Saturday, 14 October 2017

A day of two good halves

It isn't often I venture too far out of London these days. But given that it was over two decades since I saw my last British Rock Thrush, as well as fairly poor local coastal potential, a quick trip along the M4 and into Wales was in order. Dante, Josh and I set off at a very reasonable hour and arrived on cue - just as the male Rock Thrush was relocated.
Rock Thrush Pwll Du, Gwent 14th October 2017
The bird favoured a fairly spectacular setting at Pwll Du quarry, Blorenge, Gwent and was pretty active on the grassy slopes before headed up onto the rocks later in the morning. It was a really good bird, much better than I'd been expecting and despite the gloom, it showed nicely. I'd also never seen a Rock Thrush in autumn anywhere, so that added interest and I still need to do a bit of reading up on ageing but with the reddish underparts, defined pale mantle patch and what seemed like rounded tail feathers, I guess the adult prognosis must be correct.
Rock Thrush Pwll Du, Gwent 14th October 2017
With little else to do locally, we headed back towards London late morning as the tide was favourable for a bit of Thames gulling. Having dropped Josh off at Hammersmith, Dante and I headed east to Thames Barrier Park where we met up with Jamie P. Within an hour, there was our seventh Caspian Gull of the season (1st July to 30th June) and it was a German ringed 1st-winter. Not a bad bird at all, especially given it was from the infamous 'swarm' colony at Grabendorfer See, Brandenburg where it was ringed as a chick on 29th May this year.

1st-winter Caspian Gull X841 Thames Barrier Park, London 14th October 2017
There were also three Yellow-legged Gulls about too, an adult and two first-winters.

Just one more week left of school now before half-term, so I'm hoping there is still life left in the autumn. I've still yet to decide where to head - Shetland, Scilly, Ireland, Hebrides - but one thing is for sure it'll be far away from London...

Saturday, 7 October 2017

American duo at Oare Marshes

It's now just two more weeks until I have the freedom of a week wherever the weather dictates - could be Shetland or may even contemplate going way out west if this westerly weather continues. It was certainly an eventful week of yanks the week just gone, but despite headliners of Cedar Waxwing, Cliff Swallow and Scarlet Tanager there hasn't been anything for me to make a sudden move on. And so, with an open morning keeping me in London til midday, Dante and I headed out to Oare Marshes, Kent for a couple of hours late this afternoon.

Oare is always full of waders, and a nice place to spend a bit of time, so it was great to see the target bird - a Wilson's Phalarope - twirling around before I'd even stopped the car. It was a nice first-winter and much more advanced than one I'd seen in Lancs earlier this autumn. Initially it showed well until some plum decided to noisily crash their tripod over the fence just so they could get a yard closer. Inevitably, the bird flew and never came back close again.

1st-winter Wilson's Phalarope Oare Marshes, Kent 7th October 2017
The longstaying adult Long-billed Dowitcher was also on East Flood, and despite the murky conditions, was showing the best I'd ever seen it. Now in its full winter body kit.
adult Long-billed Dowitcher Oare Marshes, Kent 7th October 2017
A couple of Little Stints and Curlew Sandpipers, colour-ringed Black-tailed Godwits and a nice flock of Golden Plovers were also about. A pleasant effort, but with waders and gulls so far this weekend and last, it isn't ideal times for this time of year. Some decent passerine action is needed before the month's out...

Sunday, 1 October 2017

Another day and two more Casps

With strong southwesterly winds, any chance of passerine migration around London was going to be limited. So I opted with a sleep in to rejuvenate, and then met up with Dante mid morning. After the inevitable boredom in Russia Dock Woodland, with just a Chiffchaff and a couple of Goldcrests to show for our efforts, we headed to Hornchurch CP where I got a second helping of the Spotted Crake. And it was Dante's first, and it showed fine in the gloom, despite a load of cows munching through its favoured habitat, loads of dogs barking and the usual Sunday morning plebs shouting the odds unnecessarily.

So that was that, and it was back to the serenity of Thames Barrier Park with eight loaves of bread and a blustery wind 'in your face' wind. Loads of birds were about, just as the first mud was becoming exposed - often the best time here, as it is the first place to get mud on the ebbing tide (and the last mud on the incoming tide). As it turned out in the couple of hours we were here, Dante and I had two 1st-winter Caspian Gulls (both new individuals) and nine Yellow-legged Gulls (two adults, 3rd-winter, two 2nd-winters (including 'pinky', a distinctive bird from last winter and four 1st-winters). All very nice, though as the years go on, these Caspian Gulls become more variable and you'll notice how retarded moult wise the second bird is: -
Caspian Gull bird one

1st-winter Caspian Gull Thames Barrier Park, London 1st October 2017
Caspian Gull bird two

1st-winter Caspian Gull Thames Barrier Park, London 1st October 2017
And so another week of work begins.

Saturday, 30 September 2017

Late September and watching gulls...

Last day of September and I am watching gulls. Not ideal I know, but with tiredness from the week just gone creeping in it meant plans to search for yanks in Cornwall went by the wayside. I had a bit of a sleep in, checking just Rotherhithe, and then set off to Dungeness with Mick S and Richard S for an afternoon session by the fishing boats.

