The Portland Naturalist

The Portland Naturalist

Thursday, 28 November 2013

What a Tit!

I haven't been able to do a great deal of birding recently, partly cause I don't really have the enthusiasm for birding at this time of year, but also cause I've been busy with other important stuff.  I hesitate to mention it, but Christmas is coming up!  I know, sorry, you won't hear any more of about it from me, honest.


On an overcast morning, I cycled down to that staple for winter birding, Ferrybridge. 

There was little of note on the mudflats themselves, with much smaller numbers of Brent Goose and Mediterranean Gull than last time.  It was a similar story in Portland Harbour, where I failed to locate a single notable species, bar a female Common Scoter and at least 6 RazorbillRed-breasted Merganser numbers had risen to around the 70 mark.

Just as Pete and Debby Saunders were arriving, I happened to look behind their car, and in the distance a pair of Diver were flying high over Chesil Beach.  One was obviously bigger than the other, and they were a Red-throated Diver and a Black-throated Diver.  Not far behind them were two more Red-throats.  They carried on over to the harbour, and thought about landing, but soon decided against it and carried on towards Weymouth Bay.

A few Redwing flew over, as did a Stock Dove, and at least 2 Song Thrush were heard on the deck, all fairly unusual at Ferrybridge.  A high-flying flock of four Raven flew over (migrating?).

There was no way I was going to cycle back up Fortuneswell Hill, so instead pushed my bike along the footpath past Chesil Cove.  Just like the last time I was here, a Water Rail squealed from the bushes.

One of the local Peregrine made a fly past as I made it home.


With my newly acquired car, came a fresh feeling of mobility, so I thought I would head over to Longham Lakes near Bournemouth, even though the bird on offer was not a lifer.

This was my first visit to the site, and I have to say it looks really nice.  I can see why they get a few good birds.

Anyway, on arrival, I found a few forlorn-looking birders watching a reedbed, and no sign of my quarry.  I was a little confused, as there were no reed-mace heads (the species favourite haunt) here, and the directions suggested the bird was in a different area entirely.  So, I decided to leave the crowd, and walk towards what I felt should have been the correct area.  As soon as I got to a small pool fringed with reed-mace, I knew I'd done the right thing, and indeed I soon found the 1st-winter Penduline Tit busy feeding.  Funnily enough, these were almost the exact circumstances in which I saw/re-found my first Penduline (at Rainham)!

By now one of the other chaps had caught on that I had something and had arrived, and we both watched the bird for a little while.  The rest of the group were on their way, but suddenly, the bird flew from it's seed head and disappeared!  A search of the next pond along revealed nothing.  After an anxious 20 minutes or so, it thankfully reappeared on it's favoured pool.  A fantastic bird!

As you can see, the light was absolutely appalling!  If you're as childish as me, you'll enjoy the ending!

Also in the area was a Kingfisher, as well as all the common wildfowl.

I anticipate that I will be doing very little Portland birding till the new year, not only due to the C word, but also cause my new mobility really encourages me to get out a bit further afield.  Maybe the Forest of Dean?  We'll see.

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Winter of Content

Plenty to catch up on.  Sorry for the length, misjudged yet again!


All the signs were that today could produce a mammoth movement of Woodpigeon, so on what was a gloriously sunny day, I headed out early and positioned myself on the West Weares.

I was surprised to have walked a fair distance without seeing a single bird, so I scoped the mainland.  Sure enough, a small number of birds were moving.  In the time I was watching, a couple of flocks numbering 70 or so, plus a few stragglers, flew low into Weymouth Bay, before gaining height and heading off north-west.  I still to this day haven't seen any migrating Woodpigeon flocks over the island!

Still, the conditions were producing a trickle of movement, which included a flock of 7 Redpoll which came over then headed out to sea south-west, plus another single later.  Also 2 Redwing and a Grey Wagtail heading through.

On the way back I found Chat heaven in a horse field near Blacknor, where a fence-line held a Robin, a pair of Stonechat, and a Black Redstart, which yet again evaded my camera.

An extended route then took me towards Reap Lane barns, in what was still perfect weather.

