Monday, 5 December 2016

Masked Wagtail in Pembs - early December treat

I've always been one for going and having a look at things, tick or no tick. And when a Masked Wagtail turned up in Pembrokeshire midweek last week - the first for Britain no less - it all sounded like a plan for the weekend. Instead of being in Central Asia, this individual looks like it has chosen the village of Camrose (just north of Haverfordwest) to spend the winter...

It was certainly a showy thing, frequenting the road and adjacent gardens/rooftops in typical Pied Wagtail-style. Well worth the 2am start and a team of 5 up - cheers to John, Josh, Jerry and Graeme for the company. As well as the obvious black facial mask, check out the extensive white in those wings!
Masked Wagtail Camrose, Pembrokeshire 3rd December 2016
Another quality bird to add to the autumn of 2016 - interesting to speculate where it made first landfall, having presumably filtered through the country since arriving in that October mega eastern invasion along with all those Siberian Accentors.

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Denmark, France, Guernsey, Iceland, Netherlands, Norway and Wales

Well, at least the title got you reading! Just come back from a weekend trip to Porto (and Vigo) like I did this time last year. I had a couple of hours on the beach at Matosinhos, near Porto and came up with seven rings, all from different countries. Still awaiting a few details but the following gives you a decent picture...

No white-winged gulls this trip, but if anyone enjoys a combination of gulling and a pleasant city give Porto a go. Here are a collection of united nations Lesser Black-backed Gulls (7 countries) all on the same Portuguese beach on Saturday.
1st-winter Lesser Black-backed Gull - Norwegian. Ringed near Bergen this summer, and present in Portugal since October
adult Lesser Black-backed Gull - ringed in SW Iceland in May 2007, winters each year in Portugal and has been seen back in Iceland during the summer too

adult Lesser Black-backed Gull - ringed at Chouet landfill, Guernsey a couple of years ago, this is the first sighting outside of the Channel Islands
1st-winter Lesser Black-backed Gull - ringed on a Cardiff rooftop in July, this bird has been about in Portugal since October

adult Lesser Black-backed Gull - ringed in Denmark, still awaiting the details...

adult Lesser Black-backed Gull - Dutch ringed, still awaiting the details but most likely from the Texel colony

1st-winter Lesser Black-backed Gull - French ringed, details still awaiting (and knowing the majority of French ringing scheme coordinators, it'll be a while!)

Saturday, 12 November 2016

Dungeness today - back with the Casps

I must have been to Dungeness over a dozen times since August. Every one of those times I have been, I drew a blank on the real target and love of mine - Caspian Gulls. They were being seen the day before, the day after and it wasn't for the want of trying. But today, in really grim weather, it all changed... and those sweet white-headed beasts from the east returned with a vengeance. Four 1st-winter birds came down to the offerings between mid-morning and dusk, while I sat in my warm, dry car.
Bird 1
Was the first one that came in - present for 15 mins or so mid/late morning: -

Bird 2
Stuck about most of the day - first seen by the fishing boats in the roost there before coming in to the puddles all afternoon: -

Bird 3
Present at the puddles briefly early afternoon. A fairly mucky looking bird: -

Bird 4
Came into the offering mid to late afternoon and stuck about a bit: -

There was also a rather dopey looking 1st-winter Yellow-legged Gull present mid to late afternoon: -

All good stuff, and feels nice to be back among the Casps.

Sunday, 6 November 2016

Cliff Swallow at Minsmere - some dirty twitching

News broke on Friday night of a Cliff Swallow at Minsmere, Suffolk. With Saturday going to be a day of having just the gulls for company as it now turns all wintry, this swallow sounded like a pleasant diversion. And so to secure some views, an early start from London with Josh and Staines was required.

