Monday 22 July 2013

Breaking news

Tired of the rolling news coverage of the royal bairn already? Then check out these for alternative royalty. In reverse order of succession:
Monarch: non-specific, but still royalty. This one was on the Isles of Scilly in 2006.
 Glanville Fritillary: named after Lady Glanville, whose will was challenged by disgruntled relatives under the Acts of Lunacy on the grounds that 'none but those who were deprived of their senses, would go in pursuit of butterflies'. Oops. I spent the best part of a decade looking for all the British ones. Hordle Cliff, Dorset, 2005.

White Admiral: OK, not strictly royalty, but top of the Naval foodchain at least. Fermyn Woods, Northants, 2007.

Duke of Burgundy: a Duke is second in line to the throne, so that must be pretty high up. Cerne Abbas, Dorset, 2013.
 Purple Emperor: never mind the third in line to the throne, it doesn't get any higher than Emperor. Fermyn Woods, Northants, 2007.
On the subject of succession to the throne, apparently, Zara Phillips if 15th in line. So really we're just an unfortunate mini-bus incident away from having Mike Tindall as King. Fancy that, Gloucester fans.

Sunday 21 July 2013

Summer meets autumn coming back

High summer means butterflies and there has been a wide selection on view at Butterfly Conservation's Alners Gorse reserve in North Dorset recently. The smartest of these was undoubtedly:
Silver-washed Fritillary - female of the rare form valezina
Valezina underside
About 15% of females are said to be of this form. Compare to...
...a regular female Silver-washed Fritillary...
..and a male of the same species...

...males being identified by the parallel black bars on the forewing 

Silver-washed Fritillary underwing

Silver-washed Fritillary with Meadow Brown for size comparison

Purple Hairstreak - these can be seen flying around the tops of oaks usually, but occasionally they will come down to a lower perch.

Another Purple Hairstreak - this one on the favoured oak

The rarer Hairstreak - White-letter - wouldn't play ball on a morning visit on Saturday - this shot of one high in the canopy was taken on a late evening visit earlier in the week.
White Admiral - there were a few around but this one was the only one to land, and then only briefly.

Ringlet - one of the most attractive of the 'brown' family.

Commoner species included: Comma...

...Gatekeeper - this one a female...
...Gatekeeper - a male...

...and Meadow Brown.
Also on the wing at Alners Gorse was the Beautiful Demoiselle

The same individual but with the light behind me this time.

High summer also means the start of return wader passage - the rarest so far in Dorset has been a White-rumped Sandpiper which spent a few days at Lodmoor in Weymouth last week and stayed until Saturday:
White-rumped Sandpiper (left) sadly not quite as in focus as the Dunlin

An adult bird

Another imperfect flight shot - this time into the light, but clearly showing the white rump
Another comparison with Dunlin

Sunday 14 July 2013

Townies, Beach Bums and Pond Life

Townie: this Peregrine was at what I suppose I should describe as an 'undisclosed' urban location this weekend - though it was doing a pretty good job of disclosing itself, screeching and spitting pigeon feathers down onto the heads of shoppers into the street below.
Beach bums: a selection of the 23 Mediterranean Gulls which were on the beach at Kimmeridge on Friday night

A juvenile Med Gull

Med Gull with Black-headed Gull for comparison
Adult Med Gull

Pond life: Steve Smith offered me a lift on Saturday to West Bexington to look for Red-veined Darters - we found three or four almost immediately. This one a male...

...and here the pair.

Emperor (male)

Emperor (female)

Black-tailed Skimmer were also on the wing at West Bexington - this one was taken at Swineham earlier in the day.

And at a different pond on the way home - Red-eyed Damselfly: the larger of the two red-eyed blue species of damsel - the smaller one being...
...Small Red-eyed Damselfly. The 8th segment (the two-tone one near the tail tip) is mostly blue with a black top - the equivalent segment is all black in the Red-eyed Damselfly

Thursday 11 July 2013

Hopeless optimists

Me and about 100 others had an excellent day's birding in the north east on Saturday. Unfortunately it was an awful day's twitching as well. At any other time a dozen summer plumaged Red-throated Divers, four Arctic Skuas, flocks of Common Scoter, beach-dwelling Tree Sparrows, dozens of Arctic and a single Roseate Tern, plus a bay-full of Puffins and other auks would have been a satisfying haul.

Red-throated Diver, Druridge Bay
But in truth that's not why we were there. We had all concluded that a Bridled Tern, which had spent a few days on the Farne Islands, then gone awol before reappearing on the mainland, the first twitchable bird for 25 years, had to be worth a shot. We put in a good shift, but it didn't appear, and when it was relocated in Cleveland at lunchtime, a major traffic jam prevented us from getting there quickly enough to catch up with it. As a final insult, later that evening it returned to the area where we had spent the morning, but by then most of us were well on the way home.
Common Scoter flock, Druridge Bay
After a day or two brooding over it, though, I'm already looking back almost fondly on a comically unsuccessful day, especially catching up with old friends, making some new ones, and even bumping into a fellow wandering vagrant from Dorset.

Arctic Skua harrying terns, Druridge Bay
Most of the above were present when the sun rose over the Northumberland coast at 0400, and still there as it baked us in Cleveland 12 hours later, so there was plenty of time for chat. Our conversations and those of others overheard chronicle the spiral of delusion to which hopeless optimists are given on such occasions:

Saturday, Cresswell Ponds, just after dawn. No sign:
'It was in and out last night so it's only a matter of time'.

