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 December 2012

'Should Old Acquaintance Be Forgot...'

Swannery birding highlights of the week...

24th to 30th December 2012

The last full week of 2012 and yet another one of wet and windy weather. I wasn't working this week but popped down to feed a few times and have a quick look round but in the unfavourable conditions birding was not easy. So once again I have little to report other than that the three Long-tailed Ducks were still present early in the week and at least one at the end but they can be elusive so I wouldn't be surprised if all three are still around. In fact all the duck are unusually behaving rather elusively, concentrating in the area under the lee of the beach off Shipmoor Point, making picking anything out among them, at such distance, tricky, so the maximum count of four Scaup should probably have been higher. The four Barnacle Geese that flew east yesterday with the feral Canada Geese were presumably the four seen earlier in the month and possibly truly wild arctic birds, whilst the single feral Greylag Goose that arrived in early July still lingers. Around thirty Mediterranean Gulls were present daily and new in today were up to thirty Redshank with the Lapwing but in the blustery conditions and limited time (due to other commitments) that was the best I could do.
As once again this week the camera didn't even come out of its bag I thought I'd leave you in my last post of 2012 with...

The main Swannery birding highlights of the year...

The drake Wood Duck that lingered from the 18th March to the 3rd April...
A really good time of year for a vagrant American duck to appear. However, despite being one of the commonest ducks stateside they are also one of the commonest ducks in captivity and as it wasn't exactly wary (if that is even relevant) it will unfortunately have to go down as a probable escape.

With the exclusion of the Wood Duck there were no official rare wildfowl in 2012 but of note were the five Egyptian Geese in February...feral and increasing but still unusual in West Dorset. Four Garganey together in March (two drakes, two ducks). Two Common Scoter (a female from late July to late September and a juvenile from late October to late November), common off the beach but scarce on the West Fleet. A male Ruddy Duck for a few days in July (one of the few that has survived the eradication programme - I kept quiet about that one!) and finally of course the Long-tailed Ducks.

The adult Black-winged Stilt 12th to the 18th April. My first at The Swannery and the first official record since 1956! Soon to be followed by...

An immature Black-winged Stilt 24th to 27th May,
with yet another at nearby Lodmoor at the same time!
The only other wader of note was the Wood Sandpiper from the 4th to the 17th August but other noteworthy Charadiiformes were my third ever Swannery Iceland Gull in February and a Glaucous Gull in April.

The juvenile Cattle Egret 24th to 27th August (photo courtesy of Charlie Wheeler).
The only 'rare' heron in 2012, annual in recent years.

 Yellow-browed Warbler 25th October. Despite there being at least ten previous Swannery records this was the first to be ringed. This was the best 'land-bird' of 2012 at The Swannery but there were several near misses...
In May there was a Golden Oriole just to the west at the Sub-tropical Gardens and a Hoopoe and a Red-rumped Swallow just to the east near New Barn. The latter area also played host to an 'Eastern' Chiffchaff in October and a Lapland Bunting in November.

So 2012 is nearly at an end... two official rarities and one tick (the stilts)... not the best birding year but still some great birds not to be forgot! What will 2013 have to offer?

A Happy New Year to all my readers!

Sunday 23 December 2012

'Let It Rain, Let It Rain, Let It Rain'

Swannery birding highlights of the week...

17th to 23rd December 2012

Birding was hard work this week with me and my optics continually drenched or worst still, in the latter case, completely misted up, so I don't have an awful  lot to report. The three Long-tailed Ducks were still present however as were at least eight Scaup and all the usual commoner ducks were well represented too with, for instance, over six hundred Teal present. Larids too were numerous including Mediterranean Gulls which often equalled or even outnumbered Black-headed Gulls. The male Marsh Harrier continues its residence but there were no other raptors of note and no new passerines...

So that's about it for this post and as the camera didn't even come out of its case this week I'll leave you with a couple of pics from the archive...

The Swannery in December 2010...what a contrast!
We were virtually snowed in at The Grove for two weeks and could only get up to the village by 4x4.
Forward to 2012 and this week once again we needed a 4x4 to reach the village but this time due to floods!

A (European) Robin in the withybed.
Seasonal greetings to you all!

Sunday 16 December 2012

'Branta Clause!'

Well I'm still posting even though it's frequently causing me to tear my hair out (what little I have left). Amazingly I didn't have any trouble uploading the few poor pics I'd taken this week but frustratingly I was unable to initially increase their size once they were uploaded. Usually you have the option of small, large or largest and I normally go for large (as largest goes into the margins) but this week it wouldn't give me the option until just by chance I cut and pasted them in again and it then worked, albeit briefly! Whats that all about? Anyway here are the latest..

