Although the contents of the moth trap hardly slowed my departure for Portland a hold-up at home and the school run meant that I didn’t arrive until 9, by which time an early surge of birds had slowed almost completely, though 20-30 Gannets were still moving to and fro and a few Kittiwakes headed west. However, after nearly an hour of not very much 2 Balearic Shearwaters flickered into view and passed by; though too far out for really good photographs it was still worth the wait.
Wednesday 29th. Enterprise finally got their act together this morning and collected me from home to collect a courtesy hire car. Would you Adam and Eve it? Apart from the fact that it is not electric it turns out to be the same make and model as our proposed new car AND the same colour. It looks like tonight might provide a window of mothing opportunity in a week of meteorological mange and I might just give Portland Bill a go tomorrow morning to see if any Balearic Shearwaters are still around in the gales that are forecast.
Tuesday 28th was a case of trying to sort out insurance, charging point and courtesy hire car, with the expected variability in success that felt like being back at work again! Anyway, by late afternoon things had moved on. Insurance will cost more because the car is more expensive but our NCD is protected, the courtesy car will be available tomorrow morning and NFU have written off our car and valued it at £4400, which is very reasonable.
All of this is seriously affecting my ability to go birding, even if the weather over the last two days would have done that anyway. I’ve been more or less limited to checking on the Med. Gulls in the valley and after a fierce squall this afternoon at least 16 flew west.
Last night did indeed introduce a change in the weather with strong winds and rain that look set to continue well into the start of October. The ongoing crane fly-fest in the wheat stubble mainly involved Herring Gulls but with at least 3 Mediterranean Gulls joining in.
Much of today was taken up with sorting out insurance, car hire and car finance, almost certainly with a view to changing to fully electric. It’s a decision that we could have done with putting off for two years, but there you go. This also failed to take into account that this is Dorset on a Monday, so getting acts together was cloyingly difficult. Having expected the kitchen refurbishment to take 3 days we are now into day 6 but the good news is that at midday we had our kitchen back, ready for creating Tuscan bean soup for this evening. We spent much of the afternoon looking at a Vauxhall Corsa electric, which was much cheaper than the VW and Hyundai vehicles we had looked at and after a test drive made the decision to go for it. The vehicle is a one year old ex-manager’s vehicle with 3.5K on the clock and it felt really nice and much more in keeping with our needs than the flashier alternatives.
Friday 24th didn’t turn out quite as expected. Following an unexciting moth trap and an uninspiring visit to the Weston cliffs I was turning into Grove Lane on the way home when the car was smashed into by a biker who had overtaken two other cars behind me and was gunning his machine down the hill. As good fortune would have it the impact was on the front wing and although the damage was extensive if I had been turning a split second earlier it would have been me in the air ambulance as well as him. One of my 9 lives, without a doubt. As for the biker, he was taken away by helicopter with serious leg injuries and associated trauma, but the ambulance crew did not expect spinal injury.
Saturday 25th. Sallow was new for the year last night and, our morning suitably enhanced, we set off on the 1123 train to Bath to watch our first match in nearly three years, on this occasion against Newcastle. Bath have clearly altered their playing style, ditching the old habit of playing well then falling away for a policy of playing utter rubbish then improving. As a result, half time saw them trailing by 20 points to 3. Their commitment and accuracy improved in the second half, which they won 10-0 to claim a barely-deserved losing bonus point. We got back to Dorchester just before 8 and paid as much for a taxi home as for a return to Bath on the train, but then we knew that would be the way of it.
Last night’s moths were a bit more interesting, but with no additions for the year for the fourth consecutive night, so I set off to explore West Bexington for the first time since we moved here. The route in summer and autumn when the mere is dry involves a half mile walk west along the shingle of Chesil, then another half mile down to and along the mere itself to the footpath that leads inland to Swyre. In winter, when birding is probably at its best, the mere is flooded and the walk will be entirely along the shingle. The birding was actually quiet, with 3 Cetti’s, 2 Ravens, several Chiffchaffs, 2 Stonechats along the mere and a Wheatear on the beach, though I should grudgingly mention 200 Canada Geese on hillside stubble. There was no visible migration, but two birders I met said that most keep to the ridge inland, so there’s another possibility to explore.
