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 :-(   )

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