This blog is about my birding exploits, which mainly take place in the Weymouth/Portland area, in Dorset. Will also include stuff from elsewhere, plus some other critters too. Hope you enjoy. All photographs are © Brett Spencer, unless indicated otherwise. The image above is of a Bohemian Waxwing that was by my house in Weymouth, taken on 29th January 2011.

Sunday, 26 July 2015

Some Recent Shit

Quail. Honest! Ok, it is a terrible record shot. Saw a couple that day on Salisbury Plain, Wiltshire.


A superb pale male Honey Buzzard.

Male Common Hawker. The thoratic stripes are poorly marked on this individual.



Corn Buntings. Good numbers at Tarrant Rushton.

Essex Skipper at Tarrant Rushton.

The Longham Lakes Black-necked Grebe.

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Black-eared Wheatear, The 2002 Nanquidno Bird

Accepted by BBRC as Western O.h.hispanica. (http://www.bbrc.org.uk/download/2002BBRCReport.pdf)

Here are some images of the bird on surfbirds.

http://www.surfbirds.com/Rarities/ukstoppress-mar12-2002.html

Note the the black of the bib reaches the upper breast. Also, note the extent of black above the eye and behind the ear coverts. Also, the scapulars are all black. The black of the lores is extensive and maybe the black just reaches over the bill base, but it is poorly marked on this bird. The above along with the long primary projection, equal in length to the total length of the tertials, for me, identifies this bird as an Eastern O.h.melanoleuca.

Monday, 6 July 2015

Male Black-eared Wheatears

On 13th June, I, along with many others, took the opportunity to look at a stunning male Black-eared Wheatear at Acres Down, in the New Forest.


This absolute scorcher of a bird is easily identified to form by the extent of black on the face. Note the extent of black feathering above the bill base, above the eye and the extent of black beyond the rear of the ear coverts. The black of the bib also reaches the upper breast. This combined with it's piebald appearance confirms that this is an Eastern Black-eared Wheatear O.h.melanoleuca. 

From other photos of the above bird online, it can be seen to have a long primary projection, equal in distance to that of the tertials. Also, the black of the scapulars looks extensive, with Western Black-eareds apparently showing slightly less black in the scaps.

To compare with the above, here is a male Western Black-eared Wheatear O.h.hispanica I saw in Extremadura, Spain on 30th May 2006. Westerns can look surprisingly pale, but note the extent of black on the face. No black above the bill base, no or very little black above the eye, no or very little black beyond the ear coverts and the black of the bib doesn't reach the upper breast.

Anyways, comparing the two black throated birds above, got me reminiscing about the Upton Heath bird of June 2000. This bird, that was found on 25th June 2000, stayed till the following day, allowing many observers to see it.

The bird was accepted by BBRC as an Eastern O.h.melanoleuca (See the British Birds magazine Rare Bird Report for 2000 http://www.bbrc.org.uk/download/2000BBRCReport.pdf)
In it, it says photographs clearly shows the black above the bill base that O.h.hispanica lacks. This comment isn't entirely accurate as some well mark Westerns can show alittle black above the bill base.

Lets take a fresh look at the Upton Heath bird and see if you agree with my conclusion.

The Upton Heath Black-eared Wheatear. This is a white throated male. The brown feathers in the wing of this bird ages it as a 1st-summer. Note the lack of black above the bill and the eye and also the very limited amount of black beyond the ear coverts. Also, the black scapulars don't look particularly extensive. © P. & C. Leigh http://www.firecrest-wildlife-photography.co.uk/

Here's a closer look at the head. I see no obvious black above the bill base. Note the white uppermost scapulars too. © P. & C. Leigh http://www.firecrest-wildlife-photography.co.uk/

In other photos I've seen of this bird, it also appears to show a primary projection that's slightly shorter than the length of the tertials. The amount of black on the face and scapulars and primary projection tell me the Upton Heath bird is in fact a Western Black-eared Wheatear O.h.hispanica. If not, it is at best unassignable to form. It should be remembered that the age of the bird shouldn't affect the amount of black showing at this time of year. Also, though looking very piebald in the field, this doesn't rule out Western, as worn 1st-summer male Westerns can look very black and white.

Here are some links to the two forms. Look at the extent of black in the face and scapulars and also primary projections. Note, I think there is overlap between the two forms as regards black in the scapulars and also Westerns can have a primary projection equal in length to that of Easterns.

Western Black-eared Wheatears







Eastern Black-eared Wheatears







Thankyou to Carole Leigh for letting me use the photos of the Upton Heath Black-eared Wheatear, as it was crucial to this post.

Comments are very much welcome on my thoughts here.

Saturday, 27 June 2015

The White-winged Black Tern at Swineham Gravel Pits

On the 2nd June 2015, a superb summer plumaged White-winged Black Tern was found at Swineham Gravel Pits. The bird stayed till 4th June, allowing many people to admire this beautiful bird.

It was initially aged as an adult and when I eventually caught up with it on 3rd June, my initial views questioned the ageing of this particular individual. On a constantly moving bird like this, in strong sunlight and the fact it was never really close, it's easy to see how a mistake could be made with the ageing of this bird. Thankfully, camera at hand, the still images allowed for the bird to be correctly aged as a 2nd-summer.


Note on the above images the primary pattern, which is strangely in moult. Don't know whether this is normal in 2nd-summers. Anyways, P10, 9 and 7 are old feathers, P8 has been replaced and P6 is being renewed. In adults only P10 and 9 and sometimes P8 should be old feathers. Note also the dark and rather scruffy outer secondary bar.


