Tuesday 31 January 2012

Going Dutch

Got the history of this Herring Gull '1A' that I saw on the tip on Saturday: -
Ringed as a pullus on 2nd July 2007 by Roland-Jan Buijs at Vlissingen-Oost, Zeeland, The Netherlands. It has since spent much of its time on the European North Sea coast, in Belgium, France and The Netherlands. Here are its full details: -
14-2-2008 Blaringhem, Nord, FRANCE
23-5-2008 Westkapelle, Zeeland, NETHERLANDS
5-6-2008 Westkapelle, Zeeland, NETHERLANDS
8-8-2008 Blankenberge, West-Vlaanderen, BELGIUM
13-8-2008 Zeebrugge, West-Vlaanderen, BELGIUM
17-8-2008 Blankenberge, West-Vlaanderen, BELGIUM
10-10-2008 Zeebrugge, West-Vlaanderen, BELGIUM
29-1-2009 Dannes, Pas-de-Calais, FRANCE
26-2-2009 Dannes, Pas-de-Calais, FRANCE
10-7-2009 Blankenberge, West-Vlaanderen, BELGIUM
30-8-2009 Blankenberge, West-Vlaanderen, BELGIUM
10-4-2010 Westkapelle, Zeeland, NETHERLANDS
22-11-2011 Boulogne-sur-Mer, Pas-de-Calais, FRANCE
28-1-2012 Pitsea, Essex, ENGLAND

Interesting stuff. Thanks to Roland-Jan Buijs for sending through all this info.

Sunday 29 January 2012

Rotherhithe today

There's always something rewarding about seeing stuff out of the ordinary in such an urban, birdless hinterland such as Rotherhithe. And predictably, if you're not looking through the gulls or ducks in the winter, you'll see nothing. So that's why I only rarely venture away from the waterside at this time of year. With only a limited amount of free time today, I stuck to the Thames and had a couple of Yellow-legged Gulls - a third-winter and a brief second-winter.
Third-winter Yellow-legged Gull chilling on the mud by the Hilton Hotel - same bird as I saw on my birthday 3 weeks ago.
Trying to boss the show... until the GBBGs turned up.

2nd-winter Yellow-legged Gull bombing upriver; a different bird to the two last Sunday. Again note the lack of any mirror on P10
And that's another weekend over and back to the birding abyss until next Saturday morning.

Saturday 28 January 2012

Garbage gulls

Back on the tip again today, once again really enjoyable and got more involved than the last time. An adult Med Gull soared around early on as we were setting up - shame it didn't end up in our catch as I'd loved to have seen one close up. But here it is flying around.
We did a couple of catches, mainly Herrings today with a fair few of those real brutes - GBBGs. Nice to see them in the hand like this: -
Being obvious and pretty much monotypic, you don't really look too hard at GBBGs - but good to see a spread wing 
2cy GBBG with its new bling
 And also one of the birds in the nets was a Norwegian control, just like this bird that I managed to ring read as it chilled out on one of the mounds: -
adult GBBG 'JH413'; ringed at Mandar, Vest-Agder, Norway on 3rd June 2011 and last reported in Norway on 19th August 2011.
I had a go at a bit of bird handling, and now used to Black-headed Gulls. They're pretty meagre really, and only give you a quick nip even if they're going at you full throttle.
3cy Black-headed Gull - note the retained dark feathering on the primary-coverts
And then I just about managed to deal with the a bit of large gull action. I was glad that I didn't venture any bigger than Herring Gulls, as there was a fair bit of blood being drawn by those GBBGs...
Once the ringing had finished, I headed back to the south [best] side of the river, and spent the last  couple of hours of light unsuccessfully looking for a Bittern at Crossness. Another decent day locally.

