Friday 4 August 2023

A look back at flaming June

20 years ago I was delighted to find Turtle Doves singing from the wires over the garden of the house we had just bought in Kent. When I moved to Dorset in 2007 they were already becoming a very rare breeding bird in the County but I managed to see a small party including a purring male near Cloud's Hill. These days, the nearest known breeding birds to me are over the border in Hampshire at Martin Down, and even here the number of breeding pairs has drastically reduced over the years. 

Rook against the pub wall of the Lulworth Cove Inn after a family walk at Whitsun

Herring Gull at Lulworth Cove, 2nd June

Common Blue on the Lulworth Ranges, 2nd June
In 2021 and 2022 I thought I might bump into one on Portland during spring passage but it didn't happen, so this year I resolved to make the effort to add Turtle Dove to the non-motorised year list. A Saturday morning in flaming June provided an opportunity, though the forecast of high temperatures and possible thunderstorms pointed towards an early start. I wanted to get to Martin Down, about 26 miles north of home in Wareham, by 0730 so rose at 0445 and was on the road by 0515. 

Lulworth Skipper, 2nd June

Lulworth Skipper, 2nd June

Small Heath, 2nd June

A light north easterly breeze was enough to keep me cool but not enough to stall my progress which took me on the familiar Castleman Trailway as far as Wimborne. From there most of the rest of the way was on the Wimborne-Cranborne road which is pretty straight with fast traffic normally, but was mercifully quiet at 0630 in the morning. Quiet that is apart from Corn Buntings which cheered me on my way north - I counted 4 birds singing from roadside perches between the two settlements. 

Curlew was a bit of a rarity for Swineham in June

Given my cycling range is 45 miles from home these days it's not giving anything away to say that I managed to catch up with a Honey Buzzard within that radius in June! 

From Cranborne northwards I followed a minor road which turned into a farm track and then climbed up to the Bockerley Dyke which marks the border between Dorset and Hampshire. As I broke the line of the dyke it was like a stage curtain had opened up: the expanse of Martin Down lay below me, Skylarks and Corn Buntings jangled, and Orchids carpeted the floor where I stood. I hadn't been to Martin Down since we lived in Kent and had forgotten what a spectacular place it is.

Adonis Blue, Martin Down, 10th June

Turtle Dove, Martin Down, 10th June

Corn Bunting, Martin Down, 10th June
Anyway, to cut a long story short, after a couple of hours I had enjoyed good if distant views of a couple of Turtle Doves and even heard a bit pf purring. I didn't want to get any closer - these birds have enough to contend with without disturbance - but my attempts to discourage other birders to do likewise appeared to be wasted breath as when I left I could see a couple of them march straight into the patch of isolated scrub favoured by the birds. What do you do?

Burnt Tip Orchid at Martin Down, 10th June
The heat of the day was building so after a bit of orchid twitching I was on my way - but there was one more bird for the year list to search for before heading home. A modest detour would take me through prime Quail territory and whilst I drew a blank around the normally reliable Tarrant Rushton airfield, I eventually heard a calling male in another likely spot further south. 
Yellow-legged Gull, Swineham, 11th June
Nightjar - one of 5 around our heads on an evening walk on the Dorset heaths in June
Red Admiral at Swineham in June
The rest of the month offered pretty slim pickings and the only further addition to the year list was the first Yellow-legged Gull of 2023, a one-footed specimen, loafing around the pools on the Swineham patch - a full month earlier than the first record of the same species last year. So just 4 species added to the year list for the month in 166 miles then - not the worst return to effort ratio, but not the best either!
A territorial Redshank at Swineham late in the month

...suggested breeding, but I couldn't see any youngsters...

...3 chicks were seen shortly after, however, by other local birders