This blog is about my birding exploits, which mainly take place in the Weymouth/Portland area, in Dorset. Will also include stuff from elsewhere, plus some other critters too. Hope you enjoy. All photographs are © Brett Spencer, unless indicated otherwise. The above image is of a Siberian Rubythroat, taken in Holland in 2016.

Sunday, 30 November 2014

Wild Goose Chase

Started my day on The Fleet at Littlesea. The 2 Black Redstarts remained from last week, while a Slavonian Grebe and 2 Great Northern Divers were additional.

Great Northern Diver number 1.

Slavonian Grebe.

Great Northern Diver number 2 snorkeling.

Both Great Northern Divers were juveniles.

It's only taken me 5 attempts to see it, but finally caught up with the adult Greenland Goose at Abbotsbury Swannery this afternoon.

Also present in the flock of feral Canada Geese were a family party of 6 Dark-bellied Brent Geese.

Brent Geese appear to have had a good breeding season this year.

An earlier Greenland Goose attempt was compensated by a couple of Long-tailed Ducks, including this 1st-winter male.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

A Tail Of Stumps

Odd title, but all will become apparent. The day started out with a fruitless search for the Greenland Goose that had spent a week or so on the West Fleet area. Next stop was Ferrybridge, where a Northern Wheatear caused my heart to race for a millisecond. This particular individual had a bit of a stumpy tail, so presumably had lost it's tail at some stage and was in the process of growing a new one. 

After that momentary bit of excitement, on the vegetated shingle the Portland side of the Ferrybridge car park, something to definitely get excited about, a flight call alerting me to the presence of a Snow Bunting. A cracking male, it flew over and headed low over to the seaward side of the Chesil beach. A short search couldn't relocate it, but it could be still lurking in the vicinity somewhere.

I carried onto Portland Castle, where 4 Black Redstarts and a couple of Common Chiffchaffs seem to be the norm there from recent visits. Apart from a Great Northern Diver casually noted in Portland Harbour, nothing else of interest was seen.

My last stop of the day, was on The Fleet at Littlesea. Almost the first bird seen here was a Black Redstart in the Bridging Camp, a traditional winter hotspot for this species. Like the rest seen earlier in the day, this was a female/immature bird, but I later located a stunning adult male in the camp.

Sadly, this stunning adult male Black Redstart wasn't close enough for a good photo.
Carrying onto Littlesea Holiday Camp, amongst the small number of Brent Geese in Lynch Cove, was a single Pale-bellied Brent Goose. I was more interested in checking the wood, where recent visits have yielded a very poor return. 3 Common Chiffchaffs gave me some optimism, then just as I was getting to the other end of the wood, a vocal phylloscopus warbler grabbed my attention. Further investigation confirmed my suspicions, it was a cracking Siberian Chiffchaff. This individual had obviously suffered the same fate as the earlier Northern Wheatear. This bird though, had an especially stumpy tail, giving it a really cute appearance. 

Sibe Chiff. GET IN!

The light was awful when taking these shots.

What was interesting about this bird was that it was giving two call types, both typical of P. tristis. As well as the most familiar "peep" call, it also uttered a "hweet", but unlike the "huweet" call of Common Chiffchaff, it was shorter in duration and higher pitched, giving it a sweeter sound. This is a call I've heard before, uttered from a bird in the hand, that was confirmed by DNA I might add. This "hweet" call seemed to be an excitement call.

On the subject of calls, in light of recent events, had listened to recordings of Pale-legged and Sakhalin Warblers. There is a slight difference between the two species, the latter being slightly longer with a slight upward inflection toward the end. Having heard the 2012 Portland bird calling, I'm happy in my own mind that it was indeed a Pale-legged Warbler, which, lets be honest, on paper is the most likely candidate for vagrancy to north west Europe.

Not being rebellious here and not a decision I've made for listings sake, 'cause I don't care much about that. I do believe, based on the calls I heard, that this 2012 bird was a Pale-legged Warbler, but understand from a point of view of a records committee, that without a sound recording and DNA, that the either or decision had to be made.

Saturday, 22 November 2014


The following taxonomic decisions have been made by Brett's Ornithological Committee. The current members of the committee are as follows:



No, that's it, it's just me.

