The Portland Naturalist

The Portland Naturalist

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

The Fool and the Fall

Yesterday to round-up first.  I got up, it was rubbish, I went to bed.

No, sorry I was being facetious! It wasn't quite that bad!

It sounded like it was blowing something of a hoolie last thing the day before, so I thought it would be worth getting up early and putting a couple hours of seawatching in before work.  This time, I successfully negotiated my first alarm, and got up at 5, and went off down the Bill.  Once there, the wind didn't feel half as strong as it sounded from my room!  Sadly, there was no hoped for large Shearwaters to be had, or anything else of much consequence, but I did manage to see going west, 2 Balearic Shearwater, 3 Manx Shearwater, 14 Common Scoter, a dark-phase Arctic Skua, and 4 Sanderling going east.  This was despite the presence of a couple of hefty showers passing over.

After work (which the thrilling seawatch caused me to be late for! I wasn't in trouble though thankfully), I headed back down the Obs, expecting to see the lovely sunny conditions I had enjoyed while at work at Fortuneswell. No! Just as I got there, it started to hammer down!

It was rather a biblical downpour, but thankfully, it did eventually stop, and I was able to have a wander about the Bill and Top Fields.
A few days ago I noticed these extremely distinctive Umbellifers growing in one of the fields.  I wasn't sure of their identity (not in my book), but I have been able to get them ID'd after taking these photos yesterday.  They turned out to be Falcaria vulgaris, which, despite the remoteness of these particular examples, is a naturalised species from the continent.  It's English names include Longleaf and Sickle-weed.

I saw little in the way of birds on this jaunt, but I did get a good display of raptors with Peregrine, Kestrel, Sparrowhawk, and Buzzard all in evidence in quick succession.  There were loads of Woodpigeon hovering up the crops.  More evidence of a good breeding season here.

On to today then.
I had to go into work a little later today (despite my tardiness yesterday!), so I had some time to have a look at the bushes of Barleycrates Lane.  As soon as I entered the bushes proper, I saw a Willow Warbler, a Chiffchaff, and a Sedge Warbler.  It was clear that there had been some sort of a fall.  I carried on, and flushed several more warblers (not all were identified), before I got to the end.  I managed to count 3 WW, 1 CC, 2 Whitethroat (always difficult to judge whether migrants or locals, but I think these had the 'feel' of migrants), and 5 Sedge Warblers.  I also heard the distinctive call of a Dunlin flying over.  I thought at the time I had flushed it from the fields, but I feel now that it was probably just moving through.  I was also entertained here by a juvenile Kestrel practicing it's hunting technique by pouncing on lumps of Sheep dung!
Having seen the totals from the Bill area, I felt I had to keep searching for migrants, so after work I checked out Verne Common.  Surely that would have a decent haul?  I walked the full length of the place, but the sheer amount of cover there makes working it very frustrating.  All I managed were a few more Willow Warbler.  I did however, also bump into two juvenile Bullfinch.  Nice to see they have bred there once again.
Even though it was now afternoon, I felt I had to put the time into migrant searching to get any more reward, so I walked all the way from home to the Obs, via Barleycrates, Reap Lane, Top Fields and Culverwell.  At Reap I did find a couple of Wheatear, but apart from that it was just more of the same.  Just a smattering of Willows and Sedges. 
I have to say, when I got to the Obs, I was a tad horrified when I saw the supposed counts from those areas earlier!  Particularly Culverwell, which had a Pied Flycatcher amongst others.  Never mind, it was onto the moths.  Not a great deal from last night but a couple of good ones were supposed Saltern Ear (dissection is not carried out anymore, but this is apparently by far the commonest species here).
And the variable Garden Rose Tortrix.
We were pretty astounded to notice this huge lump on the horizon, the Queen Mary 2.
We were also somewhat entertained by Joe's antics in attempting to catch Swallows (there were now a lot of hirundines around the obs, including many attempting to land on the tower)Suffice to say they mostly outsmarted him ;-)  One inexperienced youngster did dive headfirst into the net, though sadly it would not behave itself in-hand for photos!
I eventually wound my way back over Top Fields.  I had yet more heard-only fly-over Dunlin here, but the highlight was a moth.  There had been quite a bit of migrant Lepidoptera activity in recent days (including at least 6 Painted Lady seen today by me).  Even so, I was quite surprised to come across my own Vestal, which was so much more satisfying than being handed one in a pot. 
I also saw my first Portland Holly Blue, drinking the salts from the edge of a puddle, though sadly I could only get an appalling photo, as I was about to be run over by a van!

I was mindful of the haul of warblers (plus Pied Fly) someone had managed from the Avalanche Road Hump earlier, so decided to return home via that.  A juvenile Buzzard was mewing away here, so decent evidence that they have bred in that area.  I was there mid-afternoon, and needless to say, I saw absolutely nothing on the warbler front!  Either a) I'm a really bad birder b) the migrants quickly move on south, or c) they become really elusive and keep their heads down.  The way I'm feeling now, if I was playing that 'Million Pound Drop' programme, I would certainly bung one or two wads of cash on the trap door of a)!
Something that did make me feel a bit better, was meeting a guy on the way home, who greeted me by saying ''you haven't by any chance seen any of my favourite bird have you, the Chaffinch?''.  Each to their own.
I've got the day off tomorrow, so just maybe, I can feel better about my birding skills and actually use the morning to find something!  Here's hoping.


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