Monday, 6 July 2015

If you like Yellow-legged Gulls (and Roseate Terns)...

It's been a busy week or so since the last post. I tried to muster up something last week but the heat here in London sapped any energy I had left after busy days at school (and with London's gulls). It does seem as though there is a bit of post breeding dispersal happening now...

And it started on the hottest day of the year, 1st July. After school, and with a mid evening low tide, I got myself to Greenwich. The inside bend of the meander by the O2 has a load of sediment exposed, and the gulls seem to love it at the moment. So much so, there was my earliest ever juvenile Yellow-legged Gull - a nice fresh bird - along with a second-summer. A handful of ringed birds too, including a Bristol ringed Lesser Black-backed Gull and a couple each from locally as well as Sussex.

juvenile Yellow-legged Gull Greenwich, London 1st July 2015 - nice fresh bird with wholly juvenile plumage. Note the tail band gradually reducing in width towards the outer rectrices.
And so to the weekend and a return to Greenwich on Saturday morning. Warm again, and the Yellow-legged Gulls were present again with at least two juveniles and a third-summer bird. One of the juveniles was a real brute, naively having a go at the local Great Black-backed Gulls. However Crossness was quiet and scanning through the Black-headed Gulls at the outfall didn't produce, unless a 1st-summer Common Gull counts (which it doesn't!).
juvenile Yellow-legged Gull Greenwich, London 4th July 2015 - quite a large, robust individual.
Finally on to yesterday (Sunday) and I actually enjoyed waking up to the grey skies and rain. A pleasant respite from the oppressive temperatures of the past few days. I headed down to Dungeness for the afternoon and met up with Mick S and Richard S. Always good to have a chat and sit about with the gulls - some nice bits about too. Not least a couple of really showy juvenile Yellow-legged Gulls; both a bit skittish and keeping away from the main flock a lot of the time.

juvenile Yellow-legged Gulls Dungeness, Kent 5th July 2015 (above four images) 
Added value came in the form of at least a couple of Med Gulls (a first-summer and at least one juvenile) plus some Scandinavian ringed brutish Great Black-backed Gulls and a couple of Thames ringed Herring Gulls.
1st-summer Great Black-backed Gull Dungeness, Kent 5th July 2015. Ringed as a chick at Knogen, Læsø, Nordjylland, Denmark on 2nd July 2014, seen on Terschelling, The Netherlands on 30th October 2014 and then Dungeness from 9th January 2015 onwards - I last saw it on 17th May!
2nd-summer Great Black-backed Gull Dungeness, Kent 5th July 2015. Ringed as chick Lille Vigeskjær, Lindesnes, Vest-Agder, Norway 4th July 2013; then seen at Minsmere 19th July 2014 and Dungeness from 27th July 2014 until last seen by myself on 8th November 2014.
1st-summer Great Black-backed Gull Dungeness, Kent 5th July 2015. Ringed as a chick at Risøy midtre, Mandal, Vest-Agder, Norway on 8th July 2014 and this is the first sighting since.
For most though, the headline bird of the day would have been this Roseate Tern that was lingering for a lot of the time I was present - though it did take me nearly three hours to walk the few hundred yards to see it. Having to withdraw myself from the melee was a real task.
adult Roseate Tern Dungeness, Kent 5th July 2015
So that's it for another weekend... just a couple more weeks and then the summer holiday party starts.

Sunday, 28 June 2015

A few birds starting to move locally

That's another weekend gone, and there has been a little bit more happening locally here in southeast London. I was trying to summon up ideas to get out into the countryside, but unless you're into flowers and the like, this time of year is best to just put in the hours locally and save up the effort for when things start moving later on.

And there are quite a lot of scruffy looking gulls here at the moment to keep me busy. Week nights have been spent going through them in Rotherhithe, mainly as they chill out on the moored barges by Greenland Quay. And then today and yesterday, I walked around the O2 Arena to the area of mud at the end that's exposed at low tide; yesterday lots of gulls but nothing of interest and then today, very different - 5 Yellow-legged Gulls (near adult, three 2nd-summers and a 1st-summer) plus a couple of NTGG rings and a new scheme too on a Lesser Black-backed Gull that I'm awaiting details on. There were also two Reed Warblers singing in the reeds by Antony Gormley's Quantum Cloud sculpture.

near adult Yellow-legged Gull Greenwich, London 28th June 2015 - same bird in both above photos; note the dark on the primary-coverts, reduced mirrors and dull yellow legs
2nd-summer Yellow-legged Gull Greenwich, London 28th June 2015
1st-summer Yellow-legged Gull Greenwich, London 28th June 2015
On Friday, I also added a new ringing scheme to Rotherhithe - a yellow ringed 2nd-summer Herring Gull ending in 'B' that'll have been ringed by the East Anglia Gull Group, most likely at Milton Tip near Cambridge (still awaiting details though).
2nd-summer Herring Gull Rotherhithe, London 26th June 2015 - 5V0B, ringed by the East Anglia Gull Group

Sunday, 21 June 2015

Always something locally

It has been a relatively quiet week, and having had my fill of Cretzschmar's Bunting on these shores on Orkney a few years ago, local birding was the flavour. And it was quiet, but quiet isn't always a bad thing. Time to relax, soak in those messy looking larids.

