Wednesday 23 February 2022

Dorset 17th-20th May 2021

     On the 14th May 2021, I finished exams and also school, something which I've finally processed after a term and a half of university. Despite Covid still limiting what could be done (there was sadly no longer a cricket tour to Barbados,) the summer that followed, bridging the gap between school and uni, was easily the best summer of my life  Now begins the long write-up of...

Great Crested Grebe

Reed Warbler


Pied Wagtail

    There seemed no better way to start the 4 and a half month long holiday than heading down to stay with good friend Sam Levy in Bournemouth, which I did on the Monday after my final exam on the Friday. I'd already had some reward for getting through - this included a Temminck's Stint on patch a week prior, and live nocmig Whimbrel and Dunlin at around 11:30pm on the Friday night. Day1 started with my first use of the train since the day I turned 17 in January 2020, which is crazy in itself. After reaching Bournemouth shortly after 11am and a brief lunch stop at Sam's flat, we started our birding at Longham Lakes Nature reserve, failing to see the Whiskered Tern which had been seen there a few days prior. Nonetheless, in addition to a Cuckoo, hundreds of Swifts and hirundines had gathered over the water in the drizzle. As a bonus, I also year ticked Alex Chapman as he was conveniently able to join us before disappearing off to see AFC Bournemouth. 

Durlston rainbow

f Stonechat

Common Blue

m Stonechat




    Now it's no secret that for many of years of my birding career, I was all too well known for the lack of Kittiwakes I had seen. Sam had personally promised me that he would be the one to help me see Kittiwakes, as well as Puffins and Guillemots. Like the good man that he is, he kept to his promise, and the highlights of an 8 mile evening wander around the Durlston Head peninsular were these 3 species, as well as plentiful Razorbill, Fulmar, Shags and Common Tern. I always find birds coming in off the sea special to see, so watching Swifts dashing over the waves and a Wheatear in over the rocks made the evening all the better, as did the Rock Pipits, Stonechats and Whitethroats which were more or less everywhere we looked. 

Sam at Durlston







    On Day2, we headed to the New Forest. Not only was it a place I'd always wanted to visit in the spring, but it also held a nice personal connection; though I'd been an ambassador the Cameron Bespolka Trust since I was 16, I'd not yet had the chance to visit the newly built Cameron's Cottage, a new youth-discovery centre type facility built for 15-25yos to get involved with nature. The main target for me was Wood Warbler - though I'd seen them in Greece, I'd always wanted to hear and sound record them, as I am one of many who argue that they are probably Britain's best spring songster. I couldn't ask for much more, as a singing male was one of the first birds out of the car. It was one of those days which just didn't really get worse. Wood Warblers were followed by singing Redstart, Tree Pipit and Spotted Flycatchers all holding territory, Cuckoo were audible throughout the woodland, 2 Goshawk were seen hunting, Firecrest, Marsh Tit, Crossbill and Siskin were present almost everywhere we went and butterflies were out in force. I even added a new species to the site's total, finding two stunning Gadwall on the pond (a particularly proud moment.) 

New Forest

Spotted Flycatcher

Spotted Flycatcher

Garden Warbler



Common Lizard

Common Lizard

Marsh Tit

       The day didn't stop there - a smart male Woodchat Shrike had been found following the spell of south-easterlies, and so our journey home after 7 hours in the forest included a brief stop by the golf course the shrike was frequenting. We were treated to some high quality views of the bird at first, before it disappeared for an hour or so, reappearing with a bumblebee it battered and dismantled in front of us. This made it a second day of 2+ lifers in a row, and with the trip halfway through, it was hard to see how it could get any better...

male Woodchat Shrike

    Day3 started at Portland Bill, another place which had been quite up my 'to visit' list. The walk down the east side of the bill from Southwell started with Wheatears almost immediately, as well as Ravens, Rock Pipits and Fulmars. We had brief views of Little Owl in a quarry and a few Yellow Wagtail were coming in off the sea. By the time we reached the bill, a few waders had been noted as well, including Turnstone and Whimbrel. The next few hours were spent seawatching - Manx Shearwaters (48) were the main bird of note, with regular groups moving through, alongside more Kittiwakes; it was also cool to watch Swifts and Swallows fighting the waves again before appearing overhead and moving inland. Migration is magic.




