Friday, 22 April 2016

Cold conditions deliver an arctic gull

Last weekend was cold. Single digits. And after having to jump start the Land Rover for the first time in ages, it was onto the tip I went. Still lots of gulls, though less Lesser Black-backed Gulls than the previous week. Then at 9.45am, this beauty floated into view and decided to spend the morning in view feeding on the newly bulldozed waste on the tip edge.

juvenile Iceland Gull Pitsea, Essex 16th April 2016
I mentioned my inability to multitask last weekend. Something I'm not sure holds true with everyone, but I either have to focus on gull leg scrutiny to maximise ring recording, or look elsewhere plumage wise to find the Casps or whatever else. And so this weekend, I decided that with less Lesser Black-backs about (which inevitably have the most interesting ringing histories) it was time to find the Casps... of which I managed a couple of first-winters: -

1st-winter Caspian Gull (bird 1) Pitsea, Essex 16th April 2016 - two images above

1st-winter Caspian Gull (bird 2) Pitsea, Essex 16th April 2016 - two images above
As well as a couple of adult Mediterranean Gulls, there were of course some ringed gulls about and I managed 22 rings, including two Norwegian Great Black-backed Gulls (including one new bird) and a Guernsey ringed adult Herring Gull.
Herring Gull 0FL9 - ringed as a first-summer at Ty Coed, Vale Marais, Guernsey on 29th July 2012; then seen at Chouet Landfill, Guernsey intermittently from August 2012 to March 2014 before being last seen at Pitsea on 5th September 2015
Sunday was mundane on the bird front. Just a single ringed Herring Gull (a regular bird) at Greenwich and little in Rotherhithe. Anyway, there'll be no tip for me for the next couple of weekends, what with stag do's, a weekend away and general life stuff dragging me away from the sweet smell of rubbish each Saturday morning.

Friday, 15 April 2016

Rings, Ring Ouzel and Razorbill

A bit of a belated post for last weekend. Not very good at multi-tasking, with work, birthdays and blogs all happening this week. And the multi-tasking wasn't prevalent at the tip last Saturday either, where I concentrated on rings and therefore failed to have anything of interest bar a very brief 1st-winter Caspian Gull in the melee. On the ring front however, Saturday 9th April was a very good day with 38 ringed gulls - 8 of these not NTGG birds with birds from Guernsey, Belgium, The Netherlands, two from France and three Norwegian: -
adult Lesser Black-backed Gull - ringed as chick at Zeebrugge, West-Vlaanderen, Belgium on 8th July 2011; seen at Blaringhem, Nord, France on 20th June 2013 and then at El Jadida, Morocco on 10th December 2014
adult Lesser Black-backed Gull - ringed in France... a new ringing scheme but still awaiting its history. A story behind the ring colour though, as it is meant to be red with yellow writing; a cautionary tale to understand that rings don't do well through time in some cases!
1st-winter Great Black-backed Gull - ringed as a chick at Store Vengelsholmen, Vest-Agder, Norway on 4th July 2015 then seen at Dunkerque harbour, Nord, France on 27th February 2016
1st-winter Great Black-backed Gull - ringed as a chick at Knogen, Nordjylland, Denmark on 30th June 2015 and seen Hirtshals Havn, Nordjylland, Denmark on 20th September 2015 and by me at Pitsea on 6th February 2016
Sunday morning dawned and it was time to visit Crossness with John A. Nice to be out and about there again, though it seemed rather empty until we hit the jackpot with a female Ring Ouzel in the paddocks (John's photo here as I forgot my camera!). Initially flushed from near the pumping station, it ended up skittishly chilling in Island Field. Little Ringed Plover nearby too, along with a Yellow Wagtail over but the chilling wind didn't exactly make it feel too much like spring. And I haven't even seen a Wheatear yet!

