The Portland Naturalist

The Portland Naturalist

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Deja Hoopoe

After the success of the previous week, things continued in a similar vein, very much against expectations.

'My' Hoopoe was re-found by myself a few days after my initial discovery. I flushed it from the path at the back of the big horse-field along Weston Street (and I've since seen it again, at Avalanche Road).  Unlike my first encounter, the bird actually hung around long enough for others to connect.

Whilst I watched it, the most extraordinary moment was when it appeared flying around in the air, crest erect, being pursued by a Sparrowhawk!  They circled around each other a few times, before the Hoopoe saw its opportunity and escaped.  This was the most notable of a string of spectacular bird of prey hunting episodes I witnessed over a few days that also included a Peregrine plunging through, and scattering, a flock of Redwing, a Sparrowhawk carrying a Blue Tit, and a pair of Peregrine stooping in perfect harmony on a Feral Pigeon.  I love raptors!

Birds of interest in Portland Harbour have included a male Eider, a 1st-winter Velvet Scoter today (I was disappointed to see its white wing-panels, bearing in mind there has been a Surf Scoter nearby!), a number of Great Northern Diver and Black-necked Grebe, as well as the usual Black Guillemot.  This is the first time I've seen it out the water.

Also, on one day there was a nice flock of 5 Shelduck hanging around, later joined by two others.  Unusual in the Harbour.

A few other notable birds found mid-island during the period included a Golden Plover over Watery Lane, 6 Lapwing over Barleycrates Lane on two days, and a Mistle Trush at Weston Street whilst looking for the Hoopoe - a Portland tick!  Also Black Redstart continue to be a daily occurrence.

On the 19th, I was having a casual look at Blacknor, when I heard a familiar 'tack' call coming from near some Brambles. 'Not a Dusky surely. Mmm, could've been a Stonechat' I thought. Sure enough, there was a female Stonechat on the fence, so I about turned and started to move off.  Then, I suddenly heard the bird again, and flushed a Dusky Warbler from some Brambles!  It flew off, and sat on the side of a bush for me to see (in similar circumstances to my first find!).  My second in exactly a week!  It's nice to get some luck, but I can't help wishing I could find something different!

Gulls are building up on the flooded and stubble fields of Barleycrates lane currently.  Among them have been this 2nd-winter Lesser Black-backed Gull...

 ...and this American Herring Gull-like Herring Gull with its streaky head and chest and tertial marking.

On a day in which I narrowly dipped Barnacle Goose and Snow Bunting, I was compensated reasonably well when this ringtail Harrier flew over Blacknor, a presumed Hen Harrier.

 A big advantage of the coming of winter, are the spectacular sunrises.

Hoping to get on-patch for the Cameron Bespolka memorial bird-race at the weekend, and possibly also for a rare off-patch excursion.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Rarity Finding, From Dawn to Dusky

It seems that what I said at the end two posts ago was somewhat premature!  In the last few days I've learnt that you cannot predict what birds are going to do, but most of all, I've learnt never to write off Portland!

These few days were already pretty good with a Long-tailed Duck seen a couple of times in Portland Harbour, lots of Thrushes and Finches, a Short-eared Owl at Barleycrates Lane, and 6 Pale-bellied Brent Goose at Ferrybridge.

Plus, I got some of my best views yet of the Yellow-browed Warbler at the hump, on the 10th.

On top of those, there has been a bit of an influx of Black Redstart in recent days, with at least 6 seen myself, including this bird at Barleycrates Lane.

On the 12th, I shunned my usual walk round mid-island in favour of a look at Ferrybridge and Portland Harbour.  After seeing a few titbits, I still had loads of time till lunch so thought I may as well drive up to the Avalanche Rd hump to see if the Yellow-brow, or indeed anything else, was there.  I don't know why, but I decided to take the long way round, along the public footpath. 

As I was walking along, I became aware of a call coming from some close Brambles, that I nearly dismissed as a Wren. Almost immediately, I flushed the bird, and it flew off to a more distant Bramble patch.  At this point, still not sure it wasn't a Wren.  'Better go and check it out', I thought.   A few more calls, but still nothing which shouted anything other than Wren to me.  Then I flushed the bird again.  It flew back to its original Brambles, but this time sat nicely on the side of the bush for a split second.  Enough time for me to see a large dark warbler, and it clicked. DUSKY WARBLER!  I had heard the species once before, at the Bill last year, but I didn't know the call off by heart. Only on seeing the bird did the pieces of jigsaw come together!

