Sunday, 15 November 2015

When the wind blows

The first real storm of Autumn has been sweeping across the country. Rain may be bad enough but the thing which really kills good birding is wind. Birds hate it and generally just hunker down and refuse to move.
Still, you can't let these things defeat you so I tried my best to get out. The first trip was a repeat of two weeks ago to go after the SEO's at Heartwood on Friday. It was persisting it down all morning but this cleared over at lunchtime so I disappeared from work and headed off. By the time I got there it was beautiful sunshine but it was blowing a hoolie. What a change from two weeks ago when it was almost summer-like. Now it was not the weather for any self-respecting owl to be flying around. There were I suppose about 20 birders on site - all photographers as the birds have been around some time (there are now 5 of them!) and showing well. Everyone else thought like me that the sun after a mornings rain would make the owls active and the photography good. How wrong we were. I saw one owl briefly over about 2 hours. Although the light was perfect you need the birds to be present. That's not to say there weren't any birds around. Every so often either a kestrel or a skylark would fly past causing an AWFUL lot of very expensive camera equipment from bored bird photographers to go into motordrive!!"

After that things got even worth on the weather front. We went down to Weymouth for the weekend and the weather was awful. Saturday was a write-off but Sunday morning was at least dry if VERY windy. Down at Portland Bill the wind was coming sideways making it almost impossible to even stand up.

There was very little on the sea - a few gannets, razorbills and guillemots but not really the day to hang around.
Next stop was Ferrybridge. The winter flock of brent geese is up to about 3,000 now and when I got there it numbered in a few hundreds. Whilst large flocks of geese are always spectacular I was particularly after a sub-species, the pale-bellied brent goose.

In the UK you get three sub-species: dark-bellied, which is the commonest, light-bellied and the rarest the black brant. It sort of does what is says on the tin for the first two, you can tell them apart by the colour of their bellies!

If you compare both the flight shots and these two you can make out some birds with much lighter bellies, almost white on the side and underneath compared with a fully dark side and underneath.
Finally I nipped into Lodmoor which again was very quiet in the wind and occasional stormy shower blowing through. Although there was nothing rare or even unusual a few old favourites gave some interest. In the 1970's or even 1980's seeing a marsh harrier drifting over the reeds would have created a twitch. Now they breed locally and are a common sight. I quite like this shot as it shown how close to the housing estate the marsh is and people can see the harriers out of their bedroom windows!!

 Another bird which was rare but is now common in Dorset is the Mediterranean gull. In Winter the flock at Ferrybridge numbers in the hundreds and again it is a breeding bird now locally.

  Superficially they look like black-headed gulls, and out of breeding plumage can be difficult to tell apart. Once you get your eye in though they are quite distinctive. The bill is much larger, bright red and has a drooping almost concorde-like profile. Behind the eye there is a long smudge of black as opposed to the second-eye spot of the black-headed gull (in the higher photo). Finally, as seen in the lower photo they are a "white-winged" gull with no black-tips to their primaries.
The rest of the marsh consisted of the usual suspects, flocks of starlings, lapwings and ducks including these smart teal.

Lastly, on the way out, this cormorant seemed to be standing guard.

Not the greatest weekend for birds but always nice to out and sometimes good to study the commoner birds and think how things have changed over the last few years!