Thursday, 19 January 2017

Caspian Gull on my Rotherhithe doorstep

I had a bit of a shock today. Having been to the dentist at lunchtime, I thought a cheeky check of the river nearby in Rotherhithe on the way back to school was in order. Just assumed I may get a Black-headed Gull or Herring Gull ring at best. But no - bins up, and bang there is a monster of a 1st-winter Caspian Gull sitting on the sand (what I refer to as 'the beach') by the Hilton Hotel. Get the camera out, press the trigger and... no memory card! What a completely unprofessional manoeuvre. No problem, I would just drive a couple of minutes home and get it. Nope, after scuffling about I realised I'd left my house keys at school.

No way was I going to be defeated though and I racked my brains over potential solutions. My first ever first-winter Caspian Gull in Rotherhithe and I had completely ballsed things up. Extreme actions were needed, and so I made a mad dash to the Tesco at Canada Water where I dashed in and out, spent £12 on a memory card and all for...

1st-winter Caspian Gull Rotherhithe, London 19th January 2017
One of the best ways I have ever spent £12 to be honest. Lovely bird, and always a pleasure to get something like this slap bang where you live. And also a different individual to any of those we've been seeing in the Greenwich/Thames Barrier area recently. Normally this blog does indeed focus on the 'beyond' in its title but for once, Rotherhithe was on form today. Bring on the weekend!
1st-winter Caspian Gull Rotherhithe, London 19th January 2017

Sunday, 15 January 2017

Five Caspian Gulls in London - let me introduce you to them

I went to Pitsea yesterday with Jamie P, and it wasn't great - the juvenile Glaucous Gull was there again but little else, not even a Caspian Gull. But today has been a little bit different - managed to drag myself out the house just after nine this morning having had a lovely meal with my parents and Karen the evening before. And so in the pouring rain I joined the ever enthusiastic (and youthful) Dante S who'd managed to tape an umbrella to the railings at Lyle Park to keep (semi-) dry. Jamie P turned up a little later and his method of keeping dry was rather more unsuccessful.

Anyway, it turned out to be a fantastic morning of gulls. At Lyle Park, there were four familiar 1st-winter Caspian Gulls along with a brute of a 1st-winter Yellow-legged Gull. Then we headed off to the O2 in Greenwich where there were two 1st-winter Caspian Gulls - a new bird that I'd not seen before and one of the birds from Lyle Park. And so five 1st-winter Caspian Gulls brightened up the dank day weather wise.

Let me introduce you to all of them personally: -

Caspian Gull 'Lyle'
As the name suggests, Lyle has been hanging about Lyle Park since mid-November and you can be sure to find it either there or nearby on the foreshore at Thames Barrier Park. A classic, crisp 1st-winter.

'Lyle' at Lyle Park, London 15th January 2017

Caspian Gull 'Otis'
Otis has been around for about as long as Lyle, but isn't quite as faithful and seems to go missing from time to time. It has a number of newly moulted coverts and shows thinner arrowheads on its scapulars compared to Lyle, and some fairly uniform grey ones too. A nice distinctive bird that I've been enjoying seeing this winter, mainly at Lyle Park: -

'Otis' at Lyle Park, London 15th January 2017

Caspian Gull 'Mucky'
A much more, as its name suggests, darker and muckier individual that I think is an altogether smaller bird than Otis and Lyle - so possibly a female. Mucky can be recognised by some heavily marked scapulars and a pale-ish base to its bill. Today, Mucky started off at Lyle before following us to the O2 later on in the morning

'Mucky' at Lyle Park (top) and O2 Greenwich (bottom) on 15th January 2017

Caspian Gull 'Darky'
As the slightly politically incorrect name suggests, there is something a bit more coloured than usual on this 1st-winter Caspian Gull - though it avoided my camera in the pouring rain today, it is a distinctive individual with fairly obvious dark centres to a lot of its scapulars. And it tends to hang about at Lyle Park.
'Darky' at Lyle Park, London on 2nd January 2017

Caspian Gull - new bird 'Slick'
As well as the three birds mentioned above, there was also a regular bird with dark scapular markings at Lyle (distantly and in the pouring rain) as well as this beautiful new bird that was at the O2 in Greenwich around lunchtime. A real quality, pompous individual that I'm calling 'Slick' from now on.

'Slick' at Greenwich O2, London 15th January 2017
Add in a couple of 1st-winter Yellow-legged Gulls and a few gull rings, and public transport birding in London - all within three miles of my home - doesn't look too shoddy.

Sunday, 8 January 2017

Back on the tip with a bang!

For a variety of reasons, Pitsea tip has been neglected this winter - most of this due to the vast reduction in Saturday activity with just a handful of dustcarts heading up there. But with a bit of a poor tide for London sites until mid afternoon, it was worth a punt this Saturday. And how glad Steve A and I were that we made the effort.

