Sunday, 22 April 2018

Back birding in springtime Britain

I landed back in London last Sunday, and predictably the last week has been manic. Catching up on the things I should have done over the Easter break, trying to fend off any lingering tiredness while fending off the oppressive London heat in what has been the hottest April temperatures here for over half a century. And add to that, I spent until 3pm yesterday (yes, Saturday) in a work thing too so it was jolly nice to be out and about when it finally happened...

Aside from a couple of hours yesterday evening around Rotherhithe, where Russia Dock Woodland was alive with the sound of Blackcaps but little else, today was my first opportunity to do some springtime birding. It started with an epic fail, because I slept in past the time I could escape my area due to London marathon road closures. So when the roads did finally open mid afternoon, I headed off to Crossness to see what I could see.

It was a pleasure to be out and about in the sunshine, and it was the first time I'd birded Britain under blue skies for what has felt like an eternity. Admittedly, things started off quiet with little in Barking Bay or on the Thames foreshore by the golf centre. However, a roosting godwit near the outfall looked very bright and small, so persevering with it when it finally put its head up was worth it - as it was a lovely summer Bar-tailed Godwit. There were also a dozen lingering Black-tailed Godwits the other side of the outfall, plus a decent number of Common Terns.
Black-tailed Godwit at Crossness, London 22nd April 2018
The paddocks, though, provided the undoubted highlight of the visit - a stunning male Whinchat, that showed well but briefly in the first paddock down from the Thames path: -
male Whinchat at Crossness, London 22nd April 2018
There was also a female Wheatear in the main paddock area, which showed nicely for me and Mick S (who'd seen three in this area the day before): -
Wheatear at Crossness, London 22nd April 2018
And with Whitethroats, Reed Warblers, Sedge Warblers and a single Lesser Whitethroat singing all in all a very rewarding visit. Cue the deterioration in weather for next week...

Saturday, 21 April 2018

NZ day 1 - Tawharanui and Muriwai

Three weeks ago now, we stepped foot on New Zealand soil for the first time. After arriving early on in the morning, we had a bit of a tortuous time getting our car from Hertz due to understaffing on Easter Sunday, but thereafter it was plain sailing. Target for the day was to stay awake til the evening, so with this in mind what could be better than some fresh air and (reported to Karen as a little) birding. Tawharanui and Muriwai, both north of Auckland, were the places we would visit. First stop though was Warkworth, where we had breakfast in the autumn sunshine and where I saw my first Red-billed Gulls by the river there: -
adult Red-billed Gull Warkworth, North Island 1st April 2018
After this pit stop, it was on to the beautiful Tawharanui Regional Park: -
Tawharanui, North Island 1st April 2018
One of the things you have to quickly get used to in New Zealand is the situation with their endemic birdlife - it is grave, and was graver. Therefore they closely monitor a lot of species, and hence they have an elaborate amount of rings on them. Additionally, and more disconcerting from a moral listing perspective, their most rare birds have been 'translocated' to safe areas i.e. predator free zones. And to be predator free, it often means a fence somewhere... almost Jurassic Park style! But once you get this, you're good to go and enjoy New Zealand's birds which is exactly what I did.
Variable Oystercatcher Tawharanui, North Island 1st April 2018
Entering Tawharanui, there was lots of obvious birdlife with Pukekos (Australasian Swamphens) the most prevalent, while Swamp Harriers patrolled the skies. On the lagoon, I saw my first of many New Zealand Paradise Shelducks as well as a handful of Brown Teals, which were the only ones I saw all trip. Add to that a nice showy Variable Oystercatcher and a couple of Caspian Terns, and with the sun beaming down, life was half decent.
drake Brown Teal Tawharanui, North Island 1st April 2018

New Zealand Paradise Shelduck Tawharanui, North Island 1st April 2018
Pukeko (Australasian Swamphen) Tawharanui, North Island 1st April 2018
We then parked up by the beach, and thanks to John B, I walked a short way up the Ecology Trail to be confronted with three absolute beasts from a time gone by - Takahes! Following their rediscovery in the Fiordlands of South Island in 1948, and massive issues with predation, the population has been translocated all over New Zealand to areas that are either islands or are predator free. Even in the original rediscovery area of the Murchison Mountains, the population is supplemented by released birds. They're fascinating to watch as they chew the grass: -
Takahe Tawharanui, North Island 1st April 2018
Also in this area, I saw what were to be my only North Island Robin and North Island Saddlebacks of the trip while good numbers of Tui and New Zealand Bellbirds were great to see for the first time.
Tui Tawharanui, North Island 1st April 2018

