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, 30 October 2011

The 'Start' Of Winter

Wednesday to Friday (26th to 28th) were fairly quiet with only a little overhead passage mostly on the latter day and this only involved a few Siskins, a Lesser Redpoll, Sky Larks, Starlings and a few Swallows still. On Thursday however I did miss by minutes a Short-eared Owl in the water meadow. My colleague Charlie though was luckier...

Short-eared Owl (Charlie Wheeler)
I was off on Saturday 29th but managed to get down to the Swannery for a good look round. On the way down I just glimpsed a chat disappearing into the swannery meadow hedge but despite patiently waiting for it to reappear it never did so I dismissed it as a likely Robin and carried on. After checking the withy bed my next port of call was Helen Hide on Bum Point (real name honest) over looking the tern island and relatively close to the beach. A 'Ringtail' (female or 1st winter) Hen Harrier was flying away over the embayment and I lost it over by the water meadow. Hopefully it will be another good winter for this raptor as several were in the area last year. Their were also several large gulls on the beach opposite. They were mostly Great and Lesser Black-backs with a few Herring but also an adult Yellow-legged Gull. The first adult I've had here since the demise of the regular returning individual last summer. An adult Mediterranean Gull also flew down the lagoon. Despite the massive increase in this gull at the other end of The Fleet in recent years this has barely been reflected up this end. I ended my visit by checking the water meadow but there was no sign of the harrier unfortunately. There was however a good number of Teal, Pintail, Wigeon, Shoveler, two Redshank and a few Lapwing and Snipe. On my way out I had a quick chat with my colleagues (who'd drawn the short straw to work the last weekend of our open season). James informed me that he'd seen a female Redstart in Simon's Hide earlier. I told him it was more likely a Black Redstart due to the time of year and the fact it was in a building and indeed he did say it looked rather grey. We don't get many Black Redstarts at The Swannery despite their regular occurrence in the village in late autumn and early winter (especially around the monastic 'ruins') and two of the half dozen or so I have seen here were also in hides. Heading for home I retraced my steps and while passing the same hedge as earlier a 'vist tik tik' call alerted my presence to a chat lurking in the hedge. A female Black Redstart! Unfortunately it was still too furtive to get a picture but a good Swannery record all the same!

A slightly better shot of the 1st winter (Greater) Scaup with Tufted Duck.
Still the only one of the season so far and a bit sporadic as it comutes between here and Lodmoor RSPB.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Return Of The 'Ferruchard'

Still rather quiet in the last few days. There has been a little overhead passage mostly involving Skylarks, Meadow Pipits, Pied Wagtails, Linnets, Siskins, Lesser Redpolls, Reed Buntings, Starlings, still a few Swallows and the first Jackdaws, but nothing impressive yet. In the withies there are a few Chiffchaffs and Goldcrests but that's about it. Highlights have been a Marsh Harrier on Friday (21st), followed by a Merlin on Saturday (22nd) and a Green Sandpiper yesterday (24th). The only other waders present have been the 50 odd Lapwing, a few Snipe and a couple of Dunlin and Redshank.

Green Sandpiper (with preening Eurasian Wigeon).

Most of the usual duck species are present including the first winter 'first winter' Scaup...

First winter Greater Scaup (honest!) with Common Pochard.
But no mergansers or Goldeneye yet. The regular hybrid male Ferruginous Duck x Common Pochard has returned though for it's umpteenth year, well I say that but for the last autumn or two it has been sporting a metal ring (which I was unable to read) but this year there is no sign of a ring! Either it lost it (unlikely but swans can) or my regular bird has actually involved at least two individuals (I have had several female hybrids too over the years so they're not rare).
Male Ferruginous Duck x Common Pochard (note no ring!)

Ferruginous Duck x Common Pochard (the same bird as above I assume).
I wasn't working today but after popping over to see the lingering Snow Bunting at The Bridging Camp I felt inspired to go and find my own down the beach but to no avail. There was an impressive flock of six plus Rock Pipits flitting around the tank teeth though, a regular autumn migrant to The Swannery with one or two over-wintering most years.

Rock Pipit (this one was by the Fleet Pipe Hide a few days ago).
 Going back to the hybrid theme these oddities are regular visitors to my patch...

Greylag Goose x Canada Goose hybrids (with Common Pochards and Tufted Ducks).

Domestic Goose x Canada Goose hybrids (with Canada Geese and Common Coots).
Whereas the first two's parentage is fairly straight forward the following three (there are actually five in the area) are a bit more tricky. They may look just look pure domestic geese but there is something not quite right. They show a few hints of a Canada parent and this was borne out on a trip to Slimbridge a few years ago (not long after these geese first turned up) as I encountered a mixed pair of Canada Goose and White Domestic Goose with a few young in tow that looked almost identical. Mystery solved!
The Swannery from The Tank Teeth.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Harvest 'Nest A Ball'

It's gone very quiet again on the bird front. A few Skylarks, Starlings, Meadow Pipits, Pied Wagtails, Siskins and the odd Redpoll or two are still trickling over north west and there are still a few Swallows, Chiffchaffs, Blackcaps and the odd Wheatear around. The only new waders for the month were two Knots that flew west on Tuesday and on the wildfowl front a first winter Scaup was new in today, the first of the 'winter' (unfortunately the light was not good enough for a photo).
   While inspecting the western reedbeds assessing this coming seasons thatching crop I came across this...
An old Harvest Mouse nest.
We used to come across these fairly regularly but they are now few and far between. A couple of years ago I found an active one that had green reed leaves incorporated into it so it is nice to know that these little critters are still present in what is after all their natural habitat, even if they are not doing so well in their adopted cereal crop environment.