Here I heard, and then saw a male Reed Bunting sitting on a bush.  Not all that usual round here.
What was more usual though, were the Raven, but one chose to show itself really well.
I didn't have anything particularly dynamic planned for the afternoon, so when a Yellow-browed Warbler was reported at walking distance, it seemed the logical step to take.
Once I was at the trees behind the former Craft Centre on Weston Street, a couple of guys there told me it had just been showing.  A little walk around the area produced nothing bar a single Chiffchaff.  There really weren't many trees still with leaves on to choose from!
I remembered that just west of this little wood is a small quarry, that I believe is called Sheat Quarry.  It's not at all easy to view, but I thought it worth checking out, so I forced my way there through the overgrown vegetation from Suckthumb.  Almost instantly, I heard the Yellow-browed Warbler calling, but where was it?  A change in my position, and bingo!  In the completely still conditions, it was a sinch to pick up as it moved through a Sycamore.  As I was leaving, it went into a calling frenzy, but it had now moved deep into vegetation on the other side of the quarry, and out of view.
I walked round to the road where views of the quarry were pretty poor.  Despite this, I managed to see a late female Blackcap, as well as hear a surprise 'cecking' Water Rail.   On my way home along Barleycrates Lane, I swear I heard the warbler calling again.  If I could hear it from there, it must have been in the Blackthorn thicket at the corner of the roads, and therefore presumably had made it's way through the gardens.
Anyway, while walking back along here at dusk, I disturbed a Sparrowhawk carrying prey, then I immediately looked across to see a Kestrel sitting on a post tearing up something.  Everyone was having their dinner, so it was about time for mine!
The day dawned to a very foggy start.  Despite this, whilst I was delivering in Fortuneswell, it was clear birds were moving.  I heard Redwing going over, and I even had a Grey Heron and a Lapwing head over south, in the fog!
Even though things were happening, I wasn't expecting the news of an incredible migration spectacle going on at the Bill and Ferrybridge.  So, after work I rushed down to the Ferrybridge car park. 
The island had it's usual lawyers wig of cloud.
Presumably, birds that were heading west close inshore, failed to see the island with this veil of cloud, and so carried on through the Harbour and over the road.
Even though I'd missed the main course, I still succeeded in seeing a couple of large flocks of Little Gull going over, with the help of Debby and Pete of course.  It was surprising how many of them were 1st-winters. 
Also a few flocks of waders doing the same that included Bar-tailed Godwit, Grey Plover, and Dunlin.
I thought it'd it be a good idea to scan through Portland Harbour, just in case any of these migrants had decided to ditch.  This watch was indeed a success with a/the Arctic Tern still fishing, a Great Northern Diver and a single Red-throated Diver showing distantly, as well as several Razorbill.  However, I now wished I'd looked up just a bit more, as apparently a Grey Phalarope flew over my head!  To compound things, myself and the Saunders' later absconded to Chesil Cove, only to hear that the Little Auk we were after had just flown off!  What a rollercoaster birding is.
Nonetheless, a very enjoyable day!
The day dawned to another cracker.
Birds were clearly still moving overhead, as on delivery in Fortuneswell, I had the likes of Redpoll, Siskin, Fieldfare, Grey Wagtail, and best of all, a Brambling, pass over.
I attempted to go for the Richard's Pipit at the Bill this afternoon, but it was getting late, and no bird or birders could be found. 
I had a nice find this morning of a prefect male Black Redstart on the derelict buildings by the Verne Prison whilst I delivered up there.  No bins, but was able to creep up on it using the van as a hide!  The whole of that area is private, so on this occasion being a postman paid off!
An afternoon walk round the Reap Lane and Suckthumb areas produced nothing unusual but a single Fieldfare and 2 Chiffchaff still behind the Craft Centre.  However, it was just nice to be out on such a beautiful day, and the common birds were entertaining me just as much.  See my video of the likes of male Kestrel, Raven, and Stonechat, with a little add-on of my Yellowhammer from today.  Please excuse the shakiness of some of it, I was without my tripod!

For no particular reason, I fancied a long walk today. 
The forecast was initially showing today as completely still, so the Harbour would have been a millpond.  Conditions weren't quite like that, but I certainly thought the Harbour and Ferrybridge were the places to be, so headed out early.
By the time I'd walked to Chesil Cove, I really didn't think walking it had been worth it, as I'd not seen anything remotely notable!  But, here at least I heard another rather out of place squealing Water Rail.
I walked to Portland Castle, then along the path through Osprey Quay and the marina.  A Little Grebe there was believe it or not, a Portland tick (I haven't birded much here in the winter before)!
On one of the verges was a little group of Pleated Inkcap, sometimes called the Little Jap Umbrella!
Finally at Ferrybridge, and the mud was covered in Brent Goose and Mediterranean Gull.  I didn't do a count of Brents, but with the help of the Saunder's, I managed an estimate of 500 Meds.  A Great Northern Diver was on the Fleet just beyond the mudflats, and waders included a few Bar-tailed Godwit.  I tried my best to find the Black Brants that the Saunder's had found, but to no avail.  Just a few Pale-bellied birds were seen.
After Pete and Debby's departure, I found a 1st-winter Yellow-legged Gull amongst the Geese.  Check out the pale head and long wings.
The moment when all the birds were spooked by a fisherman was quite spectacular!
I walked further on and did a good scan of the Harbour from Weymouth Watersports centre.  A 1st-winter Little Gull was a surprise as it fed with Black-headed Gull, and many Red-breasted Merganser showed well.
The hoped for Black-necked Grebe flock were eventually picked out in the distance, and closer in were the long-staying Red-throated Diver and Red-necked Grebe still about.
I toyed with the idea of taking the bus back home, but my legs weren't actually feeling too bad, so started the long slog back.
Nothing that notable was encountered, till I took a quick glance at the bushes in Chesil Cove again, only to see a female Blackcap, and hear now 2 Water Rail squealing.  And still, I'm yet to see Moorhen or Coot on Portland!  The weirdness of birding an island. 
Once up the towering hill, I made my way down Wide Street, and was surprised to hear a Yellowhammer flying over.  The male bird then dropped down and alighted on a bush on the edge of Inmosthay Quarry.  The first since I've moved here!  See my video above for a little bit of footage of the bird.
Well, we are very much now at the end of autumn, and the short days now lie ahead, virtually of birding entirely in the Harbour/Ferrybridge area.  Who knows what will occur though.  My birding frequency will go up come the new year, not only cause I'm in the Patchlist Competition, but also because my working hours will be changing on occasion to afternoons.  Birding every morning here I come!

