Sunday 24 September 2017

Wessex waderfest

Dorset's extraordinary run of American waders continued into its fourth weekend with a Lesser Yellowlegs at Christchurch Harbour the most recent arrival yesterday. It all started with a Baird's Sandpiper on Brownsea Island which I managed to see back on 2nd September. After a gap of about a week, Stilt and Least Sandpipers were then discovered on the same day at the same site in Weymouth. During their extended stay a Buff-breasted Sandpiper arrived on Portland, then within the last few days a Spotted Sandpiper was found among the Common Sandpipers at Abbotsbury Swannery.
Spotted Sandpiper, Abbotsbury Swannery
A tricky bird to separate from Common Sandpiper - call was one of the factors which made Steve Groves think Spotted...
...yellowish legs, short tail and plain tertial fringes appeared to confirm it
This drake Scaup was also at Abbotsbury
Not quite yet in its smartest winter plumage
What was presumably the same Baird's was relocated on the Fleet last week, and what was presumably the same Stilt Sandpiper spent a few hours at Lytchett Bay, giving a few patch listers as well as county listers something to celebrate. Trying to photograph them all involved a fair amount of dashing around after work and at weekends and I never even got as far as looking for the Buff-breasted or the Yellowlegs.
I went back to Lodmoor to try to improve on my photos of the Stilt and Least Sandpipers
The Stilt Sand was much closer but the light was not great
A hint of the rufous cheek patch can be seen here
On a different evening, in contrast to the Stilt Sandpiper, the Least was in nice light - but much further away!
Not sure if these were an improvement on my original pictures
However, it was a first for Dorset, so good views took priority over good photos
Three visits to the Fleet hoping to improve on my appalling record shot of the Baird's Sandpiper also ended in failure. More successful was a late Saturday afternoon visit to the Swannery, where we had only just been shown to Helen's Hide by finder Steve Groves when the Spotted Sandpiper flew in and perched briefly on the shore under our noses.
Couldn't find the Baird's on the Fleet but enjoyed close views of a couple of Bar-tailed Godwit
These birds were feeding in Tidmoor Cove
Bar-tailed Godwit
Bar-tailed Godwits
Even Swineham got in on the wader action with a cracking species pair of Grey and Red-necked Phalarope spending the weekend on the same pool on Arne Moors. Getting them on the patch list required scaling a small oak tree and balancing the telescope on a tripod shaped bough to view over the Frome's riverside reeds! Of course, the provenance of the Phalaropes is more open to question, though with so many congeners from the Americas in the area, it is not totally out of the question that they too might have originated on the other side of the Atlantic. Had a Wilson's Phalarope joined them that might have provided supporting evidence for the theory - but alas it wasn't to be. Still, autumn is still young...
The juvenile Red-necked Phalarope was a new bird for me in Dorset as well as Swineham
The Grey (left) and Red-necked Phalarope often fed together on Arne Moors
Quite amazing that they settled on the same small pool especially as the Grey Phalarope had been present for about a week before its smaller cousin arrived
Red-necked Phalarope


Sunday 17 September 2017

Autumn gathers pace

This week's weather appears as a statement of intent about the changing seasons, though for migrating birds 'autumn' has of course been underway for some weeks. Yesterday I met up with my parents on Portland to see what was about on a day which started out fine and bright, but which saw torrential rain by lunchtime, arriving just in time to give us soggy chips at the Bill's Lobster Pot cafĂ©.
Wryneck, Portland Bill
Probably the best view I have had of this species
Photographing it in dappled light on the ground was tricky...
...but the cryptic plumage can be seen well here
And here's a clue to how the Wryneck got it's name
Shortly before the downpour, we had jammed in on a long-staying Wryneck in the Obs quarry - not only was it on view as soon as we arrived, shortly after it was flushed by a rat and perched up to give unusually good and extended views of this often shy species. Apart from Wheatears, common migrants were thin on the ground on Portland, though there were plenty of hirundines in the air feeding up before the long journey south.
Northern Wheatear at the Bill
One of nine in the same paddock
Not just migrant birds on Portland - there were many Red Admiral around too
The resident Rock Pipits entertained us while we sat for lunch
Most of the Wheatears were sporting the tawny female-type plumage - but at least one male (left) was among them
In contrast to the shortage of common migrants on Portland, a visit to Greenlands Farm near Studland a couple of weekends ago saw the fields and woods alive with them. Yellow Wagtails were particularly entertaining and I spent a warm morning stalking them, hiding behind gorse bushes and acting like a horse in an effort to gain their trust. Suffice to say I got closer to the horses than the wagtails.
Yellow Wagtail, Greenlands Farm
The wagtail flock follows cattle and horses around the National Trust land at Greenlands...
 ...feeding right under the noses and feet of the livestock
This blue-grey headed individual didn't look like the regular British race - enquiries are underway to establish what flava it might be, but it's presumably of continental origin
Good to see these migrants on the ground rather than just flying overhead calling
While the Yellow Wagtails dominated the paddocks at Greenlands, Willow Warbler was the most numerous migrant around the forest edge - every tree seemed to contain two or three - with Common Redstart, Spotted Flycatcher and Whitethroat present in smaller numbers. 
Redstarts seem to like Greenlands - here a male...
...and here a female