I headed over the Thames and to Rainham RSPB, where after more of a wait than expected, the moribund Razorbill was located floating at the back of a reedy channel. Mega London bird, but totally uninspiring and a sad sight (dying the next day). I didn't hang around long though, and I'd forgotten how much I like to bird places where there are few other birders! I get paid for my services to the community Monday to Friday, so having to deal with inane questions on my day off made me retreat back to Rotherhithe, where this queen was still parading on Southwark Park lake. My last chance to see this beaut as it was: -
female Common Scoter Southwark Park, London 10th April 2016
And so that was that, another weekend gone and some decent things seen locally. Hopefully the spring will get me out of the London area at some stage! In the meantime, here is a nice sinensis Cormorant by my flat enjoying the sunshine.
adult sinensis Cormorant Greenland Dock, Rotherhithe 10th April 2016

Friday, 8 April 2016

This week in London...

The second week of the Easter holidays is coming to an end, and in between going in and out of school for one reason or another, I've stayed well within London since getting back from Israel on Saturday night. It all started so promisingly on Sunday with a visit to the mud by the O2 in Greenwich delivering nicely with a juvenile Iceland Gull.
juvenile Iceland Gull O2 Greenwich, London 3rd April 2016
I was pretty pumped with this bird, as it's not everyday that within a couple of miles of my home here in Central London I get graced by an Arctic beast. More pumped than I was with this wake up call the same morning - an albino Ring-necked Parakeet squawking away outside my flat.
albino Ring-necked Parakeet Rotherhithe, London 3rd April 2016
Sunday evening it was back to the gulls on Greenland Dock, Rotherhithe. And in among the non-breeding flock was a NTGG ring: -
1st-winter Herring Gull Rotherhithe, London 3rd April 2016 - ringed at Pitsea on 16 January 2016, then at Beddington on 26 January 2016, Little Marlow GP, Bucks 12 March 2016 and again Beddington on 4 March 2016
Remarkably the Common Scoter that was about before I left for Israel was still on the lake at Southwark Park on Monday and Tuesday. Despite the long stay in perhaps not the most prime location for a sea duck, it was still feeding happily and seemed in good health.
female Common Scoter Southwark Park, London 5th April 2016
Later on Tuesday, after a couple of Willow Warblers in the morning (one in Russia Dock Woodland and another in Southwark Park), I was in school when I got news from Richard P-J that there was a male Redstart at Stave Hill, Rotherhithe. I managed to wrap up what I was doing pretty rapidly and joined him for some decent views late afternoon - the initial male joined briefly too by a female. A great record and only about my fifth in Rotherhithe!
male Redstart Stave Hill, Rotherhithe, London 5th April 2016
The weather was cold, wet and generally grim on Wednesday with little doing. Except for a couple of ringed Herring Gulls on the Thames (the same bird as Sunday and this Suffolk ringed bird): -
1st-winter Herring Gull 'VVB' Rotherhithe, London 6th April 2016 - ringed at  Felixstowe, Suffolk as a chick on 3 July 2015, seen there again on 27 August 2015 and then Grand Union Canal, Southall, Greater London 16 March 2016
Thursday was frustrating too, with just a single ringed adult Herring Gull (a regular bird) the only thing of note by the O2 in Greenwich while Rotherhithe was devoid of birds until I stumbled upon the male Redstart again (I didn't even bother looking for it on Wednesday due to the weather) - the first one here that has stuck more than a day!

And to today, with the sun shining a bit more and the temperature a tad warmer. Into school for the morning and then to Waterworks NR where I wanted to acquaint myself with a singing Siberian Chiffchaff. Thanks to Paul W for all the info, and the bird for showing nicely too - a relatively weak singer but sounds a bit like this, while on half a dozen occasions over the course of an hour I heard the bird contact call, a short monosyllabic 'weep'.
Siberian Chiffchaff Waterworks NR, London 8th April 2016
And then it was back to Rotherhithe, where once again the male Redstart gave some fleeting appearances in the scrub in the cairn meadow below Stave Hill, while this inquisitive Ring-necked Parakeet decided to poke its greenness from a nest hole nearby: -
Ring-necked Parakeet Rotherhithe, London 8th April 2016
And then to round things off, there was a Yorkshire ringed Herring Gull on the river near my flat this evening.
Herring Gull Y:109 Rotherhithe, London 8th April 2016 - ringed at Harewood Whin, Rufforth, Yorks on 26th October 2015 and then I saw it in Rotherhithe initially on 6th March 2016
A shame that migration and weather hadn't taken me further afield, but as Karen says it'll have done you good spending time at home and not travelling. Not sure about that to be honest.

