About Two Owls

Tuesday 27 March 2018

A Day on the Levels

Two Owls Birding's visit to the Somerset Levels reserves of Ham Wall, Shapwick and Greylake was arranged for Sunday 25th March, with the aim to hear and see Bittern and of course all the other great species the reserves have to offer.

Jackie and I, joined by Margaret decided we would B&B the night before to give ourselves a chance to do a little scouting around before the Sunday group arrived.  We made our first stop at RSPB Greylake and found lots of waterfowl were still present and loads of Reed Buntings and listened to Bearded Tits "pinging" and a brief sighting.  Then it was on to RSPB Ham Wall for a short walk to confirm the Bitterns were booming which indeed they were and that the Great White Egret were breeding again.  So after our recce we headed off to the B&B then the pub for dinner and an early night as the clocks were going forward.

Quite replete from our full english breakfast we met the group in the Ham Wall car park on what looked like it was going to be a very nice day weather wise and indeed it was.  Birding started in the car park with Chiffchaff and Robin singing, Long-tailed Tit, Chaffinch, a Kingfisher and Bittern flying over and a pair of distant Buzzards.  We all headed out towards the Avalon Hide checking off many of the commoner species on the way.  Jackie spotted one of the early spring flowers thats often overlooked but its one of her favourites as it shows spring has arrived, Coltsfoot at the side of the path.
Coltsfoot - Ham Wall © Nick Hull
Angie started well with picking up a Lesser Redpoll flying over which briefly stopped in an Alder.  I picked up a Bittern flying along behind the trees and the group called another overhead, bringing our count to three before we had really started.  A little further on we stopped and looked over the Great White Egret nesting area where we could see at least six nest locations and seven birds present. 
Great White Egret landing at nest Ham Wall © Nick Hull
We also heard a few of the groaning calls that they make which is quite different than that of Grey Heron.  Other calls we heard here were the whinnying song of Little Grebe which seemed to accompany us all around the reserve.  Here we also had two Kingfisher one chasing the other that came "peeping" past us a couple of times.

Stopping at the first viewing platform we checked out the pools where I was able to explain about the black bill and about the salmon pink upper tarsus on a summer plumaged Great White.  Also explaining that a yellow billed bird would be a first summer bird and wouldn't breed until next year.  I was  then checking through the waterfowl, Mallard, Teal, Shoveler, Moorhen, Coot, Little Grebe and I came to a Gadwall standing with a smaller duck to its right.  It was at roost head tucked but I could just see a pale blue-grey side panel and white supercilium, a male Garganey.  Whilst getting everyone on to the summer visitor a Bittern flew up and away to our right our fourth, then we had a series of 'booming' from three different birds excellent.  Scott picked up a small flock of Lapwing leaving the marsh with a single Black-tailed Godwit heading off east.
Great White Egret - Ham Wall © Nick Hull
We then made our way on to the Avalon hide we had another look at the Garganey from the screen on the way but though a tad closer it still stayed asleep resting after its long flight.  Reaching the the hide Angie had a brief view of a Bearded Tit a lifer for her whilst the rest of us were watching male and female Marsh Harrier quartering their territories.  We checked out the owl box but none were on show so after a while with little happening we walked back via the second bridge and then on to the car park for a late lunch.  We were happily entertained from our picnic bench by a day flying Pipistrelle bat working its way up and down the tree line, though he disappeared after a short while.
Drake Shoveler flyby Ham Wall © Nick Hull
After lunch we headed out on to the Shapwick reserve, here we repeated most of all the species seen in the morning but Noah Lake was a mass of waterfowl Wigeon by far predominated with Pintail, Gadwall, Mallard, Teal, Little and Great Crested Grebe, Mute swan, Greylag and Canada Geese in lesser numbers also there was a few Lesser Black-backed Gull present.  From the hide behind that looks over the very large read bed we had our closest views of a male Marsh Harrier of the day, though by the time I got the camera ready it had moved further away.
Male Marsh Harrier Shapwick © Nick Hull
After an hour or so on the Shapwick reserve we headed back to the cars and made the short drive to RSPB Greylake, another wetland reserve though more wet meadow and reedbed than reedbed with open water.  Here we watched a multitude of Reed Buntings coming in to the feeding stations in the car park along with Chaffinch, House Sparrow, Blue and Great Tits to name a few.
Male Reed Bunting - Greylake © Nick Hull
Walking out to the hides we had close views of Shoveler and Teal and a distant Great White Egret. Entering the main hide and looking out on to the wet meadow there was large number of Wigeon and Teal and lesser numbers of Pintail, Shoveler and Mallard, a scattering of Lapwing and Snipe.  We also recorded our first Little Egret, Redshank and Dunlin and a large flock of Golden Plover put on an aerial  display when flushed off fields further west, we also had our first Kestrel of the day here. 

