The Portland Naturalist

The Portland Naturalist

Friday, 31 October 2014

Patchwork Challenge Update - October

168 species and 242 points carried forward.


169. Reed Bunting - Avalanche Road 1 point


170. Rose-coloured Starling - Reap Lane 3


171. Crane - Easton (from Windmills) 3 + 3 self-find


172. Black Brant - Ferrybridge 3


173. Siberian Chiffchaff - Portland Castle 2


174. Brambling - The Verne 1

Total: 258

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Branting and Vismigging

No wildly special sightings to report on in the last 9 days, just solid autumn birding.

Ferrybridge has been decent, with one day producing a fly-through Merlin, plus two Great Northern Diver which headed off over Portland Harbour.

The Black Brant has also returned with over a thousand Brents.

There are a number of summer migrants still hanging on with a Garden Warbler associating with a loose group of Blackcap at Suckthumb Quarry on one day, and a House Martin over the windmills on another, both my latest ever.

A Lesser Whitethroat next to the former Weston craft centre a few days ago had a brownish nape, and was therefore probably one of the eastern subspecies.

A few Swallow are still passing through (including a bird with entirely pale flight-feathers, similar to the effect you sometimes see in Crows), and Sandwich Tern are still around of course.

A bit of a blow on a few days increased hopes of some storm-driven birds, but a bit of seawatching has so far only produced a single immature Pomarine Skua, and a moribund juvenile Gannet.  I first saw this bird with its bill tucked away, and it took a while for me to realise what it was.  It looked very odd!

Chesil Cove was as atmospheric as ever though.

The Yellow-browed Warbler has remained at the Avalanche Rd hump throughout, but I've rarely seen it.  Just a few calls. 

I did however find a new bird at the top of Tilleycombe associating with a large roving mixed flock of birds that also included a very pale Chiffchaff.  A closer look at it yesterday revealed it not to be a classic Siberian, so probably of another eastern cline.

There are a decent number of typical autumn migrants around, such as Grey Wagtail.

Yesterday was particularly good for migration, with clear skies producing some nice visible migration (vismig) overhead.  This included a southerly movement of Woodpigeon totalling 900 birds in an hour, the largest flock of 200 birds.

Also yesterday, I found at least 3 Firecrest and 2 calling Water Rail at Verne Common, and witnessed a Peregrine continually stooping on a Kestrel.  These two really don't get on round here, as they nest close to each other on the cliffs.

An amusing observation was witnessing a Robin washing by rubbing itself on dew-covered leaves.  Not seen that behaviour before!

Definitely a feeling about the place at the moment that the potential for autumn rarities is largely over. But, you never know I suppose!

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Heavy Plant Crossing

I think it's fair to say I was suffering a little with post-holiday blues as I started the week.
It didn't help when I began the morning after Fair Isle with no sign of any Phalaropes offshore at Chesil Cove.
However, things started to look up when I was able to see the Reap Lane juvenile Rose-coloured Starling, with little trouble.

Here, it appeared to be regurgitating a pellet.

Then, on the 14th, I'd already heard the Avalanche Road hump Yellow-browed Warbler again, when I walked along Watery Lane. 
I looked up towards Easton, only to be greeted by two huge birds lumbering their way cross-island. Crane!  I immediately called the Obs, as the birds were heading in their direction.  After a bit of a struggle with the reception, the guys there were able to get onto them, but only after the birds had travelled miles out to sea!  Unfortunately, they had reached as far south as the East Cliffs, then decided to spiral up high before moving east, out to sea.  Quality birds for Dorset.
The next few days of Portland birding never got near that for excitement, though on one day I found a few Ring Ouzel, here in the Chesil Cove bushes.

There were at least 2 on the ground, and another 3 probables overhead.

On the same day, I saw a Humming-bird Hawk-moth, a Snipe flying over Barleycrates Lane, and I flushed a Pipit from a bush which I only saw flying away, that I can only assume was my latest ever Tree Pipit, but with a call like that, you never know I suppose!

On another day there was quite a grey-looking Chiffchaff at Avalanche Road, which lacked the call or brownish ear-covets of Siberian, so was probably another 'Eastern-type' bird.

And, then we've got the perplexing Lesser Black-backed Gull to mention.  Varying shades of back-colour among these at Ferrybridge on the 17th, including 2 (one on the right) with very dark backs, dainty build, and long wings.  At the very least, birds of the Scandanavian race, intermedius.

Today, I went looking to bury an old hatchet.

My only previous sniff of this species was of a very dubious one at Cley once, that I swear in flight had black armpits (but that those around me were satisfied to tick).

