Sunday 27 November 2011

Rotherhithe regulars

Between the 50 or so books that I had to mark today, I did manage to squeeze in a bit of local larid action. It wasn't as if I was targetting this genus, it's just the way it goes around here. It's basically gulls or bust, except when there's a freeze up, and especially on a day like today when there was little point looking for passers in Russia Dock Woodland due to the wind.
Black-headed Gull, Greenland Dock

Herring Gull, Greenland Dock
Basically, I saw very little - and even went to King George V dock on the other side of the river for a quick look. Had a pleasant time in the blustery conditions, taking shots of the commoner species, and got frustrated with a red-ringed 1cy Herring that just wouldn't play ball for detailed ring reading (presumably a Rainham/Pitsea bird). The aythya flock up to c.50 now, though still pretty poor given it's almost December but a sign of the mild conditions to date. All pretty mundane stuff, especially with the news of Gary Speed. Had a nice McFlurry on the way home to round things off.
Common Gull, Greenland Dock

Wish you were here? Yep, I do... but a shame it was just one of the many sails on the boats on Greenland Dock just outside my flat this a'noon.

Saturday 26 November 2011

A nice relaxed weekend...

Today feels like the first weekend day that can truly be called winter. I didn't bother to post last Sunday, as I didn't actually see much despite standing in a rather pleasant area of Tunbridge Wells without a Blackpoll Warbler showing itself.

It's been a long old autumn, and I've had a bit of a long week at work so this weekend couldn't come soon enough. I'd been contemplating the Veery on Muck as it looked so good and worthy of a trip, but that was not to be - the bird had flown, or waves from the storm that passed through Thursday night may have swallowed it up! Some good footage on Silas' blog of the storm as it hit the Faeroe Islands here; its produced a couple of 1cy Laughing Gulls in Iceland so far.

So it was rather more locally that I started - the adult Mediterranean Gull was still showing nicely on the lake at Burgess Park this afternoon; texted RBA with the news as I usually do, but the slacker the other end either couldn't be arsed to whack it out or didn't deem it newsworthy enough (though they'd been putting it out the previous two weekends). That was one text and 30 seconds of my life I'll never get back.

Anyway, I dropped Karen off to do a bit of shopping in Bromley while I headed 5 minutes out of town to have a look at a lovely Long-tailed Duck on a small fishing pond in some pleasant horse paddocks amongst the urban sprawl. The bird showed rather well in glummish conditions, allowing a few shots as it preened/dived in equal amounts. There was also a drake Wigeon, looking pretty out of place amongst the local assorted geese. Nothing too exciting, but really nice and relaxed, rounded off with a warming chai tea latte in the Bromley Starbucks.

Saturday 19 November 2011

West Country Wader Fest

There'd been a load of stuff turned up over the last week that I'd like to have seen. The cracking Veery in Highland, the Greater Yellowlegs in Northumberland, the interesting gull in Argyll... and then yesterday afternoon a juvenile Sharp-tailed Sandpiper turned up in Somerset. Though statistically not as rare as any of the others this Sharpie was a juvenile and, though I stand to be corrected, the last one of this age was the legendary Shotwick (Flintshire) bird of '75. I'd seen an adult in August in County Clare, as well as a few in Hong Kong in the summer too, but I'd also never seen a juvenile Sharpie anywhere in the world so the plan was hatched.

John A, David B, Martin B and yours truly left the urban world of London just after 5am and, after purchasing the worst sandwich you're likely to lay your eyes on (a BLT but with no lettuce, one slice of tomato and some putrid bacon), arrived at Blagdon Lake a little while after first light. There was no sign... but the place was absolutely bird filled. What a quality site with a nice 1st-winter drake Long-tailed Duck, drake Red-crested Pochard and a couple of redhead Goosanders from the fishing lodge kicking things off. All quite distant, but it was one of those crisp mornings with crystal clear light.

