Friday, 30 April 2010

They're At It Again!

With the sky 2/3rds covered by cloud, and a threatening looking 'front' approaching from the west the chances of rain seemed high as I wandered through the cemetery. Due to declining numbers on a global scale, it is unlikely we'll ever see the counts of birds we enjoyed up to the early 80's. However, arriving at Radipole about 07-00 there was a glimmer of hope as good numbers of Hirundines, mostly Sand Martin, and a few Swifts had already congregated above the southerly reed-bed. By the number still, or returning to, perch on the reed stems it seemed likely a roost had occurred there overnight? Let's hope for a return to those days when at dusk the reeds filled with these and other birds, such as Starling and Yellow Wagtail, and the opportunist Hobby would happen along for its supper. The only other point of interest was a 'mute' Grasshopper Warbler which, despite a bit of a wait, never blessed me with its reeling song.

Sand Martin cling to the reeds

After a complete 'blank' along the seafront, Lodmoor turned out to be nearly the same, with what action there was being confined to this singing

Sedge Warbler now in its eighth day of trying to attract a mate from the same perch.

This pair of Collared Doves seemed contented snuggling up to one another, but well behind the resident pair close to my home, that are already sitting on eggs. The best sight on the moor today was a pair of Bullfinch, seemingly feeding young, while continuously emitting their mournful call.

Convinced that it was Saturday, there was no need to mark time awaiting 09-30 when the 'bus pass' kicks in, but on boarding the bus was told "it's too early to use that". The walk back to town didn't kill me and as it was still only 9 'o' clock there was still a while before the tide would turn at Ferry Bridge. I arrived to see the 'pot fishermen' laying their traps, in the hope of a few Velvet Swimming Crabs, but what they do with them I don't know. Each makes a lovely sandwich filling I seem to remember, but whether they go to a commercial market is beyond me.

Velvet Swimming Crab

Whatever is going on?

Readers must be reaching the point of boredom and disbelief that I am not anti RSPB, but here is another 'fine' example of Royal Society for the 'Protection' of Birds MANAGEMENT in action!

This photograph shows, more or less, the full extent of what used to be the Little Tern Colony across the water from Ferry Bridge. If you 'left click' and enlarge the photograph, you might see slightly left of center and below the ridge of the beach, RSPB Tern Warden John Dadds. With little else to do while waiting for the tide to fall I watched him shoveling shingle within the Tern Colony while totting up what I would claim to be the highest Little Tern count this year, c23.

At this moment he is wandering through the Colony seemingly kicking shingle about, while, and you'll have to take my word for this, the Terns were flying over his head. He then took up station sat by the perimeter fence and simply watched. Every year that I have watched this Colony, and that's quite a few, guardians have seemed happy to utilise the old shooting butts not far away, not only affording some protection from the elements but also within viewing range without disturbing the birds. Maybe I need to buff up on modern Nature Management techniques or, much less likely, wait for other so called 'wildlife lovers' to pick up their pens in support - I'm not holding my breath!

Danny Fox long time Landlord of the Pulpit Inn (formally the Devenish), long suffering waitress and luminary Clair Harper, Myself and Portland Bird Observatory Chairman Edwin Welland

Edwin and I had lunch together today - nice work if you can get it!

Thursday, 29 April 2010

Every Move You Make, Every Step You Take I'll Be Watching You!

It has become a bit of a 'migration' event for Dave Penney, my old rig mate, and I to have a days birding in Dorset to improve both our year lists. Our day had been planned for quite a while, and as luck would have it coincided with Jo Lawrence's birding week centered on Weymouth.

Dave arrived at my house spot on the planned 05-00 in a shroud of dense fog and the realisation that this may not be the best day we have ever had. Coffee and toast were served just before Jo arrived at 05-30, declining the refreshments while we agreed sighting or sound would count towards the list, and at least 2 of us had to see or hear the bird for inclusion. With that we got underway, thinking that 100 species would be an achievable target, and headed for the Bill for a short 'sea-watch'.

The fog persisted all the way to the lighthouse from where we could hardly see the coastal rocks let alone any bird life. We had, by that point, clocked up a paltry 'two dozen' species before beating a hasty retreat back to Weymouth, making for the wooden bridge at Radipole. Once there, the obvious contenders entered the log, including good views of both Sedge & Reed Warbler, the latter being the first I had clapped eyes on this year.

