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 April 2013

'A Gander At The Exotic'

Swannery birding highlights of the week...

Monday 22nd to Sunday 28th April 2013...


The highlight of the week, albeit a naturalised exotic, was the Egyptian Goose that appeared today...
Today's Eygptian Goose. Probably the recent bird from Lodmoor RSPB.
Once a rare bird in Dorset, the first few Swannery records could well have been local escapes rather than wandering 'feral' birds from East Anglia and the Home Counties but due to recent western range expansion, the last few records, including this bird, are no doubt 'tickable'.

The six Scaup were still present to Saturday but  there was no sign of them this evening and duck numbers in general continued to thin out apart maybe for Shelducks...

A flock of (Common) Shelducks on 'The Bund' this week.
Dabblers still included a few Gadwall, Shoveler, Teal and Pintail but no Garganey or Wigeon whilst of the 'divers' a few Pochard remained among the Tufted Duck (plus the two Scaup hybrids) but there were still no mergansers.


There was quite a good variety this week with one of the highlights being two Avocets on the meadow pool Saturday evening...

The two (Pied) Avocets on the meadow pool.

....but arguably even better were the two brief Ruffs that Charlie found at the 'Fleet Pipe' on Friday that I unfortunately missed. Whimbrel were seen or at least heard most days with ten plus on Tuesday being the best count, whilst Bar-tailed Godwits were seen on Monday (one) and Thursday (seven)...

The single (male) Bar-tailed Godwit.
Dunlin were seen most days too with a peak of twenty-two on Wednesday and Common Sandpipers were noted on several days with six at least on Friday...

One of this week's Common Sandpipers.

 The two pairs of Oystercatcher on territory were again briefly joined by a passing flock (of six) while singles of Ringed Plover, Snipe, Redshank and Curlew completed this week's wader tally

 Gulls & Terns...

Of the former there were no real surprises, just small numbers of the usual species but of the latter Charlie found our first Little Tern of the year (quite a scarcity on The West Fleet these days), which I again failed to see; Sandwich Terns peaked at over thirty; while Common Terns were still only present in single figures.

The Little Tern with Sandwich Terns © Charlie Wheeler


As last week a Red Kite flew over on Friday but the male Marsh Harrier was only seen once. The commoner species Buzzard, Sparrowhawk, Kestrel and Peregrine were all seen with varying frequency of course but any owls remained unobserved.

Near passerines...

The highlight was the continued presence to Wednesday of the Turtle Dove...
The Turtle Dove in Grove Lane this week.
It was also seen by The Swannery entrance again and in the car park and was much more skittish.
The only other 'near passerine' worthy of a mention was Tuesday's Swift, the first of the year.


This week's only addition to this spring's tally of warblers (Cetti's, Chiffchaff, Blackcap, Willow, Sedge, Reed and Lesser Whitethroat) was Common Whitethroat... we still await the expected Grasshopper and Garden Warbler. The odd Wheatear and a few Yellow Wagtails were still passing through as were a few Swallows and both Sand and House Martins. At least one Bullfinch and a Siskin were the first for a month or two and it was nice to confirm the presence of a pair of Nuthatches but in the negative there are no Treecreepers this year and even the Goldcrests seem to have moved on.

Next week...

Well it's been over a year now since my last Swannery tick (Black-winged Stilt) so how about a Red-rumped Swallow next week...I had one last year at Abbotsbury but it was out of my recording area and I've had a couple of untickable probables too over the years so as there's already been birds at Lodmoor and Portland already this this space!

Sunday, 21 April 2013

'A Long Way Home'

Swannery birding highlights of the week...

Monday 15th to Sunday 21st April 2013...


Following the pair and then trio present last week, a pair of Garganey (re?) appeared on Friday and were still present today...

This week's drake and duck Garganey in the water meadow.
The nine Scaup were still present Monday to Friday but at the weekend they had dwindled to six (three drakes and three ducks). A 'Dark-bellied' Brent Goose flew east today (whilst eight 'Pale-bellied Brents' were reported flying west at Abbotsbury this morning but it's not clear if the latter actually flew over The Swannery or the sea).

Today's 'Dark-bellied' Brent Goose. The third singleton this month. © Charlie Wheeler
All the other wintering wildfowl (Mute Swan, Shelduck, Mallard and Tufted Duck excluded) are dwindling rapidly now with Wigeon and Pintail down to single figures and Gadwall, Teal, Shoveler and Pochard down to between ten and twenty each and unusually for April I can't recall seeing any Red-breasted Mergansers at least in the latter half of the week!

