Thursday, 20 February 2014

Siberian Chiffchaff - Swineham

As the weather looked half decent for a change I decided to book a day off work and check a few sites out around Poole with the ultimate aim of trying to get some photos of Siberian Chiffchaff at Swineham. The first spot where I saw a stunning Sibe Chiff a couple of weeks ago yielded nothing unfortunately as the light here was excellent. I carried on to where the second of three birds had been seen previously and could hear some Long-tailed Tits so was optimistic they may be carrying the Chiffs. Sure enough a collybita called so I quickly blasted out the Sibe Chiff song and immediately a bird starting singing back - I'd never heard them singing before so was very happy. The collybita and tristis showed quite well together but never really posed for the camera. This was the best I could manage of this bird:



I moved further along to the NE corner of the pit and saw something moving in the gorse there. On playing the recording not one, but two Sibe Chiffs popped out and then amazingly a third. I spent quite a while trying to get some decent photos but the light had now deteriorated and my old camera just wasn't up to the job of focusing quick enough. Nonetheless, perseverance paid off and I got some shots I was quite happy with. They really are chameleon birds and depending on the light, angle of observation and even surrounding foliage the appearance of their plumage tones changes quite dramatically.










This last bird looks just like "patch" who featured in the excellent Catching the Bug book by the Sound Approach.

Other highlights at Swineham were an adult male Hen Harrier, 8 or 9 Marsh Harrier and a Jack Snipe. I had hoped for a white-winger but this was found via video-cam at the other end of the harbour on Brownsea. The saturating light drizzle, which then set in, put paid to the viewing of the gathering gulls off the point.

Sunday, 16 February 2014

Dartford Chat 16th February 2002

A bit of a blast from the past:
 
Barry Wright found this rather interesting Stonechat just after Christmas of 2001 on Dartford Fresh Marsh. Field views gave the impression of Siberian Stonechat especially as the rump appeared pale and unmarked with the bird sporting a fairly prominent super.
 


After obtaining permission from the land owners and procuring the services of one of the local ringers we set about trying to catch the bird. A couple of nets were duly erected and it wasn't too long before the bird was in the bag so to speak.

I haven't got the measurements but I do recall that they all fell within the overlap range between Stonechat and Siberian Stonechat. A really stunning bird in it's own right and we came to the conclusion that the bird was just a "pigmentally challenged" Stonechat - probably!

Some features, in particular the rump, didn't look as good in the hand as they had done in the field and the hoped for black axillaries didn't materialise.











 
Anybody else seen an individual like this or have any views on what it may be?

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Hemsted Parrot Crossbills - all sounds good

One advantage of moving down to Poole has been the social aspect as the Poole Harbour birders meet up on a fairly regular basis. I already knew a couple of guys from my twitching days and it's been great to make some new acquaintances and develop what I hope will become good friendships. As any of you who have read "Catching the Bug" from the Sound Approach team will know, Mark Constantine is a fairly central figure within this group and through him I have had the great pleasure to meet such birding luminaries as Magnus Robb. Apart from the fact that he is a top bloke he is generally regarded as the go to man for sound recordings. It must be difficult for birders like Magnus who are inundated with requests to id this and that so before I sent him the recording of the Hemsted Crossbills I emailed him first to see if he wouldn't mind if I forwarded it to him for his opinion. He quickly got back to me and after listening to the recording replied as such:
 
"At first when I heard the recording I was a bit pessimistic because it was difficult to distinguish between flight calls and song fragments. Then I noticed that around 0:15-0:18 there are several deep took took excitement calls that are definitely Parrot Crossbill. They are much more abrupt-sounding than the excitement calls of any other crossbill vocal types that I know.

Also of interest - I can hear juvenile crossbill calls (vocal type unknown) around 0:05-0:08 and there are some Glip Crossbill flight calls around 0:08-0:10."
 
The good news is that there are definitely Parrot Crossbill on the recording! It's also good that Magnus could hear Glip Crossbill and these would be the two small birds which were in the flock. The interesting thing is that Magnus intimates that it's not possible to safely identify juvenile birds from their calls. I asked him to clarify this and here is his reply:
 

"It's true that juv crossbill calls all sound pretty much the same. Parrot juvs no doubt have slightly deeper calls, but the shape is the same as in other crossbills and I think it would be unsafe to try to identify Parrots to species just by their begging calls."
 