So, imagine my delight when I took the 2 and a bit hour drive to Davidstow Airfield, Cornwall this morning, only for the juvenile American Golden Plover to be immediately in view.

Not just in view, but showing at close range, without the need to leave the car.  It put on quite a performance, including plenty of preening and bathing.

 What a great bird.  It would be nice to have one a Portland at some point.

Notice its reaction to an over-flying Buzzard.

We are in a period now which produces plenty of quality birds.  Will I be able to continue to tap in on it on patch?

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Standard Fair - Part 4 (Day 6 + Journey)

As we ventured out on our last full day on Fair Isle, I was on a trip list of 96.  Could I reach the ton?
It was a rocket of a start, as we were told of a great bird on the road right by the Obs. 
It wasn't long before we were watching an Olive-backed Pipit.

It was a great little bird, with a distinctive 'wag-tail' walking action.

We carried on along the road, but the rest of the morning was fairly quiet, with just the long-staying Hen Harrier, another Woodcock which flew to the entrance of one of the traps (it was indeed later trapped, but we weren't around to see it sadly!) and a flock of varyingly-sized Redpoll, again probably mostly Mealy Redpoll

We again found ourselves looking at an area that we later learnt held a Little Bunting!  Maybe this afternoon?

Again, lunchtime was punctuated by the viewing of a Yellow-browed Warbler just outside the window!

We wanted to head for the far south once again, with one or two things reported.  We had to fit into two vehicles, as we got a lift.  On arrival, I was told that the vehicle I hadn't been in had seen the Little Bunting, right by the road! 

We rushed back, and after an anxious wait, the Little Bunting appeared, associating with Skylark. Finally!

Not a lifer, but I hopefully will now never forget that 'ticking' flight-call.

We carried on walking south, this time coming across a single Stonechat.  No. 99!

In an adjacent field, I was able to pick out a single Tundra Bean Goose, probably a different bird to the three we had seen previously.

We were then told of a Slavonian Grebe in the south harbour.  Surely this would be the 100th?

It was a relief when on arrival, the rather lethargic-looking Slavonian Grebe showed immediately.

Walking round to the front of the South Light where we hoped to find Purple Sandpiper, one of our group spotted something on the rocks.  Imagine my surprise when I put my bins up to see a Treecreeper!  This is a Fair Isle mega, so while Dave put the news out, we kept tabs on it.  It was being surprisingly successful, catching a couple of large prey items whilst we watched.  It had startlingly white underparts, and therefore was of the Northern subspecies familiaris.  A very smart bird!

Whilst we tried to keep an eye on the Treecreeper, a number of us were (understandably) distracted by the news of another top bird nearby.

We were soon eye-to-eye with a superb Long-eared Owl, roosting on a cliff-face.  My first for 5 years!

The twitch, which included the warden, soon made it, and I think everyone got onto the Treecreeper - the 9th Fair Isle record!

Our walk back included a newly-arrived Shoveler on Da Water, plus we were finally all able to see another Fair Isle mega that had been about a few days - Blue Tit (more records of Lanceolated Warbler)!

Gosh, we really had been spoilt with these (Fair Isle) megas on this trip.  Gadwall, Pochard, Barn Owl, Buzzard, Treecreeper, AND Blue Tit! 

I did the early trap round on the last morning, but apart from the last sunrise...

...and another view of the Olive-backed Pipit, nothing of note was discovered.

We all said goodbye to Fair Isle, and made the 15 min plane journey back to mainland Shetland. 

Once at Sumburgh, all the members of the group parted, and I was left with 8 hours to kill.

There was no-where at the airport I could leave my luggage (!), so I had to walk the short distance to the nearby Hotel to dump my bag, so I could go out and do some birding at the Head.

Some more typical Shetland scenery, looking over Grutness.  In this bay was a Red-throated Diver.

And a view up to the lighthouse of Sumburgh Head itself.

It was a long way, but at the top was a great view to the north.

Plus, there were a lot of confiding Fulmar.

Other birds of note were fairly thin on the ground, though a Song Thrush with a lot of white in its mantle, and this mutant Blackbird both caused me initial confusion.

Back at the Hotel, and it turned out the best birds were here, as a Black Redstart was in the garden, and in the bay next door was a Great Northern Diver and a flock of Long-tailed Duck.

Still with a load of spare time, I thought about walking north to the Pool of Virkie, but some newly arrived rain put paid to that.

The flight was fine, and I went on to make the 10 hour drive home all the next day, only broken by an unsuccessful look for a Surf Scoter near Edinburgh.