Last night’s full moon and a brisk NE breeze didn’t bode well for moths and it turned out to be the lowest catch since 22nd June, amounting to only 67 of 11 species.
So, having failed to realise yesterday how beautiful Abbotsbury Gardens would be and failing to take binoculars or a decent camera, I returned at 10 to put things right. On the way to the viewpoint a Firecrest was flitting about among some exotica and in half an hour at the top 17 Meadow Pipits, 2 Yellow Wagtails and 5 Red Admirals flew mostly west and a Wheatear and a Mediterranean Gull appeared below.
Slightly furry around the fringes this morning after an excellent meal (and some single malt!) with Sue and Angus last night, the moth trap was interesting, with a Delicate and 3 Vestals supplying migrant interest, but the real surprise was finding a Red Underwing on the wall when we returned from Abbotsbury Gardens in the early afternoon.
Abbotsbury Gardens was a real treat and we were so impressed that we purchased season tickets for £80, £14 of which we recouped with our visit this morning. The gardens have the feel of some of the trails in Panama with a fantastic view of the coast from Portland through to Devon from the high point on its southern boundary. We heard Nuthatch and Great Spotted Woodpecker and saw several Goldcrests and Chiffchaffs flitting around the edges and I bet there has been more than one Yellow-browed Warbler here in previous autumns. It is no surprise that Jack Oughton moth-traps here; the possibilities must be nigh-on endless.
Although Tuesday night was mostly unproductive, on setting the trap for last night’s session a second Beautiful Marbled of the month was found in the light assembly. Following a chilly but calm night it was back in the trap again, along with an outstanding variety that included two that we had never previously recorded in Heath Rustic and Flame Carpet. Other new species for the year included the southern migrant Vestal, Feathered Brindle and Black Rustic.
If last night’s mothing was dull, the same could not be said of this morning’s birding. It was atmospherically calm and overcast as I set out along Barleycrates Lane and it soon became obvious that Meadow Pipits were around in numbers, augmented by plenty of Wheatears, a light passage of hirundines and, in scrub near the old light, a Redstart and 15 Chiffchaffs. Totals for the morning were 310 Meadow Pipits, 35 Wheatears, 3 Stonechats, 4 Yellow Wagtails and a Sparrowhawk that ghosted along the clifftop as I walked back.
If there was any doubt that autumn is upon us, it was dispelled last night by the capture of Marbled Beauty, Lunar Underwing and Frosted Orange, while Common Wainscot overtook Common Footman to become the most numerous species this year and Dusky Thorn became the latest and rather unexpected addition to the Hundred Club. Otherwise, it’s new carpet day, so off to do the shopping then back to clear the decks. Oh, Georgie the Cat has a new game, which involves climbing on to the shed roof then meowing pitifully while making it as hard as possible to bring her down. Excellent fun and much better than fire engines.
After a very quiet trap yesterday morning we were treated to much better numbers, including a Latticed Heath, which was new for the year. We didn’t think much of this until chatting to Jack Oughton who said that it doesn’t breed in Dorset and is probably a migrant.
We decided to revisit the Langton Herring – Rodden Hive circuit and on reaching the brow of the hill overlooking The Fleet It was completely calm with not a ripple on the surface of the water; a beautiful morning. Warblers flitting along the hedges included Blackcap, Chiffchaff, Whitethroat and one Sedge Warbler, while there must have been 300 Mediterranean Gulls on The Fleet; presumably the Lodmoor flock from a few weeks ago.
Jack had trapped a Jersey Mocha yesterday and agreed to meet us at the Duck Shop in Portesham, where he proceeded to produce the mocha, a Portland Ribbon Wave and a stunning Beech-green Carpet that he’d trapped on Portland last night. Three moth ticks in less than two minutes!
A calm and misty night with a light southerly produced a manic 710 macros of 39 species, including a significant influx of migrants, among which were Convolvulus Hawk-moth, Pearly Underwing, 13 Silver Y and a most unexpected Clouded Silver; indicative of an autumn generation and possibly of continental origin. Probably the best moth of the night, though, was a Pale Eggar, which we never sniffed in Kent and which is uncommon and thinly distributed in Dorset. The rest of the day was fairly miserable with spells of light rain amid persistent drizzle, but for the second successive day a Sparrowhawk was annoying the local corvids and our Wheatear and a Whitethroat are still feeding in the garden.
