18 Apr 2015

18 Apr 15 - Exploring Some Old Haunts On St Mary's

After the successful Great Blue Heron twitch on Bryher, then there was a few hours left before we had to head back to the airport for the flight back to the mainland. There was time for an early afternoon cafe stop. After that, the first stop was to Porthloo beach, where Richard Webb had seen Scilly Shrews in the past. Despite a good search, we had no success. But there was a White Wagtail & Wheatear to keep the camera busy.
White Wagtail: Nice to see this good looking candidate for a White Wagtail, after screwing one up at Studland earlier in the Spring (note, this shot was a bit underexposed)
Wheatear: Male
Then it was onto Lower Moors, one of my favourite parts of St Mary's. There was a showy Sedge Warbler close to the screen overlooking the small pond at the Porthloo end of Lower Moors.
Sedge Warbler: Good to get some nice, close views of this Sedge Warbler
Then it was a quick walk down to the main pond & hides at the Old Town end of Lower Moors. A scan with the bins, found a small Snipe sp. & the characteristic bobbing immediately confirmed it was a Jack Snipe. This is a species I rarely get to see well in Dorset as the handful of local sightings in recent years, have generally been flight views.
Jack Snipe: Showing the split supercilium & dark crown
Jack Snipe: Also, note the short legs, short bill and dark appearance
When we looked around the rest of the pond, Peter Moore found of one of its larger cousins: a Snipe.
Snipe: This was noticeably larger, with the proportionally longer bill & clearly a warmer, pale brown colouration
The Lower Moors pool: The Jack Snipe & the Snipe were at the back of the pool
Just as we were about to leave the hide this Heron flew in: unfortunately, just a Grey Heron.
Grey Heron: A few days later, the Great Blue Heron dropped into this pool
We still had another hour before having to head up to the airfield, so there was still a chance to look for a Wryneck in the Old Town churchyard. Unfortunately, Peter & I got there too late in the afternoon. Richard had taken a quick journey to the churchyard & had seen it: but the Jack Snipe wasn't on view as he passed the hide. Given I have had great views of Wrynecks in the last few years in the UK & abroad, then I was happier to have seen the Jack Snipe. A great end to a great day with the chance to catch up with a lot of old friends.
The Old Town churchyard: Another great St Mary's Birding site

18 Apr 15 - More On The Great Blue Heron Twitch

The last Post covered the logistics of the twitch to Bryher for the Great Blue Heron. It was good that we were there in time to see it flushed by walkers from the pool next to the Hells Bay hotel and catch it in flight. More importantly for the sanity of all of the twitchers visiting on the Saturday, we saw it drop in to a nearby field. Had it been flushed 15 minutes earlier, then it would have been very easy for us to overlook the Great Blue Heron as it roosted by some trees, especially as it landed out of view from our viewpoint over the pool. I do wonder how quickly we would have left the area to spread out to check the local bays.
The Great Blue Heron wasn't obvious as it sat hunched at the edge of the field: On a couple of occasions it moved to sit right next to the trees due to the attention of one of the local Gulls, when it blended in a lot better
The Great Blue Heron: Occasionally it stretched out as it getting ready to fly, before hunching up again
The Great Blue Heron: Everybody kept well back so some opted for digiscoping, whereas I tried the zoom on the SX60
Another SX60 shot of the Great Blue Heron
Most of the group headed off for a higher viewpoint and quickly returned to say they had seen it in the field, before it walked out of view. I stayed put hoping it would quickly fly back to the pool. When that didn't happen, I joining the others, when word reached us that it had hunkered down and looked like it was going to roost for a while. There it remained & we carried on watching it from a distance. After well over an hour, the next group of Birders joined us. Some having arrived on the next run of our chartered boat, whilst others had the less enviable option of taking the Scillies Associated boat to Tresco, followed by a walk across the island & then wading between the two islands as the water dropped in the main channel. At this point, it had moved out of our view, so we joined the new group to view it from a better angle. I was pleased to see nearly all the Birders were behaving well & keeping well back, especially as we knew other Birders would not be able to get over till early afternoon. Many had opted for the cheaper Scillonian option, which was running an hour later than usual due to the extreme low tides. The exception was one excitable character, dressed in a bright red jacket. In his enthusiasm to get the first group of arriving Birders onto the Great Blue Heron, he left us to stand in the middle of a field & then wave his arms around widely to encourage the others to join him. Finally, he stopped waving as they joined him. Perhaps he is an amateur conductor in his spare time: certainly, an amateur in fieldcraft & camouflage. Fortunately, the Great Blue Heron wasn't keen to fly again. It remained roosting in the same area & was more upset about the occasional mobbing Gulls, than the well behaved Birders or 'The Conductor'. With the chance to catch up with a number of old friends, the time passed quickly & suddenly it was early afternoon. As we decided that as the light or views were unlikely to get any better, then we would head back for the boats. One of Richard's mates, Mick I, who was booked on our charter over that morning, had rung the boatman & kindly booked my carload as part of his party, onto the first charter back boat at 13:30 (that was bringing over Scillonian Birders). There were about thirty Birders on the beach hoping to get on this boat, and it was great to be able to head to the front of the queue again (after Mick this time). Other Birders who had also booked moved forward to confirm their names, before the boat was full. Getting off for the remaining Birders wasn't going to be a problem as the tide was quickly rising, allowing the Association boats & our boat to take Birders off, after they brought the Scillonian passengers over. Still it was great to not have to worry about waiting for a later boat.
It was still a small scale twitch as we left for St Mary's: Although a number of Birders had left in the erratic drizzle for some Bryher Birding or the cafe & the Scillonian Birders were still to arrive
Somewhere here is the wading route from Tresco: Glad we didn't have to do that
We arriving back into Hugh Town & headed off to find a cafe. Peter came into his own at this point, having carried out an extensive study from his many family holidays to the islands. Given the extent of this field research, it can only be a matter of time, before he starts to write up his Doctorate on 'The Cafes of the Isles of Scillies'. His first choice was full (a sign of his expertise), so we quickly moved on past the entrances to other places (that were too slow or with poor quality food), past the 'too pretentious' cafe, before finally settling on 'The Dairy Cafe'. An excellent choice of a cafe, with complimentary Jelly Beans as appetisers, before our food quickly appeared. Finally, topped up on calories & a huge mug of tea, it was time to head out for the St Mary's leg of our day out.

