27 Aug 2017

27 Aug 17 - Patch Gold

The August Bank Holiday weekend is one of my favourite weekends for local Birding, outside of the Oct to mid Nov window, providing the weather holds up. A slightly frustrating start to the weekend with having to work on the Sat, but with the forecast looking similar light winds & sunny weather I was keen to get out early this morning. It's about perfect time for Ortolans in Dorset & with last year's revolutionary surprise from the Sound Approach team about how many Ortolans are on the move over Poole Harbour at this time of year, then I was keen to see if I could see one. The only downside to this stunning total of 13 recorded over central Poole last Autumn were they were all recorded at night. In addition to these 13, I seem to remember Nick Hopper having additional Birds over his Wareham house (again at night) & there was a lone daytime sighting of one flushed & not relocated at Soldiers Road (Hartland Moor). The most likely location for connecting during the day would be Ballard Down which forms the Southern boundary of my Studland patch & also Poole Harbour. The best option would be to be able to walk some of the stubble fields, but these are all private. But there is always the slim change of a fly over Ortolan or one pitched down on the grassland.

I had planned to be out for pre-dawn, but looking at the times of the nocturnal recordings then most tended to be in the early hours rather than close to dawn. So I revised my plans to be out for just after first light. The first part of the walk from Studland village goes next to Manor farm. I rounded the corner & standing on the roof of the farm was a Hooded Crow. I'm not sure which of us was more surprised, but after quickly confirming it looked pretty pure, I reached for the camera, The Hoody responded quickly at this point, by flying out of sight & presumably landing further back on the roof. I checked the phone, but no signal. Fortunately, I was able to get a signal back in the village, about the only signal I had all morning (thanks EE) & started ringing around all the Harbour Listers. I reckoned it was probably about the first Hoody for about 30 years (actually only 26 years as the last record was 16 Feb 1991). Having got the news out, I needed to get back to the Hoody again. Fortunately, as I turned the corner it was back on view, but at the furthest end of the roof about 80 - 100 metres away. I grabbed a few photos, before it flew up into one of the trees over the road leading to the Glebelands estate. Soon after a Corvid dropped out of the back & headed off SE towards the fields. I didn't see anything on it, but assumed it was the Hoody as I couldn't see it as I got closer to the tree. There is a regular flock of Crows & Rooks which feed in these fields & I hoped it might have been heading off to join them. As I reached the Glebelands estate, I was caught up by Nick Hopper who crucially had a scope. Once on the main ridge to the East of the Glebelands estate, we could see the Corvid flock & it was happily feeding with the main flock. Not close, but these fields are private with no access & where the Corvids were they were hidden by folds in the field from the Glebelands road. The Hoody was visible for a couple of hours from the top of Ballard, until the farmer flushed the flock as he headed out to feed the cattle. It was later seen by Mark & Mo Constantine & much closer (than me) by Peter Moore in the field next to the road to Glebelands.
Hooded Crow: I was lucky to get this photo as I had knocked the setting onto a completely wrong setting
Checking this afternoon, there are only a handful of records for the Poole Harbour area. The Birds of Poole Harbour website list four previous records:-
  • 6 Jan - 15 Mar 1953 - Sandbanks
  • 29 & 30 Apr 1967 - Brownsea
  • 21 Mar 1980 - Brownsea
  • 16 Feb 1991 - Brownsea
Hooded Crow: A purely record showing more of the underparts & the wing moult (so clearly not a youngster). It also points to this perhaps being of Irish origin, given the lack of any tartan or sporran being visible
There clearly is a bit more checking to do, as the excellent Birds of Dorset book by George Green quotes seven records for Poole Harbour, but doesn't detail most of them. However, more importantly, there aren't any records in the Report of the Birds of Studland by Steve Morrison although Steve's report doesn't include Ballard Down. I will need to do some more digging to try & see & ascertain where these other three records were that George mentions. But at the moment, it looks like Patch Gold & a first for the Studland patch. Later, I was amused to see a metal detectorist in the field: clearly he wasn't aware that the gold had already moved from that field.

