23 Sept 2023

23 Sep 23 - A Tale Of Two Contrasting Twitches

On 21 Sep 23, news broke that the UK's second Bay-breasted Warbler had been found on Ramsey Island, just off the coast near St David's in South Wales. It was a Tick for everybody, as the first record had only been seen by the finders. Although I hadn't visited Ramsey Island, I knew where it was, as it was where I took a rib out to Grassholm Island, after seeing a Pied Crow in a nearby campsite. The Pied Crow had wandered around a fair bit of the East Coast of the UK before resurfacing in South Wales. It seemed an unlikely vagrant, but a few other species that I've seen or not bothered with have subsequently been accepted and I decided to tie the Cetacean & Grassholm trip into the day, rather than just to look for the Pied Crow. It was a great day in South Wales, even if the Pied Crow ended up being presumed to be an escape.
Looking across to Ramsey Island from the mainland: It was behind the lower farm house (6 Jul 18)
Soon after the news broke, it was confirmed that no boats were going to be able to get across to Ramsey Island due to the sea conditions. The boat company and the RSPB who own the island, didn't think that would change over the next week. This looked like one rarity that I wasn't going to see. However, that afternoon I had a call from my oldest Birding mate from school days, Pete Aley, who told me there were boats running on Sat 23rd and Pete asked if I wanted a boat ticket. Pete had heard there was to be two boats at lunchtime & had secured one of the forty places on the 12:00 boat. When news broke of two morning boats, he bought a morning boat ticket & didn't need the lunchtime ticket. Fortunately, Pete decided it was easier to pass it on, rather than to try cancelling the ticket. Obviously, I jumped at the offer, despite the uncertainty of whether it would still be there in two days' time.
The Old Lifeboat Station: The boats run from the base of the slipway (6 Jul 18)
The next day I was on an ORCA Cetacean Survey from Pompey to Caen & back again and out of phone signal for the whole day. One of the rules is, that phones have to be turned off when we are on the bridge & I wasn't going to pay roaming changes to check the news when we were briefly tied up in Caen. It was only when it was dark and we were off the bridge and approaching the Isle of Wight that I turned my phone back on again. Fortunately, the Bay-breasted Warbler was still there. There was also confirmation from Pete that the boats were expected to run as planned. I had planned to head straight to South Wales from Pompey, as I wouldn't have got a lot of sleep if I had taken the longer route via Dorset. Soon after crossing the M4 bridge, I pulled off on a road towards Magor, the site of the 1981 American Bittern and I found a pull in where I could sleep in the Focus Hotel for a few hours. I was awake about 06:30 and after brewing a coffee, I was heading West. Fairly quickly, news came through that the Bay-breasted Warbler was still present. The weather was looking good, the boats were expected to run & everything seemed good with the world.
The Old Lifeboat Station Slipway (6 Jul 18)
The day became a lot more complicated mid-morning when news that the UK's first Canada Warbler had been found at St Govan's Head about an hour and a quarter driving time from Ramsey Island. I knew I didn't have time to consider looking for it on the way to St David's. What I didn't know was how long we were due to have on the island. I could only push on for the boat to Ramsey Island. I arrived in good time about ninety minutes before the boat was due to leave. There were a lot of old mates already in the queue for the boat and it was an enjoyable chance to catch up with their news over recent years. We were told that the boat was on a scheduled round the island trip, but if everybody was present, then we would be able to head off a few minutes early. Being aware of the Canada Warbler, the boat company said they would run boats back on demand, providing there was at least twenty people ready to depart from Ramsey Island. This could allow us to see the Bay-breasted Warbler and depart quickly to give a couple of hours to look for the Canada Warbler. All very frustrating, but with news it was going to be strong winds & rain all of the following day, then getting the chance to look for the Canada Warbler that afternoon was going to be the best option.
The Bay-breasted Warbler was frequenting the bushes to the right of the farm house
Finally, our names were called & we headed off to the old lifeboat station and down the ramp to the boat. Fortunately, there weren't checking people's Id and that saved me having to explain why my name had changed to Pete for a few hours. Within fifteen minutes of departing, we were getting off the boat on Ramsey Island. We had to wait for everybody to get onto the jetty before one of the warders who had found the Bay-breasted Warbler gave us all a briefing. Then it was a quick walk towards the farm house, where we had a second briefing from another warden of the best places to stand and to tell us where to look. Two minutes later we were looking at its favourite bushes at the back of the farm house. Within a few minutes, it was clear that people about fifteen metres to my left could see it. But we were too far away to hear the directions. Rather than race left, I decided to keep looking & hold my nerve. But all I was seeing was two Chiffchaffs, two Goldcrests and a Robin. Barry Reed had walked left, seen it, returned & given us directions to where we should be looking. I still couldn't see it. Then Barry offered me his scope to have a look. It was deeper into the bush than I had initially been looking, but now I had seen it. I quickly found it with my scope and got more views. Then it popped into a better position & I could get some photos. They weren't great, but better than nothing. It was a well-managed twitch & many thanks to the RSPB team, their volunteers and the Thousand Islands Boat crew who all really helped us to enjoy the visit to Ramsey Island.
Bay-breasted Warbler: Not the best of photos, but it was the best I could do in the time I had
