Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Wading in at Swineham

I risked pneumonia and rheumatic knees crouching in ankle deep water for ages photographing a summer plumaged Bar-tailed Godwit in Poole Harbour earlier this year. Then this one turns up at Swineham on a lovely still spring morning at point blank range. Typical!

Saturday, 23 April 2016

More spring arrivals

Long-distance migrants have been arriving in force over the last week or so - I managed to catch up with ten of my favourites last weekend and this, all common summer visitors to British breeding grounds. Common maybe - but uncommonly difficult journeys they undertake to come back to these shores. A good excuse to flick through the old BTO Migration Atlas to marvel at the journeys they make, read the accounts of ringing recoveries and be reminded of the perils they face along the way.
Male Redstart, Suckthumb Quarry, Portland, 17th April. A trans-Saharan migrant, the Redstart heads through the Iberian peninsula before arriving in Britain, having wintered south of the Sahara.
Whinchat, Suckthumb Quarry, Portland, 17th April. Another long-distance migrant wintering in tropical Africa. Spring males are stunners!
Lesser Whitethroat, Swineham, 23rd April - quite a rare visitor to the patch. British Lesserthroats head to northern Italy for a stopover on migration across the Med to winter in east Africa - an unusual route for one of 'our' warblers.
Common Whitethroat, Suckthumb Quarry, Portland 17th April. They spend winter in the Sahel region of Africa.
Reed Warbler, Wareham, 23rd April. A trans-Saharan migrant, our Reed Warblers are thought to winter in west Africa, reaching us in spring via a westerly route through North Africa and Iberia.
Sedge Warbler, Swineham, 23rd April. Another trans-Saharan migrant, more ringed British Sedge Warblers have been recovered from Senegal than any other country.
Willow Warbler, Portland Castle, 17th April. Many British birds winter in the Gulf of Guinea.
Yellow Wagtail, Suckthumb Quarry. British birds winter in Senegal and the Gambia, following the west African coast and passing through Spain en route to Britain in spring.
Male Blackcap, Portland Castle, 17th April. British breeders spend winter in southern Iberia and northwest Africa. Blackcaps wintering in Britain are, however, thought to be continental breeders.
House Martin, Lodmoor, 17th April. Over a million House Martins have been ringed in Britain but only a couple of dozen of these have been recovered south of the Sahara. Knowledge of their wintering grounds is therefore limited.
Whinchat, Suckthumb Quarry. A very dapper beast.

Monday, 18 April 2016

Migrants bremain on Portland

Hoping to see some migrant birds this weekend I weighed up the choice between flogging around what, for reasons of chronic neglect, I hesitate to call 'the patch', or heading to the sun-kissed heights of Portland. In the end I surprised myself by managing a bit of both thanks to a late evening walk around Swineham on Saturday and a day unusually free of other commitments on Sunday.

Predictably, Sunday on Portland was the more productive for both common and rarer migrant birds, though Swineham certainly held its end up, bless it, with a monster flock of hirundines, a few Willow Warblers and a couple of Sedge Warblers - not to mention a glorious sunset. I will return to those in a later post, and for now focus on the minor rarities which enlivened the visit to Portland - continental overshoots and a timely reminder that, whether you are thinking of voting for 'Brexit' or to 'Bremain', nature knows no boundaries.
Hoopoe - this long-staying bird at Suckthumb Quarry achieved celebrity in the local paper
It fed voraciously in front of an orderly line of photographers, perhaps finding them barely perceptible in their camouflage jackets lying against the white surface of the quarry floor
A more conventional view of the Hoopoe in profile - a very popular subject with birders, photographers and passing residents alike - and who can blame them
The Hoopoe is notoriously insecure - despite its great beauty it still tries too hard to look like a Peacock
The Hoopoe's grasp of the principles of 'hide and seek' is also a slim one
But if you've got it, flaunt it, I say
Another successful feeding foray - looks like a leatherjacket
A male Western Subalpine Warbler on the East Cliffs lacked the Hoopoe's exhibitionist tendencies
Its feeding habit of carefully picking insects from the Alexanders meant that it was often out of sight
Up there with the Hoopoe for its striking appearance was this White-spotted Bluethroat
It was feeding Wheatear-style in a ploughed field a short walk from the Subalpine Warbler