8 Aug 2017

11 June 16 - Bonuses of Gardening

During the spring Birding season, the garden tends to get a big overgrown with weeds as obviously the Birding takes priority. But as the local Birding quietens down, then I end up having to spend a fair bit of time to get the garden back under control. Usually there are a few bonuses of spending time in the garden & this year was more interesting than usual with my third & fourth records of Large Skipper.
Large Skipper: Only my third record for the garden, with the fourth on 1 July 17
The gardening also produces the first records for the year of my resident Dark Bush crickets.
Dark Bush Cricket: Nymph
The highlight of the gardening was getting adopted by one of my local Blackbirds. Occasionally, in previous years, a Robin has appeared to check out the gardening. However, when that has happened, they have never got particularly close. This summer this male Blackbird appeared quickly as soon as I started gardening & was very happy to be looking for food about as close as two or three feet away. In the end, I kept moving up & down the garden a bit more to give it a bit more room to look for worms in the area I had just been working on. Although, he quickly moved to where I was currently removing weeds from, if I didn't move on. Clearly, this gardening worked out well for both of us, as I've had up to four young fully grown Blackbirds in the garden for the last few weeks. What I particularly enjoyed was being able to get the SX60 down at ground level & angle the viewing screen up so I could frame the photo without having to lie down to take the photo. It's rare that I get the opportunity to get a up close ground view: when I do it always feels very rewarding.
Blackbird: Male. Great to be adopted by this individual
Blackbird: With this interest in gathering worms, it's no wonder why the youngsters were well brought up
Blackbird: Must have been watching Puffin videos with a bill full of fish through my window

5 Aug 2017

11 Apr 17 - Spot the Difference

I published some photos of the Fovant Badges in Wiltshire in a previous Post.
Fovant Badges: photographed on 13 June 14
I stopped for some more photos as I past the Fovant Badges back in the Spring, which allowed the chance for a Spot the Difference photo. It's not a very difficult competition, so no prizes.
Fovant Badges: photographed on 11 Apr 17
The new badge between the Post Office Rifles and the Devonshire Regiment is to commemorate the centenary of the carving of the first of the Fovant Badges, the London Rifle Brigade, which was carved in 1916.
The new centenary badge with the Devonshire Regiment badge
A number of other regiments who were based at the Fovant camp for training before being sent to the trenches went on to carve their own regimental badges. Sadly, a number of these have now been lost, although a few photos exist of them on the history of the Fovant Badges website.
The Royal Wiltshire Yeomanry, 6th City of London Regiment & Australian Commonwealth Military Forces Badges
The Royal Corp of Signals, The Wiltshire Regiment & the London Rifle Brigade Badges
Additional badges were carved by troops in the Second World War & the badges for the Royal Wiltshire Yeomanry & the Wiltshire Regiment weren't carved until the 1950s. Around 2003, there was another attempt to restore the Fovant Badges to their current splendor. I hope this continues & it would be great if the locations of the other lost badges could be identified & recreated.

