26 May 2022

26 May 22 - A Studland Alpine Swift

In 2022, I was doing a historic Isle of Purbeck Year List. The drawback of year listing is sometimes you end up having to chase species in locations you wouldn't normally do. Today was a good example with me spending about 2.5 hours in the afternoon unsuccessfully looking for a Little Gull from Slepe Heath, that the Birds of Poole Harbour Bird Boat had seen that morning in the Wareham Channel. Eventually, I decided to give up & head to Poole for a weekly food shop.

I hadn't got far when Paul Morton rang. He had received a message that he had seen an Alpine Swift over the cliffs at Old Harry. I quickly turned the car around. It wasn't clear if the Alpine Swift was hanging around or not. I decided to head for the Middle Beach car park. I could scan over the Southern end of Studland Bay & the Old Harry area with the scope & cover the area quickly, compared to the twenty minute walk out to Old Harry. After a few minutes of scanning, I could see a lone powerful Swift occasionally breaking the skyline over the wood at the end of Old Harry. I rang Paul back to say it was still present at Old Harry & we should head there. It took me a few minutes to move the car to the South Beach car park & I rang the updated news around the locals as I was walking out.
Alpine Swift
Paul & a couple of the Birds of Poole Harbour team had beaten me to Old Harry & they were watching it hawk up & down along the cliff edge about a couple of hundred metres South of Old Harry. I had decided that there was no point in taking the camera with me to look for the Little Gull. So, I arrived at Old Harry without a camera. The following photos were taken with my mobile. But the mobile was great for some slow motion videos of the Alpine Swift as it flew within a few metres of where we were sitting on the cliff edge. Unfortunately, the videos are too large to upload. I will need to find some video editing software to select the best part.
Alpine Swift
This would only be the fourth record for Studland. The previous records were over: one over Godlingston Heath (1 May 87) found by Steve Morrison, two over Knoll Beach car park (29 Mar 88) and one North over the Studland dunes (5 May 93). The latter two records were from visiting Birders and do not appear to have ever been formally submitted to the Dorset Bird Club. The two in 1988 were submitted, but only for Swanage on the following two days.
It was an enjoyable local twitch
The Alpine Swift stayed until 08:20 the following morning, before it drifted off over the sea & was lost to view. The handful of Birders who saw it that morning, also got to see David Attenborough, who was filming a sequence for the Wild Isles series. An even better sighting that the Alpine Swift.

23 May 2022

23 May 22 - Traditional House Martins

As the name suggests, we tend to think of House Martins as nesting under the eaves of houses. However, this is only a relatively recent adaptation for House Martins & I'm guessing it has only been something they have been commonly doing for a few hundred years, after the first stone buildings were constructed on a regular basis. Some of the early Norman castles & medieval cathedrals probably hosted the first House Martin colonies on buildings.

Before that date, House Martins in the UK would have most likely have nested on cliffs. These days there are probably few sites in the UK where House Martins still nest on cliffs. One location where a small colony still do so is Old Harry, on my Studland patch. I've been watching this colony for quite a few years now & over the last decade, I've been trying to get photos of them nest building. This is surprisingly hard to do, given they are nesting on the underhanging cliffs. Finally, this year I've had some success in locating a nest being built. The colony size appears to be between five & ten nests in size.
House Martin: This group were gathering mud for their nests, so time for another year of trying to photograph a nest
House Martin: I didn't see this individual pecking at the cliff, so perhaps it is just resting, rather than trying to gather some additional nest material
House Martin: Finally, I've succeeded & found a pair nest-building in view of the top of the cliffs
House Martin: The advantage for this colony is there is plenty of food along the cliff edge, as well as, some breeze to minimise the effort they need to fly
House Martin

21 May 2022

21 May 22 - A Brownsea Nightjar

The Dorset Wildlife Trust reserve on Brownsea Island must be one of the best places in the UK to see Nightjars during the day. There is usually a pair with a territory around the Lake Hide. The question when visiting is whether one will be roosting on view from the hide. If that is the case, then the views of this stunning species can be great and there is the opportunity to get some photos during the day without any risk of disturbing them. This is not a species that people should be trying to find on the Dorset Heaths given the risk of disturbance or worse still trampling on eggs or chicks. I've been lucky to see them from the hide on two occasions so far. The first was during one of my erratic visits in 2012. This year I've started volunteering on the DWT reserve on a weekly basis & I hope this will mean I bump into them more often.
Nightjar: Making it very easy to find on this visit (19 May 12)
Nightjar: Still not too hard to find as it had already been pinned down earlier in the day