After an hour and a half of very little, this 1st-winter Caspian Gull all of a sudden turned up. A fairly decent bird, with a lovely pale underwing: -

1st-winter Caspian Gull Dungeness, Kent 30th September 2017
There were also three Yellow-legged Gulls about, with an adult (possibly the same bird as last Sunday), 2nd-winter and 1st-winter (with a slightly deformed bill) as well as at least three 1st-winter Mediterranean Gulls.
1st-winter Mediterranean Gull Dungeness, Kent 30th September 2017
2nd-winter Yellow-legged Gull Dungeness, Kent 30th September 2017

Sunday, 24 September 2017

Still got love for the shrikes

I had a day out in Kent today. Decent southeasterly winds but it was a beautiful day; never great in autumn as it doesn't necessarily feel that 'rare'. Dante and I started off early and did the area immediately east of Dover at White Cliffs and then headed into Langdon Hole. I've always liked this place, despite having never seen anything there, and unsurprisingly didn't bump into anyone birdy. Mind you, our haul was pretty bang average with 3 Lesser Whitethroats, a Wheatear, a Willow Warbler and c.25 Chiffchaff for our efforts. There was a scattering of Yellow-browed Warblers just around the coast, but we drew a blank this time.

And so we headed to Dungeness where there was already news of a Red-backed Shrike in the desert area. It took us little time at all to see it, where there was a pleasantly small crowd with the bird sallying from hawthorns just behing 'Southview', the house where almost to the day a couple of years ago I saw that monster yank Acadian Flycatcher. Anyway, enjoy the shots of this presumably Scandinavian waif.

juvenile Red-backed Shrike Dungeness, Kent 24th September 2017
There was also a Pied Flycatcher in the moat by the bird observatory, and a brief hour or so around the gulls produced a superb adult Yellow-legged Gull as well as a Norwegian 2nd-winter Great Black-backed Gull that was about last weekend.
adult Yellow-legged Gull Dungeness, Kent 24th September 2017
Anyway, we headed off back to London a little bit too early as we got a text from Mick S when we were between Lydd and Ashford, about a 2nd-winter Caspian Gull that had come into the fishing boats feast early evening. You can't see everything is what I tell myself, but let's hope this is the pinnacle of being gripped this autumn!

Saturday, 23 September 2017


Late September and it should now be getting to the business end of the season, and with Black-billed Cuckoo and Siberian Thrush turning up in the week (neither of which I hadn't seen thankfully), my hopes were high for a weekend of bush whacking. But when Friday came, things looked flat so that was that for today. A day in London...

But it wasn't all bad. A visit to Hornchurch Country Park provided me with probably the best views of a Spotted Crake I have had this century. I grew up seeing a good number of these lads when I was a regular visitor to the reserve formerly known as Inner Marsh Farm, but since living the dream here in London unsurprisingly the urban habitat hasn't been suitable for such regular encounters. I really enjoyed this bird, and the place had a nice vibe to it too.
juvenile Spotted Crake Hornchurch CP, London/Essex 23rd September 2017
 Thirty minutes later, after savouring the delights of a Hornchurch Tesco, it was off to the Roding Valley. A small lake just outside Buckhurst Hill provided a pretty strange setting for a stripy headed juvenile Red-necked Grebe. I can't remember where the last juvenile I saw that looked as fresh as this was, but it is a plumage I'm not completely sure I've ever seen before. And rather predictably, the bird showed nicely too.
juvenile Red-necked Grebe Roding Valley, London/Essex 23rd September 2017
Two great birds within metropolitan Essex, inside the M25 and both only half an hour or so from home. I couldn't not get my gull fix though, and so before the two star birds of the day, Rotherhithe produced a regular 3rd calendar year and there were two 1st-winter Yellow-legged Gulls loving the loaves at Thames Barrier Park.
3rd-winter Yellow-legged Gull Rotherhithe, London 23rd September 2017

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

School madness - YBW

What a bizarre, exciting experience today. Those regular readers will have read that my day job is rather detached from the (perceived) serenity of birding. I'm in charge of behaviour in an inner city London school. So there I was mid-morning, sitting in the internal exclusion room on a timetabled period of supervision where if kick offs happen around the place, then the perpetrators come my way. Fortunately there hadn't been any referrals so I was getting on with the typically copious workload. And with the window open, there was a moment of madness, a really bizarre sensation. It was crystal clear, and surrounded by high rise buildings there was real crispness and clarity when I heard an unbelievably out of context upslurred, high pitched disyllabic 'tswee-eet' that is such a familiar sound in autumn these days. But hang on... I'm in Central London, it's not the coast and this is work. It continued to call several times in quick succession.

Not quite sure why I bothered, as it was obvious that there was a Yellow-browed Warbler in the isolated single tall tree outside of school here in Elephant and Castle, but I quickly whacked a bit of xeno canto out. And in true form, the bird sallied down and revealed itself as a smallish green warbler to my naked eye. Always scornful of no bins sightings when assessing other peoples' records, I legged it outside to my car and got my bins and back up to where the action had been. A bit of xeno canto later, and with the bird still calling, I got some decent views of a nice fresh looking Yellow-browed Warbler whacking about and doing its thing. Quality stuff - and with it now being 10.30am it was off to break duty, teaching and then meetings/sorting nonsense out til 5.45pm. The joys of work.
The Yellow-browed Warbler tree surrounded by South London urbanity

I couldn't find the Yellow-browed Warbler late on, and I know that one birder had a search mid/late afternoon and couldn't find it either. No surprise to be honest, as past form over the last 8 years has made me conclude birds quickly pass through due to the marginal habitat. I've had Reed Warbler, Willow Warbler and a fair few Chiffchaffs over the years and I can't remember one hanging about long.

Just shows that it is all about context, and it is the first Yellow-browed Warbler I've found away from what you'd describe as typical coastal locations. Where of course I've found a fair few over the years. But when you're a London birder on 70+ hours or work a week, you bloody punch the air when you get results like this. True urban birding - The Urban Birder would be proud.