13 Feb 2023

13 Feb 23 - 350 & Counting

I'm writing this Blog Post the day after it is dated. There is a bit of irony that yesterday afternoon I was trying to finalise a couple of Blog Posts from my recent Indonesian trip & I was sorting through photos of a Sabine's Gull. But not just a Sabine's Gull, but perhaps the rarest Bird I've co-found over the years: given it was only the third for South East Asia & second for Indonesia. Before I finished the Blog Posts, I had to put the laptop on charge and found the very low battery didn't seem to be charging. A reboot & it finally sorted itself out. While I was waiting for the laptop to reboot, I had a quick look at the mobile to see what was going on birdwise & on twitter. First thing I saw was close photos of a first winter Ross's Gull in Dorchester that were published on twitter about twenty minutes earlier. I rang & alerted a few locals as I was heading out the door: it turns out that all but one of the local Birders were blissfully unaware until I put the news out. The irony was I was leaving writing about an "even rarer" High Arctic Gull for a "less rare" High Arctic Gull.
Ross's Gull: 1st Winter
Dorset's third Ross's Gull had appeared in mid Feb 18 & it stayed around for two weeks to the start of March. Despite being in Colombia at the time, I was bombarded with a deluge of emails & tweets during its stay with many stunning photos of it. To rub it in that I had dipped, the Dorset Bird Club decided to put the Ross's Gull on the cover of the DBC Bird Report for that year, just as they did four years earlier with the Brunnich's Guillemot. I seemed to have been one of the few Birders in Dorset & the UK who didn't see the Portland Brunnich's Guillemot (as I was in India).
Ross's Gull: 1st Winter
Anyway, I wasn't going to give the DBC another chance of putting a Ross's Gull on the Report's cover without me seeing it. About thirty five minutes after I left, I was arriving on the road alongside the water meadows to the North West of Dorchester. The timing was a worry as it was now 16:20 & I had worried about it following all of the Black-headed Gulls to their roost in Weymouth Bay: that would be a nightmare to try relocating it on choppy water in the failing light.
Ross's Gull: 1st Winter
I saw a layby with a few cars, but no Birders, so I carried on. Passing a slight bend in the road I saw the Birders a few hundred metres further on. A couple of cameras raised & somebody looking though a scope: it was clearly still there. There were no other close parking spaces on the other side of the Ross's Gull. I managed to find somewhere to safely turn the car, so I could park in the layby. A closer look at the Birders as I passed, didn't reveal lots of Gulls in the fields beyond them. As I parked up, Wareham local Nick Hopper was leaving his car. A short-ungainly jog with scope & camera and we were nearly there. Nick stopped to scan the field, whereas, I kept going to the crowd. My strategy worked as when I arrived, it was immediately obvious as the only Gull in a muddy field about fifteen metres in front of us, but hidden from view by bushes from where Nick was scanning.
Ross's Gull: 1st Winter. This photo shows the pink flush on the belly which was more obvious as it flew
At one point, the Ross's Gull decided to do a short loop flight around the field before settling close to where it took off. It caught me out & the ISO settings were far too low to get some decent photos in flight. However, this one was better than the others.
Ross's Gull: 1st Winter. Shows the pink flush on the belly
While I wasn't able to get a good in-flight photo, freezing the action was much easier as Portland resident Dave Bishop ran along the pathway
Dave Bishop arriving: Dave is an old mate from Southampton days who I did a lot of Hants & Dorset Birding with in the 80s
To finish the day off nicely, when I updated my Dorset List that evening, I found that this was species 350 for my Dorset List following BOU. This doesn't include Feral Pigeon (as I only count pukka Scottish Island Rock Doves), the pending Yelkouan Shearwaters or any reintro species (albeit that's only Great Bustard as I've seen a pukka White-tailed Sea-eagle, Cranes & White Storks in Dorset).

When I moved to Dorset back in 1996, my Dorset List was just under 240. But thanks to the many years of camping at the Bill in Spring & Autumn in the early 80s, it did include some excellent & difficult Dorset species like Ivory Gull, Pied-billed Grebe & Savannah Sparrow that have held their value. Later twitches from Southampton added another set of blockers: Little Bustard, Pacific Golden Plover, Terek Sandpiper, Parula Warbler & Dark-eyed Junco. It's been a long effort to get to 350, but I've finally made it.