Wall Lizard, Dorset

After visiting family in Devon and Dorset at the weekend we spent a day on and near the Purbeck coast, where highlights included introduced Wall Lizards at Winspit Quarry and a good showing of Early Spider Orchids at Dancing Ledge.

During the day we also saw sparring Peregrines and numerous Stonechats, though migrant birds were few. Two Adders, a variety of butterflies including our first Small Copper of the year, and Black Oil Beetle all kept us on our toes.

Early Spider Orchid, Dorset

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Adder, Rutland – I’ve never noticed the blue iridescence on the head before

Since the BTO conference on sound recording, I tried out my nocmig equipment during the night of 28-29 March. Whatever anyone tells you to the contrary, it is now possible to achieve satisfactory results with inexpensive equipment – mine’s an AudioMoth recorder combined with free Audacity software. The same is true for diurnal recording, which will be the subject of a future post.

Don’t expect miracles, however. The only bird I recorded during the session above was a Tawny Owl (though there were plenty of man-made noises). Regular recording in, say, Charnwood, Belvoir and Rutland would almost certainly produce some interesting results and occasional surprises.

The warm spell at the end of March produced my first Rutland records of Orange-tip and Holly Blue for that month, and the first wave of Chiffchaffs was followed by Sand Martins and Swallows. Linnets have returned to some of their breeding areas, and – subjectively – there seem to be a few more singing Yellowhammers than last year.

Yellowhammer, Rutland

Woodlark, near Santon Downham

On Saturday I attended the BTO workshop on sound recording, which was a good opportunity to share ideas and experiences and in particular to pick people’s brains about ‘nocmig’ before I try it in Shetland. Thanks to all involved with the organisation of this event.

Before breakfast this morning I spent some time with Woodlarks – the views were quite pleasing but vocalisations were few. Another highlight of the early morning was provided by large (and vocal) flocks of Bramblings.

After breakfast we moved on to Weeting, where we were rewarded with good views of the Rough-legged Buzzard (close enough to see the pale yellow iris) and Stone-curlews. The rest of our day was spent at Lakenheath Fen, where highlights included Garganey, Bittern, Crane and Kingfisher.

Garganey, Lakenheath – a favoured site for this species

Marsh Tit, Rutland; dresseri is widely recognised but there are differences of opinion about its range

What is an endemic? The taxonomic position of at least the British birds listed below has been under discussion for decades, and is now in urgent need of review given that we are in a situation where one taxon, Scottish Crossbill, can be and is treated as a species by some authorities (e.g. IOC) but as a subspecies by others (e.g. Shirihai & Svensson), whilst several formerly recognised subspecies are no longer recognised by either IOC or Shirihai & Svensson.

In the past new subspecies were sometimes named on tenuous grounds, but it is also fair to say that some recent deletions have been a little arbitrary. An authoritative review would need to look at a wide range of museum material, photographs, sound recordings, and genetic material. It is perhaps surprising that this hasn’t been done already.

The species (in addition to Scottish Crossbill) for which endemic or near-endemic British taxa are currently recognised by IOC are: Red Grouse, Ptarmigan, Black Grouse, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Herring Gull, Guillemot, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, Rock Pipit, Yellow Wagtail, Pied Wagtail, Dipper, Wren, Dunnock, Robin, Stonechat, Song Thrush, Long-tailed Tit, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Crested Tit, Coal Tit, Willow Tit, Marsh Tit, Treecreeper, Jay, Starling, Chaffinch, Goldfinch, Linnet, Twite, Bullfinch, and Yellowhammer.

Goldfinch, Rutland; britannica is recognised by IOC but not by Shirihai & Svensson

Corn Buntings, Lincolnshire

Older birders often lament the loss of birds which used to be common. In fact, some waterbirds have increased significantly in the recent past, and climate change (so far) has had mixed consequences. Yet it is undeniable that agricultural intensification and loss of habitat have decimated populations of species which were a familiar part of the landscape of our youth. The current EWBS may help to give us a clearer picture.

Occasionally there are pleasant surprises. The week before last I heard a report of a roost of 100 Corn Buntings near the Lincolnshire Wash. On a subsequent visit I went to look, and after some searching found a flock of 27 then a different flock of c70 – the largest concentration I have seen in Britain for many years. The birds are likely to have bred within 20 km of their wintering site, so there is hope. At the same time, it is hard not to feel concern about what might be next to slide from common to scarce.

Reed Bunting, Lincolnshire. Here today, gone tomorrow?

Water Pipit, Lincolnshire

Since my previous post I have mainly been concentrating on studying the individual variation of Wigeon at Eyebrook Reservoir (some photos have been posted on my Twitter feed), and beginning to upload some recordings to xeno-canto.

The presence of a small flock (8+) of Water Pipits at Baston Fen, Lincolnshire, was too good an opportunity to miss so I spent yesterday morning there. Although they were quite obliging, they called infrequently and I had forgotten how quiet many of the calls are; it took about three hours before I obtained any audible recordings.

Goosander, Lincolnshire

Burley Wood 2019 – does anyone know what the new metalled tracks are for?

For those of us who live in Britain, and elsewhere, 2019 will be a year of significant change. We could be forgiven for feeling that the threads of Fate have become tangled, and that our destinies are spinning out of control. Yet even as individuals we can take small steps to help improve the environment. My New Year resolution was to plant a tree – what was yours?

A highlight of our walk in Pickworth Great Wood at New Year was a flock of 50 Lesser Redpolls. Since then, we have had a Blackcap in the garden and there has been an influx of ‘sinensis’ Cormorants. A second visit to our EWBS square at Brooke, on quite a dull day, was enlivened by a Peregrine with prey; this is one of several species which has increased this century and is now a regular sight in Rutland.