Saturday 29 September 2012

7th time lucky

A couple more attempts to get better pictures of the Short-billed Dowitcher at Lodmoor had come to nought earlier this week. It had been showing very well at the start of the week but by the time I went back on Wednesday evening heavy rain had raised water levels over some of its closer feeding areas. Although present, it was frustratingly distant.

Short-billed Dowitcher in the shadow of a Heron

Good light today tempted me back to Weymouth with the family, and with them playing crazy golf nearby I knew I would have a couple of hours with the bird (visiting birders with impatient families please note: drop them off at Lodmoor's Pirate Crazy Golf course as a diversionary tactic. It costs almost as much as a round at the Medinah Country Club, but takes them ages to do the 18 holes). The Dowitcher edged closer but I was still having to use a 2x converter with a 400mm lens - not an ideal combination - to get reasonable pictures.

I changed the angle, but couldn't quite get the Heron's reflection out of shot
After a couple of hours a Sparrowhawk flushed everything on the scrape including the Dowitcher, which called as it went. I lost sight of it in flight and was unable to relocate it. Shortly after I was joined by Brett Spencer, whose photo of this bird (when it was initially thought to be a Long-billed) first alerted the world to its presence when posted online. At about the same time the kids returned with their mum, who was punching the air after a 4-under-par trouncing of her offspring, so we prepared to leave while Brett headed towards the seaward end of the reserve.

A fortunate shot as the Dowitcher took flight

A moment later a shout from Brett had me heading back down the path where he had located the Dowitcher at what felt like point blank range. It wasn't, but it felt like it after two visits with no views and four more with only distant ones. It stood alert for a minute or so before taking flight again. Brett was back for his 8th visit, one more than me, so I was grateful for his shout, and we both felt we had earned our close-up.

A less tightly cropped shot showing more of the Heron's reflection

Monday 24 September 2012

Wings, but no birds

Birds eschewed my local gravel pits at Swineham this weekend for the east coast, judging by reports from afar. But I still managed two patch ticks from the world of lepidoptera in the form of a Hummingbird Hawkmoth, feeding manically on honeysuckle in a hedgerow, and a Clouded Yellow butterfly, looking a bit out of place cruising the gardens of suburban Wareham.

Hummingbird Hawkmoth, Swineham 22nd September 2012

A few years ago Hummingbird Hawks seemed to be everywhere - we even had one in our garden in Kent - but I certainly haven't seen as many of them in the last couple of years. Similarly with Clouded Yellows - I usually manage to see one or two most years but seem to have found it a bit harder in the last couple. A good excuse, then, to dig out one of my favourite Clouded Yellow pictures - taken on St Mary's in October 2006.

Clouded Yellow, St Mary's, October 2006

October 2006 was a classic for butterflies on Scilly, with a Monarch, a couple of Long-tailed Blues, a Queen of Spain Fritillary and an invasion of Clouded Yellows including a few of the rare helice form. Although I dipped the Queen of Spain, the highlight for me came on the 9th when I found my own Long-tailed Blue - a near perfect specimen - and an hour or two later caught up with my first Monarch feeding on ivy on the Garrison. Happy days...

Self-found Long-tailed Blue, St Mary's, 9th October 2006

A case of mistaken identity

There has been a spate of post hoc re-identification of tricky waders from photos recently, including both of this month's Short-billed Dowitchers in Dorset and Scilly. Photographs of the former revealed the give-away barred tertials at the rear end of the bird which were not so easily seen at distance in the field, and after the event there was some soul searching on a local internet forum about how the more 'obvious' clues to the Dowitcher's identity had not been picked up. This reminded me of an embarrassing incident from many years ago when I was working for a company with a subsidiary north of the border (no, Dorset-listers, I mean Scotland, not Wiltshire) of which I was a director.

No mistaking the identify of this Mute Swan. Taken during one of many hours spent at Lodmoor waiting for a good view of the Short-billed Dowitcher.

