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 September 2012

'As It Gets Cooler, We're Getting Otter'...

'But Not Much Else'...

Swannery birding (mammal & insect) highlights of the week...

24th to 30th September 2012

Above two pics the first signs of Otter this autumn (spraint and tracks)...
Although they have been wintering with us again for a few years now no one has yet seen one.
Virtually the first bird of the week as I strolled to work on Monday morning was a Hobby that shot overhead chasing the now diminishing Swallows and House Martins. Indeed most of the passage summer passerines seemed to have peaked, with no Sand Martins, Spotted Flycatchers, Yellow Wagtails, Willow Warblers or Whitethroats seen despite being much in evidence the previous week. I did manage a couple of Whinchats and a Wheatear while Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps are still plentiful of course, along with a few Reed and Sedge Warblers. The best passerine, if not best bird of the week however was a Grasshopper Warbler that ringer Steve extracted from his net on Saturday (having seen it briefly before hand). Arrivals rather than departures included a few more Jays (which it seems now may not be local birds, as movements have been recorded elsewhere in the country and on the continent), Mistle Thrushes, Grey Wagtails, Siskins, Meadow Pipits, Stonechats, Skylarks and more Goldcrests.
With water levels well up again waders have been few and far between, with single Knot and Bar-tailed Godwit through and a handful of Dunlin but the Lapwing flock has now doubled though... to six! And that was it, no other wader species all week!

Aberrant (Great) Cormorant on the Chesil opposite.
A near all white (Barn) Swallow was also seen this week.
There have been no terns either and gulls have been uninspiring with single figures of Mediterraneans most days among the commoner species, which for the first time this autumn did actually included a Common.

Second winter Mediterranean Gull on the eastern boundary fence.
Wildfowl haven't been much better either with very poor numbers present, Wigeon did make it into double figures just, for the first time this season, but even Teal have been struggling to do so, incredible! To make matters worse the summering female Common Scoter finally departed too but the second year Goldeneye lingers as does the dodgy Pintail and Greylag Goose.

A pair of Gadwall from Helen Hide. Around twenty have been around this week...
unusually outnumbering virtually all the dabbling duck bar Mallard.
The male (Northern) Pintail that spent the summer comuting between The Swannery and the village pond,
with its preferred company, a female Mallard. Totally ignoring the few wild Pintail around this week, it is surely an escape.
This male Goldeneye has been around off and on since the early spring too when it was in first winter plumage but
it is now moulting into ad winter. It is always in close company with the Tufted Ducks but it will be interesting to see whether it joins up with the other Goldeneye on their return next month.

Insect mini gallery...

Convolvulus Hawk Moth in The Swannery car park this week.

Red Underwing on The Swannery shop today...
but not as co-operative in showing its finery as the Hawk Moth!


Sunday 23 September 2012

A Few Firsts Of The Fall

Swannery birding highlights of the week...

17th to 23rd September 2012

Last weeks Osprey (or another?) reappeared on Wednesday and Thursday while a juvenile Marsh Harrier joined the regular male briefly today.

Wildfowl numbers and variety were basically as last week but two 'Dark-bellied' Brent Geese over today were my first of the autumn... still relatively early but tardy compared to the first of  this autumn's 'Pale-bellies'. Waders differed slightly from last week with my first few Snipe of the autumn, a few Dunlin, two Knot, a Bar-tailed Godwit, three Curlew and the usual three Lapwing. Not an excellent variety (despite plenty of mud around the meadow pool) and not quite the predicted American wader but I guess the Knots could just feasibly have come from Canada or at least Greenland and that is technically america! The only gulls of any note were ten to twenty 'Meds' on a couple of occasions and there were no terns seen at all.

Bar-tailed Godwit on the 'west side'.
Among the commoner migrant passerines were my first Siskins of the autumn, a few Spotted Flycatchers, a couple of overhead Tree Pipits, the odd 'White' and several Yellow Wagtails still (with ringer Steve Hales trapping two of the former and eleven of the latter, one of which was another possible 'Grey-headed' Wagtail). Probably from more closer to home were the first Jays of the season, a second Nuthatch to join the regular bird and the first Stonechat for several weeks.

Another autumnal first for this year though was a butterfly... a Clouded Yellow.

Late flowering Marsh Mallow near the 'Fleet Pipe'.
A typical salt marsh plant, its roots originally provided the main ingredient of the confection that bears its name
(that is now mostly made with gelatin).
 As for next week... well I'm still holding out for a 'proper' american wader but with many eastern passerines making landfall this weekend that's always a possibility too... how about The Swannery's first Red-breasted Flycatcher... here's hoping!

Sunday 16 September 2012

'Out (And About) For The Count'

Swannery birding highlights of the week...