After putting the news out, I had to wait a bit for others arrive, but they did eventually.

I've seen the bird a few more times subsequently, though it's being largely typically elusive. Some of its favoured bushes:

Getting any sort of documentation of the bird has been tricky with its skulking nature, but here's footage of it calling (shortly after I found it), and some footage from today of it showing (just!). Turn the sound down on the second, and play both together for the full 'experience'!
Yesterday afternoon, I wanted to put some time in at the Dusky, so walked there from home via Weston Street.
I was just walking along the path by the former Weston Craft Centre when I spotted a bird flying straight at me over the adjacent horse field, with a bounding flight.  A HOOPOE!  Was I hallucinating, seeing a Hoopoe in November?  It immediately dived down into a front garden along the road.  I rushed over there, only for it to pop over the fence and land on the roadside verge!  I grabbed my camera (though dropped it on the wet grass in my excitement, hence the spots on the lens!).
As you can see, it disappeared over the houses, but despite an extensive search, particularly of the Watery Lane area, it couldn't be re-found.  Perhaps it went into a back garden.   
Wow, what a purple patch. Can it continue? Not likely! Oops, there I go again, writing off Portland. Punish me birding gods, I dare you!

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Quite Franklin's, a Disappointment

Almost 2 weeks since I last posted, and a few things to catch up on.
I was able to see the Pallas's Warbler on a rare visit to the Obs on the 30th Oct, only for it to relocate to Avalanche Rd on my patch.  A big bonus to see it there on the 2nd Nov.
Also here, was a nice showing of Shaggy Inkcap.

Around the turn of the month it was incredibly warm, and that meant a number of butterflies still on the wing, including Red Admiral...

...and Clouded Yellow, including this of the pale form 'helice' - a first for me.

Tilleycombe was visited a few times recently, and produced a few nice things, with a good number of warblers present.  I feel it always looks like a promising spot.

Although I had an interesting-looking Chiffchaff here earlier, I had a much better candidate for Siberian Chiffchaff at Portland Castle recently. Visually, it looked spot-on, though I failed to hear it.

Also here on the 6th, I spent a bit of time with several Black Redstart, including this young male.

Also at this site, I had a frustrating moment spotting a raptor over Portland Harbour on one morning, but I only had my bins with me so couldn't get any more on it.  My gut feeling was a ringtail Hen Harrier though.

To continue the theme of 'ones that got away', I had a Pipit fly over at Barleycrates Lane on the 5th which called like a Tree Pipit.  But on this date, a tripit would be exceptional indeed.  It didn't sound quite right either, with a slight metallic quality to it - a pretty good description of the call of Olive-backed Pipit.  A search around nearby sites produced nothing.  Frustrating!

Later on in the day, it seems the gods were keen to rub it in...

No doubt the highlight of this period came on the 2nd, with a twitch to Blashford Lakes.  The hoped-for lifer of a Franklin's Gull did show eventually, but not till it was almost totally dark!  Some in the hide failed to locate it, so I was lucky to see it at all!

The main disappointment that I refer to in the blog title was that of seawatching.  At least 3 days of decent to strong south-westerlies in early-November should produce most, if not all, of the 'big 4' storm-driven seabirds (Little Auk, Sabine's Gull, Leach's Petrel, and Grey Phalarope) in Chesil Cove.

I spent a great many hours there in total, with 1 Pomarine Skua, 1 Great Skua, 2 Tufted Duck, 2 Pintail, 1 Teal, 1 Red-throated Diver, 2 Black-throated Diver and 8 Little Gull (including one lingering inshore) to show for it.

This is despite 3 of the big 4 occurring at nearby sites.  Last year I saw two of them (Sabs and Leach's) without trying that hard, so to get none this year would be frustrating to say the least, particularly as two have occurred this year, but I missed them (Leach's and Grey Phal).
Not too late to get at least one of those hopefully!