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, 30 March 2014

Meagre March Migrants

Swannery Birding Highlights Of The Week..


Monday 24th to Sunday 30th March 2014...  

Another rather quiet week with, curiously, still no Wheatears or Sand Martins to report yet, let alone an early Swallow. The chorus of new-in Chiffchaffs in the withy-beds and adjacent copses has, however, now at least been joined by several Blackcaps, along with all the expected resident songsters.

With most of the winterers already departed wildfowl too were thin on the ground (or should that be water) but a pair of Greylag Geese flew north on Monday, while a single lingered briefly the following day with the Canada Goose flock. The sole remaining Scaup, a fine drake, was last seen on Tuesday and it was re-joined by the regular hybrid female...

Apologies for yet another shot of the Scaup (I might as well change the name of my blog to Steve's Scaup Sightings!) but what a subtlety gorgeous bird he is!

And the drake Scaup again along side the presumed female Scaup x Tufted Duck
© Charlie Wheeler

There are still a few Teal, Shoveler, Gadwall and the odd Pintail (not to mention the numerous Mallard and Shelduck of course) and as expected plenty of tardy Red-breasted Mergansers...

Female Red-breasted Merganser © Charlie Wheeler

As for the Mute Swans we now have over thirty nests with eggs and expect the first cygnets in early May.

The last few Little Grebes have now moved off inland but after a poor week last week Great Crested Grebe numbers are up again...

Just a few of the Great Crested Grebes in the Swannery embayment this week. Although they over-summer on the lagoon they never breed here.

Apart from a single Dunlin today (the first for weeks) the only waders were a few Redshank, Snipe and a pair of Oystercatcher. As for gulls there is nothing really to report but a few more Sandwich Terns  are beginning to appear now.

There have been no confirmed sightings of the regular male Marsh Harrier this week but a female was present on Friday with either it or the male seen briefly the previous day, though it seems likely that the male has now settled at nearby Lodmoor after failed nesting attempts here in the last two years. A Red Kite was reported on Tuesday but was again missed by me while the escaped Harris's Hawk continues to exact a toll on our Moorhen and Coot population.

So it's back to passerines and with a paucity of 'summer migrants' so far (bar Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps) the only  other at all noteworthy migrant record concerned a departing winter visitor... a Siskin that flew east today.

Meanwhile in the reed-beds there are several vocal Cettis's Warblers on territory and Reed Buntings too are beginning to make themselves heard...

A male Reed Bunting at the feeders today, a regular early spring occurrence.

... And so that's about it for this week, other than to say thanks to Charlie Wheeler for the use of a couple of this week's photos and I'll leave you with the first visitor this spring to our reptile refugia... 

Slow Worm

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Open For Business... I Hope!

Swannery Birding Highlights Of The Week..

Monday 17th to Sunday 23rd March 2014...  

The bird of the week was the Glaucous Gull seen briefly and distantly on the Fleet shoreline of the Chesil opposite on Tuesday. It was presumably the same juvenile that has been in the area for a month or so but with the views I had I couldn't confidently age it beyond a second or third calendar year and unfortunately I didn't have my camera to hand.

New in were a single Curlew and the first couple of Sandwich Terns of the year, whilst the only 'summer migrant' passerines were again Chiffchaffs, as I still await my first Wheatear and Sand Martin of 2014 despite good numbers elsewhere.

There were no surprises wildfowl wise with a similar number and variety as last week including a single drake Scaup and typically at this time of year, a good showing of Red-breasted Mergansers and Shelducks...

Above two images a drake Shelduck (or Sheldrake if you prefer) on 'Meadow Pool' today.

The first swan's eggs were laid this week, just in time for the reopening of the attraction on Saturday the 22nd. It's been a very hard slog getting The Swannery ready after the severe flooding and all the damage and debris left behind and therefore there has been little time for birding. At least now though the pressure is off a little and I can legitimately carry out a hide round each day as part of my duties. So hopefully, from next week, my blog posts will bristle with good sightings!

Monday, 17 March 2014

March WeBS

Swannery Birding Highlights Of The Week..

