Saturday 25 February 2012

Throat Action

Loads of rarities turn up every year, but the pinnacle of these are more often than not yank passerines. And while driving along a country lane in Kerry last week, news broke of a Common Yellowthroat in Gwent. I was pretty pumped at the time, though evidently not enough to bother going last Sunday (the day after I got back from Ireland) as I opted for local birding. With the opportunity to go with a good team (Gary, Mike and Paul) as well as good weather today, I headed west on the Yellowthroat trail.
It wasn't lying either... there was one that way
Early morning, and the bird was still around unsurprisingly. It was quite tricky though for sure, as this species often is in its natural New World habitat (and on Scilly in 1997; the only other British Yellowthroat I've seen). It was skulking, keeping low to the ground although after a couple of hours or so of waiting and fleeting glimpses, I managed to see this really smart little bird. Well worth the trip out west, with its black speckled bandit mask, vivid yellow throat and yellow undertail-coverts.

Crowd behaviour was remarkably good, and an excellent reminder that people can behave as well as this being testament to a twitch that was smoothly organised by local birders. There were just a few birders speaking a little bit loudly when the bird was showing, so no wonder they couldn't hear the bird calling - they were either deaf, dumb or both. But that was the only beef that went down in Rhiwderin this morning.
second weekend slackers
Next stop was Cardiff Bay. We eventually managed to find where to park to get to the foreshore, and once on site scanned through the hordes of Black-headed Gulls. I really liked this place, as like the Thames areas I bird, it was a real gritty place with loads of birds (well, gulls and a few Pintail) and no people continually asking 'have you seen anything interesting?'. A couple of adult Med Gulls were nice and then, floating out offshore, was a 1st-winter Bonaparte's Gull. Kind of expecting the adult more, this was a real bonus and it had a good fly around before heading east exhibiting its lovely white underwing, two-toned wings (including white outer primaries) and nice black terminal tail band. Quite an advanced individual moult wise.
Possibly the worst photo of a 1st-winter Bonaparte's Gull... ever (rear bird by the way!!)
With the sun continuing to shine, last stop of the day - as it was now mid afternoon - was Cosmeston Lakes for the returning drake Lesser Scaup. Although I was expecting point blank views of this bird, it wasn't to be and I had to settle for ok views in perfect light. Nice to see the neat nail at the bill tip, the greyish wingbar in the inner primaries and of course those nicely dark vermiculated mantle. Sheen colour variable from green to purple.
Bigfoot. Note the two-toned wingbar - white on the secondaries, grey on the primaries. A nice classic pattern for this Lesser Scaup's upperwing.
Can't complain with today's yank haul though and a really pleasant relaxed day. Thanks to Gary for driving, and all three for the good company. And petrol was considerably less than £35.

Sunday 19 February 2012

139 declared plus 10 ringers

I got back from Ireland late last night after an excellent 8 days of action with Alan C and Staines. Following the last blog post, where we'd been up in the north of the Republic, the last 4 days saw us head south through Clare, into Limerick briefly, and then to the extreme southwest taking in Cork and Kerry.
juvenile Kumlien's Gull at Kilbaha, County Clare
On Wednesday, we hit the spots that you so often do when the seawatching's quiet at the Bridges of Ross. But this February, with wingers everywhere, there were a load of gulls at the mouth of the River Shannon. The highlight was a juvenile Kumlien's Gull on rocks to the east of The Lighthouse Inn, along with 2 1st-winter Med Gulls. While up at the lighthouse at Loop Head 6 Iceland Gulls were cruising on the thermals, and near Carrigaholt we found a further 4 Iceland Gulls lapping up Rinvella Bay. Chough were spiralling around too, and sharp-eyed Staines picked out a nice Otter chilling out along the shore at Kilbaha too.

After a nice morning's work, I wanted to see the Kumlien's Gull that had been lingering in Limerick. So within an hour or two, we were in Stab City and I was severely disappointed: -
tenuous to say the least...