I'd previously seen a Cliff Swallow hawking over Porthellick, St.Mary's, Scilly on a sunny autumnal day in September 2000, as well as countless birds on most of my US trips. So what was the point in going to Suffolk and sacrificing on all the sleep? I don't know really, but I felt compelled to as soon as the news broke. It was either this, or chance an Eye-browed Thrush much further away in Northumberland. But with the onset of winter, I genuinely felt that as it was a weekend it'd be rude not to eek out the last bit of quality from this autumn. And, up until yesterday, it was going to be the first autumn since 1994 where I hadn't seen an American landbird. Which saddened me.

And so in all its glory, the Cliff Swallow got up with its seven Swallow companions (did check for erythrogaster but still we await our British first) and showed itself well in bushes behind the visitor centre. With over a couple of hundred in the crowd, must admit that none of the usual twitcher bashing was needed; bar the odd person getting in each other's way, the whole event was harmonious and a decent mainland twitch.
Cliff Swallow Minsmere RSPB Reserve, Suffolk 5th November 2016
I couldn't resist going down to Dungeness after the swallow, hopeful that the northerly winds and dropping temperatures would have enticed more gulls in to the beach. But that wasn't to be - there was a distant 1st-winter Caspian Gull on the reserve from Firth Hide but bar a couple of Great White Egrets, a Cattle Egret, a redhead Goosander and an adult Yellow-legged Gull pickings were rather slim. Though I did manage to read a Danish Lesser Black-backed Gull ring after 20 minutes of trying! Success all round.

Friday, 28 October 2016

Beasts from the east - October 2016

For many people, this autumn has been full of good birds - the run of easterlies has been mind blowing, especially for those based in Norfolk northwards. Here in London, and for those based inland or on the south coast, it has been a world away. Very quiet, with just the gulls as usual for company.

Anyway, I did make it out for two good birds - the first of these being a superb Eastern Crowned Warbler, a real nemesis of mine as many of you will already know. I was on Corvo for the first one in Trow Quarry, Durham in October 2009 - only to fly back and dip on the Sunday morning. The second one, in Hertfordshire in October 2011, was trapped and ringed and never seen again - though I did get to the site and record another dip. There was a sense of deja vu for the third one at Brotton, Cleveland in October 2014 - again I was on Corvo, flew back and predictably dipped on the Sunday morning. So the fourth British record of Eastern Crowned Warbler, at Bempton, Yorkshire this October meant I was able to put the wrongs of the past to right. And what a superbly showy bird it was; probably in my top 10 birds I've seen in Britain and Ireland as loads going on with it, both subtle and obvious, as it fed in the sunshine and showed superbly. 5,432 miles travelled in the end for this species - 3,768 by air and 1,664 on the road!

Eastern Crowned Warbler Bempton, Yorkshire October 2016
It's now fairly old news, but the massive influx of Siberian Accentors into Europe this October has been the main event. As of today, there have been 170 seen - with 11 in Britain following the first British record on Shetland earlier this month. In over 20 years of twitching, I've never seen a species' status change so much following a single influx. Nevertheless, despite being somewhat devalued, I am not totally sure I'll ever be seeing another one over here and if there is a wintering bird somewhere accessible I'll be sure to go and take a look. Like the warbler above, this Siberian vagrant was absolute quality.
Siberian Accentor Scousburgh, Shetland October 2016
And so as October seems to be wrapping itself up with Isabelline Shrikes and Desert Wheatears, there goes another autumn's offering. The less said about the Eastern Kingbird the better - though with three records all since 2012, I'd like to think that I'll get another sniff soon enough despite its still mega status. We'll see.

Friday, 2 September 2016

Namibia - the coast

Namibia has a pretty large coast, but like many tourists I stuck with the specific area around Walvis Bay and Swakopmund for a couple of days - before venturing north a bit to Henties Bay and then heading off inland...

