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, 24 November 2013

The Temperature Drops...

But My Blood Pressure Rises!

Swannery Birding Highlights Of The Week...

Monday 18th to Sunday 24th November 2013...

Well last week, having almost certainly missed a fly-over Twite and a fly-over Lapland Bunting while I was away, I pondered whether I would actually have connected with them even if I had been at work. Well my first day back on Monday proved that I may well not have, as despite being technically in the right place at the right time, I still managed to miss yet another good bird, that (yet again) was seen by Luke, flying northwest over his ringing site on private land a mile or so to the southeast... a Richard's Pipit. Fortunately, like the finch and bunting, it wouldn't have been a Swannery tick but once again it would still have been nice to connect with. In fact the 'Richard's' sighting went somewhat against the grain as despite what appeared to be often excellent conditions for overhead passage there was very little evidence of 'vis-mig' at all. A single Redpoll was the highlight (excepting the Richard's of course if it did indeed fly over the patch and not take a detour) and that was about it, save for a trickle of Meadow Pipits and small groups of Starlings, although a few Redwings were heard at night and a few were seen leaving their roost one morning.

The withy-beds still held a few Chiffchaffs (but there was no sign of the Siberian), while the reed-beds held several Cetti's Warblers (but no Bearded Tits) and a Blackcap still frequented my adjacent garden (as did the male Lady Amherst's Pheasant).

With good land-birds in short supply it was left to wildfowl to enliven the week and indeed the main highlight was the reappearance of a flock of twelve presumed wild Barnacle Geese...
The Barnacle Geese that frequented the water-meadows from Wednesday to Friday.

This is now the fifth winter in a row that a flock of Barnacles have appeared on the West Fleet. Numbers have varied but there were peaks of forty-nine in winter 2009-10, eighty-five in 2010-11, thirty-seven in 2011-12 and four in 2012-13. It is easy to dismiss these as wandering 'feral' birds but they are extremely wary and are surely more likely to be wild birds, perhaps part of the population that regularly winter along the continental coast of the English Channel.

All the usual duck species were present, albeit in not very impressive numbers and this included (at last) the first couple of Red-breasted Mergansers of the season (but still no Goldeneye). The main duck highlight though was the brief appearance of two 'Redhead' Goosanders...
One of the two 'Redhead' Goosanders on Tuesday.
.. and the continued erratic presence of the four Scaup...
The two drake and two female Scaup with two drake Pochard.
The regular wintering female Scaup x Tufted Duck reappeared this week (so no doubt there will be claims of five Scaup in the near future) and it was joined by a male Ferruginous x Pochard and a male presumed Scaup x Tufted Duck (but the latter more closely resembles a 'Tufty' so will unlikely cause any confusion to any birders 'scoping' from the tank teeth or New Barn Road. While on that subject I appreciate it is difficult to view the Pochard flock from public rights of way but that doesn't give would be observers the excuse to totally ignore the no access signs at the tank traps and walk along the Fleet shoreline of Chesil as two birders did yesterday (and not for the first time I hasten to add)! There is no public right of way along the privately owned landward side of The Chesil here (hence the fence and 'no access' signs). The reason for the restriction is to avoid disturbing the birds and the other fauna and flora of the reserve. Such intrusive and irresponsible behaviour only results in flushing all the birds in the western embayment and trampling the shingle vegetation in the process too. For that reason I am no longer going to be putting out daily updates on the presence of the Scaup or any other scarce or rare birds in The Swannery embayment on Rare Bird Alert or the Dorset Bird Club Daily Sightings Blog for the time being at least. I will still be publishing the blog of course so there won't be a total news blackout (and that therefore may seem to defeat the object) but I feel confident my readers are a bit more responsible than those two idiots!

Back to the birds a few waders went into the log... one hundred or so Lapwing, thirty plus Snipe, eight Dunlin, three Redshank and a single Turnstone. While the best of the gulls were two Yellow-legged Gulls (a first and a third calendar year) along with the now expected few 'Meds'.

The only raptor of note was the male Marsh Harrier. The juveniles and the adult female appear to have moved on (for the time being at least).

And that's about it in a winter when as yet there have been none of the  less common grebes, no Long-tailed ducks, no wild grey geese or 'wild' swans... maybe next week?

