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, 27 January 2013

'Another Week Of Two Halves... But Vice Versa'

Swannery birding highlights of the week...

21st to 27th January 2013

In a week when the weather was almost a mirror image of the previous week (snow and ice at the beginning but mild, wet, windy and even occasionally sunny and spring-like at the end) the bird highlights were similar too. The four Barnacle Geese were around all week (and were also seen at West Bexington on Friday); there were up to ten Scaup again (although two visited Radipole Lake RSPB on Thursday); the three Long-tailed Ducks  were seen intermittently from Monday to Friday but only one was present Saturday (when two were in Portland Harbour) and none were seen today; the Black-necked Grebe was seen Monday and again on Saturday and the Marsh Harrier was present all week. New in were a pair of Goosanders on Wednesday and they were seen again on Saturday after also visiting the mere at West Bexington. There was no sign of the Firecrest though (which had looked like it was struggling in the low temperatures last week) and the only Chiffchaff was heard on Monday but like the preceding species and Cettis's Warbler none have been seen or heard since the thaw, while Goldcrests are thin on the ground too. They have either perished, moved on or are still keeping their heads down, one of the latter I hope.

The three Long-tailed Ducks, sailing off into the sunset this week. Maybe they will reappear next week?

Not a great shot of  the Black-necked Grebe (with Little Grebes) but the best I've managed so far.
The Golden Plovers and most of the thrushes had definitely moved on by the weekend. There was an impressive five thousand plus of the former on the surrounding farmland on Monday (at one point all taking to the air and almost blacking out the sky), with mixed flocks of up to around a thousand Redwings and Fieldfares along with dozens of Song Thrushes and a few Blackbirds and the odd Mistle Thrush too. By mid-week though there were only around fifty each of Golden Plover, Redwing and Fieldfare and far fewer of the other thrushes and by the weekend no Golden Plovers or Fieldfares at all. The Lapwing flock stayed stable all week at around three hundred and there were a few Redshanks and the odd Dunlin but unusually today over a hundred of the latter were present. The ten Snipe and single Woodcock I observed were probably just the tip of the iceberg of the numbers actually present.

Whilst diving duck numbers remained constant there were far fewer dabblers around this week and unusually (Eurasian) Wigeon were the most numerous with around four hundred in the meadow along with smaller numbers of (Eurasian) Teal. In addition there were only single figures of Gadwall, Pintail and Shoveler but still hundreds of Mallard of course. The Canada Goose flock often contained the four Barnacle Geese (although not in this shot, as they often go off on their own) but unfortunately didn't attract any other species and not even last week's single Brent was seen.
So in summary despite some still excellent sightings it was in all a bit of a disrupted week for me... and the birds.... I was away on Thursday and Friday and in my abscence there was some quite substantial disturbance too, which almost certainly explains the wanderings of the Scaup and probably the Barnacle Geese, Long-tailed Ducks and Goosanders too. Lets hope everything gets back to normal next week!


Sunday, 20 January 2013

'A Week Of Two Halves'

Swannery birding highlights of the week...

14th to 20th January 2013

One of the three Long-tailed Ducks still present this week.
Not surprisingly the week began much as the previous week had ended with all the star 'winterers' still in situ...The four Barnacle Geese, the ten Scaup, the three Long-tailed Ducks, the Black-necked Grebe, the Marsh Harrier and the Firecrest and all were still in residence by the weeks end too. Also of note was the lone Dark-bellied Brent Goose still in the western 'Ditchmoor' meadows preferring it's own company even when the Canada and Barnacle Geese dropped by. The Greylag Goose however that arrived last summer (and was still present last Sunday) was not seen at all this week.
The three hundred strong Lapwing flock was joined on occasion by an Oystercatcher, up to four Redshank and fifteen plus Dunlin. Gull numbers were rather low with only a few Mediterraneans noted among the commoner species but a first winter Kittiwake was a most unusual fair-weather visitor.

On Friday though the weather changed...

Looking north from meadow hide on Friday.

The four Barnacle Geese in the meadow this week. Very wary, I'm still of the opinion that they are truly wild arctic  birds rather than naturalised birds from Britain or the near continent,

Although, so far, few if any wildfowl seemed to have been displaced by the cold snap the meadow is  beginning to attract some (Eurasian) Wigeon.
The snow and minus temperatures however only seem to have taken hold a mile or two inland of The Fleet, so The Swannery and it's environs acted like a refuge to thousands of field feeding thrushes and plovers. On Friday hundreds settled briefly before filtering southeast but by today thousands were feeding in the surrounding fields. Lapwing numbers barely increased, if at all, but Golden Plovers peaked at around two thousand (with another two thousand just to the east near Rodden). There was also a peak of around two thousand Fieldfare and around a thousand Redwing (although many more flew SE). On closer inspection an unquantified number of the Redwings were actually Song Thrushes, whilst a number of Blackbirds and even the odd Mistle Thrush were also on the move. Also involved in the movement were several hundred Skylarks and a few Meadow Pipits, Pied Wagtails and Yellowhammers.

