Thursday 30 May 2013

A nice (half) day out

When we decide on a family day out, everyone says 'yay' before the fleeting consensus gives way to a dispute about where to go. The children are getting to the age where 'access to a Nintendo Wii' is an important criteria in destination selection, though this is generally ruled out of order by their parents.
This Common Tern landed on a post on the Quay on Brownsea while we waited for the boat home
Common Tern with Sandeel
'The beach' is another popular option, though less so with Daddy, especially as it's getting to the time of year when no-one in their right mind would head for Studland, our nearest stretch of golden sand, between the hours of 10 and 6. So in our house at least, the unifying destination of choice is often Brownsea Island. Something for everyone there - birds, Red Squirrels, great views, ice creams, cakes (that's me sorted), plus a gift shop full of soft toys and lavender-based toiletries for everyone else.
Mediterranean Gull, Brownsea Lagoon

This pair caused a bit of nervousness when they flew over the tern colony
The other main problem with a family day out is that by the time we've got ready, made sandwiches, set off, forgotten stuff, turned back and set off again, it's usually been reduced to a half-day out. And so it was today that lunch had been and gone by the time we got to the Island. We headed straight for the Dorset Wildlife Trust reserve and its selection of well placed hides.
Common Tern, Brownsea Lagoon
Mallard ducklings on Brownsea Lagoon
A Nightjar has been seen recently from one of these but some visitors have apparently been playing tapes in an attempt to get it to show better than it otherwise would. This stresses the bird and is probably illegal given its protected status. It is also unnecessary as with careful scanning, there is a reasonable chance of seeing one on the ground. You can't guarantee this of course, but if it's a guarantee you want, birding is probably not your thing. The formidable warden has put up some polite signs asking folk to desist from this practice, but I fear anyone he catches churring on their iPod may suffer the same fate as that famously threatened by Jamie to Olly in 'The Thick of It'. Be warned before clicking this link: it contains a teensy bit of swearing.

Black-headed Gull with eggs...
...and what comes out of the egg. You're going to have to flap harder that that to get airborne mate.
Besides, cheating with tapes can't be as satisfying as finding stuff the hard way, and even the kids enjoyed playing 'hunt the bird', picking out the cryptic plumage from lookalike dead bracken. Another family in the hide almost had a row over whether there was a second bird ('There, on that log'; 'It's only a log'; 'No it isn't'; 'Yes it is, you just want it to be a Nightjar'). This reminded me of the tale of twitchers on the Isles of Scilly who mistook a cowpat for a Common Nighthawk, the American relative of our Nightjar.

Nightjar - white patch just visible on the folded wing makes this a male
Another view of the same bird before it moved into the position above
I took some shots of the snoozing bird, hoping for a half-open eye, but, apart from a brief shuffle (not on an iPod, I hasten to add), it remained steadfastly asleep throughout our time in the hide. We got it in the scope and were able to show a steady stream of visitors, including several non-birders, all of whom were appreciative of the chance to see one. And well impressed with my scope. I should be on commission from Swarovski.
I rarely use my 2x teleconverter with the 400mm lens but, with good light or a very still subject, sometimes it's worth the effort
Ragged Robin, Brownsea
Back at the lagoon, many more Common Terns were present than on my last visit, over 100 Sandwich Terns were on eggs, and a good number of the Black-headed Gulls had already hatched. Baden Powell would no doubt have administered a sound beating to a young group of his latter day followers who were virtually moshing in the Macdonald hide. But that's not allowed these days, so they had to make do with some stern tutting from me. That really showed 'em.
Lapwing at Swineham

Black-tailed Godwits, Swineham
After a fair bit of travelling lately, it's been relaxing to spend the week around home. Which reminds me, I even made it to Swineham, which threatened to dump me if I didn't visit more often. Swifts were the main attraction, and I spent a happy hour wasting batteries and filling memory cards with dross just to get one vaguely respectable image.

