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.

Saturday, 31 May 2014

What A Couple Of Days

Well, it started out with the best of intentions, to spend some time with my wife Karen, as I'd not seen much of her yesterday after twitching the Temminck's Stint at Lodmoor after work and then taking a trip down to Devon to see the Ross's Gull at Bowling Green Marsh. Sorry for the shocking images.



Crap record shots of the Temminck's Stint on Lodmoor.



Also, this lovely female Ruff on Lodmoor.






1st-year Ross's Gull. The light was terrible.

Compare the upperwing pattern with the 1st-year Little Gull. I'll let you find the Ross's and Little Gulls in this image. Note the dark secondary band in the Little, lacking in Ross's and the dark on rump of the Ross's.

In this image you can compare the underwing pattern differences.

Okay, crap images, but always a delightful species.

Anyway, back to today. My plans went to the wall when news of 4 Bee-eaters on Portland broke. Karen said to go, which I did and rather unsurprisingly, I dipped. Returned home, only for the Earth shattering news of Britain's third Short-toed Eagle being discovered in Wareham Forest by Paul Morton. And there was a photo. I nearly fell off my chair when I saw it. But, I didn't shoot off to look for it, as it had flown. Then I got news of a Rose-coloured Starling at West Bexington, so decided to take a look.





The adult female Rose-coloured Starling.

After all the excitement, got home to chill out. It wasn't long though before the incredulous news was out that the eagle was back. What followed, was the most stressful drive of my life. I needn't have worried, the Short-toed Eagle stayed put, sat in a tree at Morden Bog.



Crappy record shots of the Short-toed Eagle. A British tick for me, and in Dorset. What a bird. Looked great through a scope I might add.

All being well, hope to get better photos of the Short-toed Eagle tomorrow.

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Paint The Whole World With A Rainbow

Managed to wangle a little bit of time off work and jammed in on the 4 Bee-eaters at Portland Bill, before they flew off high to the south ahead of a rain belt. Then it was a rush back to work, as some of us have to. Only managed a few record shots.






Monday, 26 May 2014

Seen By The Lucky Few (Part 2)

A continuation of yesterday's post.

Scops Owl - Just a couple of records, the last of which was an at sea record in March 1990. Seen by a select crowd later at Portland Bird Observatory. Some of that select crowd probably count it on their Dorset lists, if they have one, but really? Sure, it was great to see, but in reality, it was as plastic as a Ruddy Duck. It would certainly be far nicer to see one roosting in a tree somewhere. There's always a good chance there will be another one, let's just hope it's soon.

Egyptian Nightjar - The single seen at Portland Bill on 10th June 1984 by the one lucky observer is envied by many. How great would it be for someone to find a roosting bird somewhere for all to see. I think we're living in dream land if we think there will be another.

Nighthawk - Hate the word common, so not gonna use it. Anyway, just one Dorset record at Studland in October 1983. Feel optimistic there will be another one of these, but think it could just be a flyby for some lucky observer/s.

Little Swift - Two records, the last in 1997. Keep checking those Swifts people.

Steppe Grey Shrike - Okay, had this in the blockers section, but it wasn't seen by many in reality. Excellent chance of another one of these beasties.

Balearic Woodchat Shrike - One Dorset record of this distinctive form, in May 1986. Well overdue another.

Crested Tit - As with the Killdeer, seems ridiculous to me to have records like these in a void, just because it was once Hampshire. Well, it's now Dorset, so get used to it. One record of the continental race L.c.mitratus at Christchurch Harbour in 1846. We get records of Continental Coal Tits, so why not another one of these.

Calandra Lark - The first British record at Portland Bill on 2nd April 1961 remains the only one. This surely has to turn up again.

Lesser Short-toed Lark - I was one of the many dippers the following day in May 1992. If I'd been at home when the phone call came through, well, who knows. Still remains the only British record. On the same track as last years incredibly obliging Short-toed Lark. What are the chances of a repeat?

