23 Aug 2023

23 Aug 23 - A Lime Hawk Moth Caterpillar

As the other Dorset Wildlife Trust volunteers & myself were leaving the reserve, I spotted this Lime Hawk Moth caterpillar on the boardwalk. It was a good end to the day.
Lime Hawk Moth Caterpillar
Lime Hawk Moth: This is what it will look like when it's fully grown. Swanage (30 Jun 10)

17 Aug 2023

17 Aug 23 - A Grand Day Out: Part Two

In the previous Blog Post, I covered the seawatching from the Scillonian on the crossing from Penzance to St Mary's on the Red-footed Booby twitch. It had been a successful crossing with good numbers of Cory's Shearwaters and a few Great Shearwaters. I was really hoping for a Pterodroma Petrel or a Scopoli's Shearwater, but I hadn't been that lucky. Still on a positive, the Birders at the back of the Scillonian hadn't found any either.

We arrived at St Mary's on time & we were quick to join a handful of Birders who were already on the inter-island boat that would take us to the Bishop Rock Lighthouse. It seemed to take a long time to finally get going, but finally we were off. We were briefly joined by two Bottlenose Dolphins after we had left St Agnes, but sadly they didn't stick around for photos.
Heading out to the Bishop Rock Lighthouse
The Bishop Rock Lighthouse: Complete with a Red-footed Booby on the top
Twenty-five minutes after leaving the harbour, we were approached the Bishop Rock Lighthouse. The boat's ticket collector said he thought he could see a Bird sitting on the top of the lighthouse platform. I was struggling with the bins in the choppy seas & switched to the camera. A quick look at the back of the camera & I was able to shout "It's on the right by the antenna".
Red-footed Booby: I've got about one hundred photos of Red-footed Boobies from the Pacific & Atlantic and this is clearly the worst that I've kept. But it was the moment I knew the gamble has paid off
Red-footed Booby: It was preening for almost all the time we were there. While, this wasn't great for photos, it was endlessly better than the other option of trying to locate it while it was off fishing
Red-footed Booby: Did somebody ask "If there was a Cormorant on the top of the lighthouse"?
Red-footed Booby: I like this photo of it have a crafty look at us
Red-footed Booby: The nominate sula subspecies breeds on islands in the Caribbean, Belize, Honduras, Venezuela, Brazil & Ascension Island
After the best part of an hour around the Bishop Rock Lighthouse, we agreed we had had our fill of the Red-footed Booby. The boatman took a circuitous route back which allowed us to see a handful of Cory's Shearwaters. I checked all the ones I saw & none were Scopoli's Shearwater candidates.
Fulmar: We saw this Fulmar and a few distant Cory's Shearwaters on the journey back to Hugh Town
We arrived back into Hugh Town, with barely enough time to have a look at one of the local Birding spots like Lower Moors. So I settled on a celebratory lunch & a coffee in one of the cafes, before heading back to get on the Scillonian.
Hugh Town Beach
The yellow boat is the island's ambulance boat
St Mary's Lifeboat Station
Portmellon Beach: Another part of the view over the Hugh Town beaches that I never get bored looking at
We left a few minutes early and took the route through the islands. We saw the first Cory's Shearwaters while we were still off the Northern end of St Mary's. In total, I saw forty-two Cory's Shearwaters on the crossing back: all around the Scilly Isles. At the time, all the ones I checked with the bins or the camera looked to be Cory's Shearwaters.
Cory's Shearwater: This clearly is a Cory's Shearwater
Cory's Shearwater: Another individual
Cory's Shearwater: Another view of the previous individual
However, while I was sorting the photos, this Large Shearwater caught my eye as a potential Scopoli's Shearwater candidate. It was in the background to a closer bog-standard Cory's in these five photos. It was taken as we were heading back to Penzance. The timestamp is 15:41 GMT & we were about fifteen minutes out of the harbour, as we left a few minutes earlier than scheduled. We were off the Northern end of St Marys, when he encountered a party of Cory's Shearwaters, which included this individual. I would welcome any thoughts on what species it was.
Interesting Large Shearwater: Cory's Shearwater or Scopoli's Shearwater?
Interesting Large Shearwater: Cory's Shearwater or Scopoli's Shearwater?
Interesting Large Shearwater: Cory's Shearwater or Scopoli's Shearwater?
Interesting Large Shearwater: Cory's Shearwater or Scopoli's Shearwater?
Interesting Large Shearwater: Cory's Shearwater or Scopoli's Shearwater?
I've just had this feedback from the legandary Bob Flood after I forwarded these photos to him "This is an interesting bird with much white the under primaries, but crucially not p10. So, I am afraid that it doesn't meet current ID criteria". So, it isn't a Scopoli's Shearwater. Clearly I need to keep looking.

