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 27 April 2014

'One Good Tern Already!'

Swannery Birding Highlights Of The Week..


Monday 21st to Sunday 27th April 2014...  

Bird of the week was the adult 'sum-plum' Black Tern that colleague Charlie found on the tern rails on Saturday. Although only present for up to twenty minutes or so I did get to see it but unfortunately neither Charlie or I had our cameras to hand. It was with around twenty Common Terns and a few Sandwich Terns, the former of which are already taking a great interest in the newly refurbished tern island...
Common Terns on the tern island. A few have already been seen nest scrapping.

'Hmm, what's that up there? It looks a bit like a male Hen Harrier but there's something not quite right! That idiot in the hide can't even see it from where he is (not that he'd id it properly anyway). Never mind I'm sure someone else will catch up with it'.
Common Tern off Bum Point this week...

Wader passage, although pretty un-impressive, continued... with a Greenshank probably the highlight. There were also small groups of Whimbrel most days (with a peak count of thirty-one on Monday), a few Dunlin and Snipe and singles of Common Sandpiper, Bar-tailed Godwit, Lapwing and Ringed Plover. Of the two pairs of Oystercatcher now settled on territory at least  one has eggs, so fingers crossed the present spring tides don't get too high!

Four of the Whimbrels that passed through this week...

And another four Whimbrels that settled briefly on the bund (in poor light).

Passerine passage continued as well of course, though with few highlights. A 'flock' of twenty Wheatears on the landward side of the beach opposite 'Bum Point' on Tuesday was noteworthy (seeing how few I had seen previously this spring) and several singing Whitethroats were the first of the year. Otherwise it was more of the same with a few more Reed and Sedge Warblers in evidence, joining plentiful Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps and there are still a few Willow Warblers passing through too. There have still been no big arrivals of hirundines but at least there have been the best numbers yet this year of Sand and House Martins among a continuing trickle of Swallows.

A Pied Wagtail on the perimeter fence, just one of many 'resident' passerine species nesting in and around The Swannery. Where are all the Meadow Pipits this year though?

And finally to the ever decreasing numbers of 'winter' wildfowl... 'dabblers' included a single drake Teal early in the week and a pair of Gadwall linger but unlike last week there have been no Shoveler or Wigeon, while diving ducks included a single drake Red-breasted Merganser  to mid-week and several Pochard still and plenty of Tufted Duck of course.

So I still await the big rarity of the spring, maybe that Common Tern really did see something I didn't!


Sunday 20 April 2014

'One Good Turn Deserves Another Good Tern!'

Swannery Birding Highlights Of The Week..


Monday 14th to Sunday 20th April 2014...  

I missed what were probably the best two birds of the week... a fly-over Osprey and a 'reeling' Grasshopper Warbler... both discovered by ringer Steve Hales first thing Monday morning. Each would have been a first of the year for me but at least I did find a few of my own later in the week, namely several Sand Martins (at last!), a House Martin and a Whinchat...

A record shot of Tuesday's Whinchat on The Swannery perimeter fence.
As for other migrant passerines there were still some Swallows trickling through, a few more Reed and Sedge Warblers were singing from the reed-beds and there were plenty of vociferous Blackcaps, Chiffchaffs and Willow Warblers in the withy-beds and copses... whilst in the surrounding meadows a couple more Wheatears brought this spring's tally to an unimpressive total of three...
A Wheatear in the rain today.

All the usual 'resident' land-birds are now busy nesting (or at least seriously thinking about it) and slightly 'less-than-annual' breeders' still on territory include Starling, Bullfinch, Goldcrest, Treecreeper and Nuthatch (although the latter lone male still doesn't seem to have a mate). Also there appears to be the best ever numbers of Cetti's Warblers that I can remember here this spring.
With no sign of the Harris's Hawk this week, the only escape seen was a male Lady Amherst's Pheasant that lingered briefly in the upper grounds (and was presumably the Grove Lane bird that I last saw in my garden back in January).
Back to migration and there was clear evidence that wader passage was beginning to get underway with the first couple of Common Sandpipers of the year... 

The second of this spring's Common Sandpipers on 'Bum Point'

... and also new for the year... two fly-over Green Sandpipers (Monday), a Greenshank (today) and  (on Friday) two Black-tailed Godwits...
The two islandica Black-tailed Godwits (a female and a male) on 'Meadow Pool'
Completing the wader tally for the week were a few Whimbrel, Dunlin and Snipe, along with a single Curlew, a Bar-tailed Godwit and up to three pairs of Oystercatcher.

Wildfowl totals on today's Wetland Bird Survey were...
Mute Swan - 427
Canada Goose - 42
Shelduck - 39
Gadwall - 2 (a pair)
Teal- 1 (5 Wednesday)
Mallard - 84
Shoveler - 3
Pochard - 12
Tufted Duck - 73.
In addition in the week two Wigeon (a pair) were present on Tuesday and a few Red-breasted Mergansers were still present early in the week.
Other water-bird totals today were...
Great Crested Grebe - 34
Little Egret - 5
Coot - 45
Although not in evidence during the count today there are thankfully still a few Moorhens around (despite the attentions of the hopefully now departed Harris's Hawk) and the occasional Grey Heron was also seen.
There were no surprises on the gull front and even Sandwich Tern numbers seemed to have peaked with far fewer around this week. There are still only a few Common Terns around as yet too but at least that meant we could get on with the Tern Island restoration without any worries of disturbance... 

