The Portland Naturalist

The Portland Naturalist

Monday, 25 August 2014

Awaiting Arrival of Awesome Autumn

It's been almost two weeks since my last update, but you needn't worry about missing anything!  I have made a certain amount of effort into birding Portland in that time, but rarely have I been rewarded.  A few snippets of other wildlife around to look at too however.  Those who are only interested in the birds can skip towards the end!

I think I've finally got the enthusiasm for getting up early for birding again!  My first sighting of this in a long time.

On a walk up near the Verne prison one day, I stumbled on these botanical delights, not having a clue they were here.  There were over a hundred examples of the strange spiralling Orchid, Autumn Ladies-tresses.

Plus a number of Autumn Gentian, just coming out.

It's official. Autumn is here!

I visited the Obs a couple of times, and the flowers there are always covered in pollinators, including a couple of Hummingbird Hawk-moth (lots around at the moment) and this striking hoverfly, Chrysotoxum cautum.

The other day-flying moth that's quite obvious at the moment are the scarce-for-Portland Jersey Tiger. I've come across three in the last two weeks.

On one day I spotted the little mouthful-of-a-micro, Schreckensteinia festaliella, here showing it's strange spiky, sticking-out forelegs.

I've also noticed a fair amount of moth feeding-signs recently.  This is an area that I really would like to improve my knowledge on.  But, just like most other areas of natural history, there's so much to learn!

But, I think these are the feeding mines of the Apple Leaf Miner (Lyonetia clerkella).  How many different individuals are there in each leaf!?

And, I think these 'windows' in Wild Madder is where the larva of the pyralid Mecyna asinalis has been feeding on the underside.

As for birds, the best sightings in the last couple of weeks have been a juvenile Marsh Harrier circling over Blacknor on the 15th, before drifting out over the sea towards Abbotsbury.  The Gulls had been going mad in the area for a little while, so it was no surprise to find this bird amongst them.  Plus, the flock of Black-tailed Godwit at Ferrybridge two days later was also a patch tick.  They didn't show as well as this Bar-tailed Godwit yesterday, however.

The other patch tick in the last month or so has been a number of juvenile Yellow-legged Gull. Ferrybridge is the ideal location for studying the species' subtleties (particularly the dark tertials and pale head). 

Other than those, there have been a steady presence of the likes of Yellow Wagtail, Tree Pipit, and a Spotted Flycatcher yesterday.  Plus decent sightings such as the likes of two Arctic Skua in Chesil Cove.

Also yesterday, I had the briefest of glimpses of a greyish-backed Whitethroat-like warbler at Suckthumb Quarry, but sadly it could not be re-found.  One that got away.

The weather has been normal.  Portland-weird that is!  These photos taken 24 hours apart from the same point on The Verne.

There is a chance I may start to learn to ring soon.  Watch this space.  I'm looking forward now to what the autumn will bring on Portland, but I've also got a couple of visits to my old patch of Tice's Meadow in the offing!

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Enter Stringman

While this blog takes a break as I rack up noteworthy sightings, here's a little recess.  One for fans of Metallica, as well as Gyr Crakes.

Wish I had the facilities to record it in a similar way to Mr Crakes, but sadly not. You'll have to sing it yourselves!

Enter Stringman

Sung to ''Fuel'' by Metallica.

Gimme Hume’s, gimme Gyr
Gimme that which I desire

Turn around, I see red
Was it on the tail or on the head?
I get another glimpse in the nettle bed
And I see red

I also saw black and white
More buff, more red
Flush’em man, now in flight
More black and white

Ohh, and I heard
Skulking in the bushes
Calling clear, loud and clean
And I heard
Sounding rather yankee
Quench my thirst for rarities

So gimme Hume’s, gimme Gyr
Gimme that which I desire

No! I Observe this bird alone
Put out news, seek out help
Pager-watchers will leave home

Here come Twitchers, looking to thrash
Here’s Webb, Bagnall
And Mr Evans way too fast
Yeah lists way too fast, fast, fast, woh

Ohh, and it shows
Hopping from the bushes
Birders turn, stare, at me

Ohh, and I watch
Turns in my direction,
It’s a bloody Reed Bunting

So, gimme Hume’s, gimme Gyr
Gimme that which I desire

Not even a Twite

Gimme Hume’s,
Gimme Gyr
My desire

Ooh, I learn
Twitchers aren’t for messin’
They call loud, loose and clean

Then they burn
Turning my direction
‘Stringer’ they label me!

So, Gimme Hume’s, Gimme Gyr
Gimme that which I desire, yeah

Ohh, Stringer!

