Monday, 6 June 2016

4th June - Portland, Dorset

We arrived in Portland after a long tiresome journey late afternoon Friday in glorious sunshine.  From the hotel terrace the sea looked a lovely blue as we looked south towards the lighthouse.  Would this last over the weekend?

Well the answer was no, Saturday arrived with white cloud and a little sea mist.  There was though no real wind to speak of, and once outside it felt rather humid.  Helen and I left the hotel,which from the outside looked like part of an industrial estate, but on the inside it was very acceptable, through a gate in the fence that took us immediately to the South West path.  A Great Spotted Cuckoo has been present on the island for just over three weeks, and was reported to be close to us yesterday evening, so we headed in the direction of Reap Lane where it had also been seen this morning.

In the grass on the cliff top we found the first butterfly of the day a female Common Blue, my first of the year.

As we approached the turn onto the footpath to Reap Lane we could see several birders but they were not focused, they appeared to be looking around aimlessly.  There had not been any further sign of the cuckoo, so as we had all day we decided not to wait but to keep going, so we followed the path out into the village of Southwell, and then along a path beside a quarry and eventually on the South West path on the other side of the island.

Many quarries dot the landscape here and we checked some of the crevices and rocks for signs of any life, but without any luck.  Back on the path a Fulmar flew along the edge of the cliff over our heads.

We headed south on the path, there was no one about and it was silent except for the sound of the waves rippling over the rocks below us, but even this was exceptionally quiet.

There are plenty of fallen boulders, and also piles of rocks that have been put there as a part of the quarry work.  It was from a small hillock that what I first though was a butterfly emerged, but then realised that it was in fact a large moth.  We followed its flight as it landed in some vegetation.

I knew it was a tiger moth, but I was not sure what species.  It wasn't until I got home that I discovered that it was a Cream Spot Tiger.   It is found south of a line roughly drawn from The River Severn to the Wash.  Its distribution is also localised and most frequently recorded near the coast.

It flushed once again, this time settling in the open.

Although mainly a nocturnal flying species the newly emerged adults may be seen during the day resting amongst low growing plants.  Here you can see the orange-red abdomen that was very evident in flight.

When disturbed and sensing danger the moth opens its wings and displays an orange/red abdomen and yellow hind wings to warn off predators.  The bright colours suggest that it is distasteful to birds.

Finally it flew away and out of sight in the safety and darkness of a group of rocks in the corner of the quarry.

We walked on with Rock Pipits parachuting around us, and down below on the rocks there was an immature Oystercatcher.  In this picture it is framed by the limpets on the rocks.

Out on the water a dark shape appeared on the water, and a closer look revealed it as a head of a Grey Seal.

The seal followed us as we walked the coast path, popping up every so often as a dark blob just off shore and exciting a lot of the holiday makers as they looked out to sea.

Other activity on the rocks below the cliff were the Great Black-backed Gulls.  This one was devouring a small crab, doesn't it look evil?

We diverted off the path to drop into the Bird Observatory, and one the way we encountered briefly my first Meadow Brown of the year, and this Common Blue nectaring on trefoil.

We also found this interesting Iris.

Back to the South West path we stopped for a coffee before rounding the bill and finding a spot to watch the sea birds on the cliffs.  Calling Kittiwakes turned out to be flying around out on the water.

We walked around the old MOD building, and settled down on the edge of the West Cliff, and watched the sea and cliffs as Guillemots and Razorbills wheeled away below us.

A Shag posed nicely on a ledge close to the fence.

Out on the water the Guillemots were lining up.

As we sat there a Kestrel appeared along the edge of the cliff.  It moved slowly along cliff coming closer and closer allowing the opportunity for some nice close ups.

It passed over us and across the fence but I could shoot through the fence railings

It then decided to give up the hard work hovering and settled on the fence and intently watched the ground below.

It did suddenly plunge into the grass but was unsuccessful, and then flew off.

I returned my attention to the Razorbills and Guillemots flying below us.

And another Shag flying past.

Sometimes the Razorbills would fly out together, almost in coordination with each other.

Further out two immature Gannets past us.

We got up to move on, and realised that a little further along we could get a better view of the cliffs and could watch the Razorbills fly up to the cliff face.

The birds paired up and occupying their space on the cliff ledge.

A young Raven was sitting in the grass close to the edge of the cliff, and was getting some unwanted attention from a Herring Gull.

The gull clearly did not want the Raven there regardless of its age and started to attack it.  The Raven cowered down in the grass making sure the only thing the gull could see was its beak.

After several dive bombs from the Herring Gull the young Raven decided to fight back, flying at the gull as it swooped over it and the two clashed in the air.

After this the Herring Gull moved on, leaving the Raven to return to the grass, maybe the gull realised that this Raven was not yet a threat.

We walked on heading now back in the direction of the hotel.  Helen suddenly pointed out a falcon above us that was not the Kestrel once more, but a male Peregrine.

It cruised the cliff top then turned and returned heading out to sea.

