Please note that this is my own personal blog and therefore the views and opinions expressed, although in no way intended to be controversial, are not necessarily those shared by my employers Abbotsbury Tourism Ltd. and Ilchester Estates . All photos are © Steve Groves unless otherwise credited.

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Swannery Birding Highlights - April 2015


There are two contenders for 'Bird Of The Month' for April 2015. The first was the Swannery's fourth (?) Black-winged Stilt that appeared on 'Meadow Pool' on the 3rd and lingered until the 10th... 

The Black-winged Stilt on one of the few occasions it showed from the hide with Teal 

An adult male, it frustratingly favoured the back of the pool and was thus out of view from the hide during most of its stay. It was however more reliably seen, albeit far more distantly, from adjacent New Barn Road.

The first official Abbotsbury record of this elegant wader was in July 1956 (which was presumably within what is now the Swannery recording area?) but unfortunately the next record, of a pair, seen by several observers in May 1987 was never submitted to the British Birds Rarities Committee and therefore the record does not stand. There were then no more official records until two appeared in the spring of 2012 - an adult male in April and a first year male in May.

The second (or should that be second and third) contender(s) for 'Bird(s) Of The Month' were the two Common Cranes that flew over on the afternoon of the 20th. Now the species may not be a national rarity like the stilt but they are a county rarity and more importantly they were a patch tick for me! Now when 'The Great Crane Project' began releasing captive reared birds onto the Somerset Levels I feared that my first Swannery Crane would be one of these birds (or at least their progeny) but thankfully at present all the 'reintroduced' birds should be bearing big coloured plastic rings which judging from photos these two birds clearly seem to lack. Therefore they are 'innocent until proven guilty'... Kerching! No. 263 on my Swannery list!

Unfortunately rather than whiffling down onto 'Meadow Pool' they just kept going south-east but at least several other observers were then able to see them at various points on Portland and Weymouth and get those all revealing photos... 

Embedded image permalink
The Common Cranes captured as they flew over Southwell, Portland just over 30 minutes after my initial sighting at Abbotsbury   © Debby Saunders

The only previous Common Crane recorded at 'Abbotsbury' was in June 1983 but like the 1956 stilt it's not clear whether it was actually within the Swannery recording area. Also, within the parish of Abbotsbury but outside the Swannery recording area, were singles at Rodden Hive in June 2008 and November 2011.

The over-wintering Greenland White-fronted Goose finally departed on the 19th, which is actually a typical spring departure date for this Arctic breeding goose. The fact that it was 'lingering' late into the spring (which was clearly not the case) and it had a rather confiding nature led some to believe it was an escape rather than a wild bird, however this distinctive form breeds in an uninhabited part of Eastern Greenland and is protected on it's main wintering grounds in Ireland and Western Scotland, so they don't tend to be particularly shy. Also they appear to be extremely rare in captivity with a recent search on the internet showing none currently for sale whereas Lesser White-fronted Geese and Red-breasted Geese seem to be almost 'two a penny'!  

The Greenland White-fronted Goose with Mute Swans & a Coot © Steve Groves
The four Long-tailed Ducks also remained into April with the two drakes and a duck departing on the 16th whilst the remaining duck lingered until the 28th...

A 'record shot' of the lone female Long-tailed Duck © Steve Groves

The sole remaining Scaup (a drake) and its hybrid mate were last seen on the 5th (although there were a few erroneous reports later).

Incoming rather than outgoing were a pair of Garganey reported early on the 5th but they couldn't be relocated later in the morning. A drake on the 10th though was more cooperative...

A 'record shot' of the drake Garganey © Steve Groves

Back to geese and March's Greylag Goose just made it in to April being last reported on the 1st but in addition a pair were present on the 19th and five flew east on the 24th, whilst an Egyptian Goose added a bit of exotica from the 4th to at least the 10th...