A Yellowhammer in my garden (which is adjacent to The Swannery) today. Taken through a rather dirty window.
A flock of fifty Common Snipe flushed by the Marsh Harrier may have been weather displaced birds also, while a Jack Snipe I unwittingly stepped right over before it took to the wing almost certainly was. What was probably another, more flighty, individual was also accidentally flushed further along the path a few minutes later. One or two unhappy looking Cetti's Warblers at least are still surviving as are a few equally sad looking Chiffchaffs.
It's difficult to know whether to hope for more cold weather next week to bring in some choice birds or whether to hope for milder weather so that the birds won't struggle so much... But what will be will be... so I'll leave you with a few more of this weekend's wintry scenes whilst they remain...

St. Catherine's Chapel above The Swannery.

Looking NNE from The Swannery toward Linton Hill.

Looking NNW from The Swannery toward Abbotsbury Hill.

Sunday, 13 January 2013

'Not To Be Sneezed At'

Swannery birding highlights of the week...

7th to 13th January 2013

As it was my first full week back at work (after the mid-winter celebrations) and as I was nursing a cold, I didn't actually get much birding in. Not surpringly therefore there is little new to report this week but I did still manage to find the time to confirm that last week's main highlights were still present and re-find a few good birds from previous weeks...

Namely the four (wild?) Barnacle Geese, the ten Scaup, the three Long-tailed Ducks, the Black-necked Grebe, the Marsh Harrier, several Mediterranean Gulls and the Firecrest. So it wasn't all bad.

I didn't manage to get any half decent bird photos this week so here's another of the obliging drake (Greater) Scaup from last week, this time with a drake (Common) Pochard.

And another (from last week and not quite so good) of the Long-tailed Ducks.
New in today though, during this months Wetland Bird Survey, were eleven Golden Plover with the Lapwing (though nearer to Rodden than The Swannery) and what was, for The Swannery, a most unseasonal Common Sandpiper.

A lot more ducks were around again this week (and a Dark-bellied Brent Goose was seen a couple of times) but gull numbers dropped right off by the weekend and apart from the Firecrest there were no passerines of note.

The full results of today's Swannery WeBS were...

Mute Swan - 481

Black Swan - 2

Greylag Goose - 1

Canada Goose - 80

Barnacle Goose - 4

Shelduck - 37

Wigeon - 90

Gadwall - 46

Teal - 550

Mallard - 430

Mallard (domestic) - 7

Pintail - 19

Shoveler - 38

Pochard - 642

Tufted Duck - 334

Scaup - 4 (10 earlier in the week)

Long-tailed Duck - 3

Goldeneye - 20

Red-breasted Merganser - 16

Little Grebe - 18

Black-necked Grebe - 1

Great Crested Grebe - 11

Cormorant - 1

Little Egret - 3

Grey Heron - 3

Moorhen - 12

Coot - 583

Lapwing - 280

Golden Plover - 11

Dunlin - 1

Snipe - 5

Common Sandpiper - 1

Redshank - 8

Black-headed Gull - 7

Common Gull - 35

Herring Gull - 85

Great Black-backed Gull - 2

Thanks again to Alan, Ian and Mike for their help.


A (European) Brown Hare just east of The Swannery today. Now believed to be an introduction of long-standing in Britain, there is still a fairly healthy population in Abbotsbury but they are not as numerous as they once were, especially on The Chesil.

Sunday, 6 January 2013

'A Busman's Holiday'

Swannery birding highlights of the week...

31st December 2012 to 6th January 2013

I was off work again this week (a nice long Christmas break to make up for all those Bank Holidays worked in the spring and summer) but once again I popped down to The Swannery most days to do a few necessary tasks such as feeding and of course to do a bit of birding. It was rather quiet with duck numbers having dropped off considerably. There are still several hundred Pochard and Tufted Duck (not to mention Mallard) of course but less than a hundred Teal and only single figures of Wigeon, Gadwall, Pintail, Shoveler, Goldeneye and Red-breasted Merganser. As I suspected last week though, all three Long-tailed Ducks are still in residence and Scaup have scraped into double figures (reaching ten) for the first time since the winter before last.
Drake (Greater) Scaup one of ten present this week.
The three Long-tailed Ducks that are now being slightly more co-operative in that they are not always far out off Shipmoor Point although they can still be quite elusive at times. The bird in the middle sports the pink bill spot of a first winter male and is apparently beginning to acquire some grey scapular feathers too.
The Canada Goose flock has largely been absent and the only other goose seen was again the resident Greylag. A Black-necked Grebe that joined the Little and Great Crested Grebes though was my first of the winter.

The Lapwing flock has reached over three hundred at times and in loose association have been up to ten Redshank and an Oystercatcher, while over thirty Snipe have been in the inner reed beds at least.

The male Marsh Harrier still lingers but the only other 'land-bird' of note was a single brief (presumed Lesser) Redpoll. Despite good numbers of Goldcrests last year's Firecrest could not be found and only one or two Chiffchaffs remain.

I'm back to work tomorrow so I'll be on site longer, if not actually birding, so we'll see what the first full week of 2013 brings!