In the grass and on the side of the cliff were plenty of Linnet, and in the fields inland there was the constant song of the Skylark.  A familiar call also alerted us to a pair of Stonechat.

The west side of the island definitely felt warmer, and as a result there were a few more butterflies about.  Several Small Whites a Green-veined and another Common Blue were seen before Helen found this lovely Dingy Skipper.

A kestrel then returned and again its commitment to hunting meant that we were able to get very close to it as it hung in the air about two metres above the edge of the cliff.

It is really wonderful to watch, it holds the wings into the wind and only carefully adjusts them, the body staying still while the wings do the work.  Every so often it would lift the head, but this would have no impact on the body which would remain in the same place.

We had decided to walk around once again, and so we set off again along Reap Lane, and again there was no sign of the Cuckoo.  We walked the same route as before and came out on the other side of the island at the small quarry.  A Rock Pipit was singing out over the water, and slowly parachuted down onto the rocks below us where it settled with its wings drooped like a Cuckoo.

We headed south past the first quarry, and as we did so a brown bird passed us and flew into the quarry.  I was convinced it was a Little Owl, and we set off to try and find where it may be.  I scrambled up one side that allowed me to look straight onto the ledges and rocks, and as I looked around I noticed a brown rock that stood out, then realised that it was looking at me.

It continued with this stare, watching me closely until Helen's movement meant that it had to slightly move top watch her who was just below me.

Then it flew off prompting several alarm calls as it flew.  We were able to see where it went, and we climbed down and found a good spot to watch it, and it watch us again.

While all this was going on a Wren was getting very upset about the Owl being there, and finally it flew off out of the quarry.  We heard a Little Owl calling later but were unable to find it again.

We walked on with more Great Black-backed Gulls out on the Rocks.

We found ourselves back at the sea bird cliffs, and once again the challenge of the flying birds.  A Fulmar cruised up and down just below us, appearing every so often as it flew out away from the cliff, and then turning back t get more lift.

This one gives a different perspective.

Despite the banking wings the head kept straight and pointing ahead.

We left the cliffs and walked on towards the hotel, we were also deciding to try Reap Lane once more.  A little further along the Kestrel appeared again, and the chance for some more close up photographs.

As the Kestrel dropped closer to the ground the Kestrel lowered its legs and opened the claws in preparation for the drop.  Quite formidable weapons.

Calls from below us alerted me to a Peregrine and the male bird with the damaged feather appeared as it came above the cliff, it was joined by a female bird who cruised past us.

We reached a point where we could see Reap Lane, and several birders who once again were looking around and not at anything specific.  Clearly the Cuckoo was not there.  As we watched a Skylark dropped into the horse paddock close by.

We then decided to turn back, but as we headed towards the hotel we met a birder who informed us that he had just seen the Cuckoo and gave us directions.  This took us back past the hotel, and across a field and down a footpath to a road alongside the Observatory.  The Cuckoo was on a fence n a field looking up from the road.  It was very distant, an dll the photos I have are just for record.

Fortunately I was able to get a look through someone's 'scope, so did see the bird well.

The Great Spotted Cuckoo is very much Europe’s “other” Cuckoo, much less well known than the widespread species. It is restricted to the Mediterranean region, being commonest in Spain, with smaller populations in Portugal, France (where it is increasing), Italy and the eastern Balkans

The Great Spotted Cuckoo having very different hosts: not small insectivorous birds, like the Eurasian Cuckoo but Magpies and Carrion Crows.

We moved to try and get a better angle of the bird as it sat on a post.  Not brilliant

And then again from another angle

The bird was not going to come any closer so we decided to head back to the hotel now.  As we approached the cliffs we could hear once again the call of the Peregrine, and both birds appeared again in front of me.

Flying up and down the cliff, and then turning to back towards the cliff.

Pulling the wings in and starting to dive.

At speed.

We made our way back to the hotel, and it was then all about this little guy

As we came into the courtyard we could hear a Pied Wagtail calling, and right in front of us was a Herring Gull.  At that point we didn't know what was interesting the Herring Gull but as Helen got closer she could see what it was up to.  About a metre away from the gull sat this little Pied Wagtail.  Helen immediately shooed the gull away, and it flew up to the roof of the building and watched us.  It was then about getting the little wagtail to somewhere of safety.  It ran under the parked cars bobbing its tiny tail just like an adult.  Finally we cornered it amongst the beer barrels, and just looked at us just like it had looked at the gull.

Another chase ensued and finally Helen managed to get it into a bush and out of sight.  By now the gull had seemingly lost interest and had flown off, but I am sure it would still be about, probably having chicks on the roof.  Having got the little bird to a possible site of safety we left it.  What ever happens next is down to nature, but we couldn't have just left it there exposed.

So that was the end of a good day, some lovely photographic opportunities and some great views of quality birds, plus the Cuckoo,  the last one I had seen was back in 1990 at Shoreham airport, so it was nice to get the chance to see this one 26 years later.

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