Swift at Swineham
Blackbird in Wareham St Mary churchyard - voguing like a Dusky Thrush
A flooded field which was great for waders last year is looking promising again, as a large flock of Black-tailed Godwits and a couple of Lapwings dropped in.
Juvenile Starling on next door's roof - these have been out of the nest for a while now
DON'T PANIC Poole Harbour listers - this Little Owl was the subject of a chance encounter last week in Dorset/Wiltshire border country, on the way to a meeting which was insufficiently memorable to merit a blog post. Hence shoe-horning it in here.

Sunday 26 May 2013

Star Terek

I was poised to go on news this morning if yesterday's Terek Sandpiper was still at Rye Harbour but unfortunately it had decided to boldy go somewhere else. A shame as this could have been my second British tick in consecutive weekends. I was so confident it would be there that, as you can see, I even had a blog post title ready prepared for my all-conquering return. It seemed a shame to waste it.

This misplaced confidence may have been extra wishful thinking as twitching would have been a useful displacement activity to avoid knuckling down to a dissertation which I have to complete soon as part of a work-related qualification. I was up early anyway so made a half-hearted start on this. But then Steve Smith, who had offered me the putative lift to Rye, suggested a trip to nearby Morden Bog instead to search for odonata, which sounded like more fun than homework.

Male Downy Emerald
Downy Emerald - I think this is a female - the abdomen sides being more parallel and less club shaped than the male
Short, curved anal appendages help tell male Downy from Brilliant and Northern Emerald. But they don't occur in Dorset anyway. So the anal appendage close-up is just, well, gratuitous.
Downy Emerald was the main target and despite the efforts of three Hobbies to wolf them all down we managed to find a few. A couple of patrolling individuals on one of the main paths were difficult to pin down at first but eventually we did so - on a rhododendron bush to which they repeatedly returned to rest. The same area also proved attractive to damselflies and a few butterflies - Brimstone, Holly Blue and Green Hairstreak.

Common Heath

Common Heath underside

Four-spotted and Broad-bodied Chasers were also on the wing, along with Large Red and Azure Damselflies.

Four-spotted Chaser
Broad-bodied Chaser
Green Tiger Beetle, I'm reliably informed
When I got home the laptop on which I am supposed to be typing my dissertation looked up at me accusingly. I ignored it and went for a nap. When I woke up it was still there, glowering impatiently. So I mowed the lawn. Now it's sighing despairingly while I type blog posts instead of critiquing academic theories of project management. Maybe tomorrow.
Large Red Damselfly
Large Red Damselfly
Azure Damselfly (male)


Saturday 25 May 2013

Prawn Sandwich

Sandwich Terns were getting into the swing of the breeding season on a recent visit to Brownsea. There was a lot of food being caught and offered as part of their courtship behaviour, so it was interesting to see what they were feeding on: mostly sandeels in a variety of sizes, but also larger fish and, at one point, even a prawn.

Visiting photographers are apparently still moaning to the warden about the chicken wire erected to protect nesting birds from predation and trampling by Sika Deer, but for me it's quite simple: if no wire = no terns = no photos, then bring on the wire. The views from the Macdonald hide are still about as close as you are going to get to a tern colony and the opportunities for flight photography are excellent.

A couple of Med Gulls caused alarm among the colony from time to time, while Shelduck also gave frequent flypasts.

Duck detours

On the last full day of my recent Scottish holiday I left Cairngorm for the coast. Speyside to Stirling, where I was spending my last night, via Aberdeen is a typical birders detour, and I made good time to Newburgh and the car park at the Sands of Forvie National Nature Reserve. The semi-resident King Eider hadn't been reported for a couple of days, and with no other birders around I was looking forward to having to search for it myself.
King Eider, Ythan Estuary
I headed down the east side of the estuary, checking every small group of Eider. No dice, but a couple of Long-tailed Ducks were a bonus. After a while I reached the point where the dunes rise up but the beach is roped off to protect nesting birds and the tern colony further up the estuary.