Bahama Pintail

Opting to park at Weymouth Bay Avenue, we were soon in the heart of the reed-bed area and starting our circuit of the Lodmoor Reserve. Green Woodpecker, Swift and Grasshopper Warbler were the highlights here, with the unusual being produced by a Bahama Pintail an 'escapee' that has been on the moor for some while now.

Through the mist on the western path we caught sight of this pair of Roe Deer, which were caught on one side by a dog walker and on the other by us. Seeming very reluctant to dash into the marsh, we cut them some slack by diverting down the pedestrian track.

Grasshopper Warbler - showing well for this species and reeling at the top of its voice.

By the time we reached Oakers Wood we had clocked up 60 species, but unfortunately I was the only one to see a single Grey Wagtail fly across the now empty 'beds' at Waddock Watercress. There also we were approached by one of the office staff who asked that we should contact the office before entering the property. I have had many conversations with the Managing Director here, being assured that visits by bird watches was no problem. I can only think that with more mechanised plant operation on the sight, and maybe the Health & Safety Executive they need to tighten up procedures - no problem!

Jo & David in Oakers Wood

In the wood Great Spotted Woodpecker, Nuthatch and Jay fell quickly to the log, and by the time we reached Great Plantation the list had grown to 66. Here, the much hoped for Turtle Dove and Hobby were absent, but we did get Willow Warbler, Yellowhammer, Goldcrest and Siskin before heading for Arne (Marsh Tit) and Middlebere.

Sloe Worms

At Middlebere we hit a minor 'purple patch', notching up Tree Pipit, Marsh Harrier (female), Little Egret, Black & Bar-tailed Godwit, Curlew, Grey Plover and maybe surprisingly a couple of Pintail.

This Jay on the Middlebere Track is my first image of this species.

On our way back we encountered this small group of Roe Deer, with this time no fog to obscure our view.

While in the hide we had heard several calls from a distant cuckoo, but walking the path probably the same bird flew over our heads, as did an Osprey while a male Bullfinch was content to sit in a bush showing off his best Spring plumage. Ovens Hill had paid dividends on Tuesday, so we returned again today to find a female Dartford Warbler.

It was now time to revisit Portland, and a stop at Ferry Bride produced c4 Bar-tailed Godwitc7 Little Tern, c2 Sandwich Tern and a single Wheatear bringing the day total to 94.

Turnstone in

summer plumage.

On Bill Road we found a perched Buzzard, and decided how strange it was to have to return to Portland to see the first, and only, of the day. At the Obelisk all the common sea birds fell easily while the final addition to the collective list, Peregrine, brought up a combined total of 103. We had a fairly hard and long look for the Short-eared owl, without success, in Top Fields, but our day was done. A curry and pint in The Swan seemed an apt way to end the day, while my 2 mates headed for the homes (Dave to Towcester, Northants and Jo to digs on Weymouth's quayside) I got back to Bloging. The final tally for each of us - Jo only 'dipped' on the Grey Wagtail so ended up with 102 including 3 'year ticks', Dave (not counting calls) totted up a respectable 94 with the Gropper added to his 'life list' plus 6 for the year, while I had the full 103 x 2 'year ticks'.

RSPB Revisited

Only those who don't know me would have even considered that the concerns about the so called management of our local Nature Reserves have been forgotten. Honest, as ever, I have to admit to a short period in the wilderness, but leaning on the advice given by a former mentor I continue even to a bitter end. "Battles are won during the endless hours in the trenches, not when the whistle blows" he had said, and I consider myself extremely fortunate to have rubbed shoulders with those issuing such 'pearls of wisdom', and wise enough to have listened. The message to the Royal Society for the 'Protection' of Birds is, 'I am not going away'. Well, physically I am, but you will have to watch these pages to learn more about that!