On the above two images, the latter © Peter Moore, note the scruffy rear edge to the black of the underwing, the brown tone to some of the black feathering and white/pale markings within the black, especially noticeable on the rear belly. Again signs of immaturity.

To compare, below are a few images of the stunning adult that was on Lodmoor in July 2013. 


Note the primary pattern, only P10 is old. Note also the lack of a bar on the outer secondaries.

Note the neat and tidy rear edge to the black of the underwing.

Thursday, 25 June 2015

Time For A Bit Of A Catch Up

An update of what I've been seeing.

White-winged Black Tern

Took me two attempts, but finally caught up with this beauty at Swineham Gravel Pits. More on this bird in a future post.

Night Heron





This lovely bird was one of 6 species of heron seen at Ham Wall, Somerset that day.

The other herons at Ham Wall included Bitterns and Great White Egrets.



Hudsonian Whimbrel




A new bird for me. This very educational bird at Pagham Harbour, West Sussex was a real birders bird. Note the all dark rump and dark cinnamon toned underwing. Compared with nearby Eurasian Whimbrel, the more bold head pattern and slight reddish tone to the brown plumage helped to separate it from it's commoner cousins at a distance.   

Eastern Black-eared Wheatear


This stunning black throated male at Acres Down, Hampshire, was one of the highlights of the year for me so far. A stunning bird in beautiful surroundings. It doesn't get much better than that. More on Black-eared Wheatears in a future post.

Cretzschmar's Bunting



My stress levels were tested to the limit with this little bugger, on Bardsey Island, North Wales. A wait of over 3 & half hours for it to show, with 13 minutes till our boat would fetch us, to take us back to the mainland, it eventually performed for 3 minutes, providing me with yet another new bird. I never want to go through that fucking trauma again, it was truly a horrible experience. Even though we didn't, it kind of felt like a dip, because we never got to explore the beautiful island this gross rarity was inhabiting. 

The trip through Wales to and from Bardsey was great, with such breathtaking scenery. Great to see Choughs and proper Red Kites too.





A Few Other Odds & Ends

A tandem pair of Variable Damselflies at Shapwick, Somerset.

Gadwall and her ducklings at Radipole Lake.

My first sign of Autumn. A presumed failed breeder, this adult Mediterranean Gull, with a Black-headed Gull on Lodmoor had begun it's wing moult.

Male Four-spotted Chaser of the form praenubila at Bennett's Water Gardens. This site is the stronghold of this species in Weymouth.

Strange posture shown by this male Red-eyed Damselfly at Bennett's Water Gardens.

Who's the daddy? Bull Grey Seal on Bardsey Island, North Wales.

Saturday, 20 June 2015

The Maiden Castle Snow Bunting

On the 17th March 2015, a Snow Bunting was found at Maiden Castle, near Dorchester. The bird remained till 21st March. 

There are only a handful of inland records for Dorset, so this was an excellent find.

I'd been told it was a cracking bird going into summer plumage, so thought it worth a look. I saw it on 21st March and sure enough, it was indeed a stunning bird, but not the summery plumage I was expecting. It was, in fact, in winter plumage.

I could immediately see that it was a particularly fine male, due to the extensive amount of white in the wings, but on seeing it in flight, the striking white rump really did catch my eye. I then realized that this bird was showing characteristics of the form P.n.nivalis from Fenno-Scandia/Greenland. Other features showed me that this was a 1st-winter bird.

This got me to thinking about the differences between P.n.nivalis and P.n.insulae, the latter from Iceland, the ageing of Snow Bunting and the status of the two forms in Dorset.

The male Snow Bunting at Maiden Castle. The extensive white in the wing, with mostly white greater coverts, show that this is a male.

The white of the rump is obscured by buff feather tips and summer plumage is attained by feather wear. When the pale feather tips have worn off by the summer, this bird will be black and white. The white rump is the key difference between P.n.nivalis and P.n.insulae, but note also the amount of buff on the head, breast sides and flanks on this and the images below. The underlying colour of the rump of P.n.insulae is black.

On this and the image above, note the pointed tips of the tail feathers, the thin buff/white fringes to the tertials which help to age it as a 1st-winter bird. Adults would show rounder tips to tail and broader fringes to tertials. 

The extensive amount of black in the primary coverts also help age this bird as a 1st-winter.

1st-winter male Snow Bunting of the form P.n.insulae at West Bexington, 7th February 2013. Compared to the Maiden Castle bird, note the more extensive buff colouration on the head, breast sides and flanks. 

The West Bexington bird again. Although obscured by buff feathers tips, the underlying colour of the rump was black. the pointed tips to the tail feathers show this is a 1st-winter and the mostly white greater coverts show this is a male.

The status of P.n.nivalis in Norfolk from ringing studies shows that the occurrence of the form is the scarcer of the two, though in some winters can make up 50% of the wintering flocks. In some winters though, there are very few indeed. Being that Snow Buntings are annual visitors to Dorset, they only occur in small numbers and as a result, I believe that P.n.nivalis is a rare visitor to the county. Good photos will help you racially assign future male Snow Buntings in Dorset. Start by sexing and ageing the bird correctly before racially assigning any individual. Females are much trickier, but ageing and sexing correctly, followed by photos of the spread upperwing showing the amount of white on the visible part of the 9th primary (40% or less in P.n. insulae and 60% or more in P.n.nivalis) are critical to racially assigning.

So, next time your watching a Snow Bunting performing well, take the time to really study it, I'm sure you will find it very rewarding and educational, as I have.