30 Jul 2017

30 July 17 - Butterflies on the Edge

In 2014, I spent a lot of time trying to see the regular breeding Butterflies that occurred in Dorset that I hadn't seen to date, as well as, trying to get photographs of as many of the Dorset Butterflies as I could. Photos of  many of the Dorset species were added to the Blog during the year with a couple of round up Posts: Whites, Hairstreaks & Blues & Nymphalidae (Aristocrats, Fritillaries & Browns) and Skippers. At the time, there were considered to be 45 breeding Dorset Butterflies left, with the news that Wood White had probably gone from the county, following its demise at Powerstock Common. So I was probably a few years to late to see a Dorset Wood White. The nearest colony was in Devon. At the time, I was told that they occasionally had flown over the border in previous years, but that hadn't been any recent records that my mate knew of. So I was resigned to the likelihood that I should have made more effort in my earlier years of living in Dorset. But fortunately, people have kept looking & I recently heard one of the Dorset Birders had managed to see some about a week ago. It was then a case of having to hope for decent weather this weekend. Yesterday was far too windy first thing & then went downhill as the rain set in for the rest of the day. Further heavy overnight rain didn't help, but it looked more promising this morning. So following clear signs of blue skies at home this morning, I had a hurried chat with Peter Moore, before we decided to head West. Even better, it was still sunny when we arrived. Soon after we were at the site to find James Lowther & his wife had beaten us there, but no sign of the Wood Whites. We spread out to look & about ten minutes later, Peter had found one at roost. By the time I got there it had flown, but it quickly settled down again in a more promising position for photos.
Wood White: A species I never expected to see in Dorset
Soon after it started warming up & we were regularly seeing sightings of the approximately ten individuals there. They were quite easy to pick out in flight having a much weaker & fluttery flight compared to the true Whites. There were also a couple each of Dingy Skippers & Clouded Yellows there, but neither were particularly photogenic & more flighty. No photos of either as I didn't want to get distracted from the Wood Whites. A lot of the Butterflies seem to be having a good year in 2017 & I guess they have just expanded a little bit onto the Dorset side of the border.
Wood White: Preparations for the next generation. Male to the left
This brings me to 49 species of Butterflies seen in Dorset, having seen vagrant Swallowtails, Large Tortoiseshell (Durlston) & Monarchs (Winspit (1995 & 1999) & Portland (2012)). This excludes the Swanage Maps which are now understood to be an illegal introduction, (surely accidental escape according to the individual involved to escape a potential prosecution - Ed). I guess it's too much to hope that there are still Pearl-bordered Fritillaries tucked away somewhere waiting to be rediscovered in Dorset since they disappeared. Probably the most like species for no 50 for Dorset will be a Long-tailed Blue.

27 Jul 2017

27 July 17 - Young Pipistrelle Bat?

At the moment, I'm working at a company with offices set in fairly extensive grounds on the downs outside Winchester. This is a great site to walk around at lunchtime & has a reasonably good selection of wildlife within the grounds. Today's walk was nearly over & had been fairly uneventful for interesting wildlife, when I saw a small & presumed Pipistrelle Bat fly low over the grass, before landing at head height on a small tree. As I approached I could see it climbing up the trunk, until it froze as it saw my movement. There was time for a few quick photos on the iPhone before leaving it in peace.
Presumed young Pipistrelle Bat sp.
I am presuming it is one of the two abundant species of Pipistrelle Bat. Until the 1990s, it was thought that there was only a single species of Pipistrelle Bat in the UK. Then studies confirmed there were two abundant & widespread species: Common Pipistrelle & Soprano Pipistrelle, as well as, the rare Nathusius' Pipistrelle. These first two  species are best told by the frequencies of their echolocation calls with the strongest calls being around 45kHz & 55 kHz, respectively. Obviously, I didn't have an Bat detector with me, but then it probably wasn't calling whilst clinging to the tree. Therefore, it's identification will probably remain a mystery, unless there are any Bat experts out there who can help to identify this Bat. I was expecting it to have grey brown fur, so was surprised to see the grey colouration of the bare skin. I am assuming it is a young Bat that has only recently learnt to fly & hasn't had time for the fur to grow.

24 Jul 2017

10 June 17 - 7 (00) Up

On 7 June 17, there was a very brief mid-week sighting of an Elegant Tern on the Eastern side of Hayling Island, Hampshire, but so brief that only a handful of locals managed to connect. Searches the following day proved negative, but then another tantalising sighting on Friday 9 June. Despite being another fleeting sighting, it gave hope that it might get pinned down somewhere in the area over the weekend. I spend some time looking at maps of Thorney Island & the surrounding harbour which forms the border between Hayling Island & West Sussex, with a view to try sorting out the most likely Tern colonies that it might be in & potential viewing points. But before I made any efforts to head off East, there was a Mega alert on the pager to say it had been seen one harbour further East at Pagham harbour. This perhaps explained its fleeting visits across the border to Hampshire. A quick call to alert Peter Moore, who was miserably being dragging around the Brownsea reserve by the family & visiting friends. Normally with Peter & family, it is the reverse, but as this was a potential UK Tick for him & virtually on the doorstep, he felt the right to be miserable. It was clear that trying to arrange a rendezvous with my twitching buddy would not work, especially as there was a three line whip to ensure he was back that evening, so I grabbed the cameras & headed off alone.

