The Portland Naturalist

The Portland Naturalist

Monday, 30 March 2015

The Metamorphosing/Intermediate Egret

Two weeks of largely patch birding on Portland have produced a few highlights, but overall a lot less than is to be expected at this time, particularly from common migrants.

There may not be many around, but there's nothing like a spring male Wheatear to bring a smile to your face after a long winter.

I've spent most my patch birding time seawatching from Chesil Beach, but this has brought only the occasional patch tick, and few better highlights. The ticks have been a pair of Canada Goose over Ferrybridge on the 15th, a Siskin north over with a group of Meadow Pipit on the 17th, a brief Sandwich Tern on The Fleet on the 18th (having just heard what I thought was the call of a juvenile sarnie, which turned out to be a mimicking Skylark!), a Grey Plover along the beach on the 23rd, a pair of Tufted Duck west on the 24th, and 2 Manx Shearwater through the Cove on the 28th.

Arguably the best moment was witnessing the eclipse of the sun on the 20th, complete with masking cloud-cover.

Whilst this was occurring, there was little to note in terms of change of behaviour in the birds, though I wonder if it was a coincidence that there was a preening Black-throated Diver offshore - the first time I'd seen one settled there.  A good chance to study one in flight.

Talking of bird behaviour, I've witnessed a couple of odd things recently.  First, a mob of Carrion Crow squabbling over a Pied Wagtail carcass at Ferrybridge, and second, a Sparrowhawk hopping about on posts and the ground at Reap Lane, as if hunting insects!

I'm going to analyse the events of yesterday and the 'Chesil Gull' in a separate post, but whilst waiting for that to show, it was nice to watch this Great Skua tearing into a carcass, possibly of a Fulmar.

Probably the overall highlight from the last fortnight was a very surprise Corn Bunting at Barleycrates Lane on the 25th.  I heard a single call on arrival, and then saw the bird, but couldn't be sure of the ID.  Luckily it stayed around long enough to creep up on and see properly.

As an aside, I've just got a new phone, so I've been experimenting a bit with its camera, and phone-scoping.  I'm encouraged by the early results, such as this Herring Gull with Pipefish at Ferrybridge.  It does look like an improvement on my last setup.

Now a bit of non-birds for those so inclined.  On my 3rd attempt (and with the help of Glen Maddison and Megan Shersby), I finally managed to locate the stunning troop of Snake's-head Iris at Broadcroft Quarry.  A naturalised introduction they may be, but they're still pretty rare.

The other thing going on is I've finally got back into moth-trapping, mainly at my new trap-site.  Not a lot happening to be honest, but seeing these are always nice. Early Grey and Hebrew Character.

The most interesting event to talk about (other than 'The Gull') is the subject of 'The Egret'. 

Just after 11 on the 19th, I was walking down the West Cliffs, when I noticed an Egret circling about off the cliffs towards the Business Park, which immediately struck me as 'just a Little'.  I'd never seen an Egret in this area or behaving as such, so felt I had to make 100% sure my first instinct was right, so watched it for a bit longer.  It soared up high and then headed inland a bit before dropping down and flying north through the centre of the island, mobbed lightly by a single Herring Gull.  It was mostly watched towards the sun, so assessing the colour of the bill was tricky, but it appeared dark, and lightly-built.  In direct comparison to the Herring, the bird was the exact same size.  The whole time I watched it, I was trying to turn it into a Cattle Egret. Not once did it appear massive, and the possibility of a Great White cross my mind. In the end, I was confident that it was a Little Egret.  Imagine my horror, when I later discovered that a Great White Egret had been reported to have flown south over Portland Castle at 11, basically fitting the trajectory and timing of my bird exactly.  The observer has since reported that he was sure of his ID (though didn't mention bill-colour). 

So, either one of us was wrong, or it was a coincidence!  I'm not a fan at all of the coincidence theory, simply for the sheer unlikeliness of it.  Did the bird transform between locations!? A mystery that will never be solved.

Well, in the end there was quite a lot of action to cover!  Lets hope the weather can settle down soon, so we can enjoy some better migration action! (No sign on the horizon, as I write :-(   )

Monday, 16 March 2015

Patchwork Challenge - Jan + Feb Update

In all the excitement, I've forgotten to do these updates! Have a double edition.



