Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Portland, Sea Watching & more

Sunday (21st) saw Jackie and I at Portland Bill where our group assembled at eight o'clock in the shelter of the Lighthouse.  The sea was pretty heavy and the wind gusted strongly but the flock of Gannets moving west off the Bill just took it in their stride.  It was good to see lots of juveniles and a good number of other aged birds up to adult.

At the start Gannets was all to be seen but it wasn't long before I picked up a Manx Shearwater gliding through the 'Race', an area of rough sea off the Bill created by an underwater rock shelf .  I managed to keep an eye on the bird until it cleared the race and was able to get most onto it as it disappeared into, and then reappeared from, the troughs. After a while we were picking up a steady stream of Manx moving west then the first Balearic Shearwater went through.  There was a little panic as everyone was trying to pick it up with very little directional points to guide people except a bright orange buoy which kept disappearing as did the shearwaters.  By the time we finished and moved on everyone managed to see both shearwater species Fulmar, Kittiwake, Guillemot and Turnstones plus of course the usual gull species.  I managed a couple of views of Storm Petrel but unfortunately couldn't get anyone else on to them in time, though other birders not in our group did manage brief views.  On land we added Wheatear, Rock Pipits, Linnets, Starlings and Swallows, a Sparrowhawk flew in and perched up briefly on a large rock giving us a pretty close view of its rear.
Sparrowhawk Portland Bill © Nick Hull
We moved on to have a quick stop at Chesil Cove but only added another Fulmar and three Mediterranean Gulls to the day list.  Then on to Ferrybridge for our lunch, a short walk first along the beach produced Dunlin and Ringed Plovers, a flight of delightful Little Terns and a couple of Sandwich Tern flew overhead giving their typical grating calls.  We also had a single Wheatear and Common Blue butterfly here.  Time to stop for lunch and when we had finished the tide had started to drop and Dunlin, Sanderling and Ringed Plovers started to fly in to feed.  There was also a good sized flock of Mediterranean Gulls loafing on the water which gave us a chance to go through the plumage differences and ages with the group.   
Juvenile Wheatear Portland Bill © Nick Hull
Just before moving on we heard news that the juvenile Garganey had been seen again at Radipole from the visitor centre so we called in on our way to Lodmoor.  At first we scanned quickly through the duck finding Teal, Mallard, Tufted, Shoveler and Gadwall, but eventually Tony picked out a small duck and asked Jackie to check and she was able to confirm he had found the Garganey which we all enjoyed before heading to Lodmoor.  

Lodmoor was fairly empty at first, it wasn't until we reached the metal shelter that we picked up a few waders, one being a Little Stint looking really diminutive next to the Dunlin it was associating with. An eagle eyed group member found a Common Sandpiper then a second flew in while a Green Sandpiper flew off up one of the dykes landing out of sight. Lapwing and Black-tailed Godwit completed the waders here, but a very scruffy male Marsh Harrier was picked up quartering the reedbed.   Moving around to the south side we were able to add Ruff and more Black-tailed Godwits with both adults and juveniles.  As we were returning to our cars a small flock of Sand Martins appeared with the odd Swallow and House Martin and I topped it off by finding with a single Swift, which will probably be our last until next year.  A good end to a super days birding in excellent company.







Sunday, 7 August 2016

Two Owls meet Iolo Williams


Hen Harrier Day South - Arne RSPB


Jackie rubbing shoulders with Iolo - literally 
This morning Jackie and I were up early and met Liz and headed off to Arne on a slightly overcast morning for "Hen Harrier Day South" at Arne RSPB Reserve.  As many of you know as birders and wildlife enthusiasts Hen Harrier on grouse moors have been devastated by continued illegal persecution. So Two Owls went along to show our support for the cause to stop this continued flaunting of the law that persists on our grouse moors which our government continues to ignore.