Anyway, August is wintertime and though there were still tens of thousands of birds (mostly flamingos!), the famous salt pans at Walvis Bay were comparatively quiet - still, with White-fronted and Chestnut-banded Plovers in good numbers as well as a couple of Red-necked Phalaropes and Curlew Sandpipers, it wasn't all that bad!
White-fronted Plover Walvis Bay
Chestnut-banded Plover Walvis Bay
Not to mention retina burning action wherever you looked - the place teeming with Lesser and Greater Flamingos, as well as White Pelicans and a whole whack of Crested Terns.
Lesser Flamingo Walvis Bay
Greater Flamingo Walvis Bay
The key species to locate here is Damara Tern. And a month or so later this would have been extremely easy. However, with the majority of the population moving north in winter, it took me until the second day to locate two birds feeding off the promenade in Walvis Bay. Nice diminutive things with a dagger like bill - I did see plenty of signs warning people of their colonies and not to stray off the tracks, which was obviously a decent thing (despite the lack of birds!).
White Pelican Walvis Bay
Cape Cormorant Walvis Bay
Karen is a sucker for a boat trip on a holiday, so this was the only place to cram one in - and like many trip reports I'd read we plummeted for a real dudey one where the boatman had his Cape Fur Seal that he hand fed and some bow riding Heaviside's Dolphins. While eating a load of oysters and champagne (that's how I roll), I looked out and noticed a load of nice stuff including a couple of White-chinned Petrels, several Cape Gannets as well as Crowned Cormorant, African Black Oystercatcher and the only Grey-headed Gulls of the trip (the latter three species seen while the punters enjoyed the seal colony).
copious numbers of Cape Fur Seals Walvis Bay
Cape Gannet Walvis Bay
Obviously, there were a few larks about - managed to locate Gray's Lark in the stony desert east of Swakopmund salt pans and this Red-capped Lark was an enjoyable roadside bird.
Red-capped Lark between Walvis Bay and Swakopmund
We stayed in Swakopmund, and in the place we were staying, this vocal Southern Masked Weaver was busily tending to its nest.
Southern Masked Weaver Swakopmund
However, and I'm sure regular readers know this already, there was a good reason for me to visit Namibia. Hartlaub's Gull - a gull tick, nice and common too all along the coast. They didn't even need bread to be enticed but of course it helped...

1st-winter Hartlaub's Gulls
And the Kelp Gulls were superb and monstrous too!
adult Kelp Gull
1st-winter Kelp Gulls
So with our coastal jaunt completed, it was off back into the desert to see some cave art in Damaraland. And of course some more decent birding and mammals.

Friday, 26 August 2016

Irish interlude - Royally chuffed

Yesterday, Thursday 25th August, was spent in County Kerry. News of a Royal Tern last week in County Mayo made me sweat, but I wasn't able to go straight away what with just getting back from Namibia and A Level results day at school. Anyhow the bird had flown, and so it allowed me one less Royal Tern dip compared to the guys that went out there last week. Roll on exactly a week and the Kerry tern legend Davey Farrar was visiting Beale Strand - as he does regularly - and had one of those heart stopping moments. Having already found an Elegant a few years ago, having a big orange bill pop out wasn't perhaps as big a surprise for him though! Anyway, I was unable to go on Wednesday day so flew out late that night and was on site for dawn Thursday... just me and four Irish birders. A quick check of the point revealed little, and so I headed east to the next car park near Astee. And there, hobbling about in among the Sandwich Terns, was a whopping Royal Tern: -
Royal Tern Beale Strand, Kerry 25th August 2016
It really was a massive bird, and at one point in time as it flew over it actually spooked all the other terns for some reason. With a gammy leg and full black cap, this Royal Tern was the same as that in Mayo a week ago and lays to rest a species I've chased three times unsuccessfully in the past.
Royal Tern Beale Strand, Kerry 25th August 2016
I had a brief trip to Black Rock during the day too, where three juvenile Curlew Sandpipers and a couple of flag ringed Sanderling (from Greenland/Iceland - awaiting results) were nice to see. So all in all a very enjoyable day out of London!