Friday 30 May 2014

Ups and downs

A day of contrasting fortunes today. I resolved not to get up early for another crack at the Great White Egret which has been summering in Poole Harbour. An enigmatic bird this, it gets seen only by early birds or night owls, either flying up, or sometimes down the River Frome. Or sometimes the River Piddle. Or sometimes both. But never when I'm watching, it seems.

First summer Ross's Gull, Bowling Green Marsh RSPB, Devon
Having promised myself a lie in, however, no 2 son had other ideas and woke me up at 0400 shuffling into bed between his mum and I. Waking up is the hard bit, so thus stirred, I thought I might as well go and have a look for the Egret. No joy.
As well as the white head with a hint of a neck-ring, the Ross's Gull was slightly larger, longer-winged and longer-tailed than the Little Gulls I've been watching at Swineham recently
I went back to bed and fell into a sufficiently deep sleep to miss several texts informing me that a Bee-eater was at Durslton, less than 20 minutes away. Getting dressed for the second time today, I scooted off for another dose of disappointment. Mitchells Senior and Junior, dipping on Bee-eater for the second time this week, were also there. Just after they headed home, vowing to jack in birding and have their tripods/scopes etc melted down for scrap, things started to look up, for me at least: a flyover Serin jangled north overhead.
Here in flight with Med Gull (above right) and Black-headed Gull for comparison
Just as I was about to give up on the Bee-eater, Steve Smith called with the offer of a lift to Bowling Green Marsh in Devon to twitch a first summer Ross's Gull present for 9 days (!) but identified only this morning. I saw an adult years ago but the chance of seeing this High Arctic vagrant close to home and in a new plumage was not to be missed. I thought my luck might have turned for the day after the Serin but on arrival the Ross's Gull had just flown, leaving a breathless and satiated group of photographers looking visibly stunned at the close views they had enjoyed minutes before. Another dip in morale threatened, but legging it to the nearby estuary I relocated the Gull distantly on the mud and took what can only be described as an insult to record shots - my 400mm lens was woefully inadequate even with 2x converter.
Another view of the diamond-shaped tail and wing pattern
With the pressure to see the bird now off, we figured waiting for high tide to bring it back in would be a good plan, and this gave us a few hours to relocate the Gull again off Exton Station further down the Exe, and check out the facilities at nearby Darts Farm (Cotswold Camping, RSPB shop, posh loos, basically retail heaven for dudes just getting kitted out for a new career in birdspotting).

Also at Bowling Green Marsh, but not attracting quite so much attention...
It was then time to sit and wait. We did so until 1800 when the Ross's Gull flew in from the north east and landed in front of the robust, breeze block hide at Bowling Green Marsh. We were glad of this as the rain set in, and we discussed our longing for a similar structure at Swineham. The Gull gave a few brief fly-arounds, allowing the photos above to be taken showing the diagnostic diamond-shaped tail. It was said to have been 'masquerading as a Little Gull' the previous day when views were partially obscured, but with clear views today it was less a masquerade, more of a wholly unconvincing impersonation of a Little Gull. Honestly, these birders who need their tricky rarities re-identified for them...
Barnacle Goose

Tuesday 27 May 2014

The privations of island life

I've written before about how one of the more miserable aspects of life in Dorset is the thankless chore of visiting Brownsea Island at least once a year. After the endless, gut-churning 5 minute boat ride, comes the relentless slog across at least 100 yards of boardwalk to the nature reserve where you are forced to sit and wait in annoyingly well-appointed hides for literally seconds before seeing waders and breeding terns at point blank range. Honestly, I don't know why I bother, I should just go seawatching at Branksome or something for some proper close-up action. As if all the quality birds on the lagoon weren't enough, during this weekend's visit with the family an impudent Hobby almost took my head off in a low stoop after a dragonfly. The cheek! And as for those squirrels, well don't get me started...
Black-tailed Godwit
Black-tailed Godwits
Common Tern in front of the houses on Brownsea Quay
Common Tern
Drake Gadwall on the lagoon
Did a couple of passes and then it was gone
Stunning birds
Red Squirrel near the Church
Red Squirrel
Sandwich Tern
The colony is doing well thanks to netting erected to keep out Sika Deer
Yellow-legged Gull with chick
Common Heath