But, what a trip!

I live on Portland, so am used to seeing migration in action, as well as birds in odd places.  But, even that didn't prepare me for Fair Isle, where everything is multiplied 10 times.  It is the uber-Portland! 

I will definitely return at some point!

Bird List (FI only):

1. Great Northern Diver - 1 summer-plumaged bird in North Haven 6/10
2. Slavonian Grebe -  1 in South Harbour 9/10
3. Fulmar - Every day
4. Gannet - Every day
5. Cormorant - 1 juvenile in South Harbour 7/10
6. Shag - Every day
7. Grey Heron - Seen on 5 days
8. Whooper Swan - Seen on 5 days
9. Greylag Goose - Seen on 6 days
10. Pink-footed Goose - Every day
11. Bean Goose - 3 'Tundra' birds over Pund 8/10, + a single 'Tundra' bird at Shirva 9/10
12. Barnacle Goose - Seen on 5 days
13. Mallard - Seen on 6 days
14. Gadwall - 1 male over Obs then on Da Water 8/10
15. Shoveler - 1 male on Da Water 9/10
16. Wigeon - Seen on 6 days
17. Teal - Seen on 3 days
18. Pochard - 2 males over Chalet on 6/10, + on Da Water 9/10
19. Scaup - 1 male in North Haven 6/10, + off Hjukni Geo 7/10
20. Tufted Duck - 1 female in South Harbour 7/10, + 2 female in South Harbour 8/10
21. Eider - Every day
22. Long-tailed Duck - 1 male on Da Water 8/10, + 1 female off Mavers Geo 8/10
23. Red-breasted Merganser - Seen on 6 days
24. Hen Harrier - 1 juvenile behind Pund 5/10 + 9/10
25. Buzzard - 1 over Ward Hill, then around south of island 8/10
26. Sparrowhawk - Seen on 3 days
27. Kestrel - Seen on 5 days
28. Peregrine - Seen on 4 days
29. Merlin - Various sightings on 5/10 and 8/10
30. Quail - 1 flushed from roadside between Shirva and Upper Leogh 7/10
31. Oystercatcher - Seen on 4 days
32. Ringed Plover - 1 in the Havens 7/10, + 1 by Barkland 8/10
33. Grey Plover - 1 past South Light 7/10
34. Golden Plover - Seen on 6 days
35. Dotterel - 1 over Hjukni Geo 7/10, + 1 over Chalet 8/10
36. Lapwing - Seen on 3 days
37. Knot - 1 in South Harbour 9/10
38. Purple Sandpiper - 1 by South Light 7/10
39. Turnstone - Seen on 6 days
40. Dunlin - Seen on 5 days
41. Redshank - Seen on 6 days
42. Curlew - Seen on 4 days
43. Woodcock - Seen on 3 days
44. Snipe - Seen on 6 days
45. Jack Snipe - Seen on 5 days
46. Great Skua - Every day
47. Black-headed Gull - Seen on 5 days
48. Common Gull - Seen on 5 days
49. Herring Gull - Seen on 6 days (including 'Scandanavian' birds)
50. Great Black-backed Gull - Every day
51. Kittiwake - 2 in South Haven 7/10, + 2 past Malcolms Head 8/10
52. Black Guillemot - Seen on 6 days
53. Guillemot - 1 in North Haven 6/10
54. Razorbill - 1 in North Haven 6/10
55. Rock Dove - Seen on 6 days (including pure birds)
56. Woodpigeon - Seen on 3 days
57. Long-eared Owl - 1 by South Light 9/10
58. Short-eared Owl - 1 over Walli Burn 8/10, and 1 behind Pund 8/10
59. Barn Owl - 1 in Steensi Geo 7/10
60. Skylark - Seen on 6 days
61. Swallow - 2 past Pund 5/10, 2 by Midway 8/10, + 2 around Obs 8/10
62. Rock Pipit - Every day
63. Meadow Pipit - Every day
64. Olive-backed Pipit - 1 at Ditfield 9/10 + 10/10
65. Pied/White Wagtail - Seen on 4 days (of both subspecies)
66. Grey Wagtail - 1 over Gilsetter 6/10
67. Wren - Seen on 6 days (Fair Isle subspecies)
68. Dunnock - Seen on 4 days
69. Robin - Seen on 4 days
70. Bluethroat - 1 at Pund 5/10
71. Redstart - 1 at the Obs 8/10
72. Black Redstart - 1 by ringing hut 8/10
73. Wheatear - Every day
74. Whinchat - Seen on 5 days
75. Stonechat - 1 by Midway 9/10
76. Song Thrush - Every day
77. White's Thrush - 1 at Wester Lother 4/10
78. Blackbird - Seen on 5 days
79. Redwing - Seen on 6 days
80. Fieldfare - 1 by Plantation 8/10, + 1 at Bulls Park 9/10
81. Ring Ouzel - At least 12 across island 8/10, + 1 at Gilsetter 10/10
82. Garden Warbler - 1 ringed at Plantation 8/10
83. Blackcap - Seen on 5 days
84. Chiffchaff - Seen on 4 days
85. Willow Warbler - 1 by Hill Dyke 8/10
86. Yellow-browed Warbler - Seen on 3 days
87. Goldcrest - Seen on 4 days
88. Blue Tit - 1 at Midway 9/10
89. Treecreeper - 1 of the Northern subspecies at South Light 9/10
90. Great Grey Shrike - 1 at Shirva, then behind Pund 8/10
91. Jackdaw - 1 by Walli Burn 8/10, + 1 at Utra 9/10
92. Hooded Crow - Seen on 5 days
93. Raven - Seen on 6 days
94. Starling - Every day
95. House Sparrow - Every day
96. Chaffinch - Seen on 6 days
97. Brambling - Seen on 6 days
98. Linnet - 1 by North Light 5/10, + 1 by Setter 7/10
99. Twite - Every day
100. Mealy Redpoll - Seen on 3 days
101. Siskin - 2 in Muckle Geo 7/10, + several across island 8/10
102. Reed Bunting - Seen on 5 days
103. Little Bunting - 1 at Chalet 9/10
104. Lapland Bunting - 1 over Gilsetter 8/10
105. Snow Bunting 8 at North Light 5/10

