Thursday, 26 May 2016

Black-billed Cuckoo North Uist!

The term 'dream bird' is used all too often. But earlier this week, it genuinely did happen. Birders of my generation - born in the 80's and then birding hard from the mid 90's - have had to endure endless tales of Scilly in its prime. Now that I've been going a few years, most of those mega rares have repeated during my time with one massive exception - Black-billed Cuckoo. Add to that the apparent demise of the species on the other side of the Atlantic, just a couple of records on the Azores and an all too brief bird on North Ronaldsay a couple of autumn's ago and you've got a species I really never fancied seeing. Not least in May! But last weekend an incredible record unfolded - a Black-billed Cuckoo at Paible, North Uist.

It was genuinely a real no brainer to go or not to go. Mega rarities, that you've been talking about every single bloody year forlornly, don't grow on trees. And a fit and well Black-billed Cuckoo ticked every single box. And so, with a quick flight up from Yorkshire, look what was still lurking when I (and others) arrived...

Black-billed Cuckoo Paible, North Uist, Outer Hebrides May 2016
It was really perky, actively catching caterpillars and flying about from garden to garden near Loch Sandary in the Hebridean sun. Not exactly how I'd expected to see one - thought a shattered, half dead bird in October was more likely. Black-billed Cuckoo was actually a world tick too, a species that I'd not yet seen in the US. So much so that it was only on the morning that the news broke that I'd been listening to and downloading the call! In fact, the species was one of 16 targets that I'm hoping to see in Michigan next week.

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

A bit of an update

I didn't quite realise how long it has been since I did an update on here. A lot has happened, both birding wise and at work. One of the busiest periods for both, and so having got back from Italy on that first Bank Holiday weekend in May, one of the first things I did was go on an after school twitch to Otford, Kent where the meena race Rufous Turtle Dove showed well on arrival: -
Rufous Turtle Dove Otford, Kent 3rd May 2016
Back in the day, this species was near-mythical. I remember seeing the Orkney bird on a dark December 2002 day and near enough everyone needed it then. I even saw another orientalis race bird in Oxfordshire a few years back in 2011.

The next weekend promised a lot, with a really decent passage of Pomarine Skuas past Dungeness on the Friday. It was good enough for me to get up well before dawn and venture down there. And I wasn't alone, though we were all without the skua passage with a grand total of zero Poms recorded! I did have a nice Black Tern on The Patch and a walk about the trapping area revealed a Whinchat at the far end of the Long Pits. But other than that, Dungeness was really quiet and so I headed back to London early afternoon. A walk about Rotherhithe that evening was pleasant if not spectacular with a Buzzard over my flat, a Bristol ringed Herring Gull on Greenland Dock and then some nice views of an inquisitive Ring-necked Parakeet: -
Ring-necked Parakeet Russia Dock Woodland, Rotherhithe 7th May 2016
1st-summer Herring Gull (L+R) Rotherhithe 7th May 2016 - ringed as a chick in Bristol on 7th July 2015
The next morning, May 8th, was one of those days where I nearly didn't bother getting out of bet. But hell yeah, I'm glad that I did. And so in glorious blue skies I met up with John A at Crossness and we went for a stomp around. Very quiet indeed to start off, and then all of a sudden while on the hunt for a leftover Wheatear in the paddocks, a small finch flew over with a buzzing 'tr-tr-tr-tr (or something like that!) followed by a couple of jangles - and to boot, being only 100 or so metres away and having heard them last weekend, it was quite obviously a Serin! John A concurred and we both moved back to the river, very happy indeed! A Hobby whipped over and then on the river a Grey Plover was by the outfall and 4 Sanderling were in Barking Bay. Add to that a couple of Lesser Whitethroats and a Little Ringed Plover - all in beautiful weather - it paid to stay local!

And what with all that hot weather, who'd have thought a Dalmatian Pelican would turn up? Well it certainly did, and to boot it lingered in Cornwall (and is still there as I write this).
Dalmatian Pelican Polgigga, Cornwall May 2016
Having been seen previously in Poland, its credentials are fine but being honest it's probably never going to get much further than Category D. With a fine male Woodchat to boot at Marazion, the trip to Cornwall was enjoyable if not a little fraught given how it gave us the runaround more than I'd anticipated. 