18 Apr 15 - A Well Executed Plan

One of the problems of starting a new job after having a long term job, is the problems & stress of a UK Tick turning up when there is no chance of taking time off mid week. Time off at short notice was rarely a problem with my last job. This is even worse when it is an effective first for the UK. I survived the late Winter without any problems & hadn't expected the first Tick to occur until the back end of the Spring. So was surprised to get a call from Peter Moore on Tuesday evening to say a Great Blue Heron had been found on St Mary's. It was only a mile or so away from where the only other UK record had been found. That proved untwitchable as it wasn't relocated the following morning & was a wise decision for me at the time, to give it a miss. With no chance of going mid week for the next individual, then there was the hope that by the weekend, it would either have slipped into a regular pattern or have moved on: making the decision for me. News from the Wednesday wasn't hopeful with many missing it as it had left Old Town Bay before the boat arrived & only seen by a lucky few later that day. With no news the following day, it looked I was going to be Birding Studland as usual. Then another call from Peter on Thursday evening, to say it had been relocated on the outer island of Bryher. We had already talked of our plans of flying on & off, so I asked Peter to book the flights. Should have been easy, but the Steamship company who also operate the flights, have a new webshite (not a typo) & it had crashed yet again. Fortunately, I was able to ring first thing the following morning and after enduring over 15 minutes of appalling music (perhaps designed to get you to ring off to reduce the calls), I finally got through. Tickets were quickly booked for the first flight on & last flight off: result. Five minutes later, Richard Webb was on the phone to see if I was tempted to go. After a quick explanation of our plans, he was also booking the same flights. Even better he mentioned the pager was advertising charter boat transfers to Bryher. In the meantime, I was checking with My Cornish mate, Brian Field on his plans (as he was one of the unlucky dippers on Wednesday). He was going back on the Saturday, but warned me of the extreme morning tides. All this was discussed with the boatman to ensure getting to Bryher would be OK. It was on paper & I had the first charter booked for the three of us was fine. We could take another nine Birders & the boatman said he would take names of other callers during the day, who also wanted to be on this 09:45 charter.
The Garrison: One of the many good sites on St Mary's. I've seen Parula Warbler in the top right hand corner of this view
After a half night of light sleeping (in worry about over sleeping), the alarm went off at the far too early time of three in the middle of the night. There was time for a filling breakfast, before having to put on my chauffeur's hat & get in the car. First stop, Wareham, to pick up the Peter and Richard. A quick check on the wildlife revealed, I had already recorded Sika Deer & baby Rabbit, whilst Richard had both Sika & Roe Deer and Fox. Peter's contribution of neighbour's Pussy Cat was disallowed, as would my local Alpacas had they been mentioned. All this filled the first few minutes of the drive West. Conversation continued until finally both passengers fell asleep by Dorchester (Richard) & somewhere in Cornwall (Peter). After a good journey, they finally woke up as I pulled into the airport car park. There was a strong, cold Easterly wind blowing which left me slightly concerned that the boat wouldn't run. A quick call to the boatman confirmed my charter was still on & we had a nearly full boat. I wasn't worried about the last place or two. There were bound to be a number of Birders milling around on the quayside who would happily join us.
Lower Moors on St Mary's: What a pity we couldn't see it on this pool
