December 2021

Wednesday 29th. There 330 Med. Gulls on the fields this morning, in continuing dull and rainy conditions with a strong SW wind. However, more were moving west up the valley, presumably from fields to the east, amounting to 370 in 40 minutes from 09.30 and with 360 still on the winter heat when this movement slowed, the total for the morning was an amazing 730; comfortably the most since we’ve been here.

Tuesday 28th. Oh dear. All out for 68, England couldn’t even muster enough runs to wipe out Australia’s first innings lead of 82. Only twice have they managed to pass 200 in six innings in the series so far and at times, particularly overnight by the looks of it, it has been like watching village cricket, with one team totally outclassing the other. The weather did little to cheer things up, with the westerly wind reaching 59 mph at times and driving squalls across the already wet fields. However, we did see a fox: the first from the cottage since we moved down in May.

Boxing Day dawned overcast but dry, although the surrounding fields were saturated by several days of rain and the mood was hardly helped by the news that England were all out for a paltry 185 in the Boxing Day test. Recovery from yesterday’s excesses was slow (Joby’s Christmas lunch was the best ever), but a walk to Portesham for the annual Duck Race helped things along. We returned early as Karen developed symptoms of breathlessness, almost certainly brought on by route-marching with sugars that were too high, to find 94 Med. Gulls, 27 Common Gulls, about 200 Black-headed Gulls and, best of all, an adult Little Gull in the fields opposite.

Mediterranean Gull with Black-headed Gulls

Friday 24th. We were forced to visit Dorchester to replace our kettle that committed suicide yesterday evening, in weather that seems to be no different from one day to the next: heavily overcast with drizzle or light rain. Still, the Med. Gull show was well and truly back in town with 188 on the winter wheat in mid-afternoon.

Thursday 23rd. It was dull with light but persistent rain all morning and into the afternoon. The Med. Gull flock that has been absent in the recent settled spell returned, with at least 35 on the winter wheat in mid-afternoon.

Tuesday 21st. Winter Solstice and a party of 6 Lapwings, heading down the valley from the direction of Abbotsbury, encouraged me outside for some birding from the garden. Although not much more happened the Lapwing flock on the winter wheat had increased to 12 by mid-morning and at 1305 a Cattle Egret flew down the valley, bringing our garden list to 82.

Monday 20th. Around 25 Redwings were scattered about along the wooded edges and hedgerows between here and Waddon yesterday afternoon and today brought some more movement with several flocks totalling around 80 birds heading north across the valley.

Saturday 18th. Yesterday afternoon’s sunshine was the first for four days and this morning the gloom had returned, with a brisk easterly breeze blowing up the valley. Being night migrants I suppose it was not surprising that there was no sign of yesterday evening’s Redwings, leaving the sound of falling English wickets to accentuate the mood. From 150-2 to 204-8, then all out for 237. Still, it is perversely reassuring that the natural order of things remains undisturbed.

Friday 17th. With a bit of east in the air this morning I noticed about 60 Redwings in the trees on the west side of the cottage and while looking at them 2 Egyptian Geese appeared, flying down the valley from the direction of Abbotsbury. This turned out to be the precursor of some notable movement, with totals of 470 Redwings, at least 36 Fieldfares and 140 Starlings either in the valley fields and hedgerows or moving away to the NW, while Chiffchaff and Jay were also recorded. At least 100 Redwings remained in the hedgerows opposite at dusk.

Thursday 16th. Well, there’s one good thing about not subscribing to BT Sport and that’s not being able to watch the full horror of the second Ashes Test, with Australia currently 196-2. Still, on a more positive note, we went to Abbotsbury Gardens yesterday evening to see them illuminated and although it was a bit garish and the singing Robins could have done without it there were some subtly beautiful bits ……..

Abbotsbury Gardens Illuminated

An hour’s birding from the garden in dull but calm and very mild conditions this morning turned up a Chiffchaff and 21 Redwings among the usual suspects. We had intended to go to Poole Lighthouse again to see a performance by Moscow Drug Club, but decided that the current Omicron-driven Covid outbreak made such a move unjustifiable.