After watching it for ten minutes, I was conscious that a number of Birders had already left for the quayside to catch the second lunchtime boat as it returned to the mainland. I decided to head to the quayside, as we didn't know how quickly the boat would return to take the next boatload off. I arrived to find there were already fifty Birders on the quayside and so I wouldn't be getting on the first boat off. At least I was in the first ten or so people for the second boat. A bit frustrating as I could have spent more time with the Bay-breasted Warbler, but as more people arrived at the quayside, I would probably have only have fifteen minutes before the second boat was also full. It was about forty-five minutes before the Thousand Islands boat arrived again to take us off. A few of the Grey Seals on the island put on a good show to keep us entertained while we waited for the boat.
Grey Seal: Showing the long parallel nostrils that separate them from Common Seals: which are more v-shaped nostrils
While we were waiting it, an old mate Neil Bostock heard that his driver had made it onto the first boat & had driven off to look for the Canada Warbler & stranded the rest of his car load: what a selfish ****. He should have told them he was going for the boat & given them the chance to leave promptly as well. I offered Neil & fellow passenger Mike Edgecombe a lift down to St Govan's Head. This was helpful as Mike sorted out the navigation for the final few miles & it saved me having to try figuring out the exact location on my Sat Nav. It was a smooth run down to St Govan's Head.
Grey Seal: They can close their nostrils, so that the water doesn't get in when they dive
Finally, we arrived at Chaos Head. We drove onto a narrow road onto part of the army firing range that was open for the weekend. There was a large car park at the end, but a number of selfish idiots were parked partly on & off this narrow road. Mike had heard the police were on the way to deal with the problem. I finally got passed the parked cars & into the car park, just before many of the parked cars were finally moved into the car park.
Grey Seal: A good view of the long head profile of Grey Seals
It was only a few minutes back to the wood. I got into the wood to find there were the best part of two hundred Birders in there and they were rapidly heading to the far side of wood as the Canada Warbler had just moved. Directions weren't easy to figure out in the stampede, but it quickly became clear that the small Passerine I had seen fly back towards the near side of the wood was probably the Canada Warbler. But it was only a fleeting glimpse of small Passerine to me. I headed back to its preferred area and there was a solid rank of four or five layers of Birders, with a few climbing trees to try to see. Most had twitched the UK's third Magnolia Warbler that morning & then driven onto look for the Canada Warbler, hence the large numbers of Birders.
Grey Seal: Pup
This was turning into one of those nightmare twitches from the Isles of Scilly in the 80s, that I hadn't seen for many years. I found a place to look from, but I had a poor view of the tops of the trees, not realising that it was favouring feeding well into the tree undergrowth and well below head height. Soon there was another stampede to the other end of the wood. I took advantage of this to get a better position. I was still three rows back, but I now had a half view. I spotted Pete Moore just in front of me & he checked if I had seen it. When he found I hadn't, he kindly offered to swap places, as he was waiting for better photos than the record shot he had taken.
Grey Seal: Grey Seals can live for twenty-five to thirty-five years
I now knew its preferred area. Another stampede & I shuffled left a bit & I was in the front row with a clear view of the preferred area. But after thirty minutes, it hadn't reappeared. Then there was a whispered "what's that movement" and some directions, quickly followed by "that's the Canada Warbler". Soon after I saw a very bright yellow breast of a New World Warbler. Clearly, it should have been the Canada Warbler, but with a Magnolia Warbler only two miles away and a fall of American Passerines on the Welsh coast, it was too poor a view to be sure, let alone tick it. Fortunately, I had a good, identifiable set of views as it moved right in the vegetation about five minutes later. I stayed looking for another twenty minutes or more, but I didn't get the bins on the other movements that I saw. When I turned around there were four lines of Birders behind me & it wasn't going to be easy to get out. After I few minutes, I offered my place to one of the other Birders, in exchange for a route out. When I checked outside of the wood, the Magnolia Warbler was a couple of miles away & the light wasn't going to be great, so I decided against looking for it. I wasn't too bothered as I had been on Scillies when the first Magnolia Warbler was found & I had enjoyed excellent views of that individual with about fifteen other Birders.
Grey Seal: Ramsey Island is one of the most important Grey Seal breeding islands in the UK with between five hundred and seven hundred pups born every year
I couldn't complain, I had seen two New World Warbler Ticks in a day & this was only the third time this century that had happened: so I should have been happy. Truth be told, I was glad to be out of the wood. The behaviour from many of the Birders was very bad, with a number of stampedes & a number of selfish idiots happy to try pushing in front of other people to try seeing the Canada Warbler. I had two people who asked to kneel in front of me. I said yes, but both realised that they were too low & then tried standing up. The first was taller than me & would have blocked my view, so he was told to behave & get down. Within a few minutes, a second Birder also tried the same trick and had also to be told to behave and sit down again. This was after several Birders had already tried blocking my view earlier in the afternoon. There was a lot of other bad behaviour from people panicking that they hadn't seeing the Canada Warbler. I was pleased to have taken the decision to use the stampedes to get a good position and be patience. This was such a frustrating twitch & contrasted totally with the very enjoyable vibe from the morning.
Chieftain Tank at the nearby Castlemartin Barracks: Chieftain Tanks were the UK's main battle tank from 1965 to 2003
I had a quick chat with my Welsh mate Steve Preddy, but kept it short and telling him to where to look. I finally arrived home about 01:30. I was knackered, but very happy to not be having to stay over & look for it in the strong wind & rain of the next day: when it wasn't seen. The Ramsey Island part of the day had been great, but not long enough and a real contrast with the bad twitch at St Govan's Head.