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Shear Numbers but Fea-less

I've managed to get out for a little more birding recently, though I've yet to tap into the rich vein of Portland birding, as usual.
On the 6th I was able to make a few brief excursions around the island, finding a distant feeding flock of seabirds that included a Balearic Shearwater and an intruding Great Skua off the West cliffs.
Plus, on the 8th I spent an hour or two at Ferrybridge seeing a Greenshank flying over, the long-staying Red-necked Grebe in the harbour, plus juvenile Redshank and Yellow-legged Gull on the mud.
A quick whizz round the middle of the island produced a few warblers as well as a couple of calling Tree Pipit.
But, it was on the 10th when the real birding came. 
I drove three hours down to Cornwall the previous evening, slept in the car, then picked up Samuel Perfect from Falmouth first thing, before making our way over to Pendeen in forecast strong North-westerlies.
The view from the cliffs below the lighthouse is impressive.  The rocks provide useful landmarks for calling out the position of birds.

It wasn't long before we had a large Shearwater in the bag, as a Cory's Shearwater passed distantly.  A few minutes later the first Great Shearwater sweeped into view, but this was quite a dark one without the obvious pale bands at each end.
Soon enough however we got brilliant views of both species, with one or two Sooty Shearwater and Balearic Shearwater amongst the hundreds of Manx Shearwater into the bargain.  Shear heaven!
It wasn't easy for everyone present to find sufficient shelter, particularly as the wind veered round to the north slightly.

This was the sort of typical views of the closer Manxies (plus Gannet), and just the one large Shear, a Great, came this close, but what a belter that was in perfect light!

A few other things were called during the 10 hours we were there, such as all three common Skua, though I only saw the one distant immature Pomarine Skua.  Also a Storm Petrel was a great find pattering around just beyond the rocks.

Talking of rocks, I suspect virtually everyone present totally ignored the fact that the Lichen here were very impressive with 5-6 species on one rock.  This one was rather photogenic.

In the end, I saw about 15 Great, 12 Cory's, 3 Sooty, and 3 Balearic Shearwater.  The only disappointment really was hearing of a Fea's Petrel passing nearby St Agnes Head, and not having it past here!  We were all so hyped to see that!  Nonetheless, a fantastic day, and my first double UK-lifer day for 15 months.

A little look in Chesil Cove this morning produced just a pair of piratical Arctic Skua going after the Terns.  I was half hoping to see a Cory's scything about in there, now I know what to look for!

Things have got to improve on the land shortly hopefully, once this wind dies down.

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

No Rest for the Moth-ers

It's been quite a while since my last update, and although I've built up a nice little backlog of photos, in truth there's not a great deal to talk about.  The lean months of summer (for birds particularly) will hopefully end soon enough.
A couple of weeks ago I helped with a moth trapping session at Alner's Gorse, and although the final list was impressive, the only Tick I managed was this one.  In hindsight we were all very lucky, as we walked around in the long grass in shorts!


It's all been about the moths really otherwise, as I helped to empty the traps at the Bird Observatory for a week (getting up at 5 each day). I'm extremely grateful to everyone there for letting me have the opportunity.  A selection of the best species.

Wormwood Shark

Plain Pug

L-album Wainscot

Crocidosema plebejana

The Shark


Eudonia lineola

Evergestis extimalis

Epermenia aequidentellus


Marbled Green - A strange form

Southern Wainscot
Cydia amplana
Webb's Wainscot
Dog's Tooth
Pearly Underwing

Plus, a couple of well camouflaged micros...

Epiblema scutulana

Digitivalva puilcariae

A few more interesting things from the trap, such as the UKs largest Cranefly, Tipula maxima.

And two different species of huge Lacewing.


On one morning, I was joined by a Common Shrew out in the open while I emptied a trap. It was no coincidence that it was hunting in the area I had released the moths the previous day!

On one of the nights we had a bit of a disaster when a rain-guard fell onto the bulb, surrounding it with the molten plastic (makes you realise how hot they run).  The bulb still worked, and anything hitting it then got stuck fast. Modern art perhaps?


At Ferrybridge on another day, I was able to find an example of the scarce Wormwood-feeder Eucosma pupillana, with little problem.

Ichneumon Wasps are frequent visitors to moth traps, but it was fascinating watching this guy at work, searching a Knapweed for caterpillars to parasitize.  It was very interested in this rolled leaf, which no doubt contained a caterpillar, or be it one far too small for this impressive beast. Nonetheless, how did it know to look there?

I have finally managed to get out to do a little bit of birding in the last few days, with little reward.  It was great watching a seabird feeding-frenzy off the West Cliffs today though, that included a Balearic Shearwater and a Great Skua.  Always nice of course to see Melodious Warbler in-hand last week too, though I so nearly missed it!
A Cornish seawatch in order for the weekend?