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False start to Spring

Tui singing in the garden, veggies growing, cutting the grass in my t-shirt, Shining Cuckoo added to my garden list and the Rugby World Cup safely in the arms of the All Blacks.  It certainly felt like Spring had arrived.  I even had time to rescue a Weka chick that had fallen down the side of the decking, much to the distress of his parents.  But that was two weeks ago.  Since then the weather has been extremely changeable with gale force winds, sleet, hale and heavy rain.  But I'm getting ahead of myself - let's head back to August where summer was in full swing in the Northern Hemisphere.


I was back in the UK for the British Birdwatching Fair in Rutland which went extremely well.  It was so busy I didn't really have time to look around and only just managed to leave the stand to buy a couple of books.  At the fair, a few old birding buddies came by: John Gates, Gary Howard, Rob Lambert and Emma Perry all popped in for a chat as well as Dave Walker from Dungeness Bird Observatory.


Prior to the Bird Fair I spent a few days in Dorset rekindling my birding friendship with Pete Moore.  Pete is an exceptionally good bird watcher and photographer and always very entertaining in the field - how I've missed his bone dry wit!  I stayed at his new house in the beautiful village of Wareham and as Claire and the boys away camping, Pete and myself were straight out birding!  First stop was Middlebere.  We hadn't got too far down the road when we did an emergency stop as an Osprey flew overhead with a huge fish in its talons. 


The next morning was bright and sunny and we headed for Durlston Country Park where migration was very visible.  Every bush seemed to be packed with Willow Warblers, Chiffchaffs, Blackcaps and Garden Warblers and there was good comparisons with Common and Lesser Whitethroats, Redstarts and Northern Wheatears.  I briefly spotted a couple of Grasshopper Warblers skulking in a small bush which Pete needed for his Dorset list, but unfortunately we failed to relocate them.  

Red Squirrel

The afternoon was spent at Brownsea Island avoiding the tourists!  We headed out for the hides overlooking the lagoon - lots of waders present: Common Redshanks, Avocets, Ruff, Dunlin, a single Spotted Redshank and a large flock of Black-tailed Godwits which were close enough for some half decent photographs.  Before heading back for the ferry, a quick walk around the forest produced Coal Tit and Goldcrest and a very approachable Red Squirrel.  


All too quickly my time in Dorset was up.  It was great to catch up with Pete and enjoy his fine company.


My last full day in the UK was spent at Dungeness with talented father and son Essex birders Vern and Pete Merchant.  An early start found us at the patch where Med Gulls and Little Gulls were present and Northern Gannets and Common Guillemots flew by.  Other birds of note were three or four Black Terns.  The bulky shape of a Bonxie came into view quickly followed by two Arctic Skuas harassing Common Terns and Pom Skua flew close to the beach.  Pete picked out the long-staying Glaucous Gull near the fishing boats through his scope so we drove a bit closer.  The beast of a gull spent most of its time asleep but the Yellow-legged Gulls around it were more active.  We then headed round to Denge Marsh where we didn't have to wait too long for the Great White Egret to appear with a good supporting cast of Little Egrets.  As we were watching Hobbies hunting dragonflies over the reeds another small egret appeared and Pete and myself shouted "this one's got a bright yellow bill, it's a Cattle Egret" which added to the set nicely.  As we waited for it to reappear, a clonking sound above our heads revealed two Ravens, still a pretty rare bird in Kent.  It was a great days bird watching with some great mates.  


I still find it difficult to get away from the listing game.  I kept a list for the two weeks I was in the UK and saw 142 species, the last of these was a Green Woodpecker just before I headed to the airport.  I didn't see a single Songthrush, once a very common garden bird.  They seem to be easier to find in New Zealand.


Back in the Southern Hemisphere, while I was away the first aerial drop of poison was made on Ulva Island in an attempt to eradicate the rats that had re-invaded last Christmas.  The second drop was in September and at the time of writing the results look positive - no rats have been caught in the traps - although the full results will take about six months to come in.  The down side of the poison drop is that some birds have been affected.  Weka on Ulva Island have taken a substantial hit (on recent guided walks I have hardly seen this usually abundant bird) and I've seen less Stewart Island Robin and South Island Saddleback, but the official figures are yet to come in.


So the birding season has just started with a few guided walks on Ulva Island and we've had our first pelagic of the season with Aurora Charters , Fiordland Crested Penguins are back in Halfmoon Bay and the only other bird of note was an Antarctic Fulmar.

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