Saturday, 22 November 2014

Third time unlucky

This is the third week in a row I've visited the tip. And for the third week, the day ended with a flat tyre. Obviously tips are hazardous places with bits of metal and the like sticking out of the ground, but given the last couple of years there have only been a three or so punctures in total, this is real bad luck. And before having to leave prematurely, there were actually lots of gulls but unlike last week, the Caspian Gulls didn't really perform. In fact, there was just one first-winter bird today that disappeared behind one of the compactors and couldn't be relocated. Add to that a 2nd-winter Yellow-legged Gull and half a dozen locally ringed gulls, and that was my lot.
one of several locally ringed Herring Gulls from today - ringed by the North Thames Gull Group

Saturday, 15 November 2014

A handful of Casps to kick off the season

It seems that with all those Desert Wheatears last weekend, the winter has now typically set in. And, to be honest, it couldn't come soon enough. The autumn promised a lot with the weather systems in early October, though actually delivered very little except for my bi-annual Eastern Crowned Warbler dip. Gulls are the winter theme, as here in a people saturated southeast England, there isn't really much else to look at that really interests me. I'm fine with that though, as today exemplified.

first-winter Caspian Gull (bird 1) 15th November 2014 - a typical, brute of an individual with a nice clean underwing. Greater-coverts a bit frosty but clearly a fine Casp.
A dreary, relatively mild day on the tip kicked off the season. The ringers were about too, and managed a decent catch of birds. The cannon netting didn't really disrupt the flow of the birds too much today, and with a load of dust carts coming in and out, there was plenty of food for the gulls. And loads of gulls too - more than what we were getting on average last winter. So, with cachinnans withdrawal symptoms, today I was back on it with a total of five Caspian Gulls seen - three first-winters, a third-winter and an adult-type. There were also a similar number of Yellow-legged Gulls knocking about, as well as a Med Gull and a couple of leucistic Herring Gulls. Gull rings were limited to just half a dozen locally ringed birds, but it's actually quite tricky to scan for birds and look at their legs!
1st-winter Caspian Gull (bird 2) 15th November 2014. A cute looking, short-billed and rather short-legged individual with rather advanced bare part colouration and feather wear. I guess it may not have pure Caspian lineage.

1st-winter Caspian Gull (bird 3) 15th November 2014.

3rd-winter Caspian Gull (bird 4) 15th November 2014

adult Caspian Gull (bird 5) 15th November 2014
Already looking forward to next weekend, and the run up to Christmas. At least it's a good excuse not to be able to go shopping on a Saturday.
2nd-winter Yellow-legged Gull 15th November 2014

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Another day in Kent...

It's going to be a long old winter with just gulling to keep me going. So with a 1st-winter Desert Wheatear just a short drive out of London on the Kent coast at Reculver, it was rude not to pay it a visit. Josh kindly gave me a lift for what is likely to be my passerine highlight of the autumn, trumping the current contender of Yellow-browed Warbler.
1st-winter male Desert Wheatear Reculver, Kent 9th November 2014
It seems to be the 2014 fashion of being rather harsh on these desert dwelling critters. What with all the long lenses shoved up their rear ends, there has inevitably been a little bit of overkill - the amount of photos on the web between this bird, and the other two (in Norfolk and Suffolk), is a little extreme. But, that said, chats are still pretty good looking, characterful birds that always have pleased the crowd. The way this bird sallied from its rocks was nice to see.
1st-winter male Desert Wheatear Reculver, Kent 9th November 2014
The Desert Wheatears we get here in late autumn - the harbingers of winter - are probably eastern birds from Kazakhstan/Central Asia (races atrogularis/deserti) as opposed to North Africa (race homochroa). And to add a bit of nostalgia to the occasion, it's 20 years since I first saw this species in Britain - on a dull November day, with my Dad, on wasteground by the side of a Morrison's in Blackpool.

Saturday, 8 November 2014

Back to the gulls thankfully

It's been a week now since I returned from the Azores. And after enduring a 30 hour journey back from Corvo to London (5 flights and 6 airports later!), I got involved in my usual post October Azorean trip activity - driving overnight to the northeast of England to dip another Eastern Crowned Warbler. At least the gulls still love me though...
1st-winter Yellow-legged Gull at Dungeness, Kent 8th November 2014
And so, with a week done at school already, it was time to start hitting that favourite activity of mine that'll see me through from now til April. Gulling. It didn't start too well, as Steve and I met up for a tip visit but with a flat tyre on the vehicle and nobody about at the workshop to fix it, we headed off. I went to Dungeness, after briefly toying with the idea of seeing a nice cute Desert Wheatear. Down at a blustery Dunge, the highlights were two 1st-winter Yellow-legged Gulls, three ringed birds (including two Scandinavian Great Black-backed Gulls), lots of Kittiwakes moving west offshore and a solitary Great White Egret drive by on the ARC Pit.
1st-winter Great Black-backed Gull at Dungeness, Kent 8th November 2014 - ringed as a chick in Nordjylland, Denmark on 1st July 2014.

Friday, 31 October 2014

Azores days 6 and 7 - goodbye to Corvo for another year

So that's it. Another autumn on Corvo done, just writing this from the airport on Terceira before a late flight to Lisbon. It's been another enjoyable one - with the obvious highlight being the Northern Shrike (as well as the en-route Willet). But again, a swine of an Eastern Crowned Warbler has turned up and caught me with my pants down once more. I'll be back in London not soon enough (as TAP are on strike so I've been re-routed via Madrid, and as a result, trying to get back quicker wasn't an option) but if it's there tomorrow then I'll be in Cleveland for dawn Sunday...
Long-billed Dowitcher on the airstrip, Corvo 31st October 2014

But anyway, here's the update from the last couple of days on the rock. And I'll start with today - where a walk around the village fields pre-flight produced a lovely Long-billed Dowitcher on the airstrip. Birds right up until the last, and with a cargo ship seen passing east, sure there'll be some new yanks on the island. Just nobody to find them, as we all left the rock this afternoon.