Friday, 15 April 2016

A wash up from north of the border

I've used up all the superlatives about Scottish landscapes and lochs in recent posts, so here are just a few photos to sweep up the remaining highlights of our Easter week on the west coast near Oban. 
Drake Eider in Oban Harbour
Female Eider, Oban Harbour
After a Golden Eagle-less day on the Ardnamurchan peninsula, the following day we saw one cruising over the coast road a few miles south of Oban. An emergency stop and fumble with the camera produced this photograph - I hoped it would circle, but as is often the way of the Golden Eagle, it pressed on purposefully
Raven frequented the point at Ardnamurchan
A pure-looking Rock Dove near Ardnamurchan Point, though I grant you it would have looked more convincing on a cliff face than a telegraph wire
The only Black Guillemot of the week which was still in winter plumage - photographed distantly from our cottage on the shore of Loch Creran
...and seen here passing a moulting Great Northern Diver like ships in the night. Not bad garden birds.
Eiders were also flying into the loch past the house in the morning and out again in the evening
Roe Deer near the cottage
Evening reflections and ripples on Loch Creran
Looking towards the head of Loch Creran from the cottage
View from the top of the Glencoe skilift - I was hoping for a Ptarmigan but to no avail
A direct approach to managing dog disturbance on Ardnamurchan. Probably a bit radical for the Dorset heaths.
A misty morning at Corran Ferry
Sunset looking towards Mull over Loch Creran

Thursday, 14 April 2016

A big day out

It's traditional on our family holidays, if I pretend to be enjoying myself convincingly enough visiting shops, playgrounds, tea rooms etc, for me to be granted a day to myself to indulge in some wildlife watching and photography by way of a reward. And so it was last week in Scotland when I decided to try my luck on the rugged Morvern peninsula. The area enjoys high concentrations of both White-tailed and Golden Eagle, and there is also a good chance of Otter on the sea lochs.
Ringed Plover, Loch Sunart
Their presence given away by gentle, piping calls
Wheatear had been arriving in Dorset shortly before we left for Scotland - this one had done well to make it this far north
Having just caught the third Corran Ferry of the morning, my first stop was on the Ardgour side to check out the Black Guillemot colony in the rusty piers by the ferry slipway. I had seen plenty already in Oban but you can't have too much of a good thing and they did not disappoint.
Black Guillemot, Ardgour
A colony breeds on the rusty piers. Ten individuals are visible in this shot.
And when I say breed...

After Ardgour it was across familiar but still breathtaking territory to Strontian, stopping occasionally for photos of Great Northern Divers in Loch Linnhe from the roadside. From there I broadly followed an itinerary in Gordon Hamlett's Best Birdwatching Sites in the Scottish Highlands, along the southern shore of Loch Sunart for a chance of Otters and Eagles. I saw neither, but a close encounter with a pair of Ringed Plover and a fresh-in Wheatear were some reward.
Great Northern Diver moulting into breeding plumage on Loch Linnhe
Drake Goldeneye, Loch Arienas
Female Goosander, Loch Arienas

Then it was a long climb up Gleann Geal, pausing occasionally to scan for raptors, before dropping back down towards the Black Glen and the choppy waters of Loch Arienas. Pairs of Goosander and Goldeneye were the best I could manage there, so I retraced my steps to get back on the road to Lochaline. The guide book suggested scanning for Otter from the ferry slipway, so being the obedient sort that's what I did, and the first shape I 'scoped on the water turned out to be one. If only it were always that easy..
The best I could manage of the Otter at Lochaline
A slightly closer mammal in the form of a bold Red Deer stag near Kingairloch
Male Stonechat near Kingairloch
A scan with bins down the Sound of Mull caused a double-take when I saw the huge bulk of what could only be a White-tailed Eagle sitting on some distant rocks. I returned to the car to grab the telescope, only to find the bird gone by the time I had set it up! Very frustrating, it would have been a good telescope view, and despite much scanning I was left to conclude that it must have headed off to the south rather than in my direction.
Buzzard or 'Tourist's Eagle' as they are known in these parts
The sun rising over Loch Linnhe looking back to the Corran Ferry
View over Loch Sunart
No matter, I wasn't going to let it spoil my day, and by now it was already time to be heading back, which I did via Kingairloch and the coastal route along the shore of Loch Linnhe. An impressive stretch of highway pock-marked by rockfalls, it passes under a high cliff reminiscent of the road under the Gribun Rocks on Mull. Not a hugely productive day on the Eagle front, then, but an enjoyable trek through some outstanding landscapes all the same. Can't wait to go back.