The Egyptian Goose © Charlie Wheeler

Peak counts of the commoner wildfowl were: 

Mute Swan 420; 
Black Swan 2; 
Canada Goose 40; 
Dark-bellied Brent Goose 1:
Shelduck 40; 
Wigeon 10; 
Gadwall 6; 
Teal 60; 
Mallard 130
Pintail 50
Shoveler 20; 
Pochard 20; 
Tufted Duck 110; 
Red-breasted Merganser 8. 

Other Water Birds... 
Excepting the aforementioned Common Cranes there were no noteworthy species but peak counts of the commoner species were: 

Cormorant 4; 
Little Egret 20; 
Grey Heron 1; 
Little Grebe 1; 
Great Crested Grebe 40; 
Water Rail 1;
Moorhen 10; 
Coot 90. 

Apart from the already mentioned Black-winged Stilt the only waders of any particular note were singles of Little Ringed Plover on the 6th and 15th. Peak counts of the commoner waders were: 

Oystercatcher 5; 
Lapwing 1; 
Ringed Plover 1;
Grey Plover 2:
Dunlin 18; 
Snipe 1
Bar-tailed Godwit 1; 
Black-tailed Godwit 1:
Curlew 1; 
Whimbrel 14;
Common Sandpiper 2;
Greenshank 4;
Redshank 1. 

Two  Dunlin on 'The Bund' © Steve Groves

Gulls & Terns...
The first Sandwich Tern of the year arrived on the 1st and there was a peak of sixty in the embayment on the 10th. The first Common Terns were seen on the 13th with ten around the tern island but this tally had not been bettered by the months end. Two Little Terns on the 24th were a surprise though, as since nesting has ceased on The West Fleet end of The Chesil they are no longer the regular visitor to The Swannery that they once were. 

One of the first returning  Sandwich Terns © Steve Groves
One of the first returning  Common Terns © Steve Groves

There were were no gulls of any real note but peak counts were: 

Black-headed Gull 30; 
Mediterranean Gull 1; 
Common Gull 5; 
Lesser Black-backed Gull 3; 
Herring Gull 40; 
Great Black-backed Gull 3. 

The only Mediterranean Gull of the month, a 2nd calendar year © Steve Groves


Red Kite that flew east on the 21st was the only raptor of any note, in fact there wasn't even any Peregrine sightings this month but Buzzards, Kestrels and Sparrowhawks were regularly encountered of course. 

Land Birds - 'Non Passerines'...

There were no noteworthy species in this category, in fact there weren't even any Swifts by the end of the month, let alone a Cuckoo or Turtle Dove!

Land Birds - 'Passerines'...

There were no particularly rare or scarce passerines save maybe the Wood Warbler that performed well visually and audibly on the 20th. 'Less common' migrants also included a  'reeling' Grasshopper Warbler on the 13th, that was also glimpsed briefly  and singles of Redstart on the 16th, 19th and 20th...

The first of two male Redstarts this month, a female was also seen. © Charlie Wheeler

Chiffchaffs, that arrived in force at the end of last month were joined by good numbers of Willow Warblers from the 3rd , Blackcaps from the 6th, and both Reed and Sedge Warblers from the 9th but as yet there have been no Whitethroats, Lesser Whitethroats or Garden Warblers! Hirundines were rather few and far between at times but the first Swallows were seen on the 1st and both Sand and House Martins from the 3rd. Despite sightings elsewhere in Abbotsbury, the only Wheatear of the spring so far in the recording area was seen on the 4th and I didn't even connect with that one! Whilst we still await the first Yellow and White Wagtails, Tree PipitWhinchat and both Pied and Spotted Flycatchers!

Lingering winterer's that just made it into April were a few Jays and one or two Coal Tits, whereas the lone male Nuthatch also moved on having failed to attract a mate for the second spring running. Among the now less commoner residents several Cettis' Warblers, Treecreepers, Goldcrests and Long-tailed Tits are breeding with Ravens, Bullfinches, Skylarks and both Mistle and Song Thrushes in the near vicinity. Unfortunately though I haven't located any breeding Meadow Pipits or Stonechats as yet.

Thanks to Charlie Wheeler and Debby Saunders for the use of their images.