Considering contact with the RSPB Head Quarters pointless (history tells me this) I have been actively exploring any other avenues where I might find support. The 'Dorset Echo' has not only been ineffectual but down right rude in not returning my calls, even when offering them concrete evidence on misappropriations at the Radipole Reserve particularly. The Wildlife Trust, in my view another 'toothless quango', opted for the "we don't deal with Sites of Special Scientific Interest" (surely there's a responsibility on all of us?) and dropped me like hot ... .... .. - (Morse for beginners £2.50). I wish I had the strength to transpose the full dialogue but don't wish to put the readership to sleep.

Trying yet another thrust, it was a pure quirk of luck that got me in touch with a 'high official' of yet another 'high powered' organisation. For now I'll keep detail to myself as it seems I have captured the ear of a 'serious players' and do not wish to not jeopardise a position of advantage.

The listener was shocked (appalled may be a better description) to hear that after my initial support for Nick Tomlinson as Reserves Manager, my mind was completely changed during an afternoon stroll. Walking the Fleet after a hearty New Year dinner in company with some of my family and local other local wildlife enthusiasts, Tomlinson slipped his dog's leash allowing it (uncontrollably) to plunge into the water, attack a group of c5 Mute Swans, putting them to flight. With consideration for our friendship my reaction was restrained, but the incident was laughed off as a joke. There have followed a catalogue of indiscretions and poor management decisions.

I still maintain the Sand Martin Wall at Radipole was ill timed, but as it is now fiat accompli it continues to gets gets my full support, but there are still a number of serious questions to be answered.

Why was Nick Tomlinson so 'adamant' that it would be built during the first 3 weeks of April, I have it on top authority that the funding would not have been withdrawn!

Why did Tomlinson allow a whole colony of Southern Marsh Orchids to be grubbed out when re-furbishing the Radipole dike system.

Given the weather conditions on that day (easily proven via Google) why was a RSPB employee let loose in a reed-bed (part of a SSSI) with a box of matches, causing untold environmental damage at a cost to the Tax Payer of a reputed £250,000.

Why is strimming verges so critical during the 'breeding season', damaging , to name but one, a number of Bee Orchids. The pathways around our reserves are already of motorway proportions.

How can he reconcile letting his dog loose 'off lead', along with other RSPB employees who choose to do likewise, when posting signs to the contrary.

I extend a further invitation to Nick Tomlinson to visit my home to answer these questions.

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Birding Beirut?

Goldcrest, Song Thrush and Wood Pigeon were the most predominant bird songs in the cemetery this morning, while at Radipole my highest count of Great Crested Grebe topped c17, while c3 Swift skimmed the reed-beds as a Garden Warbler was seen and heard singing at the concrete bridge. Apart from a lone male Mallard there was little in Weymouth Bay, except I did hear later of an Arctic Skua flying towards the Purbecks. Before even reaching Lodmoor there was a text alerting me to a fine summer plumage Spotted Redshank which took little time to find close to the Tern islands.

A beautiful summer plumage Spotted Redshank, at some distance the photographs were never going to be brilliant but, while still watching, the 'Shank took to the air and I thought left the moor to the east.

Unbeknown to me, my correspondent Daragh Croxson was stationed on the flat roof of his house overlooking the moor, sending a steady report of bird movement. Even before the Wader flew off he had given direction to an adult summer plumage Little Gull on the western scrape, which made me feel a little like a Lebanese sniper receiving target directions from the rooftops. Very easy to locate, it was again only distance that precluded a good image.

Summer plumage Little Gull showing the difficulty of distance,

but with a little lap-top tinkering the Gull can at least be identified.

Still viewing the Gull the air was filled by the gentle peep of the Spotted Redshank, which obligingly landed in front of me at a better distance. I too had sent off a number of texts and was pleased that Jo Lawrence had picked this up and soon joined me. Unfortunately, the Gull had flown and was not seen again despite contacting the roof-top observer!

A couple of closer shots of

the Spotted Redshank

Jo and I continued around the moor, picking up a few Whitethroat, one of which was building a nest, plus c2 Common Sandpiper and a Whimbrel on the way. I just don't seem to be able to shake Jo off as tomorrow we are to be joined by my rig mate David Penney, down from Northants, for a days birding. I'm very much looking forward to that and hope the predicted rain stays off.

The SR brings the GB List total to 164, only 10 of which have been recorded outside of Dorset with today's additions being accredited to Daragh - MANY THANKS DARAGH!

