Tuesday, 17 July 2018

Med Gull madness close to home

Living in Rotherhithe does have some perks. Dockside views, less than a minute's walk to the River Thames and a bunch of nice restaurants. And midsummer Mediterranean Gulls...

This year has been really good for the species so far, and after an adult here in Rotherhithe on 6th July, I found the first juvenile here on Sunday evening (15th July) on a post-World Cup Final scan: -
juvenile Mediterranean Gull (bird 1), Rotherhithe, London 15th July 2018
As usual, this bird was on the River Thames by Greenland Pier and loved the loaves that I dished out for it. And given the extended summer we're having, where I've almost forgotten what rain looks and feels like, the light each evening is pretty lovely when looking north. And it was again the case yesterday after work, where I recorded two juveniles for the first time ever here - Sunday's bird and a new bird (bird 2): -
juvenile Mediterranean Gull (bird 2), Rotherhithe, London 16th July 2018
juvenile Mediterranean Gull (bird 1), Rotherhithe, London 16th July 2018
And then to today, having had a hideously busy and sweaty day at work, whacking a couple of loaves out mid evening was just the tonic. Just like yesterday, there were two juvenile Med Gulls, one new (with a metal ring - that was unreadable) and one from the previous day.
juvenile Mediterranean Gull (bird 3), Rotherhithe, London 17th July 2018

juvenile Mediterranean Gull (bird 2), Rotherhithe, London 17th July 2018
So that's three days and three juvenile Mediterranean Gulls. All in the shadows of Canary Wharf and one of the most urban landscapes the UK has to offer...

Friday, 6 July 2018

The gulls are back in London town

I was a bit annoyed about not being around last Sunday to again do the gulls locally. The less said about a visit the Clevedon the better, but let's just say I wasted a day sitting about and walking around a pretty dire town centre to no avail. And for something I'd had to convince myself to go for anyway.

But a few late weeknights with work nonsense have meant I've been unable to check the local gulls as much as I would have liked. Even so, midweek it was noticeable there were a lot more Black-headed Gulls about (they're largely absent from Rotherhithe for the first three weeks of June each year). And then this evening, on the river near by home, I had this lovely adult Mediterranean Gull - the first one I've had in Rotherhithe this year.
adult Mediterranean Gull Rotherhithe, London 6th July 2018
The plan was that I'd find my first juvenile Yellow-legged Gull of the year, as Jamie and Dante had been to Thames Barrier Park this afternoon and seen four, but it wasn't to be. Though I'm hopeful that'll change over the course of the next few days.

Saturday, 30 June 2018

The last day of June mission

I had a pleasant day today around the usual sites in southeast London and saw a couple of nice birds - an adult Kittiwake and the continuing Bonaparte's Gull. But I was on a mission, as today was the 30th June. In both 2017 and 2015, I'd found London's first juvenile Yellow-legged Gulls of the year on 1st July and so I was craving a June record. And with the hot weather, I thought there could be a good chance today...

But ultimately, this was a mission that I'd failed - for this year at least. Another June in London goes by without a juvenile Yellow-legged Gull! A pretty insignificant mission to all but three people, but a mission one of us will succeed in sooner or later.

Anyway, it was a good day nonetheless. Having picked up Karen after her overnight flight back from the US, I headed out to the O2 at Greenwich for a couple of hours while she got a couple of hours of sleep. The low tide gathering of gulls had three ringed Great Black-backed Gulls, with two ringed as chicks in Norway in 2017 and another a Pitsea ringed bird. Also there seems to be good numbers of juvenile Black-headed Gulls already getting into London, so perhaps a decent year has been had. But the real surprise for me here was while scanning the river, I noticed a smallish gull flying west at relative height - the dark grey mantle and black-tipped wings told me it was an adult Kittiwake! Beautiful blue skies and an urban backdrop made the experience all very bizarre, and within a couple of minutes it was all over as the Kittiwake headed off west, spiralling and gaining height over Canary Wharf: -
adult Kittiwake Greenwich, London 30th June 2018
After a spot of lunch, I headed out again and coincided a visit at Crossness with high tide. Barry W was about, so the Bonaparte's Gull was quickly located again as it fed actively around the outfall in the early evening sunshine: -
1st-summer Bonaparte's Gull Crossness, London 30th June 2018
It was good to see this bird again after not being able to get down during the week, and with there now being in excess of 500 Black-headed Gulls at the outfall, there is a degree of concentration needed to stay on it for long once you've located it! Not a lot else around though, with bread hurled out in Thamesmead, Woolwich and Greenwich not producing much at all. 

Saturday, 23 June 2018

Bonaparte's Gull Crossness today

Imaginatively titled as it is, it does what is says on the tin. I'd been at the Year 11 Prom last night until 1am dealing with the usual shenanigans, so it wasn't until 10am that I surfaced this morning. I was out the flat within the hour, and headed on the usual southeast London birding (gulling) circuit that I seem to do every weekend day. Thamesmead was the first stop, and the gulls weren't feeling the bread I lobbed out off Princess Alice Way.

So on to Crossness where the tide was on its way out slightly. Still pretty high, and as I walked east towards the outfall it was obvious there were lots of Black-headed Gulls about, considerably more so than last Sunday. There'd been a couple of Med Gulls the last couple of visits, and every visit is seeing an increase in the numbers of juvenile Black-headed Gulls - which are underrated lookers. So it was just one of those days, where I started scanning for something different as I always do. After c.5 minutes, on the water at mid distance, was a gull that took my interest... that immediately screamed only one thing, a 1st-summer Bonaparte's Gull. This time, the dark nape was one of the first things that grabbed me (as well as the small size) before I looked at its thin, black bill.