Saturday 24 May 2014

An oasis of sanity

I've got into the habit recently of visiting the patch on a Friday night. Not that much about lately but it's a very good way to draw a line under the craziness of the working week. And sometimes, I think, the only thing that stops me going completely loco. Last night there was definitely something to write home about though: a Turnstone, common as muck around much of the coast locally - they almost take chips out of your hand on nearby Poole Quay - but a bit of a mega at Swineham.
Turnstone: patch gold. Well, gold dust at least.
Here it is with the second best bird of the evening: Little Gull
The Little Gull was spending most of the time feeding on the flood.
Normally seen in flight distantly over the gravel pits, the Little Gull has spent a couple of evenings on the flood close to the path.
Presumably the same bird from earlier in the week looking a bit muddier.

This week's rain has topped up the flooded field near the path which was rapidly drying out, so looking promising for waders again. As well as the Turnstone, this Lapwing dropped in for the evening.

'You'll have to be quick to catch them' suggested a well-meaning passer-by. Fortunately, I am quick.

A screaming display from a flock of Swifts always lifts the spirits.

Some noisy, irritable juveniles with insatiable appetites around at the moment. So I leave home to get away from them and what do I bump into? 
Cuckoo: keep hearing but not seeing them recently at Swineham - so this sighting was welcome confirmation that I'm not going completely cuckoo myself.

Sunday 18 May 2014

Siesta time at Swineham

Swineham had a high summer feel to it this weekend, despite it only being the middle of May. The cacophony of singing Reed Warblers of recent weeks has calmed down a bit as they have paired up or moved on to try their luck elsewhere. Whilst mostly untroubled by good birds, today's visit was enlivened by a couple of Little Gulls, a selection of odonata and some other unidentified insects intent on draining me of blood. Perhaps it was the heat, or maybe I'm getting old, but by the time I got home I just wanted a siesta.

Living in Dorset, it's compulsory to go to the beach at least once every weekend, so I had to leave Swineham in good time to get down to Studland with the family this afternoon. I read recently that a survey said that going to the beach made 75% of people feel instantly more relaxed. I must be in the 25%. I'm just no good at sitting around waiting for a melanoma. As a result I spend my time building industrial scale sand installations which probably require planning permission under Purbeck's strict policies on such matters. Enough wittering, time for some pictures:
1st summer Little Gull at Swineham
I wondered precisely what they were catching in the air - this photo suggests damselflies
This Brown Argus in the car park at Studland made a visit to the beach almost worthwhile
I thought this was a female Beautiful Demoiselle at first but having checked the books I'm now thinking its the narrower-winged Banded Demoiselle.
This Little Egret has been frequenting a ditch by the footpath at Swineham for the last couple of weeks.
Male Reed Bunting still very much in evidence
Drake Teal still hanging around at Swineham this weekend despite most of its congeners having left some time ago. Surely conclusive proof that any Teal which remains in Britain until May (including Baikal) has simply got to be a wild bird? Or does that sound just a little needy?

Despite heavily baiting the garden I haven't been able to tempt in one of the Red Kites which have been seen recently over the Wareham area.

Hairy Dragonfly at Swineham

Monday 12 May 2014

Daring to dream

While the focus of this blog is generally faithful to the subjects in the title - 'wildlife', and, to a lesser extent, 'Peter Moore' - I occasionally confess to an interest in football, something of a Marmite subject among birders, I've noticed. Even if you feel about football how I feel about Marmite - i.e. ill-disposed - read on, it's as much a morality tale about loyalty and disappointment as about the beautiful game per se.

Jamming in on the Citrine Wagtail which graced Portland Obs for half a minute on Sunday would have been too much to ask - I was nearby at the Bill where this Pom was some consolation
My references to football are generally in the context of the Wareham Rangers Under-11s for whom my eldest regularly turns out (congratulations to them in their promotion season, by the way, which would have ended with a parental chorus of 'going up as Champions' but for some dubious refereeing decisions at a certain seaside town which shall remain nameless, but about which, being good middle class mums and dads, we had to bite our tongues at the time). Premier League football has never been an all-consuming passion, but out of boyhood loyalty I have followed the progress of Liverpool FC with fluctuating degrees of interest.