Monday, 17 October 2011

(West) Indian Summer

It was rather quiet today with the return of typical blustery autumnal weather. The only new birds noted were 13 Brent Geese that settled on The Fleet briefly before heading off west. Although there was a slight passage of Lesser Black-backed Gulls, again all heading west, there was no visible passerine passage at all. Yesterday though (Sunday 16th October) was much better both bird wise and weather wise. There was some evidence of visible migration with a number of Swallows and House Martins (Steve Hales counted 230 and 60 respectively while tending his ringing nets in the afternoon) and a few Siskins,  Skylarks, Starlings and Pied Wagtails headed west with the highlight being a Redpoll and a few Bearded Tits, the latter heard but not seen. Yesterday was also WeBs count day (ie The Wetland Bird Survey). The only unexpected wetland bird though was this...

A White-cheeked Pintail (with Mallard)
White-cheeked Pintail or to give them there captive trade name...Bahama Pintail (as it is from captivity that this bird obviously originated) are native to the West Indies and much of South America and is one of the most frequent exotic escapes to occur at The Swannery. It wasn't around during the count (which is always in the morning) but dropped in during the afternoon. I leave the counting of the actual swannery to mate's Alan and Ian while I do the stretch of The Fleet immediately east of The Swannery, from Shipmoor Point to Rodden Hive Point.
A view from Cloudshill, in my count section, looking east toward Portland lost in the mist.
We didn't find anything exciting but the results of the count from The Swannery to Rodden Hive Point were...

Mute Swan 640
Black Swan 1
Canada Goose 18
Wigeon 108
Teal 318
Mallard 562
Domestic Mallard 14
Pintail 72
Shoveler 26
Pochard 194
Tufted Duck 215
Cormorant 20
Little Egret 3
Grey Heron 2
Little Grebe 16
Great Crested Grebe 29
Water Rail 1 (under recorded)
Moorhen 20 (under recorded)
Coot 192
Lapwing 40
Snipe 5 (under recorded)
Black-headed Gull 67
Common Gull 2
Lesser Black-backed Gull 1
Herring Gull 7
Great Black-backed Gull 5
Kingfisher 1.

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Brief Encounters

Friday 14th October
As I'm working this weekend I had today off and as I had chores to do I didn't get down to The Swannery proper to check whether yesterday's Yellow-browed was still present but I did manage a quick check of Chapel Withybed and a scan of the meadow from Chapel Hill. There were  several Chiffchaffs and Goldcrests in the withies and small numbers of Siskins, Skylarks, Starlings and Meadow Pipits heading northwest but the highlight was several Crossbills calling but they were so high I couldn't pick them up. Workmate Charlie though did have a 1st winter Mediterranean Gull settled on The Fleet.
1st winter Mediterranean Gull (left) with Black-headed Gull (Charlie Wheeler).

Saturday 15th October
It was 'Release Day' today...when all the cygnets are ringed and those that had been penned for the summer are given their freedom and as we were very busy I didn't have a lot of time to bird. During the morning feed though I picked up a Calidrid sandpiper calling overhead a 'krrrt' krrrt' and instantly suspected Pectoral Sandpiper. A quick view as it sped past was enough to confirm the id but I then lost it in the sun and it appeared to carry on east down The Fleet. Despite checking the meadow pool, that has played host to several of these scarce migrant American and Siberian waders in the past, it never reappeared. There was however a nice selection of other species there including...

Male Wigeon
Male Shoveler
A 'wisp' of Common Snipe
Immature Grey Heron and a pair of Pintail
Other highlights were 6 Redpolls over, a single momentary Brent Goose, an adult Mediterranean Gull and finally as the day drew to a close a Merlin sped northeast... things are definitely looking up. What will tomorrow bring?

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Eastern Promise

Wednesday 12th October 2011

It looked slightly more promising in the morning with around 100 Swallows powering SE and around 50 Skylarks headed in the opposite direction, while groups of Siskins and meadow Pipits just zipped about in no particular direction. Highlight though was a Spoonbill that flew up the Fleet during the morning feed. Initially it kept on going toward Bexington, however it did a U-turn, circled over the western reedbeds, then more obligingly it dropped down on the Chesil's Fleet shoreline by the 'Tank Teeth'. Nipping out to 'Helen Hide' I managed to get a couple of very distant record shots...
Immature (Eurasian) Spoonbill

and with a Little Egret (left).