Night falls at Lodmoor. Still waiting for a good view of the Short-billed Dowitcher...
The Edinburgh office was very small, so when one of the team resigned, the leaving-do was almost a family affair - just three of us in fact: me, the departing colleague (let's call him 'A') and his workmate (let's call him 'B') who was charged with organising the night out. Despite working at close quarters with A for some time, B had somehow not managed to pick up on some field characteristics which might have led him to conclude that A was gay. His sexuality was definitely no secret, in the other office at least.

Black-tailed Godwit, ruining perfectly good photo of a stick, taken at Lodmoor while waiting for Short-billed Dowitcher to show.

Didn't use Photoshop. Just waited for the stick to move. Plenty of time for it to do so while waiting for the Short-billed Dowitcher to show.
Anyway, not noticing this, B's idea of a good send off involved a night in Edinburgh's 'pubic triangle', so named for the close proximity of three seedy strip pubs. The chosen venue was so classy that we were advised by the bouncers to remove our ties on entry.

Plenty of Med Gulls at Lodmoor recently, with numbers building up as the evenings progress. 

Another Med Gull

Now I may not have been, ahem, quite the clean living family man than I am now, but I still found myself sharing colleague A's visible discomfort with the choice of pub. I didn't feel I could pull the plug on the party, and could only assume he couldn't either, or didn't want to seem ungrateful. Colleague B, confirming his growing reputation for insensitivity, was of course having a ball. Meanwhile, we sat there smiling politely, looking mostly at the floor, and hoping beyond hope not to get beaten up. Or worse, offered a private dance by one of the young ladies in various states of fancy un-dress. I for one have never looked at a nun the same since...

I think this is a Migrant Hawker - photographed on my 4th visit to see the Dowitcher. 

Sandwich Tern at Lodmoor

Monday 17 September 2012

A glutton for punishment

I returned to Lodmoor this weekend in the hope of improving on my record shots of the Short-billed Dowitcher from the previous week. Well, it's not every day you get a major rarity within 20 miles of home is it? I'm not sure I succeeded, but I certainly got good telescope views and a variety of shots. Eventually.

A heavily cropped shot - the Dowitcher was just about at the limit of the range of my 400mm lens.

Probably the best shot of the day - digiscoped as the Dowitcher paused during half an hour of otherwise frenetic feeding.

Arriving some time before 0800, the Dowitcher was the closest I have seen it but directly against the light so photography was a dead loss. Then after only a few minutes on view something flushed it and it flew a short distance before walking behind its favoured patch of vegetation. Quite a lot of the largish crowd which was assembling on Saturday morning turned up soon after this, and they were in for a long wait.

A flight shot taken in the early morning light showing the 'more-white-than-black' tail and Spotshank-like white cigar shape reaching from the rump up the back

The next time it opened it's wings - about four hours later!

A bill and face were eventually spotted protruding from the reeds from an acute angle, and then it was only a matter of time before the rest of the bird revealed itself. Four hours worth of time in fact. Probably the longest I have had to wait for a rarity that I have already seen! With hindsight, I could have gone to Portland and back for a better view of the Monarch which I saw in poor light on Sunday and not missed anything. Still, the weather was fine, spirits were good and it was a chance to chat to others who had come from as far away as Brussels to see this bird.

Another view of the tail as the Dowitcher lands

While feeding among the vegetation in the shallows the Dowitcher occasionally waded into open, deeper water

Sunday 16 September 2012

Marsh Harrier at Swineham

A few more of Friday's Marsh Harrier at Swineham Gravel Pits.

A man out standing in his field

Hamish Murray, head honcho of the Dorset Countryside Service, can often be found in Durlston Country Park's Long Meadow at this time of year, indulging a passion for visible migration. I met him early on Friday morning for a walk around but, apart from a few pulses of hirundines there wasn't much of that going on.