All to soon our time was up and we had to walk back to the cars and start our journey home but not quite finished as walking back to the car Martin managed to spot a Bearded Tit.  We said our goodbyes and all went our own ways, however Mick and Angie decided they were going to go for a longer walk around the reserve as they were staying over in Glastonbury.  We were well on our way driving home when we received a call from Angie who excitedly said she had to call as they had just had two common Crane fly over them as the reached the car park after their walk, her second lifer of the day.
Wigeon outside the hide Greylake © Nick Hull

Tuesday 20 March 2018

Wareham Forest & Thorncombe Wood

Wareham Forest
On Sunday (18th) after the overnight snow I took a small and hardy group out around Wareham Forest, fortunately it was sunny though the wind was cold.  I wasn't expecting a large number of species but hoped we would find a few and with the cold snowy weather get some good views.  We started the walk from Sherford Bridge where we had some close views of Stonechat, we were to see several pairs over the next couple of hours.  We soon checked off many of the common woodland species and had a few small flocks of Redwing and Fieldfare going over.  A few Siskin also passed over and a Sparrowhawk was seen cruising low across the heath hoping to spook a Meadow Pipit no doubt.  We eventually arrived out in the open near to the Decoy Pond and almost immediately I picked up a bird flying towards us and I quickly realised it was our target, a Great Grey Shrike.  I hoped it was going to land close by but no it carried on right over us and continued out of sight, cursing under my breath as I hoped for better views.  
Great Grey Shrike from the archive
I turned to walk on and saw something at the top of a pine about thirty metres away and to my surprise it was another shrike I managed to get a few of the group straight on to it before it flew further back where it perched up again.  It then took off and Mathew saw it take a small bird possibly a tit or a crest species and disappear behind a line of pines.  We hung around for a while hoping one of them might reappear but they didn't, though we had a couple of pairs of Mallard a pair of Greylag Geese and seven Snipe flew over.  

Thorncombe Wood
Today, 20th March, we had our Tuesday group out at Thorncombe Wood LNR, this mixed woodland lies at the Dorchester end of Puddletown Forest.  We began with a few tits coming down to pickup seed that someone had placed on the fence posts with Coal, Blue and Great and then a pair Marsh Tits.  As we moved off a Song Thrush was in the ivy on the side of an Oak and we were bring serenaded by not just one but two Mistle Thrush, one we eventually found singing high up top of a beech tree.
Mistle Thrush Thorncombe Wood © Nick Hull
We had good views of a couple Treecreeper and had several Nuthatch singing and a number of Coal and Great Tit were in good voice.  Moving out onto the heath and the top of the reserve I led the group to a vantage point that looks out over the Frome valley and watched from here for a while.  Three birds flew over and one perched up top a tree then moved and sat in an oak to our left and started to sing, a beautiful male Yellowhammer, a Stonechat could be heard distantly singing.  A small group of thrushes passed four Redwing, five Fieldfare and a Mistle Thrush then a few minutes later as I was still describing the difference with their flight calls a very large flock of thrush's, mostly Fieldfare with a few Redwing, came directly over us.  Seconds later we saw the reason for this exodus a Peregrine cruised through and continued towards the east. 
Redwing - Thorncombe Wood © Nick Hull
We had three drumming Great Spotted Woodpeckers and we had a pair fly into some pines giving us brief views.  Our return walk back to the car park produced more of what we had already seen and heard and added Stock Dove with a pair doing a display flight.

