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.

13 Jul 2022

13 Jul 22 - The Hassles Of Moving Home

Back onto Brownsea for my regular Wednesday volunteering on the DWT Brownsea reserve. This week I was first up on the entrance desk meeting & greeting visitors. After about thirty minutes, two ladies arrived & asked about where to see a Red Squirrel as that was what they really wanted to see. I didn't even have time to start answering when I saw a pale flash in the grass. Over recent weeks, I've picked up Red Squirrels best at a distance by an unexpected pale movement. Asking the ladies to give me a minute, I moved a couple of metres & confirmed I had the pale movement was a Red Squirrel's tail. After pointing out the directions to the two ladies, I moved again to get a clearer view. There was something odd about this Red Squirrel as it had something in its mouth.
Red Squirrel: There was something interesting in the Squirrel's mouth
Red Squirrel: As suspected from my first sighting, the interesting object was a third-sized baby Squirrel & the parent was moving it between dreys
Red Squirrel: Having moved the baby, the Red Squirrel came back & posed for us on the entrance bridge. It's possible to see a nipple in this photo, so it's a female
Red Squirrel: More posing
Red Squirrel: The posing has increased to mimic the DWT sign
Finally, the Red Squirrel crossed the track & lay down on one of the branches on a nearby tree. I had seen a Red Squirrel do this a couple of weeks earlier on the same branch & assume it was the same female. On that occasion, the Red Squirrel was quite happy to pose for about fifteen visitors & allowed prolonged views.

While today's Red Squirrel was posing for the next couple of visitors, I saw a group of twenty-five to thirty small children, teachers & teaching assistants from Talbot School coming along the boardwalk. One of the teachers said they were going to stay on the NT side of the island, but they really wanted to see a Red Squirrel. I couldn't say no to that request, but explained they would need to be quiet. Fortunately, the Red Squirrel went along with this & soon there was a class of happy small and quiet children watching her. It's great to be able to show the next generation something exciting. It was nice how many of the children said "Thank you" on their way off the reserve.
It was great to see the next generation enjoying their first Red Squirrel sighting

12 Jul 2022

12 Jul 22 - Jurassic Sunset

There was a superb sunset at the Jurassic coast from St Aldhelms.
Jurassic Sunset from St Aldhelms

11 Jul 2022

8 Jun 22 - Birding On The Irish Mullet

After seeing the Least Tern, I had decided to return for a second attempt to get good views of the American Black Duck at Cross Lough on The Mullet on the North West Irish coast. The weather was predicted to get wet & windy as a front moved through on my first evening in Ireland and it was probably better as an option, than to look for Cryptic Wood White. Having had no success in the last hour of light on the first evening, I was hoping the wind & rain would have easied by dawn. The disadvantage of sleeping in the car was I heard the wind & rain was still hitting the car at dawn. The advantage was I could turn off the alarm & get some more sleep.
Cross Lough (12 Mar 22)
Cross Lough: The Lough is surrounded by these Machair fields
The rain had finally stopped by mid-morning, but there was still a strong wind blowing. I started looking for the American Black Duck along the shoreline, while brewing the first cuppa tea with the car kettle. It looked like most of the Ducks present on the previous evening had disappeared to feed locally or were skulking out of site in the reed edges. Eventually, I found a road that overlooked the Southern shore of the Lough, but I still no joy. Perhaps that was where it had been seen from the previous afternoon. I was glad I had seen it back on the Egyptian Vulture trip, even if it was only a flight view into this Southern section. I have only seen two previously in the UK: at Aber & on Tresco with both sightings in 1981.
A very breezy Atlantic, looking North from the beach
The Atlantic, looking South from the beach
The New York coastline is clearly a long way away
Cross Lough is a lovely place to go Birding as it resembles the Uist islands. I saw several breeding Wheatears.
Wheatear: Male
Wheatear: There were a pair of Wheatears around this small stone wall. I saw the male go inside the wall, so I suspect they were feeding young still in a nest in the wall
Wheatear: The Male showing how well camouflaged they are in the local stony walls
Wheatear: The equally well camouflaged female
This juvenile Wheatear has already fledged closer to the Lough.
Wheatear: Juvenile. I was pleased to see this recently fledged & independent juvenile Wheatear. Really hoping one year to see a juvenile Wheatear this young in the Isle of Purbeck to confirm local breeding
Lesser Black-backed Gull: My favourite regular UK Gull species
There were a reasonable number of Northern Marsh Orchids around the Lough.
Northern Marsh Orchid
Another Northern Marsh Orchid
It was now mid-afternoon and I had to start driving back to Rosslare. There was time for some brief roadside stops for some more Irish roadside art. Having always been a fan of traditional Irish Folk music, I couldn't resist stopping to take this photo.
Traditional Irish Folk band in a small housing development in Swinford
The impressive four Tullamore statues were along another of the main roads.
One of the four Roadside Tullamore Saints
Another of the four Roadside Tullamore Saints
A third of the four Roadside Tullamore Saints
I managed to get to the Wexford Waterfowl Centre just outside Rosslare to find the reserve shut & heavily secured to ensure you couldn't enjoy it out of hours: which was very disappointing. I did manage to see a little bit of the reserve by looking from the seawall & saw my second Irish Hare of the trip. It was getting dark & time to find somewhere to park the Focus Hotel for the night.
An Irish Hare record photo