Thursday, 5 May 2016

Brief trip to Italy

Last weekend Karen and I headed to Italy for three days of predominantly relaxation. Staying on the Amalfi coast, we had a day visiting the ruins at Pompeii (decent, but the five hours Karen orchestrated was a bit excessive!) and then just relaxed the next couple of days along the coast from Sorrento to Amalfi. To sum it up, the birding was tough albeit casual.

Italian Sparrows were nice to see. They were everywhere, and sounded like Spanish Sparrows; and all the males looked like this: -
male Italian Sparrow Pompeii, Italy 30th April 2016
There was little else at Pompeii, bar a couple of Hoopoes, a Blue Rock Thrush and an almost infinite number of Serins. Around the town of Amalfi, there was a good opportunity to have a look at the state of the local Yellow-legged Gulls; a lot of non-breeding birds about as well as a few adults.

Yellow-legged Gulls (adult and 1st-summer) Atrani, Italy 1st May 2016
After heading back along the coast to Praiano late afternoon, we walked back through the town and I managed some good views of a couple of Icterine Warblers and a short while later, a couple of Bee-eaters calling away on the hillside and a Spotted Flycatcher in the wood near the hotel.

Icterine Warbler Praiano, Italy 1st May 2016 - note the long wing projection with eight unevenly spaced primary tips beyond the tertials
On our final morning, there wasn't too much else about. Serins and Sardinian Warblers scratching about, and a brief Western Bonelli's Warbler in one of the pines. And that was that - a very pleasant three days away though if anyone's looking for a good birding spot, I'd probably not recommend the Amalfi coast...

Friday, 22 April 2016

Cold conditions deliver an arctic gull

Last weekend was cold. Single digits. And after having to jump start the Land Rover for the first time in ages, it was onto the tip I went. Still lots of gulls, though less Lesser Black-backed Gulls than the previous week. Then at 9.45am, this beauty floated into view and decided to spend the morning in view feeding on the newly bulldozed waste on the tip edge.

juvenile Iceland Gull Pitsea, Essex 16th April 2016
I mentioned my inability to multitask last weekend. Something I'm not sure holds true with everyone, but I either have to focus on gull leg scrutiny to maximise ring recording, or look elsewhere plumage wise to find the Casps or whatever else. And so this weekend, I decided that with less Lesser Black-backs about (which inevitably have the most interesting ringing histories) it was time to find the Casps... of which I managed a couple of first-winters: -

1st-winter Caspian Gull (bird 1) Pitsea, Essex 16th April 2016 - two images above

1st-winter Caspian Gull (bird 2) Pitsea, Essex 16th April 2016 - two images above
As well as a couple of adult Mediterranean Gulls, there were of course some ringed gulls about and I managed 22 rings, including two Norwegian Great Black-backed Gulls (including one new bird) and a Guernsey ringed adult Herring Gull.
Herring Gull 0FL9 - ringed as a first-summer at Ty Coed, Vale Marais, Guernsey on 29th July 2012; then seen at Chouet Landfill, Guernsey intermittently from August 2012 to March 2014 before being last seen at Pitsea on 5th September 2015
Sunday was mundane on the bird front. Just a single ringed Herring Gull (a regular bird) at Greenwich and little in Rotherhithe. Anyway, there'll be no tip for me for the next couple of weekends, what with stag do's, a weekend away and general life stuff dragging me away from the sweet smell of rubbish each Saturday morning.

