New Birds in England are becoming more difficult to find as my life list grows. The outstanding candidate in the six days since my Belgium trip has been a north American rarity Bonaparte’s Gull. These have been present in Cardiff, South Wales; and Weymouth, Dorset. Today I went for the latter bird as it involved the more pleasant drive (120 miles) and location. This proved a wise choice as the Cardiff equivalent was elusive until late afternoon.
Present weather patterns appear to be holding up the spring passage, making local birding tedious so I made a snap decision to hit the road again. After leaving home at 8:30am, to avoid the rush hour around Winchester and Southampton, bright sunshine came to prevail when I reached the M27 but very strong, cold wind persisted throughout the day. I arrived at the RSPB’s Radipole Lake reserve in Weymouth shortly after 11am to be told the star visitor was showing well.
The Bonaparte’s Gull (pictured above) was viewable from a path known as the Buddleia Loop. There was a shelter there containing a jolly band of locals but I needed no assistance in identifying my bird. This first-winter individual stood out at once from the other species it was associating with: a very small gull with a busy, almost delicate flight pattern. A number of people in the visitor centre and shelter all described this gull as being “tern-like” in it’s behaviour and that description was quite apt.
I watched the “Boney” for some time in the freezing wind and then returned to the visitor centre. Outside I caught up with the reserve’s more famous north American resident, the drake Hooded Merganser. He had apparently just returned from four weeks’ holiday, or possibly a search for a mate, and was looking as dapper as ever (below).
I have retained a soft spot for Dorset since first visiting as a teenager and relish any reason for going there again. So I travelled back to Oxford via Dorchester then Blandford Forum to reacquaint myself with the green and rolling landscape of this lovely county. There was more scope for nostalgia when I reached Salisbury in neighbouring Wiltshire and found a free two-hour parking space close to the city’s cathedral close, a beautiful and historic location with fond past associations. Eventually I reached home, pleased with my day out, its birding result and most of all my flight shot of the Bonaparte’s Gull.