More straight-forward to identify were three Sooty Shearwaters.
Sooty Shearwater: This was one of three Sooty Shearwaters seen on the way back to Penzance
As we left the Scilly Isles, I saw four Risso's Dolphins, made up of a couple of individuals, followed by two single individuals. I also saw another ten Short-beaked Common Dolphin, mainly ones or twos. All the sightings were long enough to identify with the bins, but too short to stand a view to a chance at some reasonable photos.
Short-beaked Common Dolphin: This was the only photo I managed to get all day, despite seeing twenty-four individuals & even then it was only the back end of the body. They just weren't showy today
As we reached the Cornish coast we started seeing Manx Shearwaters again, hugging the coast and heading for Land's End. It was impossible to count them & still scan for other species, Cetaceans & Seals. I estimated I saw over two thousand, but a focused count would have probably revealed this was a significant undercount.
Grey Seal: This Grey Seal popped up as we were passing Mousehole and it was the last new sighting
Grey Seal: It popped up a second time to show its head
It had been a long, but very enjoyable day, which started when the alarm rang at 02:00. We docked around 19:00, but there was a delay before we could finally get ashore. After a refuelling stop, I headed off to a chippy by the Hayle. I finally got home about 23:30.

17 Aug 23 - A Grand Day Out: Part One

On 7 Aug 23, Bob Flood & team found the UK's second record of Red-footed Booby on one of their Scillies pelagics. I assumed it wasn't going to be twitchable. However, a week later, Bob decided to have a quick look at the Bishop Rock Lighthouse at the end of that day's pelagic. He made a sarcastic prediction that nobody on the boat believed, that the Red-footed Booby would be sitting on the top of the lighthouse. The photo of a happy boatload when they found it was there, quickly went viral on the Birding networks that evening.

I decided to see if it was seen the next day and I was also was struggling to see how to get out to the Bishop Rock Lighthouse, having completely forgotten that the regular inter-island boats used to take punters out to the lighthouse back in the 80s. It was still there the following day, when the first wave of twitchers saw it. I couldn't go on the next day, as that was my regular volunteering day on Brownsea. But I managed to book a space for a day trip on the Scillonian for the 17th.

I really didn't appreciate the 02:00 alarm call. But it was time for my first breakfast, followed by a nice uneventful drive down to Penzance. I found a parking space next to the harbour for the second breakfast, before joining the early birds at the start of the ferry queue. I was keeping any eye on the back of the queue to see if we had enough Birders to be able to charter an inter-island boat. Surprisingly, there were only about a dozen Birders in the queue. Well that should be enough, albeit it might cost us a bit more money for the inter-island boat.

