Friday, 31 March 2017

Singing in the rain

With a burst of fine weather over the last few days, Spring really does seem to have sprung. It's a big change from last weekend, when I went down to Weymouth for the weekend. I was quite excited about getting a few early Spring migrants, but in the end there was a horrible cold easterly wind blowing and the only thing I got, apart from cold, was a long-staying Humes warbler on Portland. Good bird, quite rare and normally a "Norfolk in Autumn" speciality, this one has been lurking in buddleia bushes near Suckthumb quarry. Lurking is the right word - it took me over 2 hours to track it down and then I only got a view of a few seconds!
Anyway, with the season moving on, I decided to take an early start today and go back to Dorset for a quick spin along the coast. Three target birds in mind, all either resident or long-stayers.
First stop was at Lytchett fields for a green-winged teal. I've been here before, in February, for the same bird and it's companion an over-wintering lesser yellowlegs. I got the lesser legs but not the teal. The reserve is on the edge of Poole harbour and it quite new. Basically a series of tidal pools, low-lying and marshy. There are dozens if not hundreds of teal lurking around and if the tide is low they disappear, which is what happened in February. This time, I had checked the tide tables though and 8am, when I arrived, was a rising tide. It was clear the difference. The teal were very active in the filling pools. The first problem, there was a lot of them. The second, you can only tell green-winged from our common teal by a small vertical white-stripe on their "shoulder" - not easy. After 30 minutes I had found the lesser legs that was still there, along with many redshank, lots of shelducks and a few water rail calling in the reeds. I had gone through the teal many times but nothing. Suddenly though a mass of them, probably a hundred or so, lifted off from the far side of French's pool and landed a bit nearer on one of the open-water pools now forming. This at least made it easier to see them, and they were very actively swimming around.
I felt it had to be there somewhere though, so I kept scanning as they swam around and eventually I found it. It's in the photo below - can you see it?
No? Well, with an extreme crop and a bit of lightroom magic it's top row, third duck from the left. If you look very carefully you should be able to make out the vertical white stripe on it's shoulder. See why it was so bloomin difficult to find!
So, first target in the bag, and still before 9, so I headed around Poole harbour to Arne. Surprisingly, seeing as this is one of the RSPB's premier reserves and not far from Weymouth, I haven't been here in ages. My targets were spoonbill and Dartford warbler, both of which are regulars here. Spoonbills have become something of a speciality here, with large numbers congregating in Autumn and Winter.
I arrived just as a very friendly warden was opening up the visitor centre. He gave me the lowdown on the reserve and with a useful map I set off. First stop was the lagoon. The tide, as I already knew, was pretty high, so not much mud was exposed. In the distance though, on an exposed tip of a sandbar was a shaggy white shape standing on one leg. Even without seeing it's bill you could tell it was a spoony. After 10 minutes or so, it did give a slight hop and lifted it's head, then went straight back to sleep again. Not exactly a marvellous sighting, but a year tick all the same.
Next stop was the nearby heath, with the gorse in full flower. I wasn't hopeful as it was blowy and starting to rain. I walked up and down, listening and watching for a small blur of feathers darting between bushes, which is the normal view of a Dartford. After I suppose 30 minutes, and with a shower moving over, I was beginning to wonder if I would dip. Then from right nearby came a distinctive scratchy song, and a marvellous male warbler sat up on top of a gorse bush.

I hadn't even got my camera out, as I had put it away when the rain came across, so a frantic minute followed as I got it out and fired up. The Dartford though was oblivious to my panic. It just carried on singing. As you can see in the bottom photo, the white flecks are the rain coming across, but it didn't seem to worry.
Eventually it lifted off that bush and landed even closer to me, affording stunning views.

Finally,it gave up and moved across the heath, where I could still hear it singing away happily, so I left it to it.
Not a bad day at all. With those three ticks, all good birds, that takes me to 181 for the year, 8 ahead of Martin as it stands. That is also my best ever March total by 11 so could be a big year coming up! Lots of arrivals should get to our shores soon, and only two weeks to Scotland. Let's hope there's some nice megas hanging around as well.