Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Texas trip - Big Bend NP

I've just returned back to the Texas coast after a couple of days birding in Big Bend NP. This massive expanse of mountains and desert is a truly spectacular landscape, and being the northern extremity of the Chisos mountain range it attracts some interesting species in a US context. Most notably Colima Warbler just about extends across the border from Mexico, and during the 10 mile hike that I did yesterday just four birds were seen. They apparently arrive from 10-15 April each year, so I timed it pretty much bang on. For at first glance a grey bird, they're subtly fairly beautiful: -
Colima Warbler Big Bend 14th April 2014
The hike up to the summit took in a few habitats so predictably a load of good species were seen including a couple of Painted Redstarts (at Boot Springs), Townsend's Solitaire, Blue-throated and Broad-tailed Hummingbird, Black-chinned Sparrow and both Rock and Canyon Wrens to name just a few. It was a bizarre mix compared to the rest of the trip - with a distinctly 'western' feel to the birds which included Townsend's, Audubon's and Wilson's being the three commonest warblers.
Painted Redstart Big Bend 14th April 2014

Townsend's Solitaire Big Bend 14th April 2014
After a bit of searching at Cottonwood campground in windy conditions, a couple of Lucy's Warblers duly obliged before we headed coastwards overnight on an 11 hour drive. Anyway, here is an image of the previous day's Common Black-Hawk from Big Bend: -
Common Black-Hawk Big Bend 13th April 2014

Monday, 14 April 2014

Texas - the next installment

There has been a lot of driving, but a lot of birds over the past couple of days. After seeing some crazy looking Attwater's Prairie Chickens at the 'Prairie Chicken festival' (packed full of typically loud yanks that blighted any chance of actually hearing these beasts call), we headed to 'Hill Country' to the northwest of San Antonio - primarily for the two specialities. Both Black-capped Vireo and Golden-cheeked Warbler were easily seen, and lovely looking birds to boot too.

Golden-cheeked Warbler
Black-capped Vireo
Having stayed at Neal's Lodge, where I finally managed to see Yellow-throated Warbler (they're an early migrant on the coast, so missed them so far there), we headed on down to Big Bend for the afternoon session where so far Common Black-Hawk, Scaled Quail, Common Poorwill, Green-tailed Towhee, Mexican Jay, Scott's Oriole and Plumbeous Vireo have all been seen.

Now for a few hours sleep before the 10 mile hike for Colima Warbler, and then a mammoth 11 hour drive back to High Island after that as a front with northerlies is meant to be hitting...

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Texas in spring update

It's been too long since the last post, not because I haven't done any birding. Indeed, it's been the other way around - too much birding/travelling/lack of internet has meant that there will be plenty of stuff stacked up for later. In brief though, having now done 6 days of solid birding here in Texas with Mark L, things are pretty good with 228 species so far. Doing moderately too when it comes to not stocking up on total shite food - some of these Texans are mega fat.
Cerulean Warbler
Anyway, started off in High Island where the first day produced a mini fall with 18 species of wood warbler - Cerulean, Blackburnian, Worm Eating, Kentucky, Hooded, Prothonotary, Blue-winged, Black-throated Green included. Also on our first morning, we managed to luck out on a Yellow Rail on the walk at Anahuac.
Black-and-white Warbler
Monday was also good fall conditions with Nashvilles joining the warbler party and heading south to South Padre Island, the birds showed rather well. It wasn't just warblers with five species of vireo seen and a good day of Franklin's Gull migration too - keeping the gull interest going along with American Herrings and Laughers.
Northern Parula

Black-throated Green Warbler

Nashville Warbler
Heading down into the Rio Grande Valley on Tuesday and Wednesday changed the composition of species, and the birds became more tropical - stuff like Green Jay and Plain Chachalacas are pretty common while we managed to eek out Elf Owl, Northern Beardless Tyrannulet, Clay-coloured Thrush and White-collared Seedeater along with a nice stake out for Ferruginous Pygmy Owl.
Ferruginous Pygmy Owl
Yesterday, from the Rio Grande we started to head north and though the southeasterly winds reduced the migration significantly, a few birds were still noted. Most notably, a Glaucous Gull on the beach at Boca Chica and then in the evening Aplomado Falcon and Cassin's Sparrows nearby. Today was spent birding around Corpus Christi first thing in one of its city parks, before moving up to Aransas for the afternoon boat trip for Whooping Cranes.
Whooping Crane
That's it for now - there'll be loads to come later, but hope that's a nice taster of what it's like to be birding in Texas in April. Pretty stunning, with loads of yank rares all in their full kit along with regional specialities. Hoping to see some Prairie Chickens in the morning...

