The Portland Naturalist

The Portland Naturalist

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

The Portland Deserter

Two weeks to talk about, but I certainly feel that the mid-winter doldrums are well and truly in charge on Portland, so not a huge amount to relate there.

A surprise 1st-winter Velvet Scoter in the middle of the Harbour on the 27th was the only notable sighting initially.

But, over the weekend of the 28th, 29th, and 30th November was the inaugural Cameron Bespolka bird-race (named after a keen young birder who sadly lost his life last year), and I was keen to do my bit.

The 28th was my main day, with a morning to play with.  Unfortunately, it was rather windy, and I was also struck with pretty shocking luck!  For instance, I didn't see either Ringed Plover or Dunlin at Ferrybridge - the only time I can ever remember not seeing these here!

But the misses (which also included the likes of Greenfinch, Goldcrest, and Chiffchaff) were made up for by a Firecrest at Wakeham, the Black Guillemot at Portland Castle (on the 2nd attempt), a Red-throated Diver in Portland Harbour (the rarest of the 3 Divers there) and best of all, a 1st-winter male Ring Ouzel by the windmills - my latest ever.  I finished on 55 species, which was the best I could do.  Please donate to the Cameron Bespolka Trust:

Some of the other competitors were doing the bird-race over all 3 days, so I decided to continue to try and see new species over the weekend.

On Saturday, I walked to Avalanche Rd, where I was met by a Bat flying around!

I assume it's most likely to be a Common Pipistrelle.

At dusk, I walked round Verne Common - always a lovely place to spend an evening, especially in calm conditions.

One of the species added to the list was calling Water Rail.

In the end, I scraped 70 species with 2 Greenfinch at Portland Castle on the 30th! Still no Ringed Plover though!!!

In the afternoon that day, I deserted Portland for a look at an old stomping ground, Titchfield Haven, Hants.  I met Amy Robjohns there, and we proceeded to see a few decent things, the chief prize being a rare-for-Titchfield young Goosander which flew in, as the sun set.

I can't resist these sunrise/set shots at the moment.  Here's a sunset from the top of The Verne a few days later.

...and of course the classic view at dusk.

I pushed the boat out on the 7th December after several inactive days, with nothing to get the juices flowing on Portland.

So, it was to west Cornwall, and the rugged coastline at Porthgwarra initially.

After the 3 hour drive, I walked round the Coastguard station a couple of times, without seeing anything (no birders either), so I headed back to the car for lunch. I'd bumped into an optimistic birder on the way back, and something suggested to me that I shouldn't give up yet.  I very nearly did.  I went back to the coastguards, and widened the search.  Before too long I found a distant Wheatear, low on a steep grassy slope.  It was it!  The female Desert Wheatear! Relief! 

It was immediately confiding.

What a bird, showing to 7 feet, and with a bit of sun too.

It was great to watch it hunting spiders, very successfully!

After that success, I moved onto Mount's Bay, by the substantial presence of St. Michael's Mount.

I was there to look for a Pacific Diver, but the light was against me, and there appeared to be a genuine lack of Divers anyway with just 5 or so Great Northern Diver seen (up to 12 in recent days). 

There was a huge presence of seabirds offshore, mostly Gulls, Kittiwake, and Gannet.  Here are some in front of the distant St. Clement's Isle.

Unsurprisingly, these birds attracted the attention of a Skua, which proceeded to harass a Kittiwake close inshore.  The light was bad, and the others birders there said it was a Bonxie, but I'm convinced it was actually a juvenile Pomarine Skua.

A shame I dipped the Diver (not been seen since), but the Wheatear was an absolute delight!

What prospect of birding before the year's out? Well, I'm afraid there are a couple of more excursions on the horizon, so I will continue to be a Portland Deserter.......until New Years Day, you can be sure of that.