Highlights in the moth trap this morning were the migrant Beautiful Marbled, a real art deco design of a moth which we recorded on the farm in August last year, and the rosy micro Oncocera semirubella. My walk on Portland was a variation on yesterday, turning away from the cliffs at Southwell BP and returning in a loop across the top fields above the Bill. Apart from familiarising myself with a bit more of the island it was very quiet, though it is such a nice place that it didn’t really matter.
Last night’s moths were unexciting, but compensation came by way of a walk from Barleycrates Lane on Portland and along the cliffs to Portland Bill itself. 24 Wheatears, 3 Whinchats and a Stonechat were scattered about, a pack of 60 Swallows whisked south at Southwell and overflying birds included 3 Yellow Wagtails and 2 Meadow Pipits that seemed to come in off the sea. However, the highlight of the morning were 2 Wrynecks. One was being surrounded by a group of photographers by the Bill car park and the other about 500m up the slope to the north. Apparently there were 6 Wrynecks in the area on Sunday!
Although the moth trap brought nothing new there was some migrant activity, including 3 of the migrant micro Cydia amplana, and enough Snouts to add another species to the Hundred Club. The best news of all is that my eye seems to be improving, with the blurring and redness much reduced, so it does look to have been an infection of some sort. Lunchtime brought a display of anting from at least 6 Mediterranean Gulls, swirling about over the valley in lovely warm sunshine and the day was rounded off nicely by a call from Alan Barnard up the road asking if I would like to see a Neglected Rustic. You bet!
Another quality night turned up Feathered Gothic and Lesser-spotted Pinion, which seems to be rare and very local in Dorset, but associated with elm hedges, so less of a surprise here than elsewhere, perhaps. In fact it seems that the Abbotsbury/Portesham area is a good locality for it, several having been found in the last few years, including one in Coryates two years ago. By way of a Brucie Bonus 4 Crossbills flew over as we were checking the trap.
Well, that didn’t turn out to be the day we had expected. Moreton Manor was excellent but when we got up on Friday morning the eye problem I had been experiencing since Thursday had become severe. So off we went to Poole A&E where we were directed to the eye unit at Bournemouth Hospital and given an appointment at 11am. To cut a very long story short we left there at 6.30 having undergone eye scans, inspections, blood samples, stinging eye drops and a CT scan and as I write this at 7am on Saturday morning we’re still none the wiser about something that could be anything from benign but uncomfortable to something horrible.
On a happier note, the capture of a Centre-barred Sallow brought the first sign of autumn moths, on a night that was also notable for second generation examples of Shears and Short-cloaked Moth; both of which are very uncommon at this time of year. Wheatears continue to visit our garden in search of insects ……
The start of the new month was a case of numbers over variety in the moth trap, with Common Wainscot (380 last night) passing the thousand mark for the year and Buff Ermine and Small Square-spot joining the Hundred Club. As for the weather, the continuing gloom and cool NE breeze recalled that ancient Walker Brothers number The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore. Just 3 Wheatears were in the field this morning, possibly a result of the presence of a superb male Sparrowhawk and our horrible cat, who had to be dispossessed of one that she had caught and brought indoors yesterday evening. Fortunately when rescued it flew off, apparently unharmed. Before we set off to Moreton Manor at Corfe Castle for the night, ahead of our visit to Brownsea Island tomorrow, a Whinchat was perched on one of our garden gate posts: an unexpected garden tick and the first for me this year.
The final moth session of the month produced nothing new, but at least August had rectified some of the shortfall on numbers that we should probably expect at this stage of the year. So, off I went to do a spot of birding. Fed up with the constant noise from the still-active Broadcroft Quarry I decided to walk from Barleycrates Lane along the cliffs at Weston down to the National Coastwatch station that overlooks Portland Bill to the south. Although it was pretty quiet 4 Ravens were noisily evident, 8 Yellow Wagtails flew over, 10 Wheatears were scattered about and a Pied Flycatcher flew from clifftop scrub on to the fence surrounding Southwell Business Park. Several Gannets were fishing offshore and a Peregrine flew past as I walked back.