Also, on mainland Shetland:

Red-throated Diver - 1 off Grutness 10/10
Sanderling - 10 by Grutness 10/10

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Standard Fair - Part 3 (Days 4 + 5)

Day 4 brought absolutely appalling conditions, with frequent rain and a wind of around 40 mph!

Despite this, I was determined to get out there, so while the rest of the group sheltered at the Obs and the museum, I walked all the way to the South Light.  I was rewarded in this area with a single Purple Sandpiper and the first Woodpigeon of the trip! 

The geos (deep coves) along the west coast were full of birds sheltering from the easterly wind, including loads of Thrushes and the first Siskin.

My walk took me up one of the moorland hills, where I was hoping to find a Dotterel, seen yesterday.  Here you can see part of the airstrip.

Just a few Golden Plover, and a soaking later, nothing of note.

After lunch the rain had eased, so we all ventured out to the south of the island once again. 

On the way to the South Light, we suddenly flushed a bird from the roadside, which flew up over a fence and out of view.  It was a Quail, my first sight of one!  The stripy plumage could be seen, as well as the dumpy shape.  It also made a quiet 'pittering' call on flushing.  It was seen by someone else the next day.

A search of the South Harbour produced an out-of-place Tufted Duck, a fly-over Grey Plover, and the only Cormorant of the week!

It was still pretty wild out there.

On our way back, a Woodcock flew across the road.

There were still a load of Geese around, including plenty of Barnacle Goose.

We were just going to have a quick look at Pund, when we learnt of an Olive-backed Pipit nearby.  Once at one of the geos on the west side of the island, we found out it had not been seen for a while. 

Nevertheless, while we stood there the Dotterel flew over calling.  A bonus!

We made another attempt at heading back to the Obs, only to be intercepted by the minibus full of people zooming along, a sure sign of a twitch occurring! 

It turned out it was for a Barn Owl, which is a Fair Isle mega (first record for 56 years)!  It's another species for the list, so myself and Dave joined them, and we headed back to the area near where the OBP had been.

No problem finding it, as it hunkered down on the cliff.

Yet another example of the desperate situation the birds often find themselves in when they reach this relatively resource-poor speck of land.  The bird was found dead the next day, unsurprisingly.

Day 5 was an amazing contrast to the day before, with the sun out, and light winds!  Surely there'd be something to find.

The day started well, with the Sparrowhawk I first saw yesterday being trapped, an oddly rufous female.

As soon as we left the Obs, it was clear there were birds everywhere, particularly Thrushes.  The first birds we saw were 3 Ring Ouzel.  We went on to see at least 9 more scattered about, with an estimated 34 seen island-wide.

As we continued south, in quick succession we had a Gadwall fly over (FI rarity), a Common Buzzard appear over a distant hill (another FI rarity), and watched the spectacle of two Merlin squabbling over a seized Wheatear.