Always worth getting closer looks, I chucked a couple of slices out and the commotion was enough for it to come in - showing its lovely underwing as it did so. And yes, there is was - another Bonaparte's Gull found! The third one I've found here, and the fifth I've seen at Crossness since finding the first for London as recently as 2012. A mega track record for this site, especially considering we're talking about a North American species in the southeast of England. And bizarrely too, the second Bonaparte's Gull I've found in 2018 after the one at Killybegs in February. It'd be nice to find something different next!

1st-summer Bonaparte's Gull Crossness, London 23rd June 2018
It's always a good day when you see or find something locally here in London's bird abyss, so after an hour or so - having watched it from 12.15pm to 1.10pm - I left for home and an enjoyable brunch with Karen. There was a Little Egret about too, and the first Redshank I'd seen on the Thames for a month or so, so assume the first autumn returner.

Monday, 28 May 2018

Rose-coloured Starling Dungeness

It has been a long while since I saw an adult Rose-coloured Starling. I can't remember the last one I saw but it is over a decade ago. Not that there haven't been ones to see, it just seems that I've got more lackadaisical about things with age. That said, I remember being over the moon with the first one I ever saw, an adult, at Moelfre, Anglesey during the summer of 1994. Then again, I was only 13 at the time so youthful enthusiasm back then was a given.

So roll forward to the last few days, and it seems like we're in for a bit of an influx. There have already been about a dozen turn up in the last week, and reports of good numbers on the continent suggest they're only just arriving here. But given that the London birding was a little predictable, and I'd faffed about on whether to spend a few days up north, an adult at Dungeness was going to be a pleasant diversion from moping around locally.

Jamie P and I met at Crayford, and despite good numbers of gulls, there wasn't much in them today in a brief look. Getting down to Dungeness mid afternoon was easy, with there being delightfully little Bank Holiday traffic. However, seeing the bird in the trapping area was not easy at all - and it took us a couple of hours. We'd just started walking back towards the observatory when I got a message from Andy A saying that it had reappeared. And what a stunner it turned out to be: -
adult Rose-coloured Starling Dungeness, Kent 28th May 2018
Initially sat up on the tops of the bushes, we spent nearly an hour with the bird as it spent a lot of time devouring caterpillars in deep cover. A cracking looking thing, with its mantle glowing in the evening sun.

Sunday, 27 May 2018

Late May in London

London birding continues to be hard work, which is par for the course at this time of year. Yesterday was horrific, with a handful of Sand Martins and a couple of Swallows at Crossness the highlight. That was how bad it was, and there didn't seem to be much going on at the outfall so I couldn't even spend time searching through the Black-headed Gulls. At least an afternoon and evening in Essex, at Karen's parents and a wedding, gave some purpose to the day.

And to today, having battled back into London through the intense thunder and lightning flashes, I was awaiting my big reward at Crossness this morning. Predictably, it never came, but I was happy-ish with a distant Sanderling in Barking Bay while an adult summer Mediterranean Gull flew upriver - which I think is the first one I've had here this year. With loads of gulls to search through, I took my time but the reward never came. And so I headed to Crayford, via Thamesmead (where a Buzzard flew high east). I always enjoy the gulls here, whatever the time of year, and today there were loads about. A good flock loafed on the Jolly Farmers waste ground, and among them was this rather large and manky 1st-summer Caspian Gull: -
1st-summer Caspian Gull Crayford, London 27th May 2018
It kept to the back of the flock, and at times had a snooze, but it took off when I was evidently distracted by the ringed gulls, of which there was a Suffolk ringed Herring and a handful of North Thames Gull Group birds. 

Monday, 21 May 2018

Expensive misbehaviour

Rule of life - work hard and treat others how you would expect to be treated. Evidently that hadn't been the case one October weekend back in 1994. I'd been grounded for something, who knows what for, but I remember distinctly calling the infamous 0891 700249. For those youths who weren't around in those days, this was the Birdline North West hotline and you were fed the news by the voice of mainly Ted Abraham, and occasionally Alan Davies or John Gregory. All heroes to a 13 year old kid. Anyway, that Saturday evening despite knowing I wasn't going anywhere the next day, I phoned Birdline North West 'just to see what was about'. Well, to cut a long story short, it was carnage - two mega birds had been found that day, a Song Sparrow at Seaforth that was 20 miles from home and the first ever twitchable mainland bird (and the first since 1989 anywhere) and a Greater Yellowlegs on the River Eden in Cumbria (the first fully twitchable one since Minsmere in 1985). Bad times for a naughty boy and despite trying, my generally legendary parents did not budge. I must have done something very poor.

And I was punished with 'Song Sparrow Sunday' as it was known at the time. Scillies emptied out, there were big crowds watching from the mound at Seaforth the next morning and the bird performed admirably for the day. As did the Greater Yellowlegs. By the next weekend, I'd evidently managed to get back into my parents' good books but the Song Sparrow was long gone. My Dad took me up to see the Greater Yellowlegs in Cumbria that showed nicely as it fed in a small channel at Rockcliffe. But 24 years later there hadn't been another Song Sparrow! And before the Seaforth one, they'd largely been a Fair Isle speciality - so being honest, I expected to have to pay top dollar to avenge my misbehaviour of 1994. And sure, that was of course the case with the latest one, turning up predictably on that isolated isle...
Song Sparrow Fair Isle, Shetland May 2018
Fair Isle's 2018 Song Sparrow was trapped and ringed in the plantation originally, and then performed nicely through the comfort of the observatory's window as it came to seed in the garden there. Very nice indeed, and a stark contrast in environment to the mean streets of southeast London.