31 Mar 2024

20 Mar 24 - Brownsea Common Lizards

It was good to be starting my third season as a volunteer on the DWT Brownsea reserve. As a bonus it was the first warm & sunny day of the spring. On of the visitors spotted my first Common Lizards of the year on one of the paths. There were six half grown individuals along with a full-sized adult.
Common Lizards: Shame about the piece of vegetation at the front of its head
A close up of the adult Common Lizard

20 Mar 2024

20 Mar 24 - A Brownsea Avocet

It was good to be starting my third season as a volunteer on the DWT Brownsea reserve. In an early morning check of the lagoon before the reserve opened up to the public, I ran into this Avocet that was really close to the Tern Hide: previous called the Mac hide after a previous warden.
Avocet: One of twenty nine of the reserve on the day. It's easily the best Avocet photo I've taken

20 Mar 24 - Back On Squirrel Island

It was good to be starting my third season as a volunteer on the DWT Brownsea reserve. As usual, I arrived before the island opened to the public. One of the benefits of the early arrival, is this is a good time to see the island's most popular resident: the Red Squirrels. The first one was running along the boardwalk towards me. This was the opportunity to kneel down & wait for it to get closer.
Red Squirrel: Was it going to share its nut with me?
Finally, the Red Squirrel saw me and stopped to looked at me.
Red Squirrel: I've been clocked
Red Squirrel: It got a bit closer & I hoped it would come past me. However, it decided to head off the boardwalk instead & was clearly not going to give me the nut

10 Mar 2024

10 Mar 24 - A Devasting Fire Reveals Some Old History

On 12 Aug 22, a devasting Heath fire started at Studland. Subsequent investigation suggested it was down to a disposable barbeque and campfire. It was a very dry period and there were many warnings up telling people not to start fires of any kind on or near the Heathland. But sadly, there is an irresponsible group within the public, who refuse to follow these warnings or just don't care, as long as they can have their barbeque and drinks as planned.
Looking towards Brands Bay from the top of the Heath
The fire destroyed about twelve acres of high quality Heathland and clearly burnt very deep in the dry conditions. The National Trust had an old interpretation centre & bird hide at the top of the hill which overlooked Littlesea. That centre was totally destroyed in the fire, with only the bricks and concrete base surviving. While it was rarely used in recent years, it's a shame to see it destroyed, especially, as it provided a good windbreak and it allowed Birders to stand by it without their shape breaking the skyline. It destroyed at least one Dartford Warbler territory, which I generally heard calling at dusk right by the old interpretation centre & bird hide. I will miss their evening calls, albeit I've not been up to the area in the evenings since the fire.
The remains of the old interpretation centre & bird hide
The area destroyed also formed part of, or the majority of, the territories for three pairs of Nightjars. Given the mid-August date, then it is likely that the chicks from a first brood should have fledged, however, they can have a second brood and potentially, any nests and chicks would have been lost. While adult Birds can fly from a fire, there is little chance for the Heathland Reptiles or other invertebrates. I've seen a number of the more interesting Heathland Insects in the area in the past, including at least one species of ground-nesting solitary Wasp (which I've never photographed & identified) in the burnt area.
Looking towards Littlesea from the top of the Heath
Nineteen months on, there is very little signs of recovery. At the time, there were statements that it could take twenty years before this area of Heathland recovers back to its pre-fire state. There were a few shoots of Gorse reappearing suggesting that some roots survived and a few other plants: but I'm not a plant person & couldn't tell you what they are. Other than that, it was just the grassy tracks between the Heath that were in reasonable shape.
Nineteen months on, the only area that has recovered are the grassy tracks
I made my first visit to the area, nineteen months after the fire and kept to the main grassy tracks. One of the reasons for visiting was I had heard that there were signs of some of the WW2 trenches that had become visible following the fire. I assume these date back to the post-Dunkirk era when they were dug with the risk of a German invasion. The beach at Studland could have been a potential landing site, which would probably have been lightly defended in Autumn 1940.
This appears to be the remains of a straight trench facing towards Littlesea: This trench covers the Southern end of Littlesea and potentially the ground looking towards the road
Looking North along the same trench
This looks to be a small machine gun trench pointing towards the Harbour mouth
A satellite view of the burnt area shown on Google Maps (with copyright remaining with Google Maps): The trench that was photographed in in the centre of the photo. The potential curved machine gun trench above & to the left of the first trench
One of the problems for the fire-fighters was the risk of exploding ordnance caused by the fire. Studland was a live fire exercise area in WW2 and not all the munitions exploded at the time. I did hear that there were a few explosions during the fire. There was a specialist munitions team who spent many weeks after the fire searching the area for munitions that were still left in the ground, before the area was declared safe. It does make me wonder how many other shells are still buried in the rest of Studland.