As we got to Pund to look for a reported Little Bunting, three Geese flew over calling.  Bean Goose!  Their orange legs being the key giveaway, as well as their rather nasal call.

It wasn't long before another odd call had us looking up.  This time it was the Dotterel once again, associating with a single Golden Plover.

Our mood at missing the Little Bunting was improved slightly on the way back by a late Willow Warbler, a brief Black Redstart, and an in-hand Garden Warbler.

During lunch, a Yellow-browed Warbler again showed from the lounge window, and I watched a Redstart feeding on the short grass nearby, while I waited for the others.

After lunch, we learnt of a nice bird right in the south of the island, so headed there first.

Almost immediately on arrival, I found the Great Grey Shrike, sitting up as usual.  It was always fairly distant sadly.

We continued round along the only roads, doing a circuit.  As we did so, a Short-eared Owl flew into view.  It eventually circled up to a great height and headed off south.  Next stop, North Ronaldsay!

Soon after, a single Jackdaw was seen, yet another on the list of quality Fair Isle birds!

The main area of freshwater on the island was the tiny seasonal pool of Da Water.  At our first proper look at it today, we found the Gadwall that had flown over earlier, a pair of Whooper Swan... a very out-of-place male Long-tailed Duck.  Notice, this bird has quite a nasty wound around its throat, possibly a result of fence-strike.

We had one last look at Pund, only to discover that the Little Bunting, and a Olive-backed Pipit had both just been there!  We saw neither! 
Just another Short-eared Owl, this time sitting about on the ground.
Rather frustrating, but we must remember how good a day it'd been.  Maybe we can rectify these misses tomorrow?

Monday, 13 October 2014

Standard Fair - Part 2 (Days 2 + 3)

Our first full day started with the early check of the Heligoland traps.  This only produced two birds, a Song Thrush and a Chaffinch, but luckily, the mist nets back at the obs produced the goods with an adult and a young male Brambling.  
Just after breakfast, I was trying to get some shots of this Twite from the lounge window...

...when I noticed some movement in the bushes behind.  This proved to be a Goldcrest and a Yellow-browed Warbler.  Not the first I've found, but nice all the same.

As I waited outside for the others, first a Peregrine, then a Merlin circled about overhead. 

On our way south to the crofting area of the island, a couple of flocks of Whooper Swan flew over, and two Redpoll confused us as usual, but were probably 'Northwestern' Mealy Redpoll.

We made another attempt at seeing the Bluethroat, which this time showed immediately, although briefly.  It took a lot more waiting for it to show properly.  The wait was punctuated by a marauding Yellow-browed Warbler, which almost landed on my nearby tripod!  So strange seeing one out in the open, perching on wires and posts. 

These are the derelict buildings and small patches of Nettles of Pund, the home of the Bluethroat (and later Little Bunting).  As you can see, the weather was being kind (at the moment!).

On the way back to base for lunch, we flushed a Jack Snipe, and watched a juvenile Hen Harrier hunting. 

Our afternoon ramble took in the north of the island.  Some of the scenery was pretty dramatic.

The reason for going as far as the North Light, was to look for Snow Bunting.  It took no time at all to find a flock of 7, plus this loner.

Having Snow Bunting and Wheatear in the same scope view was quite surreal.

As was having to be blasé about Great Skua flying over.  ''What's this! Oh, it's only a Bonxie''.

One of the only Linnet of the week flew past.  Yep, we were actually searching Twite flocks for Linnet!

Back at the obs, I took the short walk down to the Havens below.  This area was continually swarming with Grey Seal.  A female...

...and a male.

The third day dawned to a decent start, but it was pretty windy out there!

From the Obs, we were able to see a male Scaup down in the Havens.  Once out, we headed down there for a better view.  There was no sign, but there was a cracking summer-plumaged Great Northern Diver instead.

On our walk back down south, we flushed a Jack Snipe from the roadside.  The bird had clearly been busy!

As we relaxed at the only shop on the island, we suddenly got the sight of a bird literally falling from the sky to our feet.

It was a Whinchat, and it was clearly exhausted.

I attempted to feed it with some woodlice and slugs that I found nearby, but it just wasn't interested.

  (c) Nicole Burgum

Unsurprisingly, the bird was later found dead.  The perils of migration are plain to see at this place.

The only other notable sighting from the day was a pair of Pochard flying over, a Fair Isle rarity.

A late round of the traps produced a few birds including a Twite and this Goldcrest.

The forecast for tomorrow is terrible!