We arrived about 9 o'clock and met Luke from Arne RSPB who mentioned that he hadn't gone through the moth trap, so over we went and started working our way through the nights catch.  Fortunately it was quite as good a catch but there was some nice moths with a male and female Four-spotted Footman and a single Diamond-backed which are migrants.  There was good numbers of Black Arches, Straw Dot, Coronet, Maiden Blush, Willow Beauties and Small Magpie and the list goes on.  It was whilst sorting the moth trap a guy came over and stood next to me and showed interest and ask to have a look at one of the trays of moths so I handed him the tray and carried on. To say my mind wasn't in gear properly I suddenly realised it was a welsh accent and took a second glance and here stood next to me was Iolo Williams the TV presenter who was the main speaker for the Harrier Day. (tick).  Liz and Jackie went off to do a little birding before things got underway and I helped Marcus from Dorset Bird Club setting up stands next to his stand.  I ran into a couple of friends and head off for a coffee at the cafe and Iolo went off around the reserve to do a little birding.

male Four Spotted Footman -Arne © Nick Hull

Just before 11o'clock Luke gathered everyone together and we walked out onto Combe Heath where we listened to speeches from Paul Morton (Birds of Poole Harbour), Mark Constantine (Lush cosmetics). Who explained about how by producing a Hen Harrier bath bomb and selling it to raise funds, they have been able to raise over £100,000 which is going to support radio tagging Hen Harriers and other initiatives to save this species from extinction in Britain.
A few of the 260 people on Combe Heath Arne
The RSPB's Southwest Regional Manager Nick Bruce-white and Mark Thomas from the RSPB's wildlife crime unit spoke on what the society is doing and the efforts the crime unit has to go to, to get the evidence to charge these estates and gamekeeper who believe it's ok to break the law and kill Hen Harrier.  
Our Speakers and the crown of Hen Harrier supporters.
 Last came Iolo Williams who gave a very passionate speech that brought a tear to the odd eye of the 260 people who were there.  He spoke about his first finding of a breeding pair of Hen Harrier at a nest site on a Welsh moor as a teenager and how he still visits the area each year to watch the Hen Harriers and monitor their success. He also made some heart felt comments on what he would like to do to these people who think it's ok to shoot or destroy nesting Hen Harrier which received a very load applause of agreement from the listening crowd.

Thursday, 4 August 2016

Butterfly Heaven at Alners Gorse

As it's a quieter time of year for birds I had a request from one of our Wednesday group to visit Alners Gorse for our August outing.  Nick and I have been to the reserve a few times and last visited only two weeks ago, but never turn down the opportunity to go back.  If you love butterflies and you have never visited Butterfly Conservation's brilliant reserve at Alners Gorse in North Dorset you are definitely missing a treat.

Walking through the gates on to the reserve we immediately had Red Admiral, Meadow Browns, Gatekeeper and Green-veined White and we'd hardly walked any distance.  Walking down the hill and watching the tree and hedge line we soon added Large White, while a couple of Swallows flew low over our heads.  It was so sheltered along here and through the reserve it was delightfully warm and sunny, absolute heaven for the butterflies.  
Purple Hairstreak on Alder Buckthorn © Jackie Hull
As we reached the flat we watched a Peacock and then Joe spotted our first Purple Hairstreak, fairly high in an oak tree but with binoculars we could see it well.  Its purple sheen as it turned was beautiful and quite mesmerising, however not great for photography up there.  Following the bramble laden hedgerow we had a Speckled Wood, and even more Red Admirals, Meadow Browns and Gatekeepers!  Now it was House Martins feeding with their little "buzzy" sounds filling the air and a Bullfinch giving it's plaintive call.  Chris, our reptile expert was soon off as usual looking for Common Lizards by the wood piles and finding several during the day, though they were off too quickly for the rest of us to see.  We also came across several young frogs.
Sneezewort © Richard Samson
We were now finding a few more Purple Hairstreaks giving the photographers a better chance, while our first Brimstone of the day came by.  The beautiful Silver-washed Fritillary glided past and landed, all too briefly and then it majestically flew on. Two weeks ago Nick and I watched and photographed many Purple Hairstreaks feeding on the tiny flowers on a Alder Buckthorn, we found two on this same bush.  At the time I did not recognise this bush and a kind gentleman informed me of the name, having looked it up this bush is also a food plant of the Brimstone.  The wildflowers on the reserve are abundant and beautiful, one of my particular favourites was the Sneezewort.
White-letter Hairstreak © Jackie Hull
Moving on we found Small and Large Skippers, just one Marbled White but we had still not found what we really were looking for - the Brown Hairstreak.  So back to the bramble hedgerow and I saw a photographer most engrossed in something, I quickly found his subject, that elusive Brown Hairstreak, brilliant!  When everyone had their fill of this rare and perfect little butterfly we moved on, we had been told where we might find a White-letter Hairstreak.  Joe spotted it first, a very tatty specimen as it really is getting late for them now and next to it was a Ringlet.  This brought our total to 16 species of butterfly, a brillant and very successful morning.
Brown Hairstreak © Jackie Hull