Started off with a bang, with probably the first scan of the tip revealing this beaut of a 1st-winter Caspian Gull - ringed HC5X0 - in the melee. From the Ukraine or Belarus, so a true beast from the east.
1st-winter Caspian Gull Pitsea 7th January 2017
Not long after, a familiar face was spotted - 911P! This 1st-winter Caspian Gull has been about a bit having started life in Central Poland in June 2016. Mick and Richard spotted it at Dungeness in mid-October before Dante, Jamie and I had it just last Monday, 2nd January, on the Thames foreshore at Lyle Park and then Steve A had it on Bower's Marsh on Friday 6th January. But unlike in London, it was a bit of a slag for the camera on the tip: -
1st-winter Caspian Gull Pitsea 7th January 2017
And there were a further four unringed Caspian Gulls too - three further 1st-winters and then a 2nd-winter too. So six Caspian Gulls was a real result!
1st-winter Caspian Gull Pitsea 7th January 2017
2nd-winter Caspian Gull Pitsea 7th January 2017
And not to mention the white wingers - Steve A picked up this 2nd-winter Iceland Gull scrubbing about in the rubbish.
2nd-winter Iceland Gull Pitsea 7th January 2017
And then, getting a call from a couple of birders on Bower's Marsh saying a juvenile Glaucous Gull was flying our way, literally as soon as the phone had been put down we both simultaneously locked onto this massive unit of a bird: -
juvenile Glaucous Gull Pitsea 7th January 2017
And with 'big white' the leucistic Great Black-backed Gull still about too, along with a total of 29 rings (including birds from Norway, The Netherlands, Aberdeenshire, Yorkshire and Suffolk), it was a pretty good day. And that was not withstanding as I left the tip, I realised I needed some bread for London gulling so headed to the Pitsea Lidl (36p per loaf there!), where I found the first local Waxwings - 22 of them - for the winter.
4th-winter Great Black-backed Gull Pitsea 7th January 2017

Friday, 6 January 2017

London's juvenile Yellow-legged Gulls - do a lot of them actually winter here?

Been seeing a lot of gulls since the last post and will try to catch up on them - a trip to Portugal produced over 60 different rings, two American Herring Gulls, a Caspian and a Glaucous Gull while within 3 miles of my Central London home Caspian Gulls have been rather regular which has been pleasant enough.

But that isn't what this post is all about. It is about Yellow-legged Gulls. London has long been known to get a summer influx of juveniles - from early to mid July peaking in mid to late August usually. They then by mid to late September be much less numerous, and assumed to have headed off to pastures new. Think that's kind of what I write every year for the London Bird Report anyway. But this year has made me re-think things as having two 'distinctive' individuals has allowed a bit of tracking: -

'Swiss Tony' (yellow HD232)
First seen on 31st August and 1st September at the O2 by Jamie P and I, and then Dante and I saw a Yellow-legged Gull at Lyle Park on 2nd January which had a yellow ring. And then Dante saw it well at the O2 a couple of days ago on 4th January with photos here.
Yellow-legged Gull O2 Greenwich, London 1st September 2016
I first saw this bird on 17th August 2016 on the foreshore by the O2 at Greenwich, and Jamie P saw it either that same day or the day after.
Yellow-legged Gull  O2 Greenwich, London 17th August 2016
It was seen the next week and then has been seen sporadically either near the O2 or east of there at Thames Barrier Park as recently as 23rd December 2016.
Yellow-legged Gull Thames Barrier Park, London 23rd December 2016
So to conclude, or at least wrap this up: -
1. Yellow-legged Gulls that come to London mid to late summer actually winter in larger numbers than previously thought (and in 1st-winter plumage get drowned out by other similar large gulls due to their subtlety) or
2. The two 'distinctive' birds talked about above are perhaps just exceptions rather than the norm and it is just coincidence they've both overwintered

Up to you which of the above you think is most likely, but get a decent gathering of large gulls on the Thames east of Central London midwinter and I'd be pretty sure you'd find a Yellow-legged Gull in among them after a bit of searching.

Saturday, 17 December 2016

Gulls in the hood today

Another day of London gulling - this time in the fog and good to be out with Jamie and Dante again. From the grotty Silvertown area of east London to Burgess Park that fronts the notorious North Peckham estates, I had a great time with the larids!
1st-winter Caspian Gull Lyle Park, London 17th December 2016
First off was Lyle Park, where the regular 1st-winter Caspian Gull 'Lyle' was hanging out early on; there was also an adult Yellow-legged Gull while a re-visit later on produced another first-winter Caspian Gull, this time a more marginal bird with a relatively stubby bill and in flight a fairly decent sized tail band (not inconceivable that there is some Herring genes in its lineage).