So what conclusions can be drawn from all this? To be honest I think it all backs up my original thoughts that the flock we saw and sound recorded contained 12 Parrot Crossbill and 2 Glip (Common) Crossbill. Since last Friday Parrot Crossbills have been recorded in group sizes ranging between 3 and 7 birds and most reports seem to relate to adult birds. I certainly saw at least 4 birds which I considered to be juveniles due to the pale tips to the greater coverts as well as overall plumage details. These juvs were actually the showier birds when feeding and the adults were keeping a bit deeper into cover so I preferred to study the juvs rather than catch glimpses of the far more obvious adults which swayed into view every now and again. My thoughts are further borne out by the fact that when the flock flew around us there were 12 brutes and 2 tiny by comparison birds. So, as Magnus has confirmed that there are Parrot Crossbill calling on my recording then surely all 12 brutes must be Parrot Crossbill and I will be submitting such accordingly to the KOS rarities committee.

Saturday, 19 October 2013

Hemsted Parrot Crossbills

With a busy weekend ahead I decided to take Friday off work and try for the Parrot Crossbills which had been recorded back up in Kent as it would be a welcome addition to my Kent list. The only previous Kent record is of a lone male at Sandwich on the 7th October 1990.

I arrived at Hemsted Forest just after 9 and was greeted by a crowd of around 40 or so birders which contained many familiar faces, and it was good to catch up with them.

At around 10:30 a flock of Crossbill flew in with one particularly large adult female standing out as a very good candidate as Parrot but it soon dropped out of sight. It wasn't until early afternoon that the Crossbill action started to liven up. A few groups of Common could be seen feeding in the tree tops, delicately picking at the cones with their wafer thin beaks and generally slim profile allowing for a clear identification. Some birds had larger looking bills but to me none seemed right for Parrot. We then picked up a group in the NW corner of the clearing which looked interesting. Initially, one or two birds looked good, the bill profile was perfect with a bulbous lower mandible, heavy build and the fact that they were ripping the cones off the trees is also of interest. I looked through the rest of the group and pointed out that if one was a Parrot Crossbill then they all were. I didn't count the proportion of males to females as well as how many were birds of the year. However, several appeared to be first winter birds as they had pale tips to the greater coverts. The flock then took flight and flew straight towards us and circled us a couple of times before alighting far too briefly in a nearby tree. Two smaller birds were in this flock and somebody called them as a Siskin until I pointed out that they were actually two Common Crossbill!! These birds were massive, looking like Hawfinch on steroids, to my ear the call sounded different too and I grappled with my Remembird to try and obtain some recordings. Thankfully the birds flew around us a couple more times and I was relieved to get something on tape. The flock (12 Parrots) landed again behind us but then split into two groups, I watched seven birds drop down not far from the road and decided that I would call it a day. Much discussion was had, some positive, some negative, but it was clear that these birds weren't the Common Crossbills which breed in these parts. Were they good enough for Parrot Crossbill?

As ever, the trusty Macmillan guide to Bird Identification provided some answers (assuming that this info still holds). This from the book: "Noticeably larger and heavier than Crossbill...large bill and thick neck (recalls Hawfinch). Smaller billed females and juveniles generally show more pronounced forehead. Upper mandible prominently but evenly arched, while lower bulges at base of gonys before angling up to tip. It must be stressed that bill size increases with age, and males have larger bills than females, so it is adult males that are most likely to have classically huge 'parrot-like' bills, but even females usually look larger-billed than male Crossbills. Juveniles in particular may be altogether less impressive, so careful assessment of bill shape essential."

I didn't actually manage to get a good look at an adult male (others did), but the females and young birds fit in with the above perfectly. All the birds had the distinctive bulge on the lower mandible, were massive in flight and having listened back to the recording I can also hear the deeper calls. If you listen to the 11th recording down (42 seconds long) on  http://www.xeno-canto.org/species/Loxia-pytyopsittacus then this sounds most like the predominant call in my recording.
It takes a few listens but on mine at around 8 seconds you can hear a couple of deep chup chup calls as well as on around 15-16 seconds. At this second point you can also hear a Blackbird like call which also features on Xeno-Canto as being within Parrots repertoire.
Hopefully this is a link to my recording: https://soundcloud.com/marcus-lawson-1/hemsted-parrot-crossbills and it's best to listen to it with headphones.