Rock Pipit


Rock Pipit

    Now comes to a real trip highlight. On our wander back, we'd stopped to admire (again) some of the female Wheatears (we presume Greenland race) which had arrived in off the sea earlier on in the morning when this male nominate Northern Wheatear burst into song next to us. Though the females were thoroughly unimpressed, myself and Sam were made up, as hearing Wheatear is not easy outside breeding grounds. The song itself was pretty cheerful, made all the more exciting by the sound bouncing back off the cliffs. 

male Wheatear spam no apologies...

Northern Wheatear (nominate)

   From near the main road entrance to Lodmoor, myself and Sam set about scanning as usual, Sam on waders and myself on gulls. We work well as a team when birding as we generally do look for different things so less is missed (I hope.) I quickly came across a small gull sat out on the edge of the water while scoping a few Mediterranean Gulls; its small size, pale-pink legs and stubby black bill had me straight away calling Bonaparte's to Sam. He agreed. As I've now learnt, finding something rare can give you this strange buzz where you start shaking a bit for no reason, and so still can't believe we ignored it even after we'd watched it fly, showing distinctly black trailing edges to the wings as I hoped it would. 

2cy Bonaparte's Gull

2cy Bonaparte's Gull

2cy/1st summer Bonaparte's Gull

    I guess it really comes down to a lack of confidence - I'd only seen an adult before and it seemed too good to be true, especially after all the times I'd ranted about not finding things. All of this meant that after the bird disappeared, we concluded that it was probably a strange black-headed gull (the bird's wing covert bar did seem less dark in the light as well) and that we were being overly optimistic. With time running out as Sam had a meeting to get home for, we rushed round to try and find some waders, only coming across Lesser Whitethroat. We did agree to look back at the photos later that night, just in case. This never happened, for a number of reasons - one, we found out we were going to be going Hawfinch ringing the next day at 3am; two, the singing Wheatear was ringed and so needed some investigating; three, I got distracted by Swifts in the evening; and finally, our Nandos order in the evening came without Sam's rice, which left us both disappointed (Sam was also watching Arsenal, never a good idea.) It's strange as we made all the notes at the time, took as many photos as possible and then essentially forgot due to being busy and Nandos. Lessons learnt and all round - we were still happy, and the finder the next day has also kindly allowed the bird to be a joint find, which we are very appreciative of. As usual, birding is always a learning experience and on the plus side - we saw a decent bird, it was a lifer for Sam, and has a little story to it too. Onwards to the next!

male Shelduck

Common Terns


Lesser Whitethroat

2cy/1st summer Mediterranean Gull


    By Day4, I was shattered - I wasn't going to waste my last morning though, so we were out at 330am to go Hawfinch ringing and tracking. The morning started off bright, with a Nightjar 'grik'ing as we pulled up by the ringing site. As we walked round tracking a certain Hawfinch, it became grey and overcast, although this didn't stop New Forest classics like Tree Pipit, Redstart and Spotted Flycatcher from singing. We were eventually successful with the Hawfinches, and it was a real treat seeing a young fledgling calling constantly from near its nest site. I never thought I'd see Hawfinch in the hand before most other species - even if I couldn't ring them. The morning was largely successful and just as we packed up to leave, perhaps the bird of the day was this female Nightjar, found by one of the ringers. Seeing a Nightjar well is never easy and so made for an exciting end to the morning. We did stop by Blashford Lakes on the way back, finding a few waders like Dunlin and Little Ringed Plover, albeit not much else as the hide was closed. 

fledgling Hawfinch


     And that brought a high quality trip (116 species seen) to a close. It wasn't just the birds that made it as good as it was - the scenery, especially the Dorset coastline and New Forest, was an effective recipe for improved mental health and happiness, lifting me to a much better place going into the summer.  The 8 or 9 miles walked in Franchises Wood especially felt like nothing - though woodlands can be disorientating, being surrounded by woodland and the constant sound of singing birds, with close to no people, was something I enjoyed a lot more than expected, and if anything, made me feel much more at home. Franchises Wood has thus become one of several places I can't get enough of, and so every revisit makes me as excited as the first. Sometimes just being outside is the best therapy, and so I can't thank Sam enough for hosting me and being my chauffeur once again. With that, Trip1 of 5 diary - complete...

[Sound Recording Top 10 - Wood Warbler, Wheatear, Firecrest, Hawfinch, Redstart, Raven, Cuckoo, Spotted Flycatcher, Sedge Warbler, Rock Pipit.]

female Nightjar