Sunday, 22 June 2014

Portland Wildlife

Many people when thinking about Portland will first think of the stone quarries then maybe the lighthouse at the tip of the bill, birders think of it as one of the best sites for migrating birds in the UK a place where they may see or find a rarity.  There is much more to Portland, it has quite a diverse wildlife and yesterday Jackie and I led a small group to various sites on the island to find some of that other wildlife. 

We started at 08:00 in the Bill car park and headed out to the Obelisk for a spot of sea watching.  We quickly checked off Fulmar, Gannets, Guillemots and Razorbill and of course the usual gull species.  Walking around to look at the auk nesting ledges we could hear the nesting birds making their groaning calls.  Walking on making our way across to the Obs quarry we recorded our first butterflies with Small White, Meadow Brown, Large Skipper and Marbled Whites and added Linnet, Rock Pipit, Swallow and a pair Stonechat to the bird list.  A pair of Raven were also seen distantly probably the same pair that I had photographed earlier before all the group had assembled.

Raven - Portland Bill © Nick Hull
We moved off to our next location near Cheyne Weare to try and find Wall Lizard, one of two sites in Dorset, for this mainly continental species.  As we arrived we were able to check off Ringlet and Dingy Skipper on our butterfly list.  We scoured the quarry for sometime before Tim spotted one crawl out to sunbath on one of the large boulders.  Soon after Jess pointed out another and over the next few minutes we located a possible four Wall Lizards.

Wall Lizard catching the rays - © Nick Hull
Broadcroft Quarry was our next location this is a Butterfly Conservation reserve an excellent site for butterflies.  We started with more Meadow Browns and Marbled Whites then added Small and Large Skippers and I found a single Lulworth Skipper.  Next it was blue with Small, Common and then one of the target species, Portland's very own Cretaceous race of Silver-studded Blue.  Whilst watching the "blues" Joe and I picked up a Clouded Yellow which posed briefly for all to see. Walking on we were able to show various stages of Six-spot Burnet with a caterpillar, then with one already in its web like tent cocooned on the side of a piece of grass and then the adult which seemed to be everywhere.  We continued searching, two more day flying moths were found with Silver Y and Burnet Companion, then another migrant moth shot through towards the Valerian - a Hummingbird Hawk-moth a cracking moth but very fast.

Clouded Yellow © Nick Hull
Hummingbird Hawk-moth © Nick Hull
Burnet Companion © Nick Hull
This took us nicely up to lunch time and we headed off to to the view point of Portland Height where, whilst having a well earned break, we watch a male Kestrel hunting the slopes of the Verne and Priory Hill and enjoyed the view across the Lyme Bay and the Chesil beach.  

We ended our day at Ferrybridge where we walked out to the edge of the Little Tern colony which has 24hr wardens and electrical fencing, real high security to protect these super terns from predation from ground animals like Foxes.  Though we found out that the Herring Gull and the local Kestrel can take advantage and predate the eggs and young.  Though the Little Terns will try their upmost to see off either species with driving home attacks one after another to see them off to a safe distance.  We also found Ringed Plover out here on the Chesil Bank taking advantage of the high security.

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Exploring the Wildlife of an Ancient Hill Fort

Over the last 10 days, twice with groups I have visited Badbury Rings renowned for its Orchids along with Butterflies and Birds.   I have managed to find 7 species of Orchid, some now going over such as Greater Twayblade and Greater Butterfly Orchid.  There are swathes of Common Spotted Orchid interspersed with Fragrant, Pyramidal and Bee Orchids now looking quite splendid.   The Frog Orchid eluded me but I found one spike of a Narrow Leaved Orchid, which just seemed so out of place on the rings, albeit tucked in by a more scrubby overgrown area.  Photos of some of these are below.


Butterflies have varied over the 10 days with 9 species seen.  With a single Dingy Skipper and lots of very worn Common Blues early on, these had disappeared, with all but 1 Common Blue, by my last visit yesterday.   Our first Meadow Brown and Marbled White 10 days ago and yesterday they were the most common species seen, Ringlets were starting to appear. 


There were also some day flying moth such as Five & Six-spot Burnets, Scarlet Tiger and Yellow Shell we also came across a couple of Caterpillars of Vapourer and Six-spot Burnet.


Birds were not neglected and Skylarks with their delightful song flights and Swifts screaming overhead.  On the rings Yellowhammers and Corn Buntings were regularly heard and seen as were Whitethroats with their scratchy tune, Stonechats and Linnets and early on the Cuckoo was very vocal.  A male Kestrel busily hunting on each visit and Buzzards over the fields.  In the woods Green Woodpecker gave their yaffle call and drumming of a Great Spotted Woodpecker.   Yesterday we came across a family party of Goldcrests, a male Blackcap sitting above us singing, and a pair of Spotted Flycatchers.

Male Cuckoo and a male Yellowhammer

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Boggy Birding Heaven in the New Forest & Wareham Forest

Yesterday morning, 3rd June, our Tuesday group met in the New Forest with heathland, woodland and a lovely boggy area in the middle.  In the car park we could hear Cuckoo, Goldcrest and Chiffchaff together with the more common woodland species and a Grey Heron flew over.   Walking through to the heath we had a pair of Blackcap and a Firecrest started singing but it was unsighted.

