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 16 November 2014

Sorry...But That's It For Now Folks!

Due to recent events I have regrettably  taken the decision to stop publicising the presence of any scarce/rare species at The Swannery, at least until we reopen in March.

In the last few weeks there have been repeated incursions on to private parts of the reserve in and around The Swannery, by a small minority of birders wanting to see (or getter better views of) the recent run of good birds. This despite most, if not all of these birds, being viewable, albeit distantly from public rights of way. 

By 'putting the news out' I feel I am encouraging these infringements and I know some of my colleague's on the reserve have long been uncomfortable with the open policy regarding rare sightings, that I have tried to maintain in recent years, due to the sadly inevitable problems this brings.

Therefore this makes my weekly round-up of sightings on this blog completely untenable. 

My apologies to the vast majority of birders who behave impeccably during their visits to the reserve and to my birding and non-birding readers too, thank you for your support.

I hope to post a 2014 review in the new year if this is practically possible and, as I have already alluded to, I may restart the weekly postings once we reopen (although as some of the worst incursions in the past have happened while we are open this may have to be reviewed).

I have greatly enjoyed compiling these posts over the last three years and I hope you have enjoyed reading them. 


Steve Groves.

Monday 10 November 2014

Swannery Birding Highlights Of The Week - Monday 3rd to Sunday 9th November 2014...

Three Dorset Rarities In One Day!

The first of this week's Dorset rarities was a first winter drake Green-winged Teal on meadow pool on Thursday. This constitutes the fourth Swannery record of this North American equivalent of our (Eurasian) Teal following an adult drake in November/December 1999 and first-winter drakes from November 2001 to January 2002 and November/December 2007. The only other record for The Fleet was a drake at Rodden Hive in March 2005. This week's bird proved elusive for the rest of the week but was seen again back on meadow pool on Sunday.

The 1st winter drake Green-winged Teal

The second county rarity of the week was  an adult Greenland White-fronted Goose that was with the Canada Goose flock on Sunday. There have been three previous Swannery records of this Greenland breeding form of (Greater) White-fronted Goose including the first ever for Dorset (found by the late Brigadier Geoffrey Westbrook) in October 1992. The other records were of three together in November 1998 and one in October 2008. The most regular form of this goose in Dorset of course is the pink-billed, Russian breeding Eurasian White-fronted Goose but there is some evidence that the Greenland form may be best treated as a full species.

The adult Greenland White-fronted Goose © Steve Groves 
Note the large orange bill, overall darkish plumage and smallish white blaze
The adult Greenland White-fronted Goose © Steve Groves 
Note the bold belly barring.

The third county rarity of the week (and like the latter also found on Sunday), was a first winter Surf Scoter. There have been no previous Swannery records of this Arctic North American breeding sea-duck but there are two previous records for the Chesil Bank and The Fleet recording area: One on The Fleet at Littlesea in December 2000 (that was then present in Portland Harbour until January) and one on the sea off Abbotsbury Beach in February/March 2008 (that also ranged to West Bexington). Sunday's bird was first found by birders that were infringing on a part of the beach where there is no general access (where they were presumably trying to relocate a Little Auk seen the previous day - more on the auk later). It is unclear however if the scoter was initially found in The Swannery Embayment. When I found it independently later (without prior knowledge), while carrying out the WeBS on private land, it was on The Fleet just to the south east of the embayment so I was wrestling with my conscience as to whether I could count it on my Swannery list! Luckily, although it was still in the same area later in the day, I was still able to see it and identify it (at considerable distance) from Helen Hide within The Swannery grounds, so I'll take that! Number 262 on my Swannery list!

Other Wildfowl... 

Apart from the three species already mentioned the main highlights were a slightly unseasonal first winter Garganey on Tuesday, the two Long-tailed Ducks and the four Scaup. For a fuller picture of the current Swannery wildfowl, Sunday's November WeBS totals were: 

Mute Swan - 664; 
'Greenland' White-fronted Goose - 1; 
Canada Goose - 42; 
Shelduck - 9; 
Wigeon - 340; 
Gadwall - 1; 
Teal - 300 (1000 on Wednesday); 
Green-winged Teal - 1; 
Mallard - 438; 
Pintail - 4 (100 on Wednesday); 
Shoveler - 31; 
Pochard - 275; 
Tufted Duck - 237; 
Scaup - 4 
Long-tailed Duck - 2; 
Surf Scoter - 1
Red-breasted Merganser - 13.