1. Brent Goose - Ferrybridge 2 points
2. Eider - Portland Harbour 2
3. Red-breasted Merganser - Portland Harbour 1
4. Great Northern Diver - Portland Harbour 2
5. Fulmar - Chesil Cove 2
6. Gannet - Chesil Cove 2
7. Cormorant - West Cliffs 1
8. Shag - Portland Harbour 2
9. Little Egret - Ferrybridge 2
10. Little Grebe - Portland Harbour 1
11. Great Crested Grebe - Portland Harbour 1
12. Black-necked Grebe - Portland Harbour 2
13. Sparrowhawk - Verne Common 1
14. Buzzard - Verne Common 1
15. Kestrel - The Verne 1
16. Oystercatcher - Ferrybridge 1
17. Ringed Plover - Ferrybridge 1
18. Turnstone - Ferrybridge 1
19. Dunlin - Ferrybridge 1
20. Great Skua - Ferrybridge 2
21. Black Guillemot - Portland Harbour 2
22. Razorbill - Chesil Cove 2
23. Guillemot - Chesil Cove 1
24. Kittiwake - Chesil Cove 2
25. Black-headed Gull - Ferrybridge 1
26. Mediterranean Gull - Ferrybridge 2
27. Common Gull - Chesil Cove 1
28. Herring Gull - West Cliffs 1
29. Great Black-backed Gull - Chesil Cove 1
30. Rock Dove/Feral Pigeon - Verne Common 1
31. Stock Dove - Reap Lane 1
32. Woodpigeon - Barleycates Lane 1
33. Great Spotted Woodpecker - Pennsylvania Castle Woods 1
34. Magpie - Barleycrates Lane 1
35. Jackdaw - Barleycrates Lane 1
36. Rook - Ferrybridge 1
37. Carrion Crow - Barleycrates Lane 1
38. Goldcrest - Pennsylvania Castle Woods 1
39. Firecrest - Pennsylvania Castle Woods 2
40. Blue Tit - Avalanche Road 1
41. Great Tit - Avalanche Road 1
42. Skylark - Reap Lane 1
43. Long-tailed Tit - Verne Common 1
44. Chiffchaff - Pennsylvania Castle Woods 1
45. Blackcap - Pennsylvania Castle Woods
46. Wren - Barleycrates Lane 1
47. Starling - Reap Lane 1
48. Blackbird - Barleycrates Lane 1
49. Song Thrush - Southwell School 1
50. Redwing - Southwell School 1
51. Robin - Reap Lane 1
52. Stonechat - Ferrybridge 1
53. Dunnock - Barleycrates Lane 1
54. House Sparrow - Reap Lane 1
55. Grey Wagtail - Wakeham 1
56. Pied Wagtail - Reap Lane 1
57. Meadow Pipit - Watery Lane 1
58. Rock Pipit - Chesil Cove 1
59. Chaffinch - Avalanche Road 1
60. Greenfinch - Portland Castle 1
61. Goldfinch - Reap Lane 1
62. Linnet - Wakeham 1
63. Bullfinch - Verne Common 1


64. Peregrine - Wakeham 2
65. Collared Dove - Pennsylvania Castle 1
66. Raven - West Cliffs 1


67. Slavonian Grebe - Portland Harbour - 2
68. Grey Heron - Portland Harbour 1


69. Lesser Black-backed Gull - Ferrybridge 1


70. Black Redstart - Portland Castle 2


71. Kingfisher - Castletown 1


72. Red-throated Diver - Chesil Cove 2


73. Red-necked Grebe - Portland Harbour 2
74. Barn Owl - Verne 1
75. Little Owl - Verne 1
76. Water Rail - Verne Common 1
77. Black-throated Diver - Portland Harbour 1


78. Curlew - Ferrybridge 1
79. Wigeon - Portland Harbour 1



80. Knot - Ferrybridge 1


81. Common Scoter - Portland Harbour 1

Total Points: 101

Sunday, 15 March 2015

Bury n' Bonaparte's

I need to start giving more regular updates, as the onset of spring has caused an upsurge in interesting sightings in the last fortnight.
The patch has been much more productive, with a nice early White Wagtail at Reap Lane on the 3rd the first of the true migrants.  Lesser Black-backed Gull are a migrant too, of course (though are not usually renowned for their diagonal stance!). 

