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 31 March 2013

'No Eggs...But A Couple Of Spoons'

Swannery birding highlights of the week...

Monday 25th to Sunday 31st March 2013

We would normally expect a few swan's eggs by the end of March but despite several pairs on territory and a few rounded out nests we have had no joy, not even so far over the Bank Holiday weekend. So no Easter eggs as yet! The lack of eggs is no doubt due to the below average temperatures and that is also probably responsible for the continued presence today of all three Long-tailed Ducks and nine Scaup despite them being elusive for a day or two in the week. Other wildfowl highlights were a very wary Greylag Goose that was flushed off the nest site first thing on Friday and just kept going, so it was a different bird than last weeks tame bird and may have even been a truly wild individual en route to Scandinavia. Equally flighty but obviously of 'feral' origin was a female Mandarin Duck on flighty in fact that until I pinned it down I thought it might even have been a vagrant Wood Duck...

After zipping about all over the shop this female Mandarin Duck finally 'gave it's self up' by the 'Fleet Pipe' hide.

And here showing its crest.

The main id feature is the thin white eye ring and neat line behind the eye.
Female Wood Duck shows a more extensive white eye ring that 'flares' out behind the eye.

It may only be a naturalised species that is expanding it's range into Dorset but it's still a scarcity at The Swannery and what a 'cutie' at that!
Some of the WWT Slimbridge boys were down on Thursday collecting some reed and it was thanks to a shout from them on the radio that I connected with the first of this week's two adult Spoonbills.

Adult (Eurasian) Spoonbill that dropped down briefly on the 'Round-up Site'
 (with a Little Egret, Common Coot, Common Pochards & Common Shelducks)
What appeared to be a different brighter, better marked individual dropped down in the water meadow on Friday...

Adult (Eurasian) Spoonbill in the water meadow.
To the naked eye this bird looked yellower on the breast and crest than the first bird. Also both arrived from the west and flew off east and at least four have been at Radipole/Lodmoor RSPB reserves in the last few days.
The pair of Marsh Harriers were still around early in the week but only the male remained towards the end and no other raptors of note were seen. Only the usual waders were around but ringer Steve Hales flushed an unseasonal Woodcock from the withybed on Friday. Among much depleted numbers of larids a few Mediterranean Gulls continue to be seen and single figures of Sandwich Terns have been around most of the week...

Sandwich Tern from Helen Hide this week still not quite finished acquiring its black summer cap.
To passerines now and incoming Chiffchaffs are much in evidence mostly ground-feeding in sheltered spots in the biting easterly winds, while Blackcap numbers seemed to have dropped off. There have been no Sand Martins this week let alone any Swallows but several Wheatears have been around (my first this spring having missed the first few last week) but the passerine highlight was the presence of two Black Redstarts on the drystone walls between The Swannery and Chapel Hill on Tuesday, with presumably the same two still there yesterday and at least one today. A rather scarce visitor to The Swannery they are perhaps not surprisingly more regular in the village. Despite trying to stalk them they proved to be far too flighty for photographic purposes.

Following my two above record shots of the two Spoonbills taken with my little Lumix FZ45 (as are all my other pics) I'll leave you with three photos of the second bird taken by colleague Charlie with his Nikon D90 and 70-300mm Nikon lens...

Adult (Eurasian) Spoonbill from meadow hide on Friday © Charlie Wheeler

In flight © Charlie Wheeler

And feeding © Charlie Wheeler

Sunday 24 March 2013

'Mad March Migrants'

Swannery birding highlights of the week...

Monday 18th to Sunday 24th March 2013

For one reason or another I wasn't actually at The Swannery for much of the week but with the bitter easterly winds still persisting that may not have been a bad thing. There was some fairly good birding to be had though despite the unseasonal weather.

The three Long-tailed Ducks still linger...

