Sunday, 25 January 2015

Back on the tip after 3 weeks' absence

Three weeks ago was the last time I'd been at the tip - it'd taken that long to get the latest puncture sorted. So, with a healthy Land Rover and the sun shining, it was good to be up there again yesterday. It wasn't too cold either, with the only issue that I had being that I needed to be in Sevenoaks for a family do mid afternoon.

Adult Caspian Gulls, Essex 24th January 2015 - structurally both very similar; note the more obvious black bar on P5 on the top bird.
Anyway, the highlight was undoubtedly the 5 Caspian Gulls that we saw up there - two adults (including a potentially returning, pale-eyed bird) and three 1st-winters. None of them showed at point blank range, but they did show relatively well in the crisp winter's light.
1st-winter Caspian Gull, Essex 24th January 2015
There were a number of rings read too, and as well as a load of North Thames Gull Group red rings, there were birds from Norway, Cambridgeshire, Yorkshire and Suffolk. Nothing too interesting, but just good to be back in the gull zone on the tip for only a second time this year.
adult Herring Gull, Essex 24th January 2015. Ringed at Seamer Carr near Scarborough, North Yorkshire on 13th May 2011, and previously seen on the tip in December 2013.
1st-winter Great Black-backed Gull, Essex 24th January 2015. Ringed as a chick in Norway at Olavskj√¶ran, Lindesnes, Vest-Agder on 2nd July 2014 and then seen subsequently by Brian Small at Southwold, Suffolk on 13th October 2014.
Steve A didn't have any commitments like I did, so after I'd left, he went back up and scored with a stunning juvenile Glaucous Gull; and reviewing his photos, it seems as thought there were two. So not ideal for me, but I guess you can't see everything and looking forward to another session next Saturday.

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

The Italian Job

It has been a few years since I last visited Italy; before this blog began. And, yes, it's a pretty unoriginal title but essentially sums up what Saturday evening and Sunday were all about - fly to Bari, visit for 24 hours and hopefully locate Europe's only regular Grey-headed Gull (present on and off since October 2012). It was a trip that I fancied, not only to see the gull but also one to get out of a bit of a birding rut here in southeast England.

Before this trip, the only Grey-headed Gulls I'd seen were on a trip to Mauritania back in December 2006. Given that these days you'd be chancing getting your head chopped off there, WP birders who hadn't seen the species obviously saw Italy as a less life threatening option. And so when Josh J spoke to me about it a few weeks ago, I didn't really need convincing about indulging in some Italian gulling; this being up Mick S's street too.

A bit of history on the gull too - it first turned up in October 2012, and has been on and off in the coastal towns of Molfetta and Bari since then; predominantly in winter amongst large numbers of Black-headed Gulls. Anyway, on Saturday 17th January, the Grey-headed Gull had been seen in its usual location a couple of kilometres to the south of Bisceglie; at this spot it comes in to wash and roost, before heading off again. Fortuitously late the day before I arrived, it had been tracked down to spending a good deal of its time in the harbour at Bisceglie. And so that's where Sunday 18th January dawned...
adult Grey-headed Gull Bisceglie, Italy 18th January 2015
Within literally a minute or two of arriving, not before I'd had my weekend Caspian Gull fix, the Grey-headed Gull was found - showing well and reactive to bread and popcorn throughout the day! God knows how many photos I ended up taking, but to but things into perspective 'one shot' Mick S took over 650 photos. Roosting on the water, preening on the beach, flying about off the pier - it performed admirably, even waiting around for us to go to the nearby supermarket for bread and popcorn top ups.



adult Grey-headed Gull Bisceglie, Italy 18th January 2015
With a nice adult Black-headed Gull that was ringed in northwest Poland near Szczecin in November 2014, and another couple of Caspian Gulls in Molfetta harbour, there were plenty of worse ways to spend the weekend.

Monday, 12 January 2015

Weekend treats in Kent and East Sussex

So Saturday's highlight was this...