Monday, 7 October 2013

Many a migrant moth

I volunteered to help empty the moth traps at Durlston over the weekend as part of the Dorset Bird Fair. I'm glad that I did as with many thanks to Steve Whitehouse I managed to see a species which was high up on my wish list.
Steve had put out five traps around the Castle in addition to the two I had promised to sift through up at the Learning Centre. Whilst we were having a look through the second trap up at the Learning Centre news filtered through that Steve had caught not one, but two, Crimson Speckled - it's fair to say that I was quite excited and couldn't empty the trap quick enough. We hastily made our way down the hill and met up with Steve who still had two traps to empty and was looking somewhat exhausted. He produced one of the most stunning moths I'm likely to ever see from his cool bag and it was a glorious moment. OK, it's not quite the same as turning over that egg box and finding one in your own trap but sod it - I know that many a moth-er will be gripped by the photos below!


 Crimson Speckled - one of two on Saturday morning

I put out two of my traps Saturday night and William and I headed over there early Sunday morning. The 40w Actinic Skinner was pretty quiet but the 125w MV Robinson was heaving and I have to say that I felt a little overwhelmed by the numbers. Typically the best two moths were neither in the trap nor found by me! The Crimson Speckled pictured below was found by one of the BTO chaps just by their stand and the Bloxworth Snout was found in the gents by Luke from the RSPB (Lodmoor) - so many thanks to both of them.

Crimson Speckled - Sunday's individual

I won't list all the numbers as it's getting late and I want to get this post completed and get to bed! The probable highlight of Sunday's catch from me was two individuals of the pyralid pictured below - another scarce migrant.
Antigastra catalaunalis

Bloxworth Snout - another new moth for me


Eupoecilia angustana - rather a late record assuming I've got the id correct

 
Palpita vitrealis - at least ten were caught over the weekend 

 Uresiphita gilvata - another scarce migrant, sadly it wouldn't show the distinctive yellow hindwings.

I would have liked to photograph some more of the moths out of their pots, but as there were some people travelling to see them it would have been a bit selfish if they had taken flight! I also neglected to take a decent photo of the 10 Convolvulus Hawk Moth neatly lined up on the Saturday morning or the 6 found on Sunday morning!!

Saturday, 21 September 2013

One good Tern...

Well it's been a while but as the summer months have mainly been about lepidoptera and trying to the get the garden in order I've not really been that inclined to post much.

Now that Autumn is upon us and there are some birds about perhaps it's time I started this blogging malarkey again. I was asked to cover a couple of sectors for the Poole Harbour WeBS count last Sunday afternoon and being an amiable sort of chap I acquiesced (one good turn...). The weather forecast was proper hardcore with force lots of wind and lashings of rain so I had to dig out the waterproof gear and wellies. My two sectors were along the Arne Peninsula (part of the Royal Society for Proliferation of Bitterns reserve) and I was quite keen to explore some new areas for me which otherwise are out of bounds. I met up in the Arne car park with one of the RSPB staff who kindly drove me down toward the furthest point of the peninsula in a golf cart like vehicle. This saved me a fair walk which I was very grateful for and before embarking on my counts I quickly scanned across to Shipstal Point as it's often where the Spoonbill feed/roost - sure enough there were 10 in the channel. There were loads of Curlew, Little Egret and other stuff feeding on the mud but as it wasn't my department I moved swiftly on. I made my way out towards Patchins Point taking care not to flush anything as this would impact other birders trying to count their sectors as well causing undue disturbance to the feeding birds. I successfully managed this and reached the starting point of my first sector and could see a few gulls and terns feeding out in the harbour. In amongst them were two juv Black Tern and a rather fine adult Arctic Tern which in fact were feeding above a raft of Cormorant until they were flushed by a group of canoeists.

There wasn't really much else to report as I made my way back west along the shore but the habitat looks good for wintering Snow Bunts, Shorelark, and the like which are very scarce in the Harbour but probably under-recorded. The wind was now starting to pick up and the first few drops of rain were falling. A Wheatear flushed from just in front of me and sought shelter amongst the low vegetation out of the wind. The next sector along held a few more birds but by now it was hard going walking into the ever increasing westerly wind and driving rain. The Bins and 'scope were becoming almost unusable but I managed to log a few bits 'n' bobs with the best being 6 Common Sand, 6 Turnstone (I tried to persuade them that Swineham Pt would be a good place for them to feed but they weren't having it), 8 Ringed Plover, 4 Dunlin and 2 Snipe.