Time for a quick second breakfast (at the right time this time), before checking in. Safety briefings over, we were on the first flight out that morning & soon landing at the airfield on St Mary's, in the Isles of Scilly. The taxi quickly took us to the quayside, past a few of the historic locations of previous rare Birds. A quick scan of the harbour located our chartered boat was still at its mooring, but soon the boatman was heading out to it. We quickly got onto the boat & I was pleased to see the boatman was checking names to ensure other people who weren't booked weren't depriving more organised Birders.
The crossing to Bryher: It was great to be inside the boat
Soon we were heading out to Bryher, the long way around the island as the low tides, meant there wasn't enough water in the channel between Bryher & Tresco to take the direct route. Arriving at Bryher confirmed the tide was very low, with sand separating us from the quayside. But our boatman had warned me of this & quickly tied up at a buoy with a dingy. This easily took six of us at a time & a couple of minutes later, the first of the passengers were landing. The drawback of being first on the boat meant I was in the second dingy off. But we were soon in the dingy & being taken ashore only five minutes behind the first group. About ten minutes later, I could see the first group getting close to the Hell's Bay Hotel pool, as I stopped to scan the pool from a couple of hundred metres away. But I couldn't see the Great Blue Heron on the pool. But then a shout from Richard, confirmed he could see it. A second scan & I picked out the Great Blue Heron standing on the far shore. The plan had come together perfectly. I was on the phone to Brian Field at the time & could also get the news back to the Lands End Birders that it was still there as we were the first Birders on Bryher that morning.
The Hell's Bay Hotel pool from our viewpoint
It wasn't long before we were setting up tripods & telescopes well away from the pool to try & get a better view. Frustratingly, it had moved to the left hand corner & out of view from where I was standing. As I was moving to get a viewpoint, a shout went up: it's flying. No problem picking out this big beast of a Heron as it slowly flew towards us (having been flushed by non Birders coming out of the hotel before they walked right past the edge of the now empty pool).
Great Blue Heron: Once booted by walkers, it started coming towards us 
I could hear Peter road testing his motor drive on his Canon 7D. No chance for me. My camera was still in the rucksack, where it was safely placed to avoid any risk of seawater splashing on it. Still it wasn't long before my motor drive was also singing its distinctive call. In the hurry to get the camera into use, there was no chance to do anything more than switch the camera to AV & hope I had left it on sensible settings the last time I used it. The settings were fine, but I really needed to over expose against the brighter sky. But there was no time to change that as it continued to fly towards us. But finally, it dropped in height & I had the surrounding hill behind it. More relieving, it wasn't heading off from Bryher & the exposure should be OK now. It landed out of sight in a field.

Great Blue Heron: Good to see it had its landing lights on its forewing
Great Blue Heron: It was noticeably larger than a Grey Heron, with a deep chest & long bulky feet
Great Blue Heron: Finally, it started to drop in height to land at the edge of the nearby fields
Most of the group headed off for a higher viewpoint and quickly returned to say they had seen it in the field, before it walked out of view. I stayed put hoping it would quickly fly back to the pool. When that didn't happen, I joining the others, when word reached us that it had hunkered down and looked like it was going to roost for a while. There it remained & we carried on watching it from a distance.

