The Portland Naturalist

The Portland Naturalist

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Greater Bird-racing

I've taken a rather relaxed start to 2015 in terms of birding, with just a few days of more extensive stuff.

As last year, I made a massive effort to start the patch year list off, as I rushed round the whole patch, bird-race-style.  I got 52 species last year in very wet and windy conditions. Well, this year it was equally windy, though at least it stayed dry!

I started in the morning with a big walk round mid-island sites, doing unbelievably well for small birds in the breezy conditions. Pennsylvania Castle Woods was the real saviour, with a tiny pocket of activity including 4 Chiffchaff, a Firecrest, a Blackcap, and a Great Spotted Woodpecker (I didn't get that species till October last year!).

Among the other nice surprises in the area included Grey Wagtail and Redwing, which didn't appear till March last time. I was on 35 by this point.

After lunch, I started on the north of the island, and the saline water areas.  The highlights here were a Great Skua at Ferrybridge...

...the Black Guillemot still in situ at Portland Castle, and Great Northern Diver and Black-necked Grebe in the harbour.  I finished off at Verne Common seeing Bullfinch, and hearing more Firecrest.  I ended up easily beating last year with 63 species, despite the overall quality being less (last year, I got Glaucous Gull, Woodcock, all 5 Grebes, and BT Diver).

I've made a conscious decision to try and visit the Obs more this year, but so far there's been little to excite in terms of birds.  A few Red-throated Diver have passed, the Purple Sandpiper have been present as always, two female Blackcap have been in the garden, and a couple of Great Skua have been offshore amongst the impressive feeding seabird flocks.  A couple of these events have given me the opportunity to test my new camera.

In more recent times, I was lucky to find a very out of season Manx Shearwater passing the Bill, as well as, only just, getting on to a single Velvet Scoter today.

Another thing I got involved with was the New Year Plant Hunt run by the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland. On the 3rd, I did my walk, and ended up doing a huge 6.5 mile loop taking in much of the Bill and middle of the island!  In all that, I found 21 plant species in flower, the best being Winter Heliotrope, which was the first I've found on Portland (I think I have seen the leaves before, but mis-ID'd them as Colt's-foot).

On the 4th, I returned to Surrey for a bird race.  We were aiming to beat the 78 from last year.  I was greatly encouraged to notice the forecast was for light winds and no rain.  Perfect conditions!

However, I had forgotten what light winds and cloud usually mean.  We were met on the causeway of Staines Reservoir first thing, with this view!

For the visibility of under 50m, we did remarkably well to see what we did.  We got 25 species, including singles of Great Northern Diver, Scaup, and Black-necked Grebe, all fortuitously close to the causeway.

Then to Papercourt, where we scored with a close Little Owl, Puttenham Common had hoped for Mandarin and Goosander, and onto then it was onto Tice's Meadow.

It wasn't as prolific as usual, but the visit was greatly enlivened by the fact that the stream was so swollen, we couldn't cross it to get to the mound!  I had to construct a bridge out of nearby logs, and we had to do our best tightrope-walker impression to get across, which we did, just!

Crooksbury Common was too foggy for Brambling, so we headed to our last site, Papercourt, on 73 species - it was unlikely we were going to do it!  We soon saw a brief Barn Owl, but we had to wait a little longer for the suitable finale.  A Short-eared Owl appeared at exactly the same time as the evening before, and performed beautifully.

So, we finished 3 shy of last year. A shame, but we really did so well seeing what we did given the conditions!  We missed Reed Bunting, Rook, and Grey Wagtail (I saw both the latter, but neither of my teammates did).

On the 11th, I joined the mad rush down to Hampshire, and the Greater Yellowlegs on the Posbrook floods, Titchfield. 

Despite the horrendously muddy path, I found the spot, and the bird was more or less in view straight away, though it was distant, and it did like to go behind vegetation with the Black-tailed Godwit.  Getting any images were therefore a challenge!

But, I got a bit lucky with my new video camera in the end!

A great bird, and an unexpectedly early first lifer for 2015!

So, what's happening this weekend? You guessed it, more bird-racing! I just can't get enough. This one is a little more surreptitious though ;-)

Friday, 2 January 2015

AFONd Hello

Not a massive amount to catch up on up to the end of the year, with few birding opportunities. You might say I've been in hibernation (or you could just call me lazy!).
Either way, it was nice to pop back to Surrey on the 14th December to lead a walk at the picturesque Puttenham Common. It was even more so in the frosty conditions.

 Just the usual species of note, including 2 Kingfisher, lots of Mandarin, and 2 brief Raven.

It had to be whilst I was away that a longed-for Caspian Gull occurred at Radipole. I put a bit of time in the following couple of evenings, to no avail.  Just the usual alarming Herring Gull variation.

On the 21st, I joined a meet of the guys from A Focus On Nature - a group for young conservationists, at Slimbridge.  I hadn't been for quite a while, and I'd forgotten just how many birds the place holds! 

One of the highlights though was a glimpse, on a big screen (due to quarantine regulations), of the Spoon-billed Sandpiper and a talk about Slimbridge's internationally important captive-breeding and release programme.

Of the wild birds though, the sheer numbers were breathtaking, especially at the evening feed...

The best species were a small flock of White-fronted Goose, 2 Marsh Harrier, a distant and brief Barn Owl, a Little Stint, and a Whooper Swan, which appeared late-on at the feed.

The best bit of the day for socially-inept me though, was meeting so many wonderful like-minded people. We are strongly-positioned indeed to preserve the worlds wildlife in the future. 

One of the sites at the forefront of wildlife preservation in my home county of Surrey is Tice's Meadow. I was able to pop back in there briefly on Boxing Day. Nothing of massive note species-wise, but great to see the place looking top-quality in habitat once again!

In terms of Portland birding, the only notable sightings during this period were a Firecrest or two still at Penn Castle Woods, and a few birds in the Harbour including a surprise pair of Velvet Scoter which flew in at Portland Castle on the 29th, dropped their landing gear, but changed their minds and flew off. Could've been an unrivalled photographic opportunity in the sunshine! Oh well.

So, I failed to add to my patch list in December, and finished on 177 species and 278 points. It'll be tough to keep up with that in 2015!
Hope you all had a great Christmas, and may I wish you a spiffing and bird-filled new year!