Sunday, 30 March 2014

Last tip visit of the season

It was warm and sunny yesterday when I visited the tip for what will probably be the last time of this winter period. Late March can be a bit hit or miss gulls wise, but it turned out pretty well in the end. A couple of new birds caused a bit of a headache identification wise, while the gull detective work that often follows - tracking down ringing schemes - was also rather lenthy. But all worthwhile with a juvenile Iceland Gull, two Caspian Gulls (first-winters, one Polish-ringed), two Yellow-legged Gulls (first-winters, including a Swiss ringed bird) and half a dozen Med Gulls (including a displaying pair) recorded. Added to this, 16 gull rings included 3 Norwegian Great Black-backed Gulls plus the Swiss and Polish birds mentioned above.
juvenile Iceland Gull Essex 29th March 2014 - the usual bird that has been present the last month or so

Caspian Gull Essex 29th March 2014 - green-ringed P323. Ringed at Kozielno near Paczkow in south-central Poland (near the Slovakian border) in a colony of 300 nests, mainly Caspian Gulls and a few Yellow-legged Gulls. The chicks that were ringed had a 90-95% chance of being a Caspian Gull. Note the shorter and stubbier bill than you'd expect.

1st-winter Yellow-legged Gull Essex 29th March 2014 - ringed in Switzerland last year, most likely from Lake Neuchatel
1st-winter Yellow-legged Gull 29th March 2014 - A real brute of a bird. The barred uppertail-coverts and rump and pale inner primary window, however, are at odds with the usual expectations of this species.
1st-winter Great Black-backed Gull Essex 29th March 2014 - ringed as a chick at Leiholmen, Mandal, Vest-Agder, Norway (58°00'19"N 007°38'54"E) on 6th July 2013.
 Today was spent locally, where a brief rest from a day of work, produced a Sand Martin over Russia Dock Woodland as well as a few Blackcaps and Chiffchaff singing.

Thursday, 27 March 2014

1st-winter Yellow-legged Gull up close in Rotherhithe

On the way back from the Hume's Warbler on Sunday, I had a quick look in on the dock that my flat backs onto. It's normal pretty quiet, but a 1st-winter Yellow-legged Gull was a nice surprise and a real performer. Here's a few shots: -

1st-winter Yellow-legged Gull Greenland Dock, Rotherhithe 23rd March 2014

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Hume's Leaf Warbler at Ramsgate

If at first you don't succeed, try again. So that's what I did today. A couple of weekends ago, I headed to Ramsgate for the afternoon and failed to locate the Hume's Leaf Warbler that had been overwintering in the cemetery there. So with carte blanche for the day, following a moderate lie in, I headed east once again. And, unlike last time, there was success - within a minute or so of arriving no less.
Hume's Leaf Warbler Ramsgate, Kent 23rd March 2014
This is the first Hume's Leaf Warbler I've seen for a decade, and mirrors the first one I saw - at a similar time of year and also in a cemetery - in Great Yarmouth in 1995. Nice to hear it too, with a call that was still disyllabic like a Yellow-browed, but lacked the far carrying pitch and the obvious downward drop of the end note. Though a pretty scruffy looking thing, and looking bright in the sunlight, it was pretty drab/pallid-toned and its tertials were dark-centred.

Little else of note for the day, though a 1st-winter Yellow-legged Gull on Greenland Dock when I got home performed rather well in the sunshine.

Saturday, 22 March 2014

First Wheatears as spring continues

It was once again nice to get up early and see the sunshine. London's a quiet place early on a weekend morning, and so it was that I had a relaxing walk at Crossness today. As soon as I arrived, the first Chiffchaffs were singing away - ten recorded in the end - and the female Garganey was still showing with Teal by the outfall; quite bizarre the length of its stay this time of year. A Greenshank was also still lingering on, in amongst the Redshanks, while the undoubted highlight were my first Wheatears of the spring, five in total - including four males - showing nicely in the paddocks.
male Wheatear, Crossness 22nd March 2014