14 Dec 2023

14 Dec 23 - A Photostudy Of A Common Species

I was checking the Waders and Wildfowl from the Brands Bay hide, when three Goldcrests appeared on the Gorse within a metre of the front of the hide. I couldn't resist taking some photos.

6 Dec 2023

6 Dec 23 - Some Nice South Purbeck Birds

When I moved to Swanage in 1996, I quickly started a Poole Harbour list and a South Purbeck List. The South Purbeck List is the Historic Isle of Purbeck south of the Corfe Ridge, It is a long, narrow patch with some specific challenges, given it has no significant areas of open water & no wetlands which runs from Swanage to Arish Mell. But it does include some fantastic Birding sites including my Winspit, St Aldhelms & Chapman's Pool patch, as well as, Durlston. It also includes my house, so there were a number of areas I spent a lot of time watching each year. As a result of the habitats, I've seen a lot of good migrant passerines in the South Purbeck patch, but you also need to see a lot of tricky groups, including Seabirds, wildfowl and Waders to get a good total.
Ringed Plover: This is one of the two Ringed Plovers that were present
Over the last few years, I've spent a lot more time seawatching & I've seen a good selection of Dorset Seabirds. I've slowly managed to see the majority of the regular Waders during spring seawatches, but I've still struggled with many Wildfowl, which I've mainly missed on Spring seawatches. There are a few Waders I've missed till this Autumn, including Grey Phalarope, Redshank & Purple Sandpiper. In recent weeks, I've managed to see the first two species with late afternoon twitches to Kimmeridge: I must be one of the few Dorset Birders to have twitched a Redshank, but it was a species I had only heard on passage over the house in the dark.
It was nice to see these two Knot
Purple Sandpipers are hard to connect with in South Purbeck as they don't Winter on the coastline. So, you need to see a passage migrant. My mate Steve Morrison has spent weeks of fanatical Spring & a fair bit of Autumn seawatching at St Aldhelms over the many years he lived in Dorset. He has never seen a Purple Sandpiper on a St Aldhelms seawatch or in South Purbeck. Interestingly, there was one seen on a couple of days at Peveril Point, the point right at the Southern end of Swanage Bay, last year. Unfortunately, I couldn't locate it when I heard about it. Had it moved on or was it tucked in somewhere in the large bay between Peveril Point and Durlston. I've no idea, but Birding pride means it must have been the former case. This year, there was a sighting sent into the Dorset Bird Club for one being present at Peveril Point on 5 Dec. Local Purbeck Birder, James Leaver, saw the message on the Dorset Bird Club sightings page & was down there just after dawn on the following morning. He disturbed my breakfast with a call to alert me to its presence. I quickly finished the food & headed down. Rob Johnson had just beaten me there & was watching it. Even better it was roosting & feeding on the rocks right by the point, with 2 Ringed Plovers & 2 Knot. I've seen both species before, but only on a couple of occasions each in recent years as I've switched back to watching St Aldhelms more regularly. So, it was nice to add the Purple Sandpiper to the South Purbeck List and see the other two species.
Purple Sandpiper: The Purple Sandpiper and the Ringed Plovers couldn't be relocated later in the morning, so perhaps this is a very transitionary location for them
Purple Sandpiper
The Purple Sandpiper took my South Purbeck List to 208 species seen, plus two species heard: a Spotted Redshank over the garden moth trap at night & Quail. The All Time South Purbeck List is currently 295, so I've still got a lot of species I could see. However, Steve Morrison's South Purbeck List is only 229, despite his many years of seawatching & Birding at the Winspit & St Aldhelms patch. There are a number of potential Duck species I could add from Spring seawatching, plus a few missing Terns. But after that it's still going to be a challenge to get close to Steve's List. But it will be fun trying to pass his List, especially, as I have chances every time there is a South Purbeck rarity, as Steve now lives in France, unless he is back in the UK for a few months of survey work.
Purple Sandpiper

2 Dec 2023

2 Dec 23 - A Misty Jurassic Coast

There was a mid-afternoon email about an unseasonal Wheatear at Swyre Head which is the highest point in the Historic Isle of Purbeck. It had been foggy all day in Swanage with eighty metres visibility, which briefly rose to four hundred metres before quickly closing in again. With the combination of no details on where the Wheatear was and the foggy conditions, I carried on making the late lunch that I was just starting. As I was eating, I had texts from locals James Leaver & Rob Johnson to say that Swyre Head wasn't foggy and they could see Portland Bill nearly twenty miles away. I quickly finished my food & drove to the car park to start the mile long walk to the headland. I was spurred on by a photo of the Wheatear, that looks like an Isabelline Wheatear. I arrived to find James & Rob looking in different directions. They confirmed it had flown down off the top to the well-vegetated hillside, but they didn't see where, or if, it landed. Sufficient to say we didn't see it that evening & a nearly four hour search in three heavy rain squalls failed to relocate the first Dorset record of Isabelline Wheatear.
The Jurassic Coast: There was a nice evening view of the fog rolling over the headlands, but it wasn't a lot of compensation

