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, 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! 

Sunday, 7 October 2012

'Jays Fluid...Very Fluid'

Swannery birding highlights of the week...

1st to 7th October 2012

The main highlight this week was the continued Jay passage... There were small flocks seen from Monday to Wednesday with around fifty birds in total but on Thursday eighty plus flew west with another thirty at least on Friday. As for Saturday and Sunday I wasn't working the weekend so I wasn't out and about early enough to see any (as they only seem to be moving in the mornings) but there were sightings elsewhere in Abbotsbury so they were still on the move. Other diurnal migrants on the move were Swallows, House Martins, Meadow Pipits, Siskins and a few Skylarks. Grounded nocturnal migrants included numerous Chiffchaffs, several Blackcaps, a few Reed and Sedge Warblers and the odd Wheatear and Whinchat.

Common Chiffchaff on the edge of Chapel Withybed today.

Waders were still rather sparse with one or two Dunlin most days, up to four Common Sandpipers, several Snipe, up to three Turnstone and the six Lapwing still.

Two (Ruddy) Turnstones on the Tern Island yesterday. One of these or another was on 'The Bund' on Friday.

The only raptor of note was again the male Marsh Harrier that reappeared today after being absent for over a week.

Adult winter Herring Gull still growing its new primaries...
there were no gulls of any note seen this week (not even a 'Med').
Duck numbers improved with daily totals peaking at 250 Teal, 50 Gadwall, 20 Shoveler, 10 Pintail and 10 Wigeon. While Shelduck, Mallard, Tufted Duck and Pochard numbers appeared to remain constant (though I have to admit I never got round to counting them!).

The long-staying 2nd year male Goldeneye, looking more like an ad. winter every day (courtesy of Charlie Wheeler).

So nothing really to get excited about this week but with the first real influx of Glossy Ibises of the autumn arriving in Cornwall over the weekend I think it's about time one of these made The Swannery list... in the meadow one morning this coming week... now that would be much appreciated!

An immature Little Egret on the meadow pool this week showing pale legs (courtesy of Charlie Wheeler)...
any thoughts of a rarer egret can be discounted by it's all dark bill and lores.