8 Apr 2015

8 Apr 15 - March: A Surprise Month On The Studland & Ballard Patch

March is generally a month of over expectation on the Birding front. The worst of the Winter is normally over and the lengthening days suggests a change is on the way. There are the first migrants to look forward to seeing. But it is always a matter of luck if the decent days, when these migrants are on the move, overlaps with the weekends. This March was a good example of this. It got off to a good start with mild, dry conditions and a bit of sun. A visit to Greenlands Farm on 1 Mar produced the first patch Year Tick for the month: a Siskin overspilling from the neighbouring Rempstone Forest. It also produced a flyby Peacock Butterfly along the sheltered wooded border of the patch.
Peacock: Good I saw this on the first as it turned out to be the only Butterfly of the month. I'm still on track for a Butterfly on the patch in every month this year (but December is still going to be a challenge). A record shot from St Aldhelms Head (20 July 14)
The following weekend was also mild & sunny. In the hope of an early Spring Black Redstart, and an outside chance of one of the first Dorset Sand Martins or Wheatears, I tried a long walk over Ballard Down on 7 Mar. Having walked over half way round, I found a female Black Redstart. Later on there was a cracking male Black Redstart within 200 metres of the start (or about 3 miles given I walked the long way round). This was great as Black Redstart is a species I should see on the patch, but it is not a guaranteed Year List. Even better a prolonged search of Brands Bay later that day produced an even more erratic Spotted Redshank. Despite being easy to find on the nearby Brownsea lagoon & regular in the Middlebere & Wytch channels (all within a few minutes flight), they only appear in Brands Bay every other year & even then they don't linger. I guess disturbance on the Brownsea lagoon, might explain where this one came from.
Black Redstart: Female. Old Harry (7 Mar 15)
Wheatears were seen around a number of Dorset coastal sites during the following week, so I wasn't surprised to find a couple of males with a Stonechat party on a walk over Greenlands Farm on the 14 Mar.
Wheatear: Male. Greenlands Farm (14 Mar 15)
The first half of March had been full of the promise of an early Spring and a few migrants. That all seemed to stop the following week when a spell of cold NE winds had set in. In late Autumn, light Northerly based winds can be good for Vis Mig across the harbour mouth. So I wasn't too surprised to find a light movement of mainly Finches on 21 Mar, although it quickly dried up. A good search around the area failed to produce much of note. The cold winds had halted the arrival of Summer visitors. But it was obvious that some of the Winter species had departed. Despite a prolonged search, I was unable to find any Goldeneyes. Other species like the Slavonian Grebes had alteady gone (my last sighting was 9 Mar). The following day started in a similar fashion, but it was milder. The lighter winds seemed to have halted any Finch movement. Early news from Stanpit indicated an early morning arrival of Garganey. So Steve Morrison & I decided on a good search around the quieter pools of Studland in the hope of finding my second patch Garganey: but not surprisingly there was no success. But while chatting & looking at the South Haven pool, we found the first Studland mega for the year, a first Winter Goshawk which flew low over the pool. It returned five minutes later for a second pass, before climbing high to cross the harbour mouth. This was a species that has never been high on my list of species I expected to see at Studland, given how scarce they are in the Purbeck area. The day wasn't over as we carried onto check the Eastern Lake for Garganey & flushed my second sighting of Jack Snipe for the Studland patch. This dived back into the edge of the Eastern Lake, but out of sight. So we decided to leave it in peace, rather than flush it again. The lack of photos couldn't dampen the feelings that evening.

Hopes for some other early migrants ended when I saw the weather forecast for the final weekend of strong gusty South Westerly winds. Far too strong for any migration. I got out for some half heart Birding on the 28 Mar. The final weekend day I was off the patch for the monthly WeBS count in even stronger, more unpleasant, conditions on the Sunday. After that, I decided to have a quick look at Middle Beach and was pleased to see two adult Kittiwakes flying South towards Old Harry. A final patch Year Tick for the month to take me to 131.

This compared to 130 by the end of March in my best ever patch Year List in 2009: the year I reached 176. So I just need to get one extra species in each of the remaining 3 quarters of the year & I reach my target of 180 species. It is interesting to compare the differences. This year I have seen some excellent patch species: Great White Egret (multiple dates, but my first patch record was only 8 Sep 14). I have also seen my second patch records for Black Guillemot (several dates), Great Grey Shrike (several dates including the first two weekends of the month) & Jack Snipe. More expected species were Bar-tailed Godwit, Golden Pheasant, Greylag Goose, Guillemot, Kingfisher & Siskin, as well as, easy to miss in a year species such as Little Gull, Hen Harrier & Marsh Harrier. The star species was clearly the Goshawk.

