Whooper Swan – Abbotsbury Swannery, Dorset

A Whooper Swan had been wintering with the herd of Mute Swans at Abbotsbury Swannery in Dorset. I had a 121 workshop at Portland Bill and so on the way down I detoured via the Swannery. While checking for directions online I had noticed that the Swannery was closed over the winter although the news messages from Bird Guides didn’t mention that there was no access and so I presumed that you could still view the lagoon but that none of the amenities were open. 

I parked in the outer car park and then walked down the lane towards the main Swannery and as I got closer someone walked out from the centre and approached me purposefully. He said I wasn’t allowed to be here and that I was on private land. He mentioned something about viewing the Swannery from public footpaths high up on the distant ridge but I could tell he felt that this would be a complete waste of time given how far away I would then be.

As I walked back, slightly irritated, I noticed the footpath he had described and decided to give it a go. It was the South West Coastal Path and I could follow it up to the top of the hill near to St Catherine’s Chapel and get a great view of the Swannery albeit a very distant one! It was quite a steep climb and I needed to try a few different vantage points to be able to see above and around various trees. 

I scanned carefully but saw nothing but Mute Swans. Lots of the swans were preening without their bills visible and so it was quite a slow process scanning through them. Frustratingly there were also quite a few swans that were hidden from view wherever I stood.

I had been scanning for 45 minutes and for the third time I was on my ‘this is the absolutely final’ scan when I noticed the yellow bill! My scope was fully zoomed at 60x and I sketched down the basic shape. What a relief!

Compared to Bewick’s Swan the yellow covers more than half of the bill with the yellow extending below the nostrils.  

Whooper Swan takes me to 144 for the year.

White-fronted Goose – Fishlake Meadows, Hampshire – 9th February 2019

Dad rang me from Romsey to say that a White-fronted Goose had turned up with Greylag Geese at Fishlake Meadows. He had seen it earlier having dropped Mum off in the town. White-fronts are rare winter visitors in Hampshire and so I decided to head over although having visited Fishlake on a few occasions I knew viewing places were very limited.

I arrived and made my way to the main viewing area and scanned the margins of the main lake. There was no sign and so I decided to walk the southern edge of the reserve looking for gaps in the trees. This proved to be a long and frustrating task and although I had brief and partial views of Greylags there was no sign of the White-front.

Given how obscured the views were it also seemed likely that there were lots of birds of various types that I couldn’t see at all. As I got to the south western corner I could see a larger group of Greylags in the second lake. The view was better here as the hedge was only chest high however with an angled scope I needed to be on full tip toes in order that the scope could see over the top of the hedge and this was a very uncomfortable position to hold for long. After 10 minutes or so I decided that the White-front wasn’t with them and headed back to the viewing platform.

From here you could see perhaps 40% of the main lake. I chatted to another birder who had arrived and I mentioned the Greylags at the other end and I agreed to take him back and show him. Ten minutes later we were watching the Greylags again and after a few seconds he said that he had it. I asked for a look through his scope and had good views of the extensive white face but almost as soon as I’d seen it the whole flock took off. In flight I could see it’s much smaller size and the characteristic black barring on the belly. The flock kept flying and was soon out of sight and gone.

Success! With literally a second to spare. Year list up to 145 but I’m still not a fan of Fishlake Meadows!

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