In addition the two long-staying Black Swans were last seen on Tuesday and the Scaup-like hybrid remains. Note however, no Goldeneye!


Only four species were seen during Sunday's October WeBS count:

Golden Plover - 1;
Lapwing - 164;
Knot- 1; 
Redshank - 4;

In addition in the week there were just two Snipe and an Oystercatcher.

Gulls & Allies... 

A Little Auk was present in The Swannery Embayment on Friday and Saturday, the first since November 2003! Also at least four Yellow-legged Gulls were seen (two adults and two first winters) but few gulls were seen during Sunday's November WeBS count (larger counts in the week, if any,  follow in brackets): 

Black-headed Gull - 32 (100+); 
Mediterranean Gull - 2 (50+); 
Common Gull - 1 (10+); 
Lesser Black-backed Gull - 1 (30+);  
Herring Gull - 77 (100+); 
Great Black-backed Gull - 14 (200+). 

Other Water-birds... 

Sunday's November WeBS totals give a good idea of the numbers and variety of other water-birds present this week: 

Little Grebe - 22; 
Great Crested Grebe - 44; 
Cormorant - 5; 
Little Egret - 4; 
Grey Heron - 1; 
Moorhen - 20; 
Coot - 445; 
Kingfisher - 1. 

In addition in the week there were a several Water Rails in evidence.


An immature Marsh Harrier was seen on several occasions and there were single figures of BuzzardSparrowhawk and Kestrel, whilst at least one Peregrine was also around.

Passerines etc...

Last week's (or another) Firecrest was still in the upper grounds on Sunday at least and on the same day the first four Lesser Redpolls of the autumn were ringed by Steve Hales, whilst a few Siskins were heard in the week. There was at least one Blackcap and there were several Chiffchaffs still. There were also still plenty of BlackbirdsSong Thrushes and even Mistle Thrushes (but still no Redwings or Fieldfares). Overhead passage was almost non-existent save for several thousand Woodpigeons and several hundred Stock Doves and although the Jay passage seems to have petered out there were still several around. At least one Rock Pipit was again along the shore and numerous Meadow Pipits in the surrounding meadows (where else?). There was still a pre-roost gathering of at least fifty Pied Wagtails and a few Grey Wagtails were still visiting the stream. The reeds still held plenty of Reed Buntings and Cetti's Warblers, whilst Bearded Reedlings were heard from time to time. It's also nice to see a murmuration of Starlings again albeit very small in numbers compared to when thousands would black out the sky here!

And Last But Not Least...

Thanks to Steve Hales, Nick Urch and Paul Harris for their additional info. Also thanks to Alan Barrett and Ian McLean for helping with the Swannery WeBS (and to all the other Fleet & Portland Harbour counters of course).

Another image of the Greenland White-fronted Goose © Steve Groves 

Monday 3 November 2014

Swannery Birding Highlights Of The Week - Monday 27th October to Sunday 2nd November 2014...

A Putative Pallid Swift... 

Shortly after 2.30 pm on Wednesday I was helping to reconstruct the frame of the 'House' Decoy Pipe (teetering on the top of a pair of step-ladders which were resting on a duck-board which in turn was resting on the bottom of the decoy pond), when a swift flew over! Needless to say (with what would be a very late date for a 'Common' but a spot on date for a vagrant 'Pallid') pandemonium set in! I'd left my 'bin's' hanging nearby so after the appropriate expletives I shouted for one of my colleagues to pass them to me but the light was atrocious and the swift flew off toward the swannery lower entrance. I managed to extricate myself from my precarious position and as colleague Charlie set off for his camera I watched the silhouetted swift making passes over the swannery buildings as I put the news out. The bird then spent twenty minutes or so flying over the stand of poplars west of the willow maze, often dipping out of site below the trees or disappearing into the fast thickening fog. Before the bird vanished for the last time Charlie somehow managed to get some shots, remarkable considering the distance and the very poor light but (with the fast shutter speed required not helping) they all proved to be inconclusive regarding a firm id...