Wheatear - one of few migrants at Durlson this morning

A yomp around the park also produced precious little. I say yomp as there are two theories on how to best to cover a regular patch: mooch around slowly carefully checking everything; or blast around quickly to cover more ground. This morning Hamish definitely subscribed to the former, with me puffing along behind. Preference depends, I think, partly on how good a birder you are and how well you know your patch - Hamish doesn't miss much, and knows every bush, so will generally spot anything even at such a canter.

Peregrine is a reliable at Durlston even if there is not much else around

Back on home turf at Swineham this evening, however, I was free to mooch around at duffer's pace. In doing so I felt vindicated when my leisurely circuit coincided with that of two Marsh Harriers, one really close to the path at the end of the pits.

Marsh Harrier at Swineham

A few Avocet at the mouth of the River Frome hinted at the change of season, but apart from a large flock of Long-tailed Tits it was a pretty quiet evening. A promising looking muddy pool left over from the heavy rainfall in July is drying out fast - a shame as I reckon I have seen 9 species of wader there in the last few weeks (Wood, Green and Common Sand, LRP, Redshank, Greenshank, Blackwit, Lapwing and Snipe) and missed a couple more whilst on holiday (Spotshank and Ruff). Fortunately, some autumn rainfall should soon be along to top it up.

Long-tailed Tit at Swineham

Tuesday 11 September 2012

Blakeney Seals

A violent north westerly wind blew through Sheringham on our recent holiday to Norfolk - enough to blow wheelie bins up the street anyway. This was bad news as it blew down our friends' tent. Not the time to punch the air with delight at the prospect of some good seawatching. Apparently. Good seawatching in theory anyway. As it was, I couldn't manage more than a few Great and Arctic Skuas despite an early start one morning. The breaking waves were impressive though.

After the storm had blown through we took an evening boat out to the Blakeney Point seal colony in calmer waters. This is not just a good way to see seals - there are usually Little Terns fishing in the channels, and other waders and gulls on the point. A Greenish Warbler had been at the Point earlier in the week but none of the boat trips were landing duuring our stay. So the choice was between (i) a 4 mile yomp through the shingle into the wind to look for a bird which might or might not be there or (ii) have an ice cream with the kids. Sorry to disappoint those who like their stories to end with a heroic battle against the odds, but the ice cream was excellent.

Common Seal at Blakeney Point

Common Seal in the waters off Blakeney Point

Common Seal pup

The throng on the beach was made up almost entirely of Common Seals

The turbines of the Sheringham Shoal windfarm can be seen in the background

Common Seal

Common Seal

Turnstone. And Common Seal.

A boiling North Sea.

Grey Seal.

Grey Seal - looking more like an Elephant Seal

Monday 10 September 2012

Catching up

Still clearing a backlog of photos from recent holiday in Norfolk. No words, just pictures. Come on, I'm 43 years old, it was, like, a whole week ago, how am I supposed to remember amusing anecdotes and contextual guff from that long ago?

Marsh Harrier at Cley

Marsh Harrier at Cley

Great Black-backed Gull at Blakeney Point

Egyptian Goose at Salthouse

Skylark at Cley

Barn Own at Moreton

Barn Owl at Moreton

Sunday 9 September 2012

We're all Monarchists now

Dowitcher-twitchers who left it until this weekend to come to Dorset had the added bonus of a chance to see a Monarch butterfly on nearby Portland. I was in Cornwall unfortunately, visiting old friends who emigrated to Australia 5 years ago on their first visit back to Britain since, making them an even rarer sight than the Monarch. Fortunately we left Cornwall early enough today to detour via Easton on the way back to find the exotic visitor roosting in a pine tree. I would never have found it but for the single observer who was about to leave as I arrived and kindly got me onto it. I was able to return the favour for another half a dozen Monarchists who turned up over the next half hour or so. A bit of late afternoon sun was not enough to tempt the Monarch down to is favoured buddleia, though it did flit briefly around the fringes of the pine at one point, allowing some flight shots, unfortunately in pretty poor light.