The Portland Naturalist

The Portland Naturalist

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Grebes Galorious

Another long one, sorry about that.  I must try and post more frequently, but the problem is I don't know when the next photo-filled and really noteworthy day is going to occur!


After a look around the usual areas on the way home from work in Weymouth, I took a walk round the Barleycrates Lane area.  Not a great deal to relate, but a Buzzard can often be found here sitting on posts on the look-out for worms and the like.

On the floods here, the numbers of loafing Gulls have increased in recent days, and I'm always on the lookout for something more unusual amongst them.  When they all go up, it's either a sign that the guy above is flying in, or that the local Peregrine are about.  On this day, the West Weares pair were hanging on the wind on the cliff edge for many minutes on end.  Why do I even try digiscoping birds in flight?!
I had the day off, and started with a very muddy, and otherwise uneventful walk round Reap Lane and Suckthumb.
The local Raven pair were full of the joys of spring, with lots of calling and displaying.  They even chose the rooftops of Southwell to engage in their pleasantries (sorry about poor pic!).
Onto Portland Harbour, and all the usual Divers and Grebes were present and correct, though there was no sign of the Black Guillemot from the Castle.  Had it finally left?
With nothing much at Ferrybridge, other than a closer-than-usual Goldeneye, and with nothing else particularly dynamic in mind, I set up to seawatch from the crest of Chesil Beach. 
You know its quiet when the highlight from your note book reads ''Monsters Inc.' helium balloon, South'.
In the rather windless conditions, I thought it worth popping back to the Merchant's Incline in hope of finding my possible Siberian Chiffchaff from the other day.  No sign of anything remotely Chiffchaff-like in the area.  But, on the bright side, I scoped down into Portland Marina, and somehow spotted a single male Mallard swimming between the jetties.  A patch tick, and my 85th of the year, taking me to my target for January.
My usual look at the Ferrybridge site coincided with a very low tide, and the amount of mud exposed here and in the Harbour was the most I've ever seen.  As a result a large number of birds were taking advantage of it.
I was determined to find something noteworthy, so I ended up scoping half-way down the Fleet, and picking up a Knot in with a flock of Grey Plover and Dunlin.  A bonus patch tick.  Yes, very much a dot of a Knot!
I found the Black Guillemot had reappeared at Portland Castle.  Where had it been in the meantime?
After lunch, I noticed that Joe had found that noteworthy species I was seeking earlier in Portland Harbour!  I scoped from Weymouth Wetlands towards Sandsfoot Castle where four Wigeon were apparently hanging out.  But, in fading light, the distances involved were just too great.  I did spot three unidentifiable blobs on the water way round towards Bincleaves, which in hindsight could have been them, as the record photo Joe got showed only the three birds.  I may get the species on patch later in the year, though I may not!
With such low winds, I thought it might be worth staking out a site where Barn Owl bred last year within my patch.  I'd never seen them there before, in fact I didn't even know the exact spot, so there was a lot of guesswork involved!
Remarkably, just as I was about to give up in almost pitch black conditions, a Barn Owl popped it's head out the hole, before taking flight!  That brought a smile to my face I have to say!
That meant I finished the month on 87 species and 114 points for the Patchwork Challenge. Well chuffed with that!
Over the weekend, I was back in Surrey, for some birthday celebrations partially, but mainly in preparation for leading my old local RSPB group the 6 miles round Thorney Island, W. Sussex on this day.
I won't go into too much detail, as this blog is about Portland.  But, suffice to say, it was a cracking day, with reasonable weather, and excellent birds.  The mud and flooded paths were quite a problem though! 
Best birds were a flock of 44 Avocet, a surprise 1st-winter Little Gull, 2 wintering Whimbrel, at least 4 Slavonian Grebe and at least 2 Great Northern Diver.
Such a wild and wonderful place if you ever get the chance to visit.
This was the start of what I've been waiting for.  Working afternoons, so every morning free for birding.
There had not been a great deal to report, till I set up for a seawatch at Chesil Cove.
A few things were happening, but I wasn't expecting a small flock of Teal to pass through.  Pretty scarce here (as with all the dabbling ducks).  A valuable patch tick.
Shortly after, a group of 12 Brent Goose went through too.  I love seeing migration in action like this, even common species.  Do they think it's spring?
I headed for Ferrybridge first, as the rising tide was just low enough I thought for something to be on the mud.  It wasn't, but on the edge was 3 Pale-bellied Brent Goose.  Just as the last time I saw them, there was a pair, and this one on it's own (though sticking with the Dark-bellies).
I headed round to Weymouth Watersports, not expecting a great deal. What I was confronted with was a great raft of Red-breasted Merganser and Grebes, that included all 5 species!  The closest I came to seeing them all together was the three rarer ones in a scope view, and the best photo I got was a very poor one of Red-necked and Black-necked.
I estimated 25 Great Crested, 15 Black-necked, 10 Slavonian, 3 Red-necked, and 3 Little Grebe from that one spot.  Also 2 Great Northern Diver in addition to those below.
After a quick look at Hamm Beach, only finding even more Mergansers (and 'the' Mallard again!), I went round to Portland Castle. 
The Black Guillemot was of course still present, but it was really fidgety with lots of preening, and even taking a couple of short flights.  Are it's instincts telling it that it should be moving north?

Also nearby in the Marina was a Great Northern Diver, as there has been on my last few visits.


Looking out further from the Castle, I noted at least 6 other Great Northerns, as well as 5 Black-throated Diver.  Also a single Black-necked Grebe, which showed well close-in, even alongside the Black Guillemot.  I don't suppose these two species are photographed together very often, what with the latters liking of northern rocky coasts, and the formers liking for open southern harbours.
After that success, I finished at Chesil Cove, in brilliant lighting conditions, and a strong onshore wind.  An excellent combination.
There was indeed a great deal moving, with good numbers of Kittiwake passing close-in, equating to circa 100 an hour.  The best sighting was a single unexpected Manx Shearwater (valuable patch tick; now on 89 sp.) passing nice and close.  But, to be honest it was just a joy to be there.
Hopefully more of this sort of quality to come, but I'll try and make it shorter next time!


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