Seriously, the local birding was grim on Saturday. Cold and grim. Just a couple of Yellow-legged Gulls and 64 Black-tailed Godwits at Crossness, and then in Rotherhithe a decent count of a handful of Great Black-backed Gulls and 49 Tufted Ducks. And with no sign of the Mediterranean Gull, I resigned myself to reading rings on Egyptian Geese. So on that note, I decided that I really needed a change and got out of London on Sunday.
Name that foot... Egyptian Goose
Setting off early on my lonesome in beautiful sunlight, I arrived in coastal East Sussex at just before 9.30am. On arrival, the 1st-winter Lesser Yellowlegs was showing really nicely on pools just inland of the sea embankment at Pett Level; always nice to see, and having not seen one in the autumn, a yank wader fix was needed. A really birdy area too, with loads of Wigeon, Teal and Lapwings - last time I was here was back in 1997 when I was looking for a Spur-winged Plover. Time flies.
1st-winter Lesser Yellowlegs Pett Level, East Sussex 11th January 2015
And heading 20 minutes or so east, and back to familiar territory. Having previously resisted on having a look on previous visits to Dungess, this time I gave in - and the two Cattle Egrets performed nicely. If that's what you like I suppose. But, seriously, they weren't too bad and they did show rather well as they fed in the field of crap amongst some frisky cows.
Cattle Egrets near Dungeness, Kent 11th January 2015
That was that, all the dirty twitching over. And so speeding past the RSPB reserve, neglecting any Smew or Great White Egrets on offer, I met up with Mick S at the point where I spent the afternoon doing what I enjoy most - gulling. It was pretty quiet in all fairness, with little coming down to the bait. The Great Black-backed Gulls loved it, including a regular ringed bird that I still haven't traced its origin.

And then, just as the light was fading, I picked up this Caspian Gull to save the day. One of these a weekend really does ease the burden of going back to work on a Monday morning, particularly when it looks as stonking as this dude.
1st-winter Caspian Gull Dungeness, Kent 11th January 2015

Sunday, 4 January 2015

Early January local birding

This time of year's always one where people are out and about, either trying to start their year list off or just making the most of the extended time off work (and away from Christmas time constraints). It was pretty much the latter for me, as gone are those decent New Year days - they've varied from North Wales to Kent, Norfolk, Kuwait, Thailand and California. This year, although I was in Finland, my New Year's Day tally was confined to about five species! So, while everyone else was having fun in Yorkshire looking at a Little Bustard, I was travelling back cattle class with Ryanair.
adult Mediterranean Gull Burgess Park 2nd January 2015
On 2nd January, I headed out locally - mistimed the tide at Crossness so was left with a couple of Yellow-legged Gulls and a flyover Rock Pipit. Cutting my losses and letting John A get on with things there, I headed back towards Central London where the adult Mediterranean Gull was again in Burgess Park and enjoying the yeast feast I put out for it. Pecking at my feet too, were the copious numbers of Egyptian Geese; plague-like is their increase compared to just a couple of years ago with 26 about in the park.
Kingfisher Russia Dock Woodland 2nd January 2015
A few circuits of Rotherhithe over the last three days have produced 37 species - lacking so far in any quality, with a Kingfisher in Russia Dock Woodland and 23 Shoveler in Southwark Park the highlights. With only a few predictable winter species left to see in this urban abyss, I'll keep grafting away but am already looking forward to the first signs of spring...

For something different, and a quick trip north of the river, I headed to Wanstead Park to see the Slavonian Grebe that was nicely found by Nick C yesterday. Despite the hope that it was showing well, it wasn't too great and I didn't really take any shots of it. A brilliant find, and a species that I can imagine at some stage getting here in Rotherhithe with rather a lot of luck.

Saturday, 3 January 2015

First trip to the tip in 2015 - Glaucous Gull, Caspian Gulls and more

What a grim day for weather! I woke up this morning and it was pouring down and dark - and left the tip at midday and it was pouring down and almost dark. In between, the gulls were pretty good though although another flat tyre (fourth of the winter) meant that we had to leave the tip early again.

There were a few highlights, and I guess to most the juvenile Glaucous Gull would be the best bird seen - only my second on the tip as they're pretty scarce here in the southeast these days.
juvenile Glaucous Gull on the tip 3rd January 2015
For me, though, I was probably happiest with the return of an even whiter gull. Now in its second winter, and making its first showing at the tip this winter, Great Black-backed Gull J5493 put on a show. I first saw this bird on 21st December 2013 and it was present on the tip a fair number of times up until the end of March 2014 when it looked like this. Bar a little bit of paleness at the bill tip, it pretty much looks the same as it did when I last saw it. Always interesting to see how these leucistic birds mature through time, and glad to see it made it through its first winter too!
2nd-winter Great Black-backed Gull J5493 on the tip 3rd January 2015
There were also three Caspian Gulls present - a third-winter and first-winter present on the track as soon as we were on the tip, and then a distinctive petit first-winter that I'd seen previously on 15th November 2014.
1st-winter Caspian Gull on the tip 3rd January 2015. A distinctive, small individual.
More freaks were about on the tip too, including a leucistic Herring Gull and a couple of presumed hybrid birds - the regular bird that has been present since November and a smaller, darker bird below: -
gull sp. - potentially a Herring Gull x Glaucous Gull hybrid or an aberrant Herring Gull. Note the lack of moult in the scapulars indicative of a northern origin. This bird was quite small too.
The light really was grim, and with three Yellow-legged Gulls and a couple of Med Gulls, that was the lot before we had to retreat back with our freshly flattened tyre. With a grim cold, and the increasingly grim weather, the rest of the day was spent relaxing with the hope that tomorrow's weather will be better.

