This weekend my friend Martin made his now annual escape from London life in order to kick back in the Dorset hills.
In past years we have squeezed a bit of fishing in, but this time we spent two and a half days hunting birds.
On Friday afternoon we were at Morden Bog hoping to find a great-grey shrike. We failed – but were content with the dartford warblers, stonechats and the amazing song of woodlark. Oh – and a sand lizard which was my first of the year.
On Saturday we stayed fairly local and were frustrated by low cloud. We failed to see the cirl buntings at West Bexington and the black redstart at West Bay but scurried home in time to watch a peregrine and a flock of golden plover from the comfort of the lounge.
Yesterday was a raptor fest. Martin had never seen a short-eared owl so we headed for Wyke Down with high hopes. The pattern was already set though and the shorties didn’t play ball, but what an afternoon. A peregrine put in an early appearance, and we found a couple of corn bunting on a hawthorn. Buzzards were plentiful, a couple of kestrels bold, and a sparrowhawk and red kite added to the mix. Then a ringtail hen harrier drifted languidly across the down to make it 6 raptor species in the space of an hour.
A flock of lapwing drew our attention south and suddenly the air was thick with panic. A flock of starlings dived and weaved but a peregrine thudded into them and landed in the field below us with his prize. For maybe 25 minutes we watched him feed, and he kept a steady eye on us throughout. The snap is from my phone so forgive the quality!
Then came the icing on the cake as a male hen harrier drifted out from below us before working up the fence line and inadvertently spooking the peregrine. It could have got spikey, but the falcon was full and didn’t fancy a fight, pumping off the the east, over the trees and out of sight.