mullet Peninsula, it looks a lot more like the Scottish West coast
Irish Non-military Tractor: In the week before I went I saw many photos on twitter of Ukrainian farmers towing abandoned Russian tanks behind their tractors, that I had almost forgotten that they are also used for normal farming work
I stopped en route to Galway for another look for the Forster's Tern on the coast around Tracht. Unfortunately, it still wasn't showing. I later found out it was frequently a wider area than I was aware & maybe I should have tried to get to the coast at other points. After an hour or so of looking, I carried on driving to Mutton island near Galway to look for the Ross's Gull. There is a long causeway out to the island and the Ross's Gull was roosting on the rocks with Black-headed Gulls, a Mediterranean Gull & a Sandwich Tern. It wasn't close. But the good thing is it wasn't possible to leave the causeway, so at least they weren't going to be disturbed by a selfish photographer.
Hooded Crow: I don't normally think of them feeding on seaweed, like this one was doing on the Mutton Island causeway. But Corvids are very good at adapting to their surroundings
Ross's Gull: Only the fourth one I've seen with none to this point being close. Fortunately, the 2023 Dorset individual proved more photogenic
The wind had strengthened significantly by the time I had reached the Ross's Gull site. The overnight weather forecast was looking rough, with stronger winds & rain as a front arrived. However, it was also forecast to have cleared through by dawn the following morning. This looked more hopeful for the following morning. I decided to driving across to Lough Boora to look for the Northern Harrier that had been there for a few weeks. It should only have been a bit over an hour to complete the drive, but the Sat Nat failed me. It has built in maps for the whole of Europe, but many of the smaller place names are in Gaelic. I had problems matching up the Sat Nat with Google Maps & the RBA directions and this was the first time the Sat Nav failed me & left me in a village about ten miles from where I needed to be. Eventually, I had to give up on the Sat Nav & switch to Google Maps, but I ended up approaching Lough Boora from a set of very small minor roads. Eventually, I found the site & got ready for another night in the car, whilst hoping the wind & rain would easy by dawn.