Swannery birding highlights of the week...

10th to 16th December 2012


It was December WeBs (Wetland Bird Survey) Count day today and the results for The Swannery and the adjacent Abbotsbury stretch of The Fleet (reproduced below) pretty much sum up the numbers and variety of the waterbirds seen this week, The only other waterbirds to add to the tally were the four Barnacle Geese that flew east on Wednesday...

No not Santa and his reindeer but Branta and rainclouds!
You'll have to take my word for it that these are Barnacle Geese but quite an evocative pic nevertheless I feel...

...and the same shot again but more heavily cropped.
My gut feeling is that these Branta geese were truly wild birds, along with the two seen last week and also the flock of fifty plus seen recently at nearby West Bexington...but I doubt we'll ever know for sure.

The results of today's WeBS were...

Mute Swan 515
Black Swan 2
Greylag Goose 1
Canada Goose 72
Shelduck 35
Wigeon 60
Gadwall 27
Teal 360
Mallard 426
Mallard (domestic) 7
Pintail 11
Shoveler 29 (120+ in the week)
Pochard 690
Tufted Duck 313
Scaup 7 (9 in the week)
Long-tailed Duck 2 (3 still in the week)
Goldeneye 10
Red-breasted Merganser 30
Little Grebe 8
Great Crested Grebe 10
Cormorant 5
Little Egret 4
Grey Heron 2
Moorhen 10
Coot 1,000
Lapwing 300
Dunlin 1
Snipe 17
Redshank 4
Turnstone 2 (new in)
Kingfisher 1
Black-headed Gull 81
Mediterranean Gull 23
Common Gull 83
Herring Gull 7
Great Black-backed Gull 4

Thanks as always to Alan, Ian and Mike for their help.
This week's raptors included the regular male Marsh Harrier which was again joined today by an apparent adult female and also of note was a Merlin that dashed through on Wednesday.
Passerines highlights were several Redwings, a few Jays still, the two Nuthatches, only one or two Chiffchaffs, a flyover Yellowhammer, a brief Lesser Redpoll among several Siskins, at least one Bullfinch and best of all, among a small flock of Goldcrests, a Firecrest (presumably last weeks bird).

One of the (Eurasian) Nuthatches (with a Blue Tit) on my Grove Lane feeders. One of two birds present, they were seen to display this week at the entrance to a tree cavity in the same tree that the last breeding birds occupied a few years back, so fingers crossed for the spring!

Sunday 9 December 2012

'And Then There Were Three...'

It appears I'm not alone in having problems uploading photos on Blogger and now Google are apparently trying to resolve the problem (thanks Nick and Brett for your technical support!). Having had few photo opportunities this week I only had two photos to upload on this post anyway and they uploaded fine (having already taken the precautionary measure of re-sizing them). I then went to add another pic of the Barnacle Geese though to last week's post with no joy, so the problem has still not been rectified as yet! Anyway for the time being I shall continue to persevere, so here is this week's...

Swannery birding highlights of the week...

3rd to 9th December 2012

The two probably wild Barnacle Geese lingered until Tuesday (and are now apparently in Poole Harbour) while a Pale-bellied Brent Goose dropped in briefly on Monday before flying off east. There is still a nice selection of commoner ducks and worthy of note among them were nine Scaup, a single 'Redhead' Goosander and now three Long-tailed Ducks (all female/first winter types) but the latter have often been out of sight just to the east of The Swannery embayment and always too distant for a photo..
As nothing of note was very cooperative when it came to photography
I had to make do with some more obliging subjects...

Bottoms up! Mallards are only too willing to muscle in on the swan feeds.

Common Pochard & Tufted Duck await their turn!
 The regular male Marsh Harrier was seen virtually daily but there were no other harriers or any other raptors of note for that matter. Waders too were poorly represented with just Lapwing, Redshank and Snipe seen and there were no surprises on the gull front either. To passerines now and there are still a few more Jays around than would normally be expected and a couple of Nuthatches still too. Several more Siskins were around this week but no Redpolls and the single Bullfinch remained. A few more thrushes were apparent including a few Redwings and the first Fieldfare of the season. Bearded Tits were heard from deep within the reeds but not seen as were several Cetti's Warblers. Only one or two Chiffchaffs remain however and Goldcrest numbers have dropped off but passerine highlight of the week was a Firecrest spotted appropriately as I tended the bombfire!

 Well with temperatures predicted to plummet next week there might be be a slight cold weather movement, maybe some wild grey geese or a Smew but in the meantime I'm still holding out for a Waxwing!