On the 4th, I joined the guys from the Obs in an away-day to look for Goshawk in east Dorset.  We failed on that score, but got a consolation of a surprise ringtail Hen Harrier moving through.

Plenty of plants are coming into flower now, such as this Field Penny-cress.

I've begun seawatching again for the spring, and I can't say how much I've missed it! On the 5th I'd seen very little for the duration of the watch, till a immature Velvet Scoter zoomed by just offshore! Just the sort of situation seawatching can create (ages of nothing, until a moment of magic). 

The next day, wildfowl continued to feature, with a pair of Teal offshore, plus a flock of Greylag Goose flying along The Fleet - the 1st patch bird I didn't see last year.

The weather was now rather settled. The resident Raven and Peregrine were taking advantage and starting their breeding process with display and prospecting nest-sites.

The 7th was the only morning for 8 or so in a row that I had to work.  A Bonaparte's Gull therefore chose the worst time from my point of view to arrive at Ferrybridge.  I might have found it myself!  Nonetheless, I should be grateful for seeing it at all, during a 5 min visit from work.

There was also a Scandinavian Rock Pipit to look at here. A striking bird!

I led a bird walk that afternoon at Ferrybridge too.  Nothing of great note was spotted (plus, the Bony's failed to show in that time to really add a bit of spice).  Everyone seemed to enjoy it though, which was the main thing.

The next day, I headed up to Tice's Meadow (nothing of note) and Staines Reservoirs, on route to Suffolk.  'The Res' was looking extraordinary, as the north basin had been drained.

 Despite this, the only quality bird I saw on the reservoir itself was a nice Water Pipit, showing well.

But, as I arrived, I was lucky to spot a Wheatear on the adjacent King George VI Res - my earliest ever, and the first to be seen in Surrey (apart from an early morning unconfirmed report from Staines Res).

Incredibly, there was also a Black Redstart in the same area - a true Staines scarcity/mega.

I went up to Suffolk to see my family who had just moved there - to Bury St Edmunds to be precise. A walk round the nearby farmland in the evening produced a stack of Yellowhammer, and a brief Barn Owl which appeared to come out of one of these extraordinary old Oaks.

The next day, we walked into town, but even this provided some wildlife interest.  A singing Blackcap was a surprise, as was a little row of aviaries containing the likes of Zebra Finch, a curious Reeve's Pheasant....

...and even a Golden Pheasant.

The place was full of (natural) history. Some sort of Suffolk pronunciation!?

In the afternoon, I visited the fantastic Lackford Lakes, just up the road.

All the birds showed well, such as Goldeneye...

...and a single Goosander, looking a bit odd amongst the other more regular species.

Plenty to see here.

The best encounter of the visit was with a Muntjac which was right in front of one of the hides.

The main reason for my visit was for the Gull-roost.  It turned out to be one of the best I've seen, largely because the ones I've seen in the south have been either too distant, or with poor variety. 

There had been a Caspian Gull seen recently, and I was initially interested in this bird all by itself on a different lake, till I realised it was a Great Black-backed Gull, that is (no others had been seen up to that point, so it threw me)!

 Then, I spotted this 2nd-winter bird, whose head-shape in particular made it stand out amongst the Herring.  I realise it's distant, but I'd appreciate any comments.

The next day, we explored the remarkable feature of Orford Ness.  Whilst here, I heard the 'filililip' call of a Lapland Bunting, though I failed to locate it.

Orford village itself was interesting, and we bumped into a load of other birders, who, evidently, were there to photograph Short-eared Owl.  It didn't take long to see one myself (and show it to my delighted mum! I hope that counts as a mother's day gift! :-).

Shingle Street was the well-named last location, but there was little here except stunning views.

Back at Portland, a few more patch-ticks have been achieved in recent days, including Sanderling at Ferrybridge ...

...and a load of quality at Barleycrates Lane, including early Sand Martin, Fieldfare, and a fantastic Woodcock which struggled to circumnavigate a fence, meaning I could enjoy great views!