19 May 2022

19 May 22 - A Dorset Moth Tick At Studland

While walking on the path across the Heath between Brands Bay and Jerry's Point, Studland, I flushed a Small Grass Emerald. This is described in the excellent Moths of Great Britain and Ireland by Waring, Townsend & Lewington as Nationally Scarce. Its Dorset status is "locally, and usually in small numbers on the Heaths of South East Dorset".
Small Grass Emerald: This is only the second time I've seen this species. The previous occasion was at Beaulieu Road Station (12 June 1983)

14 May 2022

14 May 22 - A New Wasp At St Aldhelms

The other highlight at St Aldhelms on the F Cup Day was seeing a new Wasp: Podalonia hirsuta. It isn't hard to see new Wasp species given I've seen very few. The hard part is getting a name to them. In this case, I was lucky as my mate Steve Morrison knows his Wasps and also has a good idea on the status in the Isle of Purbeck.

Steve said "This distinctive Wasp is usually found on sandy soils and most frequent on heathland (at least in Dorset), but not in any great numbers. It's fairly local nationally. It's similar in appearance to Ammophila, but the petiole is shorter and the slope more abrupt where it continues into the abdomen. Ammophila is much more slender and the petiole is much longer. Podalonia is slender in itself, but stocky compared to Ammophila. Podalonia stocks its nest burrow with a single large moth larvae (usually a noctuid). Steve is only aware of a couple of previous records for St Aldhelms".
Podalonia hirsuta: It was digging a burrow out on the path

14 May 22 - Some Late Spring Butterflies

In addition to the Honey Buzzard which I saw arriving in my visit to St Aldhelms, I saw a nice selection of new Butterflies including Small Blue, Small Skipper, Dingy Skipper and several Orange-tips.
Small Blue: I was pleased to see these lovely Blues at two locations in the St Aldhelms patch
Small Skipper
Dingy Skipper: I had seen them the previous week, however, I didn't have the camera with me on that occasion

14 May 22 - FA Cup Day Birding

I had lost interest in football by the age of 11. I got into birding a couple of years later & still have no interest in football. However, the FA Cup Final day is the one day a year when I have a passing interest in the day, but not the game, as it falls about the time interesting spring migrants might appear on the South Coast. This results in an unusually quiet day for the time of the year, as many people stay home to watch the match.

Over the years I've seen some good Birds on FA Cup Final day including: a Ringtail Montagu's Harrier & two Savi's Warblers at Stodmarsh (1979), Broad-billed Sandpiper at Paulsgrove which was found by my good mate Keith Turner (1982), a self-found migrant Honey Buzzard North along Winspit (1996), a female Black-eared Wheatear sp. at Winspit (1998), and a near miss of a Bee-eater at Durlston (1999). There are probably a few other goodies that I've seen.

Moving onto 2022. With the winds dropping, I was overdue a visit to St Aldhelms. Walking down to Trev's Quarry, there wasn't a lot of signs of migration other than a few parties of Swallows hurrying North. A look in the Sycamores at Trev's quarry produced my first two Spotted Flycatchers of the year, along with two nearby Wheatears.

It remained uneventful until I reached Quarry Ledge. I opted for my Eastern seawatch location above 'Billy Winspit's Garden' which has now reverted back to an overgrown vegetated ledge in the sixty or so years since Billy had cultivating it. There was little on the sea: c250 loafing Herring Gulls, a few Black-headed Gulls & some arriving Swallows. Nothing was moving, barring what was probably a local movement of Black-headed Gulls. But conditions looked good for a Pom Skua to drift through, so I kept looking & enjoying the sun.
Panoramic view of the Garden and the St Aldhelms Underworld
At 10:50, I picked up a Raptor heading North over one of the distant buoys, about 2 miles offshore. I quickly got my scope onto it and could see it was either a Buzzard or Honey Buzzard. I watched it close, but it was still distant. Time to make a decision: keep watching it with the scope or grab the camera (as I had bothered to carry it with me this time). I opted for the camera & photographed it as it came in, albeit it probably passed over the Coastguard's lookout or further West still, which was at least a half mile from where I was sitting. Had I chosen my alternative seawatch position, it would have gone right over my head: c'est la vie. As it got close to the land, I switched back to the scope, but failed to get onto it before it was obscured by the headland. The photos aren't in focus, but looking at the original image, I'm lucky that there were good enough to confirm it was a Honey Buzzard. In hindsight, I could easily have found all the photos were rubbish & I had failed to identify the Raptor. It wouldn't have been realistic to try running back up the small track from the Garden viewpoint, to try to get back onto the Raptor. By the time, I would have been able to look towards the Coastguard's lookout, it wouldn't have been in view.
Honey Buzzard: Showing the upperwing pattern
Honey Buzzard: Showing the underwing pattern, small head and longer tail than a Buzzard
Honey Buzzard: For those who think the above photos are crap, then this is the original of the first photo, but cropped to my standard 1.2 x 1 format
This is only my second Honey Buzzard for the St Aldhelms/Winspit patch and it is fitting it was seen on another FA Cup day.