North Island Robin Tawharanui, North Island 1st April 2018
Karen was relaxing on the beach, and when joining her I was able to locate three or four New Zealand Dotterels which evidently seem to breed in the area, as well as a group of White-fronted Terns and good views of both Red-billed and Kelp Gulls.
White-fronted Tern Tawharanui, North Island 1st April 2018
New Zealand Dotterel Tawharanui, North Island 1st April 2018
Reluctantly having to leave this wonderfully scenic spot, we drove from the Pacific coast to the Tasman Sea where there is a well known colony of Australasian Gannets at Muriwai. And so, after the hour's drive, I spent a pleasant hour with these birds. Though it was on the late side for breeding, there were still some stragglers left with their young: -

Australasian Gannets Muriwai, North Island 1st April 2018
And that was that, with the sun starting to dip a little and fatigue rapidly setting in, we were Auckland bound for a spot of dinner and then a long, much appreciated sleep.

Tuesday, 10 April 2018

A long way just for gulls - NZ

I'm currently enjoying a break from Britain, and decided on New Zealand. Yes, it's a fair way away from Britain so you may be wondering why I'm here. Of course there are all the albatrosses, the lovely native Takahes, Keas, kiwis and the like plus mega waders such as Black Stilts and Wrybills. Predictably though, I'm here on a mission for two gulls that you get nowhere else in the world - now that's the reason I've come to New Zealand!

Anyway, there is a lot to be said about this place and with its dramatic and ever changing landscapes, it is hard pushed not to be impressed round most corners. I'd day the North Island is a bit like a sunny, trendy Wales with its rolling hills while the South Island is a mix of Wales, Scotland and then Iceland... so pretty spectacular. Karen and I have come on a fairly whistle stop tour (not unusual!) which has taken in a drive from Auckland right down to Dunedin, with a ferry crossing in between. Seas with albatrosses, vineyards with fine wine, rivers with white water rafting, beaches with penguins, forests with kiwis and mountains with parrots. All done. But for now, I'll leave you with the two reasons for pushing me to come to this wonderful place - Black-billed Gull, the world's most threatened species of gull, and then Red-billed Gull.
adult Black-billed Gull Queenstown, South Island, New Zealand April 2018
adult Red-billed Gull Rotorua, North Island, New Zealand April 2018
Plenty more photos of critters and landscapes to come...

Sunday, 25 March 2018

This weekend's London gulls

This was the last weekend for a while that I'll be able to spend time with the London gulls, and despite the warmer conditions compared to last weekend, there was still an obvious amount of passage. But it was hard going and Saturday was one of those days that are easily forgettable - there were a few rings at Crayford but nothing better than that, Thamesmead provided the realisation that it really was spring as a lot of the wintering Black-headed Gulls had moved off from Southmere, while Creekmouth was slightly better. Here, the darker of the two juvenile Iceland Gulls from last Sunday was still around and one of the Yorkshire ringed Herring Gulls was still about too. A couple of Curlew, an Oystercatcher and a handful of Black-tailed Godwits were on the foreshore as the tide came in late afternoon.
juvenile Iceland Gull Creekmouth, London 24th March 2018
Onto this morning, and I had a good gull session at Crayford with Andy L and Mick S. It's really obvious this time of year to see the Lesser Black-backed Gulls pushing through, though one of the most frustrating things too with these is the distant rings. I had a Dutch bird this morning, as well as one from the northwest (probably Walney), but couldn't do anything with the specifics due to the distance. There was also a yellow-ringed Herring Gull from Yorkshire, that we just about got the code for. It's not like Thames Barrier Park for views! However, average views aside, there were two splendid 1st-winter Caspian Gulls on show this morning - the first bird remaining extremely faithful to the corner of the green building at Viridor recycling centre (much like a couple of birds this winter), while the second was a hulk of a bird showing initially at the recycling centre and then in the flooded fields at Bob Dunn Way.
1st-winter Caspian Gull (bird 1) Crayford, London 25th March 2018

1st-winter Caspian Gull (bird 2) Crayford, London 25th March 2018
Common Gull numbers seemed to be down on previous weeks, and try as I might, I couldn't muster the Ring-billed Gull reported across the river at Rainham on Friday. That's probably it for me with the London gulls for a while, so nice to sign off on a weekend with both the good 'uns (a white-winger and the obligatory Casps).

Thursday, 22 March 2018

Sunday 18th March - mega day of London gulling

It isn't often that I use superlatives about birding in the capital, but the Sunday just gone was incredible in a London context...