We headed on round to the other side of the lake, where Dave B had seen the 2 LBDs earlier in the autumn. Loads of mud, and more quality... with a 1st-winter drake Ring-necked Duck picked up amongst the hordes of aythya, a Slavonian Grebe, 8 Bewick's Swans (including 4 juvs) and a drake ***** ****. Then John A picked up a gull on the near edge - bang, a nice 2nd-winter Ring-billed Gull and apparently a rather rare occurrence at the lake indeed. A pretty retarded bird, it then did a nice fly around being stooped upon by a Peregrine at times. Though the target wasn't in site, I was pretty happy with the crop of scarce we'd churned out. And then...
A rapid drive to nearby Chew Valley Lake, as the Sharpie had been relocated off Herriott's Bridge. We got there in quick time, despite a tractor trying to stifle us, and joined the crowd of twitcher types. The bird had flown round the reedbed and wasn't on view, although the two limnos were busy probing around, getting amongst it with the Lapwings on the fresh mud. These were my first LBDs of the autumn, and always lovely to see. Here's a nice shot of one I took about this time of year 3 years ago... (a bit closer than today's dynamic duo).
1st-winter Long-billed Dowitcher, Lagoa das Furnas, Sao Miguel, Azores Nov 2008
Right, so getting to the point, the juvenile Sharpie showed relatively quickly to those like me who weren't vertically challenged - the adjustable Swarovski meant I could get to see over the reeds where it was happily feeding amongst a small flock of Dunlin. A lovely bird - perhaps not quite as fresh as I'd expected - but I shouldn't have been such a dumb arse considering it is now mid-November. There was also a drake Goosander, and just for good measure swivelling around 180 degrees produced another bit of yankage to join the LBDs - the long-staying Spotted Sandpiper. It showed poorly, but we had to go as one of the team was due in Norfolk for dinner at 6pm and the brownie points were starting to run down.

John A and I got back to London, and spent the last hour or two of daylight at Cross Ness as per usual. 4 Yellow-legged Gulls the highlight here, as well as a decent flock of 250 Dunlin that promised more but delivered little.

A nice day out, and something I should do a little bit more. Very little beats going for quality birds that you genuinely want to see. Thanks to David B for the driving and invite.

Sunday 13 November 2011

Guess Who's Back? Back Again...

After the coastal jaunt yesterday, today I stayed a lot closer to home and did the rounds on the patch for the first time for a week. The council is doing a bit of refurb to the lake at Burgess Park at the moment, and although there's no access to get close to the birds, there are quite a few gulls congregating including a few large. Amongst the smalls though, I came across a familiar figure - the adult Med Gull (that I'd found as a 2nd-winter in late 2008) was back for another winter session. Really good to see it again, as I'd been getting a little worried...
Mediterranean Gull Burgess Park (picture taken January 2010)

I had a trudge around Russia Dock Woodland, in the hope of a Firecrest or an interesting Chiffchaff, but to no avail. A couple of Great Spotted Woodpeckers and busy Long-tailed Tit flocks were the best of a quiet visit. We've had pretty mild weather so the water bodies were void of any aythya action while a check of the river had the usual suspects but nowt else.

Saturday 12 November 2011

A Mega Start on Thanet?

John, Bob, Graeme and I arrived shortly after dawn at Cliftonville. It was still, grey and relatively mild. We walked the short way from the road to the clifftop path, and then found our quarry - a probable Eastern Black Redstart - feeding on the beach below. Even in the gloom, this was one hell of a smart bird species or no species, with just the Black Redstart x Common Redstart hybrid possibility standing in the way (plumage suggests not, but wing formula puts this to bed). Either picking off insects from the seaweed or sallying from the undercliff, it remained faithful to an area of a few hundred yards. There was also a 1st-winter male Northern Wheatear here, one of my latest ever.
Obvious uniform rufous underparts give this Black Redstart a remarkably Redstart feel. Ruling out hybrids is the trickiest part.

throat mottled grey with black as per Dutch Birding for birds in 'paradoxus plumage'

Normally on its own, at one point though it flew up to the clifftop path where it joined 3 'normal' gibraltariensis Black Redstarts (including an adult male). However, at this point, a Woodcock arrived on the grass next to where we were watching. Mike Buckland had seen it 'coming in off', clunking an iron post and hence its appearance of looking half dead, with wings dragged down. Pretty grim stuff, it was picked up where there was a massive, bloody gash to its pectoral. The decent thing was done, and after a successful sea crossing, sad to see such a quality bird meet its demise just as it made landfall.
RIP Woody
After having a typically unhealthy yet satisfying fry up at the nearby cafe, we exited the place and John found a Short-eared Owl flying over and being mobbed by a couple of green monsters (Ring-necked Parakeets). It headed off northeast and over the bay, where the gulls continued the mobbing. Always nice to see a bit of viz mig.

Heading off to nearby Northdown Park, the typical late autumn 'in the mix' of 4 Chiffchaffs (including a couple of brown-looking, non-Siberian yet eastern types) and a few Goldcrests was outdone by a Yellow-browed Warbler that John and I found in trees in the southwest corner of the park near the house. Happy with that, though it didn't show again to Bob or Graeme, we trodged down to King George V Memorial Park to give it a bit of a bash. Not a lot here, except for some more crests and a Chiffchaff. No surprise given the amount of noise created by dog walkers and green monsters. Interesting to see Thanet's scrotes being put to good use - having to wear high viz jackets with not so discrete 'Community Payback' labels on them. They'll probably re-offend and nick some old lady's purse, but at least they picked up some dog shit for their troubles.