The severe storms in February caused considerable damage to the Tern Island with the raised floor collapsing in places along the 'back' wall and a substantial amount of the substrate washing away too.

It's surprising what you can do with a few old pallets, re-cycled plywood and a bit of left over geotextile though!

A few boat-loads of surplus path-gravel and job done! We also added a few patches of sand to the existing shingle... if it works for the Little Terns it might help the Commons too!
Above three photos © Charlie Wheeler wheeler-photography

One of this year's first returning Common Terns.

Hopefully the Common Terns will consolidate on last year's success and the colony will thrive again this year... maybe enough to draw in something like The Swannery's third Sooty Tern! The two here in 1935 were a bit before my time!

Happy holidays!

Monday 14 April 2014

Playing Catch Up

Swannery Birding Highlights Of The Week..


Monday 7th to Sunday 13th April 2014...  

I was back at work this week (after a week off) and despite therefore spending more time at The Swannery it was, nonetheless, still rather quiet, albeit with a few firsts of the spring... These included my first Swannery Swallows of the year on Monday, with others trickling through all week (bizarrely though I still haven't seen any Sand Martins this year, let alone a House Martin); the first Reed and Sedge Warblers arrived too as did - at last - my first 2014 Wheatear; two Whimbrels circled the embayment on Sunday (following three the wrong side of The Chesil on Thursday) and the first few Common Terns joined the flock of up to ninety Sandwich Terns around the Tern Island.

This pair of Black-headed Gulls have also been hanging around the Tern Island.
There have been a couple of failed breeding attempts in recent years.
I wonder whether this pair will try?

Lingering 'winter' wildfowl consisted of a few Red-breasted Mergansers, Teal, Shoveler, Gadwall and a lone Wigeon, the latter the first for weeks, while there were still comparatively good numbers of Tufted Duck and Pochard. There were plenty of the four regular breeding species of course, namely Mute Swan, Canada Goose, Shelduck and Mallard. A couple of Black Swans are still present too.

Aside from the aforementioned Whimbrel and the two territorial pairs of Oystercatchers, waders seen were three Bar-tailed Godwits and few Redshank, Curlew and Snipe, whilst a flyover Ringed Plover was a 'heard only'.

The former regular male Marsh Harrier made a brief appearance but now seems to have settled at Radipole and no females were seen, so no nesting attempt here this year. The escaped Harris's Hawk is still being seen but there were no other raptors of note.

In addition to the passerine migrants already mentioned, there were still comparatively good numbers of Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler and Blackcap, whilst still lingering scarcer breeders included several Cettis's Warblers and at least one pair each of Treecreeper, Goldcrest and Bullfinch. Unfortunately, however, the single male Nuthatch has, as yet, failed to attract a mate.

Several pairs of Goldfinch are now busy nest-building.
There had been no sign of any Bullfinches this spring until this male blundered into Steve Hales' mist nets! © Steve Hales. Thanks for the use of the pic Steve.

So now into mid-April things should really begin to liven up and as it is also the April WeBS next Sunday I should hopefully have a lot more to report next week!

Having lost them for many years, it is still feels a real novelty to have close views of a Water Vole!

Sunday 6 April 2014

A Spring Break

Swannery Birding Highlights Of The Week..


Monday 31st March to Sunday 6th April 2014...  

I was on leave this week and as I had lots of chores to do I didn't do much birding. In fact I only managed a couple of afternoon and a couple of evening visits to The Swannery all week and all were pretty unproductive. I don't think I missed much either though, as work colleague Charlie had very little to report. I did however manage my first Willow Warbler of the year to add to the numerous Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps now in song. Frustratingly though I still haven't logged any Sand Martins or Wheatears and my first Swallows of the year were just outside The Swannery recording area at New Barn Farm today. 

(Common) Starling at The Swannery this week... a former breeding species.
They used to nest in cavities in this very clump of Grey Poplars so lets hope they breed this year!

Lingering wildfowl included a few Teal, Shoveler and a pair of Gadwall and still several Pochard, Tufted Duck and Red-breasted Merganser.
As for waders there was a single rather late Lapwing (as long gone are the days when they nested here), a single Redshank (ditto), while a third pair of Oystercatchers briefly joined are two regular pairs (so at least we should have some breeding waders). 

One of the pairs of (Eurasian) Oystercatchers on 'The Bund' © Charlie Wheeler

There were no gulls of note but Sandwich Tern numbers continued to build...
Sandwich Terns on 'The Tern Island' this week © Charlie Wheeler.
The island needs a good refurbishment following the severe storms in February.
Lets hope we can get it done before the Common Terns begin arriving!

And a close-up of one of the Sandwich Terns. Unfortunately I couldn't read the ring!

So that's about it for this week but I'm back to work tomorrow so expect a fuller report next week (I hope!).

I'll just leave you with an image Charlie took which we thought was maybe a pupae of some sort but it turns out is a fungus...
Pink fungi © Charlie Wheeler.
Thanks Charlie for the use of this and two of the other images this week.