Please note that this is my own personal blog and therefore the views and opinions expressed, although in no way intended to be controversial, are not necessarily those shared by my employers Abbotsbury Tourism Ltd. and Ilchester Estates . All photos are © Steve Groves unless otherwise credited.

Sunday, 12 May 2013

'What's Hit Is History, What's Missed Is Mystery'

Swannery birding highlights of the week...

Monday 6th to Sunday 12th May 2013...

A Putative Pallid...

The only accepted record of a Pallid Harrier in Dorset is of one shot near Blandford in April 1938. In those days, of course, the production of a specimen was often only the real proof of an occurrence. Thankfully things have changed and if a decent description does not pass muster then a good quality photograph usually does. If only the 'ringtail' harrier seen and photographed from The Swannery on Monday had not been so distant then the Dorset tally of Pallid Harrier records may have been doubled...

'Ringtail' harrier sp. Abbotsbury Swannery 6th May 2013 © Charlie Wheeler

I found the bird on Monday (6th) while I was  on my usual lunchtime round of the hides... I had just left the 'Fleet Pipe' hide when I heard a call that I couldn't quite place or workout from whence it came. I heard it several more times en route to Helen Hide and when I reached the swan feeding area the penny was a harrier. I began to scan the sky with my naked eye for one of the regular Marsh Harriers and sure enough picked up a harrier way up over Shipmoor Point. When I lifted my 'bins' for a confirmatory glance however I quickly realised that this was no Marsh Harrier but a 'ringtail'. From its' structure I was pretty sure it wasn't a Hen Harrier so was most likely a Montagu's but with a recent increase in Pallid Harrier records in Britain that too was a serious contender...

'Ringtail' harrier sp. Abbotsbury Swannery 6th May 2013 © Charlie Wheeler
I quickly got my scope on it which convinced me even more it was not a Hen Harrier but for the life of me, beyond a bolder head pattern and obvious collar, I couldn't remember what else to look for and the distance was so great that I couldn't even count the number of obvious primary tips. At this point I switched to my camera but in the strong light I couldn't find the bird on the screen or even in the view finder. Thankfully at this point work colleague Charlie arrived and with his superior camera and skill he managed to rattle off a few very distant shots of the bird as it flew off northeast...

'Ringtail' harrier sp. Abbotsbury Swannery 6th May 2013 © Charlie Wheeler

Examining the photos (after the bird had faded into the distance) it appeared much stockier than it had in real life and I even began to think it may have been a Hen Harrier after all. I emailed a selection of Charlie's shots to an excellent well respected local birder who quickly ruled out Hen Harrier and after sending him a few more full sized shots (that he was able to blow up and tweak) he called me with the news that in his opinion it most probably was a Pallid! Another excellent well respected local birder (that saw the pictures) was also apparently of that opinion too. Obviously though, with the images we have, the identification simply can not be clinched...another one for my 'Ones That Got Away' list! Thank you Brett and Paul for your perusal and opinions of the images and of course thank you Charlie for their use.


The Rest Of The News...

Today's Swannery WeBS Results...

Mute Swan - 452
Black Swan - 2

Canada Goose - 20
Shelduck - 47
Gadwall - 4
Teal - 2
Mallard - 139
Mallard (domestic) - 3
Pochard - 7
Tufted Duck - 62
Great Crested Grebe - 18
Cormorant - 4
Little Egret - 6
Moorhen -  3
Coot - 39
Oystercatcher - 7
Dunlin - 2
Whimbrel - 4
Common Sandpiper - 1
Turnstone - 3
Black-headed Gull - 10
Herring Gull - 12
Great Black-backed Gull - 12
Sandwich Tern - 4
Common Tern - 31
Today's three Turnstones.
In an otherwise fairly quiet week the only additions to the above list were the ('feral') Egyptian Goose that lingered until Wednesday; the (escaped/'feral') Bar-headed Goose also to Wednesday; a single Shoveler; a freshly dead (un-oiled) Gannet in the meadow(!); several more Whimbrel; at least seven Bar-tailed Godwit; a Greenshank and over a hundred Dunlin.

Passerine Migrants...

In what was a rather disappointing week for this category at least the first Grasshopper Warbler of the year was heard (first by mate Alan, then by me) and the first two Whinchats arrived...

The male Whinchat at 'Ditchmoor' on Wednesday.
A few more Swallows, House Martins, Swifts and the odd Yellow Wagtail flew overhead and there were one or two fresh in Willow Warblers. Any other common migrants however were lost among the now local breeding birds...

After quite a good spring for passage Sedge Warblers - only this one remains on territory!
So a real up and down week and we are now into mid-May...still not too late to find a good bird of course but hopefully I'll clinch it this time!

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