10 Jul 2022

10 Jul 22 - Meeting The New Neighbours

I'm keeping with the themes of the last two Blog Posts of low-angle photography & the garden. It's always good to meet the new neighbours as I catch up with the long overdue removal of weeds from my gardens. This is one of five Robins that have been checking out the area I've been gardening for some bonus food in the last few days. The others are a couple of adults, one of which is tailless, a second similar-aged juvenile Robin and a juvenile Robin from an earlier brood, that is going through a body moult & is developing a red breast. While this juvenile Robin tolerated the adults, it was quick to drive off the other juveniles.
Robin: Juvenile. It became more confident with me today & approached to within about six inches of the IPhone
Robin: Juvenile
Robin: Juvenile

8 Jul 2022

8 Jul 22 - A Nymph Speckled Bush Cricket

I've taken advantage of the nice weather & relatively quiet Birding period to catch up with the long overdue removal of weeds from my gardens. There are some bonuses of this including my first garden Speckled Bush Cricket for four years. I suspect they occur more regular in the garden, but there is plenty of vegetation for them to hide in.
Speckled Bush Cricket: Nymph
Speckled Bush Cricket: Nymph
Speckled Bush Cricket: Nymph

6 Jul 2022

6 Jul 22 - Young Brownsea Friends

Wednesday is my regular volunteering day on the DWT Brownsea reserve. One of the key activities for the volunteers is to man the entrance desk to the reserve, where the volunteers get to meet & greet the visitors.

Over the last three weeks, there has been a female Mallard in this area where the DWT reserve meets the National Trust part of the island. This female has been mum to four ducklings which have grown in size, confidence & now character. Today, it looks like something has happened to one of the four ducklings, but the other three have been doing well. When they came into view this afternoon, the three ducklings were chasing after some of the visitors with mum following on behind along the main NT track. They then came to see us on the entrance desk.
Mallard: Fearless & inquisitive Ducklings
It was time to get the mobile out & get some photos from ground level. I don't often get to photograph Birds from this angle, but I always enjoy the results when I get the chance.
Mallard: Duckling
Birds don't always have to be rare, to be fun to see.

4 Jul 2022

7 Jun 22 - The Least Tern Twitch

As part of the #30DaysWild, I wrote a quick Blog Post covering the Least Tern twitch to the Portrane Little Tern colony, just North of Dublin, Ireland. This is the first of the longer Blog Posts covering the Least Tern Twitch & the rest of the Irish trip. News broke on the evening of 3 Jun 22 that the first Irish record Least Tern had reappeared in the Portrane Little Tern colony, after hanging around the colony in Spring 2021. I decided against twitching it in 2021, given my cautious approach to C19 status, but was happy to try now it was back.

There is only one accepted UK record which I wasn't able to see in Spring 1990 when there were a lot of other superb goodies turning up at the same time, including the Isle of Wight Alpine Accentor, the Lundy Ancient Murrelet & the St Mary's Tree Swallow. At the time, I was about two months away from starting a 20 month Round the World trip. I was spending a lot of time planning the trip and working hard to close down a big project at work: which was also helping to maximise overtime given I was about to pack up work. In the end, I didn't have the time to get to Rye Harbour to see what was being treated as the American subspecies of Little Tern. It did turn up again for the next three years, but I was either abroad or skint once I got back.

