Thursday, 25 May 2017

Cuckoo's in great voice


Little Ringed Plover

After a brilliant break in Dorset it was back to the real world of gravel pit & farmland birding this weekend. A Common Tern greeted me on Saturday on the main pit before flying south. Other than two Little Ringed Plovers the site was very quiet.

On Sunday I made two prolonged visits as I'm completing a survey for one of the farms. We appear to have an influx of Lesser Black-backed & a few Herrings no doubt looking for an easy meal. A single male Teal remains on the far side of the pit, now seriously late leaving for the breeding grounds.

On Sunday the birds of the day were two very showy Cuckoo's observed on the edge of the main bund and also on the farm. The last couple years sightings have been very fleeting however this pair seem to have settled and are determined to cause breeding bedlam. The angle of the sun made it difficult to get a decent photo. 

Sunday, 21 May 2017

Lyme Regis Dippers

My favourite shot of an adult
Hungry juvenile
Final morning shot in better light
Recently fledged juvenile
Get set
Ready to dive
This juvenile on a garden fence
Distant shot of young family
Dipper outside shop taken with phone
Grey Wagtail
Water Vole
Pied Wagtail
The Cobb at Lyme Regis
House Martin

To be honest I've never had time to go looking for Dippers when staying in Lyme Regis as my schedule has been busy enough with birding & family pursuits outside the town. This break I decided I'd spend the time even though I expected a long walk up hill out of the town. Turning right out of the cottage I had to take a whole fifty yards before seeing my first of four adult Dippers ! With the adults were a number of juveniles of various ages, I couldn't get an accurate count of juveniles as they were flying around endlessly chasing food from their parents. Within the location of the Dippers were two families of Grey Wagtails. This is bar none the best location I've ever seen Dippers, a huge advantage is the River Lym is only a couple of feet wide & also sneaks past in local Brewery which we made a habit of frequenting. 

Other species noted around the town were Swifts, House Martin, Herring Gulls & Pied Wagtails.

Eastern Subalpline Warbler at Dawlish Warren

Eastern Subalpline Warbler (first view)
A tough place to bird but rewarding 
Eastern Subalpline Warbler 
Local Devon birders
Key ID features
Meeting up with Wilson
Juvenile Stonechats
Land of the Dartfords
Dartford Warbler

Agenda on day 2 was going to see the Dartford Warblers however this changed as I was taking a couple of photos of the House Martins in Lyme Regis. Within a minute I got three different message SUBALPINE WARBLER - DAWLISH WARREN. Within minutes the postcode was entered in the satnav and I was heading west. The journey was trouble free and parking was easy (£3.60 for 3 hours).

The directions said east of main path, no knowing the reserve that well I'd planned to just look for other twitchers but didn't have any idea whether it would be a 5 or a 40 minute walk. As I edged towards the visitor centre I saw a small group of birders all looking up towards my direction. Picking up there line of sight there was the Eastern Subapline Warbler singing in a less scratchy tone than a Whitethroat high in the scrubery. I quickly snapped a couple of handheld images after watching in the scope. How easy was that ! (6th lifer of 2017, first since February)

Next job was to refind it as the bird had gone to ground. I headed round to where it was originally found and after another 50 minutes it re-appeared giving stunning scope views. It was much whiter than expected but it's throat was very rich and dark red with a blue & grey on top and a striking white sun-moustachial stripe. The bird was very striking and a real buzz to see so well.

Timing was prefect as I'd then arranged to meet cousin Sara & new dog Wilson for a short walk and a hot chocolate. We had a nice walk and quick catch up before heading off in different directions. 

My destination would be Aylesbeare Common Nature Reserve where I had to struggle for an hour before finally finding three Dartford Warbler (plenty of Stonechats including young. 

Quite a day, which was celebrated with the customary Coldplay in the car and a fine Itialian meal with a couple of local ciders. 

Dorset Double - Golden Oriole & Short-toed Lark

Golden Oriole
Twitchers grew as news spread
Golden Oriole was very comfortable feeing in this bush
All ready !
Portland Observatory
Traditional cake & coffee
Pesky Short-toed Lark
Nestled down nicely but difficult to see
Cogden Beach

An early start saw me heading to Devon for a day in Dartmoor but as I reached Seaton, about 20 minutes away, thick fog had swallowed the road ahead so I decided to turn around & head back and put together a new plan. After deciding I'd going looking for the Dippers again my phone flashed "Golden Oriole - Portland". I then applied my twitching risk assessment strategy - two reports & a photo on social media. Satisfied with both I set out but still had reservations that many Orioles move on very quickly. 

