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, 29 April 2012

A Bit Of A Damp Squib...

Monday 23rd to Sunday 29th April 2012...

As I mentioned in my last post, I was off work ill on Monday and so didn't get out at all. Although I returned to work the following day I was a little off sorts for most of the week and wasn't at my birding best... at least that's the excuse I'm using for not seeing most of the headliners that workmate Charlie managed to see! His highlights being...three Little Gulls (two adults and a first year), two Arctic Skuas and an Osprey. I did manage to connect with the two adult Little Gulls (which may have been last week's birds) but failed to see the skuas or Osprey.

Osprey north - Friday 27th (Charlie Wheeler). Thanks for the pic Charlie.

I did manage a few other bits and bobs despite my health and the appalling weather...the pair of Marsh Harriers were still around at the beginning of the week but  there was only a single further sighting of the male after the torrential rain and high tides mid-week and any nesting attempt may have sadly come to nothing. Despite the high water levels a few waders were around, mostly small groups of Whimbrels and Bar-tailed Godwits but also three Common Sandpipers, two Knots and a single Dunlin went into the log. Lingering winter wildfowl included single drakes of Scaup (the first year), Goldeneye (last Sunday's bird), Wigeon and Shoveler, along with a pair of Gadwall and a few Teal still. The first Swifts of the year arrived keeping company with a few more Swallows and House and Sand Martins, whilst Reed, Sedge and Willow Warblers were still moving through. As Sandwich Tern numbers continued to dwindle Common Terns reached twenty plus and at least one Arctic Tern was picked out in the horrific conditions in the Swannery embayment today.

Tawny Owl -
Up in their penthouse lets hope their breeding will be more successful than the ground nesting Marsh Harriers!

With the rain continuing to lash against the window as I write this post, as it has all day, lets hope the weather gives us (and the poor recently arrived and near moribund Swallows - finding any shelter they could today) a bit of a break tomorrow!

Bluebells in Chapel Withybed -
Hopefully a sign of more favourable spring-like weather to come!

Monday, 23 April 2012

April Showers Update

Just a quick update on yesterday's post... I wasn't working over the weekend but had a good look round The Swannery on Saturday (hence the Little Gulls' sighting) but didn't get down there at all yesterday. Workmate Charlie however, did have a look round but didn't see much of note. What he did see though was this...

A 1st year male Common Goldeneye (with male Tufted Duck) on The Decoy Pond (Charlie Wheeler)...
A late date and odd location for this species at The Swannery.
Charlie also sent me his far superior flight shot of  last Thursday's Glaucous Gull...

1st year Glaucous Gull from Helen Hide (Charlie Wheeler).
 I won't be birding today either as I'm a bit dodgy on the health front but hopefully I'll soon be fighting fit and have plenty to report by my next post!

Sunday, 22 April 2012

April Showers, Showers & More Showers

With the unsettled weather no doubt delaying its' departure, the Black-winged Stilt was last seen on Wednesday 18th back in the meadow, although in the beginning of the week it preferred the shoreline of The Fleet, showing really well down to a few metres at times...

Above two shots - Black-winged Stilt with Mute Swans.

The Black-winged Stilt (This shot courtesy of workmate Charlie Wheeler)

The Black-winged Stilt from Fleet Pipe Hide.

Despite the unsettled weather a few other waders were on the move with the lingering Green Sandpiper last seen on Monday 16th, while single Common Sandpiper, Knot and Culew all dropped in briefly, and several Whimbrels headed north.

Gulls and terns were also trickling through with a few more Common Terns arriving just as Sandwich Tern numbers were dropping off, whilst an Arctic Tern lingered briefly on Friday 20th in company with two adult Little Gulls... 

The Arctic Tern

The two adult Little Gulls.
The Little Gulls reappeared again the following day (Saturday 21st) when I took the above appalling record shot, which fails to capture the beautiful pink wash to their underparts.

The highlight Larid of the week though was a first year Glaucous Gull on Thursday 19th, picked out loafing on the beach opposite, it soon flew to the tern island where it performed well from Helen Hide before flying off west...




1st year Glaucous Gull...
1. On the beach (with Common Shelducks).
2. In flight.
3. On The Fleet by the tern island.
4. On the tern rails.
There have been very few passerine migrant arrivals bar two White Wagtails, a few more Swallows and a House Martin, whilst the only raptors of note were the regular couple of Marsh Harriers.