28 Nov 2023

28 Nov 23 - Studland Wings - Part Three

The third in the trilogy from Studland from Jerry's Point on the vague theme of wings. This Great Northern Diver was just off Jerry's Point & I couldn't resist taking a few photos.
Great Northern Diver: I like their scaly wing coverts when I get to see them close
Great Northern Diver
Great Northern Diver

28 Nov 23 - Studland Wings - Part Two

There has been a Slavonian Grebe around Jerry's Point, Studland for over a week & finally it was close enough for some photos on nice still & dunny conditions.
Slavonian Grebe: Showing the clean well-demarked facial pattern
Slavonian Grebe: Another view of the clean-cut facial pattern which curves up behind the eye, before finally turning down
Slavonian Grebe: Slavonian Grebes have a small pale patch at the base of the bill, but they are rarely close enough to be able to see this
Slavonian Grebe: Showing the classic low & flat head shape and facial pattern and the stout bill
Slavonian Grebe: The sizes in the field states they are about ten percent larger than Black-necked Grebe, but realistically that is of little use without a lot of experience of judging their size in the field, unless you get to see both species together. However, the Great Crested Grebes can sometimes be used to judge their size
Slavonian Grebe: The peak of the head is at the rear of the crown
Slavonian Grebe
Slavonian Grebe
Slavonian Grebe: The crown looks more puffed up now as it was taking a break from diving
Slavonian Grebe
Slavonian Grebe
Slavonian Grebe: Despite seeing 242 Slavonian Grebe bird days & 5501 Black-necked Grebe bird days around Studland over the years, I've only seen a Slavonian Grebe fly once & I've yet to see a Black-necked Grebe fly: they just swim to move around & will dive if they feel threatened
Slavonian Grebe: They are separable in flight or if they flap their wings, as the white is restricted to the secondaries on Slavonian Grebes, but the white continues onto most of the primaries on Black-necked Grebes. But this isn't a particularly useful feature when they won't fly at Studland & they are mainly nocturnal migrants
Slavonian Grebe: Another wing shot
Finally, a Black-necked Grebe for comparison which shows the peak of the head is above the eye, the black clearly curving below & behind the eye with the black fading into the white facial pattern and a thinner bill. They always look like large Dabchicks to me with shorter looking bodies and proportionally thinner necks, whereas, Slavonian Grebes look like small Great Crested Grebes, with longer bodies, proportionally thicker necks, a lower crown, the black curving up behind the eye before turning down with a cleaner-cut facial pattern & thicker bills.
Black-necked Grebe: Jerry's Point (10 Jan 22)

28 Nov 23 - Studland Wings - Part One

I had a good look around the South Haven part of the Studland Peninsula on the morning of 25 Nov, but I didn't see much of note beyond two Great Northern Divers, a Red-throated Diver, a Slavonian Grebe and a very distant Black-necked Grebe. So, it was a bit galling to find that there had been a Black-throated Diver and a Long-tailed Duck seen that afternoon. Albeit, I was watching the American Golden Plover at Lodmoor that afternoon, so I can't complain too much.

I did see the Long-tailed Duck from the Brands Bay hide, when it popped into view briefly just beyond Redhorn Quay on the afternoon of 27 Nov, but it was a long way off & pelting down with rain at the time. This morning, it reappeared from behind Redhorn Quay & then hung around in Brands Bay, but it was about one kilometre away from the hide. Later in the morning, I was counting the Great Crested grebes & Red-breasted Mergansers at Jerry's Point, South Haven, when it dropped in close to the point. I paused the count to get some photos. It was a good thing that I did as within a couple of minutes, it was flying back towards Brands Bay again. It wasn't clear what disturbed in from Brands Bay, but it does seem to quickly fly when disturbed and then rapidly move on again.
Long-tailed Duck: Female
Long-tailed Duck: There are a less than annual species at Studland, but in the last five years they have become more regular
Long-tailed Duck: This would make a good mystery photo
Long-tailed Duck: With a photo-bombing Common Seal
Long-tailed Duck: A closer crop of the last photo
Long-tailed Duck: A final flight shot as it continued off in the direction of Brands Bay