The following species have now been split. For now, only species with a British context are considered in this posting.

White-fronted Goose - A.a flavirostris, known as Greenland White-fronted Goose, is now considered as a species in it's own right.

White-fronted Goose Anser albifrons
Greenland Goose Anser flavirostris 

White-winged Scoter - M.d stejnegeri, known as Stejneger's Scoter, is now considered as a species in it's own right.

White-winged Scoter Melanitta deglandi
Stejneger's Scoter Melanitta stejnegeri

Hen Harrier - C.c Hudsonius, known as Northern Harrier, is now considered a species in it's own right.

Hen Harrier Circus cyaneus
Marsh Hawk Circus Hudsonius

Lesser Sand Plover - C.c mongolus, known as Mongolian Plover, is now considered a species in it's own right.

Lesser Sand Plover Charadrius atrifrons
Mongolian Plover Charadrius mongolus

Black-tailed Godwit - L.l islandica, known as Icelandic Black-tailed Godwit, is now considered a species in it's own right.

Black-tailed Godwit Limosa limosa
Icelandic Godwit Limosa islandica

Black Tern - C.n surinamensis, known as American Black Tern, is now considered a species in it's own right.

European Black Tern Chlidonias niger
American Black Tern Chlidonias surinamensis

Oriental Turtle Dove - S.o meena, known as Rufous Turtle Dove, is now considered a species in it's own right.

Oriental Turtle Dove Streptopelia orientalis
Rufous Turtle Dove Streptopelia meena

White Wagtail - The current forms on the British list will now be considered species in their own right.

White Wagtail Motacilla alba
Pied Wagtail Motacilla yarrellii
Amur Wagtail Motacilla leucopsis

Yellow Wagtail - The current forms on the British list will now be considered species in their own right.

Yellow Wagtail Motacilla flavissima
Blue-headed Wagtail Motacilla flava
Grey-headed Wagtail Motacilla thunbergi
White-throated Wagtail Motacilla cinereocapilla
Black-headed Wagtail Motacilla feldegg
Eastern Yellow Wagtail Motacilla tschutschensis

Nightingale - L.m golzii is now considered a separate species.

Common Nightingale Luscinia megarhynchos
Eastern Nightingale Luscinia golzii

Redstart - P.p samamisicus is now considered a separate species.

Common Redstart Phoenicurus pheonicurus
Ehrenberg's Redstart Phoenicurus samamisicus

Black Redstart - Now becomes two species.

Western Black Redstart  Phoenicurus ochruros
Eastern Black Redstart Phoenicurus pheonicuroides

Siberian Stonechat - Now becomes two species.

Siberian Stonechat Saxicola maurus
Caspian Stonechat Saxicola variegatus

Lesser Whitethroat - Now becomes three species.

European Lesser Whitethroat Sylvia curruca
Siberian Lesser Whitethroat Sylvia blythi
Desert Whitethroat Sylvia halimodendri

Subalpine Warbler - Becomes three, not two species.

Western Subalpine Warbler Sylvia inornata
Eastern Subalpine Warbler Sylvia cantillans
Moltoni's Warbler Sylvia moltonii

Chiffchaff - P.c tristis, known as Siberian Chiffchaff, is now considered a species in it's own right

Common Chiffchaff Phylloscopus collybita
Siberian Chiffchaff Phylloscopus tristis

Greenish Warbler - P.t plumbeitarsus, known as Two-barred Greenish Warbler, is now considered a species in it's own right.

Greenish Warbler Phylloscopus trochiloides
Two-barred Warbler Phylloscopus plumbeitarsus

Isabelline Shrike - Now becomes two species.

Isabelline Shrike Lanius isabellinus
Turkestan Shrike Lanius phoenicuroides

Woodchat Shrike - L.e badius, known as Balearic Woodchat Shrike, is now considered a species in it's own right.

Woodchat Shrike Lanius senator
Balearic Shrike Lanius badius

The following species will be lumped

Common, Lesser and Arctic Redpoll are now considered a single species.

Redpoll Carduelis flammea

Common, Scottish and Parrot Crossbill are now considered a single species.

