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 July 2012

'A Ray Of Light'

Swannery Birding Highlights Of The Week -

23rd to 29th July 2012

 Just glancing back through my notebook for the past week, things are definitely on the up as several pages are almost full! Nothing major you understand but lots of interesting stuff all the same.

A rainbow over Chesters Hill yesterday evening.

Starting with wildfowl the over-summering Goldeneye and Greylag Goose are still present and the few returning Teal and Shoveler have already been joined by a couple of early Wigeon. The bird of the week award though has probably got to go to a Common Scoter present on Friday evening only. Commonly encountered off the seaward side of the beach of course, these seaduck are only just about annual on my patch in The Swannery embayment. It was too distant for a photo unfortunately but it was presumably and adult or first summer female assuming it's too early for a juv. yet.

The regular male Marsh Harrier is still very much in evidence if no other noteworthy raptors were.

A rather distant shot of the Marsh Harrier over a recently cut hay field.

As I feared the remaining pair of Oystercatchers do indeed appear to have failed for the second time after their nest became waterlogged a few weeks back. They persevered with the incubation but to no avail. The only plovers of the week were the two Lapwings lingering from last week but sandpipers were fairly well represented with several Sanderlings (two Tuesday, four Saturday), single figures of Dunlin and Common Sandpipers most days (but with thirteen of the former on Thursday and a peak of seven of the latter on Tuesday), four Black-tailed Godwits on Saturday (seen by Charlie but not me) and a couple of single Green Sandpipers in the week but with four together on the meadow pool this evening.

Another distant shot this time of one of the Green Sandpipers.
A much better shot by workmate Charlie Wheeler of his four Black-tailed Godwits
(with Mallard and Pochard).

A few juv. Black-headed Gulls have at last appeared along with the juv. Mediterranean Gull and a second calender year Common Gull was an early surprise. There were still thirty plus Common Terns and the occasional Sandwich Tern but the formers numbers were declining by the weeks end (in fact I couldn't see any from Chapel Hill this evening).

One of this weeks juvenile Black-headed Gulls.

Juvenile Mediterranean Gull.
Second calender year Common Gull.

If wader passage is now in full swing there is not too much evidence of passerines moving through just yet but there were at last small flocks of Sand Martins joining the numerous family parties of Swallows.Two Grey Wagtails were new in too, as gone are the days when they nested on my patch on the mill stream under Grove Lane bridge. This stream and bridge was once too the haunt of Dippers and although I recall 'Grey Wags' breeding until the mid 1990's the last Dipper was seen in 1982, seven years before my tenure. I love Dippers (having spent most of my childhood holidays exploring Dartmoor's streams and rivers) and I still check that bridge every day just in case, as a Swannery Dipper would mean more to me than a first for Britain!

Two of the many juv. (Barn) Swallows around at the moment.
At least they seem to have had an ok summer

Sunday, 22 July 2012

A 'Tern' For The Worst

Weekly highlights 16th to 22nd July

I was on leave from Monday to Friday this week and as I had lots of chores to catch up with in and around the home I had very little time for birding. I did pop down to The Swannery on Wednesday though and the first thing I noticed was a severe lack of terns! There had been forty plus around the island the previous week, so something had obviously gone drastically wrong. When I left work on the previous Friday there was at least one chick on the point of fledgling and possibly more from the first five pairs that settled, then there were another ten pairs that settled later that were all on eggs and then another even later five pairs that were just settling. It would appear that the poor weather just got too much for them, and their chicks and eggs presumably became chilled. When I returned to work this weekend though I was relieved to see around thirty Common Terns still present but they were plainly no longer nesting despite bringing in plenty of fish (which they were just hanging on to as if not sure what to do with them)! On the plus side though there were at least two juveniles present so I'm hoping they are 'our' birds as opposed to wanderers from Lodmoor. If that is the case then at least there has been some success here this year (as last year despite the slightly better weather, there were no chicks at all).

Common Tern with 'whitebait' and with nothing to feed it to!
There certainly doesn't appear to have been a shortage of food this year.
One of the Common Tern juvs.

A few Sandwich Terns are still around too, this one already moulting into non-breeding plumage.

The flooded out Oystercatcher pair are still sitting on their replacement clutch but I fear that these too have been chilled. A trickle of other waders are still passing through with single figures of Knot, Dunlin, Black-tailed Godwit, Whimbrel, Curlew, Common Sandpiper and Redshank, plus the single over-summering Lapwing all seen this week.

