Monday 31 January 2022

January highlights

I'm blessed with some amazing birding hotspots near where I live and many of them are also spectacular landscapes. I made it to several in the second half of January, the first being the Arne peninsular where the RSPB has one of its flagship nature reserves. It's become very popular in recent years - too popular for some - thanks to the opening of a cafe and the improvement of visitor facilities. But chilly, misty Saturday mornings in January are as good a time as any to avoid the worst of the crowds. 

Little Gull, Maiden Castle, 16 January

Little Gull, Maiden Castle, 16th January
Several friends had been seeing a Black-throated Diver from Shipstal Point at the tip of the Arne peninsular, a species which took me until December to see in 2021, so I thought I would have a look for myself. It was tough viewing through a light mist but I eventually located a Great Northern Diver. A 'Birds of Poole Harbour' bird boat hoved into view at this point and just as I was texting Paul Morton, who I guessed would be on board, that they were close to it I heard the boat tannoy booming news of the same. 
Little Gull, Maiden Castle, 16th January

Little Gull, Maiden Castle, 16th January
The boat was a long way out and the sound was travelling incredible distances in the still morning air. As I scanned the water in front of the boat the Black-throated Diver suddenly appeared, with the white flank patch showing well despite the distance. My phone pinged and it was Paul on the boat sending me a photo of the Black-throat!
Corn Bunting, Maiden Castle, 16th January

Corn Bunting, Maiden Castle, 16th January
The day after the Arne trip the body was voting for a lie-in but by mid-morning itchy feet had once again kicked in and I made the snap decision to head to Maiden Castle near Dorchester. A Little Gull had been there since New Year's Day and although I was in Dorchester on the bike that very morning, news of the bird only materialised after I got home. On this occasion I saw the Little Gull immediately on arrival and got some half-decent pictures as it fed hyperactively over the fields. Corn Buntings and Linnets were bathing in puddles but the regular flock of Golden Plover was notable by its absence.
Rook, Maiden Castle, 16th January

Common Gull, Maiden Castle, 16th January
I didn't have long to wait to rectify this last omission on the year-list as on the last weekend of the month I reprised one of my more epic bike rides of 2021 to go back to the west Dorset coast for a Bexington Bunting. Whilst this may sound like a P G Wodehouse character, it is in fact a reference to a trio of Cirl Buntings, a specialty of south Devon but a bit of a mega in Dorset, which had been seen most days over the previous week. When Phil Saunders and I met at the same location back in December we saw one, possibly two female birds, but they had since been joined by a male, and both being keen to see the latter, we agreed to met up again on Saturday morning.
A Purple weekend mid-month saw me pursuing this lone Purple Sandpiper at Sandbanks...

...before news of a Glossy Ibis at Lytchett Minster saw me tearing back in that direction
The journey there was hard, leaving in the dark into a stiff headwind. I've been struggling to fit in any mid-week cycling and felt out of condition attempting such a mammoth journey before breakfast. The 20 mile climb from home through to Dorchester and on up to the Hardy Monument at the top of the South Dorset Ridgeway was by now a familiar one, but no less daunting as a result. 
A few of the 34 Cattle Egret at Abbotsbury, 29th January

Sparrowhawk, West Bexington, 29th January
Things looked up though as I rolled down to Abbotsbury and stumbled across a 34-strong flock of Cattle Egret - my biggest to date in the UK. Not long after I met up with Phil at the West Bexington car park and we repeated the calf-wrenching yomp across the shingle to the Bunting site. On arrival, I set up my scope and virtually the first bird I set eyes on was the male Cirl Bunting! 
One of two Great White Egret at Middlebere mid-month

Flock of Grey Plover (with Knot far right) at Middlebere
I was too busy getting a record shot to see the two females located by Phil but did later see one of them sitting up in the hedge. After extended views of the Cirl Butings, Yellowhammers and a bonus Red Kite found by Phil, and a chat with Al Barrett, Alan Membury and Colin Chainey, we headed back to the car park and went our separate ways. For me that meant rejoining national cycle route 2 above Abbotsbury and heading back to Maiden Castle, where the Golden Plover flock was present this time. I had cycled 56 miles by the time I got home, and the legs were telling me to take it easy for what was left of the month!
Male Cirl Bunting, West Bexington, 29th January

Male Cirl Bunting, West Bexington, 29th January
As January drew to a close I had cycled just over 300 miles and seen 112 species - over twice as many miles but seven fewer species compared to the same month last year. However, with local scarcities such as Tundra Bean Goose, White-fronted Goose, Glossy Ibis, Purple Sandpiper, Little Gull, Black-throated Diver, Hen Harrier, Great White and Cattle Egret, Corn and Cirl Bunting on the list, January had definitely been a month for quality if not quantity.
Just to show the Cirl Bunting (bottom right) in comparison with Yellowhammer (top left)

Little Gull, Maiden Castle, 16th January

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