1 Mar 2024

17 Jan 23 - The Antarctica Trip - Leaving Port Stanley, Falklands

It was time to leave Port Stanley. Personally, I would have liked a full day around the area. But the distances meant if we left at lunchtime, we would be able to enjoy two landings on the first day in South Georgia, whereas, a full day in the Falklands, would mean losing a landing in South Georgia. It's always a compromise in planning landings in the Southern Oceans, before the ship has to plan for any adverse weather. Another factor is the landings need to be booked months in advance with the South Georgia authorities to ensure that there wouldn't be two expedition ships looking to land passengers at the same location on the same day. Only one hundred passengers are allowed to be ashore at any time, which was fine as that allowed all our passengers to land together. But some of the larger ships have twice that number of passengers and their landings have to be staggered and shortened. The logistics of having two ships at the same location would be far more complex to manage and most importantly there would be a bigger impact on the wildlife.
One of the outer bays in the channel leading to Port Stanley: I was scanning all the bays and beaches as we left Port Stanley, in the hope of a Commerson's Dolphin. One of the Peale’s Dolphins is just visible in front of the beach
As we sailed out of the bay leading to Port Stanley, I picked up a pod of distant Dolphins. They were near to the beach (in the previous photo) and they clearly did not wanting to come & check out us. Initially, all we could see were they had prominent dorsal fins. There are several potential Dolphin species in the Falklands: Risso's Dolphin, Bottlenose Dolphin, Dusky Dolphin, Hourglass Dolphin, Peale's Dolphin, Southern Rightwhale Dolphin and Commerson's Dolphin. The first two species are right on the edge of their extensive world range.
Peale's Dolphin: All it is possible to say on this view is it is either a Dusky Dolphin or a Peale's Dolphin
Very quickly most of these species can be eliminated. The colouration and shape rules out a Risso's Dolphin. The lack of a distinctive beak and the patterning rules out Bottlenose Dolphin. Hourglass Dolphin can be ruled out as they don't have the well-marked patterning on the sides of the body. Southern Rightwhale Dolphin is very distinctive black and white marked species and it doesn't have a dorsal fin. Finally, Commerson's Dolphin has a very broad-rounded dorsal fin & looks more like a Porpoise, than a classical Dolphin. This just leaves Dusky Dolphin or Peale's Dolphin as the only likely species.
Peale's Dolphin: The dorsal fin shape looks different as it starts to go under
Peale's Dolphin: Further into the dive
Peale's Dolphin: Another individual came up at the left hand side of my view through the camera. It seems to have a pale stripe behind the dorsal fin
Finally, one of the Peale's Dolphins jumped out of the water and it was possible to see the dark facial pattern which confirmed this was a Peale's Dolphin.
Peale's Dolphin: The dark facial pattern, pale sides to the body and lack of a pronounced beak rules out the other candidates
Dusky Dolphin: One of the Dusky Dolphins from the first evening in the Beagle Channel which shows the short beak, but the pale stripes that continue through the face (14 Jan 23)
We didn't see any other species of note until we reached the open sea. Here we were greeted some large feeding flocks of Sooty Shearwaters.
Sooty Shearwater: A large feeding flock of Sooty Shearwaters
Sooty Shearwater: Another party of Sooty Shearwaters on the sea just before we reached them
Sooty Shearwater: About one hundred thousand pairs of Sooty Shearwaters breed on the nearby Kidney Island. They also breed on the temperate & Subantarctic Islands from South Chile & the Falklands to South Australia & Tasmania, Macquarie & the New Zealand Subantarctic Islands
The numbers of Seabirds quickly dropped off as we left the coastal parts of the Falklands, but we stuck it out on deck anyway.
Southern Royal Albatross: Southern Royal Albatrosses can be separated from the similar looking Northern Royal Albatross by the narrow white leading edge to the wings
Southern Royal Albatross: A second individual. This is the nominate epomophora subspecies of Royal Albatross according to Clements. The other subspecies is Northern Royal Albatross which IOC split and is another future armchair Tick when I switch to IOC taxonomy
Southern Royal Albatross: A third individual. This is an immature & I think it's a 1st year individual. Adult Southern Royal Albatrosses have a white band on the inner secondary coverts which narrows as it reaches the bend in the wing: this area remains black in Northern Royal Albatrosses
Southern Royal Albatross: The third individual. Southern Royal Albatrosses breed on the Campbell & Auckland islands and Northern Royal Albatross breed on Chatham Islands & New Zealand's South Island. Both Royal Albatrosses range throughout the Southern Oceans
Snowy Wandering Albatross: This is a Snowy Wandering Albatross and it is the nominate exulans subspecies which breeds on South Georgia. Clements lumps all the Wandering Albatross subspecies, whereas, IOC splits Wandering Albatross as Snowy Wandering Albatross, Antipodes Wandering Albatross, Tristan Wandering Albatross & Amsterdam Wandering Albatross. This is a third cycle which I think corresponds to second (Southern) summer based up the more commonly used UK moult terminology
Soft-plumaged Petrel: We saw the first Soft-plumaged Petrel of the trip & one of my favourite Pterodroma Petrels
Soft-plumaged Petrel: This monotypic species breeds on the subtropical to subantarctic islands including Tristan da Cunha & Gough Islands, Marion, Crozet, Kerguelen & Amsterdam islands in the South Indian Ocean, to Maatsuyker Island, to the South of Tasmania and Macquarie & the Antipodes Islands to the South of New Zealand
We would have two more full days at sea before we reached South Georgia.