Above four images the Abbotsbury 'swift species' © Charlie Wheeler wheeler-photography 

My gut feeling is that the bird was a Pallid, it just didn't 'feel' like a Common and indeed the only time I saw it not as a silhouette (when it dropped below the near side of the poplar clump) it looked spot on for Pallid. The majority of those that have seen the images (and got back to me) also conclude that it was probably a Pallid. With only one brief 'goodish' view and inconclusive pictures however I guess we shall never know for sure.

Scarce Migrants... 

Last week's Yellow-browed Warbler was heard again in Grove Lane on Monday morning but it was not seen or heard again. 


The two  Long-tailed Ducks and four Scaup were present all week, although all but the long-staying adult female of the latter species could be elusive at times. All the regular wintering species were present in varying numbers including last week's newly returned Shelducks and a few brief Dark-bellied Brent Geese. Once again though, there were no GadwallGoldeneye or Red-breasted Merganser.

Above two images the two juv/1st winter Long-tailed Ducks


The twenty odd Lapwing remained but otherwise there were just three Redshanks, one or two Common Sandpipers and singles of Snipe and Dunlin

One of up to two Common Sandpipers present this week

Gulls etc... 

All the regular expected species were well represented including now more frequent 'Commons', fairly good numbers of 'Mediterraneans' and a single 'Yellow-legged'...

This week's 1st winter Yellow-legged Gull


There were no noteworthy sightings this week (not even the regular male Marsh Harrier), just the usual Buzzards, Sparrowhawks, Kestrels and the occasional Peregrine.

Near Passerines...

In addition to the aforementioned 'swift'... Woodpigeon passage peaked at again a rather conservative five-hundred flying west on Tuesday, while one-hundred Stock Doves also flew west on Friday. In addition at least one Kingfisher is still around.


Although the Yellow-browed Warbler departed early on, new in migrants included a Firecrest on Tuesday and a Brambling on Thursday. After dropping off last week there were several Chiffchaffs again and despite a smattering of newly arrived Blackbirds, Song Thrushes and even a Mistle Thrush there have still been no Redwings or Fieldfares. Overhead passage was almost non-existent but a Rock Pipit (not so abundant so far this year) was among the few Meadow Pipits and Skylarks that flew over, while there was a pre-roost gathering of at least fifty Pied Wagtails and at least three Grey Wagtails visited the mill stream. The reeds were pretty quite save for the ever-present Cetti's Warblers but a few Reedlings were heard from time to time.

And Last But Least...

Thanks to Brett Spencer, Ken Tucker and Tim Farr for their comments on the 'swift' and to Charlie Wheeler for the use of his images.

Sunday 26 October 2014

Swannery Birding Highlights Of The Week - Monday 20th to Sunday 26th October 2014...

It was a pretty good week this week with two 'official' scarce migrants (even though I only connected with one) and a number of other noteworthy sightings too...

Scarce Migrants... 

Tim Farr had a Richard's Pipit fly over him as he scanned The Swannery embayment from New Barn Road, above the water meadow, at around 2pm on Saturday (just around the time I was returning from the water meadow hide!). It flew west but I subsequently learned that it appeared to drop down in a field between The Chapel and The Swannery. Needless to say I checked, as thoroughly as I could, all the fields in that area first thing this morning but to no avail. I almost certainly missed another last autumn too as one flew north-west along The Fleet at nearby Clouds Hill. Thankfully I found a settled bird back in November 1994 that lingered for five days in the water meadow, so at least I have one on my Swannery list!

I was just beginning to think I might miss out on Yellow-browed Warbler on the patch this year too with so many turning  up seemingly everywhere else! A quick stroll up the garden on Saturday morning though, before I left for work, paid dividends when I heard the distinctive call of this delightful little Leaf Warbler emanating from the adjacent Chapel Coppice. It was heard again later in the morning but I didn't get a chance to look for it again until my lunch hour, when I failed to even hear it. It wasn't until I got home from work in the evening that I eventually saw the little gem in the failing light. I saw it again this morning in the same small Sycamore on the boundary of my garden and Chapel Coppice but I didn't get the chance to look again today and it was dark before I got home. 