I decided to hold off racing over to Ireland immediately and decided to wait & see if it settled down. The following day it was confirmed that it had already spent just over a week around the colony. When it was still present on 6 Jun, I started looking into the logistics of a trip. The best option for me was to take the car over on the Pembroke to Rosslare ferry as a mini break, which was £238 return for me & the car. This had proved to be a low hassle route for the Egyptian Vulture Twitch. This time I wanted to come back on a daytime crossing in the hope of some Cetaceans & Seabirds. To be fair, that was the plan on the previous trip, but the weather resulted in my daytime crossing being cancelled & I opted for the next evening ferry instead. I popped out & bought food to allow me to self-cater, along with a large camping water container, as I always run low on water when I'm away. I have a car kettle which allows regular refills of hot drinks, which helps to reduce costs whilst travelling.
Portrane Beach: The Little Tern colony was one mile North of this point
Portrane Beach: The Least and Little Terns were resting about 30 metres from us on the beach when not on nest duties
Portrane Beach: The Little Tern colony was in this fenced off area. Unfortunately the previous evening, a Fox had destroyed five Little Tern and one Ringed Plover nests that were outside the netting. The volunteers reckoned they had enough time to renest and were creating some stony areas to try luring them inside the fencing
By early evening I was heading off for Pembroke Dock and arrived in good time for the 02:45 departure the following morning. Armed with a sleeping bag & pillow, I managed to get some broken sleep on the ferry before the announcement that we were arriving on time & they hoped to have us disembarking around 06:45. It was about a three hour drive up to Portrane which would have been quicker, except my Sat Nav decided it was faster to do through, rather than around Dublin. Despite being the capital city, the traffic and roads were still a lot more pleasant than driving through many of the big UK cities. I arrived at Portrane about 10:00. After a one mile walk up the beach with another Irish Birder, we reached the three other Irish Birders who were already watching the Least Tern.
Least Tern: The initial views were unidentifiable. I was told it was the middle Tern
Least Tern: Even when it woke up, it wasn't much easier to identify, given I couldn't compare it with the Little Terns who were still asleep
Least Tern: It looks very similar to the Little Tern behind it, but it has a yellower bill with a reduced black tip, yellower legs, is marginally smaller, slimmer and paler on the upperparts and has a grey (not white) rump & tail. The most obvious feature was the loud disyllabic call which was very distinct from the call of the Little Terns. Virtually all the Little Terns were colour-ringed which also helped to pick it out from the Little Terns sitting away from the colony
At one point, all the Terns were spooked & flew around before returning a few minutes later.
Least Tern: This is my best flight photo showing the grey rump
Least Tern: A final flight photo of the Least Tern
Little Tern: A flight photo of a Little Tern showing the white rump & tail
Little Tern: A final flight photo of a Little Tern
Once back on the beach, it decided to display to one of the Little Terns, before settling down to roost again.
Least Tern: Displaying to one of the Little Terns (back Tern)
Least Tern: Displaying over, it settled down on the right hand side to rest
Little Tern: A comparison photo of a Little Tern showing the typically larger black tip to an orangey bill & darker legs
Ringed Plover: There were a few breeding within the Little Tern colony
By now, I had spent the best part of three hours watching the Terns. However, all the Terns had been spooked again and I hadn't seen the Least Tern for about a half hour. It was very low tide and perhaps it was feeding several hundred metres away at the water's edge. It seemed a good idea to head back to the car to get some food & plan the rest of my time in Ireland. Initially, I had planned to look for the endemic Cryptic Wood Whites. But I didn't have any detailed sites in Ireland, other than a vague name of a site near Waterford. That was left as an option for the following afternoon depending on the weather: which turned out to be poor Butterfly weather.
Gallowglass: Ireland has some great roadside art. This is a Gallowglass at Ballaghaderreen. Gallowglass were elite mid 13th to late 16th century mercenary Norse-Gaelic clans warriors
I therefore, decided to head up to The Mullet to have another look for the American Black Duck on Cross Lough. I had seen it in flight back on the Egyptian Vulture trip, but was keen to get some better views. I was also keen to return to the area as it resembles the Uist Islands, which are my favourite part of Scotland. The weather was planned to get worse during the afternoon, but was surprisingly reasonable for the last hour of light at Cross Lough. Unfortunately, I couldn't find the American Black Duck. It was only on the following day that I figured out how to look at the Southern end of the Lough and perhaps that was where it had been.
The N5: This is the main non-dual carriageway road between Roscommon & Foxford. These roads are fantastic to drive as a Brit used to busy UK roads. Despite being a main road, it was pleasantly empty of cars allowing me to safely stop & take this photo. Many main roads in Ireland have an inside lane to allow slow traffic to pull into to allow them to be overtaken
Despite not seeing the American Black Duck, it had been a good day. I had seen my 550th species of BOU/IRBC species for the British & Irish List, with 8 species seen in Ireland. When I started getting serious with Birding in the late 70s, getting to 400 species in my lifetime looked to be a big challenge, given very few had achieved that target at that point. How times & expectations have changed over that period. It was time for to get the sleeping bag out & get some well-deserved & long overdue kip in the Focus hotel.