The summering Greylag Goose and Goldeneye are still present and a few more Teal and Shoveler have appeared but the Pintail has disappeared again. Three large broods of Shelduck are now in evidence so it's been a good year for them. There is so far only the one Little Grebe back but there was an outstanding eighty-five plus Great Crested Grebes in The Swannery embayment today, no doubt washed out breeders.

Two of a brood of seven Tufted Ducklings on Meadow Pool.
Only about the fourth time young have been seen at The Swannery
Nuthatches and Coal Tits have returned to the grounds from nearby woods, while a pair of Goldcrests have been present throughout but no young have been seen yet.

Another victim of the weather, the now lone male Marsh Harrier is still lingering and hopefully will remain with us to next spring when if it attracts a mate may make another more successful breeding attempt.

I forgot to post last months Wetland Bird Survey results for The Swannery but have remembered this month's which was carried out today with the help of volunteers Alan & Ian...

Mute Swan - 595
Black Swan - 2
Greylag Goose - 1
Canada Goose - 500
Hybrid Goose - 3
Shelduck - 3
Teal - 4
Mallard - 133
Mallard (domestic) - 3
Shoveler - 5
Pochard - 3
Tufted Duck - 97
Great Crested Grebe - 87
Cormorant - 24
Little Egret - 7
Grey Heron - 4
Moorhen - 4
Coot - 112
Oystercatcher - 2
Lapwing - 1
Dunlin - 3
Whimbrel - 2
Curlew - 3
Common Sandpiper - 5
Black-headed Gull - 21
Herring Gull - 50
Great Black-backed Gull - 4
Common Tern - 23

A walk around The Swannery this evening with Suz was very pleasant in the much improved weather and with all the visitors gone for the day. To add to the pleasant stroll there was a small pre-roost gathering of adult Black-headed Gulls (fresh in from breeding colonies in east Dorset and beyond) which included a juv. Mediterranean Gull but bizarrely no juvs of there own, in fact there have been none here so far this year, which is not surprising considering the conditions... At least one pair of 'Meds' have been successful somewhere though!

Sunday, 15 July 2012

'Petrel Bunkering'

Weekly highlights 9th to 15th July.

The rare tern I craved did appear on Monday but it was rare in plumage only... a first summer Arctic Tern. Adults are not uncommon spring migrants at The Swannery and in the autumn juvs. are regular... First summers of this long distance migrant however, tend to stay in the species winter quarters in their second calender year, i.e. the South Atlantic, and only a few ever head north, so the odds were probably higher of me seeing a White-winged Black Tern this week than a first summer Arctic but such is birding! To rub salt into the wound the first summer Arctic then appeared at nearby Lodmoor RSPB the same evening that the White-winged Black there flew off. Did they swap places? Did they 'eck as like!

The first summer Arctic Tern. Note the short black legs and shortish bill.

At the same time as the Arctic Tern arrived so did a small influx of Common Terns, with forty around the tern island, some of these new arrivals were actually mating and nest scraping! A third wave of nesters? This late? Of the earlier nesters at least one fledgling was in evidence, with some of the slightly later second wave still apparently sitting despite the continual abysmal weather. Unfortunately the flourishing Sea Beet on the island is preventing me getting a good view of what is exactly going on but at least they haven't been washed out as they have been at Lodmoor. A few Sandwich Terns are still in evidence too.

The Oystercatchers that had their eggs swamped last week are still sitting but many waders (possibly failed breeders) are already heading south... there were four plus Common Sandpipers on Monday; a Black-tailed Godwit and a Dunlin through (and another Common Sand') on Tuesday and six Whimbrel between Wednesday and Friday; a single Lapwing throughout and another five Oystercatcher in addition to the nesting pair.

There has not been much more evidence of dispersing passerines but a male Bullfinch and a juv. Nuthatch are still regular visitors to my feeders at the adjacent Grove.

Over-summering wildfowl still include the Goldeneye, Pintail and Greylag Goose but no new arrivals.

A Hobby flew over on Tuesday and after a couple of weeks absence the male Marsh Harrier is again being seen daily.