Little Egret at The Swannery this week.  © Charlie Wheeler.
These little herons far outnumber Grey Herons on The Fleet now but with no longer any regular heronry, breeding is only sporadic and has yet to be successful the few times it has been attempted at The Swannery.


Barring the two pairs of Oystercatcher holding territory (and the flock of twelve that flew through yesterday) the most conspicious waders were Whimbrel, with single figures daily and up to twenty today. Through the week there were also singletons of Lapwing, Curlew, Bar-tailed Godwit, Greenshank and Common Sandpiper and a few Redshank and Dunlin.

Common Tern on the tern rails today. Following last week's first of the year a few have been seen this week, along with several more Sandwich Terns, though nowhere near the numbers we usually see in April.


A Red Kite on Friday was the highlight but the regular male Marsh Harrier was also seen a couple of times.


Alright not really passerines just 'near-passerines'...arguably the best two spring migrants of the week were a very elusive Cuckoo on Wednesday (heard but not seen) and a very confiding Turtle Dove today...

(European) Turtle Dove by The Swannery Shop today...nice find Judy!
It was clearly exhuasted by its' long flight (it was even picked up at one point by a well meaning visitor) but helped by a scattering of seed it soon showed signs of recovery and had apparently moved on by the end of the day.
(European) Turtle Dove by The Swannery Shop.
A summer visitor that was once relatively common it has declined dramatically due to changes in farming practises and over-hunting during its' migration through southern Europe. At least this one made it back...just!
To real passerines now and to add to last weeks tally of firsts of the Spring 'new in' species this week were Reed Warblers from Tuesday, a Lesser Whitethroat on Friday and one or two fly-over Yellow Wagtails at the weekend.

Male (Eurasian) Blackcap at The Swannery today. © Charlie Wheeler
(Thanks Charlie for this and the Egret and Brent photos).
There were also still several Chiffchaffs. Willow, Sedge and Cettis' Warblers in the withy and reedbeds  this week but only one Wheatear in the meadows and only a few Swallows and House and Sand Martins over,
So into late April now... bring on the rares!

Sunday, 14 April 2013

'Compare the 'Blackwits'.com'

Swannery birding highlights of the week...

Monday 8th to Sunday 14th April 2013.........

As hoped for, the first Garganey of the year at last put in an appearance this week. Two (a pair) were on flooded reed stubble in the western ('Ditchmoor') reed beds on Friday and then today three eventually gave themselves up in the water meadow...
The three Garganey in the water meadow today...two drakes and a duck.

Another shot of two of the Garganey.
Skulking among the rushes and sedges at first they broke cover at the appearance of the regular Marsh Harrier.
The other wildfowl highlights were the continued presence of the nine wintering Scaup and a brief visit from a tardy ('Dark-bellied') Brent Goose.

The single Black-tailed Godwit seen by colleague Charlie last Sunday was still present on Monday allowing me to catch up with it, having missed it the day before. It appeared to be of the nominate race limosa rather than of the Icelandic race islandica which I assumed it to be on my last weekly roundup (following the twenty-four islandica race birds on the 4th). It looked larger, longer billed and longer legged than even the female (which are larger) Icelandic birds that Charlie found and photographed last week but most crucially it had the typically 'retarded' summer plumage of the nominate form. None of last week's islandica birds, not even the females, showed such plain unmarked upper-parts. It lingered all week and was today joined by another 'Blackwit', an Icelandic bird!...

The two Black-tailed Godwits in the water meadow today. The larger plainer left hand bird appears to be of the nominate race limosa (which in Britain breeds sparsely in England and southern Scotland) whereas the smaller, more colourful right hand bird is a typical Icelandic race bird islandica (which in Britain breeds on the Northern Isles) and is usually the most numerous form on passage and in winter here.

The three Garganey and two Black-tailed Godwits in the water meadow today along with four (Northern) Shoveler, two (Eurasian) Wigeon and a (Eurasian) Teal. This shot illustrates that the orange-red of the left hand limosa bird stops abruptly on the breast and doesn't extend down the flanks as the deeper rufous-red does on the right hand islandica.
Other waders on the move were two Grey Plovers on Monday, a single Jack Snipe on Tuesday, with two on Wednesday, whilst the latter day also produced a Turnstone and the first Whimbrel of the spring. A few Ringed Plovers, Curlews, Snipe, Dunlins and Redshanks were seen or heard most days and as the week progressed a few more Whimbrels were logged and on the final day of the week the first Common Sandpiper arrived.