The three Long-tailed Ducks from 'The Fleet Pipe Hide' last week. © Charlie Wheeler

and the three Long-tailed Ducks from 'Helen Hide' this week.
The nine Scaup (and two x 'Tufty' hybrids) remain too, while other noteworthy waterfowl included a fly-through female Goosander (Monday) and a brief (though tame) Greylag Goose today.
Waders included the year's first Little Ringed Plover (on Saturday) that flew off east, as did two (Common) Ringed Plovers, several Dunlins and five Black-tailed Godwits. Another of the latter flew over today while two Curlew did so on Tuesday. With all the Lapwing departed the only lingering waders were half a dozen Redshank, up to four Oystercatchers (presumably the two returning breeding pairs) and the odd Snipe.
The male Marsh Harrier was joined by an adult female today and they indulged in much courtship behaviour so another breeding attempt may be on the cards later in the spring, although the chance of them being flooded-out again are high unless we get a warm dry spell soon (considering the exceptionally high water table).
The real highlight of the week though has to be the step up in numbers of arriving summer migrants... As well as the aforementioned 'LRP', the first Sandwich Tern was seen today, the first Wheatears on Friday (which I missed) and in the last few days Sand Martins and Chiffchaffs have been much in evidence, although all look like they are struggling in the unfavourable conditions.

(Common) Chiffchaff by the stream today. © Charlie Wheeler


Above two pics... female Reed Bunting today

And finally as I wasn't around much this week, work mate Charlie has kindly let me use a few more of his pics...

Fungi in the withybed © Charlie Wheeler.
Regular volunteer and blog member Dave Callaby found this attractive red fungi in the withybed and identified it as one of the  Scarlet Elf Cups, one of which is an endangered species.

Water Vole along the stream this week © Charlie Wheeler.  After keeping a low profile through the winter they are now being seen regularly again. There is still evidence of Otter too but still no sightings.

Sunday 17 March 2013

'Open For Business'

Abbotsbury Swannery birding highlights of the week...

Monday 11th to Sunday 17th March 2013

After weeks of preparation The Swannery re-opened to the public for the 'Summer Season' yesterday (Saturday 16th March) even though it still felt very much like winter through much of the week, with bitter winds, driving rain, sleet and snow-showers.

A bleak view looking northeast from the Swannery nest site to Linton Hill this week.
The unseasonal weather put a virtual stop to any more obvious early migrant passerine arrivals, with no more Sand Martins and only the odd Chiffchaff and Blackcap while, despite reports elsewhere along The Fleet, there have been no Wheatears seen here as yet. The below average temperatures though may have encouraged the three wintering Long-tailed Ducks and the nine Scaup to linger...

Six of the (Greater) Scaup with three (Common) Pochard this week in a sleet shower.
Wildfowl numbers in general though were rather low as were waders but at least the latter group did provide a little more variety than of late. Up to twenty Lapwing lingered as did six Redshank, four Oystercatcher, a few Snipe and a typically elusive Jack Snipe, whilst ten Golden Plover flew through as did a single Grey Plover and a few Dunlin and brief visitors included two or three Curlew and two Avocet...

A rather distant (Pied) Avocet shelters from the cold wind.
One of the two seen this week, presumably the same two individuals that were seen equally briefly last week.
There were a few more gulls around with a small but notable increase in Lesser Black-backs for instance but I couldn't find anything unusual in their ranks... although it is always nice to see a smattering of Mediterranean Gulls amongst the Common and Black-headed Gulls and this despite their marked increase on The Fleet in recent years (though they haven't reached double figures this far up the lagoon for a month or so now).

The male Marsh Harrier still lingers and even appears to be indulging in some display, even though it only has the local Buzzards to interact with at the moment. Lets hope it attracts a mate soon. The local Tawny Owls are presumably already paired up and even nesting, although they have still been rather vocal over the last few weeks, whilst a Barn Owl seen one night on roadside posts above The Swannery meadows was the first I've seen here for a year or two.

A wintry seen in The Swannery withybed this week...
Well another week of below average temperatures and wintry showers is forecast but hopefully it won't be too long now until some warm spring weather arrives and the withybeds are transformed with freshly emerging foliage, flowers, buzzing insects and a chorus of migrant bird song! Ooh I can hardly wait!


Sunday 10 March 2013

'Two Seasons In One Week'

Swannery birding highlights of the week...

Monday 4th to Sunday 10th March 2013

Despite some pleasant more spring-like weather early in the week most of the wintering wildfowl were still present including the three Long-tailed Ducks and the nine Scaup.

Whereas most of the commoner wildfowl were slightly down in number Tufted Ducks actually increased...Here six males are in company with the male Tufted x Scaup (Greater or Lesser?) hybrid (centre). The female hybrid was still present too.
The male Marsh Harrier still lingers and an adult female was seen nearby at West Bexington this week so fingers crossed.
Other birds of note were a Slavonian Grebe today but it was to the east of the Swannery Embayment and so not really on my patch, though it may well be the bird from a few weeks back. A Spoonbill dropped in briefly to the meadow pool on Wednesday but it was unfortunately camera shy and promptly flew off east and two Avocets too were only brief visitors on Friday. Despite the wintry weather in the latter part of the week there were further signs of early spring passage with several Curlews passing over along with a flock of around a hundred Lapwing (the wintering birds having disappeared last week), whilst struggling to find insects in the dropping temperatures were the first two Sand Martins of the year on Friday, with another eight today; a few more Chiffchaffs and a couple of newly arrived Blackcaps. I hope they all survive the mini cold snap forecast for early next week!

