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 27 November 2011

The Tale Of The Bus-like Bunting

I didn't have a lot of time on the patch this weekend... I had other commitments and a stinking cold! I fed the swans of course and quickly checked to see if Friday's geese were still about, which they weren't, but that was it. Friday's geese were in fact a family party of five Eurasian Whitefronts that I found at Ditchmoor - the wet meadows behind the western reedbed. Whitefronts were once virtually annual visitors to the swannery but have dropped off a bit in recent years so are always a delight to see.

Eurasian White-fronted Geese.. two adults left and three juvs.
On Thursday I popped down The Fleet to Lynch Cove to check on the swans and during my coffee break managed to connect with the Hume's Leaf Warbler that was frequenting the scrub at the SE edge of the adjacent Littlesea Holiday Park. I had a probable in, what was then, my parents garden on the nearby Littlesea Estate some years ago but unlike todays bird it never gave the distinctive disyllabic call (I didn't hear it call at all) and in those days it was still considered a race of Yellow-browed Warbler so although it was rather a plain individual I only claimed it as the latter. It was nice therefore to legitimately add it to my Fleet list (it would have been even nicer if it had been in the swannery withybed)!
Meanwhile back at the swannery the middle of the week was rather quiet. At least one Bullfinch was still around and a flyover Yellowhammer was (now unfortunately) a noteworthy record. Good numbers of Goldcrests, a few Chiffchaffs and several Linnets were still present, the latter with the Greenfinch flock on the beach opposite (they're normally scarce here in the winter months). A flock of forty Snipe were seen in the air where they are far more visible than on the ground, as last weeks WeBS count results testify and a Golden Plover was heard. Mediterranean Gulls peaked at three and there was still only the one Scaup, though several Red-breasted Mergansers have now appeared.

Female or 1st winter Red-breasted Merganser.

1st winter Mediterranean Gull.

The best record of the week though was on Monday...While scanning the swannery embayment from Helen Hide I heard the distinctive call of a Snow Bunting. It appeared to be coming from the adjacent beach but despite scanning I failed to pick it up. Luckily I had better results earlier in the month...You wait nearly twenty-three years and two turn up within a few weeks!

Monday 21 November 2011

Craning My Neck In Vain!

Today was November WeBS count day and after feeding the swans I left count volunteers Alan and Ian to cover The Swannery while I went off and surveyed my usual stretch of The Fleet from Shipmoor Point to Rodden Hive point (the bit just east of The Swannery). There wasn't an awful lot to count, the highlight being a Common Scoter on The Fleet and a flyover Golden Plover. When I got back to compare notes with Alan and Ian they hadn't fared much better. The complete Abbotsbury (Reeds End to Rodden Hive) count was as follows....

Canada Goose 3
Common Scoter 1
Coot 210
Cormorant 1
Gadwall 3
Golden Plover 1
Goldeneye 2
Great Crested Grebe 19
Grey Heron 1
Lapwing 46
Little Egret 5
Little Grebe 31
Mallard 379
Mallard (domestic) 6
Moorhen 15 (under recorded)
Mute Swan 185
Pintail 156
Pochard 510
Pochard x Ferruginous Duck (hybrid) 1
Red-breasted Merganser 11
Redshank 3
Shelduck 7
Shoveler 14
Teal 600
Tufted Duck 210
Water Rail 2 (under recorded)
Wigeon 58
Black-headed Gull 30
Common Gull 20
Great Black-backed Gull 16
Herring Gull 93
Lesser Black-backed Gull 5
Mediterranean Gull 4

Good numbers of duck but apart from the scoter nothing unusual. Common Scoter is just about annual at The Swannery but I still await my first Velvet Scoter that was recorded with some frequency on what is now my patch before my tenure. I've had them on the sea off the tank traps but that doesn't count!
The Fleet looking west toward The Swannery from Bury Knapp.
The Common Scoter is out there somewhere!

The rest of the week was also fairly quiet... I had 14 unidentified grey geese fly north on Tuesday that I tried to make into something interesting but 14 Greylags dropped into Lodmoor RSPB later so mystery solved. The only consolation is that they may be genuine wild Scandinavian birds rather than feral birds. The first winter Scaup was still present off and on and is now clearly moulting into first winter male plumage. The 'Ferruchard' is also still present and is also clearly a first winter male so definitely different from my usual bird that hasn't turned up this year. The first Goldeneye arrived but the first mergansers of the winter haven't quite made it to The Swannery yet  albeit by a few metres! Around 30 Common Snipe were in the western reedbeds (although not seen on the count) and a Jack Snipe was being typically elusive. A  few Dunlin joined the Redshank and Lapwing and Steve Hales flushed the first Woodcock of the season from his withybed net ride. Around 10,000 Woodpigeons and fewer Stock Doves flew east on Tuesday but that was the only notable overhead passage. There were a few Fieldfare around though but still no Redwing and an elusive Lesser Redpoll was hanging around with a few Siskins.
The 1st w male Scaup with Tufted Duck.

