The Portland Naturalist

The Portland Naturalist

Sunday, 15 December 2013

At Eleven near the Severn was Seventh Heaven


With nothing particularly dynamic in mind, I thought it'd be worth a look at Ferrybridge and Portland Harbour this morning. 

On arrival, the mudflats were virtually empty, so I set up to look out into the harbour.  I managed to scan through all the Red-breasted Merganser, and count 80 birds.  A single female Common Scoter was spotted briefly amongst them, before diving.  Also at great distance, I was able to find the female Eider from a couple of days ago, and in the same area were the Black-necked Grebes.  In the swell, it was rather tricky to count them, though I think there were 16.

On about my 3rd scan, I came across a Razorbill fairly close-in in the middle of the harbour.  I was surprised to then discover that the black-and-white bird keeping close company with it was not another Auk, but the female Long-tailed Duck, a Portland tick!  Attempts at getting a photo were futile in the howling wind!

With still plenty of the morning left, I couldn't decide what to do next.  I then noticed that the Common Crane were being reported again near Cheselbourne, north-east of Dorchester.  I wasn't planning on seeing these birds, but as they weren't far away, I thought why not? 

On arrival, the two juvenile Crane were immediately in view, slowly pecking away at the fallen maize in the middle of a field. 

A Grey Heron was sitting on the edge of the same field, and made a great comparison.  It was made to look like a midget!  The Cranes looked rather nervous throughout, particularly when a Buzzard flew over, so it wasn't a great surprise when they flew off majestically, about 20 minutes into my vigil.

A few people had started to see Woodcock about the place, so I thought come the evening, it would be worth a little stroll round the Suckthumb Quarry area.  No luck on that score, but I enjoyed watching the socialising antics of around 50 Magpie as they came into roost at The Hump.  I visited on a subsequent night to try and make a more accurate count, but managed a similar number.
Venus was shining bright, as the last glimpse of the suns rays lit the western horizon.
With a pair of quality targets in sight, a journey back up to Gloucestershire would surely be worthwhile.
With no travel issues, I got to Brierley in the Forest of Dean at 8:30 with the sun shining and not a breath of wind, and set out for Serridge Ridge. 
On the ridge itself, there was a distinct lack of Crossbills, though I did make the interesting observation of 4 Common Crossbill feeding on Beech-mast, by nibbling at the seedpods in the tree-tops, in a similar fashion to feeding from cones.  This seems a little odd, seeing as they had a load of Larch trees right next door!
After my last trip here, I'd got to know the area pretty well, so I was able to whiz round all the likely spots in the area, to no avail.  Back near the village, I suddenly noticed a flock of large finches with white in the wings feeding in the tree tops. Surely now!  No, they were Hawfinch!  I've never been so disappointed to see those!
Up to this point, I had had no internet signal, so I couldn't check on the news of the nearby Desert Wheatear.  With the rain now falling, and the wind increasing, I took the decision to get back to shelter in the car for lunch, and try and find some signal.  It's odd, cause I got plenty the last time I was here.
Well, a round trip through Cinderford and Coleford later, and nothing!  I stopped at the Speech House car park to have lunch, and miraculously, some signal appeared.  'No sign of the Desert Wheatear', damn!  Was I to dip both my targets, as well as score a seventh dip for 2-bars?
I thought I may as well spend the rest of the day searching the woods, seeing as I had no reason to get away.  I realised that it was okay to drive up to the ridge itself, and on arrival I got full internet signal, and news that the Two-barred Crossbills had been seen again!  I rushed down the track, and on arrival I could hear the distinctive trumpeting of the birds, but where were they?  A bit of enquiring, and it appeared they had just flown off.  Not again!
I was told which direction they had flown in, so took a quick look at some Larches nearby.  Nothing.  On getting back to the small group of birders, there were whispers that not all the birds had gone, and in fact at least one was still up in the trees, apparently hiding in some Ivy.  That didn't sound all that likely, I mean, that's not normal Crossbill behaviour, and yes it was pretty dull, but surely they weren't thinking of roosting yet!? 
A few minutes of standing in the rain later, getting more and more miserable, when suddenly the 'meep meep' trumpet call echoed round the woods.  A Two-barred Crossbill was in that Ivy!  Not long after, the bird took flight, and thankfully landed not too far away atop a Larch, still calling.  Despite my rather clouded optics, I could still clearly see the features of the gorgeous male!  Yes!  Finally!  It wasn't there for long, as it was clearly trying to locate it's mates that had abandoned it!  No time for photos sadly, but mustn't complain!
It was a shame the Wheatear was not seen again, but I really don't care too much, as I saw the main target! Will I be able to beat the total of six dips for a species in the future? I hope not!

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