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. 

Sunday, 20 May 2018

Terek Sandpiper at Rye

A Terek Sandpiper was found mid-morning yesterday (Saturday) at the very pleasant Rye Harbour NR. For some reason, I really fancied it - not often that I have a desire to see birds I've seen a lot of before. But who would turn their nose up at another Terek? I actually had to look into the archives of my notes to find out how many of them I had seen in Britain previously - the answer being a paltry three (Bowling Green Marsh, Devon in June 1996, Frodsham, Cheshire in April 1999 and then one at Cliffe, Kent in May 2005). So of course I fancied another...

Having had the car serviced in the morning, and then waited for Karen to enjoy her Royal Wedding watching, we headed off from London in a very civilised fashion at 2.30pm and arrived at Rye within a couple of hours. Getting to Rye is one of the most pleasant drives you can do from London to the south coast, and with the sun shining all was good. Then after a 15 minute walk, the Terek Sandpiper was performing really well on the Salt Pool (just north of the Ternery Pool) as it fed along the west end of the lagoon.
Terek Sandpiper Rye Harbour, East Sussex 19th May 2018
Although Terek Sandpipers are a fairly common fixture further east, they're a bit of a unique species that I never tire of seeing. And this was easily the most showy one I'd seen in Britain. The reserve was full of activity too, with the sight and sound of Mediterranean Gulls pretty much constant while Sandwich Terns flew over all the time, and there was even a decent Curlew Sandpiper on the walk to and back from the Terek. And by the time we had finished at Rye, there was one last thing to do... find a nice country pub to punctuate the journey home.
Terek Sandpiper Rye Harbour, East Sussex 19th May 2018

Saturday, 12 May 2018

Caspian Gull at Thamesmead

It has been a couple of weeks since I did a post - last weekend was too hot and sunny for much to be about in all honesty. So I made the most of a very pleasant time with Mum and Dad, seeing some bits like Garden Warbler and Surrey heathland stuff in the process. And then on the Bank Holiday Monday, a trip to Dungeness revealed about four Little Gulls on the RSPB reserve, along with a couple of Great White Egrets on Dengemarsh, and a few Whimbrels and Bar-tailed Godwits moving along the coast. We also managed to get the young lad his first ever Turtle Dove on Romney Marsh, as it purred in the blistering heat.

And so to today, waking up to the promise of grey skies and rain - just what you need for birding in London! And with rain forecast from midday, that when I headed out. First stop, aside from the local Rotherhithe spots, was Thamesmead and the river off Princess Alice Way. Typically on arrival, there were no gulls present and just a load of scrotes playing their drill music. However, things changed within a couple of minutes and half a loaf: -



1st-winter Caspian Gull Thamesmead, London 12th May 2018
This is the first Caspian Gull I've had at Thamesmead for ages, as the winter we have had really hasn't been great for them by recent high standards. It was quite a nice one too, and though probably coming from a western population given its propensity to linger around, I wouldn't be labelling this bird with the increasingly used 'German muck' label.

Crossness in the rain was full of promise, but delivered two Wheatears in the paddocks and four Dunlin at the outfall. Swift numbers were well up though compared to last weekend, presumably due to the inclement weather. Nearby at Crayford, there were loads of gulls but nothing too special with the highlight being a 1st-winter Yellow-legged Gull on the roofs by the recycling centre.

Sunday, 29 April 2018

Arctic springtime in London

I'm writing this having just thawed out from a day out and about in London. The biting wind and overcast conditions were a far cry from last weekend's summer weather. However, London usually has more promise with laden skies and rain with this weekend being a fairly satisfying one locally...

I had a good stroll round Crossness yesterday with John A, where there were some moderate highlights with a male Wheatear, a 1st-summer Yellow-legged Gull, 7 Swifts and 2 Swallows topping the bill. Waders were surprisingly absent, with single Black-tailed Godwit and Common Sandpipers as well as 3 Redshank. A check of Russia Dock Woodland didn't produce the previous day's Spotted Flycatcher that Richard PJ had seen but Blackcaps were belting it out from every patch of cover.
Wheatear Crossness, London 28th April 2018
And then on to today, with a day around London with Dante and Jamie P as it had been a while. The wind was bitter and you could tell the northerly element, which seemed to get worse as the day progressed. Yet starting off at Southmere, Thamesmead early on it was obvious that the hirundines had been having a rough time - about 80 Swallows, 25 House Martins and 5 Sand Martins in all - with many sitting on the railings by the car park (that is now bollarded off to stop pikeys settling again). This was the largest amount of hirundines I'd seen here since May 2014, the day I found a Red-rumped Swallow here but alas it wasn't to be today.
Swallow Southmere, Thamesmead, London 29th April 2018
Nearby at Crossness, it was quiet and dull although a Hobby was a decent enough site as well as having a good opportunity to see what was around wader wise on the paddocks. So with the weather feeling like it was mid-February, it was back to what we know best and a check of Crayford and the area around Viridor and Jolly Farmers.

I'd actually thought that it would be a quick check and move on, as I'd not heard of anything at the site recently. But how wrong could I have been. I could talk you through things as they happened, but I think the totals speak the loudest - this was an excellent gulling session, and I can't remember ever seeing three white-winged gulls together at a London site, let alone in April. A juvenile Glaucous Gull, two Iceland Gulls (a new 2nd-winter (seen at Rainham Marshes previously) and a juvenile that has been around for a while) and at least two 1st-winter Caspian Gulls.
juvenile Glaucous Gull Crayford, London 29th April 2018
The highlight for me, undoubtedly, was the juvenile Glaucous Gull as it was my first here at Crayford. I picked it up initially in flight, but it was a really small bird or at least that's the sense we got when we first saw it in the morning. The 2nd-winter Iceland Gull (seen previously at Rainham by Jonathan W and Shaun H) was a great bird too, with a nice amount of moulted grey on its mantle. While there were at least two 1st-winter Caspian Gulls, with one a bit better than the other piece of presumed German muck.
juvenile Iceland Gull Crayford, London 29th April 2018
2nd-winter Iceland Gull Crayford, London 29th April 2018
We did break our productive gull session up with a couple of hours at Nazeing GP in the Lea Valley. No sign of the Red-rumped Swallow there, but it was fun enough scanning through the large hirundines at least when we were out of the wind. So that was it for another weekend, and onto the working week once again.