15 Sept 2023

15 Sep 23 - A Male Migrant Hawker

Migrant Hawkers are one of the commonest Dragonflies that I see at St Aldhelms. They breed in water tanks at Trev's Quarry and I normally see them patrolling in that area. However, I found this male patrolling along the Barn Hedge. This is half way between Trev's Quarry and the nearest cottages by Weston Farm & it's possible that there could be a pond or two in those cottages.
Migrant Hawker: Male
They are smaller than the other autumnal Hawker species and the males have pale blue spots on a dark abdomen. They also have a yellow golf-tee shaped marking on segment two of the abdomen and short pale yellow ante-humeral stripes on the sides of the thorax.

14 Sept 2023

14 Sep 23 - A Tale Of Two Ospreys

These days Ospreys are getting more & more frequent in Poole Harbour, especially in the Autumn. Ospreys have been using Poole Harbour as an autumnal migration and stopover spot for many years. It also appears that the presence of juvenile Ospreys released by the reintroduction project in the recent pre-Covid years and the breeding pair in the last two years have also helped to attract Ospreys and encourage them to stick around. The vast majority of the sightings are around the Wareham Channel, RSPB Arne peninsula and neighbouring sites.
The first Osprey: This seems to have a distinctive short or moulting primary next to fingers on the right wing and appears to be unringed
Ospreys do appear at Studland, especially Brands Bay and Littlesea, but it seems that this is most likely to occur when the other areas are very busy with other Ospreys. Today, two appeared in the late afternoon over the back of Brands Bay. The first was an adult and it quickly caught a fish & disappeared back over the Goathorn Peninsula. The second is also a moulting adult and it has a blue ring on the left leg. Unfortunately, the quality of the photo isn't good enough to read the ring number. However, comparison of photos show this isn't the juvenile 5EO that had been seen in a number of locations in Poole Harbour in early Sep.
The second Osprey: This has a blue ring on the left leg and is missing an outer secondary on the right wing