With 8 patch ticks in 4 days, what more could occur? I'm looking forward to the next mild spell!

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Surfer Dudes

Believe it or not, I have actually put in a bit of effort on patch in the last two and a half weeks, despite weather that included this.

Even though it was followed by this.

I've managed to find just two year ticks for the patch in this time, with a Knot over Ferrybridge one morning, and a male Common Scoter in the harbour.

There have been a few other interesting sightings on Portland, that have included summer-plumaged Black-necked Grebe, a flock of 8 Pintail past the Bill, lots of Rook in-off the sea on one morning, a Firecrest at the Hump, a Pale-bellied Brent Goose (plus this pale-flanked dark-bellied or intergrade, which quite possibly explains an odd report of a Black Brant)...

 ....the Black Redstart at Portland Castle, and the Black Guillemot still there too.  I challenge you not to giggle at the bird playing hide and seek with a Herring Gull here!

As always of course, Red-breasted Merganser are present, but I've been able to admire them more than ever with their antics, as they are showing well at Portland Castle at the moment.

As for excursions, on the 15th I teamed up with Keith Kerr ( )  and Alex Berryman ( ) on a quest into Devon.
We arrived at Broadsands, south of Paignton, to a scene of a totally deserted feeding area, which is usually covered in seeds, and brimming with birds.  Luckily though, it didn't take long for us to work out that, unknown to me, the feeding area had been moved. 
We were soon watching at least 22 Cirl Bunting feeding, and squabbling, at close-range.
We next moved onto Dawlish Warren. A fabulous site I'd not visited before. 
While we waited by the hide, a Dartford Warbler (my first in 2 years) was a surprise find in the Gorse, and a young birder brought our attention to an adult Gull out on a sand-bar that he thought might be a Caspian.  I can certainly see where he was coming from, as its upright-stance was very distinctive and Caspian-like. Unfortunately it was just too distant (and in heat-haze) to confirm.
After what seemed like an age, I eventually got onto our target for this visit, the adult Bonaparte's Gull, which flew past us from the left, before heading round the point and out of view. At least we saw it!
Our last 2 stops were at the reported haunts of some Penduline Tits, but unfortunately, both Exminster Marshes...
...and the rather strange Dart's Farm were devoid of all Bulrush-splitting action. 
All in all however, it had been an enjoyable day. Thanks for the company chaps!

My latest trip was yesterday with the Next Gen Birders, into Hampshire.
I rushed through work, and headed to Acres Down in the New Forest, where the guys had already seen Goshawk (and Lesser Spotted Woodpecker at another site, earlier).  I wasn't here for long, but just before we left, I was able to just catch a distant Goshawk, luckily.  A fly-over Woodlark and 2 Crossbill were bonuses.
We decided to make the twitch to Gosport, and the unremarkable-looking Stokes Bay.  It was looking rather more glamorous this afternoon though, as it had a stonking male Surf Scoter in the middle of it!  It took a while for me to see it, as a report that it had flown off west sent me off in the wrong direction initially!
We all saw it remarkably well in the end, with 2 Common Scoter.
Afterwards, we headed to Walpole Park, where Waldo the long-staying Ring-billed Gull had been reported in the morning.  We were defeated in the game of 'Where's Waldo' on this occasion, sadly!
We rushed back to the main area of our attention, the New Forest, and to Eyeworth Pond near Fritham.  I'd not been there before, and it was a gem of a site.  Full of 'plastic fantastics' it may be...

...but it also had a flurry of Marsh Tit-action, and a brief Firecrest. A male Wood Duck was nice to see too!
We ended the day at a freezing Black Gutter Bottom, where we failed to see any Harriers.  A male Merlin saved the day, as did another (distant) Goshawk, which I initially called as a Harrier (a good example of seeing what your mind wants to/was expecting)!  Remarkably, even though it was blowing a gale, heavily overcast, and nearly dark, it was doing its incredible 'roller-coaster' display routine!
Another top day, and great to see Olly, Amy S, Abi, Harry, and Amy R again, plus to meet Tiffany, Emma, and Tash. 
So, it's now March, and meteorologically-speaking, spring. Horray!!!  Can't wait to see that first Wheatear.