Pale-legged Leaf Warbler - This astonishing record on Portland on 22nd October 2012, was seen by a select crowd. Sakhalin Warbler hasn't been split from Pale-legged by the BOU yet, so for now, it's still Pale-legged in my book. If another one of these turns up in Britain, I'll eat a pair of my socks. I've heard a lot of shit about the behavioral differences between the two forms, but this is not in a vagrant context, where a bird could do just about anything. As well as high up in a tree, it was also seen foraging close to the ground. Both forms would have been considered unlikely to turn up in Europe at the time, so I think it a little bold to even consider Sakhalin as being a candidate. It certainly wasn't on my radar when I fucked it up as an Arctic Warbler, after it had been fucked up as an Eastern Crowned Warbler.

Western Orphean Warbler - One at Portland Bill on 20th September 1955 remains the sole record. We're well placed to get another me thinks.

Pallas's Grasshopper Warbler - Portland Bird Observatory struck big time on 13th September 1996. I only wish I'd burnt down every available bit of vegetation in the surrounding area, as I may have then had a chance to see it. There'll be another.

Paddyfield Warbler - Now this bird chose the most stupid time to turn up. Trapped and ringed on 21st July 2011, on The Fleet at Tidmoor Rifle Range. Where was I? Holidaying with the family in Italy, that's where. Don't think we'll have to wait long for another one of these to turn up though.

White's Thrush - The first British record and only one for Dorset to date was shot near Heron Court on 24th January 1828. Can certainly see one of these being pulled out of a mist net at somewhere like Durlston or Portland Bird Observatory, so will certainly stay in the category of seen by the lucky few.

Grey-cheeked Thrush - 1 at Portland Bill on 9th October 2008. Even though successfully twitched by some, it remained a bugger for others who only saw it inadequately, including myself, grrrr. There will be another though, I reckon.

Black-throated Thrush - Just the one record near Throop in January 1994. Scanning those winter thrushes will surely pay dividends one day.

Citrine Wagtail - Four have occurred in Dorset, 2 together at Christchurch Harbour on  15th October 1966, a male on Lodmoor on 6th May 2009 and 1 at Portland Bird Observatory, on a garden pond for crying out loud, on 11th May 2014. Not sure the 1966 birds would stand up to modern scrutiny, but with several near misses, I don't think we'll have long to wait for one of these.

Whilst on the subject of Wagtails, does anyone have any information on the 1970 White-throated Wagtails on Lodmoor, which would have appeared in the blockers article, or the Christchurch Harbour bird of 1984? These Ashy-headed types are a BBRC rarity and so far, there are no accepted Dorset records.

Pechora Pipit - Two records, both from Portland, in September 1983 and October 1990. A couple of near misses in recent years gives hope that there will be another, but will it stick?

Two-barred Crossbill - Well, the winter just gone should have been the year to finally add to the single record from July 1966, but it wasn't to be. If this species colonizes this country, we'll get another chance soon I hope.

Pine Bunting - A single male in April 1975, at Portland Bill is the only one to date. Get out and check those wintering Yellowhammer flocks around Puddletown me thinks and be prepared to look closely for a female.

So, what of the blockers will fall next and which of the ones that have only been available for the lucky few will finally give itself up to the masses? I'd be interested to hear your predictions

Thanks to Paul Harris, Alan Barrett, George Green's fabulous The Birds Of Dorset Book and the various Dorset Bird Reports and all the observers involved in the making of them for the help with these blog posts. 

Sunday, 25 May 2014

Seen By The Lucky Few (Part 1)

After the blockers theme, I thought I'd delve into the species that have been recorded in Dorset and only seen by the lucky few.

Ruddy Shelduck - Although birds have been seen in recent years, none are considered of wild origin. The last birds regarded as truly wild were way back in 1892. Because of known feral populations, the likelyhood of seeing a wild bird in Dorset seems remote.

Baikal Teal - The drake caught and ringed on 1st January 1969 on Brownsea is not accepted officially on the British and Dorset list, but is it any different to any recent British records.

King Eider - Just one record, with 1 seen off the Chesil on 27th March 2005. The recent Brunnich's Guillemot gives us hope that there will be another one of these, but this is a mega rarity in England.

Black Grouse - Last seen around the 1925 mark. Bar a reintroduction, there's absolutely no chance of getting this one on our Dorset Lists.