Out in the open we had displaying Meadow Pipits and the first Stonechats, as we went round we had several family parties.  Coming down to the boggy area I noticed some Heath Spotted Orchids then a little further in the splendid sight of Marsh Orchids and Bog Bean in flower.

It was very wet but I managed to get some photographs, while I was bent down I heard one of my favourite sounds - a drumming Snipe.  I hurried to get to my feet and the bird was easy to see above the bog displaying, while another bird the other side of the willows was giving it's "yapping" call.  This was amazing at 11a.m. and just wonderful, my day was made already!
Bog Bean © Jackie Hull
Marsh Orchid © Jackie Hull
Back to earth we had a female Reed Bunting land on the path pecking around, I could hear a male and did fly by.  Next we were watching three Lapwings calling and swooping down on a young Grey Heron, obviously very unhappy with his presence in their territory, eventually the heron did fly off.  Then I was asked to look at a bird that the group had seen flying into a tree, through the scope I could see it was a Cuckoo.

Going back into a more wooded area we heard Willow Warbler and found one sat up on top of Silver Birch, then found a family of them.  We had a glimpse of a female Redstart but seemed very shy.  We needn't have worried when we got back towards the car park we had a very showy pair collecting food and going back to a nest, they were very busy indeed.  

This morning our Wednesday group were in a very similar area but in Dorset this time at Morden Bog in the Wareham Forest.  On Saturday/Sunday this area was made famous as a Short-toed Eagle chose to roost here and showed well for a lucky few hundred birders.  However today was very quiet, as the weather forecast had been rather dire we really only saw a couple of dog walkers the whole morning. For us the rain held off and had times we had bits of blue sky and sunshine.  

We started with a pair of Linnets and Bullfinches and the usual woodland birds expected, Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps singing and Swifts overhead.  Looking over Boat House Lake we had a few ducks with a pair of Gadwall plus Mallard with young and Tufted Ducks.  Always good for Little Grebes but we were looking for the Grey Wagtails that favour this area and it wasn't long before they showed and a Kingfisher then whizzed past so quickly not everyone got to see it.  Fran had a brief but good view of a Hobby but it didn't reappear.

Back out on to the heath and round to the Decoy Cottage we had Stonechats and up high in the pines noisy Siskins.  Anthea picked out a Treecreeper, one of a few that we saw while I could hear the song of a Tree Pipit, as I looked for it up it went into a display flight.   A female Crossbill was found close by on top of a low shrub but not for long as she flew up into the tall pines.
Morden Bog © Jackie Hull
Now we were  looking over the bog  then we spied our first Hobby we could all see, it scythed through the air, then another one, superb birds.  Chris was scoping the trees when he found a Hobby perched and as we admired this bird Fran found one sat much closer - excellent!  With the sunshine a few Four-spot Chaser dragonflies were on the wing so good feeding for the Hobbies.

Back at the cottage we watched a Spotted Flycatcher and we found another as we walked back along the woodland path taking food into a ivy covered tree.  A young toad was found wandering across the track and after having its photo taken he was placed out of harm just off the path.  I was also pleased to see a Froghopper on a leaf by my car.

Froghopper © Jackie Hull
Young Toad © Jackie Hull










Sunday, 1 June 2014

The Story of the Nightjar and the Eagle


I bet that caught your attention!  

We had our annual evening venture to Holt Heath for Nighthars and Woodcock, as usual a very successful walk.  In the car park we heard Goldcrests and nearby Song Thrush singing and Great Spotted Woodpeckers “chipped” with one eventually seen.  Coming out from the woods into an open area we then started to hear Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler.  
Nightjar over the heath © Nick Hull

On to the heathland it was quiet to start with but soon we heard a Cuckoo followed by an excellent view of one flying.  A Willow Warbler sat up high on top of a Silver Birch singing and giving good views through the scope.   Unfortunately the Yellowhammer singing below didn’t stay for us all to see properly.  A Stonechat did briefly put in an appearance, as did Linnet.

It was only about 9.15p.m. when I heard the first call of a roding Woodcock and soon spotted it flying just over tree height and over part of the heath and then over the wood further up.  Then another one and another!  Great good views of Woodcock now for the Nightjars.  We didn’t wait long before we heard Churring, again coming from the woodland area but soon a pair flew over to the heath, from then on we had good views especially as the light was still good.  Eventually with the light now seriously fading we headed back to the cars.

The next morning we had errands to do when news came through from Paul Morton a fellow Poole Harbour birder that he had a Short-toed Eagle at Morden Bog in Wareham Forest.  Wow!  Such an amazing find but it had flown, however news came through in the afternoon it had been seen flying back into the area, we had to go.  It was George Green that actually found it in the end sat up in a tree, easily viewed from a ridge that meant birders didn’t need to go near and perhaps flush it.
Short-toed Eagle - Morden Bog © Nick Hull
This was only the third record, if accepted, for Britain. This magnificent bird was just 10 minutes drive down the road from where we live,  It looked quite majestic and the way it turned it’s head round was almost owl like and the feathers on the back of its head appeared like a short crest.  

While watching this bird and chatting to fellow birders Nick spotted a Nightjar sat on a branch, he just got in the scope when it silently flew out the back out of view.  After 3 hours and the Eagle seemed to be settling to roost we left.  A fantastic 24 hours birding.