Tuesday 17 January 2017

Birthday treats

It was my birthday recently - a stuttering but undefeated innings of 48, in case you were wondering. To celebrate almost half-a-century of under-achievement I cleared my professional decks, booked the day off work and did some birding around Poole Harbour. The children were at school and Claire was at work, affording me the luxury of neglecting the entire family to go looking for birds without guilt.
Lesser Yellowlegs at Lytchett Bay
Green-winged Teal, just leaving Lytchett Bay
Redhead Smew distantly in Holes Bay
The once fierce competition between Lytchett Bay and Swineham as Poole Harbour birding locations, a fire stoked in these pages on more than one occasion in the past, has tailed off somewhat in recent years. Lytchett has gone from strength to strength under sympathetic management by the RSPB, being diligently scoured by Top 10 Patchwork Challengers (impressive, though I still think Patchwork Challenge sounds like a needlecraft contest). Swineham has gone downhill under a less wildlife-friendly regime, being wilfully neglected by feckless regulars like yours truly. So much so that I felt barely a flicker of shame in shunning the latter for the former to go looking for Lytchett's two long-staying winter rarities from the Americas: a Lesser Yellowlegs and drake Green-winged Teal.
Dark-bellied Brent Geese at Baiter Park
Coot, Poole Park
Drake Goldeneye and Red-breaster Merganser were out in the middle of Poole Park lake
The Yellowlegs was easy enough, sitting out nicely with a Redshank for comparison, the only two medium-sized waders on one of the pools. The Teal required a bit more luck: it flew off just after I arrived, but not before a kindly soul had let me have a quick squint at it through his scope, hence the dodgy record shot above, hurriedly snapped as it pelted away. Around the corner a returning redhead Smew was in Holes Bay for its third winter, while Poole Park held a few photogenic fowl as always. I caught up with a trio of Great White Egrets slightly further afield at Longham Lakes before heading over on the Sandbanks ferry to complete a circuit of the Harbour.
A lone Black-tailed Godwit was on the shore of Poole Park lake
Little Egret, Poole Park lake
Three Great White Egrets at Longham Lakes
The last hour of daylight was spent at Studland, where the raucous calls of a couple of Sandwich Terns were a cruel reminder of just how far away is spring, and the even more raucous calls of the local Ring-necked Parakeets were an equally cruel reminder of just how far away and warm is their native India.
Ring-necked Parakeet, Studland
Ring-necked Parakeet, Studland
Sandwich Tern, Studland
I would say watching the sun go down at Studland completed the day, but that wasn't really the end of it as on arriving home there was a birthday present to play with: the US Capitol building from the Lego Architecture range. Quite repetitive assembling the orderly lines of neoclassical columns and other fiddly bits, but ridiculously satisfying, a pure indulgence, and, I am reliably informed by the teenager of the house, substantially more socially acceptable than making an Airfix model. The perfect gift for the middle-aged man-boy in your life.
The US Capitol Building courtesy of the Lego Architecture range - George Washington laid the first brick. If you listen carefully this model makes a strange whirring noise: the sound of a miniature George turning in his grave.

Sunday 15 January 2017

Man about town

Urban birding has become something of a habit lately, and we are fortunate in Dorset to have a number of good options in this regard. Last weekend saw me pottering around a few more of the county's birding hotspots between Portland and Dorchester. First stop was Fortuneswell and Chesil Cove at the southern end of Chesil Beach, where a pair of Black Redstarts were flitting on the rocks - same time, same place as a pair last year. A trio of Eider Duck were the highlight of a quick scan of Portland Harbour before lunch with the ducks and gulls at Radipole Lake in Weymouth. There was just time to twitch a first winter male Rose-Coloured Starling on the rooftops of suburban Dorchester before heading back to Purbeck to see about 10,000 of its more familiar cousin, the Common Starling, come in to a spectacular roost at Studland's South Haven.
Male Black Redstart, Chesil Cove
Black Redstart, Chesil Cove
Female Black Redstart, Chesil Cove
Rock Pipit, Chesil Cove
Meadow Pipit, Ferrybridge
Eiders in Portland Harbour
Bearded Tit, Radipole Lake
Blackbird, Radipole Lake
Carrion Crow, Chesil Cove
Dunnock, Radipole Lake
Shelduck, Radipole Lake
Black-headed Gull, Radipole Lake
Common Gull, Radipole Lake
Mediterranean Gull, Radipole Lake
Med Gull with Black-headed Gull above
The drake Hooded Merganser still displaying at Radipole
Always a show-off

Male Marsh Harrier at Radipole
Moorhen, Radipole Lake
Feral Pigeon, Radiploe Lake
Rose-coloured Starling, Dorchester
Not looking so good after a bath
Starling murmuration at Studland

Tuesday 3 January 2017

Suffering for your art

The first day of 2017, normally a red letter day in the birding calendar, was a bit of a washout with heavy rain causing me to abort a planned afternoon visit to Swineham. Well it's the 'post-truth' era so much easier to conclude it would be birdless from the comfort of the armchair than to actually go there and prove it. So here are a few pictures from before and after that from two of Dorset's urban birding hotspots - Lyme Regis, which I visited to see my godsons last Friday, and the built up north shore of Poole Harbour, around which I strolled with the family yesterday. The sun shone mightily at both, and photographs were the inevitable result.
Purple Sandpipers often roost on The Cobb at Lyme Regis but they are either distant there or right underneath you making photography difficult - but it was low tide so I caught up with a flock on a rocky shelf at the beach 
The snag was they were feeding on a ledge surrounded by six inches of water and I was only wearing my 'about-town' shoes. So off they came enabling me to wade through the freezing water, lacerating my feet on the barnacled rocks. Well you have to suffer for your art...
Not often you get to see the beautiful purple iridescence on a Purple Sandpiper - but it can be seen on this one (click to enlarge)
A careful approach allowed me to get pretty close
A pair of Dipper were in the Mill stream which runs through the heart of town
A curtsying courtship display with a flash of the white eyelid
One of very few locations in Dorset where Dipper can be seen

Grey Wagtail also frequent the same stream

A misty Golden Cap from Lyme Regis beach
Mediterranean Gulls were also on the beach at Lyme Regis
No longer a rare sight on the Dorset coast
Ethereal sunset looking west from Chideock - we could see the reflection but not the sun itself
Black-tailed Godwits were present in large numbers at Upton Country Park yesterday - the first sunny day of 2017
Also a large Dunlin flock out in Holes Bay
Mixed flock of Dunlin and Blackwits against the backdrop of urban Poole
A good selection of wintering duck were in the bay including this smart drake Pintail
Blue Tit in the woodland at Upton CP
Finally from Upton a backlit male Stonechat
Earlier in the day saw me on the groynes at Sandbanks where a patient approach allowed me to get close to another favourite wader: Sanderling
Sanderling at Sandbanks
The roosting birds tolerated my careful approach and a less careful approach from a couple of dogs, but ultimately a jetski put them to flight - unfortunately an occupational hazard for the Sandbanks Sanderlings