On my way home I met a mate, Chris Lucking, I hadn't seen for a while who told me of his 'stalking' exploits in Dorset. Of late he has shot a Roe and a Sika Deer, which he tells me he carefully selects partly to control the population, and best for the table. Rightly or wrongly I have no problem with this kind of cull, plus going into the food chain makes even more paletable, if that's not a pun! In parting he gave me a 'shank' of Roe which I assured him would not be wasted.

A model of the Brough Superior SS100 that lead to the death of TE Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia). Apart from the local interest, I though this esthetically pleasing and it will soon be wending its way to Canada as a present for another friends grandson.

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Back to Some Dedicated Birding

With nothing remotely like an unusual bird in the cemetery on this clear, still, sunny morning, it was quickly on to Radipole where, apart from a Common Sandpiper plus half a dozen Swifts things were equally quiet. Good then that I had arranged to meet Jo Lawrence on the car park at 07-00 and zoomed off to the east of the county. First stop was the Waddock Cross Watercress Beds, in the hope of a tardy Green Sandpiper, but the only thing less plentiful than watercress were the birds themselves. Major clearance operations were underway there with all but 2 of the beds devoid of cress, while a couple of the farm hands hand spread lime, just c2 Pied Wagtails fed in one of the pits.

Marsh Tit

Spirits lifted as we got out of the car at Oakers Wood to be met by a cacophony of bird song, but all far too familiar. Lesser Spotted Woodpecker remained absent, despite checking last years nest site, as did Wood Warbler but Blackcap were singing everywhere, a Coal Tit was carrying food accompanied by a Mistle Thrush in good voice. An estimated half dozen Nuthatch were present plus singles of Marsh Tit and Siskin, but it was already time to move on.

Yellowhammer with Stonechat

A singing male Yellowhammer greeted us at Great Plantation, a year tick for me, while the c2 birds that dived for cover seemed worth a longer investigation. c2 Woodlark were recorded for our efforts, while before leaving we also saw or heard a couple of Goldcrest and c2 Tree Pipit.


There was a single Kestrel as we scanned Hartland Moor, and what looked every bit like a pair of distant Ravens. Jo was well impressed with the habitat here as we walked down to the National Trust cottages recording a couple more Tree and a few Meadow Pipits, Whitethroat, Sedge & Reed Warbler, c2Little Egret, with loads of Chaffinch, Robin and Wrens.

The National Trust cottages at Middlebere.

These are holiday homes that can be rented, but probably more expensive than a deckchair?

Part of the flock of Black-tailed Godwit

There was some human and dog activity close to the cottages, but it's always worth approaching with caution in the hope of an Owl. Not quite stealthily enough, we flushed a Barn Owl from its perch on the barn door but did get a decent view. In the hide, birding took a real upturn as the first bird we saw was an Osprey (my first of the year, and I might say "at last"), followed by Spoonbill, Redshank and maybe as many as 200 Black-tailed Godwit. On the near bank a lone Bar-tailed Godwit was already feeding on the falling tide, soon to be joined by the flock of its close cousin and finally we picked up another Common Sandpiper on the distant shore.

Returning by retracing our tracks, we found a small group of Swallows now feeding above the houses with one occasionally perching in a Hawthorn bush. I don't remember seeing this behavior before, and if I have it must have been a long time ago.

Two views as we walked the Middlebere track back to the tarmac road.

Looking back towards Poole Harbour, over lush grazing pasture and reed-bed.

Ahead lies the continuation of the grassland and reeds, looking towards Hartland Moor.

My dentist was poised for a 12-45 appointment but we considered there was enough time to pop over to Ovens Hill where we quickly located a single male Dartford Warbler (year tick) before returning to Weymouth.

Dartford Warbler

The GB Year List currently stands at - 163 with 152 of these recorded in Dorset.

Monday, 26 April 2010

Friends May Come and Friends May Go!

Two-tailed Pasha

A thing of beauty is a joy to behold. This magnificent insect was photographed by my rediscovered childhood friend John Wood in his garden in Spain last week. With it arrived a description of what's about down there at the moment, and an invitation to visit any time. Bee-eater, Golden Oriole, Bonelli's Eagle, Nightingale, Scops Owl to name but a few, I hope it won't be too long before you have to start fluffing up the pillows for my visit. Best wishes John & Marion.

and following yesterday's post of the strange cloud formation hanging over Radipole Lake, Paul Harris sent me another image of interesting stratus. Taken from the Chesil Beach, the Isle of Portland can just be seen emerging from the murk.