There were no gulls of note but a few Sandwich Terns were around daily and the first Common Tern of the spring was found by the 'count boys' today.

The results of today's April Swannery Wetland Bird Survey were as follows...

Mute Swan - 381
Black Swan - 2
Canada Goose - 9
Shelduck - 27
Wigeon - 8
Gadwall - 14
Teal - 33
Mallard - 110
Mallard (domestic) - 2
Garganey - 3
Shoveler - 20
Pochard - 38
Tufted Duck - 156
Scaup - 9
Red-breasted Merganser - 18
Little Grebe - 3
Great Crested Grebe - 11
Cormorant - 5
Little Egret - 4
Moorhen -  3
Coot - 58
Oystercatcher - 6
Black-tailed Godwit - 2
Whimbrel - 1
Curlew - 1
Common Sandpiper - 1
Redshank - 5
Black-headed Gull - 26
Common Gull - 2
Herring Gull - 17
Great Black-backed Gull - 30
Sandwich Tern - 15
Common Tern - 1
Thanks as always to Alan, Ian and Mike for helping me with the Abbotsbury section of the count and thanks too to Don, Graham and Chris for the other Fleet sections and the two Kens for Portland Harbour. I'm still short of a counter for 'The Littlesea'/Chickerell section, so come on all you local birders... your local WeBS organiser needs you!
I was going to say 'on to land birds now' but the only raptors of note were both wetland species... the first Osprey of the spring flew north on Tuesday and there was still the occasional sighting of one or two Marsh Harriers.

And so to passerines... The highlight was a  Firecrest on Thursday (the first since January so a definite new arrival) but close behind were the first Swallows of the spring that arrived from Tuesday, the first Willow Warblers and House Martins on Friday and the first Sedge Warbler today. Chiffchaffs, Blackcaps and after a weeks hiatus Sand Martins continue to move through but there were no Wheatears this week and as yet no White or Yellow Wagtails...maybe next week!

Other Swannery wildlife...

Charlie found this cool Beetle at The Swannery this week and we identified it as a Violet Oil Beetle © Charlie Wheeler
Thanks for the above and following photo Charlie.


I forgot to mention last week that the first swan's eggs of the year were laid on the 1st April... of the thirty odd pairs of Mute Swan that have laid so far. © Charlie Wheeler

Sunday, 7 April 2013

'Hope Springs Eternal'

Swannery birding highlights of the week...

Monday 1st to Sunday 7th April 2013.........

Winter is still reluctant to relinquish it's hold but surely warmer spring-like weather is just around the corner?

Spring is certainly battling to make her presence felt and the season's influence was certainly behind the departure of the three wintering Long-tailed Ducks, that were last seen on Tuesday. The nine Scaup remain however and they are now becoming remarkably tame, coming in to feed at the swan feeds with the 'Tufties' and Pochard (along with the two Scaup x 'Tufty' hybrids -see last Tuesday's post). A few Wigeon, Gadwall, Teal and Shoveler remain too as do the usual tardy Red-breasted Mergansers but we still await the first returning Garganey.

Male Scaup at The Swannery this week. © Charlie Wheeler
Most if not all the present Swannery birds are second calendar year birds but this one's still a cracker.
Following on from last week's two singles, yet another Spoonbill flew east on Friday and went on to join the other two at nearby Lodmoor (bringing the total up to five there briefly on Saturday morning).
Smaller wading birds were on the move too, most notable were a flock of twenty-four Icelandic Black-tailed Godwits on Friday (with an equally brief single today)...

 Black-tailed Godwits (race islandica) at 'The Fleet Pipe'  © Charlie Wheeler
A mixed sex flock, the smaller more colourful males standing out from the females.
While a Greenshank too was a good early spring find (present Friday and Saturday), as was a Jack Snipe (on Saturday).

The Greenshank at 'The Fleet Pipe'.

'Also ran' waders were Oystercatcher, Lapwing, Dunlin, Snipe, Curlew and Redshank, all in single figures. Gull numbers were rather low too but the larger species present were cashing in on the 'by-products' of lambing in the meadows and among the 'British' graellsii Lesser Black-backed Gulls were one or two 'Continental' intermedius race birds.

A Barn Owl was hunting the meadows one (now light) early evening and one or two Marsh Harriers were present on and off.