Sunday 22 January 2012

Classic Casp at Crossness

Another blustery day, and after the usual mooch around Rotherhithe and a quick check of Greenwich Creek, arrived at Crossness shortly after 9am. John A had located a pretty decent Casp candidate that had drifted downriver and, a short while later, I located presumably the same bird just gliding nice and relaxed over the outfall. The views were dire to start, but even head on the gauky big bill and small eye combined with a dock off white P10 tip suggested this would be the real deal. And it was, with no bling compared to yesterday, and a new individual for the year (close to the bird on 1st-2nd Jan in appearance): -
What you'd expect on the deck... both structurally and also the large amount of white in the primaries

Note the rather narrow, slightly broken band to P5

That's what a pale tongue to P10 looks like! Check out the right wing.

This adult lingered for an hour or so this morning, drifting between the outfall and round the bend to the west beyond the lighthouse. There was also a 2nd-winter Yellow-legged Gull around but with the tide high, I headed off to Thamesmere. Despite people looking during the week with a blank, I refound the female Ferruginous Duck in the reeds and alerted John, Ian and Steve. It was elusive and, still not feeling great, didn't want to be messed around by a grubby duck so didn't linger too long. From what I saw, it had more of a subterminal band near the bill base than I remembered/noted last Sunday. However, John later suggested to me that it wasn't too pronounced and that a wing stretch - revealing an extensive wing bar almost the length of the wing - was decent enough.

I had a bit of chilling out at Canada Water when I got back to Rotherhithe, enjoying this punk: -
Then I headed back home and on the Thames late a'noon, managed to find a couple of 2nd-winter Yellow-legged Gulls in amongst the large gulls that often congregate here on Sundays due to the lack of tipping. Note the lack of a mirror to P10 in both birds,  with bird 1 a lot more retarded in moult, iris colour and bare parts than bird 2: -
Bird 1
Bird 2
Bird 2 on the deck

Saturday 21 January 2012

Immigrants from the NW and Poland

Nope, this isn't a Daily Mail style rant about London's growing population. After checking the river by our flat and then the lake at Burgess Park early doors with again no Med Gull, I headed to school for a few hours and the gulling had to be interrupted. While I was ramming the usefulness of different flood defence methods down my GCSE students' necks for their exam early next week, Kev J and Mick S had pulled a winger out of the bag at Crayford. A nice 2nd-winter Iceland Gull and, believe it or not, the first I'd seen this winter.

A couple of my shots showed a fairly obvious tail band but this really wasn't the case in the flesh, and highlights the danger of going off single images for some identifications. For some reason, this year's influx/wreck seem to have a disproportionate amount of this age.

So, having been able to enjoy a gull without a little bit of head scratching, it was back to Cross Ness where this bird was straight out from where I parked my car and on the Thames foreshore. What was immediately apparent was that it looked like a Caspian Gull and, a first for me, it was wearing a bit of bling.
Note the green ring with white writing on the right tarsus

Dobry wieczor!
Pretty confident that the green ring this bird was wearing meant that it'd be from Poland (yeah, home to mixed colonies of cachinnans, michahellis and argentatus!), I vaguely recalled that Dom had a ringed Casp from that neck of the woods a short while back at Rainham. So I texted him whilst Kev J, Mick S and I watched this eastern block of a bird. I was struggling with the wind to read the ring, as well as the bird being on the tideline being meaning its feet were in the water. But I managed to get '3P' as the last couple of digits before Dom's text arrived saying '355P'. Bang... nice stuff and it is the same bird that was superbly photographed by Dom here (note the totally different stance/jizz as today the bird was facing into a fierce blow) and Mick S will have much better shots at some point here from today. Aged as a near adult due to the fact that it had retained dark markings on the primary-coverts, these match up too with those on Dom's images.
Nice pale outer web to P10 with large white subterminal mirrors to both P9 and P10; also note the retained feathering on the primary coverts ageing it as a near adult/4th winter
Typically long-winged feel to the bird with a small beady eye even obvious in this flight shot
The bird was ringed in 2008, apparently in a mixed colony and unidentified at the time(!) like all pullus ringed in such situations - so this just shows the events we're dealing with when it comes to birds over here. By probability, you've got to assume that a lot of our Caspian-type birds are from the west/northwest of the range and the gene pool is rather diluted. Makes a change though for field birders to be telling ringers what their birds are... or at least trying to.

And dobry wieczor is good afternoon in Polish.