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Surf's Up!


I had my usual early morning look at Ferrybridge on my way to Bridport, but the tide was high.  In fact, I didn't realise the tide went this high!

That didn't deter me, and I instead crossed the road to take a look in Portland Harbour.  The strong wind made things difficult, but there genuinely did appear to be little to see.  Just a close Razorbill of note. 
But then I flushed a Lark from the grassland, and I don't know what it was, but my instinct told me it was not a Skylark.  I moved over to where it landed, and it again flushed, from almost under my feet.  It flew over the road to the rocky verge by the centre, and I again managed to almost tread on it, but fail to get any further detail.  My excuse is that it was in half-light, and the bird didn't call.
But, after work I took a look at the bird news, and saw that a Woodlark had been at Ferrybridge the day before.  I can't prove it, but I'm 90% certain that's what my bird was.  The fact that it flushed at such close range is a big plus point.
On my way home, I popped back in to Ferrybridge to see if I could re-find the bird, to no avail.  I did however manage to scrutinise the Brent Goose flock enough to find the Black Brant.
As well as three Pale-bellied Brent Goose.  A pair, and this loner.
I then made a brief visit back to Portland Castle, to take a second look at the Red-necked Grebe.  It was however further out than before, so no photos.
Before today, I can confess to having a bit of an 'after the lord mayor's show' feel about birding on Portland.  But, today well and truly buried that thought, as it all came to life again.
I had the day off work, and took a fairly lazy option of a short walk around Barleycrates, Suckthumb, the Hump, and Reap Lane, followed by a small added section round Blacknor and Bower's Quarry.  I wasn't expecting much, but I was mindful of the smidgens of quality seen at the Hump yesterday. 
Indeed, it was there where the highlight was seen, in the shape of the supposed 'Eastern' Lesser Whitethroat, which called to announce it's presence, then showed reasonably well.  The call sounded normal to me, and the only thing which seemed odd about it's appearance was a small amount of brown in the head.
Nothing much else was seen, though there were a lot of Skylark and Goldfinch around, particularly in the Reap Lane area.  A quick scan out to sea revealed 3 Common Scoter flying past, and I found this Fox Moth caterpillar crossing the path.

My quick loop round Blacknor produced nothing till I found a 1st-winter male Black Redstart at the corner of St. Georges Church graveyard.  This species continues to elude my camera!
I was rather looking forward to my lunch, but then I noticed what had been found at the Bill! So I cycled down to the bushes by the Pulpit Inn.
It was rather elusive, but luckily the Dusky Warbler was calling reasonably frequently, so it could just about be followed in the fairly open Elm thicket.  I managed to glimpse it a few times in the middle of the bush, but I was also fortunate to catch it out in the open on the edge, but only briefly.  Not a lifer, but my first was 3 years ago, so nice to catch up with one again.
Once back home, I was again interrupted from my food by a report of a Surf Scoter in Poole Harbour.  I waited for a further report before jumping into my van and driving the 30 miles.  It didn't start well as the centre of Weymouth was gridlocked with an accident, and I lost 20 minutes.  I thought time was rather critical as the tide was currently going out.
Once there, I had little trouble finding the spot, and it was evident the tide was not a problem at all, as it was still pretty high. 
The fantastic 1st-winter Surf Scoter was fairly easy to find, although it was distant.  The lack of any other scoter-shaped ducks helped, but the whole visit was made all the more enjoyable by the lack of wind, and flat-calm water at Brand's Bay.  I initially watched from the hide, but quickly moved to the much better spot of Redhorn Point.