The Scillonian crew were quick to get us onto the Scillonian & we were away on schedule. Time to start looking for Seabirds & Cetaceans. I had found a place next to where we would unload off the Scillonian on the starboard side, while the other Birders were scattered around the rear deck. I was taking a risk by standing away from the other Birders, but I was also in a good spot for the light and also out of the wind. The crossing started off quickly with a pod of three Bottlenose Dolphins as we passed Mousehole.
The Tater Du Lighthouse: Cornwall's newest lighthouse is sited between Porthcurno & Lamorna. There is more information about the history of the lighthouse here
We were soon clearing Porthgwarra, the last point on the Cornish coast on the Scillonian's route. Fortunately, it was a nice sunny & relatively calm day. Soon afterward, I saw the first of fourteen Short-beaked Common Dolphins on the crossing. They quickly became a favourite for some of the passengers standing near me. They got into Dolphin spotting & one of the passengers picked up a couple of really close individuals that I would have otherwise missed, while I was scanning further out. Unfortunately, I failed to get photos of any of the Dolphins on either crossing with none giving prolonged views.
Manx Shearwater: I saw around 185 Manx Shearwaters on the crossing to St Mary's
But the priority for the crossing was to look for and photograph as many Cory's Shearwaters as possible. 2023 has been one of the best years for Cory's Shearwaters in Cornish & Scillies waters with thousands being present. More interesting there have been a few Scopoli's Shearwaters in with them. This is the relatively recently split of the Mediterranean subspecies of Cory's Shearwater: which Clements still hasn't bothered to split yet. But as the British List is based upon IOC taxonomy, this would be a British Tick for most UK Birders.
Cory's Shearwater: The first of thirty five individuals I saw on the crossing to St Mary's
Cory's Shearwater: Another individual
Cory's Shearwater: Another individual
Cory's Shearwater: Finally, a close individual
Cory's Shearwater: Another view of the same individual
Cory's Shearwater: Two more individuals
Cory's Shearwater: Another two individuals
Cory's Shearwater: At last a decent photo of a Cory's Shearwater
Cory's Shearwater with three Manx Shearwaters: This shows the size difference between these two species
Cory's Shearwater: Another decent photo of a Cory's Shearwater
Cory's Shearwater: Another photo of the last individual showing the other underwing
Great Shearwater: There were three Great Shearwater in one of the Cory's Shearwaters parties
Great Shearwater: They are currently heading South to their St Atlantic breeding grounds
Cory's Shearwater: Not all the Cory's Shearwaters could be ruled out, as not being Scopoli's Shearwaters as the best features are the underwing pattern on the primaries: which was not possible to see on the fifteen or so that were sitting on the sea. However, given the many hundreds of Cory's Shearwaters being seen around the Scillies and the relatively few Scopoli's Shearwaters photographed, then the latter are still appearing to be a very small percentage of all those present
We were quick to join a handful of Birders who were already on the inter-island boat that would take us to the Bishop Rock Lighthouse. I will cover that in the next Blog Post.

16 Aug 2023

16 Aug 23 - Brownsea's Boomerang Tern

I volunteer on the DWT Brownsea reserve on Wednesdays. This is public engagement day with slots where the volunteers man the DWT gazebo at the entrance to the reserve, as well as, the video scope in the Avocet Hide. In between we keep an eye on the reserve and also get a bit of free time to check out the Tern Hide. By mid-August the Sandwich Terns were past breeding, but they were still congregating on an island to the left of the Spoonbill Tamarisk. I popped into the hide about 11:00 to have a quick look before my slot started at the gazebo. There was a good selection of Sandwich Terns on the island. On the first scan, there was no sign of the Forster's Tern which had recently reappeared in Poole Harbour after disappearing off East in May 23. It's actual departure date seems uncertain as some of the last sightings were of a mis-identified first summer Sandwich Tern.
Forster's Tern: Just like a boomerang, it's back on Brownsea after its Summer of travelling
I doubt any of the local Birders were surprised when Lytchett Bay Birder, Shaun Robson, refound the Forster's Tern in the bay on 15 Jul 23. It was elusive over the next week, but then it was pinned down to roosting with the Sandwich Terns and Common Terns in a roost that was visible from Shipstal on the RSPB Arne. Most of the late Summer & Autumn sights were from Shipstal, but occasionally it has dropped onto Brownsea, with the first sighting of the Autumn on 15 Aug 23, when it was seen from the Birds of Poole Harbour Bird Boat. On my second scan of the Terns, one of the Sandwich Terns must have moved and it revealed the Forster's Tern was standing among the flock. It was still there when I left at 11:25 to head down to the gazebo, but I didn't see it again when I looked in the early afternoon. Soon after it was seen again from Shipstal.
Forster's Tern: A close crop from the last photo
Now I just need to see it on my Studland Patch.