13 Sept 2023

13 Sep 23 - G463 Goes Visiting

Wednesdays are my normal volunteering day on the Dorset Wildlife Trust Brownsea reserve. On this Wednesday, I had taken an early boat in the hope of checking the Waders for something more interesting than the regular species. I was part of the way through checking & counting the Waders, when everything took off. This includes the normally unconcerned Cormorants, Oystercatchers, Great Black-backed Gulls. It clearly was a visit from something larger than a Peregrine, an Osprey or a Buzzard flying by, as the Cormorants, Oystercatchers and especially the Great Black-backed Gulls won't react to one of those Raptors. The culprit was quickly seen flying over the back of the lagoon: a White-tailed Sea-eagle. There was no longer any point in trying to look at the Waders as they were going in every direction, so I picked up the camera to get some photos.
White-tailed Sea-eagle: Male G463. The first pass over the summering Brent Goose: who decided against taking to the air
White-tailed Sea-eagle: Male G463. Coming in for a second pass
White-tailed Sea-eagle: Male G463. It was confirmed as the local male by Paul from the Birds of Poole Harbour team who has access to the GPS tracking data
White-tailed Sea-eagle: Male G463. The Black-headed Gull provides a good size comparison
White-tailed Sea-eagle: Male G463
White-tailed Sea-eagle: Male G463. Showing why they are called Barn Doors
White-tailed Sea-eagle: Male G463. The local male only has one foot. It lost the other foot in an unknown incident after it was released: possibly from landing on a live power cable, which has been documented for other White-tailed Sea-eagles
White-tailed Sea-eagle: It sat on the lagoon for a couple of minutes, before disappearing when I was checking the photos
There has been a resident pair of White-tailed Sea-eagles from the Isle of Wight reintroduction project in the Wareham Channel for over a year now. They mainly spent their time in the Wareham Channel and the surrounding areas, but they sometimes explore elsewhere in Poole Harbour & beyond. It's been a couple of months since the last sighting at Brownsea, but it's always a risk that they will turn up & disturb the whole lagoon. Visitors to the DWT Brownsea reserve often ask if they will see a White-tailed Sea-eagle. I always answer "hopefully not", before explaining how much disturbance they will cause and encouraging them to book onto a Birds of Poole Harbour Bird Boat if they want to see one.

9 Sept 2023

9 Sep 23 - The Brown Blue

It was good to see my first Brown Argus of the year on Quarry Ledge at St Aldhelms. Despite its brown colouration, it is one of the UK Blue Butterflies.
Brown Argus
Brown Argus: There is a hint of blue in this individual. Swanage (7 Aug 14)
Brown Argus: A better underwing shot. Harmans Cross (14 Aug 18)

8 Sept 2023

8 Sep 23 - A Garden Hornet Hoverfly

I was pleased to see and photograph this Hornet Hoverfly around my house. They are one of the more distinctive Hoverflies with their large size and distinctive orange patch on their head.
Hornet Hoverfly

6 Sept 2023

6 Sep 23 - Squirrel Nutkin

The Red Squirrels haven't been that showy on the Dorset Wildlife Trust Brownsea reserve in the early part of the Autumn. Perhaps not helped by them getting used to having the reserve to themselves when it was closed due to an Avian Flu outbreak and taking some time to get used to people again. I decided to have a final look at the lagoon and it was quiet on the reserve when I left. There was a Red Squirrel looking for nuts really close to the DWT gazebo, who decided to pose for photos to make up for hiding throughout the time I was manning the gazebo.
Red Squirrel: I can never resist the chance for more Red Squirrel photos
Red Squirrel: That's another Hazel Nut found
Red Squirrel: No time like the present for a Hazel Nut

2 Sept 2023

2 Sep 23 - St Aldhelms Code Red

I was up early as the weather conditions looked good on the weather forecast. However, it was very misty at dawn with visibility in the Swanage area around fifty metres. I knew it wouldn't be better at St Aldhelms, so decided to delay leaving the house until the visibility improved. Finally, around 09:30 the conditions looked a lot better & I was about to leave the house when Phil Saunders rang to say he had just found a Juv Red-backed Shrike in Pier Bottom Valley: this was definitely a major patch rarity with only six previous records for the St Aldhelms/Winspit/Seacombe Valley/Chapman's Pool area.