There was snow on my car as I set out from my Rotherhithe home early in the morning. I met up with Jamie P and Dante in the Multiplex cinema car park in Beckton shortly after 8am, where we then did the rather dull walk along the River Roding to Creekmouth, an area of mud bordered by a waste recycling centre and a massive flood defence structure. The first decent bird of the day was a juvenile Iceland Gull that Dante located on the river by the flood structure. With a couple of slices, it was with us: -

juvenile Iceland Gull Creekmouth, London 18th March 2018
Walking up towards the outfall, the settling ponds on the right were full of gulls too and included two yellow ringed 2nd-winter Herring Gulls with a code 'Y:...' which will have been ringed at Rufforth tip in the last year or so.
Yorkshire-ringed 2nd-winter Herring Gull Creekmouth, London 18th March 2018
Up at the outfall, it was pretty peaky weather wise but as usual the gulls were loving it. Remarkably, I was scanning through a group and found another juvenile Iceland Gull - distinctly different from the paler bird above: -
juvenile Iceland Gull (bird 2) Creekmouth, London 18th March 2018
Jamie ran back to make doubly sure it was a different bird, and found the original bird still present. While he was doing that, I picked up a 2nd-winter Caspian Gull bathing in the Thames. Even though it's a year on, and so much changes plumage wise, I do wonder whether this is 'Creeky', a 1st-winter that lingered here for a lot of last winter. Anyway, enough of speculating, as this bird came a bit closer and then headed up the Roding and into the melee by the warehouses where we saw it on our way back. Not a classic bird, with a whiff of German in it, but nice enough: -
2nd-winter Caspian Gull Creekmouth, London 18th March 2018
Out at the outfall, there were also four Yellow-legged Gulls on and off, which included an adult, a third-winter and two first-winters. All very nice, and the first time for a while that I've seen more than one at any London site. As we headed back along the footpath, a Mediterranean Gull flew into the large numbers of Black-headed Gulls present while Jamie picked up a different second-winter Caspian Gull - a really neat looking, spindly legged bird with a large P10 mirror - while Dante's third-winter Casp in the same area felt rather more German...

2nd-winter Caspian Gull Creekmouth, London 18th July 2018
And so that was that with Creekmouth - easily the best visit I've had there and it just shows what London can produce with a bit of weather and diligence. We headed east from here, and after a quick Tesco pit stop, poked our noses in at Rainham to see if we could do a quick job on the White-fronted Geese. We couldn't find them, though there were 3 Ringed Plover and an Avocet in Aveley Bay. We decided against a visitor centre riverwatch and so headed south over the Dartford Crossing, and within minutes had pulled up in Crayford.

There were good numbers of gulls milling around the area, and the first stop was the wasteground at Jolly Farmers. This is a nice area to get close to gulls and get some rings, and so that was my plan. Andy L pulled up, and just as he had done so I picked up an adult Iceland Gull - and shouted as such, as this was believe it or not my first ever adult white-winged gull in London! And it was Dante's first adult ever too, so the four of us got to work with a papping session.

adult-type Kumlien's Gull Crayford, London 18th March 2018
Mick S turned up a short while later, and asked whether it had a bit of grey in its primaries - which got us looking at things a bit more deeply, and it did indeed seem that was the case. And so, when it flew, we were all onto it which revealed fairly obvious dark subterminal bands to P8 and P9. An adult Kumlien's Gull it was! Which was pretty good stuff here in southeast England; and to my knowledge I seem to think this is the first Kumlien's in the southeast this winter...
adult-type Kumlien's Gull Crayford, London 18th March 2018
After twenty or so minutes, the Kumlien's Gull took off and headed towards the recycling centre. Where despite looking we were unable to relocate it though three adult Mediterranean Gulls were present, including a pair. However in need of having to do the weekly shop, I had to head back to Rotherhithe though a quick stop at Southmere revealed this Danish-ringed Lesser Black-backed Gull: -
adult Lesser Black-backed Gull Southmere, Thamesmead, London 18th March 2018 - ringed as a chick on Langli, Varde, Denmark on 3rd July 2010; I saw it in Thamesmead on 4th February 2012 and it was seen at Rymer, Suffolk on 27th February 2016, as well as now back on Langli as a breeding adult.
So in summary, it was a pretty good day of London's gulls - possibly the best with an adult-type Kumlien's Gull, two juvenile Iceland Gulls, three Caspian Gulls, four Yellow-legged Gulls and four Mediterranean Gulls. Remarkable what a bit of searching in good old London town produces.