Friday, 15 April 2016

Rings, Ring Ouzel and Razorbill

A bit of a belated post for last weekend. Not very good at multi-tasking, with work, birthdays and blogs all happening this week. And the multi-tasking wasn't prevalent at the tip last Saturday either, where I concentrated on rings and therefore failed to have anything of interest bar a very brief 1st-winter Caspian Gull in the melee. On the ring front however, Saturday 9th April was a very good day with 38 ringed gulls - 8 of these not NTGG birds with birds from Guernsey, Belgium, The Netherlands, two from France and three Norwegian: -
adult Lesser Black-backed Gull - ringed as chick at Zeebrugge, West-Vlaanderen, Belgium on 8th July 2011; seen at Blaringhem, Nord, France on 20th June 2013 and then at El Jadida, Morocco on 10th December 2014
adult Lesser Black-backed Gull - ringed in France... a new ringing scheme but still awaiting its history. A story behind the ring colour though, as it is meant to be red with yellow writing; a cautionary tale to understand that rings don't do well through time in some cases!
1st-winter Great Black-backed Gull - ringed as a chick at Store Vengelsholmen, Vest-Agder, Norway on 4th July 2015 then seen at Dunkerque harbour, Nord, France on 27th February 2016
1st-winter Great Black-backed Gull - ringed as a chick at Knogen, Nordjylland, Denmark on 30th June 2015 and seen Hirtshals Havn, Nordjylland, Denmark on 20th September 2015 and by me at Pitsea on 6th February 2016
Sunday morning dawned and it was time to visit Crossness with John A. Nice to be out and about there again, though it seemed rather empty until we hit the jackpot with a female Ring Ouzel in the paddocks (John's photo here as I forgot my camera!). Initially flushed from near the pumping station, it ended up skittishly chilling in Island Field. Little Ringed Plover nearby too, along with a Yellow Wagtail over but the chilling wind didn't exactly make it feel too much like spring. And I haven't even seen a Wheatear yet!

I headed over the Thames and to Rainham RSPB, where after more of a wait than expected, the moribund Razorbill was located floating at the back of a reedy channel. Mega London bird, but totally uninspiring and a sad sight (dying the next day). I didn't hang around long though, and I'd forgotten how much I like to bird places where there are few other birders! I get paid for my services to the community Monday to Friday, so having to deal with inane questions on my day off made me retreat back to Rotherhithe, where this queen was still parading on Southwark Park lake. My last chance to see this beaut as it was: -
female Common Scoter Southwark Park, London 10th April 2016
And so that was that, another weekend gone and some decent things seen locally. Hopefully the spring will get me out of the London area at some stage! In the meantime, here is a nice sinensis Cormorant by my flat enjoying the sunshine.
adult sinensis Cormorant Greenland Dock, Rotherhithe 10th April 2016

Friday, 8 April 2016

This week in London...

The second week of the Easter holidays is coming to an end, and in between going in and out of school for one reason or another, I've stayed well within London since getting back from Israel on Saturday night. It all started so promisingly on Sunday with a visit to the mud by the O2 in Greenwich delivering nicely with a juvenile Iceland Gull.
juvenile Iceland Gull O2 Greenwich, London 3rd April 2016
I was pretty pumped with this bird, as it's not everyday that within a couple of miles of my home here in Central London I get graced by an Arctic beast. More pumped than I was with this wake up call the same morning - an albino Ring-necked Parakeet squawking away outside my flat.
albino Ring-necked Parakeet Rotherhithe, London 3rd April 2016
Sunday evening it was back to the gulls on Greenland Dock, Rotherhithe. And in among the non-breeding flock was a NTGG ring: -
1st-winter Herring Gull Rotherhithe, London 3rd April 2016 - ringed at Pitsea on 16 January 2016, then at Beddington on 26 January 2016, Little Marlow GP, Bucks 12 March 2016 and again Beddington on 4 March 2016
Remarkably the Common Scoter that was about before I left for Israel was still on the lake at Southwark Park on Monday and Tuesday. Despite the long stay in perhaps not the most prime location for a sea duck, it was still feeding happily and seemed in good health.
female Common Scoter Southwark Park, London 5th April 2016
Later on Tuesday, after a couple of Willow Warblers in the morning (one in Russia Dock Woodland and another in Southwark Park), I was in school when I got news from Richard P-J that there was a male Redstart at Stave Hill, Rotherhithe. I managed to wrap up what I was doing pretty rapidly and joined him for some decent views late afternoon - the initial male joined briefly too by a female. A great record and only about my fifth in Rotherhithe!
male Redstart Stave Hill, Rotherhithe, London 5th April 2016
The weather was cold, wet and generally grim on Wednesday with little doing. Except for a couple of ringed Herring Gulls on the Thames (the same bird as Sunday and this Suffolk ringed bird): -
1st-winter Herring Gull 'VVB' Rotherhithe, London 6th April 2016 - ringed at  Felixstowe, Suffolk as a chick on 3 July 2015, seen there again on 27 August 2015 and then Grand Union Canal, Southall, Greater London 16 March 2016
Thursday was frustrating too, with just a single ringed adult Herring Gull (a regular bird) the only thing of note by the O2 in Greenwich while Rotherhithe was devoid of birds until I stumbled upon the male Redstart again (I didn't even bother looking for it on Wednesday due to the weather) - the first one here that has stuck more than a day!