In the evening, I had a walk up to Durlston to check if any Bee-eaters had arrived during the day. Durlston has a great track record for Bee-eaters and I've seen six on 31 May 1997, a single on 31 May 2012 and seven on 15 May 2019. Maybe there had been one earlier and like the 1999 FA Cup Durlston Bee-eater it had stayed twenty minutes before departing.

11 May 2022

11 May 22 - Red-necked Phalarope: A First For Studland

After a day of volunteering on the Dorset Wildlife Trust Brownsea reserve, I had only been in a couple of hours or so when I saw a message on RBA that there was a Red-necked Phalarope on the beach at Pilots Point, South Haven, Studland. Fortunately, I had eaten, so I could leave immediately. I grabbed the Birding optics & the camera, whilst phoning the news around the locals. I didn't know much more at the time, but I did know it was likely to either a first for Studland or at least the first record for at least the last twenty five years.
Points Point is just over a half mile from the end of the boardwalk: It is the furthest point visible on the beach (26 Jul 15)
After about twenty minutes, I started to scan the beach from near the end of South Haven boardwalk. There was no obvious sign & as expected, I had beaten the other local Birders to South Haven. The drawback is it is a long beach & it's just over a half a mile to Pilots Point. The other problem is there were still too many walkers, dog walkers etc on the beach to be good news for finding a rare Wader. I crossed to the tide line & walked along the beach as fast as possible. As I neared Pilots Point, I saw local photographer Aidan Brown walking to me. By this point, I knew it had been Aidan who had found it. He confirmed it was still present & feeding on the tideline with a few Dunlins and sixty Sanderlings, on the far side of Pilots Point. That was good news as it confirmed it was still around and secondly, not that many of the walkers & dog walkers continue beyond Pilots Point. Within a few minutes, I was watching the Red-necked Phalarope feeding on the tide line. I hung back to ensure that I didn't disturb the flock as I knew more locals were on their way.
Red-necked Phalarope: Phew: it was worth racing off for
Over the next hour or so, a number of locals arrived & enjoyed watching the Red-necked Phalarope. Fortunately, there weren't too many walkers on that part of the beach. We headed off a few who were walking along the tide line by explaining there was a rare Bird & letting them look through a telescope: they were interested in the news & happy to have seen it. Typically, there was one fisherman who refused to avoid walking along the tide line. He wasn't fishing at that point & insisted on it being a public beach & he could do what he wanted without considering the wishes of the Birders or the Waders. Obviously, this arsehole immediately flushed the Waders, which fortunately, resettled in a similar position after he had passed. He has encouraged on his way with justifiable comments from one of the Birders present. Sadly, there is always an inconsiderate person in any locality. I hope that other beach users had been suitably inconsiderate to respecting his fishing space since.
Red-necked Phalarope: Skulking at the edge of the bank compared to the tamer Sanderling & three Dunlins
Red-necked Phalarope: Skulking again with a couple of the Sanderlings
Red-necked Phalarope: Back out again on view
The Red-necked Phalarope Twitch: Phil Saunders (left), Rob Johnson, James Leaver, Garry Hayman & Trev Warrick (right)
I checked when I got home & it was the first Studland record. It was only my third individual in Poole Harbour with the others being an afternoon/evening only individual on Brownsea on 26 Aug 11, found by the late Ewan Brodie & one at The Moors, Arne on 23 Sep 17 which stayed for a few days from 21-26 Sep & was found by Jol Mitchell. They are not a common species in Poole Harbour & there are only three other records: Arne (May 1962), Brownsea (17-19 Aug 1989) & Arne from a Birds of Poole Harbour bird boat (25 Aug 17). I returned early the following morning & was disappointed to find that while the Dunlins and Sanderlings were still present, their rarer friend had departed. But I was not surprising as most records in Poole Harbour have been one day individuals.

8 May 2022

8 May 22 - Palmate Newt

The other highlight of a walk around Greenlands Farm this morning was this Palmate Newt, which was noticeably smaller than the Smooth Newts I see in my garden pond. They like acidic heathland pools.
Palmate Newt: Male
Palmate Newt: Males have webbed toes on the rear legs in the breeding season
Palmate Newt: Male

8 May 22 - Broad-bodied Chaser

The highlight of a walk around Greenlands Farm this morning was this showy Broad-bodied Chaser. I also saw a couple of Hairy Dragonflies and three Large Damselflies, but they didn't settle.
Broad-bodied Chaser: Immature males & females are this golden-brown colour