Saturday, 17 March 2018

Avocets at Crossness and a London Shag

The predicted fall in overnight temperatures did indeed happen, and I was greeted this morning by some fairly persistent snow showers. A check of the Rotherhithe sites produced nothing of note, but not too surprising given that just over 12 hours previously it had been 15 degrees or so! These cold weather movements don't literally happen overnight...

And so to Crayford, where there were few gulls on Jolly Farmers and not lots of birds about at the recycling centre either - though it evidently did get better later in the day as Andy L had an Iceland Gull. But that was after I left, as I headed to Crossness while the tide was still out and mud was exposed. Remarkably there wasn't a Lapwing in sight, as this was the species severely displaced a couple of weeks ago with the cold snap, but there was a fair bit to look at. Most notably 4 Avocets (three together off the golf centre and another distantly in Barking Bay) along with 20 Black-tailed Godwits, half a dozen Dunlin and a third-winter Yellow-legged Gull.

Avocets at Crossness, London 17th March 2018
After checking Southmere and Thamesmere, I headed north through the Blackwall Tunnel and into the shadows of Canary Wharf. Yesterday, Sean H had found a 1st-winter European Shag on Millwall Outer Dock yesterday, and he'd messaged me earlier today to let me know if was still present. Rather embarrassingly it took me over an hour and half to find the thing! I walked around the dock, and then also around Millwall Inner Dock, only to find it where I'd first looked. I'll assume it flew back in again!
European Shag at Millwall Outer Dock, London 17th March 2018
This Shag was the first one I'd seen in London, or at least the first one I can recall. It is a species that I had been looking for fairly avidly here in Rotherhithe, so this sighting was a bit bitter sweet - Millwall Outer Dock is literally opposite Greenland Dock, on the other side of the Thames! So near yet so far...

Friday, 16 March 2018

Got G0UT at Crayford last Sunday plus a new Caspian Gull & Purple Sand

Another week passes me by in a manic fashion, so it isn't until now I've had the inclination to write about a good day locally on Sunday morning. Dante met me, as usual, at Canada Water and we headed off east to Crayford to where the gulls hang out. When we arrived at the recycling centre, the sharp lad picked out a 2nd-winter gull that appeared briefly, and was red-ringed, that had a couple of things going for it as a Casp. After a few minutes, it reappeared and with the scope trained on it, we were able to clinch it as none other than the notorious G0UT. It later located to the nearby Jolly Farmers wasteground, where I picked it up at much closer range and papped it: -
presumed Caspian x Herring Gull (G0UT) Crayford, London 11th March 2018
G0UT was ringed as a 1st-winter Caspian Gull at Pitsea tip, Essex on 25th March 2017 - it has the unfortunate claim to fame of being the last Caspian Gull to have been ringed there (if it actually is one). Two days after ringing Josh J had found it in west London at Hammersmith on 27th March 2017 and here, and at the nearby London Wetlands Centre, it lingered until 2nd April 2017. By 13th April 2017, it was in The Netherlands at Katwijk (photo here) and was then back in west London by 23rd July 2017 where it lingered around Fulham intermittently until last seen on 1st January 2018 - looking like this on 31st July 2017. Then it was on the east Norfolk coast at Happisburgh on 6th March 2018 before deciding to head back to the delights of Crayford last Sunday, 11th March 2018. Good history so far, and a great case study of how a relatively crap looking 1st-winter Caspian Gull gets progressively worse as it ages... be interested to track this bird into adulthood fingers crossed.

Anyway, there was a more clear cut and aggressive 1st-winter Caspian Gull on the roofs by the recycling centre briefly mid-morning - a bird I'd not seen previously so assume one that was passing through London and back to the continent. March is a decent time of year for there to be an influx of new Caspian Gulls into London, having presumably wintered elsewhere in the UK, and filtering east/southeast as they filter back towards Germany and beyond.
1st-winter Caspian Gull Crayford, London 11th March 2018
The other site we visited on Sunday was Swanscombe Marshes - a big shout out to Barry W who gave us expert directions, with precision, which meant that I was able to see my first Purple Sandpiper in the London recording area and the lad to see his first one ever. And what's more, we managed to park in a place that meant we didn't get a parking ticket and the ever present pikeys at this site didn't nick any of my wheels! Not my fondest of sites, but with the target bird and 10 Turnstones, pretty good stuff for London. Plus a Yellow-legged Gull and Rock Pipit thrown in too for good measure.