The female Scaup x Tufted Duck today.


Sunday, 17 November 2013

A Week Off Work, A Week Off Birding (ish)!

Swannery Birding Highlights Of The Week...

Monday 11th to Sunday 17th November 2013...

I was on leave this week and as I had plenty to do at home (in the way of decorating etc.) and I wanted to spend some quality time with Suz, I hardly did any birding at all and indeed, apart from one very brief visit mid-week,  I only made it down to The Swannery on a few occasions over the weekend. Even then, as I wasn't early to rise on Saturday, I almost certainly missed a couple of good birds. Ringer Luke Phillips had a Twite and then a Lapland Bunting fly west over his net rides at a private site, a mile or so to the southeast of The Swannery, first thing in the morning. Neither would have been a patch tick for me but would still have been nice to see if their northwest trajectory did indeed take them over The Swannery. With a couple of Lapland Buntings and a Hawfinch at nearby West Bay in the week and a couple of Snow Buntings at West Bexington today, I could well have missed a fare bit of good 'vis mig' in the week but whether I would have connected with anything of note if I had been at work, I'll never know! One bird I certainly missed seeing though was the Siberian Chiffchaff that I heard calling the previous week, as ringers Luke and Steve Hales trapped a very likely candidate, in The Swannery withybed, late Friday afternoon...
The putative Siberian Chiffchaff © Luke Phillips
Thanks for the use of the pic Luke. For more info on the Chiffchaff, Twite & Lapland Bunting see welshbirderindorset

Steve also trapped a few Lesser Redpolls, including a very pink, presumed adult male...

Lesser Redpoll, adult male?
Thanks for the use of the pic Steve. For more info on and pics of the Redpolls and the Bearded Tits Steve caught this week see abbotsburyswanneryringing

There were also quite a few Siskins around too including one at my Grove Lane feeding station...

Siskin, a first for my Grove Lane feeding station, with a House Sparrow.
A rather heavily cropped record shot! A Blackcap was also present.

From my garden I also heard the first Brambling of the autumn over by The Swannery entrance, so I did manage to get a bit of birding in during the week!
When I finally did get the chance to have a proper look round on Saturday I didn't really see much other than a flock of seven Egyptian Geese, which despite their continued spread out from the Home Counties are still a bit of a novelty in West Dorset...

A rather distant shot of the seven Egyptian Geese on Shipmoor Point.
This is the third Swannery record this year following a flock of five in February and one in April and May, which from the top of my head more than doubles the all time number of Swannery records. I think this naturalised species will soon be as regular here as feral Greylag, if not quite so common as Canada Goose!

The two adult drake Scaup were still present on Sunday but there was no sign of the two first winter females. All the commoner duck present the previous week were still around too but still no Red-breasted Mergansers or Goldeneyes, let alone any Long-tailed Ducks.

The only waders over the weekend were around two-hundred Lapwing, three Redshank and a few Snipe and there were no gulls of note, not even any 'Meds'. It would seem highly likely however that I missed out on at least a few Little Gulls in the week, that's if events at Portland are anything to go by! The only raptor sighting of any note was the regular male Marsh Harrier.
Despite the presence of a massive tit flock that held amongst other things a number of Goldcrests and Chiffchaffs there was no sign over the weekend of any Firecrests or that elusive Siberian Chiffchaff. Maybe I'll connect with it when I'm 'back in the saddle' next week!

Suz and I had a most pleasant trip to The Subtropical Gardens on Friday afternoon but as it was a non-birding visit I didn't manage to connect with the Firecrests. However, the slog up Magnolia Walk is always worth it for this fantastic view of The Swannery, The Fleet and Chesil Bank!

Sunday, 10 November 2013

'Peeping Tomsk'

Swannery Birding Highlights Of The Week...

Monday 4th to Sunday 10th November 2013...

Scarce Migrants...