Wednesday, 6 April 2016

Israel - update 5 (the final two days and lots of gulls!)

The final two days in Israel (Friday and Saturday) were spent staying in the centre of Tel Aviv. I actually quite liked the place - a nice crumbly exterior to most of the place with a pleasant cycle way along the seafront. Also nicely cosmopolitan. And, importantly, well located for a bit of gulling - with Ashdod to the south and then Ma'agan Michael to the north. So it was Friday at the former (very much possible due to the kindness of Amir Ben Dov) and then Saturday at the latter. With a brief interlude of a male Black-eared Wheatear, a couple of Hoopoes and copious numbers of Common Mynas along Tel Aviv's seafront on Saturday morning - nice to see migration still happening in the urban Med: -

male Eastern Black-eared Wheatear Tel Aviv, Israel 2nd April 2016
Hoopoe Tel Aviv, Israel 2nd April 2016
So back to normal service, with the rest of this post dedicated to the gulls that I saw. I was privileged to have been able to hook up with Amir Ben Dov at Ashdod on Friday, one of Israel's only dedicated gullers - and sharp as nails when it comes to reading metal rings from vast distances. Really impressive! The site itself isn't public access, and consists of settling lagoons near a small waste site. Here it was great to get some good experience of Baltic Gulls, with at least a couple of hundred present; very low numbers here this year according to Amir and he isn't too sure exactly why the marked decline in gull numbers. Anyway, I was pretty content so here are a selection of adults (note the small mirror on P9 on the image down): -





adult Baltic Gulls Ashdod, Israel 1st April 2016
And as well as the fuscus above, a bird I'd not really seen too many of previously was Heuglin's Gull. In fact, the adults were quite obvious in this Middle Eastern context though further west, they would probably be extremely hard to clinch. Anyway, those second calendar year birds were very Casp-like and kind of distinctive.




Heuglin's Gulls Ashdod, Israel 1st April 2016
There was also this nice Crested Lark in the dunes at Ashdod, as well as a few European Bee-eaters and Northern Wheatears. Typical Mediterranean birding at its eastern limits!
Crested Lark Ashdod, Israel 1st April 2016
Saturday was spent to the north of Tel Aviv, and having got a spot from Mick S at Ma'agan Michael, I headed there for a couple of hours. The birds were quite skittish on the beach, not really allowing close approach. However, this lingering lump was the most showy of any of the gulls and was a bit of a bonus considering the lateness in the season: -
Great Black-headed Gull Ma'agan Michael, Israel 2nd April 2016
Compared to Ashdod, Ma'agan Michael has a lot more Armenian Gulls. Again due to the date, the adults had largely headed off so I was left with some scraggy immatures. Being honest, the second calendar years are not too obvious with little distinguishing plumage tracts - pale underwing, dark tertials and a clean cut tail band with a relatively unmarked uppertail. The thick set bill was obvious on most: -


Armenian Gulls Ma'agan Michael, Israel 2nd April 2016 - note the near adult in the last photo

Sunday, 3 April 2016

Israel - update 4 (heading north)

