The Portland Naturalist

The Portland Naturalist

Sunday, 16 February 2014

Ring a Ring o' Ross's

Before the main event, I'll try and condense the last week as much as I can.


The morning after the big storm, I walked the strandline at Chesil Cove at first light, before work.  I was pretty much expecting to find dead birds, but it still doesn't prepare you for sights such as this.

I had counted 12 Guillemot , 11 Razorbill, and a Kittiwake before I met with some guys coming the other way picking up the carcasses, presumably for scientific reasons.  They told me they had at least one Puffin amongst 40 or so other Auks.
They also successfully rescued one or two which were still alive.

Also among the debris was several Starfish.
This Sea Fan (or similar).

And at least four of these fish, which I think are Ballan Wrasse.
The only sighting of any note this morning was of 13 Curlew at Ferrybridge first thing, which is a decent count here in the winter.
After a similarly uneventful look at the usual North Portland sites, I took a long walk to the East Cliffs and back.
On the way, I flushed Song Thrush from Barleycrates Lane, and Blacknor, which are both places the resident birds would not normally be.  Perhaps this was the first sign of spring passage?
Also on my jaunt, I found the fresh carcass of a Kittiwake on the West Cliffs, that looked like it had been taken by a Peregrine.  Another victim of the storm, picked off by the opportunists.

I also came across a little landslip on the coast path near Church Ope Cove...

...and managed to confirm my Fungi ID from a few blog posts ago, of Layered Cup (it may look like a piece of Tuna, but you'll just have to take my word for it!).


It was my day off work, and I needed to be in Yeovil for mid-afternoon.  So, I thought I may as well carry on going north, and give the Ross's Gull in South Wales a go.

I was not expecting it to be there, after a total no show the previous afternoon.  On arrival at Aberavon near Port Talbot, in pretty iffy conditions, I could see some people watching from the end of the concrete breakwater.  It took me (and the others that had just arrived) a while to realise that they were watching the bird, so we hotfooted-it down there.

Just as I was approaching the line of concentrating figures, they suddenly relaxed.  The bird had been showing right in close, but had just flown off out to sea!  Just one minute earlier and I'd have seen it!

My morale wasn't helped by the conditions, with showers, a howling wind, and even a couple of soakings from the pounding waves.

I stayed for another couple of hours, but the bird never reappeared, despite at least 11 Little Gull knocking around, showing ridiculously well.

This shot is taken with my phone camera without any optics, to give you an idea.

Same goes for this shot, as sadly, there were a number of moribund Kittiwake around.

Remember, this was all happening in the industrial heartland of South Wales.

On the way back to Yeovil, I stopped at an undisclosed site, where with no effort at all I found Shelduck, Goosander, and the most Ruddy Duck I have seen for a good few years, two!


Not a lot to relate today, except the weather was the worst that we've experienced so far.  Constant rain all day, and the highest wind speeds yet.  Come nightfall, I was genuinely scared in my modern block of flats, rocking and rolling!

As a result, the only birding I could really manage was from the car.  Nothing unusual was seen, but I was delighted to have a brilliant encounter with two of the local Great Northern Diver down at Portland Castle.


Just another day in Chiswell (notice the boats caught on the bollards)!

The flooding wasn't quite as bad as the 5th, probably because of the slightly lower high tides, but the seabirds were still clearly struggling.

I had to watch from one of the upper roads, but from there first thing I was delighted to finally see some genuinely alive Puffin out on the water, even though it was clear they were in dire straights.  Also at least 2 Great Skua milling around with the Gulls.

Other than all the expected things, I very unexpectedly flushed a Grey Wagtail from by one of the block of flats I was delivering to in Fortuneswell.  It was sensibly keeping out of the wind! Patch tick!

I failed to even attempt to see the Leach's Petrel that was in the harbour. Hopefully I'll get one in autumn.


Up at 2:30am, and out birding.

Yep, that is the earliest I have ever got up for a bird, but it was worth it.  Keith Pritchard (Brilliant blog here ) was keen to go up for the Ross's Gull himself, so what a great opportunity I thought to give it another go.

As I suspected, we arrived way too early, but it was nice to admire the atmospherics, at a totally windless Aberavon.


But in the darkness, it was clear the concrete breakwater I had walked along on Thursday was not accessible at that moment!

As the sun rose, we got to work.  But, in the next couple of hours we only got passing glimpses of two 1st-winter Little Gull. Had the rest chosen the calm conditions to leave?

Well, after changing our position to the higher esplanade to look down into the small bay, I suddenly got wind that the birder to my right was getting animated.  I was immediately on the bird he was looking at close in feeding with the Black-headed Gull.  It was it!  The beautiful 1st-winter Ross's Gull!  I called it.

It wasn't around for long, before disappearing over the harbour wall, and into the docks with the Black heads.

A really cute little bird!

All this, in what couldn't be more different conditions to my last visit. Contrast these with my pics above!

After a little bit of waiting, and only finding a single adult Little Gull, we gave it best, and decided to move on, very content with our encounter!

On the way home, we just nipped into the wonderful Ham Wall reserve in the Somerset Levels in the hope of a Green-winged Teal (lifer for Keith! Doesn't do fowl!).

No sign of that, but what a delight to just be there in such lovely weather, birds singing everywhere.

Other than the expected stuff (Cetti's Warbler, Water Rail, Marsh Harrier etc.), I also found this  odd Aythya hybrid duck.  Possibly a Pochard x Ferruginous (white behind, yellow eye, dark back etc.).


What a long day, but worth every moment!

Not long till those Wheatear are back!  Can't wait!

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