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.

Monday, 2 September 2013

'You Win Some, You Lose Some' - Two New Swannery Birds

Swannery Birding Highlights Of The Week...

Monday 26th August to Sunday 1st September 2013.......

Semipalmated Sandpiper...

I wasn't working this weekend but popped down to The Swannery a couple of times on Saturday and in the late afternoon on Sunday. Before my latter visit I had already virtually completed a draft for this weeks post and on it had bemoaned the lack of any juvenile Wood Sandpipers or Little Stints so far this autumn. It was ironic therefore that one of the first birds I saw when I reached Helen Hide was a juvenile Wood Sandpiper on The Fleet shoreline near the tank traps. I then made my way via the Fleet Pipe Hide to the Meadow Hide and was equally surprised to see two 'Little Stints' gracing the pool in front of me. Some changes were going to be necessary to my draft post! It was partly for this reason along with following events that made me so late with my eventual post this week as I had to virtually start from scratch again!

The two 'Little Stints' (or not!).
As you can see from the above photo one of the birds was noticeably duller and less well marked than the other and so instantly thoughts of Semipalmated Sandpiper came to mind. One thing I remembered from my 'Collins Guide' was that 'Semi-ps' are supposed to be slightly bigger and stockier than Little Stint and that did not seem to be the case here. When the pair flew a short distance onto mud I tried to pick out any palmations on the duller bird but with its feet coated in mud it was a thankless task. It was then that I began to think I was just being 'stringy' and that the bird was far more likely to be a Little Stint than a 'Semi-P' and that perhaps its dullness was down to it being an adult and that was how I left it. Thankfully though I had my trusty Lumix and rattled off several photos of the pair. It was not until the evening when I was uploading the pics to my laptop that alarm bells began ringing. Checking the literature it was beginning to dawn on me that the dull bird was seemingly a juvenile too with all fresh feathers and if it was a juv. then it either had to be a very drab Little Stint or a 'Semi-P' after all! To be on the safe side I emailed a pic to Brett Spencer and gave him a ring to sound him out expecting him to tell me it was just a Little Stint but no... he quickly came to the conclusion that it was The Swannery's first Semipalmated Sandpiper! By this time the light was threatening to wane so instead of heading all the way out to the Meadow Hide I drove out along New Barn Road to scope the meadow pool from the roadside. There were a few more waders present than there had been earlier but I was sure I could make out, from the considerable distance, two smaller birds among the thirty or so Dunlin and Ringed Plover, so believed that the bird was still in situ. The following morning however despite the presence of some of the other waders both the sandpiper and the stint had gone! If accepted by the BBRC this will be the first record for The Swannery of this American 'peep' but the third for The Fleet and the sixth for Dorset. My thanks go to Brett for enabling me to clinch my 262nd Swannery bird!

The Juvenile Semipalmated Sandpiper.
The juv. Semipalmated Sandpiper and Little Stint.
The Semipalmated Sandpiper.
Despite heavy cropping it still appears impossible to make out the features it is named for.

Citrine Wagtail...

On Thursday evening, ringers Steve Hales and Luke Phillips were attending the wagtail roost on 'Bum Point', as they do most suitable autumn evenings. Most of the roosting birds are Yellow Wagtails but there are also good numbers of Pieds (and by late autumn the latter predominate of course). Amongst the Yellows and Pieds there are often a few apparent Blue-headed Wagtails and a few Whites, as was indeed the case this week. The birds usually gather on the beach opposite, around the land shore  of The Fleet or specifically on the tern island before dropping down into the reed bed. It was while glancing through the throng of birds on the tern island from Helen Hide that Luke picked out a first winter Citrine Wagtail standing out distinctively among the Yellows and Pieds. He only watched it for a few seconds however before all the birds took to the air. Needless to say the bird was not trapped or seen again. I was at The Swannery that evening but unfortunately I had gone out to Meadow Hide to checkout the wagtails and waders on and around the pool and decided not to bother Steve and Luke, out at Bum Point, as I knew they would be busy ringing. In fact by the time of the sighting, as the light was just beginning to wane, I was probably already on my way home... Doh! Up until now I have been very lucky never to have missed, or at least not seen retrospectively (or in birder-speak 'gripped back'),  a single bird species that has been confirmed as being seen within The Swannery recording area during my twenty-five year tenure. Lets hope I 'grip' this one back very soon! If accepted by the BBRC this record will constitute the first for The Swannery and The Fleet and will only be the fourth for Dorset with the most recent being an adult male at Lodmoor RSPB in May 2009.

And now for the rest of the weeks news...


A few more Wigeon and Pintail arrived joining the Gadwall, Teal and Shoveler (not to mention the Mallard and few remaining Shelduck), while a few more Tufted Duck and Pochard were also in evidence. The duck of the week however was a Goosander found by work colleague Charlotte on the Decoy Pond. Unfortunately it was my day off and although I popped down later it had long gone.

One of this autumns first Pintails on meadow pool.
The two Black Swans remain with the Mute Swan herd and the Barnacle Goose and two Bar-headed Geese still linger with the Canada Goose flock (along with the usual hybrids).


I have already mentioned the three headline waders this week, namely the Semipalmated Sandpiper, Little Stint and Wood Sandpiper but peak counts of the other species were... Oystercatcher - one; Golden Plover - one; Lapwing - six; Little Ringed Plover - one; Ringed Plover - twenty plus; Curlew - two; Black-tailed Godwit - eight; Bar-tailed Godwit - one; Sanderling - one; Dunlin - twenty plus; Common Sandpiper - seven plus; Green Sandpiper - two; Greenshank - eleven; Redshank - six and Snipe - four.

Little Ringed Plover in the meadow.

Juvenile Black-tailed Godwit beginning to moult into winter plumage (meadow pool).

Two Green Sandpipers (meadow pool).

Gulls, Terns & Petrels...

A Fulmar overflew The Fleet and I at last managed to clinch my first juvenile Yellow-legged Gull of the autumn but apart from the now expected smatter of Mediterranean Gulls there was no other gulls of note and disappointingly not a single tern!


Both the regular male and female Marsh Harriers were around but in addition three juveniles were seen together on Friday, perhaps the Weymouth birds? There were also a few sightings of at least one Osprey...

A rather distant Osprey by the tank traps.


The headline passerine was of course the aforementioned Citrine Wagtail with it's supporting cast of up to a thousand roosting 'Yellow Wags' including a few apparent 'Blue-headed Wags' and 'White Wags'. Also noteworthy as neither bred at The Swannery this year was the reappearance of one or two Goldcrests and Stonechats - the first since early spring whereas a couple of Whinchats were the first of the autumn too. One or two Redstarts and groups of up to ten Wheatears continued to move through too but no flycatchers (in fact there has been no 'Spotflys' at all so far this autumn). Willow Warblers were by far the most numerous of their ilk, indeed the only other warblers seen could theoretically (though perhaps unlikely to) have all been local birds rather than on passage considering the numbers and species involved.

Wheatear from meadow Hide.
Lets hope passerine passage shifts up a gear soon with maybe another Citrine Wagtail!


  1. Hi Steve - I noticed a similar issue with size with a Semi-P next to a Little Stint in Hampshire a couple of years ago - the book said the Semi-P should be bigger, but looked considerably smaller when both birds were together (see picture at

    Well done anyway!

  2. Hi Pete good to meet you today, glad you finally connected!