A Greylag Goose was a new arrival on Tuesday 17th and no doubt a wandering feral bird but generally wintering wildfowl have been departing, with numbers now decreasing daily. Several Teals, and a few Shovelers, Gadwalls, and Red-breasted Mergansers are still present however, as was the first year male Scaup and several Pochards. A few of the aforementioned species occasionally over-summer of course even rarely joining the Tufted Ducks, Shelducks and Mallards in nesting...

Female Mallard nesting in a tree cavity.

Although rarely up a tree!

Sunday, 15 April 2012

'A Tick On Sticks!'

What a week!
On Thursday the 12th  I discovered the first Abbotsbury Black-winged Stilt since 1956 on the meadow pool (although that's not including a multi-observer but un-submitted record of two in 1987). Not surprisingly it is the same bird that was at nearby Radipole RSPB, Weymouth on Wednesday and at Chew Valley Lake, Somerset on Tuesday but it has temporarily resisted it's wanderlust as it was still present at The Swannery today, four days after it's arrival. Showing really well from in the water meadow at times it did become a bit more mobile this afternoon (after being flushed by a very low helicopter), visiting 'The Fleet Pipe' at the east of the embayment and 'Reeds End' by the tank traps at the western end...

The Abbotsbury Black-winged Stilt. This species occurrs widely in southern Europe but does breed as far north as the Channel coast in France and has bred in Britain (in fact the unofficial Abbotsbury 1987 pair went on to do so in Norfolk!).
This bird becomes my 261st Swannery 'tick' and surprisingly only my second ('BB') official rare wader following the 1990 Collared Pratincole which also favoured (the then dry) water meadow. A claim of a Long-billed Dowitcher also in the meadow on Thursday (which would also have been a tick) seems to have been erroneous. Other waders in the meadow this week though have included a lingering Green Sandpiper, up to 14 Redshanks, 2 Black-tailed Godwits, a few Snipe (one of which - a rather rufous and potential faeroensis individual - may have accounted for the dowitcher claim), several Dunlin, 2 Lapwing (that unfortunately didn't linger) and the regular pair of Oystercatchers. A couple of Common Sandpipers have been on The Fleet shoreline and several Whimbrel have flown over.
Hot on the heels of the first Swallow last week, Monday (9th) saw the arrival of the first House Martin and several more Swallows and Sand Martins also passed through during the week. A couple more male Redstarts were seen (but still only the one Wheatear!). Single Sedge and Reed Warblers had also been logged by the end of a week that saw several small falls of Willow/Chiffs and two Siskin flying NW.
The first Common Tern of the year joined the throng of 50+ Sandwich Terns around the tern island as did briefly a pair of Mediterranean Gulls in pristine summer plumage but less expected was a fly by first year Kittiwake!
The first returning Common Tern (right) with Sandwich Tern.

The first year male Scaup was last noted yesterday but the hybrid female still lingers as do several Red-breasted Mergansers and a party of 20+ Brent Geese (not subspecifically identified) flew east.
In the reedbeds (along with the aforementioned Reed and Sedge Warblers) several Cetti's Warblers can still be heard as can a few Bearded Tits and a couple of Marsh Harriers are still much in evidence.

Water Vole... Swannery stream bank...
We lost these little critters back in the 90's due to Mink but now the returning Otters seem to be keeping the American invaders at bay the voles have returned, and long may they stay!

Sunday, 8 April 2012

'Blackthorn Winter'

Well I asked for cloudier and damper weather this week and we got it! It was rather chillier too with a frost on a couple of mornings. This didn't put off the advance of spring however as I finally notched up my first Wheatear and Swallow of the year along with a stunning male Redstart, several small falls of Willow Warblers and Chiffchaffs and several more Sand Martins.

There was a nice selection of waders passing through too including a Knot, two Black-tailed Godwits, at least one Green Sandpiper, twenty plus Redshank, several Snipe and a couple each of Avocet and Little Ringed Plover.
(Red) Knot at 'The Fleet Pipe' still in non-breeding plumage.

Green Sandpiper on the meadow pool.

(Pied) Avocets on the meadow pool.

Little Ringed Plovers by the meadow pool.
There was a fair selection of waterfowl too at the beginning of the week... although the variety became slightly more depleted as the week went on as the Wood Duck briefly reappeared on Monday only to disappear again and the last remaining Wigeon and Pintail had moved on by today's Wetland Bird Survey... the results for The Swannery and adjacent Abbotsbury stretch of The Fleet being...