Sunday 2 December 2012

'Good Things Come In Twos'

Well I'm still persevering. I did manage to add a couple of pics to last weeks blog and this week I have managed to upload three with a struggle but no more, so here for one more week at least are the...

Swannery birding highlights of the week...

26th November to  2nd December 2012

The main highlight was the appearance of one then two Long-tailed Ducks (following on from the two sightings earlier in November). The first arrived on Wednesday and was joined by another on Thursday and Friday with at least one still present today. They favoured the area off Shipmoor Point so were rather distant but, due to the persistent attentions of a Peregrine, on one occasion one just came within range for a half decent photo... 
One of the Long-tailed Ducks (both of which are 1st winter/female types).
Other ducks of note were the lingering (first winter) Common Scoter to Wednesday at least, when two ('Redhead') Goosanders also flew west and the Scaup peaked at eight. Virtually all the commoner species were also represented with good numbers of Mallard, Teal, Pochard and Tufted Duck, while there were also several Wigeon, Pintail and Shoveler along with a few Gadwall, Goldeneye and Red-breasted Merganser.
 On Friday two distant geese eventually gave themselves up as Barnacle Geese when they joined the 'feral' Canada Goose flock (that also still holds the regular Greylag). It would be easy to assume that they too are 'feral' (part of the naturalised introduced population) but they were wary and they may well be the vanguard of the now regular wintering flock that have commuted between The Swannery and nearby Rodden Hive over the last few winters. 

The two Barnacle Geese in the meadow with Canada Geese...

  and on the Fleet shoreline.
 There were two Harriers this week... the  male Marsh Harrier is still regular and on Friday a ('Ringtail') Hen Harrier also hunted over the meadows and reedbeds. On that same busy bird day, to add to the tally, volunteer Dave C. found a Black-necked Grebe but unfortunately I failed to connect with it, despite checking through the several Great Crested and Little Grebes present.
The hundred or so strong Lapwing flock held, over the course of the week, a Black-tailed Godwit, a couple of Dunlin and a peak of seven Redshank, whilst a Curlew flew west and at least thirty Snipe were present. There were a few gulls around, particularly early in the week and a count of forty plus Mediterranean Gulls was still impressive this far up The Fleet despite their continued increase.
A few Redpolls were the passerine highlight, even outnumbering Siskins, mostly 'flyovers' but two did linger briefly in the Alders enabling their confirmation as being Lessers. A Bullfinch was the first for a few weeks but still no Hawfinch! Yes the latter would be most welcome (with some still on the move in East Dorset) but with a few Waxwings now reaching West Dorset perhaps that would be a more likely tick... There are virtually no berries around though to draw them in so I'll just have to check out every flyover 'Starling' just in case, although that too will probably prove to be fruitless (see what I did there)!

Wednesday 28 November 2012

'Blowvember 2'

Well I seem to have partly solved the problem I was having uploading photos by re-sizing them before uploading them (even though this is supposed to happen automatically). Unfortunately though it's not working perfectly as it only let me upload two photos. However I now think for the meantime at least I shall persevere with the blog rather than terminating it and starting another elsewhere. So here is last week's post updated with photos...

Swannery birding highlights of the week...


19th to 25th November 2012

There was really only one day this week when it wasn't either blowing a gale or pouring with rain or more often than not both! This made birding very difficult, not just because it was virtually impossible to keep optics dry (and find somewhere sheltered to scan the lagoon) but because all the waterfowl were sheltering over the far side of the embayment under Chester's Hill or even worse round the corner beyond Shipmoor Point. This made picking out anything unusual extremely tricky.
Although rather distant, the numbers and variety of ducks present were pretty much as last week (see my last post), but hopes of rediscovering the Long-tailed Duck came to nothing. There were however still at least seven Scaup most days and the first winter Common Scoter reappeared but the highlight was a Goosander (a first winter/female). A single 'Dark-bellied' Brent was the only 'wild' goose among around a hundred 'feral' Canadas and the regular Greylag.
Just a few of the several hundred Common Coot on The West Fleet.
Despite the stormy conditions there were no real hoped for seabirds blown in, the only gulls of note being an adult Yellow-legged Gull and increasing numbers of 'Meds' often more abundant now than Commons and Black-headed Gulls.
Waders comprised of about a hundred Lapwing, several Snipe and a few Redshank and Dunlin, while the only raptor of note was again the regular male Marsh Harrier.

Common Snipe in the meadow.

The withybeds were full of calling Goldcrests along with several Chiffchaffs but in the unfavourable conditions they stayed deep in cover and trying to find anything more unusual was again a thankless task.

Well I'll try and blog next Sunday or I may just throw my laptap across the this space!