Right, so we headed back to get another helping of the star bird. It was still in the same place, and there was a new crowd admiring it. Enjoyed meeting the finder, a lovely chap Barry Hunt, and when things thinned out on the crowd front the bird started performing even better... excellent stuff.
Nice shot to try and get those emarginations... see Dutch Birding Vol 27(3):181

Obvious fringing to flight feathers at times produced a rather discerning panel
With only an hour or so of good light left, we had a fruitless search for a couple of Twite nearby but the remnants of summer theme continued with a couple of Swallows hawking over the clifftop together.

Friday 11 November 2011

Autumn's Nearly Done

And how do I know that autumn's nearly done with? Not because there is a reduced movement of birds on the patch - it's hard to tell that, even at the best of times, given the patch is nearly devoid of birds even then. But I can tell... and it lies in the amount of time I spend updating a certain website.

Which brings me to an encounter with a man many of us will be eternally grateful to (for finding the Irish Canada Warbler in 2006). I was plodding around Carrahane Strand, County Kerry and bumped into Maurice Hanafin - I've met him here on a couple of occasions on Irish jaunts and we got chatting. Anyways, to cut to the chase, he said he found out bird news these days by using the Netfugl twitter site. He then mentioned that it hadn't been updated for a couple of days with the British news... odd, considering that I'd been in Ireland for a couple of days with no computer access.
Burning the midnight oil... look at all those updates!
And then some people say that with Netfugl news, you get nothing and then all of a sudden a lot of messages come through. Yep, that's because either me or other updaters have been at work or out birding for the day... understandable of course.

This autumn's been really protracted and hard work too, starting with hurricane dumpage in the first ten days of September. Since then, I've tried to whack out each and every Semipalmated Sandpiper through to those dreaded harbingers of winter, Desert Wheatears. And during late September and early October, it took time - Netfugl doesn't just update itself. Even after slogging through those bloody ribeiras, Netfugl got updated each night before the Commodoro call of 'last one up close the lights' (perhaps the most famous saying by a non-birder in WP birding?).  The birds have tailed off now, and nobody's on Corvo for those Dickcissels anyway. The lights are off til next autumn out west for sure.

All I have to do for the next few months is recuperate, hibernate and whack out the odd Black Duck and Forster's Tern here and there...

Thursday 10 November 2011

Brents at the weekend

I wanted to do this post on Sunday, but for some reason the USB connection between my camera and computer stopped working. So I quite rightly had to invest in a card reader. This week's been a struggle to get any birding in before or after work due to the lack of daylight, but a Redwing this morning sailed over as I got out my car in the early morning gloom.
7 of the first 10 that went through
So Sunday was quite a productive afternoon at Cross Ness - John Archer and I had 16 Dark-bellied Brent Geese go through upriver. A flock of 10 at 1.20pm and a further 6 at 2.30pm. There were also a handful of Yellow-legged Gulls on the foreshore - 3 adults, a 2nd-winter and a 1st-winter - and quite a lot of Dunlin and Black-tailed Godwits. The waders are back in strong, so winter has set in.
Up for the chop... the final half dozen

Saturday 5 November 2011

More Azorean Agonising

Back down to earth with a bump today, where local birding around Rotherhithe was diabolical. They've trashed the lake at Burgess Park, and are draining it currently. Though still plenty of gulls around, but I couldn't detect the returning Med Gull just yet. Apart from that, just a couple of Egyptian Geese (regular birds) and 3 Shoveler in Southwark Park.

Having got a big fat Birdforum ban for private comments about the owner of the site, I've turned my attention to Surfbirds and there's a really sensible thread on Dunlin. I've had some correspondence with Niall Keogh about potential hudsonia race birds at Tacumshin this autumn, and in the past birders with an interest in the Azores have pondered on a few birds they've seen out there in the mid-Atlantic.

Which brings me to this bird that was one of two, spotted by Lee Gregory and I in November 2008 at Ribeira Grande, Sao Miguel.
Pale, long legged, long-billed with perhaps more extensive streaking on the flanks than on European birds?
The bill on this individual is massive, with comparatively long-legs, pale toned and just didn't feel like schinzii and arctica birds. Perhaps this bird has more extensive flank streaking but I am not sure whether it could be claimed as a hudsonia candidate (the flank streaking in my eyes is not as extensive or extends far enough back for hudsonia).
Quite a well defined pectoral band

Relatively dark lores
 The key features for hudsonia seem to be a line of dark dots that extend onto the lower flanks, extensively dark lores, a long bill and a solid grey pectoral band (per Stoddart, A. 2007. An apparent Hudsonian Dunlin on the Isles of Scilly. Birding World 20: 464-466).

Ribeira Grande, Sao Miguel November 2008