10:00. No sign:
'The terns don't come in here until the afternoon apparently'.

11:00. No sign:
'Well it was lunchtime before it turned up yesterday'.

Lunchtime. No sign:
'Perhaps we have to wait for the tide. It's an hour later today.'

12:50. Bird relocated at Saltholme RSPB, Cleveland, 50 miles to the south:
'Told you it was still around!'

13:50. Bird reported flying off:
'It'll be back. Probably just fishing on the estuary.'

14:15. Twitchers arrive en masse from Cresswell. Still no sign:
'It's done this before and come back, apparently'.

16:00. Still no sign. Edifice of denial begins to crumble:
'Not looking good'.

17:00. Still no sign. Close to admitting defeat:
'We'll get another chance - it's obviously heading south.'

18:00: Still no sign:
'Could have been worse, we could have gone to Islay for the Ascension Frigatebird'.

18:30: Bird relocated back in Northumberland:
'You've got to be *%*?*! joking'.

On Sunday morning, the bird was back at Cresswell, perched on the same fence that we were leaning on 24 hours earlier. That's just taking the mick.
Tree Sparrow, Druridge Bay
So another mega-dip to put down to experience. I find that going for a rare bird is always fine - anticipation and adrenaline keep me going. It's the coming back tired and empty handed that's hard, when it just becomes a question of who is going to break down first: me or the car.
Roseate Tern, Saltholme RSPB
Fortunately I pulled through, developing mental toughness of which Andy Murray would have been proud. The Bridled Tern really needed a weekend devoted to it, and had I had one, I probably would have seen it. But we had commitments in Dorset on the Sunday. After Murray's win at Wimbledon, I felt a bit better - after all, occurrences of Brits winning the Men's Singles are rarer than occurrences of Bridled Tern. The same bird was seen at Flamorough Head yesterday so may be heading south in earnest. If it waits until the weekend before turning up in East Anglia, I'm sure we'll all toddle off again, full of hope and coffee, ready to forgive and forget the cruelty of Saturday's dip.

Tuesday 2 July 2013

What to call it?

I got into blogging, like birding, quite late, and my first steps were characteristically tentative. Hence the rather lame initial title 'Peter Moore's Birding Blog' (later 'Wildlife Blog', as that seemed more accurate, if less alliterative). At the time, I remember thinking that 'Dorset birder' would be a bit presumptuous (it's not like I'm the only one, is it?). I still hadn't moved to Wareham and adopted Swineham by that point, so some patch-based title wasn't an option either.

Besides, as I'm given to the occasional twitch, that would have implied more loyalty to my home locality than I was prepared to commit publicly. After all, calling yourself  '[Insert patch-name]-birder' is obviously an invitation to gently mockery if you are regularly tempted by Shetland, or the Western Isles, or Europe or indeed all of them, to the point where you might be accused of patch-neglect. Some try to cover their backs on this, hence the trend for '[Insert patch-name] and beyond' type blog titles, providing the essential wriggle room for the weak-willed twitcher to go off piste. But the result can be a bit ungainly: 'Tyttenhanger-Gravel-Pits-And-Sometimes-Further-Afield-Birder' doesn't exactly trip off the tongue.

With hindsight, I should have gone for something more interesting or puntastic. But I didn't so here I am: half-full of regret, but not so much that I can be bothered to change it now. I've drawn up a shortlist though, so let me know what you think. If I get comments I might summon up the courage for a radical rebranding:
  • 'Birds of Poo Harbour' - rejected runt from the concept room where the excellent Birds of Poole Harbour website was first imagined, but focusing on the smelly bits, like the flooded path at Swineham, the sewage drain at Holes Bay and large tracts of Lytchett.
  • 'Birding: the Hound Approach' - chronicling the shocking amounts of dogmess which afflict some of our top birding sites, a theme often referred to on this blog. Alternatively 'Just a Turd' (with apologies to Gyr Crakes).
  • 'UK400-But-Still-Married-Club' - exclusive club for those who have seen over 400 birds in Britain (BOU) whilst avoiding their 'twitcher's widow' becoming their 'ex-wife'. Or is that tempting fate?
By the way, if you're thinking I've been getting out a lot lately, you'd be right. Here's why:

I bought this ('direct drive, original planetary action, the ultimate tool for maximum cooking versatility', apparently) for Claire's birthday a few weeks ago. They would appear to be all the rage among kitchen-loving folk. Her friends come round to stroke it. She is now constantly baking cakes, pies and puddings. Those who knew me by sight as a 10 stone weakling would no longer recognise me. I've ballooned to twice that and can't even get my chubby fingers around the focus wheel on my 8x32s. I had to be rolled down the seawall to the site of the Pacific Swift. I believe '' is taken though or I'd have that.
Why no wildlife photos? Lens at the menders. If you're a Canon user, don't send it to them. It took several weeks for them to send it back to me telling me that there was nothing wrong with it. A company called Fixation diagnosed the problem within 2 days and repaired it within 7. If they post it tomorrow I might have it back in time for a weekend trip to, ooh, I dunno, the Farne Islands or something...