The Swannery closed to the public for the winter season last Sunday (3rd November), so this week was the first week (since early March) that we had no paying visitors to the attraction. It was just as well then that the Yellow-browed Warbler I found on Monday, while I was taking all the signs down by the upper entrance, was viewable from public rights of way...
The Yellow-browed Warbler by The Swannery entrance © Peter Moore
  Peter Moore's Blog

This allowed several local birders/photographers to connect with it, which was fortuitous as my attempts to photograph it left a lot to be desired. Thanks go to Peter for the use of the above image.
 This was the fourth sighting at The Swannery/Grove Lane area of the autumn although it is unclear of course how many individuals were involved (anything from one to four!). This week's bird (or at least this week's sighting) was the most showy but the other scarce migrant of the week, another eastern leaf warbler, was far less cooperative, a Siberian Chiffchaff. Despite hearing it give it's distinctive sad 'peep' call on a number of occasions I just couldn't pin it down. I'm hoping it will stick around and attempt to over-winter allowing me to connect with it over the next couple of weeks.

And Now The Rest Of The News...


Today was 'Count Day' and the results of this month's WeBS for wildfowl were as follows...

Mute Swan
Mallard (domestic)
Tufted Duck
A pretty representative sample of numbers and species for the week but yesterday the Scaup 'flock' had actually crept up to four (two adult drakes and two first year females) and last week's settled Dark-bellied Brent Goose lingered until Monday. It is interesting to note that now that we are closed and have reduced the daily feeds from three to two (with only one at weekends), the two Black Swans have moved on, as have the few remaining Canada Geese taking the possible Todd's Canada Goose with them. So look out for a slightly smaller and darker Canada Goose in a flock near you now! The aim of the food reduction is to try and persuade the swans to move off down The Fleet onto the Eelgrass, which should be at its most abundant at this time of year, although we have reasons to believe that this may not actually be the case this year.

The Dark-bellied Brent Goose, a seemingly rather worn individual.

Miscellaneous Water-birds...

The results of this month's WeBS for other water-birds were as follows...

Little Egret
Grey Heron
Little Grebe
Great Crested Grebe
Again a pretty representative sample of numbers and species for the week but as usual Water Rails and Moorhens were under-recorded due to their skulking natures. The best water-bird of the week though was the Shag seen on Thursday (and possibly present the day before too). Shags are a scarce bird on the shallower, fresher West Fleet and in fact, off the top of my head this is only about the fourth record at The Swannery during my twenty-five year tenure (although one of those records involved three together). Unfortunately it was always too far off to photograph.


The results of this month's WeBS for waders were as follows...

Black-tailed Godwit
The 'Blackwits' were actually flying west and the only other waders in the week were a single Dunlin and a few Snipe.


 Gulls & Allies...

The results of this month's WeBS for gulls were as follows...

Black-headed Gull
Mediterranean Gull
Common Gull
Herring Gull
Great Black-backed Gull

This is a pretty poor representation of numbers for the week, at least for the larger species, as during the often stormy conditions hundreds were loafing on the beach opposite. Mostly Herring and Great Black-backs a few Lesser Black-backs were also present but the smaller gulls were in rather short supply. The same gales were also responsible for the appearance of one of this week's main highlights... a Great Skua that flew across the embayment and over the beach to the sea beyond, causing pandemonium as it went! Bonxies, if you prefer their widely used Shetland name, were once just about annual visitors to The Swannery but this week's bird was the first for at least four years!


The best 'BOP' of the week was today's 'ringtail' Hen Harrier, the first of the autumn, seen in the air together with the two regular Marsh Harriers (the male and a juvenile).

Land-birds, Non-passerines...

The first real Wood Pigeon movement was noted today but it involved only a few hundred moving NW rather than the usual thousands. The only other bird in this category worth a mention is the continued, although erratic presence, of the escaped/liberated male Lady Amherst's Pheasant.

Land-birds, Passerines...

Yellowhammer at Seventeen Acre Point today, just to the east of The Swannery recording area. Once relatively common at The Swannery proper it is now only just about annual, although the species still breeds around nearby Rodden,

Visible migration was again poor, even on the few mornings that conditions looked ideal. Just a few Skylarks, Meadow Pipits, Siskins and the odd (Lesser?) Redpoll flew over or settled briefly. There have been no real Starling or corvid movements yet but fifty plus Carrion Crows on the beach opposite was a good count, though there was no sign of last year's probable Hoodie hybrid. As for nocturnal migrants, Goldcrests were fairly numerous and held the first few Firecrests of the autumn. Common Chiffchaffs were also still much in evidence (at least more so than their Siberian relative) but the only other warblers noted were the ever-present Cetti's. There were no more obvious thrush arrivals and the only chat of note was a Black Redstart seen during the count today but unfortunately it was outside my recording area at nearby Higher Barn.