Wednesday 7 March 2018

The Last few Days

This is just a short catchup on the last few days, a visit into the New Forest on the 6th March for raptors was successful with amazing views of displaying Goshawks, three Peregrine, Sparrowhawk and Buzzard.  Though there is only a shot of the Goshawk that soared right in front of us, thanks to Peter for the shot, should have carried my own camera, though I doubt my shots would have been better.  We also had Hawfinch, three Woodlark and Crossbills of note.
Goshawk - New Forest © Pete Dixon
Today (7th March) we walked around Studland, best of the day was seeing a stunning summer plumaged Black-necked Grebe found by Fran & Chris off South Beach where we caught up with the local Ring-necked Parakeets.

A pair of adult Mediterranean Gull in full summer plumage off Middle Beach were looking smart alongside several partial summer accompanying individuals.  Further out I managed to find the wintering four scoter. One drake and two duck Common Scoter with what now appears an immature drake Velvet showing a black head and neck with dark brown body and showing a little yellow on the bill.  Today it was most cooperative in that it was have a wash and brush up and kept flapping his wings showing the white secondaries.
Ring-necked Parakeet - Studland © Nick Hull
I hadn't realised how Ring-necked Parakeets can frown when they are looking at you.
Returning home we took a little detour into the Lower Frome where we came across a large number of winter thrushes frantically feeding up after the recent cold weather.
Fieldfare - Lower Frome Valley © Nick Hull

Friday 2 March 2018

Arctic Mega & White Wingers

Well the usual white winger that we see is adult Mediterranean Gull which move back for the breeding season, Jackie and I see and hear them almost daily as they go to and fro from the nesting island over our bungalow calling.  Though in the winter we always hope for the larger white wingers in Glaucous or Iceland Gull to visit, here in Poole as the harbour is so large it can be difficult to find one of these arctic species, Weymouth however  is so well watched they get found if they are around. Glaucous Gulls started turning up in mid February at West Bexington, then Ferrybridge followed by Lodmoor and Radipole.  But no one in the UK would have thought of the gull that turned up at Ferrybridge on the 21st, an adult Ross's Gull, a tern sized gull that is very much sought after by almost every birder in Britain.  

It's not a well known fact that this gull nearly had a different name but the story started with James Clark Ross who was a midshipman and expedition naturalist who shot one of two gulls which seemed to be new to science when exploring the Melville Peninsula.  When they returned to Britain Captain Parry the expedition leader commissioned zoologist Dr John Richardson to describe the natural history material and presented Richardson with one of the gulls. Richardson named the gull Cuneate-tailed Gull Larus Rossii, but the results of Parry's voyage wasn't published until 1825.  The other specimen was given to the Edinburgh University Museum where William MacGillivray named the gull Ross's Rosy Gull Larus roseus and because his description was published first he gained the credit.

Incidently Ross's Goose was named by John Cassin after the Hudson Bay Company Factor Bernard R. Ross.
Ross's Gull in flight © John Wall
Ross's Gull with Mediterranean Gulls - Lodmoor © Ian Ballam

I'd like to thank both John Wall and Ian Ballam for allowing us to use their excellent photographs of this very beautiful small gull.  It would be nice if it stayed around to show its summer plumage fully.

Fortunately Jackie and I have seen this species before a few years ago down in Plymouth and though we have tried three times for this individual and haven't connected, but hopefully it will stay around and we will get lucky.  There has been about 140 records in Britain and Ireland not surprisingly there is a northern bias to the records.

Though the Ross's Gull eluded us we had compensation with these big brutes of a gull, in two possibly three different Glaucous Gulls, two at Lodmoor and another at Radipole two days later.

2cy Glaucous Gull - Lodmoor 23rd Feb © Nick Hull
2cy Glaucous Gull number 2 - Lodmoor © Nick Hull
2cy Glaucous Gull & 1st/W Herring Gull - Radipole 24th Feb © Nick Hull