If it hadn't been for the first summer Arctic Tern the best bird of the week award would have probably gone to Fulmar.  I usually only see about one a year at The Swannery if I'm lucky (bearing in mind I don't include the seaward side of the beach as my patch) so the one that flew round and round the summit of adjacent Chesters Hill presumably prospecting for a future nest site, was a good record, though the only potential nest site there would be the WW2 pillbox perched on top!

Another shot of the first summer Arctic Tern.

Sunday, 8 July 2012

Mega Summer Rarity!

Blue Sky!...

But then normal service resumed...

Seventeen Little Egrets feeding in torrential rain in the unintentionally flooded Decoy Field.

Weekly Roundup 2nd to 8th July 2012...

A feral Greylag Goose was the first new bird of the week, joining the 600+ feral Canada Geese, never exactly a common bird at The Swannery, one or two a year is average. The only other noteworthy wildfowl were the lingering drake Goldeneye and the reappearance of the drake Pintail (of dodgy provenance).

The feral Greylag Goose.

The (dodgy) drake Pintail, now moulting into eclipse.

A few more waders were on the move... four Common Sandpipers on 'The Bund' on Wednesday were the first of the autumn, as were two Green Sandpipers and an (islandica) Black-tailed Godwit on 'The Nest Site' on Thursday, when a Curlew also flew north. Lingering however were the single Lapwing and two Redshank joining the two pairs of breeding Oystercatcher (although the tern island pair have now lost all their chicks and the other re-nesting pair had their two eggs swamped on Saturday but are still sitting, so fingers crossed).

Common Tern on 'The Bund'...
Here's hoping that the White-winged Black Tern present today at nearby Lodmoor RSPB will be here tomorrow! 
Their are still thirty plus Common Terns on and around the tern island and the original five pairs have fast growing young and the later arriving ten pairs still appear to be sitting despite the atrocious conditions.
The only passerines worthy of a mention though were two Sand Martins, the first since May.

At last I managed to sneak up on a male Banded Demoiselle.

Sunday, 1 July 2012

'Summertime And The Birding Is Measly'

Weekly Roundup...

Monday 25th June to Sunday 1st July 2012

Still typically rather quiet for the time of year...

New in were a Teal and three Shovelers (the first of the latter since April and yet more evidence of post breeding dispersal) and the 1st summer male Goldeneye still lingered (though there was no sign of last weeks Pintail). A few Gadwalls and Pochards are still over-summering along with the more abundant Mallards and Tufted Ducks and several Shelducks are still present including a now well grown family party. The moulting flock of Canada Geese now nearly outnumber the Mute Swans with over 600 hundred present and the two Black Swans remain.

Drake Shoveler (but I'm cheating this is from the archive).

The pair of Oystercatchers got at least three of their four young off the tern island (where the Common Terns now also have chicks) and onto adjacent Bum Point but now seem to be down to one, whilst the other pair are still incubating their replacement clutch on The Swannery Nest Site. Apart from the lingering single Lapwing I missed all the other waders this week... a Whimbrel by minutes on Tuesday whilst workmate Charlie had a Grey Plover, a Redshank and four Curlews on my day off on Wednesday.

Two of the Oystercatcher chicks after their 'sea crossing' from the tern island to Bum Point.
(Courtesy of Charlie Wheeler)

The (1st summer?) Grey Plover (Charlie Wheeler).

And again showing the diagnostic black axillaries (Charlie Wheeler).

A Cetti's Warbler was back singing in the Swannery grounds (in addition to the the territorial birds at the edge of the reedbeds at Ditchmoor and Knob End), the first there since early spring and a pair of Sedge Warblers were busy feeding fledglings after I had began to think they'd failed and moved on. The Reed Warblers too have now gone rather quiet but are still much in evidence.  Meanwhile up at the nearby Grove the juvenile Nuthatch was still visiting feeders and a vociferous Spotted Flycatcher perhaps suggested that this species is breeding on (or at least near) the patch this year after all. Another species only breeding on the perifery of The Swannery this year is Stonechat with the only pair being on the south slope of Chesters Hill (and therefore not seen during my daily ramblings of the grounds), thus a juvenile by Meadow Hide this week probably came from there.

Juvenile Stonechat Meadow path.
Fledgling Sedge Warbler (Charlie Wheeler)

Scarlet Tiger Moth...
One of a couple seen this week, this day flying moth has declined significantly here during the last 20 years... A couple of hundred would have been more likely in the late 1980's!