White-billed Diver - 1 record and a recent claim were both flybys. Again, very rare in England, but the recent Devon bird gives us hope we'll get a lingering bird in Dorset soon.

Black-browed Albatross - One record to date. This species will always be for the lucky few. Only the committed seawatcher or a jammy fucking git will connect.

Cory's Shearwater - Again, a birders bird, but at least this species turns up fairly frequently. It's on my list.

Great Shearwater - Inexplicably rare in Dorset. A good run of these in nearby Devon should get you out looking. Maybe seawatching from Golden Cap may be the answer to connecting with this beauty, as they enter and head to exit Lyme Bay perhaps?

Barolo Shearwater - One record in Dorset. As with Black-browed Albatross, same applies.

American Bittern - Two records, the last in 1980, which incredibly and disgustingly had been found shot dead. 

White-tailed Eagle - Two recent records from Hampshire shows that there is still a glimmer of hope with this one. The last record was in 1935.

Marsh Hawk - The occurrence of a beautiful male that passed over Portland on 21st April 2014 inspired me to do this article and that of the blocker articles on my blog. Thanks Peter, you lucky lucky man. See how polite I was there?

Pallid Harrier - Now this one has to fall soon. Just one record, way back in 1938. Probably be a flyby for some lucky git. Maybe those peeps checking the north east of the county may unlock the key?

Gyr Falcon - Just two Dorset records, the last way back in 1912. Oh, to find a beautiful white morph sat somewhere, would be a dream find for any Dorset birder. Recent Devon records gives us hope.

Baillon's Crake - The last record was way back in 1894. Christchurch Harbour for the next one me thinks for this bird.

Allen's Gallinule - Just one person and they're dog can legitimately count this one on their Dorset list, the sensational record of 1 found, sadly, moribund on Portland in 2002. Seems like another one of these in Dorset, especially a healthy one, is nothing but a pipe dream.

Great Bustard - The last record was in 1888. Differentiating a wild bird from a reintroduced one now would be extremely difficult, though probably impossible task.

Cream-coloured Courser - Just one record, way back in 1853. The next one would almost certainly be twitchable, me thinks.

Killdeer - Just one record, the first British record no less, back in 1859. When will the next one turn up?

White-tailed Plover/Lapwing - 1 on The Fleet, at Abbotsbury Swannery on 3rd July 1979. I think this is a species that could turn up again real soon. Lodmoor for the next one is my prediction.

Red-necked Stint - A painful one this. The Ferrybridge bird of 27th August 2010 would have certainly been gettable for locals, but alas, the observer fucked up the identification and it was identified from photos after the bird had departed. It could happen to anybody this, and the painful bit for me is that I didn't check Ferrybridge that day. When at nearby Littlesea, I adjudged the tide too high to go and check, so wandered off to White Nothe to try and find me own Dotterel. Lesson learned. The next one, if we get another, I reckon will be a juvenile and again be identified by photos after the event.

Sharp-tailed Sandpiper - One record only. A spring bird no less, on The Fleet on 2nd April 1978. Every chance of another one of these.

Great Snipe - The last record was way back in 1896. What are the chances of another and where might it turn up?

Upland Sandpiper - One record from Portland in 1976. I think the next will also be on Portland.

Sooty Tern - An incredible record of 2 at Abbotsbury Swannery on 24th May 1935. Brownsea Island, surely, has to be the place to look for any rare tern.

Bridled Tern - One lucky observer of 1 at Lodmoor on 11th July 1984. Get checking those tern colonies.

Lesser Crested Tern - Again, just one record and again, one lucky observer, with the bird at Hengistbury on 25th April 1995. Again, Brownsea has to be the place to look.

Pallas's Sandgrouse - The last one recorded was in 1889. Never say never I guess, but in this case, I think the odds are stacked against it.

Great Spotted Cuckoo - Now, I know I had this in the blockers article, on the basis that we should have seen one of the two Dorset records, but alas, that was suppressed. 1994, the last one and surely we are overdue another. Let's hope the next one sticks.

Whilst on the subject of Blockers, I noticed I had missed off Temminck's Stint. The last truly gettable ones in Dorset were singles on Lodmoor in 1997, an unbelievable 17 years ago. An oversight on my part, so apologies for that. The article has been amended as a result.