Monday 26 November 2012


Sorry to be a bit late with this weeks post but I'm experiencing problems with my hosts as they won't let me upload any photos! They keep saying and I quote....
'Whoops! You're out of space. You are currently using 100% of your 1 GB quota for photos.'
When this appears I usually leave it for a few hours and it it's fine but now it appears to be fatal.
When I follow the 'helpful' links I find this...
'If you've signed up for Google+' (which I have!) 'Photos up to 2048 x 2048 pixels and videos up to 15 minutes won't count towards your free storage. All photos uploaded in Google+ will be automatically resized to 2048 pixels (on their longest edge) and won't count towards your free storage quota. When you reach your storage limit, any new photos you upload larger than the free size limit will be automatically resized to 2048 pixels (on their longest edge).'

So how could I have possibly used up my free quota! There does however appear nothing I can do about it and as I do not want to carry on blogging without photos this will I'm afraid be my penultimate post on this blog. I do intend to start another near identical blog on Birdforum however but I need to post at least ten posts on the forums there before I can start a blog with them. As I have only recently joined Birdforum I have not yet posted the required number of posts but I shall endeavour to remedy this and start another blog asap. As soon as the new blog is up and running I will publish my last post here with a link to my new blog. Apologies for the inconvenience but I have had this forced upon me. I hope you will join me soon as regular readers on my Birdforum blog.
In the meantime here, without photos, is the last, (for the meantime)...

Swannery birding highlights of the week...

19th to 25th November 2012

 There was really only one day this week when it wasn't either blowing a gale or pouring with rain or more often than not both! This made birding very difficult, not just because it was virtually impossible to keep  optics dry (and find somewhere sheltered to scan the lagoon) but because all the waterfowl were sheltering over the far side of the embayment under Chester's Hill or even worse round the corner beyond Shipmoor Point. This made picking out anything unusual extremely tricky.
Although rather distant, the numbers and variety of ducks present were pretty much as last week (see my last post), but hopes of rediscovering the Long-tailed Duck came to nothing. There were however still at least seven Scaup most days and the first winter Common Scoter reappeared but the highlight was a Goosander (a first winter/female). A single  'Dark-bellied' Brent was the only 'wild' goose among around a hundred 'feral' Canadas and the regular Greylag.
 Despite the stormy conditions there were no real hoped for seabirds blown in, the only gulls of note being an adult Yellow-legged Gull and increasing numbers of 'Meds' often more abundant now than Commons and Black-headed Gulls.
Waders comprised of about a hundred Lapwing, several Snipe and a few Redshank and Dunlin, while the only raptor of note was again the regular male Marsh Harrier.

 The withybeds were full of calling Goldcrests along with several Chiffchaffs but in the unfavourable conditions they stayed deep in cover and trying to find anything more unusual was again a thankless task... As is trying to upload photos on this blog... And so, for now at least, that's all folks but I hope to be blogging again soon (with photos!)...
Best wishes,

Sunday 18 November 2012

'Settling An Old Score With An Old Squaw'

Swannery birding highlights of the week...

12th to 18th November 2012

I've had this week off work and as I was busy spending some quality time with Suz (who, she would like me to point out, is not the old squaw of the title!), I only got down to The Swannery for a few hours on Thursday, Saturday and today for the WeBS count...
Looking across The Swannery Meadows to Chesters Hill yesterday.

There was a good selection of wildfowl on all three of my visits and in the calm conditions today the embayment was covered in birds. The highlight was a  first winter/female Long-tailed Duck... This species (once known in America as the 'Oldsquaw' due to it's call and long tail feathers) was once an annual visitor to the lagoon but today's was my first sighting  for a few years (having missed out on Luke's bird a week or two back). Another good sighting was a female Mandarin Duck and like the 'Long-tail' it flew in and settled out on The Fleet (both too far out for decent photos) between 09.00 and 10.00 this morning at the start of the count but neither could be found later. The count results (with thanks to Alan, Ian and Mike) were:

Mute Swan 296    
Black Swan 3
Greylag Goose 1    
Canada Goose 8    

Shelduck 17    
Mandarin Duck 1    

Wigeon 480    
Gadwall 2    

Teal 300    
Mallard 370    

Mallard (domestic) 6   
Pintail 105    
Shoveler 50    

Pochard 490    
Tufted Duck 263    

Scaup 7 (9 on Saturday)    
Long-tailed Duck 1

Goldeneye 3 (the regular male + 2 females)    
Red-breasted Merganser 7    

Little Grebe 28    
Great Crested Grebe 14    

Cormorant 6    
Little Egret 4    

Grey Heron 1    
Moorhen 14    

Coot 965    
Lapwing 11    

Snipe 5    
Kingfisher 2    

Black-headed Gull 70    
Mediterranean Gull 2  (30+ Thursday & Saturday)