Today was this month's Wetland Bird Survey day and to give you an idea of what water birds are around the results of this morning's Abbotsbury WeBS count were...

Mute Swan - 403
Black Swan - 2
Canada Goose - 28
Shelduck - 27
Wigeon - 140
Gadwall - 6
Teal - 52
Mallard - 204
Mallard (domestic) - 7
Pintail - 3
Shoveler - 6
Pochard - 410
Tufted Duck - 364
Scaup - 9
Long-tailed Duck - 3
Goldeneye - 12
Red-breasted Merganser - 38
Little Grebe - 7
Slavonian Grebe - 1
Great Crested Grebe - 25
Cormorant - 2
Little Egret - 14
Moorhen - 4
Coot - 329
Oystercatcher - 3
Redshank - 6
Black-headed Gull - 80
Mediterranean Gull - 1
Common Gull - 130
Herring Gull - 56
Great Black-backed Gull - 25

Thanks again to all the WeBS counters for turning out on a cold damp dreary morning.

Hopefully the cold weather won't last and more summer migrants will be winging their way north soon!

Another sign of spring...a Common Toad at The Swannery this week. © Charlie Wheeler. Thanks for the photo Charlie!

Sunday 3 March 2013

'Too Far Over The Hill'

Swannery birding highlights of the week...

Monday 25th February to Sunday 3rd March 2013

Well there is not much new to report this week, in fact there has been quite an exodus with many birds beginning to move off north and not yet being replaced by any significant numbers from further south. The three Long-tailed Ducks were present all week though, as were the nine Scaup but the pair of Goosanders were last seen on Monday and duck numbers in general were rather low. Waders too were poorly represented with the Lapwing flock dwindling to nothing by today, leaving only a few Oystercatchers, Redshanks and Snipe. Gull numbers too have been rather uninspiring with only the few Mediterranean Gulls worth mentioning. The male Marsh Harrier is still around but I only saw it on Tuesday and the only noteworthy passerines were two or three Chiffchaffs and a fresh in Grey Wagtail.
I actually saw one of my 'Steve's Most Wanted Swannery Birds (Official Non-rarities)' yesterday (yes I actually have a list)... a Grey Partridge...but frustratingly it was beyond Abbotsbury Hill on the coast road above West Bexington, a few miles to the west of my recording area. Once a common bird along the hinterland of The Fleet the resident population disappeared at around the time I began working and listing at The Swannery and therefore I never got it on my list despite some sightings elsewhere in Abbotsbury. This most recent sighting though, along with a few others tantalisingly close to my patch, still gives me hope. Even if they are of dodgy origins they are no more dodgy than some species on my (and other's) lists such as Red-legged Partridge and Pheasant! Incidentally others on that most wanted list (all non-rarities seen at The Swannery before my tenure but not since) include Eider (very rare on The West Fleet last recorded in The Swannery embayment in 1985) and Dipper (once regular on The Abbotsbury Mill Stream and even bred under Grove Lane bridge but last recorded 1982). The irony of the last one is not lost on me but one day!

Sorry I digress, going back to the Scaup I thought for a moment that all ten were back again this week until I realised that the regular Scaup-like hybrid female had returned for her third spring...
Coot & hybrid female Tufted Duck x Scaup?
She can easily be overlooked as a Scaup but has several pro Tufted features too, such as a reduced white 'blaze' and a pronounced peak (though no hint of a crest) on her rear crown (which Scaup show in certain postures but never as much as this individual does). Today I discovered she was not alone as I picked out this individual too...

Hybrid male Tufted Duck x Scaup?
This male hybrid looks superficially like a 'Tufty' but only has a stumpy crest, has dark-greyish upperparts and a more Scaup-like bill pattern. 
So careful scrutiny of the Aythya flock has revealed a couple of hybrids but will my perseverance pay off in the next few weeks with the finding of a Ring-necked Duck or maybe even a Lesser Scaup? Watch this space!