Local gulls haven't been too bad, with new birds moving through. Had a peak of 18 Lesser Black-backed Gulls on Tuesday in Rotherhithe, whilst three or four Great Black-backed Gulls have been lingering about amongst the knackered looking sub-adult Herring Gulls. An afternoon and early evening at Crossness produced the first juvenile Black-headed Gull (they don't breed there, and they're completely absent from Rotherhithe this time of year) along with a load of Lapwing - presumed failed breeders - and an adult Yellow-legged Gull.

All the above sound pretty mundane, and I guess it is. But it's not that bad - everything at Rotherhithe is a walk away, and with the long evenings and work (comparatively) quiet, I'm managing a fair bit of birding time. So here are a few regulars I'm seeing at the moment...
Herring Gull M0KT (1st-summer) - ringed at Pitsea, Essex on 27 September 2014, seen London Bridge on 19 April 2015 and then in Rotherhithe on 10 May 2015, 16 May 2015, 17 May 2015, 6 June 2015, 7 June 2015, 14 June 2015 and 18 June 2015.
Herring Gull M2LT (1st-summer) - ringed at Rainham, London on 2 January 2015, then seen in Rotherhithe on 29 March 2015, 18 June 2015 and today.
Herring Gull X2DT (3rd-summer) - ringed at Rainham, London 16 November 2013 and seen by me at Pitsea, Essex on 1 February 2014 and then at Dungeness, Kent on 14th February 2014 - before turning up in Rotherhithe on 18 June 2015.

Saturday, 13 June 2015

Black-eared Wheatear in Hampshire

Some days you wake up and it feels a bit rare. There's no smell, no taste - just a sense. And for some reason, today was like that. Damp, grey and feeling pretty close here in London I headed off out to Crossness mid-morning. Even here in Rotherhithe, there were the first Black-headed Gulls for a couple of weeks moving through plus a Common Gull. So some sense of bird movement.

On the way through Greenwich, I checked my phone and saw Gary Howard's tweet about having just found a Black-eared Wheatear in the New Forest. A brilliant find, and with less individuals that have been twitchable than Cretzschmar's Buntings in the last decade it's a pretty rare bird. Anyway, with a nice meal booked for 9pm it would be a tight turnaround - and having seen a couple before (a long time ago, 1993 and 2002) - I headed to Crossness. There'd been an obvious influx of Black-headed Gulls at the outfall, but nothing with them, and 14 Lapwing and 3 Teal were presumably non-breeders. A 1st-summer Yellow-legged Gull was NTGG ringed, but frustratingly too distant for digits to be read. So essentially the place was quiet, there was a good bird just a couple of hours away but I needed to be back in London late evening in order not to disappoint. So a check of the weather and realising clear skies tonight in Hants (with Black-eared Wheatears notoriously doing one overnight), the decision was made.
male Eastern Black-eared Wheatear Acres Down, Hants 13th June 2015; note the extensive black bib going over the bill, well above the eye and extending towards the upper breast. Upperparts showed little trace of colour, with a buff wash to the breast.
Traffic was like a dream. Arriving at Acres Down, a quick walk from the car park to overlook a sunny field and there is was - a black-and-white beauty. With just a hint of colour on the upper breast, and having commented on the original photos previously, this was an obvious eastern race melanoleuca. Though I was a bit disappointed with the views, as I prefer to be up close and personal to birds these days, it was a smart looking thing. Another reason I was so keen to go was essentially that I'd (probably) not seen this race in Britain. A decent article on the separation of the two races can be found here, though it's not as clear cut as people thought a decade or so ago.

And I managed to get back to London in time for the evening too... so all in all, a very productive day.

Sunday, 7 June 2015

Greater Yellowlegs - a long time coming!

There wasn't a cloud in the sky as Karen and I set off to the south coast this morning. All the way down, it was one of those blue Sunday mornings that being up and about was definitely the best choice. Arriving at Titchfield Haven, it took little time to walk to the Suffern Hide and see the target bird parading around in front. Didn't expect it to be quite that easy, and with its gangly build complete with summer flank streaking and vivid yellow legs, I was pretty impressed - a very nice bird and ridiculously, 21 years since my first and only one at Rockcliffe, Cumbria in October 1994 when I was an irritating teenager (and very thankful for my Dad having driven me there).
Greater Yellowlegs Titchfield Haven, Hants 7th June 2015
Though I've seen a couple on the Azores - including one coming in from the Atlantic and landing exhausted on a rocky beach on Flores - as well as a load in the US, you can't beat a good rarity in Britain and Ireland like this. What with Med Gulls flying over and loads of Cetti's Warblers (following the first one ever here!) it was nice to be by the sea and out of a stuffy London.
Herring Gull M0KT Rotherhithe - present on both days this weekend, having been seen here regularly since 10th May and ringed at Pitsea, Essex on 27th September 2014
After a thoroughly pleasant afternoon with my parents, and as always some lovely food, it was back to Rotherhithe where a couple of ringed 1st-summer Herring Gulls were hanging out - one ringed at Rainham this January and seen here late March (but not since) and another regular bird ringed at Pitsea last September and present here since early May.