The pager was telling people to park at the RSPB centre & walk along the coast. I decided to chance heading for the small Church Norton car park, figuring that some of the quick responding locals would be leaving to avoid the arriving crowds. It worked, one spare place in the car park & 100 metres later, I arrived at the viewpoint for the Tern colony. The only problem it had headed back out to sea an hour ago. A group of locals suggested sticking with the Tern colony viewpoint than the beach, as it would be better views there assuming it had just gone fishing. After a wait of well over an hour, there was a shout at the other end of the group of viewing Birders. There was no possibility of hearing any quick directions, due to the usual many close & loud shouts for directions, which drowned out any chance of the required directions. But after a minute or two, word filtered down that it's on the spit. After that there were directions to the spit, which I hadn't noticed, having been focused on scanning the harbour entrance. Perhaps it had returned over the field of view of my scope or having overflown the shingle bank. Either way, it was academic as I could now see it. A long overdue British Tick finally seen. Even better this was species 700 for the Western Palearctic (based on the AERC taxonomy & boundaries i.e. the BWP boundaries). Not a list I take too seriously, but good it has finally reached 700.
Elegant Tern: A crap SX60 record shot as I arrived to find a flat battery in the 7D, with the spare in the house. Surely if the Sandwich Tern was going to stand on another's back to see its rare cousin, it would actually look at it!
I half toyed with the idea of going for one in 2013 on the Shannon estuary, but family commitments really made that difficult. Had I gone, I probably would have dipped, but would have been perfectly placed for the Wilson's Warbler twitch on Dursey Island. But then I might not have made the effort for the cracking Wilson's Warbler on Lewis in 2015, so perhaps best I didn't go. There have been other UK contenders with one in Devon while I was abroad. Also one in Dorset, when I was working in Bath at the time & I belted for, but abandoned the twitch & headed home when news of its departure reached me. There wasn't the time to get there once it was refound & it wasn't there the next day. Neither was I as I had to be back in Bath that morning. Today none of the previous British contenders have been accepted, but now a colour ringed individual with a known DNA pedigree has turned up in the UK, perhaps the authorities with consider accepting some of the previous UK candidates.

I felt sorry for the Hampshire Birders who spent a lot of time, desperately trying to see it around Hayling Island, knowing it was a few miles further East at Pagham. Less than a couple of weeks later, when it turned up on Brownsea, I spent four hours that evening & another two from first light scanning from my Studland patch at the Poole Harbour mouth for it. During that time, I got a call from Paul Morton who runs the Birds of Poole Harbour charity, that he was watching it on their Brownsea camera. But with no access to Brownsea that evening, all I could hope would be it would fly out of the harbour on one last feeding trip that evening or for an early breakfast flight: it didn't. I managed to join a few of the locals on a visit the following evening: a great evening except the main star wasn't there. There were a few claims during the day after it disappeared off the Brownsea camera in the early morning, but none sounded reliable. I will just have to hope it decides to return to Brownsea next ear & stay for a few days. It has been seen in a number of French colonies over the years, so it isn't impossible.

23 Jul 2017

2 July 17 - Still in the Summer Doldrums

In an earlier post, I mentioned I had gone looking for White Admirals in the Nature trail woods at Littlesea on the Studland patch. Whilst looking I decided to have a quick look at Littlesea. Sadly, the lakes Diving Ducks, Coots & their following Gadwalls have been decimated due to the large numbers of Carp that have plagued the lake in the last decade. But I still occasionally feel I need to look at Littlesea to prove to myself it's still largely devoid of Waterfowl. It was. But I did notice a handful of Black-tailed Skimmers in front of the hide.
Black-tailed Skimmer: Male. A relatively common Studland species
More interesting on the lily pads were about 8 Red-eyed Damselflies. This is a species that I wasn't aware occurred on the patch. So it was great to see them, even if they were a bit too far out for photography.
Red-eyed Damselfly: Note the all blue final 2 segments of the abdomen & black shoulders. They are also larger & stouter in build to the Small Red-eyed Damselflies
Even better whilst looking at the photos taken at Littlesea, I realised I had also photographed a Small Red-eyed Damselfly. Frustratingly, it is out of focus, but the black & blue penultimate segment on the abdomen & the chestnut shoulders are still visible. My first Small Red-eyed Damselflies in Poole Harbour. No longer a doldrum day.