On Thursday, I woke up to very windy conditions in Eilat. It almost felt as though it was time to leave. I'd spent this trip pottering about, just doing some general birding with the obvious listing targets. There were so many more places and birds I could have seen this year, if I'd had more time and the inclination. But for once, it was thoroughly satisfying just to dude about and see bits and bobs. And again this morning, Ofira Park held (the same) Semi-collared Flycatcher and a couple of Cretzschmar's Buntings while North Beach allowed me my last views of White-eyed Gull for a while.
Cretzschmar's Bunting Ofira Park, Eilat 31st March 2016
Heading north, I stopped off at Shizzafon (again an old favourite from previous trips) where there were a couple of Squaccos, Redstart and lots of Red-throated Pipits and flava wagtails of all sorts. Lovely stuff...
Black-headed Wagtail (feldegg) Shizzafon 31st March 2016
Grey-headed Wagtail (thunbergi) Shizzafon 31st March 2016 
Yellow Wagtail ('dombrowskii' type) Shizzafon 31st March 2016
Yellow Wagtail (feldegg intergrade) Shizzafon 31st March 2016
Squacco Shizzafon 31st March 2016
Red-throated Pipit Shizzafon 31st March 2016
The rest of the day was spent heading into Tel Aviv, and then having a quick walk about doing some non-birding stuff. The amount of Common Mynas all over the place was ridiculous, as I remember on my first trip to Israel over a decade ago they were by no means widespread.

Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Israel - update 3 (third time lucky)

I woke up as usual early on today, and had a quick look in at Holland Park. It was a bit breezy, and I quickly decided to go back down to my old favourite - Ofira Park - to see what was about. I parked up and in quick succession a couple of Wrynecks, a Hoopoe and two Cretzschmar's Buntings hopped out. Not bad at all, and though the buntings were skittish, I did manage something on this cracking male.
Cretzschmar's Bunting Ofira Park, Eilat 30th March 2016
Wryneck Ofira Park, Eilat 30th March 2016
Walking around the park even more, and I spotted something black-and-white whizz past in the wind. Thankfully it quickly settled, and it was a cracking (1st-summer) male Semi-collared Flycatcher. Some nice views perched and flycatching, where the extensive white tail sides were nicely seen.

1st-summer male Semi-collared Flycatcher Ofira Park, Eilat 30th March 2016
Picking up Karen from the hotel, we headed up into the Eilat Mountains for an hour or so of raptors - more than yesterday admittedly but largely confined to Steppe Buzzards with the odd Steppe Eagle and an Egyptian Vulture thrown in. Eastern Mourning Wheatear and Tristram's Grackle up there on Mount Yo'ash too.
Steppe Buzzard Eilat Mountains 30th March 2016
After another good breakfast, with a Tristram's Grackle for company, it was off back up route 90 for me. The unfortunate 'need' to see what conceivably is a mega Afrotropical vagrant (or dodgy duck?) meant that the third trip for the Red-billed Teal had to be done. Armed with a bit more info of other sites to check (thanks Yoav!), I pulled up at Iddan sewage works and was greeted by half a dozen Mallard, and with them... half a Red-billed Teal. One of a couple of hybrids that have been in the area.
hybrid Red-billed Teal x Mallard Iddan, Israel 30th March 2016
So I was getting closer... and so to Hatseva again and those two stinky sewage ponds. Nothing, predictably. And it was back towards the main road and taking a track northeast on the east side of the field school to a couple of irrigation ponds. Last throw of the dice for the day. As I got out of the car a couple of ducks flew about - both Teal. This gave me the impetus to start walking and no sooner had I started, and on the first scan, there was the target - the Red-billed Teal! Roosting on the bank, with such an exposed location, it quickly took flight and did a few circuits with five Teal before ditching down where I was able to get some nice views through the heat haze. Whatever the origins, it was a pretty smart bird and those 300km round trip drives from Eilat were all worthwhile. The joys of WP listing!


Red-billed Teal Hatseva, Israel 30th March 2016
Back in Eilat, after a bit more time with the Semi-collared Flycatcher and other bits in Ofira Park, Karen and I headed up to km20 salt pans for the last hour of light. A decent flock of Glossy Ibises cruised in from the south and three Red-necked Phalaropes were new in, but apart from that it was the same line up as yesterday.
Glossy Ibises km20 salt pans, Eilat 30th March 2016
Kentish Plover km20 salt pans, Eilat 30th March 2016