Sunday, 31 May 2015

Return from Africa

Karen and I returned earlier today from a brilliant trip to Botswana and Zambia - awesome safari moments in Botswana and then a couple of days on the Zambezi in Zambia where we headed to Victoria Falls (and African Finfoot). I'd only ever been as far south in Africa as Mauritania in the west and Ethiopia in the east, so the whole experience for me was all pretty new. To be honest, I'm not quite sure why it has taken me this long to visit. For once, the birds actually played second fiddle
Leopard - one of three sightings (of four animals)
Anyway, we had three nights at Machaba Camp near the Kwai River and Chobe National Park; this being a 'dry camp' where large game was encountered frequently (with the highlights being 4 leopards, 7 Lions and 2 Cheetahs as well as a pack of African Wild Dogs, Hyenas, Zebras, Elephants, Hippos, Giraffes, Crocodiles, Red Lechwe, Tsessebes, Impalas, Waterbucks and Warthogs) and the birding was pretty good too - Kori Bustard and Wattled Cranes the most memorable.
A young male Lion - seven seen in total; a group of three lionesses and four young males
African Wild Dog - a pack of seven of these endangered animals seen
Two Cheetahs - the first in the area for a couple of years and only present for an evening
Spotted Hyena - a young animal at its den
After this, we spent a couple of nights at Xigera Camp in the Okavango Delta where most of the activities were water based; by using either motor boats or Makoros (paddle boats) it was possible to get close to loads of the wildlife with the undoubted highlight being a showy Pel's Fishing Owl as well as some nice Angolan Reed Frogs and loads of kingfishers and bee-eaters too.
Pel's Fishing Owl
Angolan Reed Frog
African Fish Eagle
The last base was over the border in Zambia at the lovely Islands of Siankaba where as well as doing the usual tourist thing and visiting Victoria Falls, the Zambezi and its backwaters produced further highlights including African Finfoot. There'll be more blog posts to follow, time allowing... and I'll make sure there are more birds in the next post!
African sunset (with Red Lechwe in the foreground)

Sunday, 17 May 2015

A quiet May weekend

Spring birding is always hit and miss, particularly if like me you're largely confined to weekends. Most people look outside and smile when it's sunny, but what that sun usually means in the context of my local birding is no birds. And that was the case at Crossness yesterday, where it felt like mid-June as opposed to mid-May with swifts buzzing about and the Common Terns well and truly settled in to nesting at Barking Bay. The annual build up of non-breeding gulls in Rotherhithe continued apace with about 200 Herring Gulls present yesterday, and with 3 NTGG rings there was at least something to get me going...
Two ringed Herring Gulls Greenland Dock, Rotherhithe 16th May 2015 - the 2nd-summer (left) K9HT was last here on 22nd June 2014 (having been ringed at Rainham in November 2013) while the 1st-summer (right) was ringed at Pitsea in September 2014 and has been about in Rotherhithe since 4th May 2015.
Today, I mixed it up a little and Karen and I headed out of London for the day. We walked around Rye Harbour, East Sussex which is always nice - not many birds but plenty of birders rather surprisingly. There were a couple of first-summer Spoonbills present on the flood north of Ternery Pool, with one of them ringed, while other highlights included a Cuckoo sallying from fence posts, a couple of Wheatears and a small flock of Bar-tailed Godwits. Little Terns were about in small numbers, and there were a fair few Common and Sandwich Terns, but I was left a bit cold by the lack of Mediterranean Gulls compared to a handful of years ago - just a handful seen today.

We then went to Dungeness, as much to satisfy Karen's request for a Dover Sole sandwich from The Fish Shack as my gull fix. Mid May's not exactly the best time for huge numbers, so three ringed birds (two Danish Great Black-backed and a Sussex ringed Herring) had to suffice.
1st-summer Great Black-backed Gull JZ042 Dungeness 17th May 2015 - ringed as a chick at Nordre Rønner, Læsø, Nordjylland, Denmark on 1st July 2014 then seen at Boulogne-sur-Mer, Pas-de-Calais, France from 2nd January to 9th February 2015, then Outreau, Pas-de-Calais, France 14th February and 14th March 2015 before being first seen at Dungeness, Kent on 25th April 2015.
Returning to Rotherhithe early evening, a couple of Swifts were about along with two NTGG Herring Gulls on the barges on the River Thames. If only the birding this weekend could have been more exciting...