I then headed back across the heath to the car park looking forward to the prospect of a nice cup of tea.

I had popped into Swineham briefly on the way to Arne as there had been a Red-rumped Swallow the evening before at nearby Middlebere. There were probably about 400 Sand Martin with 250 House Martin and 100 Swallow carpeting the pit but with limited time and the strong wind it would have been pure luck if the RRS had given itself up to me. Anyway, I thought I would have another look on the way home in the hope that maybe a Kittiwake or something had been blown in. The weather was still absolutely atrocious but as I scanned the pit from the west end I noticed a small tern right up the other end. It looked quite pale so without delay I swiftly made my way up to get better views. As soon as I got my scope on it I could see that it was indeed a marsh Tern but didn't have any black shoulder patches - surely a juv White-winged Black Tern? I then noticed fellow Swineham patcher Peter Moore on the other side of the pit and could see that he had photographed the bird and was reviewing his piccies on the back of the screen. Swineham is awful for phone reception (Vodafone) so being unable to contact each other on the phone I hastily made my way over to where he was positioned. Looking at the bird on the back of his camera there was definitely white in the rump but was the saddle a bit too pale? One of the photos had the bird twisting in mid-flight and this seemed to show a black patch on the body around the front of the wing on it's left hand side. As the bird had only been making it's close passes to us showing it's right hand side we wondered if maybe something was amiss. Conscious that time was getting on we eventually managed to get a signal to call a few locals and I put news out as a probable WWB Tern via Twitter so at least people could check it out for themselves. Peter had to get home so I stayed with the bird and moved round to another part of the pit. This was useful as the bird then flew past at close range revealing itself to have no black shoulder patch on the left hand side either.
But what about the seemingly less contrasty than expected saddle? Well it transpires that as juvs moult into 1w plumage a lot of the dark mantle feathering turns grey - ooh it's all just one massive learning curve isn't it!

Steve Smith and Kevin Lane turned up just before dusk but unfortunately the bird must have gone to roost as we couldn't locate it. I was told that this was only the second record for Poole Harbour and would be a PH tick for everyone! It did show the next morning up until around 9 so at least some of the guys managed to connect.

The following photos are reproduced with kind permission from Peter Moore:




I'll try and post a few highlights from the summer shortly - probably!

Sunday, 30 June 2013

Alder Hills - 24th June 2013

William had an inset day and asked if we could have a walk on one of the local heaths. We were a bit limited with time so we went to a little oasis in one of the other parts of Poole called Alder Hills as it's only 5 minutes drive away. He specifically wanted to try and see Sand Lizard which can be quite numerous in these parts but it wasn't particularly warm and we failed to find any. We did however manage to find a few bits and pieces and he was very happy to see a new butterfly in the form of a Green Hairstreak

 Green Hairstreak

William isn't really into our avian friends but that doesn't really bother me as he is very keen on other aspects of our wonderful Natural History so it was nice to show him a couple of damsels and dragons.
If any of my id's are wrong please let me know

 Common Blue Damselfly - brown form

 Common Blue Damselfly

 Common Blue Damselfly - male

 Scarce Chaser

Oedemera nobilis - Swollen-thighed Beetle (thanks Dr Duff)


Neofaculta ericetella
The above moth is common on it's foodplant - heather, and sure enough there were a few around.

However, I didn't notice any Horse Chestnut trees but I'm fairly certain this next moth is HC Leaf-miner
 Horse Chestnut Leaf-miner

Whilst I was trying to photograph a Common Heath moth, unsuccessfully, I noticed this caterpillar which appears to be an Emperor Moth larva. As it's a moth I've only seen once before and one that William is very keen to see we are going to try and breed it out. So far so good and it seems to prefer Hazel and is growing at a good rate.

 Emperor Moth

I think it had just moulted out of it's 2nd instar skin and left this behind:

 Emperor Moth 2nd instar?

This beast of a fly posed nicely for photos, anybody able to put a name to it please?

 Brown Heath Robberfly (thanks Warren and Stuart Elsom)

Lastly, another plea for id help please. One of the shrubs in the front garden has good numbers of this caterpillar but I can't work out what it is.

Berberis Saw-fly (thanks @stewchat)