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.