A few of the 10,000 Woodpigeon.

A symptom of the mild weather... A Crab Apple in fruit and blossom in my garden with The Swannery beyond.
And finally... the Common Crane that was lingering at Langton and Rodden was last seen on Monday but unfortunately, despite keeping my eyes peeled even more than usual, to my knowledge it never made it to The Swannery, so my hope of two ticks in two weeks didn't come off. Also the fear of my first Swannery Crane being one of the uncountable released birds from the Somerset levels becomes ever more likely!

Sunday 13 November 2011

At Last A (Snow) Flurry Of Activity

There was a rather quiet end to the week but an excellent start!
I fed today and yesterday and had a round of the hides and withy-bed but found little of note. The best birds on Friday were a Marsh Harrier and a Merlin… both over while I was baiting the decoy pipes first thing. The nets are under repair at the moment so we are not actually operating the decoy as yet but by baiting it now we hope to start catching some duck for ringing fairly soon.

I was away in London on Wednesday and Thursday… staying with my brother Rob enabling me to see his play that he has co-written and is directing. It is called ‘The Unrest Cure’. A  P.G. Woodhouse inspired comedy set in Chickerell it is showing at The Pentameters Theatre, Hampstead until the 26 November… plug, plug! I did manage to get in a little birding at Rob’s local golf club in Finchley where the highlight for a country bumpkin like me, were several Ring-necked Parakeets. This species is actually on my Swannery list but as any in west Dorset are more likely direct escapes rather than naturalised this may be a bit stringy!
Another naturalised species on The Swannery list is Mandarin Duck and although initially my first few records were probably escapes, recent birds are perhaps far more likely to be birds from the now burgeoning North Dorset population.  I have come across many recently during swan rescue work and on estate land north of Dorchester so the two present on Monday may well have been legitimate.

Male Mandarin Duck on the Decoy Pond
 (it just happens to be standing in front of some anti-erosion mesh)

Female Mandarin Duck by the tank traps. At no point did I see the 'pair' together.
After saying in my last blog that there had as yet been no Redwings, Fieldfares or Bramblings I was informed that ringers Steve and Luke had seen a Brambling in the finch flock on the swan nest site last weekend. Also several Fieldfares were around this week with one flock of seven coming in off the beach. Other passerine highlights included a few Bearded Tits… heard but not seen as was last week’s still lingering Bullfinch.
A hint of wader passage around the full moon was probably not a coincidence… with a couple of Golden Plover, a Black-tailed Godwit and ten Dunlin joining the Lapwing, Snipe and Redshank already present.
There were still good numbers of dabbling duck but diving duck were still low in number, though the single Scaup and ‘Ferruchard’ were still present off and on and a few Brent Geese flew through. Last weeks Red-breasted Goose has been tracked down on the Exe where it is accompanying Canada Geese and it is in some quarters now being reported as of ‘unknown origin’.
Red Fox and Teal...

Red Fox and more Teal...

Red Fox and yet more Teal and Pintail...
And then there were none...
We're always telling school groups how the decoy used to be operated by a man using a red dog to lure the ducks in relying on there instinct to follow potential land predators knowing they can easily make their getaway when required!

I’m leaving the best to last however as there were three potential Swannery ticks in the offing for me this week. The first was a Common Crane that after being seen briefly at Radipole on Sunday was relocated on The Fleet at Langton Herring on Monday. Checking the Dorset Bird Clubs Sightings first thing Tuesday I also learned of a Snow Bunting on Abbotsbury Beach, also on the Monday, which was seen to fly into my recording area. I was rather gutted as I had been working in the area up to ten minutes before the sighting! Luckily I managed to pop over to the beach in my coffee break on Tuesday and there it was still present feeding on the path at the back of the beach and within my patch… rounding my patch list up to 260! I really should have got this species before but there have only been two Abbotsbury records during my tenure and it is unclear whether either was actually seen on the patch. With the bunting safely under my belt I could now turn my attention to the crane… but despite keeping an eye out all morning it didn’t appear. Late morning I heard that it was still well settled at Langton Hive so in my lunch hour I popped over to at least get it on my Fleet list. I arrived just in time to see it sailing off west and terrified I was going to miss it at The Swannery I hurried back but to no avail as it settled at Rodden Hive instead… within the Parish of Abbotsbury (despite several major rarities there being published as being at Langton Herring!) but still a couple of miles short of The Swannery. And as I write that is still where it is, so I’m still hoping that over the next few days I may pick it up on my patch. There has only been one previous Abbotsbury record and again before my tenure and I’m not sure whether it was within the patch. The third potential tick stalled just short of Abbotsbury at Langton Herring…literally as it was picked up exhausted… a Pallid Swift! Now wouldn’t that have been a good record for The Swannery?!
Snow Bunting Abbotsbury Beach

And another shot.