10th to 16th September 2012

As last week's Osprey was last seen on Tuesday 4th, what was no doubt a different individual arrived yesterday (Saturday the 15th) and was still showing off and on today. The only other raptor of note was again the resident male Marsh Harrier.

Above two pics...this week's Osprey, slightly better shots than of last week's bird.

Vying for the headlines though were the group of six Pale-bellied Brent Geese that flew up the Fleet and settled briefly off 'Bum Point' this afternoon. This follows on from the incredibly early bird I had back on the 30th August. Apart from a presumed escape that lingered here for a couple of years, 'Pale-bellies' are (or at least were) very rare at The Swannery, though it has to be said that 'Dark-bellies' are not exactly very common here either considering the huge numbers that occur on the mid and east Fleet!

Wildfowl numbers have still been steadily increasing as today's Wetland Bird Survey totals show...
Mute Swan - 580
[Black Swan] - 3
Greylag Goose - 1
Canada Goose - 400
Shelduck - 10
Gadwall- 10
Teal - 200
Mallard - 584
Mallard (domestic) - 7
Pintail - 17
Shoveler - 14
Pochard - 44
Tufted Duck - 204
Common Scoter - 1
Goldeneye - 1

The last two of the above of course being the over-summering birds. Other waterbirds were also fairly well represented on the count...

Cormorant - 22
Little Grebe - 20
Great Crested Grebe - 19
Little Egret - 14
Grey Heron - 2
Moorhen - 12
Coot - 275

Two juvenile Grey Herons on meadow pool.
The only waders on the count though were the three regular Lapwing but a few other waders were seen in the week namely thirteen Dunlin, six Knot, two Common Sandpiper and singles of Greenshank and Curlew.

Gulls too were a little thin on the ground on count day...

Black-headed Gull - 50
Lesser Black-backed Gull - 1
Herring Gull - 21
Great Black-backed Gull - 25

But this afternoon there were at least ten Mediterranean Gulls around and there had been a flock of twenty plus earlier in the week.

A juvenile Common Tern was also seen during the count, the first here since mid-August.

Passerine migrants were less in evidence this week but the Motacillidae were fairly well represented with pre-roost flocks of a hundred plus Yellow Wagtails still, a few Grey Wagtails and among the now numerous Meadow Pipits were my first Tree and Rock Pipit of the autumn.
There were no migrant chats or flycatchers seen at The Swannery this week...
 but this 'Greenland' Wheatear was at nearby Higher Barn on my way to do the count today
(as The Swannery WeBS also includes the stretch of the Fleet east to Rodden Hive Point).
The view today from Higher Barn of Portland and the mid and east Fleet.

Next weeks prediction... an american wader on meadow pool!

Sunday 9 September 2012

'Wotacilla? (flava, flavissima, thunbergi?)'

Swannery birding highlights of the week...

3rd to 9th September 2012

The Osprey first seen last Sunday lingered until Tuesday roosting in a dead elm in Cuckoo Coppice and was even buzzed by the resident male Marsh Harrier at one point.

The rather distant Osprey in adjacent Cuckoo Coppice.
The 'Fish Hawk' would probably merit the bird of the week award if it were not for a few intriguing 'Yellow' Wagtails caught by ringers Steve and Luke at the 500 - 600 strong wagtail roost. Most of their evening catches were composed of, not unexpectedly, 'British Yellow Wagtails' (subspecies  flavissima) but a few appeared to be probable continental 'Blue-headed Wagtails' (subspecies flava) or even possibly Scandinavian 'Grey-headed Wagtails' (subspecies thunbergi) but the jury is out. See Steve's and Luke's blogs for more information...
Among the  'British Pied Wagtails' (subspecies yarrellii) caught were a few continental 'White Wagtails (subspecies alba) one of which I also saw in a pre-roost gathering on the bund along with many Yellow and Pied Wagtails. While on the subject of the Motacillidae a Grey Wagtail flew over and the first few Meadow Pipits were on the move too.
Wildfowl numbers continued to build but apart from a few 'wild' Pintail (as opposed to the over-summering male of dubious origin) there was nothing new for the autumn not even any more Wigeon. The usual oddities remained though (the aforementioned Pintail, the Greylag Goose, the female Common Scoter and the male Goldeneye).
Despite a little mud now showing along the edge of The Fleet and the meadow pool, waders were less prominent. There was however a Little Ringed Plover on the bund with the three Lapwing on Wednesday and a Knot on one of the ramps on Thursday. A few Dunlin and a Ringed Plover also flew through and one or two Common Sandpipers were also still present.
There were no terns and the only gulls of note were a couple of Mediteraneans - a first and second winter. A Guillemot found by colleague Charlie off the bund today though is a rarer sighting on The Fleet at The Swannery than the Osprey. Despite popping down this evening (as I was not working this weekend) I dipped on what would have been a Swannery year tick.
The Common Guillemot or if you prefer Common Murre (Charlie Wheeler).
Back to passerines... Swallows and both House and Sand Martins have been numerous as have most of the commoner warblers. The 'new' (sub)family of Flycatcher Chats was well represented with my first Whinchats of the autumn flitting along the fence lines and dry stone walls among more numerous Wheatears and a few Stonechats. Whilst the hedgerows held a few Redstarts and Spotted Flycatchers but the 'Middle Garden' held the best...a Pied Flycatcher. I was hoping this autumn to find my first Swannery Red-breasted Flycatcher but there's still plenty of time I hope!