The Fleet from Bury Knapp looking west to the West Dorset and East Devon coast, today.

The Fleet from Clouds Hill looking east to The Isle of Portland, today.

And Finally...

In the still mild conditions a number of butterflies are still on the wing including a few Clouded Yellows...
Female Clouded Yellow in The Swannery car park today, thanks Judy for pointing it out. Pity about that blade of grass!

Sunday, 3 November 2013

'Jude The Obscure'

Swannery Birding Highlights Of The Week...

Monday 28th October to Sunday 3rd November 2013...


St. Jude's Storm failed to produce the gale-blown seabirds predicted and in fact despite the strong western influence in the weather it was two or three eastern leaf warblers that stole this weeks show, albeit not quite the species I had in mind .


The two adult drake Scaups were joined by a first winter female this week...

But they were the only ducks of any real note. A few more Dark-bellied Brent Geese went into the log though, with one arriving with Canada Geese Sunday morning and lingering for a while, whilst four flew east Sunday afternoon. 


 Above two pics - Sunday morning's Dark-bellied Brent Goose

The possible Todd's Canada Goose still lingers...
And it stands out alongside it's Atlantic Canada Goose congeners far more than photos convey.


Again no doubt due to the high water there is little to report this week. The Lapwing flock, if present at all, dropped back to twenty odd, only the occasional Snipe was seen, there was just one Dunlin and a mere two Redshanks.

One of this week's Redshank


The best larid of the week was a fourth calendar year Yellow-legged Gull loafing with the flock of the three usual large gull species on the beach opposite on Saturday but despite events elsewhere in the vicinity the only small gulls were the usual Commons, Black-headeds and 'Meds'.


With Marsh Harriers now almost commonplace it was a brief Merlin on Tuesday that took the prize as raptor of the week.


Overhead Passage...

The strong winds put paid to most visible migration this week but there were a couple of mornings when dribs and drabs flew over. This light passage consisted mostly of Skylarks, Meadow Pipits, Pied Wagtails, Linnets and Siskins but the first (presumed Lesser) Redpoll of the autumn was heard and a White Wagtail was seen. There was also the first hint that a few Starlings and Wood Pigeons were on the move.
Un-ringed domestic Rock Dove/Feral Pigeon (the other leg hasn't got a ring either, honest!)
Most domestic 'Rock Doves' that occur at the Swannery are either  'racing/homing' birds (actively racing overhead or lingering AWOL) or white 'fancy' birds from the village. Very rarely though a grey one will turn up without rings such as this week's bird above. Therefore it may be a genuine feral bird... so to paraphrase Dick Dastardly... 'Tick that pigeon now!'
Bathing Grey Wagtail perfectly camouflaged in the Abbey Mill Stream.
Grey Wagtails formerly nested regularly under Grove Lane bridge (as did Dippers) but they now only occur on passage and in winter (whereas Dippers are now just a memory for those lucky enough to have seen them back in the day, which unfortunately isn't me!).
Siskin, one of a few that lingered briefly with the Goldfinch flock this week.

Nocturnal Migrants...

In what weren't the best conditions to be looking for warblers and their ilk, it still seemed pretty quiet with only a few Chiffchaffs and the odd Blackcap among the now more numerous Goldcrests. This didn't stop me from trying to find a Pallas's Warbler however so when on Wednesday I came across my second Yellow-browed Warbler of the autumn in the outer withy-bed I felt a bit like I'd lost a pound and found a penny! In the same tit flock was a rather grey and subtly wing-barred Chiffchaff but it was calling like a Common (rather than a Siberian) so was presumably 'just' an eastern abientinus. With the lack of commoner migrants I was even more surprised the following day to find what may well have been a different Yellow-browed Warbler in my Grove Lane garden!

And Finally...

The storms may not have produced anything as good as Chesil Cove's Surf Scoter in the Swannery Embayment but some of the diving duck therein were having a good surf nonetheless as workmate and keen wildlife photographer Charlie Wheeler discovered...
 Above four photos  © Charlie Wheeler wheeler-photography Thanks Charlie.