Also what was presumably Tuesday's Arctic Tern reappeared but like the Spoonbill it was quite distant...

Arctic distant in fact that I couldn't exactly be sure it was the 1st winter I assumed it would be.
Thursday 13th October 2011
An even more promising start to the day today with many Chiffchaffs calling from the withybeds and a few Swallows feeding overhead. Among the many Siskins flying around were also six (presumed Lesser) Redpolls and a Wheatear was in the Swannery field. While sweeping the 'Withy Walk', my attention was drawn to some loud familiar 'sweest' calls emanating from the lower withybed. With my suspicions aroused I retraced my steps and there indeed a few metres away was a Yellow-browed Warbler, fresh in from Siberia, feeding in the sallows on the edge of the path. Reaching for my camera the radio suddenly burst into life and I was compelled to leave before I had a chance to even attempt to get a shot. Retuning a few minutes later there was no sign but I heard it again off and on throughout the day and although I didn't manage to see it again mates Luke and Alan who popped in did manage to connect with it while I was busy with the 4 o'clock feed. During which the Arctic Tern also put in another appearance.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

All Quiet On The Western Fleet

Tuesday 11th October 2011
I awoke to the sound of a Chiffchaff calling outside my bedroom window but that was the only real migrant I had all day. It's just so quiet at the moment. To add to yesterday's single Wheatear, Steve Hales informed me he had a single Swallow over as he was strimming a new net ride for the wagtail roost. Today though no Wheatears or Swallows and the only overhead passage noted were three Skylarks going west. A Redshank was new in and the first I'd seen for a few weeks but best bird of the day was a brief Arctic Tern during the 4pm feed which I was unable to photo before it flicked over the beach and into Lyme Bay. I can't believe it's OCTOBER! I hope things liven up soon.

Lapwing & Redshank at the 'Fleet Pipe'. The only two wader species present today. There were several more Lapwing in the meadow where I also heard a Calidrid, probably a Curlew Sandpiper but frustratingly it never dropped in.

Bitter & Twisted

Monday 10th October 2011

As last week today I really had to work hard to find anything worth blogging. I had Saturday and Sunday off and I didn't manage to get down to The Swannery at all at the weekend but workmate Charlie tells me the only new birds in that he saw were three Redshank that didn't linger. Today a Wheatear in the swannery field was the only passerine migrant seen as there was no overhead passage at all and the withy beds were deadly quiet. The only other new birds were a first winter Mediterranean Gull and a Dunlin. The meadow pool held a good number of Teal along with a few Pintail, Wigeon and Shoveler and on the adjacent Fleet Pochard and Tufted Duck numbers continue to steadily increase. Following on from the fresh Otter spraint last week I stumbled across this....

Mink scat!

Unlike loose sweet smelling Otter spraint which is largely made up of fish scales, Mink scat is largely made up of fur with a few fish scales and is foul smelling and tightly twisted. We largely assumed that when our Mink population at The Swannery crashed at around the same time as Water Voles and Otters reappeared that the Otters were keeping them at bay but as this evidence shows despite the presence of Otter the occasional Mink will show up. I hasten to add that although we see Otter spraint regularly we have still not caught sight of one in the three years or so that they have been back!

Male Teal still mouting into breeding plumage.

Presumed Mallard x Teal... this bird has been present for several years now and although at first looks a Mallard type it has several pro Teal features. Size is not apparent but it is smaller and has much buff on the head and dark markings on the bill.

Saturday, 8 October 2011

A Wry Start To October

Saturday 1st October to Friday 7th October 2011
Wryneck Abbotsbury Swannery car park (Charlie Wheeler).
Just like my blog the month began with a bit of a false start. Saturday 1st saw both Hobby and Marsh Harrier fly over but the highlight came late in the afternoon when the ticket office radioed down to say that a Wryneck had just been seen in the car park. I had only seen one previously at The Swannery in 22 years and dipped on the only other sighting. Luckily it was still present after I'd locked up for the day and I managed to connect with it on my way home. Not only was it not 'my sighting' it's not 'my photo' either as I didn't get my camera until the next day. The photo is courtesy of work mate Charlie Wheeler and my camera is courtesy of The Weymouth & District Wildfowlers to help with our conservation work at The Swannery, thanks guys!. The rest of the week was dire. Their was another Hobby on Monday but the little overhead passage there was involved just a few Skylarks, Meadow Pipits, Pied Wagtails and Siskins. On The Fleet itself just the odd Common Sandpiper and a couple of Sandwich Terns went into the log but other waders apart from a few Lapwing and a Snipe were noted by their absence and although all the usual duck were around their numbers weren't impressive.
Kingfisher from 'Fleet Pipe Hide'
1st winter Sandwich Tern. You can just make out some juv. feathers in the wings but also its' loud begging calls directed at a nearby adult helped with the ageing!

Otter spraint - Otters have now been regular winter visitors to The Swannery again in the last few years after disappearing back in the early 70's.

Male Common Darter - the commonest Dragonfly sp at The Swannery