Tuesday 14th. Our latest excursion into the West Dorset music scene was an evening of blues and boogie at Poole Lighthouse, featuring the New Orleans Boogie of Dom Pipkin, with some excellent piano, acoustic blues from Bridport-based Stompin’ Dave and the excellent Zoe Schwarz Blue Commotion. We first encountered Zoe Schwarz at the Lyme Regis Jazz Festival in late May where she and her band played a brief but memorable blues set on the Saturday afternoon, prior to the main event on Sunday. Even though they lived up to the billing of main attraction all three acts were very enjoyable and the intimate setting of the Sherling Studio just right for the occasion.

Zoe Schwarz Blue Commotion

Monday 13th. A substantial gull roost developed as the morning passed by and by 1145 there were 79 Med. Gulls, 72 Common Gulls and about 240 Black-headed Gulls: one of the larger gatherings since we’ve been here.

Saturday 11th. Damp but calm and mild a spell of birding from the garden turned up 16 Blackbirds and 6 Song Thrushes along the field edges, a Sparrowhawk, 2 Great Black-backs, which have been scarce here since we moved down, and a Mistle Thrush. Although that was pretty much the best of it as the day turned into a dull, drizzly mess by early afternoon a Marsh Harrier flew up the valley as I popped out to see if the postie had anything for us.

However, our evening was spent at Portesham Village Hall where a trio called Tou ki played a superb collection of Senegalese and Ethiopian inspired numbers to a crowd of around a hundred: not bad in these Covid-infested times. The band consisted of Amadou Diagne and Cory Seznec plus a friend on fiddle, with Cory playing acoustic guitar and banjo and Amadou the remarkable kora, a long-necked lute typical of Western Africa. Traditionally the long hardwood neck passes through a gourd resonator and 21 strings are attached to the top of the neck with tuning rings. The instrument rests on the ground in a vertical position and is played by plucking the strings with the thumb and forefinger of each hand while seated. However, in this performance it had been adapted to be played while standing, braced in a frame that allows the weight of the instrument to be braced on Amadou’s shoulders. The music was a laid-back, rather abstract set of African rhythms with a vibe that reminded me of Alexis Korner’s World Music slot when Radio 1 was something worth listening to.

Thursday 9th. Car charging day and a quiet walk around Portland Harbour via Chesil Cove that was notable only for a pair of mergansers and a Shag in the harbour. Even so, with Storm Barra out of the way it was a good deal nicer than the last couple of days.

Portland Marina

Tuesday 7th. We arrived back from our weekend in Kent early yesterday evening, to be greeted by a very excited Gina Cat and this morning, hot on the heels of Storm Arwen, Storm Barra, bringing gale to storm force winds and driving rain. Rather like The Naming of Cats, named storms have an interesting, if rather recent history. Since the naming of storms was launched in 2015 the Met. Office has issued a new list of names each September. The list runs from early September to late August the following year, coinciding with the start of autumn when the likelihood of low pressure systems and the potential for severe storms increases.

As for Kent, it was really good to catch up with the SBBO crowd and the birding gang at St.Margaret’s on Saturday and my old (whichever way you look at it) birding mates Keith, Roger and Martin on Sunday. Weather was fairly wet and so we did very little birding, but did go to see a White Stork near Temptye on Worth marshes from the comfort of Keith’s car. As for our EV, we needed two charging stops there and back, which added a couple of hours to the journey time, but that wasn’t really a problem as it gave us a chance to break the journeys and while we at Sandwich we used the fast charger on the Discovery Park to fill her up before setting off back home again. We met Jane, Sukhi and Kate for lunch near Langley on the way, to put the icing (well, actually, fish and chips) on a very enjoyable weekend.

Back here the expected Med. Gull-fest failed to materialise but 25-30 Common Gulls were on the winter wheat in the afternoon: a notable number for a species that has occurred only in twos and threes since we’ve been here.