Thames Barrier Park didn't really have many large gulls today, but there was an adult Mediterranean Gull (metal ringed) and an oddball, aberrant Black-headed Gull with largely white primaries - saw this bird at the O2 today too, which shows the way birds commute between the sites.

aberrant Black-headed Gull Thames Barrier Park, London 17th December 2016
We visited the mud at the end of the O2 in North Greenwich too - typically a fair number of gulls but being more upriver than the other two sites, it seems to not get as many Casps and today was no exception! Highlight was seeing the regular NTGG ringed Herring Gull V9FT and a 1st-winter (presumably its offspring?) still begging for food!
adult Herring Gull with 1st-winter begging for food at North Greenwich, London 17th December 2016
Once the mud had all gone and the Thames gulls had departed, I headed south and gave Burgess Park a punt. I only had a look for the Mediterranean Gull a couple of times last winter (without success), and had already failed once this winter too, so I was pretty happy to find it back - thought it was probably dead! So as I first found it as a second-winter in November 2008, it is now a grand 10 years old... 

adult Mediterranean Gull Burgess Park, London 17th December 2016

Sunday, 11 December 2016

Dusky Thrush - shameless twitching in the Chatsworth estate

I headed out of the smoke early this morning with Jamie P and Steve A, with a mission to see the Dusky Thrush in Derbyshire. It is a species I saw lots of in Japan last winter, as well as single birds in Belgium and Kent previously. Despite this though, the notion of a pretty much gimme Dusky Thrush within three hours of London was too much to resist. So off we headed north, arriving at the 'park and ride' at Chatsworth House just outside the village of Beeley.

Beeley is a pretty lovely village, and its narrow streets weren't exactly ideal for the anorak clad masses, including an ever increasing bunch of geriatrics, to park. So the kind locals sorted out a much better alternative and laid on a complimentary bus service courtesy of the wonderfully hospitable Dukes Barn. And it was within the grounds of this place that we all stood to overlook a small apple orchard - which thankfully didn't have any bookings for kids the week just gone and therefore access was possible. What's more, while the crowd waited, every twenty minutes or so there was an offering of bacon and sausage sandwiches - very nice and British!

Anyway, the first-winter female Dusky Thrush was showing on arrival as it was tucked up in a tangle of branches. It was fairly elusive, and ended up showing itself fairly well on three occasions during the morning - either on the ground pecking for earthworms or on one occasion landing nicely on a tree at fairly close range: -
Dusky Thrush Beeley, Derbyshire 11th December 2016
Certainly brighter than the Kent bird, but then again it would be if you compare December vs May. Although if this individual decided to head south and winter in Spain or Morocco, I doubt there'd be too much in it come May next year. But anyway, a really nice bird and good to see a few people; crowd behaviour was good although I think a fair number of the crowd probably needed to get hearing aids as the noise level was absurd at times. And extra value was provided by some chump taking some shots of a Redwing early on and asking 'is that it?', followed two minutes later when he declared a flyover Kestrel as a Sparrowhawk because it has 'rounded wings'. Not really sure what he got out of the whole experience but anyway, here are a couple more shots of this mega Asian thrush...

Saturday, 10 December 2016

Caspian Gulls and gulling in London

Things have changed a bit on the gulling front this winter. It seems as though Pitsea is on its way out, and with just a handful of trucks going up there on Saturday mornings, I haven't been there for a couple of months. Similarly, Rainham is not what it used to be but that has been happening for a few years now. The government's push for more incineration of waste has meant our gulls don't have those dumps to scavenge on.

On a much more positive note, and perhaps slightly related to the above, there do seem to be a lot more gulls around within 'zones 1 to 3' (tube map wise). The O2, which is a spot I've been doing regularly for a few years now, combined with a couple of sites slightly further east on the north side of the river - Lyle Park and Thames Barrier Park - have been decent recently. But add to that, and what is really great, is that there are two other (younger!) gullers who are doing some damage - namely Jamie Partridge and Dante Shepherd. It genuinely is nice not be be ploughing a lone furrow. In fact, it seems like there have now been nine Caspian Gulls in this area since September...

Anyway last Sunday and today, this beautiful and crisp 1st-winter Caspian Gull was favouring the foreshore at Thames Barrier Park (and earlier at Lyle Park) - enjoying a bit of bread at times too. You get some Caspian Gulls that are just fine to see, while others are quite memorable like this gorgeous thing. Really bright light last weekend in contrast today where it never actually got light!

Caspian Gull 1st-winter Thames Barrier Park/Lyle Park 4th December 2016
Caspian Gull (1st-winter) Thames Barrier Park 10th December 2016 (same bird as above)
A visit to Lyle Park this afternoon produced another 1st-winter Caspian Gull, significantly more advanced in moult on the coverts compared to the bird above: -
Caspian Gull (1st-winter) Lyle Park 10th December 2016 (new individual)
There were also three Yellow-legged Gulls today, an adult and two first-winters. And a few North Thames Gull Group rings - first-winter Herrings that had been ringed at Pitsea in November.