Common Gull 6    

Herring Gull 2    
Great Black-backed Gull 5    

Looking east from The Viewing Platform today across to the three copses of Tiny, Chesters and Cuckoo.
As I have hardly been birding this week I haven't got much to add to the above tally but the first winter Common Scoter was still present to Thursday at least, as were a couple of Redshanks and three Dunlins were present on Saturday. The only raptors were the usual Buzzards, Kestrels and a Sparrowhawk or two, not even any Marsh Harriers and as for passerines there is not much to report save for the continual 'pinging' of a few Bearded Tits (heard but not seen), good numbers of Goldcrests, Chiffchaffs and a few Siskins in the withy beds, Stonechats in the hedgerows and scrub and a couple of Nuthatches and Jays are still visiting my bird feeders at adjacent Grove Lane.
From The Viewing Platform across to Shipmoor Point today (there are duck out there honest!).
 I'm back to work tomorrow so normal service should resume (maybe even some photos of some decent birds)!


Sunday 11 November 2012

'Too Late To Rise?'

Swannery birding highlights of the week...

5th to 11th November 2012

It would appear that the best of the visible migration this week was to be seen in the first couple of hours after dawn and being a lazy git and not arriving on the patch until just before work I missed most of it. Not long after first light ringers Steve and Luke had good numbers of Bramblings, Lesser Redpolls, Redwings and Fieldfares go over (amongst hundreds of the commoner stuff) but later all I could manage was a couple of each of the first three and I have yet to see any of the latter this season. On Wednesday at nearby Cloudshill, Luke even had a Lapland Bunting but it flew off east rather than west toward The Swannery, so some compensation there. He also had a Long-tailed Duck however, that did initially fly west and probably did briefly reach my patch but it was later seen to fly out to sea. That didn't stop me looking of course but all I could find among the commoner ducks was the usual... the Common Scoter, the two Goldeneye and a peak of seven Scaup. Earlier in the week though I did a double take when I found this...

A presumed male Red-crested Pochard x Tufted Duck, although the pic does not show the true vividness of it's deep-pinky crest. The pic below however is a little better but still does not show how really stunning this bird's Woody Woodpecker crest was in real life. Despite initially looking like a Tufted Duck with a pink crest there are further clues to it's Red-crested Pochard parentage in the rest of it's plummage too...

To raptors now and at last I have something to report other than the regular male Marsh on Monday it was briefly joined by an adult female, whilst a 'Ringtail' Hen Harrier and a Red Kite also flew over. This raptor activity flushed a dozen or so Common Snipe out of the reedbeds...

Common Snipe at 'Bum Point' this week.
Also jittery was the Lapwing flock that reached 120 and briefly also held a couple of Golden Plover, whilst the only other waders seen were three Dunlin and a Curlew.

Goldfinch by The Decoy Pond. Just one of eight finch species seen this week but my main target...
The Hawfinch... still eludes me.
Back to passerines a Bullfinch was new in, as was a Mistle Thrush, whereas earlier autumn arrivals... two or three Nuthatches and a few Jays linger as did three late Swallows which were seen on a number of occasions (but I'm not sure if they were the same three each time) and Bearded Tits were heard but not seen.

'Half a tick'...

On Thursday while out checking the beach for Snow Buntings (to no avail) I noticed an odd crow. It looked just like a Hooded Crow except that the grey in it's plumage was very dark. Before I had time to see it well however it flew over on to the seaward side and I lost it to view. I made my way over but it was really wary and would not allow a close approach. Also I didn't have my scope but I did have my camera and the shot below is the best I could do...

A presumed Hooded Crow x Carrion Crow or at least a 'Carrion Crow' with some Hoodie genes...
You can just make out some grey on it's back, lower neck and upper flank. It was more obvious on my initial view before I could get the camera out but having pursued it to what felt like halfway to Portland on the shingle to try and get closer I got to the point where I just had to give up and slog all the way back. I saw what was almost certainly it again briefly on Friday on top of the beach opposite The Swannery but once again it dropped down the on the seaward side and out of view. Hopefully it will remain with the small regular wintering beach combing crow flock and I'll get a chance to study it closer...may be one day I'll even get a pure Hoodie!

My favourite view at The Swannery... From Reeds End looking straight down The Fleet.

Monday 5 November 2012

'Time To Hibernate?'

Swannery birding highlights of the week...

29th October to 4th November 2012

Strong winds and squally showers made birding hard work for much of the week...
A typical view from Helen Hide this week across The Swannery embayment.