Willow Warbler
Willow Warbler
Spotted Flycatcher
Spotted Flycatcher

I became enamoured with Greenlands Farm during a late summer bird race in 2015 - the concentration of migrants there at this time of year puts my own patch at Swineham to shame - a good excuse for my continued neglect of the latter! Purists would no doubt castigate me for forsaking my own patch to go farther afield where the grass is greener - I would merely point at that many hard core patch workers travel further to get to their 'local' patch than I do to get to Greenlands!
Common Whitethroat, Greenlands Farm
Wheatear, Greenlands Farm
Wheatear, Greenlands Farm
House Martins were gathering around Manor Farm on Studland at the end of August
This rare visitor to Poole Harbour, a Hooded Crow, was also at Manor Farm

Wednesday 13 September 2017

Sandpiper central

Mid-week rarities have been a theme of the Dorset birding year thus far in 2017 - from the Monday night Yellow Warbler, to the Tuesday night Spectacled Warbler, the Thursday night Elegant Tern and the Friday night Baird's Sandpiper. So it shouldn't have been too much of a surprise that this Monday produced another: a Stilt Sandpiper found by Dave Chown at Lodmoor near Weymouth. I missed a long staying individual of this species a few years ago which arrived the day I left for a family holiday, and left the day before I got back.
Least Sandpiper - despite the low light, against the mud the greenish legs can be seen
Smaller than the Dunlin on the left, Least Sandpiper has a slightly longer and more de-curved bill than Little Stint
I was on the train on the way home when the news broke, and when I sent a text to my neighbour and fellow Swineham-dodger Trevor to share the news, it emerged that he was on the same train. We therefore strode to our respective homes to collect our gear and I picked him up shortly after to head to Lodmoor. One of the iron laws of twitching Weymouth from Wareham as dusk approaches is that you will wait at least five minutes at the Wool level crossing for the train to pass. With that obstacle eventually cleared, we made good time to Lodmoor only to find that the Stilt Sand had flown off - five minutes before our arrival. It looked like the delay at Wool had cost us more than a nervous wait, and we pondered our next move - stick around and hope it comes back, or head to the next decent bit of mud at Ferrybridge in the direction the bird had reportedly flown?
Least Sandpiper shows more prominent dark lores compared to the similar (and even rarer) Long-toed Stint
A bright juvenile
Such are the dilemmas of twitching, and we prevaricated just long enough to make a trip to Ferrybridge a less attractive option, as dusk was fast approaching, and we concluded that our time would be better spent doing a circuit of Lodmoor which was still the most likely location for the bird to reappear. As we approached the western edge of the reserve, my phone rang and a surprisingly calm Brett Spencer broke the news that he had just re-identified a reported Little Stint as a Least Sandpiper - an even rarer American wader than the Stilt Sand and the first record for Dorset. We were just 100 metres away and covered this distance in a reserve record time. Dave, finder of the Stilt Sand, was with him, graciously accepting Brett's apologies for the outrageous act of up-staging!
Stilt Sandpiper at Lodmoor

Monday night's record shots of the Stilt Sandpiper taken at ISO1600 look like they were taken with a night vision camera..

The sun was by now about to dip below the horizon so there was just time to grab a few photographs and study the features which, despite the lateness of the hour, could be seen superbly thanks to the quality of modern optics. We stuck around enjoying the views and awaiting the arrival of Steve Smith who was still in transit. He got there breathless and in the near darkness, at which point another breathless Dorset birder, Nick Urch, emerged out of the gloom with news that the Stilt Sandpiper had been re-found another 100 metres to the north of where we were standing. This distance was covered in my second personal best of the evening and we found ourselves enjoying our second Dorset tick of the hour.
The Stilt Sandpiper was feeding actively

The long, greenish legs can be seen in this view
I returned after work the following day hoping to improve on the photographs from the night before. They are not great, but most of the key features of both can be seen at least. I do enjoy these post-work adventures at this time of year - with the evenings drawing in, you know you are not going to get far from home before dusk, or have too far to go to get home whether or not the target is present!
A very leggy bird
This Great White Egret at Lodmoor was seriously up-staged by the duo of American waders