So what about yesterday? Not much really. Started off at the reservoir, where there was a single White-rumped Sandpiper and a Snow Bunting to show for my efforts. I then headed down into Lapa where there was a Monarch butterfly whipped through, stirring up memories of those halcyon days on Scilly in the 90s - where these orange beasts, and other yanks, were more or less taken for granted. I also located a Chiffchaff in Lapa too, and while this was going on, the Germans had relocated the Scarlet Tanager in Tennessee Valley. For me, despite an afternoon vigil, there was no sign and I descended down into the village as the sun started to set.

With a few hours to kill in Terceira this afternoon, it was rude not to head to the hotspots. The Short-billed Dowitcher at Cabo da Praia made it a double dowitcher day, while other stuff there included single Pec and White-rumped Sands, a couple of Semipalmated Plovers and Euros such as a Redshank, Little Stint and two Curlew Sandpipers. Around at Paul da Praia, there was a female Lesser Scaup and Blue-winged Teal to round things off.

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Azores day 5 - shrike it lucky

The fog was still around this morning, but not as bad as yesterday. So I headed up to the far end of the island and went solo into Lighthouse Valley - the theatre of dreams with records of Golden-winged and Prairie Warbler amongst others. There was, alas, nothing there today amongst the Blackcaps, Canaries, Blackbirds and Chaffinches.

The other guys managed to locate the Chimney Swift from the whale watching hut between Lighthouse Valley and Cantinho but by the time I got there, the fog had closed in and there was no joy. So Jerome and I headed down the middle road, stopping at Poco d'Agua for a bit where I was able to see my first Redpoll on the Azores. Looked pretty standard to be honest. And then I headed up to Pico where, despite a fair bit of effort, I saw nothing. Heading out of Pico though, the Germans were trying to radio through something - in the end, I deciphered that there was a Northern Oriole in Poco d'Agua and they confirmed this. So off I went, getting Jerome in the process.

Needless to say, we both arrived by the road and the bird had flown a minute or so previously. So I then asked 'was it a bright individual?' to which Jurgen showed me a shot on his camera... it was not a bloody Northern Oriole, but the Northern Shrike - an absolute crippler of a bird, a species I'd never previously seen in the US and something I thought I'd be going into the caldeirao to see. I hit the roof, with the cock up in communication. A nervous half hour or so, in wind and poor visibility, was testing but in the end, the sun shone through and the bird duly performed.
1st-winter Northern Shrike (race borealis), Poco d'Agua, Corvo 29th October 2014
Despite being a first-winter, the bird was really vocal - singing continually at times, perched low in the hydrangeas. Pale lores, heavy barring and overall dusky tones to the head and nape were really obvious. I watched the bird for an hour or so, before it headed down the valley and into the gloom. Once again, coming late to Corvo had paid off with the best bird of the season still lingering.

Heading back down to the village, I saw a couple of Collared Doves in the higher fields - a new bird for me here, as the species wasn't about on the island until this year. A stroll around the middle fields late on produced a Tree Pipit (a major bird here) courtesy of Jerome and a perplexing falcon that headed fast over late on has meant a later than expected night.

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Azores days 3 and 4 - foggy on the rock

Yesterday was largely spent in transit getting from Sao Miguel onto Corvo; I ended up briefly visiting a further two islands (Terceira and Faial) on my way here as for some reason, that's what SATA scheduled for me. Anyway the flights were uneventful, as was the birding arounf the village yesterday afternoon. Since arriving here, the whole of the island is covered in fog so places like the caldeirao (where there should still be a Northern Shrike), the reservoir, the upper fields and the upper parts of the ribeiras have been a total write off.

Luckily though, the end of the lower road - Cantinho and Fojo - were birdable to an extent today, so that's where I headed. And in a lucky break, just as I was leaving Cantinho and heading back along the road, the cloud lifted a bit and there was a Chimney Swift flying low over the trees. In true Corvo style - no photo, no bird - so got a few grainy shots on ISO2000.
Chimney Swift over Cantinho, Corvo 28th October 2014
I then headed up into Fojo from the lower road, and slipping and sliding made my way up beyond the white house where I hung about for a while. Pishing away, wading through the Chaffinches and Blackcaps, along came that sweet 'tsip' that is only ever going to be one thing - a Nearctic wood warbler. And indeed it was, a Black-and-white Warbler. But within 10 seconds or so, there was more movement and amazingly another appeared right beside it. Both looking similar, in that they were 1st-winter males, the whole thing must have lasted 30 seconds or so before they both headed off calling across the clearing. Only on Corvo. There have been sightings of Black-and-white Warbler (one bird) in Fojo up until 20th October, with further sightings this autumn of birds in Cantinho and Da Ponte. All, as far as I'm aware, have been 1st-winter males so difficult to unravel how many birds.
Black-and-white Warbler in Fojo, Corvo 28th October 2014
I managed a couple of Chiffchaffs together at the bottom of Fojo, but apart from a healthy total of 4 Woodcocks flushed in the gloom, the rest of the day was effort for nothing. Interesting to note some rather bizarre responses on other social media sites today about vagrant searching in the Azores - seems like those rocked up in their Norfolk armchairs see it as rather easy. Good luck to anyone who tries it out here, as it's tough. And as always, the rewards are contextual.