Sunday 9 September 2012

Crakes, Dowitchers and Monarchs

These days it's either local stuff, foreign birding, lifers (when they increasingly rarely turn up) or sometimes just birds I want to go and see. And this weekend, it was one of those weekends where on Friday night there were choices. And so it was that just after dawn on Saturday, having picked John A up after his 50th (well done John!), I was in the hide at Rainham just after the crake had showed.

No bother I thought, having just missed it by a few minutes it was likely to come out of the reeds again. But it didn't, albeit for a couple of seconds, and so mid morning decisions had to be made and I kept with the initial plan of teaming up with the Wanstead boys (Jono L, Tim H and Nick C) and heading to Dorset... so fast forward to today, Sunday. Original plan was to dawn it again but my body couldn't do it, and I eventually woke up at 10am - wanting a lie in ready for the first Irish assault next weekend. Anyway, cutting to the chase, I lucked out and on arrival at 12.30pm the juvenile Baillon's Crake was showing as well as it would given the distance of the hide from the reeds. Result.
Juvenile Baillon's Crake at Rainham 9th Sept 2012 - no prizes, but note the white spotting on the coverts. Reeds conveniently positioned to obscure much of the bird, including its short primary projection.
Ok, so now back to yesterday and Dorset was nice; indeed nice to be beside the seaside and Weymouth beach was packed. The drive down was grim though, and we diverted via the A303 as some twattery had gone on down the M3/M27. Lodmoor RSPB was packed full of birds - full of my favourites too, Med Gulls, with at least 15 of them. And hiding in the juncus clumps was the juvenile Short-billed Dowitcher, the third for Britain and Ireland (remarkably I'd seen the previous two too). It wasn't great for photos due to the haze, but as well as the often quoted tiger striped tertials (which were marked into the feather centres), prominent supercilium bordered by a dark lateral crown stripe, buff breast etc I wanted to check out Pekka Sarvela's bill base angle identification feature in the field (click here for the paper) on an obvious bird. It worked and it seemed to work on these from a month ago too. Lots of ringed birds observed at Lodmoor as well - all sent to the ringing coordinators and think they include 3 French/Belgian Med Gulls, a Dutch Black-headed Gull, a Scottish Sandwich Tern and an Abbotsbury Mute Swan. Interesting stuff, except the swan.

Monarch butterfly, Portland, Dorset 8th Sept 2012
Nearby on Portland there was a Monarch butterfly. These big boys - truly impressive butterflies - used to be the harbinger of yank landbird arrivals back in the day, and I remember being pretty excited when I saw my first one on Scilly 15 or so years ago. This was my first on the British mainland, and you don't hear of the numbers that used to turn up on Scilly either. Not sure why, but talking to Chris L at Rainham today who's straight off a 5 year stretch on the islands he was saying that the October crowds these days are full of chumps, with less and less capable birders there to find the rares. Though they'd surely be capable of not missing a big orange butterfly coming at them, presumably.

Thanks to all for a highly enjoyable, relaxed and refined day out. Always nice to get out of the smoke and see some birds in good company. Rounded off with a decent fish and chips on the way home.

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