While last night was probably one to forget, we decided at the last minute to go for the Custer's Last Blues Band gig in Bridport. Having sussed the 'gig guide' via Friday nights Dorset Echo I had by that time forgotten the venue but felt quite confident we would be able to find out from one pub landlord or the other. Arriving in the town at 21-45 having driven the 20 odd miles through much low cloud and mist along the coast road, my enquiry at the Ropemakers Arms bore fruit. I had thought the Hope & Anchor was a good bet and this was confirmed by the dread-locked barman, but as I was leaving his pub he added, "it could be over by now though as it started at 15-00. I still haven't paid for the petrol yet. Nice to have had your company once again Andy, safe journey back to Derby.

Jo Lawrence & Co

No sooner had Andy Lindsay departed than I received another 'migrant' from the north, this time in the shape of fellow 'birder' Jo Lawrence. Jo met Daragh and I in the shelter at Lodmoor at about this time last year, and as a stranger in town I took it upon myself to show her around. Within the first hour together (we) I had found a Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers nest with young and went on to have a great time. The next day, in company with Dave Foot we ventured a little further afield, to Tarrant Hilton Airfield where we 'dipped on Corn Bunting and Quail. Nevertheless, a friendship was formed and here she is again for another birding week in Dorset. It is in fact Jo's second visit to the county this year as she and a couple of mates did venture down from London for the Bufflehead. A little late I fear, but by way of bonus did get the Hoopoe. So far she has managed Arctic Skua and Ring Ouzel, so we are hoping for a good day together tomorrow.

Gangling, ungainly and perhaps not the best looking lad in the Spur's 'first eleven' at the moment, I was much amused to hear the Peter Crouch reply when asked the question, "what do you think you would be, if you hadn't become a famous footballer Peter". The dry and witty reply, "a Virgin". Nice one son!

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Blues & Greys

We finally made it to Number 6 at 21-00 last night after what I can only describe as 'not the best meal I've ever had at The Swan'. There Andy and I first bumped into Guitarist Jon Storey and Vinny (The Chip) Johnson of the Marlborough Fish & Chip shop fame. A couple of pints with them, we then paid our 'tenner' and went into the gig where The Producers were just flashing up their first number. As indisputably one of the best blues outfits on the southern circuit it was a shock to find that only 30 punters made up the audience. The first half of the set comprised mostly self penned numbers but the highlight came with their own rendition of the Marshall Crenshaw classic Somewhere Down The Line. Andy and I were fairly sure that the last time we had seen the band was a number of years ago at The Flowerpot in Derby, but during the interval we checked up with Messrs Skinner and Saunders to find that we were right.

Drew-Drury, Skinner, Smith & Saunders

The second half continued in the same vein, with the highlight of the evening coming by way of a self penned number Long Dusty Road. Saunders relates the story then when backing the newly formed Splinter Band when former recluse Peter Green (ex Fleetwood Mac) re-joined the music scene and complimented the guys on this number. Dave went on to say that he had to admit stealing the riff from Green, who in turn informed them he had nicked it from Howling Wolf.

Harry Skinner - Lead Guitars & Vocals

Dave Saunders - Bass Guitar

Ray Drew-Drury - Keyboards

Biff Smith - Drums

As much as the gig I do love talking music with Number 6 landlord Pete Smith and last night was no exception. Andy had already met him at my 60th birthday bash and they immediately embarked on a discussion about Martin guitars. Andy has recently bought one and Pete had one of the original model, now worth a King's ransom. He went on to tell us at the time of purchase another potential customer arrived to look at a Martin with the store owner demanding a £30 non-returnable levy to protect his valuable instruments and avoid time-wasters before he would even get one down off the wall. It was chucking it down with rain by the time we were ready to leave, so in his usual generous way Pete piled us into his car and drove us home.