Saturday, 24 May 2014

Skuas And Stuff

Got out early this morning and heard the Grasshopper Warbler reeling at Radipole Lake. Just wanted to satisfy my curiosity as this bird had originally been claimed as a Savi's, even though Luke had given me the heads up that it was indeed a Gropper.

Off to the Bill then, to do a short seawatch and then some bush bashing. The seawatch was rather productive, with the best being a flock of 5 Pomarine Skuas. Sadly, they were distant and below are a couple of really crap record shots of 3 of the 5.




3 Great Skuas were the other birds of note.


Another crap record shot. Light was awful. Missed some bits and pieces after I had given up, but it was time to check them bushes.

And it was shit. Plus, the heavens opened and I got a severe drenching.

On the subject of skuas, saw this Arctic Skua off the Chesil yesterday late afternoon.



The record shots have gotten slightly better here.

Now for some other stuff. Well, actually a bit of a catch up with some pics. Don't worry, there are a couple of good pics here. And yes, the rest are crap.


Whimbrel at Portland Bill. The day everyone, bar the lucky few, were dipping on Citrine Wagtail.

Female Broad-bodied Chaser in the Obs garden the same day.

Reed Warbler at Lodmoor last weekend. If only it was a Great.

After work, in the week, have been going to Lodmoor in the hope I might find a good wader. This spring though, has been terrible locally for passage waders and this Lapwing was as good as it got. Man, it was dire.

The best bird of the week on Lodmoor was this White Wagtail on Wednesday evening. As you can see from the photo, it was very distant.

Now, being distant, I did exercise a little caution, because the little image on the little screen on the back of my camera didn't really allow me to make a definite identification, even though I was pretty sure it was one. Anyway, I've just downloaded the images today, and on this shot the grey rump can be seen clearly. Nice one. For once, my gut reaction was right on this bird. I have seen pale female Pieds passed off as Whites, hence my caution.

And finally, a couple of nice Dunlin images from Ferrybridge yesterday. Well, I think they're nice. :-)



Sunday, 18 May 2014

Arctic Tern

Well, he's back for yet another year with the Common Terns on Lodmoor. I'm not sure how many years he's been coming back, but although he has hybridized, albeit unsuccessfully, with Common Tern, he's yet to find one of his own kind. He has courted controversy, with some observers questioning it's identity, based on the perceived bill and legs being too long. It's bill is within the range of variation of that shown by Arctic Tern and it's leg length is sometimes judged incorrectly, as depending on the belly feathering, the legs can appear longer when the belly feathering is held flat against the body. When compared with the nearby Common Terns, it's legs are noticeably shorter. Plumage, structure and call are classic Arctic Tern. In fact, it's call is often a clue to it's presence within the Common Tern colony.

The Arctic Tern is to the left of the incubating Oystercatcher. Note the tail length, extent of grey on the underparts and primary pattern.

Arctic Tern to the right of the Common Terns. Note the long tail and much sleeker structure.



Note the thin black trailing edge to the primaries on the underwing.




Note the pattern of white on the cheek, which is like a stripe that borders the black cap.

A stunningly elegant bird.

Saturday, 10 May 2014

Tricky Ficedula Flycatcher

Thanks to Martin Garner and his excellent Birding Frontiers blog, at Portland Castle, this flycatcher has provoked some discussion as to it's identity. It appears to be a female. But check out that primary patch!

Suddenly we're thinking Collared, but...

I originally was happy that it was a brown male Pied. This has subsequently, and rightly so, been questioned. It is felt that it is a female, though ageing it is somewhat troublesome.


It could still be an extreme variant Pied. Although Collared has been muted, it just doesn't look right to me. A hybrid Pied x Collared is another theory. For now, we'll just have to leave it unidentified.  Interesting bird me thinks.

Take a look here http://birdingfrontiers.com/2014/05/18/the-portland-flycatcher/ for a much more thorough look at this bird. Thanks again to Martin Garner.

Quite a number of Spotted Flycatchers on Portland today, included this bird at Portland Castle. Seemed to like this perch.