I made good time & a quick pull in as I past a couple of birders by the Observatory confirmed the bird was still present. With the car quickly parked I marched back across towards a group of around twelve birders who were watching the bird. As soon as I'd set my scope up & lined the bird up in view the bird took flight and flew around the fields opposite before going out of sight. I was very pleased but longer views would have been better. Another birder & I searched around the direction without any success so I headed down to the lighthouse for a bit of sea watching. I was hopeful I'd see a Pomarine Skua passing but had to settle for two Sooty Shearwater, a dozen Manx Shearwater & the normal Gannets.

I was considering leaving then I noticed a single birder concentrating hard, he had relocated the Oriole. A few of us headed up the path for a view from a different angle & that proved a good idea as the Oriole was sitting on this side of the bramble feeding well on a feast of caterpillars. It was difficult to confirm whether the bird was a first summer male or a female bird. It was great to watch this stunning bird through the scope & take a couple of record shots. My second lifer on this short break & the first record on Portland since 2016.

As I left Portland a probable Short-toed Lark appeared on the bird news at Cogden Beach which was actually on the way home. Surely not another lifer on the same trip. About an hour later the sighting was confirmed and I was quickly parked up at the beach. What it didn't say on the reports was the birds last sighting was 3/4 of a mile down the beach through thick shingle. To make matter slightly worse it was raining hard but that did stop thankfully when I reached four other birders but the bird had not been seen for an hour. The habitat was very difficult to see any bird so we spread out across the beach and walked south. After another ten minutes we got a possible sighting, then at last the bird showed well in the open. How on earth Mike Morse @Bexbirder found this bird I have no idea, it was the 270th recorded species at the site.

Black Hole Marsh (East Devon)

Third day on the south coast started with an hours sea watching at Seaton but promising southerly winds didn't deliver any decent sightings . They were limited to two Gannets, 11 Curlew, a Shelduck & three Swallows.

I was a bit disappointed as I thought I'd have every chance of seeing my first Pom Skua of the year so I headed to Black Hole Marsh. This superb reserve is sometimes called Seaton Wetlands. I met a lovely 'mad keen' couple from Weymouth whom I shared the sighting with two Black-tailed Godwits, a hunting Barn Owl, Redshank, Shelduck brood of six chicks and a Little Egret.

The site attracted a Least Sandpiper & I'm sure the site will attract many other great birders given the good habitat available.

Little Terns on the Fleet

Stunning Little Tern
Fulmers on Portland cliffs
Little Tern on the Fleet
Portland Lighthouse
Drop of the good stuff
Fleet Explorer
Portland Bookshop

For the second consecutive year my parents had a week away booked in Dorset so again I would have difficulty in turning down the invite for a short stay. Last year, I managed to record two lifers with the Greater Spotted Cuckoo & a Red-rumped Swallow, so I had to remain hopeful (despite the very poor spring in terms of rarities) that something else might land.

After spending a fruitless hour sea watching at Portland Bill (only really Gannets) I worked my way around the Bill, sightings were restricted to a Spotted Flycatcher, Stonechats, Kittiwakes, Guillemots, Skylarks before chilling out at the Observatory & bookshop. 

Next stop was at Ferrybridge where I spent an interesting hour on the Fleet Explorer. Highlights were 10 Little Terns (51 now reported), returned from West Africa, that were preparing to nest on Chesil beach opposite the launch site for the boat. After population dropped to record lows RSPB, Dorset Wildlife Trust & land owners the Crown Estate launched an initiative to protect the terns. Initiatives included electric fencing, anti-perching devices (to keep away corvids & crows) , 24 hour monitoring & maintenance, introduction of sand patches (which supports birds in bad weather & also use of lasers to scare away predators). Other sightings including 3 Sandwich Terns, Cormorants & Oystercatcher. Birds have since increased by over 330%, a brilliant effort by local partners.

From there, I did a lap of Lodmoor but to be honest it was a bit disappointing as best as I could find were 5 Common Terns & a Marsh Harrier. A Spotted Crake had been reported during the evenings there but no one had reported it during the day. A good days birding but certainly no repeat of the Cuckoo. It was down to the local mill for a couple of local ciders.

Friday, 12 May 2017

Wood Sandpiper at Grimley (again)

Managed to grab a bonus slot of birding after work on Monday following a tip off from Butterfly Dave that the Wood Sandpiper is well worth a drive over at Grimley. The tip was very much appreciated as the Sandpiper was showing really well and wasn’t fussed by the watching audience of myself, the returning Butterfly Dave & photographer Micah Rose, who it was good to meet for the first time. It was great to see this species so close, the bird was really dainty and it is hard to believe how far the bird had flown on its migration.

Plenty of great views of other species included Swifts that were whistling past our ears, Common terns, Little Ringed Plover, Kingfisher.

A great hour of birding for a Monday night.