Mute Swan - 474
Black Swan (escape) - 2
Canada Goose - 18
Shelduck - 41
Gadwall - 2
Teal - 35
Mallard - 121
Mallard (domestic) - 2
Shoveler - 2
Pochard - 16
Tufted Duck - 132
Scaup - 1
Red-breasted Merganser - 24
Little Grebe - 1
Great Crested Grebe - 32
Cormorant - 5
Little Egret - 15
Grey Heron - 1
Moorhen - 6
Coot - 60
Oystercatcher - 2
Snipe - 3
Green Sandpiper - 1
Redshank - 6
Common Gull - 22
Herring Gull - 41
Great Black-backed Gull - 12
Sandwich Tern - 58

Marsh Harriers seem to be as frequent as Buzzard, Sparrowhawk, Kestrel and Peregrine here these days with at least three different individuals seen this week, but there were no more Red Kites.
(Western) Marsh Harrier on the adjacent Chesil Bank.
Not being that hot on my insects I have to thank my mate Paul for pointing out that the Bee-fly I photoed for my last post was not the 'common-or-garden' type I assumed it to be (which is generally the Large Bee-fly Bombylius major apparently), but a specimen of the rare Dotted Bee-fly Bombylius discolor. I have to admit I was ignorant of the fact that there were more than one species! Or the fact that the larvae feed on bee and wasp larvae, Gruesome! There were actually several bee-flies at the same locality at the time (a nice sunny sheltered spot) so they may all have been 'Dotteds'!

Lady's Smock or Cuckoo Flower - common in the Swannery meadows.

A quick update on the swan nesting... we now have over fifty pairs with eggs and are expecting the first cygnets on the 30th April.

Sunday, 1 April 2012

'Out Like A Lamb'

What a week I chose to have off work! Glorious back to back sunshine. I managed to get many chores done at home and still get a chance to pop down to The Swannery to see what was about. Monday I was treated to excellent views of a Red Kite swooping down on lambing by products (if you know what I mean!) in the swannery field, an excellent cleaning service, just like they used to provide in cities in medieval times. It or another was seen again yesterday over adjacent Chester's Hill.

Monday's Red Kite.
I was so intent on watching it by the time I got the camera out it was nearly over the village.
I also saw three Marsh Harriers, an immature male on Wednesday and two females together on Thursday. I don't know whether they were the regular Weymouth birds or migrants.

One of the two female Marsh Harriers.
The three Barnacle Geese finally left overnight on Tuesday, which didn't do their credibility as wild birds any harm at all and it would be nice to say the same for the drake Wood Duck that was last seen on Friday... where will it turn up next. The Western Isles or the village pond! I have to say I'd still like to give it the benefit of doubt but I doubt the Rarities Committees will!
The first winter male Scaup still lingered however and was rejoined by the presumed hybrid female.

The 1st winter male (Greater) Scaup and (bottom) with the hybrid female.
The non-pristine plumage of the male reveals it's age while the female's rich brown plumage,
hint of a rear crown peak and perhaps to much black on the bill reveals its' part Tufted Duck parentage.

I at last got some proper trans-Saharan passerine migrants in the form of several small falls of Willow Warblers and one small flock of Sand Martins but still no Wheatears or Swallows. I also had another White Wagtail on the tern island (more popular than the wet meadow this spring!). Other less travelled passerines included calling (but not seen) Bearded Tits still, calling Bullfinches from deep within the withy bed (so hopefully they will breed again) and one singing and several calling Cetti's Warblers (so they will also hopefully breed after a blank year last year).

Wader highlights were a Little Ringed Plover that alighted briefly on Thurday, while its bigger cousin, Ringed Plover, was back on territory on the Chesil opposite. Also a couple of Green Sandpipers again dropped into the wet meadow and there were still good numbers of Redshank...

Ten of the twelve (Common) Redshank present this week.
And there have still been good numbers of Sandwich Terns moving through.
And so it's April a month when almost anything can turn up although it has to be said with clear skies yet again today the birding was pretty uneventful, oh for some damp and cloudy weather!

One of my favourite insects the Bee Fly. Its' allure for me is not just its' looks and behaviour but its' short adult life span of just a few weeks in early spring and therefore being left with the feeling of wanting more! Weird or what?