Friday 20 January 2012

(S?)AHG at Nimmo's Pier

I've got one of those stinking head colds, feel dog rough and my head is banging. So what do I go and do - decide to have a punt at the Nimmo's Pier adult smithsonianus - a bird I've seen almost annually in recent years.

This bird hasn't come back yet this winter (though it wasn't seen until 5th February last year), but it's interesting to look at this bird in the light of what I saw in Ontario, the Corvo bird in October 2011, the Adriaens & Mactavish article and then some correspondence I've been having with a Canadian guller Kevin McLaughlin. Here are some shots (the first two are mine, and I'd like to thank Tom Cuffe for the four excellent flight shots): -
Photo 1. adult American Herring Gull, Nimmo's Pier, Galway, Ireland March 2008; note the heavy rather blotchy head and neck shawl

Photo 2. It was a big, bulky bird in the field; this shot shows a nice P10 mirror, with an extensive black tip and no obvious signs of a pale tongue on the inner web of this feather either (which you'd be looking for on a 'classic' Newfoundland bird) 
Photo 3. A small mirror to P10 on this photo, as well as a subterminal black 'U' to P5

Photo 4. There's an obvious lack of any pale tongue to the outer primary, P10.

Photo 5. Another photo that illustrates the lack of a pale tongue to the underside of P10, and shows nicely the subterminal 'U' on P5.

Photo 6. Note the solid black to the webs of P8-P10. You'd be expecting much more extensive grey inner webs to P8 and P9 on classic Newfoundland birds.
So what do all these features mean? Well, you're never going to be able to know for sure but there are a couple of things that go against this bird being a classic Newfoundland bird: -
- the lack of a pale tongue to P10
- one mirror on P10 only
- the inner webs to the outer primaries (P8-P10) are wholly dark with no obvious grey bleeding through, which is an obvious feature of Newfoundland birds.

Compare Photo 6 with this bird I took in Ontario in December 2011: -
Photo 7. Pretty similar in extent of black on P8 to P10 compared to the Nimmo's bird, with no grey bleeding through on the inner webs to the outer primaries
And then Photo 5 with this bird from Ontario too: -
Photo 8. Note the similar mirror to P10 and also the similarity of the darkness extending down on P10.
So what is the Nimmo's Pier bird. Is it a 'southern' American Herring Gull i.e. a bird from the Great Lakes? You can only speculate of course, but the feedback from Canadians on the Nimmo's bird is that it shows an outer wing pattern very much like the prototype AHG that breeds in Hamilton [Ontario]... and shows an average sized mirror confined to P10. It most certainly does not resemble a typical NAHG (Newfoundland type)'.

Though I'm sure some stuff about this bird has been written somewhere else on the web, perhaps this is of interest. In conclusion, this bird doesn't fit a classic Newfoundland bird (NAHG) - it doesn't exhibit that pale inner web (tongue) to P10 a la Caspian Gull - and if it hadn't been tracked throughout its life (having first turned up as a juvenile in 2004), then I imagine it would have slipped through the net.

Thanks to Kevin McLaughlin, Derek Charles and Tom Cuffe.

Wednesday 18 January 2012

Bagging them up

I mentioned that the Saturday just gone I'd joined the NTGG, and helped out in just a small way with the 276 gulls ringed. I must say that I was extremely impressed with the professionalism and concern for the welfare of the birds, as well as the openness of Paul et al in letting me come along and see what happens.
As it turned out, it was a really tricky day, as the gulls just wouldn't settle in the range of the nets despite the compactor drivers really trying hard to entice them down. While all this was happening, I joined Chris and Richard and scanned the tip. I picked out a 1st-winter Caspian Gull and an adult Yellow-legged Gull but due to the sunlight and where they were tipping, the main feeding frenzy was just out of view. A couple of Sussex-ringed, rehabilitated Herring Gulls (an adult and a first-winter) as well as a 1st-winter Great Black-backed Gull that had been ringed in Norway. And then all of a sudden it went bang and this is what happened...
The captured gulls were all really docile, and seemed to know what was going on more or less. We bagged them all and then they all got ringed on site - unlike the dinner queue at school, where the big ones go first, it was Black-heads, then Commons, Herrings and then the brutish GBBs that scurried around in their bags like nothing I'd ever seen before. And then they bit a few people for good measure once extracted and being ringed.
Smile... more on this character at some other point

