Friday, 4 March 2016

Portesham Pallas's Warbler

I didn't need any convincing yesterday to go and see the Pallas's Warbler currently over wintering at Portesham in Dorset. Pallas's are my favourite of the 'regular' sibes, I saw several at Spurn and Dunge in the early 00's - some exceptionally well.  But in the ten subsequent years of birding this patch I have seen just one, that was in 2007 and for about twenty seconds!  So it was high time I saw another, even though seeing what in my head is a late autumn specialty, in March, could well play havoc with my inbuilt birding body clock!

It was actually dead easy. James Mc and I parked up in Portesham shortly before 10am, casually strolled up to where we thought we should go, and there it was...

Count the head stripes - that's a seven-striped sprite alright
Showing it's Wood Warbler-like white underparts
The yellow tones to the face also reminded me of Wood Warbler colours. Often looked bull-headed too.
In coming - I just love those stripes!
Check out it's arse! Surprised I managed this with my bridge camera.

What a stunning bird, and mind blowing views.  No stiff necks looking at tree tops, it spent virtually the whole time feeding at eye level, and for the twenty minutes we were there it remained in view for about 17 of those.  It was so easy to follow as all the trees and bushes were completely bare, and it shared the surrounding cover with only a couple of Robins, Dunnocks, one Goldcrest and a Chiffchaff (which looked huge compared to it!). It really seemed to love this bush, the first bush on the right...

It did move into the small copse to the west and across the track south of this bush. But it did seem to like this bush, there were plenty of small flies buzzing around it which may have explained why.

The rump really is amazing.  It is virtually impossible to see when perched, but the moment it flies it's like a light bulb. It's even obvious when you just glimpse it flitting about with your naked eye at a distance.

My advice to anyone thinking of going for this bird, go.

Here's a few short videos that I'm sure will tempt even the most stubborn...

I can confirm to you all that without doubt seeing a Pallas's Warbler is an excellent cure for the winter birding blues - almost as much as a male Northern Wheatear (they can't come soon enough!).

As we were Portland way, I couldn't leave without some diver and grebe action, so we headed to Sandsfoot Castle for a quick scan over a nice calm Portland Harbour...

Looking south to Portland

This proved a very worthwhile stop, as a scan from the Sailing Academy, and through some builders fencing a little way back east along the road, showed a pretty decent selection.  For us fairly loyal patch birders, Red-breasted Mergansers are exciting enough as they are scarce on our patches, it was great watching the males displaying. 

My previous visits here have shown the Black-necked Grebes to be in one or two pretty tight flocks, but today the 12+ present were spread out everywhere; a four, a few pairs and singles. Most were in or coming into summer plumage which was nice, unlike the four Slavonian Grebes - three of these were in winter plumage with the fourth just starting to get dusky down the front. There were stacks of Great Crested Grebes too, all of these were in the far north east corner of the harbour (where one of the Slavs was, another was towards Ferrybridge with two together in the middle of the harbour).

Four Great Northern Divers were all spread out singletons, but the closest diver was a stunning Black-throated Diver. It was quite a hefty one to be honest, looked quite thick-necked and bulky, so am pretty sure it's the one that was showing well from the southern shore of the harbour over the last couple of days.  Sadly my photos aren't quite as good as Pete's...

A blurry phone-scoped Black-throated Diver in awful light!
One fat bird!!

With work looming it was time to head back west. But on the way home we called in at Abbotsbury for a look over the Swannery...

The light wasn't too bad when I took this, but the sun soon came out which made viewing more difficult

We were really impressed with the amount of wildfowl here, heaps and heaps of Pintail in particular. All the Pochard were sat out on the bank probably wondering where their lunch was - no wonder they are so rare here now, they are clearly getting lazy! In contrast the Tufties were busy getting their own grub out on the water, and among these were the the two wintering Long-tailed Ducks and at least one and a half Scaup. I say one and a half because I know there's a hybrid ScaupxTuftie here, and I couldn't rule this out on one of the birds - probably because it was the hybrid.

As ever it's not just the birds that make a twitch, but the company. James M is an ace twitching partner as we are both as laid back and relaxed about it as each other - and neither of us actually like twitching!  Especially the crowds.  We really are bad twitchers, and will only twitch a bird if the chance of seeing it is up around the 100% mark, plus there has to be other birds around to see as well. In general we also have a similar taste in birds and what we think is worth going to see, well that's with the exception of big white things. James seems to think all egrets may as well be Little Egrets (just smaller or bigger versions), and all swans are Mute Swans just with different coloured bills...

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