Portland Bill September ‘19

We needed a holiday after a long year of family commitments, and after a few quick decisions, (and nearly no homework!) ended up with a self catering apartment on Portland, Dorset. It ticked box 1 as dog friendly, box 2 as near the sea and a vague box 3 that we might see some birds there. Little did we know!

Arriving at the island in the rain the striking features were of greyness, bleakness, and sparse vegetation. And that the island seemed to be one large quarry separated by small holdings with rough-coated ponies. Spirits sagged a little, but a night’s sleep and out with the dog into the breeze and we felt better. And day by day we fell in love a little more with its ruggedness, that amazing light, and the huge skies.

The bird life was increasingly interesting day on day, even if this wasn’t a birdwatching holiday, as such. And gradually we became aware that there were serious birdwatching opportunities here : a wryneck in a quarry, a Lapland bunting on the cliffs. Both of which I could have “twitched” if that was my way. They were both within 1/4 mile of where we were staying. I watched a group of birders, many lying on the ground, encircling the little bunting in a way I couldn’t feel comfortable about. I walked the other way.

But chance findings while walking made up for not seeing the rarities, and were very rewarding. Sparrowhawk, buzzard and kestrel were busy all round the island and flocks of linnet, meadow pipit ducked and weaved. Larks sang all round and Northern wheatear popped up on fence posts left right and centre. Always a photogenic bird!

I think I would one day like to visit the observatory there and learn more about the techniques used : this in part to ease my continuing discomfort about the tension between interference and valid, important study. But also to see some of the beautiful unusual birds that pass through this southernmost point where migratory birds congregate en route to or returning from the continent.

The last in the series of Portland images is a chicory flower, planted near the observatory to provide feed for the finches and other ground-feeding birds.

Portland Bill

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World Shorebirds Day

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Bar-tailed Godwit at the North Slope Borough, Alaska. Photo by Zak Pohlen

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RSPB Swell Woods April 2019

The opportunity arose to spend a weekend singing Bach on the Somerset Levels, and as luck would have it this small RSPB reserve was 10 minutes away.

The heronry was busy with nesting and courting grey heron and occasional little egret. Weird primitive sounding squawks and croaks filled the air. Restless herons flew in and out of the treetop nests.

Smaller birds busied themselves in the clearing near to the hide including treecreeper, nuthatch, great spotted woodpecker, great tit, blue tit, coal tit, marsh tit, wren, robin, and my first goldcrest.

The images are posted above the text.


Steart WWT January 2019

I’ve been lucky enough to spend a fair bit of time at Steart Marshes this year and I’ve pulled together some of my better pictures from January’s visits below. Spoonbills overwintered and were a big hit with the photographers, when we could tear ourselves away from the short-eared owls. The extra high tide 0815h 23 Jan 2019 gave the place a very different appearance, truly awe-inspiring!

Reflections on initiation- what a brilliant birding year!

In April this year (2018) I challenged myself to learn the ropes of birding over the next couple of years by regular outings to local reserves armed with camera and Collins guide (later in the brilliant App format). My aim was to note and if possible photograph my findings and to reach 50 species in 6 months, maybe 100 in a year. The Bird Journal app was also a super find for logging sightings and making notes. April was a slow start as I was on holiday etc. so May was when I really got going! 63 species were logged that month, all in Somerset and I was going well! 9th May was fun, walking the dog along the lane locally and totting up 15 species in a ‘speed birding’ 1/2 hour! Blackcap and Linnet were joined by many of the more commonplace but equally lovely local British birds (see separate post). June was also great with 20 further species in 8 outings. On the year went with Friday afternoons at Ham Wall when work allowed and some Wednesday morning outings plus the rare weekend foray when not tied up elsewhere. I actually reached 100 species in October with a day at Steart where I saw my first ever ringtail hen harrier, first ever merlin, along with , linnet and golden plover  – both year firsts, and at least 2 short eared owls which I’d first seen only a few days earlier!

Highlight of the year has to be seeing osprey (Pandion haliaetus) at Westhay NNR on 5th October, a chance sighting walking to the hide and mid-chat with two gentlemen who’d been waiting for the bird to fish earlier and were making their way back home. The bird had indeed succeeded and I managed a following shot of the beautiful raptor heading west with a large fish clasped in his talons (see below) .

I continue to learn fast and as we enter the New Year of 2019. I have logged 106 species and photos of about half of these, I guess. These images are of variable quality and learning how to use a camera while attempting to identify new birds has been a fun and not always totally successful challenge.

I have posted some of my more satisfying shots below, most with a brief caption. More will follow in a separate ‘year of 2018’ post. The ID’s are all mine and I am hopeful for feedback from more experienced birders especially if anyone spots a mistake. I intend to learn!

lapwing and the Tor from Ham Wall Sept 18
A number of my pictures feature Glastonbury Tor as backdrop : it is a prominent and intriguing landmark visible from most places on the somerset Levels.
homeward bound nr. Ashcott Sept 18
While only featuring a single distant carrion crow (look hard) this was the end of a lovely day at RSPB Ham Wall and believe me these colours are real! This sunset was one of the most stunning colour displays I have ever seen in nature.
osprey farewell Westhay Oct 6 2018
This osprey paused to feed for a couple of weeks on the Somerset Levels before continuing his southbound journey from Scotland (probably) to Africa.
ringtail Steart Oct 18
The first glimpse of a hen harrier, only identified confidently from photos later; slightly better images were captured a few weeks later (see next image) with the piercing yellow eye clearly seen.
Ringtail hen harrier 6 yellow eye WWT Steart 17 Nov 18
A better view of the female ringtail with my new (pre-loved!) camera rig in action for the first time – Nikon D7000, Sigma 150-500
SEO buzzed me Steart 17 Nov 18
This short-eared owl gave me a low fly-over narrowly missing the beanie hat much to other birders’ amusement. I took my first shot of a SEO, the classic ‘backside shot’ which is the lot of the novice birder….!
SEO 2 yellow eye WWT Steart 17 Nov 18
The same short-eared owl that gave me a low fly-over then proceeded to put on a display of flying and hunting which mesmerised onlookers on a sunlit afternoon at WWT Steart. 2 more to follow…..
SEO 3 what you looking at bud WWT Steart 17 Nov 18
The same short-eared owl that gave me a low fly-over then proceeded to put on a display of flying and hunting which mesmerised onlookers on a sunlit afternoon at WWT Steart. I titled this ‘what you looking at bud’ for obvious reasons. 1 more to follow…..
SEO 4 I'm off WWT Steart 17 Nov 18
The same short-eared owl that gave me a low fly-over then proceeded to put on a display of flying and hunting which mesmerised onlookers on a sunlit afternoon at WWT Steart. Then off it went..
curlew sunset 2 WWT Steart 17 Nov 18
The ‘breach’ at WWT Steart is an atmospheric place where waders are seen and sunsets create mysterious lighting effects. This is a curlew or curlew sandpiper.