Monday 10th to Sunday 16th March 2014...  

After bemoaning the lack of early summer migrants last week I did at least get to hear several Chiffchaffs calling and singing this week (the first here since early January) but no Wheatears, Swallows or martins as yet, not even a Blackcap! ....

Wildfowl numbers continued to be low as the data from Sunday's WeBS count reveal...

The results for wildfowl were... Mute Swan - 376, Black Swan - 2, Canada Goose - 39, Shelduck - 34, Gadwall - 2, Teal - 26, Mallard 135, Shoveler - 6, Pochard - 21, Tufted Duck - 109, Goldeneye - 2, Red-breasted Merganser - 32. In addition in the week there were up to three Greylag Geese, fourteen Pintails and four Scaup...

Above three pics... two of the drake Scaups present this week
(with a drake Tufted Duck). 

The results for other water birds were... Great Crested Grebe - 1, Cormorant - 4, Little Egret - 14, Moorhen - 2, Coot - 122. In addition in the week there were a few Little Grebes, Water Rails and the odd Grey Heron.

The results for waders, gulls, etc. were... Oystercatcher - 7, Redshank - 1, Black-headed Gull - 18, Common Gull - 6, Herring Gull - 2, Great Black-backed Gull - 7 and in addition in the week there was the odd Lesser Black-backed Gull.
Raptors are also recorded on the WeBS and today's tally was... Marsh Harrier - 1, Buzzard - 4 and Kestrel - 1. In addition in the week there was a Peregrine, one or two Sparrowhawks and the escaped Harris's Hawk still, whilst three Red Kites were reported over Abbotsbury Hill (and no doubt would have been viewable from The Swannery if I had been looking!).

Apart from the aforementioned Chiffchaffs the only other passerine that made the notebook was a passing Siskin and the only 'other land bird' at all noteworthy was a Red-legged Partridge (that had no doubt wandered from a release site nearby).
So not a lot to report... lets hope things improve this week in time for Saturday the 22nd when The Swannery opens to the public for the 2014 season!

Two of the week's Red-breasted Mergansers hauled out.
The bird on the left is a first winter drake, typically beginning to acquire its green head around the eye first. 


Sunday, 9 March 2014

Spring Has Arrived...Now Where Are The Migrants!

Swannery Birding Highlights Of The Week..

Monday 3rd to Sunday 9th March 2014...  

After the excitement of the last two weeks, with at least one Kumlien's and two Glaucous Gulls, this week was somewhat more mundane. The highlight was the reappearance of one of the over-wintering Scaup, a very nice drake...

Above two pics the drake Scaup with Pochards.

Above two pics the drake Scaup.

Wildfowl numbers in general though were exceptionally low with very few Pochard, Tufted Duck and Teal, even fewer Shoveler, Goldeneye and Red-breasted Merganser and no Wigeon, Gadwall or Pintail at all!

Drake Teal, one of only around forty remaining.

It's not surprising that none of the rarer/scarcer gulls were around this week as there has barely been any gulls at all!

Waders too were poorly represented with all the Lapwing now departed leaving just a few Redshank and Snipe along with two pairs of, already nest prospecting, Oystercatcher.

As for other water birds there has been little of note... no unusual herons or grebes for instance but there are still a fair number of Water Rails squealing from the reed beds.
As yet there have been no early  'summer migrant' passerines (there have not even been any over-wintering Chiffchaffs since January) but a few Meadow Pipits have been on the move along with the odd Rock Pipit, whereas the passerine highlight were a few 'pings' indicating the presence of at least a couple of Bearded Tits. Among the commoner residents a few Cetti's Warblers, Goldcrests, Nuthatches, Treecreepers and Coal Tits remain, raising hopes that they will stay to breed this year, although it's early days yet of course.

The regular male Marsh Harrier continues to be seen but as yet there has been no sign of a potential mate, while the odd Peregrine has been around too, along of course with a few Sparrowhawks, Kestrels and Buzzards, the latter now interacting regularly with their American cousin... the escaped Harris's hawk....

The Harris's Hawk... presumably still feeding on rats,
although the Moorhen population seems a little low at present!

