Saturday, 19 April 2014

Five go birding in Dorset - April 2014

It was a step back in time to the 1980's yesterday (18th April) when I got together with four mates for a trip to Portland for some birding. It had been a long time since I had been birding with them all at the same time, and probably even longer since we had squeezed five birders into the car. Given that it was a long weekend there had been much discussion about which day to go, but the predicted overnight cloud and light north-easterly wind made us go for Friday. Unfortunately the slight low came through early and so there was no overnight cloud, but there was still a brisk north-easterly wind.

Top Fields
We arrived early and started in the top fields. The initial lack of migrants in the first field changed in the second as a mixed flock of northern wheatears, whinchats and common redstarts fed frantically. The wheatears were spread out over the field and moving between the surrounding hedgerows. Their constant flicking between the two made them difficult to count but we estimated around 25.

Male Northern Wheatear

The whinchats and redstarts in contrast were easier to count since there were far fewer present with three and two, respectively. Birds in the bushes were generally proving more tricky to see, except that is willow warblers that were present in good numbers around the field margins. With patience we eventually managed to tease out a few blackcaps and a lesser whitethroat.

Male Northern Wheatear

From the top fields we next headed to the west cliffs. We had picked up a summer plumaged golden plover flying over earlier, this had now settled in a field, but was looking a little nervous due to a couple of inquisitive horses. A couple of common whitethroats were added to the list of migrants and a male peregrine flew over low.

West Cliffs
A steady stream of hirundines were flying along the West Cliffs. Predominantly these were made up of Barn Swallows but a handful of houses martins were also passing through. Guillemots and shags were starting to take up residence on the cliff ledges, with larger numbers sat on the water along with a handful of razorbills. Sea passage was slow; a few gannets and fulmars were lingering off shore and a sandwich tern passed by but that was about all of note.

Hut Fields and Observatory Garden
There was a report of a singing grasshopper warbler around the obs garden so we headed there next. Willow warblers were the most numerous species with the supporting cast being blackcaps and a couple of whitethroats. The grasshopper warbler was skulking in a patch of bramble to the east of the obs. It was occasionally reeling, which I found extremely difficult to hear, thereby highlighting the fact that my hearing has not yet fully recovered.

We next headed over to Culverwell and back up to the Top Fields. We saw a few more blackcaps and willow warblers on the way, and another reeling gropper but that was about all.

Reap Lane/Barleycrates Lane and Avalanche Road Hump
After a visit to the local pie shop for lunch we headed to the Reap Lane - Barleycrates Lane area. There had been a ring ouzel present in the morning, we did not catch up with that but we did add a few more common redstarts, whinchats and a further 24 wheatears to the daily totals.

A poor record shot of a Common Redstart

And another, this one is slightly harder to spot

A male pied flycatcher had been reported at Suckthumb Quarry, so this was our next stop. Willow warblers were again commonplace but initially there was no sign of the pied fly. We worked our way around the edge of the quarry and then into the back end of the small copse at the Avalanche Road hump. As we entered the copse we picked up the pied fly immediately, and what a cracking bird it was. Spring pied flys are not a common sight for any of us and this bird showed well for a few minutes before heading to the tops of the trees and out of sight; unfortunately we didn't find it again.

Male Pied Flycatcher

Throughout the day we recorded 10 species of butterfly, which included the typical early species brimstone, peacock, comma, small white, orange tip, speckled wood and small tortoiseshell. Species that were new for the year for us all were holly blue, wall brown and amazingly a very fresh clouded yellow.

Wall Brown Butterfly

By the end of the day we were content with what we had seen and probably slightly surprised, given the fine weather we had had throughout the day. We left Portland and after a brief stop at Lodmoor RSPB reserve headed home.

1 comment:

  1. Nice post Trevor. Clouded Yellows have successfully gone through in a few places this winter, although yours could easily have drifted over from France with the avian migrants I suppose.


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