And finally a couple of interesting insects that Charlie photographed at The Swannery this week...
A Scorpion Fly sp. (Charlie Wheeler).

One of several Hornet Hoverflies seen this week (Charlie Wheeler)...
 In a year when there has been no sightings at The Swannery of the genuine article!


Sunday 2 September 2012

'Notacilla thunbergi!'

Swannery birding highlights of the week...

27th August to 2nd September 2012

The bird of the week was once again the Cattle Egret that appeared again distantly on adjacent Shipmoor Point on Monday morning...

The Cattle Egret on Shipmoor, only slightly better than last weeks shot.
At 10am it flew off north and appeared to drop down in fields just to the east of the village. As it was our coffee break, me and Charlie set off in pursuit and without too much ado found it in a cattle field beside the road by Linton Cottage. There it remained until the afternoon at least but it was not seen again.

Above two photos the Cattle Egret at Abbotsbury courtesy of Charlie Wheeler. 

Other good birds this week were the juvenile Black Tern found on Thursday that lingered mostly over its preferred patch of the meadow pool until early this (Sunday) morning...
Above two photos the juvenile Black Tern in the meadow.
Unfortunately I still await my first Swannery White-winged Black Tern but one day...
And as a way of some compensation at the tern's departure an Osprey also made a brief visit this morning only minutes after the regular male Marsh Harrier had completed it's usual circuit of the patch and flew off towards Rodden.

Apart from a very early Pale-bellied Brent Goose that flew down the Fleet on Thursday evening there was little change in the numbers and variety of wildfowl. The Greylag Goose, the now moulting Common Scoter, the over-summering male Goldeneye and the dodgy male Pintail all remained. Although there has been a few minor influxes of Gadwall, Teal, Shoveler, Pochard and Tufted Duck there has been no more Wigeon or Pintail as yet.

With no mud either on the shore of the Fleet or in the meadow waders were fewer but there were still single figures of Oystercatcher, Ringed Plover, Lapwing, Knot, Sanderling, Curlew, Common Sandpiper, Green Sandpiper, Greenshank and Redshank while Dunlin peaked at thirty.
The only tern was the aforementioned Black and the best of the gulls were single juvenile Mediterranean and Yellow-legged. A Fulmar circling the Fleet was the second of the year.

The juv. Black Tern on The Fleet. It's occurence coincided with that of
an American Black Tern in the Merseyside/Manchester area. What if?

On Wednesday three late, no doubt juvenile Common Swifts made me miss a heartbeat as they powered their way across the Fleet looking all the world like Pallid Swifts in the strong autumnal light but it was not to be. Maybe later in the autumn! Although in short supply more expected land birds included several Wheaters, a couple of Spotted Flycatchers, while a Garden Warbler was the best of its ilk. Swallow and both House and Sand Martin numbers began to build up as did at last the Yellow Wagtails with flocks of up to twenty feeding in the adjacent fields while a roost of at least a hundred were present on Friday night at least.
It was while processing some of the above wagtails that ringers Steve and Luke discovered an interesting individual that now appears to have been of the continental form Motacilla flava flava 'Blue-headed Wagtail' (rather than of the commoner form Motacilla flava flavissima 'British Yellow Wagtail'). At first however it was erroneously reported to be of the Scandinavian form Motacilla flava thunbergi (Grey-headed Wagtail), which although regular along England's east coast is an extremely rare bird in Dorset and has yet to be recorded at The Swannery or anywhere else along The Fleet. When I first heard the initial report of a thunbergi I have to say I was rather miffed at having missed such a good bird confounded by the fact that I had a probable female type some years back in the meadow that we were unable to clinch. Although thunbergi is 'just' a race it would still have been a nice bird to see (albeit in the hand) and in the current trend of 'splitting' it may well be 'upgraded' to full species status in the future. Thankfully for me the bird in question turned out to be a probable flava (which although scarce, is more regular in Dorset and I have seen several at The Swannery over the years) and it was due to a mistake that it was first reported as a thunbergi . Hopefully (and probably more likely) my first Grey-headed Wagtail will be a (less tricky to identify) spring adult male in the meadow right in front of the hide... in how about May 2013?