You'll never walk alone: not when there is a chance of a good seawatch at the Bill. Most seawatchers were standing in the lee of the lighthouse in a fierce westerly.
Like anyone who supports a team which has ever won anything but isn't from the place where the team is based, I have been accused of being a glory hunter. A bit harsh, as I actually declared my allegiance while lying on the floor of the school playground being punched by the school bully as he demanded to know what team I supported. Our nearest Football League side to the Forest of Dean was probably Bristol Rovers at the time (this was before the heady days of the Cheltenham Town insurgency) but we were brought up to mistrust Bristolians - so impossibly distant and exotic - so I blurted out 'Liverpool' as it was the only other team I'd heard of. While this no doubt had something to do with the fact that they were winning just about everything in the late 1970s, the declaration of support was, in truth, borne more out of ignorance of the alternatives than any transient hunt for glory.

Just the one drake Garganey left at Swineham this weekend having peaked at five last weekend.
Despite constant references to my fickle relationship with Swineham via this medium, loyalty is one of my more enduring faults, so the allegiance to Liverpool has stuck. All was well for the rest of my childhood, perms and mullets notwithstanding, as they continued to sweep all before them. I still have my Umbro replica shirt with Steve Heighway's number 9 on the back (I regarded new signing Dalglish as something of a Johhny Come Lately at the time). Then after the tragedy of Heysel, my enthusiasm waned and I developed other interests, but maintained just enough of an attachment to enjoy the odd highlight. Principal among these was the 2005 Champions League final, which I watched on my own while wife slumbered upstairs with bairn, in a holiday let on the Isles of Scilly where we spent a week in May (birding highlight of the week: Garganey. Yes, it was that bad). Like so many others, I almost switched off at half-time but fortunately persevered to witness one of the great footballing comebacks of all time. If only all 3-3 draws could end so well.

Sedge Warblers continue to entertain around Swineham and Bestwall
Having enough to be neurotic about these days, I try to avoid getting emotionally involved in Liverpool's prospects, but this season it all started to look on again, and, at the risk of resurrecting the glory hunter accusation, I inexorably got more and more bothered about the chance of them winning the Premier League. Predictably it all ended in tears yesterday. Thus was learnt a valuable lesson in daring to dream which I shall be passing on to Wareham Rangers Under-12s right-back before he gets too carried away about next season's prospects. At least I didn't post anything prematurely triumphalist when they were 5 points clear. And at least with birding there is usually some consolation even if you don't secure the big prize, as a trip to Portland proved this weekend.

Tuesday 6 May 2014

The pits are alive....

...with the sound of music. Apart from an amusing diversion to Portland on Bank Holiday Monday, my birding over the long weekend was dominated by warbler song around Wareham. Reed Warblers were the most numerous, with 47 singing males around the perimeters of the Bestwall reserve and the main gravel pit at Swineham.
Sedge Warbler: the song is often said to have a jazzy feel compared to the more rhythmic percussion of Reed Warbler. This one was also indulging in some enthusiastic song-flight.
Reed Warbler: last week most of the singing Reed Warblers remained unseen. This week they were more showy - perhaps getting a bit more desperate among the fierce competition at Bestwall.
Reed Warbler - backlit in the early morning light at Bestwall

Male Blackcap
Next most numerous among the warblers was Cetti's, one of our rarest nationally. 20 of these noisy chaps had me jumping out of my skin with their aggressive blasts from largely unseen songposts. Sedgies seem to be having a good year (11 singing males), while a few Blackcap (6), Chifchaffs (3) and singles of Whitethroat and Willow Warbler added variety.
Cetti's Warbler - defying the Cetti's Warbler rulebook by giving any view at all
Reed Bunting also numerous at the moment - 10 singing males around Swineham

This Long-tailed Tit was not long out of the nest
Warblers weren't the only interest on the patch though: a pair of Whimbrel defied the Whimbrel rule-book by flying conveniently over-head for some photos; the first Swifts of the year entertained with screaming displays; and trios of Garganey and Egyptian Goose added a touch of class and trash respectively.
A touch of class: two of three drake Garganey I saw at Swineham this weekend
And a touch of trash: Egyptian Geese at Swineham

I fancied finding a rare heron in the reedbeds this weekend - but Grey Heron and Little Egret were the only ones in evidence.
All in all a timely reminder of my good fortune in having all this on the doorstep. And probably the best bird of the weekend went unseen by me, but was heard by some of the Poole Harbour night-owls: a Spotted Crake singing in the Wareham area. Best not to ask what they were doing out at that time of night...
I don't know my snails but this one has some intricate markings
Sedge Warbler