It was a late morning for us, but eventually we did get underway for a walk along the Rodwell Trail where apart from Blackcaps there was little bird life. However, there was one sight I had not seen before, a female Blackcap building a nest. It had been intended to look at the tide line at Ferry Bridge for waders but even from the FB public house we could see a number of dogs 'off lead' so there was little point. The blackboard outside the pub was advertising a roast pork Sunday dinner for £7.00 so we took advantage of that. Back to Weymouth by bus, we walked the promenade, pleasure pier and harbour-side before heading home. On the way we had Common Tern, carrying fish, a small passage of Swifts and noted some Coot activity where the nest with eggs had once been. Looking over the Westham Bridge parapet we noticed they had already made good headway building a new nest, and arrived just in time to see them copulating. Let's hope they have more luck this time.

Grey Mullet - there was a large shoal in the Backwater, more than I have seen there for many years, of about 3 -350 fish many estimated at 4 - 5 pounds. There was a time when someone would have had a net around them in no time at all, maybe the reason for the rapid decline in the first place. Not only good to see so many, but a good indicator that all is well with the water in Weymouth Harbour.

The pair of Coots moments after 'the act'.

A strange cloud formation hanging over Radipole.

Saturday, 24 April 2010

The Wall - Pink Floyd

Andrew Lindsay - how would you feel if this bloke knocked on your door asking for a 'free' bed for the week-end?

Andy Lindsay my mate from Derby decided on an impromptu week-end in Weymouth giving me just 4 hours to knock up a 'pot-mess' (Naval for stew). By 21-30 we were eating and drinking a couple of bottles of Burgundy and a glass or 3 of Port.

This morning we consigned ourselves to a walk along the west cliff at Portland and down to the Observatory. Not a lot of birds about, but Andy wouldn't profess to being a birder but does have a fairly keen interest. How our visits usually go is, when I am up at his he takes me course or fly fishing, where I have had a good deal of success, and birding when he is here. The things we do have in common are a passion for Blues, Rock and Prog music, fine wine (hence the Louise Jadot last night) and good food. We ended up covering a fair number of artistes from Leadbelly to Cowboy Junkies and rounded off the evening with my current number one choice Dark Matter by Southampton band IQ, and his all time favourite track Salisbury from the album of the same name by Uriah Heep.

Golden Plover

With good numbers of Swallow and House Martin passing along the coast there was always a chance of a good migrant being among them, but in the end, best birds were c2 Grasshopper Warblers, a few Whitethroats, a Peregrine and a distant Golden Plover (the first I have ever seen in Dorset in the month of April), in summer plumage, in Top Fields. This afternoon he went off to have a look at the Sand Martin Wall, with the promise that he would try not to disturb anything, while I stayed home to do this and check the 2009 vintage from Bordeaux - it is said to be outstanding. Our mate Stephen Williams, owner of the Antiques Wine Company now has a Blog as well as a Web Site, which may well be of interest to readers of these pages, where he interviews the owner of Chateau Le Pin, arguably the finest Claret in the world. I'll let you know if I ever get lucky enough to try it, the link is below.

We are spoilt for choice as far as this evenings entertainment is concerned, with Wishbone Ash playing The Cheese & Grain in Frome, while The Producers perform at Pete Smith's Number 6 on King Street, Weymouth. I feel the later will win on distance and a couple of pints alone.

FineWineBlog | Wine news and views from Stephen Williams

I only told Lindsay to take a photograph of the Sand Martin Wall, but he took it upon himself to take a picture of this crippled Coot wasting my 'film' in the process.

and here's the Sand Martin Wall that disturbed nothing in its construction. Sour Grapes aside I wish it great success similar to the one at Blashford Lakes!

Friday, 23 April 2010

A Pretty Ordinary Day

Clear, bright, sunny, cold but all round not much of a bird day. Unusually, the cemetery was almost devoid of birds, as was Radipole. Nothing appear during the walk to Lodmoor and on the moor only the longish staying Godwits, single Common Sandpiper, Lesser Whitethroat and Dunlin were noted. Additions included a few more Swifts and a Grasshopper Warbler, while a Green Woodpecker also showed.

So, for a little bulk and to keep the readership interested, here are a few images, taken during my 2007 South Korea tour.

Red-flanked Bluetail

Yellow-throated Bunting

Rustic Bunting

Meadow Bunting

Black-faced Bunting