Of the 13 species I saw in 2009 that I've missed by the end of March this year, some aren't surprising: Pochard (now locally extinct at Studland), Ring-necked Duck (a patch rarity with one record since I've lived in Dorset), Ruddy Duck (now gone from Poole Harbour these days following the DEFRA's (Dept for  Eradicating Fancy Ruddy Americans) shoot-to-kill policy). Another good species for 2009 were two Glaucous Gulls (my only Studland records). Velvet Scoter & Goosander are more erratic visitors, but I'm surprisingly there have been no Eider this Winter). A Wintering Barn Owl in 2009 is a species I will probably miss this year. A couple of species that have been locally scarce this Winter are Crossbill & Redpoll: But I expect to see both later this year. Finally, Sand Martin, Swallow & Blackcap were early migrants that I failed to see due to the late March weather, (but will be quickly seen as the weather improves). Overall, I think I am in a stronger position on the patch Year List than the single species suggests.

5 Apr 2015

5 Apr 2015 - History Repeats Itself (Finally)

35 years ago, in late March 1981, I spent a weekend twitching in the Penzance & Hayle area of Cornwall looking for my first Bonaparte's Gull. After an unsuccessful first day, we finally caught up with it on the Sunday morning, after Keith Vinicombe located it a long way out on the Hayle estuary mud. Two weeks later, we were planning the next weekend of Birding. There were no major ticks to take our fancy, so a weekend of camping at Portland Bill was the plan. It should have had migrants, but my notebooks said it was a quiet weekend. But we did see the Bonaparte's Gull again. It would have been a Dorset Tick, but living in Southampton, Hampshire in those days, meant I wasn't interested in a Dorset List. It was the highlight of the weekend & gave great views down to 10 metres at Radipole on 4 Apr 1981. We didn't see it on the following day, but it was still in the Weymouth area as we saw it a couple of weeks later.
Herring Gull: Just getting the camera set up for photographing Gulls
Moving forward to this year on 7 Mar, a Bonaparte's Gull was found at Ferrybridge before moving to Portland Harbour. I didn't make the effort to go down to look for it, which was clearly a good plan as it was very elusive in these early days. Peter Moore ended up having to make three attempts to photograph it, although he did see it, on the first occasion. After a couple of weeks of no sightings, it looked like it had quickly moved through. Then it reappeared at Radipole & quickly settled down into a pattern of showing from mid-morning to mid-afternoon. I planned to visit on 4 Apr, which would have been exactly 35 years on from my first Dorset sighting. But following the brief appearance of a singing Serin at Corfe Castle, I ended up spending several hours unsuccessfully trying to relocate that individual. So one day later, I was down at Radipole looking. As soon as I started arrived at the tennis courts, I could see it feeding off the Buddilea loop trail. Heading to the end of the Buddilea loop trail, got me close at times, but frustratingly it often moved to the tennis courts end to feed. Eventually, I ended up back there again. So 35 years & a day after my first & only Dorset Bonaparte's Gull at Radipole, I was back there again to see my next. Maybe if there is another Bonaparte's in another 35 years & a day, I won't have to lug a heavy 400mm lens & Canon 7D around, as the technology will have moved on so I can produce as good an image from a camera in my glasses or watch. Having said that I probably won't be around in 2050 to find out!
Bonaparte's Gull: 1st Summer. This is only the sixth Dorset record with 3 one day records: Durlston (Mar 1970); Portland (Mar 1990) & Weymouth (Apr 2006). The 1981 Weymouth individual stayed from 2 Apr to 8 June. The other record was a four day individual at Stanpit (Apr 1975)
Bonaparte's Gull: 1st Summer. A really striking upperwing clean-cut pattern 
Bonaparte's Gull: 1st Summer. They are a small Gull, but this Herring Gull was the only Gull it sat next to for a size comparison
Bonaparte's Gull: 1st Summer. It gets the name from Charles Lucien Bonaparte (a nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte) who was a member of the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philidephia in the 1820s & worked as a zoologist on American ornithology
Bonaparte's Gull: 1st Summer. The extent of the translucency in the wing is striking
Bonaparte's Gull: 1st Summer. Note, the fine black bill
Bonaparte's Gull: 1st Summer. It spent a long time catching small flying insects above the water
Bonaparte's Gull: 1st Summer
Bonaparte's Gull: 1st Summer
Bonaparte's Gull: 1st Summer. Note, the small flying insect below its legs
Every now & then, it would disappear to feed for five to ten minutes on the tennis courts end. This gave me a chance to photograph a few of the other local species. While not being particularly unusual species, Radipole, is a good place to get close views & photographs of these species.
Gadwall: Male. My favourite dabbling Duck
Gadwall: Female
Teal: Male. Another great species when you see them close up
Teal: Female
Mallard: Male. Some individuals just would not keep a reasonable distance to allow me to photograph the whole body