Common Crossbill Loxia curvirostra

Obviously, I'm open to comments and abuse on this arrangement, but the committee, that's me by the way, has made it's decisions, so there. :-)

Redpoll of the form Carduelis flammea hornemanni. Even though it's just a Redpoll, still a great bird to see and well worth the trip from Dorset to Suffolk to see it.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Great Northern Diver

This Great Northern Diver flew over my head at Ferrybridge today.

One of the tree loving Black Redstarts at Portland Castle today. Just looks weird seeing a Black Redstart in the tree tops.

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Isabelline Shrike

After work this morning, the draw of an Isabelline Shrike at Christchurch Harbour was too much to resist. The bird was on view on arriving, but unfortunately, it was never very cooperative when it came to me taking photos of it, even though it was incredibly obliging. Still, I won't blame the bird, I'll just blame the branches. No, sod it, I'll blame the bird for perching on the wrong branches. 

Aside from the rump/tail area, this bird lacked obvious contrasts, notably the mask lacking contrast with the rest of the head, along with the buff in the malar and flank areas put this bird in the Daurian camp.

Note the black subterminal band in the greater coverts and the slight scaling in the crown, thus confirming that this is a 1st-winter bird.

Must get and do some birding tomorrow and try and find me own goodie.

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Peter Knight

It was with great sadness that I heard of the sudden passing of Peter and my heart goes out to his family at this time. Peter and indeed his wife Eileen, were more than just birding acquaintances, they were close family friends. 

His birding had taken a back seat since the birth of his grandchildren and I know he spent many happy times with them in Hungary, where they lived. He loved them with all his heart and couldn't get enough of them. 

Peter did have health problems in recent years, which also affected his birding, but his passing away came as a great shock to everyone. 

I've spent some wonderful times with Peter including going on holiday to Scotland with his wife and my family, where we were treated to our first views of Pine Martin. One particular trip with Peter I shall never forget was the day we twitched the Porthmadog Ivory Gull. Having found the Harbour Porpoise corpse it was feeding on, we both stood and waited. After a short while, the apparition of a stunning adult Ivory Gull flew in and landed before us. We were the only people there watching it and sharing that moment with him will stay with me forever. The trip back was just as memorable, as he took the scenic route back through the glorious countryside of Wales, a country he truly loved and he did it for my benefit to share that passion.

Peter Knight with my daughters when they were younger. Thanks for being a great friend, you will be truly missed.

I'm sure Peter wouldn't have minded, but I'm gonna take about birds now.

The day started with a call about a Greenland White-fronted Goose at Abbotsbury Swannery. Always the sucker for a goose, I headed out there. A Firecrest on arrival was a visual treat, but the goose had flown. The Green-winged Teal put in an appearance on the meadow whilst looking for the goose and I was present when Steve Hales was ringing a few Lesser Redpolls that he had trapped earlier. Compensation for dipping was to come, when Steve Groves informed me that he had located a Surf Scoter on The Fleet at Clouds Hill, whilst he was carrying out the WeBS count. He very kindly took me out there where the bird was and after dipping on the 2 previous Fleet records, it was great to finally secure this species for me Fleet list.

1st-winter male Surf Scoter.


Male Lesser Redpoll.

6 adult Pale-bellied Brent Geese and a Cetti's Warbler on The Fleet, at Lynch Cove, were the only other birds of note seen today.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Green-winged Teal

Found this afternoon by swannery resident and patch stalwart Steve Groves, this 1st-winter male Green-winged Teal showed well on the Meadow Pool, albeit, in atrocious light.

As well as the vertical flank stripe, note the lack of obvious vermiculations on the lower flanks, this giving a smooth blue grey look to this area.

Note the richer colour to upper breast.

1st-winter male Common Teal. Note the obvious vermiculations in the lower flanks.

The breast colour shows well in this image. The greater covert wingbar, just visible in this image, is a richer gold colour compared to Common Teal.

The head pattern, more precisely, the yellow marking around the green eyestripe can be weaker in this species, but this is individually variable. 

Finally, a Goldcrest from Lodmoor Country Park yesterday.

How cute is this?

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Black Redstarts

A dozen Black Redstarts on Portland were all I had to show for today. Always entertaining though.

Now, this is how we're used to seeing them.

So, when you see them feeding in the top of trees, it comes as a bit of a novelty.



A couple of other images from today.

Grey Wagtail.

Meadow Pipit.