Sunday 15 January 2012

Fudge Find

I had another good day out close to home today; always the best way, grilling birds along the river and in the parks of southeast London. As it turned out, the best bird seen was at the last site visited - Thamesmere; a small lake by the Morrison's car park in salubrious Thamesmead. John A and I stopped off here on the way home, as we'd had enough of the cold and, away from the main flock of aythyas initially and hiding in the reeds, I found a female Ferruginous Duck. Probably the first for the London borough of Greenwich apparently. It was with 30 Pochard and 15 Tufted Duck, looked wild and didn't seem to show any hybrid characters. Apologies for the shots... my digiscoping camera battery had ran out and it was just a bit too distant for the SLR as these illustrate.

female Ferruginous Duck at Thamesmere
So, what else happened today? I got to Greenland Pier in the hope that Dave Mo's Brent Goose from Battersea would make it downriver to Rotherhithe, but it had other ideas. Had a 1st-winter Yellow-legged Gull on the groynes, and then it was off to check Burgess Park for a bit - no Med Gull again (I haven't seen it since early December) but there was a NTGG-ringed (red/orange ring with black writing) 1st-winter Herring Gull I'd not seen before.
1st-winter Yellow-legged Gull, Rotherhithe
So I sacked it off and headed a short way east to Crossness late morning. John A had already scored heavily with 11 Tundra Bean Geese east early morning, so I met him at Southmere where he quickly found this bird. Initially it looked absolutely bang on for a Casp with a nice slightly dark grey mantle, long parallel-sided bill, long-winged and significant white in the primaries. However this bird shows a relatively large, pale eye and although there's a nice white tip to P10, there's quite a significant amount of dark in the primary shaft. Could this bird possibly be something from the hybrid zone in Poland? Not sure and any useful comments appreciated.

I needed some grub after this perplexing ordeal, so headed off to get a pasty, while in the meantime missed an adult Kittiwake off the golf centre. Serves me right for again not making sandwiches. Anyway, there was a nice selection of bits and pieces, including a load of large g's on the mud - including three with bling. One NTGG group Herring Gull, a Suffolk-ringed Herring Gull and then a Norwegian Great Black-backed Gull.
JN252; ringed at Keila, Hjelmsøy, Måsøy, Finnmark, Norway on 11th June 2008 and this was the first recovery - a straight line distance of 1313 miles
More head scratching as we found another gull on the Thames foreshore. A real beast of a bird, obviously massive and leggy - just look at its size compared to the GBB! I had a 1st-winter Casp on the river a couple of years ago that almost matched this bird in size.
This bird was a near-adult, presumably a 4th winter with some dark smudgings on its primary coverts. Stilt legs, though not too spindly.
Then in flight this bird showed what you want in a Casp, with a nice pale tongue to the underside of P10.

Obviously this bird lacks a bit of maturity, but the wingtips seem pretty developed with an obvious pale outer web to the underside of P10. However, argentatus Herring Gulls can show pretty similar primary patterning to Casps - just compare this wing of an argentatus that I photographed in the hand yesterday.
Extensive pale tip to P10 and lack of any black on P5 put this within the range of argentatus in the ringer's book

Saturday 14 January 2012

Gulls - the good and the ugly

In from a bit of a manic day, travelling down to Dungeness for my final KOS rarities panel meeting - 5 years done and dusted, enjoyed my time and I'd recommend anyone to do something like this at some stage if they can. The half hour before the meeting was spent with a longstaying northern beast of a Glaucous Gull.
the resident 3cy Glauc at Dunge
Before this, I had an early start and a morning with the gulls and the NTGG this morning. Really enjoyed it and learnt a lot about Herring Gulls too, with several argentatus studied in the hand; useful to understand how they're raced... more to come at some stage on this.
gulls on the tip

A nice adult Herring Gull

but not everyone is born with good looks...