The passerine migrant highlight was my first ever spring Swannery Ring Ouzel, a male in the meadow that lingered from Wednesday to Saturday although rather elusive at times and very skittish. That may have been due though to the company it was keeping... a loose mixed flock of Blackbirds and Song Thrushes some of the latter at least being shy continental race birds, looking almost pallid alongside their British cousins. I did however manage a couple of long range shots of the 'upland blackbird' (though heavily cropped).

Above two pics  male Ring Ouzel in the water meadow.
A few Wheatears were around too as was the odd Blackcap but no more Sand Martins (and still no Swallows), with Chiffchaffs still being the most common and noticeable 'spring migrant'...

Common Chiffchaff at The Swannery © Charlie Wheeler
Potential breeding passerines of note included several singing Cettis' Warblers, at least one Stonechat back on territory and after an abscence of a spring or two, at least one, hopefully two Nuthatches...

Above two pics (Eurasian) Nuthatch nest prospecting near The Swannery shop.
It'll have its work cut out plastering up that cavity!

I was not working from Tuesday to Friday this week (as I was using up the last of my annual leave before the April 6th cut-off) but despite this I still birded The Swannery for an hour or two everyday (sorry Suz). Nevertheless as always I still obviously missed a fair amount but some of the slack was taken up by my colleague Charlie, so thanks go to him for some of the above sightings and as usual some of the above photos, cheers Charlie. Click the link below to check out Charlie's Website...

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

'April Fools?'

A rare mid-week post but it's not the latest Swannery bird highlights...

You'll have to wait for those until Sunday evening as usual!

No this is to do with the 'April Fool' published on the Dorset Bird Club Daily Sightings Blog yesterday (or at least Sunday night). On Sunday's sightings they have a photo of The Swannery's regularly returning hybrid female (presumed) 'Tufty' x Scaup and have captioned it as a 'duck Scaup'...Oh you guys, what a wheeze... I wonder how many of you they fooled!

The hybrid female presumed 'Tufty' x Scaup (with a Coot). The same photo I used in a recent post, not the photo on the Dorset Bird Club Daily Sightings Blog, you'll have to log on to compare that one (see link below).

And the 'real McCoy' a female (Greater) Scaup at The Swannery yesterday.

I think you'll find the the bird featured on the Dorset Daily Sightings page is the hybrid bird in the top photo which has a very Tufted Duck feel about it... the angular head, the reduced white face patch, the general colouration and 'jizz'.

Click on the link below to view the photo. If the link doesn't work copy and paste it into your search engine...

On the subject of errors (?) you may have noticed that on my last post I omitted to mention the report of a Bittern at The Swannery on Saturday. This was basically because a) I forgot all about it when I was posting and b) because I believe the report was erroneous (which was why I forgot all about it).

I have only seen around five Bitterns at The Swannery during my near twenty-five year tenure. In fact I've seen more Cattle Egrets and more Great White Egrets than I have Bitterns. This is because our tidal and often brackish reedbeds are just not suitable for Bitterns. They hold no freshwater fish or amphibians both of which are important food items for the species. Of course this alone is no reason to doubt the report but I do have a more compelling reason...
I wasn't working on Saturday and didn't make it down to The Swannery to do any birding, though I did bird the fields between The Swannery and my cottage, well within hearing range of a booming Bittern! On returning home I logged onto the RBA website and rather perplexed I read the report of a Bittern at The Swannery. For some reason I didn't immediately race off down there, probably assuming that it would be like looking for a needle in a haystack (or should that be 'like looking for a Bittern in a reedbed'?). I did however pop down there the following day only to learn from my colleagues that the reported Bittern was only heard not seen and the 'observer' or rather 'listener' was a lady whose husband was a birder (which probably explains how it made it onto the rare bird info. sites). Now the last 'booming Bittern' that was reported at The Swannery a few years back (that even somehow made it into 'The Dorset Bird Report') turned out to be a 'booming' Black Swan on it's nest in the middle of a small reedbed. Apparently the very reedbed where Saturday's 'Bittern' was heard and the very reedbed where a pair of Black Swans are nest building this year, hmm. Now to the trained ear Bitterns and Black Swans don't sound alike but to the untrained ear they clearly do. Click the link below to hear a Black Swan 'booming' (it's not the greatest recording, but the best I could find). If the link doesn't work copy and paste it into your search engine...

Case closed?

The Swannery's (feral) Black Swans from a previous post.