But at least it was nice weather for ducks, with still around four hundred Teal and up to fifty each of Wigeon, Pintail and Shoveler commuting between The Fleet and the water meadow, whilst the six hundred strong Pochard and Tufted Duck flock in the embayment also still contained up to nine Scaup, the Common Scoter, the male Goldeneye, a single Red-breasted Merganser and for a couple of days a 'Redhead' Goosander.

The 'Redhead' (imm. male/female) Goosander (or Common Merganser if you prefer...which I don't!). This pic was taken by workmate Charlie Wheeler on my day off on Tuesday but it did linger until Wednesday so I did get to see it.

My prediction of a wild grey goose almost came true with a brief Pink-footed Goose at the other end of The Fleet at Ferrybridge. Hopes that it would show up at The Swannery however were unfulfilled. The only wild geese were Brent with Charlie having two single 'Dark-bellieds' fly east on Tuesday and I had another that settled briefly on Thursday...
The Dark-bellied Brent Goose (or Brant if you prefer) with one of the Canada Goose flock and Common Pochards
Eighty Lapwing, a single Curlew, two or three Redshank and a few Snipe were the only waders of the week, whilst the only raptor of note was again the male Marsh Harrier.

Hopes that the stormy conditions would bring in a few seabirds came to nothing save for a couple of Yellow-legged Gulls (a second and a third winter) that were discovered in the gull flock sheltering in the lee of the Chesil Bank, whilst Mediterranean Gulls are so regular now that, save for large numbers, I have almost stopped noting them.

There is very little to report as regards to passerines and 'near-passerines' due mostly to the poor viewing conditions and an almost total lack of visible migration. The only summer migrants still lingering were House Martins with a peak of fifteen today and Swallows with a peak of twenty today (thanks Steve), although Chiffchaffs are still much in evidence, whilst the only 'true' winter visitors were only heard... a few nocturnal seeps from overhead Redwings and a nasal te-ehp from a Brambling I heard through the open door while writing this!
Today marks the closure of The Swannery to visitors until the spring and it's now time for us to go into winter mode... but that does not quite mean going into a torpid state, no far from it, we now have to catch up on all those maintenance jobs and prepare The Swannery for yet another coming year and I should also have a bit of time to get some excellent winter birding in too of course!
A Hazel Dormouse discovered by a local licensed expert in one of our Dormouse tubes this week.
She is a little underweight for hibernation but hopefully she will be able to put a bit more on before the cold really sets in. (Pic courtesy of Charlie Wheeler)

Sunday 28 October 2012

'Falling Into Place'

Swannery birding highlights of the week...

22nd to 28th October 2012

Yes indeed things seemed to be coming together quite nicely this week...

First up my prediction in my last post of a scarce Siberian migrant dropping in - actually came to pass - albeit 'only' a Yellow-browed Warbler, rather than the hoped for Pallas's Leaf Warbler. I discovered it on my day off on Thursday, having popped down for a quick birding session early in the afternoon. It was feeding in sycamores with Goldcrests and Chiffchaffs. Not revealing itself by calling it just happened to flit into my field of view and later it just happened to flit into ringer Steve Hales' mist net too...
The Yellow-browed Warbler found then later trapped, ringed and released at The Swannery.
Last week I also expressed my hope that the Scaup flock would continue to increase, which it did, from last weeks five to a peak of nine by the week's end - already twice as many as the whole of last winter! And as predicted the first two Red-breasted Mergansers and a fresh-in Goldeneye had also appeared by the end of the week.
The 1st winter Goldeneye - the first of the winter - apart from...
The 'resident' male Goldeneye (taken in poor light) with it's preferred company a Tufted Duck...
It totally ignored the new comer.
Last time I also posed the question 'where are all the Redshanks?' Well they're back... The first was actually a Spotted Redshank not the expected Common. I picked it up calling high overhead with Snipe and it may well have been flushed inadvertently by my colleagues during the morning feed but unfortunately it headed off inland. 'Spotshanks' are quite scarce at The Swannery and actually on The Fleet as a whole, despite being regular in nearby Poole Harbour. Later that same day (Friday) I  came across a Common Redshank too, the first for weeks and by Sunday eleven were present. A brief Avocet and small numbers of Lapwing and Snipe were the only other settled waders noted but like the 'Spotshank', three Green Sandpipers, four Curlews and a Golden Plover were all flyovers.
Seven of the eleven Common Redshanks present today.

Back to wildfowl and along with the aforementioned all the usual commoner species were well represented with the highlight being another Common Scoter - the third this year after a blank year in 2011. With a drop in the temperature this week and a northerly airflow there was the distinct possibility of some early wild grey geese but the only wild geese I managed were a party of eight Dark-bellied Brent flying east today. The feral flock is still comprised of the Greylag, up to around thirty Canadas and two hybrids while similarly no early Whoopers joined the dwindling Mute Swans (now dispersing down The Fleet), just the usual three feral Blacks.