New in today were two (juv/1st winter) Long-tailed Ducks, the first since a one day bird in December last year; whilst new in yesterday were three (1st winter) Scaup, joining the long-staying (adult) female. Nine Shelducks that arrived on Wednesday were the first for a couple of months but otherwise numbers and variety were again similar to the previous weeks, though several Dark-bellied Brent Geese flew over including a group of twenty-two on Thursday. There were however no GadwallGoldeneye or Red-breasted Merganser.

The newly arrived 1st winter Scaup. The two on the left are clearly males but the bird on the right does look much more female-like. However juvenile males can still look like this so time will tell (if it sticks around). For a moment today I thought there were 5 Scaup until I realised that the regular hybrid had returned too!


There was a slightly  better variety this week but all but the twenty odd Lapwing were fleeting and in single figures, with just a couple each of Snipe, Redshank, Common Sandpier and Dunlin and singles of Golden Plover, Ringed Plover, Greenshank and Turnstone

A rather dishevelled Common Sandpiper.

Gulls etc... 

There were far fewer Mediterranean Gulls this week and still only the occasional Common Gulls among the numerous Black-headed Gulls and no surprises among the usual three 'big' gulls either.


Last week's Osprey lingered until Monday but was not seen subsequently; a Merlin flew through on Saturday and the regular male Marsh Harrier reappeared.

Near Passerines...

The first real Woodpigeon passage was noted on Wednesday with a rather conservative five-hundred flying west.


Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps are now becoming hard to find and together with the aforementioned Yellow-browed and ever present Cetti's, were the only warblers seen or heard. The roaming tit-flocks still held plenty of Goldcrests though (but still no Firecrests). A single Swallow on Monday and Tuesday was the only one of the weekSkylarksMeadow Pipits and Pied Wagtails were still moving over most days with the former two peaking at around five-hundred each on Wednesday, along with around one hundred Jackdaws. A Bullfinch was the first for awhile (but there were no Siskins this week and still no Redpolls or Brambling) but after a week's absence a few Bearded Reedlings reappeared including a rather fine and confiding male...

The male Bearded Reedling or Bearded Tit if you'd rather. I think I personally prefer just 'Reedling' as it's not a 'tit' and technically not bearded but moustached!

Sunday 19 October 2014

Swannery Birding Highlights Of The Week - Monday 13th to Sunday 19th October 2014...

It seemed rather quiet this week but three species making the bird news services can't be too bad I guess...


Numbers and variety were similar to last week, including the regular female Scaup but there was only a single Dark-bellied Brent Goose (and no Gadwall or Goldeneye). New in though and first of the autumn, was a 'redhead' Red-breasted Merganser.

The female Scaup (with Pochards). 
It shouldn't be too long now until she is joined by more of her ilk! 


A rather poor week with just singles of Black-tailed Godwit, Common Sandpiper, Redshank and Dunlin (and no Snipe!)

Gulls etc... 

Again pretty much as last week except that Mediterranean Gulls reached around fifty on several days and Common Gulls peaked at three (but there were no Yellow-legged Gulls). Bird of the week though was a Great Skua on Friday...

The Great Skua (or Bonxie) that spent several hours settled on The Fleet.
This piratical sea-bird is a less than annual, usually storm-blown, visitor to The Swannery Embayment (although more regular off the seaward side of Chesil bank of course). 
One of this week's Mediterranean Gulls (a 1st winter)


What was presumably last week's Osprey reappeared on Wednesday and was still present to at least Saturday (but there were no Marsh Harriers).

Migrant Passerines...

Once again Chiffchaffs, Blackcaps and Cetti's Warblers were the only warblers seen or heard but the roaming tit-flocks still held plenty of Goldcrests (but as yet no Coal Tits!). Swallows and House Martins peaked at around thirty each on several days early in the week but there were none at all in the last few days. LinnetsSkylarksMeadow Pipits and Pied Wagtails were still moving over most days but not in any significant number. A few Siskins were heard as were several Jays but the largest flock of the latter this week was of just three. There were a few more Blackbirds and Song Thrushes around this week along with the first Mistle Thrush for a couple of months (but no 'winter thrushes' as yet). There were however, plenty of Robins around along with several Stonechats and a single Wheatear

So we're pretty much into late October now and there still hasn't been any scarce migrants this month, let alone any rarities or patch ticks. Oh well still the best part of a two weeks to go!

