Monday 23 January 2023

Picking up the pace

Following a trundle to Studland on 2nd January, opportunity and motivation to get out on the bike have been a bit lacking this month. The lingering illness which had so marred the festive season dampened my enthusiasm for getting out in the cold January air, and on the two weekends following the New Year I was happy to just catch up with various family members in Devon and Sussex, visits to whom had been cancelled due to the Xmas bout of poor health.

Cirl Bunting, Reap Lane, Portland

Cirl Bunting, Reap Lane, Portland
By this weekend the impact of being sedentary was taking a toll on my physical and mental health and with a decent forecast I knew I needed to get back in the saddle. Whilst there were plenty of species to add to the year-list locally, half measures wouldn't do. A long-staying Cirl Bunting on Portland on the other hand - well, now you're talking. This is a species which I was fortunate enough to see in Dorset in both 2021 and 2022, on both occasions at West Bexington. 
Purple Sandpiper, Portland Bill
One of a flock of ten
Although Portland is about the same distance as West Bex, it somehow feels closer, perhaps because it avoids the long and brutal climb up over the south Dorset ridgeway to the Hardy Monument. Instead it offers the short and brutal climb up onto Portland, which proved to be a particular challenge with the rear wheel spinning on the frosted pavements of the steepest bits. With that trial negotiated. it was all downhill to Reap Lane where the Cirl Bunting had set up shop. I had arranged to meet Jol Mitchell at around 1000 but I could see as I headed up to the barns that he had arrived before me and was standing with a group of birders 50 yards up the track. 
Drake Eider distantly in Portland Harbour
Robin, Swineham

Others on site told me there had been no sign of the Bunting but as soon as this bad news had been imparted I saw Jol grabbing his scope in the manner of a man trying to focus on a rare bird. Sure enough it was the Cirl Bunting and although it flew before I could get a good look at it, it quickly returned to perch up on a bramble long enough for me to retrieve my camera bag from the panniers, connect the body to the lens, fiddle with the settings and rattle off a few decent photos.

Hen Harrier at Swineham

As is often the way, it was almost past me by the time the camera was raised 
A juvenile Little Gull which had spent almost the whole week performing for locals, the work-shy and retired in the same field as the Bunting unfortunately chose Saturday to do a bunk - a shame as it clearly offered superb photographic opportunities. I consoled myself by rolling on down to the Bill where a flock of 10 Purple Sandpiper were near the Obelisk. A brief search for a Black Redstart was aborted when a report suggested that the Little Gull had returned and I was almost back at Reap Lane when news came through that the earlier report was false. 
White-tailed Eagle, Swineham

The Eagle flew up the River Frome

Though disappointing, I needed to get on the road anyway as time was pressing on, and I had plans to grill Portland Harbour for scarce waterbirds before the long ride home. This was only partially successful, with 3 Eider off Billy Winters and another off Sandsfoot Castle making up for the absence of the Black-throated Diver and Red-necked Grebe which were also on the target list for the day. My lack of conditioning made for a tough return journey to Wareham but I made it back by 1800 with 57 miles on the clock, feeling somewhere between satisfied and exhausted. 

Ravens at Swineham

Marsh Harrier at Swineham

As is typical after a big day out on the bike, the following day I was not much use for anything but a hobble around Swineham, currently holding a lot of standing water and, on Sunday, ice. These are usually the best conditions to go birding on the patch, and while duck numbers on the gravel pits were a bit disappointing, an eventful 20 minute spell produced my first sightings of the year of Bearded Tit, Kingfisher, Hen Harrier and one of the White-tailed Eagles from the Isle of Wight re-introduction scheme. 

Redwing, Swineham

Fieldfare, Swineham
A reasonable reward-effort ratio for the weekend then which has gone a long way to restoring my appetite for some more ambitious journeys by bike in 2023.

Kingfisher, Swineham
I left it too late in the day to drop by the long-staying Sabine's Gull on the way back from visiting my sister in Sussex - it was only about a mile off the main road - so photos were a bit dark!

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