The bird was showing pretty well now (first with a Red-breasted Merganser).

It did do a little bit of diving and re-surfacing, but it was particularly enjoyable to watch as it preened and bathed, as my video shows.
No way of being sure I know, but I feel it's pretty likely that this is the same bird that made a brief visit to Chesil Cove last week.
A quick scan of the nearby waters revealed a Sandwich Tern (probably attempting to winter here), at least 40 Great Crested Grebe, a few Knot, and 5 Black-necked Grebe viewing towards Brownsea Island.
All in all, quite a day! 
Come January 1st, I shall be entering the Patchwork Challenge with Portland Bill.  I urge anyone who regularly watches a local patch to do the same.  All the details here:

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Simply Sabine's


The day after the 'storm' certainly had stirred things up a bit, but not produced the wreck of seabirds that had been expected.

Straight after work, I headed for Chesil Cove first, as a Grey Phalarope had been seen there.  No sign of that, though I did manage to see the long-staying very late Arctic Tern struggling in the surf.  I later learnt of the fact that a Surf Scoter had evidently been present at the same time, which didn't help my mood.

I then had the option of trying Portland Harbour for one or two goodies, or instead try the Bill towards dusk.  I went for the latter.  The wind was certainly making it's presence felt.

After a hour of careful scanning, I eventually got onto the target, a single distant Storm-petrel.  The flight action was rather different to the Leach's I had seen the day before.  Virtually a lifer, after the awful views I got of the bird at Spurn.
A Great Skua and a Red-throated Diver also passed by. 
First thing, I took a look at Chesil Cove, then Portland Harbour to check for storm-driven waifs.  Only the Red-necked Grebe found the previous day was seen of any interest, but there's no doubt its a good bird.  Shame about the shots!

After I'd finished work at Bridport, I heard of a definite young Lesser Kestrel that had been seen down the coast near Torquay.  Details were a little sketchy, but decided to give it a stab, as it didn't appear to be a long drive.
The area around Hope's Nose just south of Torquay is certainly a beautiful area, especially in the sun.  A view of Thatcher's Rock.

And Hope's Nose itself viewed form Thatcher's View.

Anyway, there was no sign of the bird, just a young Common Kestrel showing nicely in the sun, on which we were able to see it's black claws.  Reports I got from the few birders on-site suggested a string of possible/probable sightings of the bird in this area, since the last definite sighting at 11:30.  Who knows how many of these were mis-IDs.
The journey home was less than smooth, first getting lost in Torquay, passing the Gleneagles Hotel (apparently the inspiration for 'Fawlty Towers') at least 4 times!  Then, a very early rush hour in Torquay itself, an accident near Honiton, and finally, even a never-ending herd of cows crossing the road delayed me! 
It was a nice area to be, but I won't be going that distance in my rickety old van on such flimsy news again!
Subsequent days:
Birding in the last few days have merely consisted of fairly uneventful searches of Ferrybridge and Portland Harbour before work.  Nothing more dynamic seen than 2 Pale-bellied Brent Goose, Red-breasted Merganser, Guillemot, Razorbill, Sanderling, and Bar-tailed Godwit.  I also had trouble locating the site where a Sabine's Gull had been showing near Burton Bradstock. 
Yesterday the wind increased to speeds very close to those of the 'storm' earlier in the week, and today was still rather blowy.  This morning, I decided on a nice long walk taking in various North Portland sites. 
Blacknor still had it's resident 1st-winter male Black Redstart, which was having a really tough time in the conditions, often sheltering under cars.  I settled down in Chesil Cove for a seawatch, but it produced predictably little.  Just a Stonechat amongst the beach huts. 
I walked back up then along the main roads to Grove.  On the playing field there was a single Fieldfare feeding on worms.  A bit early for that I thought.  Maybe the wind has blown all the berries away!
Broadcroft Quarry held various skulking Pipits, which all appeared to be Meadow, and the Sycamores at Wakeham held a Goldcrest and a Chiffchaff, but little else.  Finally, I took in Windmills and Watery Lane, where a Grey Wagtail was feeding on a manure pile.
After lunch, I learnt that a Sabine's Gull was back in Chesil Cove.  No doubt decided to show itself after I left earlier!  Luckily however, I did finally manage to catch up with this species after a series of dips this autumn.  On arrival at the Cove, it was flying south, and ended up settled in Hallelujah Bay.  It was great looking down on it from the cliffs in perfect lighting.
As far as I can see, this winter will be a matter of checking the Ferrybridge/Portland Harbour area for the best birds.  Lucky then, that I'm working at Bridport all the way till Christmas (although the lengthening nights will curtail any birding fairly soon)!