And to today, with the sun shining a bit more and the temperature a tad warmer. Into school for the morning and then to Waterworks NR where I wanted to acquaint myself with a singing Siberian Chiffchaff. Thanks to Paul W for all the info, and the bird for showing nicely too - a relatively weak singer but sounds a bit like this, while on half a dozen occasions over the course of an hour I heard the bird contact call, a short monosyllabic 'weep'.
Siberian Chiffchaff Waterworks NR, London 8th April 2016
And then it was back to Rotherhithe, where once again the male Redstart gave some fleeting appearances in the scrub in the cairn meadow below Stave Hill, while this inquisitive Ring-necked Parakeet decided to poke its greenness from a nest hole nearby: -
Ring-necked Parakeet Rotherhithe, London 8th April 2016
And then to round things off, there was a Yorkshire ringed Herring Gull on the river near my flat this evening.
Herring Gull Y:109 Rotherhithe, London 8th April 2016 - ringed at Harewood Whin, Rufforth, Yorks on 26th October 2015 and then I saw it in Rotherhithe initially on 6th March 2016
A shame that migration and weather hadn't taken me further afield, but as Karen says it'll have done you good spending time at home and not travelling. Not sure about that to be honest.

Wednesday, 6 April 2016

Israel - update 5 (the final two days and lots of gulls!)

The final two days in Israel (Friday and Saturday) were spent staying in the centre of Tel Aviv. I actually quite liked the place - a nice crumbly exterior to most of the place with a pleasant cycle way along the seafront. Also nicely cosmopolitan. And, importantly, well located for a bit of gulling - with Ashdod to the south and then Ma'agan Michael to the north. So it was Friday at the former (very much possible due to the kindness of Amir Ben Dov) and then Saturday at the latter. With a brief interlude of a male Black-eared Wheatear, a couple of Hoopoes and copious numbers of Common Mynas along Tel Aviv's seafront on Saturday morning - nice to see migration still happening in the urban Med: -

male Eastern Black-eared Wheatear Tel Aviv, Israel 2nd April 2016
Hoopoe Tel Aviv, Israel 2nd April 2016
So back to normal service, with the rest of this post dedicated to the gulls that I saw. I was privileged to have been able to hook up with Amir Ben Dov at Ashdod on Friday, one of Israel's only dedicated gullers - and sharp as nails when it comes to reading metal rings from vast distances. Really impressive! The site itself isn't public access, and consists of settling lagoons near a small waste site. Here it was great to get some good experience of Baltic Gulls, with at least a couple of hundred present; very low numbers here this year according to Amir and he isn't too sure exactly why the marked decline in gull numbers. Anyway, I was pretty content so here are a selection of adults (note the small mirror on P9 on the image down): -

adult Baltic Gulls Ashdod, Israel 1st April 2016
And as well as the fuscus above, a bird I'd not really seen too many of previously was Heuglin's Gull. In fact, the adults were quite obvious in this Middle Eastern context though further west, they would probably be extremely hard to clinch. Anyway, those second calendar year birds were very Casp-like and kind of distinctive.

Heuglin's Gulls Ashdod, Israel 1st April 2016
There was also this nice Crested Lark in the dunes at Ashdod, as well as a few European Bee-eaters and Northern Wheatears. Typical Mediterranean birding at its eastern limits!
Crested Lark Ashdod, Israel 1st April 2016
Saturday was spent to the north of Tel Aviv, and having got a spot from Mick S at Ma'agan Michael, I headed there for a couple of hours. The birds were quite skittish on the beach, not really allowing close approach. However, this lingering lump was the most showy of any of the gulls and was a bit of a bonus considering the lateness in the season: -
Great Black-headed Gull Ma'agan Michael, Israel 2nd April 2016
Compared to Ashdod, Ma'agan Michael has a lot more Armenian Gulls. Again due to the date, the adults had largely headed off so I was left with some scraggy immatures. Being honest, the second calendar years are not too obvious with little distinguishing plumage tracts - pale underwing, dark tertials and a clean cut tail band with a relatively unmarked uppertail. The thick set bill was obvious on most: -

Armenian Gulls Ma'agan Michael, Israel 2nd April 2016 - note the near adult in the last photo