Friday, 2 January 2015

Black-throated Accentor in a winter wonderland

Despite being off for a couple of weeks each Christmas time, it's not always easy to get out and about. A Black-throated Accentor that had been found in Finland mid-December had to wait until now. And rather obligingly, it did. This was a species that I'd never really attempted to go for previously, as they'd all gone before I could make any plans to get there. And although the species breeds in Western Palearctic Russia and is available (if not tricky) there, the peak mid June season when other people have been just isn't feasible with school holidays. So this was going to be my best chance of seeing this nice looking species.

Surprisingly, Karen fancied the trip so it was a combined twitch and winter wonderland spectacle (with some decent food and New Year's fireworks thrown in).

This was my fifth visit to Finland, and like my previous midwinter trip (when I twitched an Azure Tit), I took advantage of the Ryanair flights to Tampere and then drove the 500km north to Oulu. We landed and it coincided with a fresh load of snow. The road conditions weren't treacherous but it was a tough drive, punctuated by a typically decent ABC meal - they put our service stations to shame. Arriving at our hotel late on Tuesday evening, we crashed out ready for the short drive to the ferry to Hailuoto in the morning (the island where the accentor was).

New Year's Eve dawned late as you'd expect that far north. In fact, the ferry sailed to the island of Hailuoto at 8.30am in the pitch black - clunking across a spectacular sea of ice. Taking half an hour, and then a further 20 minutes of driving across the island, we arrived on site in the small village of Marjaniemi at 9.20am and it was just about getting light! We were fortunate too in that the temperatures compared the previous days had risen 20 or so degrees - to a rather balmy minus one!
Black-throated Accentor Marjaniemi, Hailuoto, Finland 31st December 2014
The Black-throated Accentor had been found by a local, who had been feeding the local Yellowhammers. Although relatively elusive, and taking an hour or so to see initially, it did show a few times during the morning. Relatively skittish and preferring to scrub around underneath a wood panel, it did come out a couple of times to feed. With such dull light, the photographs really expose my poor photographic skills though! A thoroughly nice bird, and much brighter than the photo above suggests - some nice chestnut tones to the mantle in real life. The longer I stayed though, the colder I got - thankfully, my feet were still with me by the time I got back to the car. My mother's apple cake was well appreciated too; nothing like an old school cake to keep the cold out.

Black-throated Accentor site at Marjaniemi - let the birds feed!
And so after enjoying the accentor, we headed back to get the 2pm ferry. And with the final hour or so of light, the ferry ride was truly amazing - the last sunset of 2014 making the sea of ice glint. Being from a more southerly latitude, this was something I'd not seen before and it really was stunning. And what's more, the Finnish government fully subsidise the service so it was totally free!


Spectacular scenery on the ferry ride back from Hailuoto - and it was free!
Once back on the mainland, we drove back south again as we'd got ourselves a nice hotel in Jyvaskyla for New Year. Getting there for early evening, booking into a restaurant and then going out to see the fireworks was a decent end to the trip - very sophisticated indeed for a twitch. Happy New Year to all.

Monday, 29 December 2014

All quiet during the festive period

The holidays are always nice and relaxing when spent here in the UK. The birding has, admittedly, been limited, though I did get time to write the gulls section for the 2013 London Bird Report. Anyway, a couple of visits to Burgess Park and around Rotherhithe haven't revealed any cold weather gems, but I'll keep trying. London's at its (mediocre) best when it acts as an 'urban heat island', attracting birds that have been frozen out from elsewhere. It often takes more than just a couple of days, so hopefully by the end of the week things may start to happen. In the meantime, these were the commonest bird I saw today: -
Ring-necked Parakeet Southwark Park 29th December 2014
That's what happens when you stick to urban London I guess. These beasts, and umpteen Egyptian Geese - they're increasing exponentially it seems! No Med Gull at Burgess Park over the past few visits, and the only thing slightly noticeable is an increase in Shoveler numbers, a handful on Burgess Park on 27th and then 18 today at Southwark Park.