25 Nov 2023

25 Nov 23 - A Long Overdue Dorset Tick

I had spent the morning having a good look around a few sites at Studland, but I hadn't found anything of note and decided to head home for an early lunch. I had just finished eating, when Phil Saunders rang to say news had just broken on a Weymouth Whatsapp group of an American Golden Plover at Lodmoor. With only five previous records and none being twitchable since I've lived in Dorset, then I was phoning the news around locally, as I was heading out of the door. Local Purbeck Birder James Leaver had arrived a few minutes earlier than me & as I got there I could see his camera raised: it was clearly still here. He pointed out which part of the five hundred or so Golden Plover flock to look in & I was quickly watching it.
American Golden Plover: With a Golden Plover for comparison
It was an aggressive individual and didn't like the Golden Plovers getting too close to it. The darker crown and whiter line over the eye, dark ear covert spot, greyer more washed out colouration, lack of clear spotting on the breast and smaller size all helped to pick it out from the immaculately marked Golden Plovers. There was an interesting Golden Plover photographed the next day at Lodmoor which was washed out & didn't have any obvious golden spots which hoodwinked a few observers: but the other plumage features still confirmed it was just a washed out Golden Plover.
American Golden Plover
American Golden Plover: A teasing underwing shot
American Golden Plover: The dusky patch at the base of the underwing is one of those ID features that can be tricky to see
American Golden Plover: About the best I could do for an upperwing shot
In comparison, Golden Plovers have a nice white underwing.
Golden Plover: Showing the nice white underwing, while the American Golden Plover, to its left, is doing its best to remain uninterested
Golden Plover: Showing the nice white underwing
Golden Plover
Finally, a Pacific Golden Plover taken within a few days of the date of the Lodmoor photos, but nine years earlier in French Polynesia. I still find it hard to think that when I started Birding that American Golden Plover were lumped with Pacific Golden Plover and called Lesser Golden Plover.
Pacific Golden Plover: Mangareva, French Polynesia (20 Nov 14)

23 Nov 2023

23 Nov 23 - A Bonus Tick On A DWT Brownsea Members Day

Brownsea Island closes for the winter at the end of October school holiday. This allows the National Trust & Dorset Wildlife Trust to get on with essential maintenance work on the island. However, there are a few days when the island is open for visitors e.g. the DWT Members Days. As a volunteer, I get the chance to visit on some of these days to show the members the Birds on the lagoon and to get involved with general public engagement. It's also an excuse to have a look at the lagoon over the winter. There was a reasonable selection of Waders on the lagoon to show to the members. But as the tides were heading to neap tides, many Waders were roosting closer to their preferred feeding grounds, rather than on the lagoon.

I spent most of the day in the Avocet hide talking to members and showing them the Spoonbills, Waders & Ducks on the lagoon and telling them how to identify them and various other snippets of information. Finally, in mid-afternoon we had a change over with volunteers in the hides and I decided to have a wander around other parts of the DWT reserve. There was time for a quick visit to the Lake hide, which confirmed there was nothing on the lakes, other than a couple of Mallards & a couple of Canada Geese. Then I spotted this Western Conifer Seed Bug on one of the windows. It's a species I've seen photos of on a number of occasions from the Weymouth area, but it was a Tick for me.
Western Conifer Seed Bug: This is an introduced Bug from North America that occurs to the West of the Rocky Mountains from California to British Columbia and as far East as Idaho & Nevada. In recent times, it has expanded its range to Eastern North America and it has been introduced to the UK, parts Europe, Chile & Argentina through imported timber products
I walked off the reserve with one of the other volunteers & as we had a few minutes to spare, we decided to walk up to look for some more Red Squirrels by the church. In normally don't walk up to this area, as it's usually very disturbed by visitors in the summer. But it was quiet today as the members were heading to the quay for their boat. As expected, there were several Red Squirrels in the area. But as we heading off the reserve to find the gentle path to the area, we saw this female Mallard right next to the path & typical for Mallards in this area, she was very tame & approachable.
Mallard: Female
It soon became clear, why she was particularly approachable as she wasn't on her own. She had three youngsters in tow & this was late Nov and not early June. I hope there is a mild winter which will increase their chances of survival.
Mallard: This should be a photo from June, not late Nov
The members had a four hour trip onto Brownsea & there has been a lot of positive feedback to the DWT team from the members. It had been a good day.

8 Nov 2023

8 Nov 23 - Snow Bunting In The Buff

In the last Blog Post, one of my plans for the Spotted Sandpiper day was to walk the beach at Shell Bay, Studland up to Pilot's Point in the hope of finding a Snow Bunting. What I wouldn't have done is to carry on further along the beach towards the nudist part of the beach, which is where local Purbeck Birder, James Leaver, was walking his dogs three days later when he found a Snow Bunting. It didn't stop raining till after lunch, but it had finally dried up by mid-afternoon when I went looking for it. I didn't see it as I walked from the beach end of the Nudist Beach track to Shell Bay, but I did find it on the return trip. It was about one or two hundred metres North of the end of the beach end of the Nudist Beach track, but feeding right up in the edge of the dunes. I guess I just overlooked it on the first sweep of the beach.