Today's Common Scoter - presumably an immature although on the views obtained it just could be an adult female and therefore even might be the returning over-summering bird but it just felt 'new' to me.

Apart from the usual male Marsh Harrier the only raptor of any note was a rather late Hobby harassing the equal tardy Swallows and House Martins. Discounting Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps the only other lingering summer visitor was a single Reed Warbler. True winter arrivals however included several Redwings and a Brambling whilst dispersing birds from near or far included up to eight Bearded Tits, at least two Firecrests, a Crossbill, several Rock Pipits, Siskins and still plenty of Jays. Robins seemed to be everywhere earlier in the week and fresh in Blackbirds and Song Thrushes were almost as obvious. Overhead passage was not that impressive with small numbers of Skylarks, Starlings and Woodpigeons early in the week although on Saturday the latter two species were plentiful with around 10,000 of the latter and 5,000 of the former passing over.
(Eurasian) Teals, (Eurasian) Wigeons, (Northern) Pintails, Black-headed & Mediterranean Gulls
by The Fleet Pipe this week.
 Well to next week... I'm still holding out for a rare 'Sibe' but a wild grey goose or swan would still be good and after three Common Scoters so far this year how about my first Swannery Velvet Scoter... well a boy can hope can't he?

Sunday 21 October 2012

'A Gawp At The Scaup'

Swannery birding highlights of the week...

15th to 21st October 2012

1st winter female  (Greater) Scaup on the Decoy Pond

The week began with the first Scaup of the season - two first winter females - and they were joined at the end of the week by three more - a first winter male, an adult male (still in moult) and an adult female. As five was the maximum count for the whole of last winter lets hope that the number continues to increase. Most British wintering Scaup originate from Iceland but a few no doubt hail from northern Scandinavia too. On The Fleet they appear to mostly feed on cockles which they swallow whole, their gizzards easily dealing with the shells which they pass out as grit through their digestive system. Scaup weren't the only duck to arrive this week with most of the more common duck now well represented and well settled so it was good to be able to check through them thoroughly for something more exciting but (apart from the Scaup) to no yet! Mergansers or Goldeneyes have not reached this end of the lagoon so far this autumn (apart from the over-summering bird of the latter species) but that should be rectified over the next couple of weeks but unfortunately gone are the days when I would expect a Long-tailed Duck by the end of October.

Above three more photos of the first two 1st winter (Greater) Scaups of the season (with Tufted Ducks),

If the first Scaups were the headline birds of the week then a third winter Yellow-legged Gull, that lingered for a few days, was close behind. The only other gulls of any note were Mediterraneans with singles seen most days but a flock of ten plus was seen mid-week. Waders were very poorly represented with just a few Lapwings and Snipes daily and brief single Oystercatcher and Turnstone. Where are all the Redshanks?

(Ruddy) Turnstone on The bund this morning courtest of Charlie Wheeler.

Immature (Great) Cormorant from Helen Hide today.
 It would appear from the shape of the bare skin on the gular patch that this is a bird of the continental race sinensis

Little Grebe from The Fleet Pipe hide today.
This species along with the ever present Great Crested Grebe are the only grebes seen so far this autumn.

After last week's good show of raptors it was left solely this week to the resident male Marsh Harrier to warrant an entry in the notebook. In fact land-bird passage was much less obvious this week than last with strong westerlies for much of the week suppressing any obvious movement. The Jay passage fizzled out but there are still many in the area searching for an alternative food source to acorns which have largely failed to materialise this year. The only real overhead passage noted were Swallows but even these had tailed right off by the week's end and the withy-beds and hedgerows held nothing more migrant wise than Chiffchaffs, Blackcaps and Goldcrests, while save for a few Meadow Pipits the meadows were empty. Three Rock Pipits on The Bund though were the most seen together so far this autumn.

Male (European) Stonechat by the Meadow Hide path today.
This species is now much in evidence having been scarce during the breeding season this year.
No (Northern) Wheatears or Whinchats were seen this week.
So here goes...having given it a miss last week I'll have another stab this week...
With easterly winds forecast for much of the coming week a traditional late autumn Siberian migrant might be on the cards. Without going too far out on a limb a Pallas's Leaf Warbler would be much appreciated... not only a Swannery tick but a first for The Fleet recording area no less! Fingers crossed!

Sunday 14 October 2012

More Firsts Of The Fall (And A Disappointing Call)

Swannery birding highlights of the week...