I made a few calls as I was getting ready to leave the house. A few minutes later, I arrived at the Renscombe Farm car park & walked fast to Pier Bottom Valley, with only a few quick scans of the fields as I passed them. As I walked down the valley, I could see Phil with his scope up & taking some photos with his mobile. The Red-backed Shrike was in the largest patch of scrub in the lower valley. Unfortunately, it had dropped out of view just before I arrived, but as Phil hadn't seen it leave that patch of scrub since he found it, then clearly it was just a case of waiting for it to pop up again. Within a few minutes, I saw it pop up in one of its favourite Elderberry bushes at the highest point of the scrub. It was good to have seen it so quickly as Phil had said it had been elusive while he was waiting for me to arrive.
Red-backed Shrike: Juv
Red-backed Shrike: Juv
Over the next few hours it settled into a pattern of perching in one of two Elderberry bushes, the original one & another one at the closest point in the scrub to the sea. It would then flycatch before returning to a perch. Sometimes it dropped onto the ground when it saw a large Beetle or Grasshopper. Despite showing well, we were hanging back at this stage from the scrub as we knew there would be other Birders who were on their way & we didn't want to disturb it.
Red-backed Shrike: Juv. This was the end for this Bumblebee
Red-backed Shrike: Juv. It went down in my estimation when I saw this photo of it dangling the Bumblebee by a back leg
I didn't think the day could get any better, until Phil shouted he was scoping a Vagrant Emperor. Having only seen one before, then this was suddenly even more interesting than the Red-backed Shrike. It was flying over the bushes at the very top of the valley. Unfortunately, Phil lost it before it stopped. We decided to leave the Red-backed Shrike & headed up the steep side of the valley to the top. We split up & I quickly bumped into it in flight & Phil very quickly picked it from my directions. We watched it in flight for the best part of a minute before it disappeared over the next field in the direction of the Marines Memorial. It was unclear if it was it was just moving through or was patrolling a regular route & we didn't stay to see if it would come back. Either way it will be a first record for the St Aldhelms patch.
Red-backed Shrike: Juv
Red-backed Shrike: Juv
Phil returned to the valley bottom to collect his scope & re-join the other locals. I stayed to check the bushes at the top of the valley which have always looked good for a Wryneck, but yet again, they failed me. I then moved down the slope to watch the scrub from above. This gave me better views of the higher Elderberry bush, whereas the others had the best views of the other Elderberry bush.
Red-backed Shrike: Juv
Red-backed Shrike: Juv
Red-backed Shrike: Juv
The previous St Aldhelms/Winspit/Seacombe Valley/Chapman's Pool records are:
  • Chapman's Pool on 22 Aug 1962
  • Chapel Field West at St Aldhelms on 15 Sep 1965
  • Seacombe on 2 Oct 1968
  • Winspit on 18 Sep 1972
  • Seacombe on 26 Sep 2018
  • Winspit on 12 Oct Sep 2021.
It's likely that there are much older records from the Seacombe/St Aldhelms/Winspit/Chapman's Pool area, especially during the period when Red-backed Shrikes bred in Dorset, but further investigation into the very early Bird Reports will be needed to uncover those records. However, this part of Dorset wasn't getting a lot of attention from Ornithologists around the start of the 20th Century. I need to acknowledge the help of my mate & St Aldhelms stalwart Steve Morrison in pulling together these records.
Red-backed Shrike: Juv
Normally, I'm happy to get some photos and then carry on Birding. However, today, it was a pleasant change to enjoy the social chat while we were waiting for Dorset's cycling Birder Pete Moore to arrive. Pete finally arrived as Phil & I were chasing the Vagrant Emperor. After that I spent a few hours sitting in the sun & waiting for the Red-backed Shrike to reappear back in the top Elderberry bush so I could try to get some better photos. These photos were the result of over five hours of effort.