Fortunately, it was a nice cold day and too cold for any nudists. It's an area which is understandably under-watched, given the presence of some very unattractive individuals both there and the nearby dunes. As a warning, sadly the area also attracts the occasional individual who would be particularly unpleasant to encounter as a couple of my friends have mentioned over the years. As a result, I only ever visit on cold winter days when I think the area is likely to OK to visit.
Snow Bunting: As I walked back South, I bumped into it by walking on a path one or two metres inside the dune. It was around five metres away from me and it froze, just like I did, before it slowly started moving away
There have been a few recent Snow Bunting records with two individuals on Redhorn Quay in Nov 21 and another individual at Shell Bay in Nov 22. A full list of previous Studland records are listed here. This individual stayed from 8 Nov to 11 Nov. Another Snow Bunting flew South over the Glebelands area of Ballard Down on 21 Nov 23.
Snow Bunting: I stayed for around five minutes before leaving it in peace

5 Nov 2023

5 Nov 23 - A Poole Harbour First - Schrodinger's Sandpiper: Spotted, But Not Spotted

It was promising to be a reasonable day at Studland & I headed for South Haven, in the hope of some arriving Wildfowl through the Poole Harbour mouth. There have been the occasional records of Whooper Swans or Grey Geese in and there are still only two records of Glossy Ibis for Studland. With only three or four flyby records of Egyptian Geese at Studland, a flock of pale buff Geese would still be a result. But there was little on the move.

Time for Plan B to have a look around the back of the South Haven Pool, walk the beach to Pilots Point in the hope of a Snow Bunting and have a look along the Heather Walk in the hope of a lingering rare Phylloscopus Warbler. Being an optimist is an essential quality for a Birder, albeit I'm generally more realistic than optimistic, in general life. I was checking the South Haven Pool, when Paul Morton rang to say there was a likely Spotted Sandpiper that had just been found by Mark Wright by the Tank Traps. The Tank Traps are on the other side of South Haven and just to the South of the Houseboats, which was on my list of places to check later in the morning.

About ten minutes later, I was carefully approached the Tank Traps through the trees so I could look over them from where I expected Mark to be looking from. But there was no sign of either the Spotted Sandpiper or Mark and his partner Debbie. There is a very limited view from the trees at the Tank Traps. I rang Paul back for more directions. He confirmed that Mark was still watching the Spotted Sandpiper, but he didn't have any directions. I guessed it was probably on the small beach at the base of Jerry's Point. I carefully walked in that direction, to ensure I didn't flush it if my hunch was correct. A couple of minutes later, I could see Mark, Debbie & the first of the local Birders on the beach at the base of the Jerry's Point track, but I still couldn't see the Spotted Sandpiper. I backtracked out to the road and walked to the beach, via the Jerry's Point track.
Spotted Sandpiper: It looks superficially like a Common Sandpiper, but the bright yellow-orange legs stand out compared to the greenish-brown-yellow of Common Sandpipers. Other features are 1st Winter Spotted Sandpipers have plain edged tertials compared to pale spots on the tertial edges on Common Sandpipers. Spotted Sandpipers have pale pink bills with a dark tip, whereas, Common Sandpipers usually have all dark bills. Also, Spotted Sandpipers have a more rounded body with a short tail, compared to a more attenuated shape and a long tail in Common Sandpipers. In flight, Spotted Sandpipers have a thinner and shorter central white wing stripe especially on the inner wing
Finally, I could see the Spotted Sandpiper which had been just out of view, from my previous viewpoint. It stayed till 12:30 with a party of Turnstones, four Dunlin & a Knot. It stayed in the area even when the other Waders flushed, until it was flushed by two selfish dog walkers who insisted on their right to boot it so they could wade past it, as the beach was still covered in water. They were asked not to, but then that would have needed the missing considerate genes in their DNA. The Spotted Sandpiper flew to Jerry's Point, where they flushed it again. We couldn't relocate it around Jerry's Point, Sandy Point or the Redhorn Quay area for the next hour and a half. But it finally returned to its preferred beach with the Turnstones, where it spent the rest of the afternoon.
Spotted Sandpiper: Adult Spotted Sandpipers are spotted in the breeding season. All ages are unspotted in the Winter and yet it was cleared spotted by all Birders who saw it on its one day visit to Studland. Clearly, a birding variation on Schrodinger's famous cat hypothesis which was also in two states at once
I hoped there would be the chance for some better photographs on the following day, as these photos were disappointing. But it disappeared overnight and hasn't been relocated locally since. This is the first Poole Harbour record and the tenth Dorset record.
Common Sandpiper: A Brownsea Common Sandpiper for comparison (2 Sep 17)