8th to14th October 2012

Today was definitely the most productive of the week, as on arrival at work my first Merlin of the autumn flew over (while later in the day it was on adjacent Chesters Hill) and I also heard my first Redpolls and Bramblings of the season (although I failed to get on to them). After feeding the swans and greeting fellow counters Alan and his brother Graham I then set off to do my section of the Wetland Bird Survey, just to the east of The Swannery (Shipmoor Point to Rodden Hive Point), leaving them to cover The Swannery. I drove down the private track a mile or so to the east  which runs through a little gully - like a mini Winspit Valley - although I have never found anything good here other than the usual commoner migrants. That was about to change however, as setting off on foot towards Seventeen Acre Point I noticed a pale Chiffchaff in the scrub by the stream. It was obviously an eastern type but it slowly began to dawn on me that it surely had to be of the subspecies tritis 'Siberian Chiffchaff' as it showed all the relevant features... no green on its head or mantle (just some in its wings and tail), no yellow whatsoever - either in its obvious supercilium, its underparts or even on its under-tail coverts (but I have to admit I didn't see its under-wing coverts). It also showed a subtle wing-bar (more obvious at times) and black legs and feet (with the only brown restricted to its 'soles'). Even with all these features however, to get a tristis accepted you must hear the diagnostic call... a sad 'peep'. Now this is where things went wrong... the bird was quite vocal but it was not the call that got me onto it (usually I hear a tristis and know what it is before I see it) but it wasn't calling like a Common Chiffchaff either... in fact very similar to a bird I had in autumn 2010... more of a 'heep'. Unfortunately the light and the restlessness of the bird prohibited photography but I now wish I'd tried to video it, as at least then I would have recorded the call, if not the bird! On completing my count and returning to the same spot there was no sign of it and it was also looked for later in the day but to no avail. After listening to recordings of tristis and reacquainting myself with their call I now have to put this bird down to being just an 'Eastern type Chiffchaff' after all, despite initially 'putting the news out' that it was a 'Siberian Chiffchaff' (in an area with no general access), Doh!
The view from Higher Barn, Abbotsbury today across The Fleet and Lyme Bay to Lyme Regis.
Other grounded nocturnal migrants at The Swannery this week included a Wheatear, two Whinchats, at least one Reed Warbler, numerous Common Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps while there was a noticeable increase in Blackbird, Song Thrush and Stonechat numbers. Diurnal overhead migrants included several hundred Swallows and House Martins, along with at least one late Sand Martin; several Pied, a few Grey and one late Yellow Wagtail; numerous Meadow and a few Rock Pipits; a moderate passage of Skylarks, Starlings, Woodpigeons and Jackdaws, while Jays were still passing through, albeit in smaller numbers than last week.

The resident male Marsh Harrier was again joined by an immature/female for a couple of days and two or three Hobbies were around too.
Another view from Higher Barn today, this time northwest to St. Catherine's Chapel and Abbotsbury hill beyond.
Wildfowl numbers have still in the main been increasing as today's Abbotsbury Wetland Bird Survey totals show...

Mute Swan - 350
[Black Swan] - 3
Greylag Goose - 1
Canada Goose - 200
Shelduck - 4
Wigeon - 8
Gadwall- 10
Teal - 350
Mallard - 350
Mallard (domestic) - 6
Pintail - 1
Shoveler - 25
Pochard - 225
Tufted Duck - 350
Common Scoter - 1
Goldeneye - 1

The Goldeneye and the Pintail were the over-summering birds but there had been up to thirty Pintail in the week and Gadwall had earlier peaked at fifty. The Common Scoter was not the female that over-summered but an adult male that unfortunately didn't linger. .
Not content with thinking it's a Mallard the resident Pintail now seems to think it's a Wood Duck!
Other waterbirds noted on the count were...

Cormorant - 10
Little Grebe - 20
Great Crested Grebe - 25
Little Egret - 3
Grey Heron - 4
Water Rail - 3
Moorhen - 15
Coot - 425

The only waders on the count were two Black-tailed Godwits but a few other waders were seen in the week...single Ringed Plover, Knot and Bar-tailed Godwit, up to ten Dunlin and Snipe most days and fourteen Lapwing.
Gulls too were a little thin on the ground on count day...

Black-headed Gull - 370
Common Gull - 1
Herring Gull - 3

But in the week there were at least ten Mediterranean Gulls around on a couple of days along with good numbers of the larger commoner species, also now several Common Gulls and one or two juvenile/first winter Common Terns were also seen in the week.
Juv/1st winter Common tern on the roundup fence this week.
Now as none of my predictions ever seem to come true I'm not going to bother proffering one up this week... we'll just have to see if that tactic works!