So now into mid-March the coming week will hopefully produce the first summer migrant... maybe a Sand Martin or a Wheatear, though even a Chiffchaff would be nice!

Monday, 3 March 2014

Canadian Kumlien's Clinched 2

Stop Press!

Further to yesterday's post...It now turns out that there have been two immature Kumlien's Gulls in the Abbotsbury/Bexington area over the last week... the second winter (3rd cy) seen and photographed off Abbotsbury Beach and a first winter (2nd cy) seen and photographed by several observers  on West Bexington Mere and in fields atop Abbotsbury Hill! I'm not sure which of these birds I saw distantly and badly photographed at The Swannery, although I'm leaning towards the first winter. I can not rule out the possibility however that over the three sightings I actually saw both!

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Canadian Kumlien's Clinched!

Swannery Birding Highlights Of The Week...

Monday 24th February to Sunday 2nd March 2014...  

So by way of a recap... In my initial post last Sunday I explained how on the previous Friday I had seen two Glaucous Gulls - an adult and a first year (or if you prefer - 2nd calendar year) - and uploaded a photo of each, albeit in each case rather distant and heavily cropped.

Then things developed...

On Monday Brett Spencer contacted me to say Steve Waite had drawn his attention to the photo of the immature bird as it didn't look quite right for a Glaucous. In fact they both concurred it looked like a possible Kumlien's! Now in my defence I was a little worried about the markings on its primaries and its 'Iceland Gull like' head but in the distant views I had of the bird it seemed to me to dwarf the accompanying Herring Gulls and I wrongly thought that Kumlien's were more like Iceland Gull in size so, without consulting the literature, I naively identified it as a Glaucous. Armed with the new potential id, thanks to Steve and Brett, I then (sparsely) edited my initial post.
The bird was present again briefly on Monday and Tuesday and although I couldn't positively id it as a Kumlien's it clearly wasn't a Glaucous and probably not a (gluacoides) Iceland either. Thankfully Brett took the day off work on Wednesday to try and clinch the birds id and although it didn't show at The Swannery he did eventually find it on the sea off Abbotsbury Beach and not only clinched it as a definite Kumlien's but was also able to definitively age it as a second year (3rd calendar year)!

Although I saw it well through my scope on Tuesday my photos were even worse than Friday but the whitish blob in the centre of this pic is the second year (3rd calendar year) Kumlien's Gull... honest! There are some better pics of it elsewhere at Abbotsbury and at West Bexington here... dorsetbirders

Despite keeping an eye out for the Kumlien's, I didn't see it after Tuesday even though it was in the Abbotsbury/Bexington area all week (including today). I did however manage to connect with at least two Glaucous Gulls - with at least one adult on Wednesday and a first year (2nd calendar year) on Thursday...

The first year Glaucous Gull on The Fleet on Thursday.

Staying on the gull theme several ailing adult Kittiwakes were still lingering following the recent storms...

Adult (Black-legged) Kittiwake.

Also no doubt a victim of the recent storms a Razorbill was present briefly on The Fleet in The Swannery embayment on Tuesday.

So rather an exciting week with The Swannery's second (and first live) Kumlien's Gull clinched (albeit not a full species as this taxon is either a race of Iceland Gull, or an intergrade or stable hybrid of Iceland with Thayer's Gull, depending on which theory/authority you go with!), along with a supporting cast of two plus Glaucous Gulls and a Razorbill (the latter being rarer at The Swannery than Glaucous Gull!).
There was very little else to report though with very poor numbers of wildfowl (not a single Scaup for instance - they're all on the East Fleet), with the only other entries in the notebook being the regular male Marsh Harrier and a couple of (not so regular now) Yellowhammers by adjacent Horse Pool Farm (per Steve Hales). Our regular pair of Black Swans reappeared today, however, having been absent all winter, joining the Golden Pheasant and Harris's Hawk on the week's category 'E' (escapee) list.

So looking forward to next week, it's about time I added a (gluacoides) Iceland Gull to this winter’s northern gull extravaganza and maybe some early passerine migrants too!