About Two Owls

Wednesday 22 July 2020

Getting Back Into The Groove

Hi All,

On May 15th Jackie and I decided to take a trip up to Salisbury Plain and the RSPB's reserve at Newton Tony for Stone Curlew.  We had an easy journey and were successful in finding three birds in one of the traditional fields.  We also ticked off our friends Jackie and Kit who also had the same idea and we pointed them in the right direction for the Stone Curlew and had a catchup.  

We then moved on to Haxton Down area of the plain where we stopped at one of the many tank crossings to have our lunch.  This turned out to be a fantastic choice of stops, as we had ate picnic we were able to listen to Whitethroat, Corn Bunting, Linnet, Stonechat, Skylark and Blackbird all singing around us.  It wasn't until we had just about finished our lunch both Jackie and I said 'Quail' at the same time and one was calling somewhere very close to the rear of the car.  Jackie and I got out of the car and walked slowing towards the 'wet-my-lips' calls and scanned the grassland which wasn't terribly dense but it was obviously thick enough because neither Jackie or I managed to get eyes on either of the two Quail that were singing though they appeared to be very close at times.  I managed to get a little recording of them calling which they were doing quite incessantly whilst we were there.

A couple of weeks later we decided that we should see if we could add some butterflies and orchids to our year list as because of lockdown we had seen very few.  We decided to keep things local and popped over to Badbury Rings but on our arrival it appeared everyone in the county had decided to do the same.  So we quickly decided to try Wareham Forest and when we arrived at Sherford Bridge there was only two cars parked so we made it three.

Before I go further I think I should give you a little history.  Many of you will know that I have a reptile licence so I can carry out reptile surveys in case I should come across a Schedule 1 species such as Sand Lizard or Smooth Snake, particularly the later as we try and photograph each individual we find so we know if we catch them again.  Well Jackie hasn't seen Smooth Snake for many years, in fact the last time was when we had arranged a reptile day for the YOC group we used to run for RSPB.  I had said I'll try and show her one this year so she can have a real close up look of one of these beautiful snakes but Covid 19 came along and messed things up a tad though we might get lucky in the latter half of the summer.

Mottled Bee-fly
Ok back to Wareham Forest, the first part of the walk produced many of the usual species for the area  corvids, tits, thrushes and a couple of Yellowhammer was very nice to see. As we arrived in the wood I suggested to Jackie that I thought it might be an easier route if we went anticlockwise and came back along the main path which would be better and easier with her using crutches and she agreed.  We hadn't gone far along the heathland path when I found a Mottled Beefly which I thought I'd take a couple of shots as I was doing this Jackie walked on slowly.  The next thing I hear is "SNAKE SNAKE" being shouted at high decibels. I jumped up thinking she had come across an Adder.  Joining her, I could see a meter or so in front of her was an adult Smooth Snake possible 70cm in length a real big one.  I took a couple of shots and Jackie took some video with her phone of this superb snake as it slunk off into the long heather and disappeared.

I should say I have now started back doing the odd survey and preparing for next years reptile surveys, doing all the work we didn't finish back in February and early March before lockdown started and I haven't come across a Smooth Snake yet, so I'm really pleased Jackie found her own which we had good views of.

Our next real outing wasn't until 9th July when we decided to go on a Dorset Twitch to Portland Bill the bird we were going for was a Yelkouan/Menorcan Shearwater that had been found in amongst a number of Balearic Shearwaters and a few Manx Shearwater feeding off the Bill a few days earlier.

We were expecting a delivery in  the morning so I did some reading up on the species and how to identify it from the Manx and Balearic that would be present during the morning. Shuan a friend had gone in the morning and mentioned it in a text that it was still present and well worth seeing. So Jackie and I had lunch and left for Portland arriving around 16:00hrs.  There was around a dozen other birders present but easy to distance and we picked a spot that gave us the best view over the feeding and resting Shearwaters Gannets and local Herring Gulls that was sitting on the water about a hundred meters off the Bill.  We had been searching through the melee of sea birds without picking it up for sometime, in fact I was beginning to think it had gone.  When I saw a small shearwater flying left, right of the obelisk which it disappeared behind.  It seemed an age before it reappeared more or less in front of us but about 100m out, it banked right and I had a good underside view and I saw the dark bar on the underwing which confirmed I had the Yelkouan.

Yelkouan Shearwater - Portland Bill internet photo photographer not named.
It's flight 'jizz' reminded me of a Little Shearwater but it's overall look was more Manx like though with the upper colouration of a Balearic Shearwater though much smaller than the latter. It also showed a slight dark capped appearance as it had a pale area at the side of the neck.  It had pinkish legs which extended beyond the tail though Manx can show this feature on take off and sometime when in flight though not extending as much.  The other feature is the bird was in moult as were the Balearics where Manx Shearwater were completely feathered as they are still breeding and will not start their moult until on their way to the wintering grounds of the East coast of North America.

Of ten previous British records nine are listed as unproven until one was accepted in 2008 seen from Berry Head.  So if this Portland bird is accepted it will be the second British record and a first for Dorset, a good bird to see.