One of this year's Mute Swan cygnets that are now taking to the air.
© Charlie Wheeler wheeler-photography 

Monday 13 October 2014

Swannery Birding Highlights Of The Week - Monday 6th to Sunday 12th October 2014...

It was definitely a more productive week this week albeit with no scarce migrants or rares...


Sunday's October WeBS totals give a good idea of the numbers and variety present this week: 
Mute Swan - 585; 
Black Swan - 2; 
Canada Goose - 27; 
Wigeon - 56; 
Teal - 1,000; 
Mallard - 567; 
Pintail - 44; 
Shoveler - 30; 
Pochard - 115; 
Tufted Duck - 190; 
Scaup - 1. 
In addition, in the week there were 30 Dark-bellied Brent Geese; 2 Gadwall and the regular male Goldeneye.

Other Water-birds... 

The highlight was a Shag on Wednesday which is a rare sight in The Swannery embayment and indeed The West Fleet in general... 

Above two images the juvenile Shag

Sunday's October WeBS totals give a good idea of the numbers and variety of other water-birds present this week: 
Little Grebe - 23; 
Great Crested Grebe - 68; 
Cormorant - 19; 
Little Egret - 11; 
Grey Heron - 2; 
Moorhen - 8; 
Coot - 820; 
Kingfisher - 2. 
In addition in the week there were a several Water Rails in evidence.

Above two images one of the Little Grebes


Only three species were seen during Sunday's October WeBS count:
Golden Plover - 2 (the first of the autumn);
Lapwing - 19;
Common Sandpiper - 1.
In addition in the week there were singles of Redshank and Snipe and two each of Dunlin and Ringed Plover. 

One of this week's Lapwing


A (second winter) Yellow-legged Gull was the only sighting of any note and only three species were seen during Sunday's October WeBS count: 
Black-headed Gull - 70; 
Herring Gull - 30; 
Great Black-backed Gull - 2. 
In addition in the week there were a few 'Meds' and 'Lesser Black-backs'.


An Osprey was present on Saturday and Sunday and it was joined on the latter day by two juvenile Marsh Harriers, whilst the regular male Marsh Harrier was seen on Thursday. Ones and twos of Buzzard, Sparrowhawk and Kestrel all featured on Sunday's Webs and through the week of course, whilst at least one Peregrine was also around.

Migrant Passerines...

New in species for this autumn were Bearded Tit (with at least two present) and Siskin (a single). Chiffchaffs, Blackcaps and Cetti's Warblers were the only warblers seen or heard in the withy and reed-beds again, along with still plenty of Goldcrests. Unlike last week there were numerous Swallows and a few House Martins, whilst Linnets, Skylarks, Meadow Pipits and Pied Wagtails were moving over in good numbers too. Some of the latter four species were also pausing briefly in the surrounding meadows where they were joined by several Stonechats and a single Wheatear

One of the Stonechats (a male)

There were also several Jays around including a group of fifteen moving west on Saturday...

One of this week's Jays caching acorns

And that's it for this week. Thanks to Alan Barrett, Ian McLean and Dave Foot for helping with The Webs.

Sunday 5 October 2014

Swannery Birding Highlights Of The Week - Monday 29th September to Sunday 5th October 2014...

I was only working and birding at The Swannery for the first three days of the week and only birded briefly there on Thursday before heading off to Cornwall for the rest of the week. Therefore, as it was rather quiet at the Swannery while I was around (and hopefully so when I wasn't), I really don't have much to report this week...


All the usual ducks were still present in similiar numbers including the regular female Scaup and the male Goldeneye. 

A moulting drake Wigeon. A typical early October sight (and sound)!


Only three species were seen - singles of  Common Sandpiper and Black-tailed Godwit and a peak of twelve Lapwing. 


A few Mediterranean Gulls and a single (first winter) Yellow-legged Gull were the only sightings of any note.


The regular male Marsh Harrier was the only noteworthy sighting. 

Migrant Passerines...

Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps were the only warblers seen in the withy-beds and copses, along with plenty of Goldcrests, whilst Cetti's Warblers seemingly had the reed-bed's insects to themselves. I can't recall seeing any Swallows or House Martins but there were still a few Linnets, Skylarks, Meadow Pipits and the first Rock Pipit of the autumn moving through overhead or lingering briefly.

So that's it for this week. Hopefully normal services (better coverage and better birds) will resume next week!

Monday 29 September 2014

Monday 22nd to Sunday 28th September 2014...

Swannery Birding Highlights Of The Week... 

'Bird Of The Week'... was the Red-backed Shrike (a first winter) that frequented the perimeter of the field behind Chapel Withybed, on Monday...

The (1st winter) Red-backed Shrike© Charlie Wheeler 
Unfortunately it was rather wary and unapproachable.
A more heavily cropped image of the Red-backed Shrike © Charlie Wheeler  
Both images are courtesy of Charlie Wheeler wheeler-photography as my efforts were atrocious!

There have only been two other records of Red-backed Shrike at The Swannery during my 25 year tenure. The last one, back in October 2007, favoured the very same area as this year's bird. The only other individual was back in October 1998 and that frequented the hedge adjacent to Meadow Hide. Incidentally my only other Swannery shrike was a Woodchat in May 1989 (although I have seen two other Woodchats elsewhere in Abbotsbury since). I still await my first Swannery Great Grey though but I won't hold my breath as surprisingly the sole record for The Fleet recording area was way back in June 1952! Tantalisingly, during an autumn back in the 90's, I did discover a shrike's larder on the barbedwire atop the perimeter fence but unfortunately it's owner had long gone!

And now to the  rest of the week's news...

Wildfowl... The first Dark-bellied Brent Goose of the autumn flew down The Fleet on Monday and proved to be the only 'new in' species of the week, with all the usual ducks still present in similar numbers including the regular female Scaup and the male Goldeneye

Two drake Gadwall © Charlie Wheeler  wheeler-photography 

Waders... Another rather poor week saw singles of Knot, Dunlin, Black-tailed Godwit, Common Sandpiper and Redshank, along with a few Snipe and a peak of ten Lapwing. 

Gulls & Terns... Yet another week passed without any terns and no real noteworthy gulls until Sunday when there were six Mediterranean Gulls and a single (first winter) Yellow-legged Gull. 

Great Black-backed Gull (1st winter) © Charlie Wheeler  wheeler-photography 

Other water-birds... There's really nothing to add to the last few week's sightings but again  a few Water Rails and Kingfishers were showy at times...

Water Rail

Kingfisher © Charlie Wheeler  wheeler-photography 

Raptors... The regular male Marsh Harrier, that reappeared this week, after an abscence of a week or so, was the only noteworthy sighting. 

Passerines etc... Although not of the same quality as the shrike there was a slight improvement in the quantity of the 'less common migrants' this week with singles of Garden Warbler, Spotted Flycatcher and Redstart...

This week's Redstart

'Commoner' migrants included a few Yellow Wagtails, Wheatears and Stonechats in the adjacent fields and there were still plenty of Swallows and House Martins moving through overhead, along with a few Meadow Pipits, Linnets and Skylarks. With the exception of a few more Goldcrests there was no real change in the withybeds with Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps still predominating along with the odd Whitethroat, whilst the reedbeds still held a few Reed, Sedge and Cetti's Warblers. All the usual 'residents' were still to be seen of course but new in was the first Jay of the year, though it could well have been a migrant rather than a local bird. 


And Finally Another One That Got Away... 
Luke Phillips observed a Dotterel flying towards The Swannery over his ringing site, a mile or so to the east, on Sunday afternoon. Unfortunately I didn't get his message until the evening but in fact  I was well placed at The Swannery at around the time of the initial sighting so should have connected with it if it had been calling and not to high but I didn't. Oddly enough the day before I had checked through a Lapwing flock in a ploughed field on top of adjacent Chesters Hill, as it looked good for Dotterel but to no avail! Hopefully one day soon though I'll get to add this enigmatic plover to The Swannery list!

So that's it for this week. My thanks to Charlie and Luke. Now bring on October!