King Eider,Ythan Estuary

This is a great place to sit as it has a bit of height - a good vantage point to see and hear the terns (including good numbers of Little Tern), and to scan through the great majority of eiders which were loafing beyond the rope barrier. There are about 1,000 in the colony, so this is no easy task. I checked them all and the 997th bird I looked at was a drake King Eider, strutting around on a sand bar. It was very distant, but I was happy to see it after last year's dip. During one last scan I couldn't relocate it - it turned out that was because it had flown back up the estuary without me noticing. When I returned to the car I was keeping an eye out and sure enough it was feeding just offshore with a group of Eider allowing a closer view.

King Eider, Ythan Estuary
A couple of immature (in every sense) seals were winding up the local roosting Oystercatchers by bodysurfing up on the sand close enough to cause them unease. Their wasn't enough intent in their actions for this to be called 'hunting', so they seemed to be doing it out of pure mischief.

Long-tailed Duck, Ythan Estuary
One final detour for a Blue-winged Teal at Kirkintilloch on the way home provided my last trip tick before the long drive south. My Scottish write-up started with a description of how the 1st winter Harlequin Duck had made itself scarce on North Uist just before I set off. Fitting then that it should end with news that it's just been refound. A shame our visits didn't overlap, and I can almost see it flicking a webby 'V' sign at me behind my back...

Tuesday 21 May 2013

Grouse Moore

Long, long ago, in a land far, far away, I had a birding holiday which has taken weeks to write up. You join me on the penultimate chapter. Having bagged Black and Red Grouse on my Scottish trip already by this point, on my last full day I hoped to see the other two British species of grouse, Capercaillie and Ptarmigan. The first involved an early start to join the Caperwatch crew at RSPB Loch Garten, the best way to see Capers without the risk of disturbing the birds, and also the most reliable.

Crested Tit
Red Squirrels and a Crested Tit were coming to the feeders at Loch Garten - the Crestie had been absent the previous day when the sun was out, giving it a wider range of feeding options, but the morning was sufficiently overcast to tempt it back for easier pickings. It was seriously dark under the pines by the entrance gate, and again the 7D coped reasonably well with the conditions. Two Ospreys were sitting on eggs in the famous reinforced tree, so there was always something to watch on the big screen while we waited for the light to improve.

Crested Tit

Many eyes, and several remote control cameras, make light work at the Caperwatch and although it was late in the lekking season, it was not so late that a Caper didn't turn up. This left Scottish Crossbill as the only Speyside speciality I had not seen, but word on the street was that they were very thin on the ground, and from previous experience I knew I could spend all day wandering forest tracks and still not see one. So, I switched my attention to Ptarmigan, for which, as the song says, the only way was up. A Yellowhammer between Loch Garten and Coylumbridge was a trip tick. Also en route to the Cairngorm car park, Loch Morlich can be good for Red-throated Diver, but not that day as a stiff breeze rippled the far side of the Loch where they are often seen.

Male Ptarmigan

My original plan was to take the long hike up Carn Ban Mor in the hope of a Dotterel as well. But with a poor forecast and so many reports coming through of Dotterel at traditional stopovers further south, I thought the effort might be in vain. Plus, I'm an idle swine and was a bit exhausted by all the travelling, so the lure of the Cairngorm Mountain Railway proved too much. At the top, two pairs of Ptarmigan could be seen from their namesake restaurant, and a Snow Bunting fed just below it. The weather closed in soon after I took these pictures so I was back on the Mountain Railway having seen Crested Tit, Caper and Ptarmigan all before lunch.

Female Ptarmigan
On the way back down, a male Ring Ouzel chacked around the lower car park. The rest of the day lay ahead, so after a brief consultation with the Satnav, I decided to have a go for the King Eider on the Ythan Estuary, a couple of hours east of Cairngorm, and on which I dipped this time last year. See how I got on in my next post which, I can almost promise, will be the last of my Scottish round up.

Red Grouse

Red Grouse