Sunday 6 November 2011

No Fireworks!

As The Swannery is now closed I don't have to work at weekends now until March, when we open again. We still feed the swans (and the Mallards, Pochards, Tufted Ducks, Coots and Moorhens!) over the weekends though and I volunteer to do the bulk of this as I like to have a look round anyway. I didn't find much today however or yesterday for that matter. The best day since my last blog was Friday 4th when there were seventeen Mediterranean Gulls (a good count for The Swannery still) and the first hint of Woodpigeon passage with twenty NW (early days yet I hope). Steve Hales our resident ringer (myself, Dave and Suz are only licensed to ring waterfowl) also popped in to try his luck and managed to catch the male Bullfinch that I saw earlier in the week although unfortunately a Firecrest managed to escape. The rest of the week was rather quiet... though there are still good numbers of Teal, Wigeon and Pintail, with a few Shoveler and Gadwall. Pochard and Tufted Duck numbers aren't very impressive as yet and there is still only the one Scaup and no Merganser or Goldeneye as yet. Apart from the pigeons there has been little overhead passage and no Brambling, Redwing or Fieldfare. There have been still a few Lapwing, Snipe and Redshank but no other waders. Lets hope that things pick up soon!

Male Bullfinch (and Steve's hand!)
Steve Hales has his own blog concentrating on the ringing side at The Swannery... and so has Luke who also rings at The Swannery and at another sight nearby...

Thursday 3 November 2011

'A Goose Loose Above The Sluice!'

Despite putting in a good effort today I found little of note. A Green Sandpiper was in the meadow again which is unusual for The Swannery as they are mainly an early autumn (that is to say June/July) visitor here with very few winter records. The meadow also held good numbers of Teal, Pintail and Wigeon, no doubt due to the very high water on the west Fleet caused by the SE winds and low pressure, despite the fact that the new moon was a week ago! Amongst moderate numbers of Pochard and Tufted Duck the 1st winter Scaup was still present, as was the 'Ferruchard'. All I could find in the withies though were a few Goldcrests, Chiffchaffs and a Blackcap (not the hoped for Pallas's Warbler!). There was still little overhead passage either but in the evening several Mediterranean Gulls were picked out in the gloom of the gull pre-roost gathering. Yesterday (Tuesday 1st November) I fared a little better with an immature male Marsh Harrier and almost as exciting a fine male Bullfinch. The former are far more regular here than they once were, while the latter are allways rather sporadic... a few records a year on average but a pair or two occasionally nest and when they don't here, they usually do somewhere else in Abbotsbury.
Male Wigeon with female Teal
Little Grebe... a common winter visitor to The Swannery.
 Monday (31st October) was the first day of our closed season...that is to say the first day of the autumn that we are closed to visitors. All the seasonal staff have now left (James, Charlotte and Charlie) leaving just me, Swanherd Dave and Suz plus a few contractors when required. One of the first jobs of 'winterization' is to lower all the water levels on the nest site and in the reedbeds. It was while I was extricating a rather stubborn 'hatch' (sluice) that I heard the shrill high pitched 'cackle' of a goose right over my head. I had been tipped off that the 1st winter Red-breasted Goose originally found at Stanpit (east Dorset) a couple of weeks ago, that then relocated to Ferrybridge (at the other end of The Fleet) on Sunday, had disappeared up the lagoon in the afternoon and therefore may well appear at The Swannery. Well it did, as looking up there was a first winter Red-breasted Goose. It dipped below some trees and appeared to land in the grounds but by the time I got out of the ditch and went to investigate there was no sign of it. I didn't see or hear which way it had gone and I never saw it again and at the time of blogging as far as I'm aware neither has anybody else. This is the third time I've had this attractive Russian breeding goose on my patch. The first was an obvious escape back in 2003 that not only summered but bore an avicultural type plastic ring. The second was in November 2006. This bird turned up at Ferrybridge with Russian Brent Geese but briefly visited The Swannery in the company of feral Mallards. Although this was accepted as a wild bird I'm afraid I'm always going to have my doubts having approached to within a few metres of it and due to the company it was keeping. Even the 2003 bird accompanied the Brent flock in late autumn and if it hadn't been for it's ring it too may have been claimed as wild. This lastest bird though could well be wild, as even though, like the 2006 bird, it left the company of it's Brent Goose cousins, unlike the last bird, more importantly it appeared to shun the company of our dodgy Mallards! 
The November 2006 adult Red-breasted Goose with Mallards (and Pochards behind).
I didn't work Sunday (30th October) or get a chance to have a look round. Colleague Charlie was working though (his last day of the season) and his highlights were a Curlew over and four Mediterranean Gulls in the meadow.
Mediterranean Gulls (3 1st winters right, adult left rear) with Black-headed Gulls and Wigeon (Charlie Wheeler)