Squint and you may just about get a bit of colouration in those primaries

Even the pigeon has turned its head away in shame after looking at that (lack of a) tail band
Anyway, a nice Ring-billed Gull that flew over livened up proceedings before we headed south and spent the night in Bantry. Awakening to a bright morning on Thursday, we mooched to the harbourside where a 1st-winter ringer was playing ball early doors along with a dopey looking Iceland Gull.

This dopey guy didn't fancy its chances with gulls of its own size, so kept with the smalls in Bantry harbour.
Having had our fill of these guys above, we headed west and were soon in on the action at Castletown Bearhaven in southwest Cork. Here, with a few trawlers going in and out of southwest Ireland's largest fishing port, it was another winger fest. There were 13 Iceland Gulls and 4 Glaucs, as well as an adult Ring-billed Gull and 3 Mediterranean Gulls (including a ringed adult bird).
A trawler bringing in a few larids into Castletown Bearhaven

The rest of Thursday was pretty desperate, and a sole 3rd-winter Iceland Gull out towards Firkeel was all that we could find on the rest of the Beara peninsular. We rocked up pretty early doors at Waterville, ready for the last couple of days of the trip in County Kerry. Friday morning was pretty murky, so much so that after a 20 minute look into Ballinskelligs Bay for scoter, we decided to chalk it due to poor visibility and headed around the coast to check out the gulls at Portmagee. Another 'white-winged gull', but not not one to add to the totals as this bird was presumably an adult Herring lacking pigmentation in its primaries, though its slightly paler mantle compared to some of the nearby Herring Gulls perhaps suggests it's a Glaucous x Herring Gull hybrid? Structually, however, it fitted a Herring Gull.

Back to the real stuff though at Reenard Point, Cahersiveen. An adult Kumlien's Gull with darkish markings to P8-P10 was top of the haul, backed up by another 7 Iceland Gulls. Some lad from the nearby restaurant helped us out, emptying a load of fish scraps in front of us... which were devoured quickly by the gulls.

Note darkness on P10 extending onto both webs and down the primary shaft

Nearby on The Iveragh, the Spoonbill was still at Cromane, doing absolutely nothing but sleeping as usual, along with a second-winter Iceland Gull. However, we weren't going to hang about as the weather had closed in and we had more sites to hit and birds to see. Unfortunately the poor weather meant that we only gave Rossbeigh a token effort, as it was hopeless looking for scoter so who knows whether last year's rhinoceros was about? Probably not, but we couldn't be sure.
A super slick, relatively advanced 2nd-winter Iceland Gull at Reenard
The river just upstream of Blennerville had a couple of Ring-billed Gulls - an adult and a first-winter - while heading west along the north side of the Dingle peninsular produced my first Irish Lesser Scaup; a drake at the west end of Lough Gill. Despite there being 15 or so Greater Scaup on the lough, it kept with the Tufties. At Fermoyle, with relatively decent seas due to it being sheltered, there were 1000s of Common Scoter and a careful search through them produced a quality count of 12 Velvets and a Long-tailed Duck. The last hour or so of light was spent at Milltown, Dingle watching gulls come into the estuary and have a pre-roost wash. Again, there were loads of Iceland Gulls - 7 in total - plus a bird that seemed to fit the bill for a 2nd winter Kumlien's Gull. Whatever Kumlien's Gulls are anyway?
Note the uniformly biscuit-coloured primaries, darkening towards the tips.
 The next morning we headed back out to Milltown and spent a couple of hours watching the gulls again before breakfast. There was a real dark juvenile argentatus that had me going for a short while, before it decided to bare its rump. The previous day's Kumlien's-type Gull was still about, as was another bird that looked very similar; perhaps slightly paler on the body though it had retained a dark eye. I've seen worse Kumlien's claims this winter in Britain, but let's be honest, 2nd-winter Kumlien's Gulls this side of the spectrum can be proper bullsh*tter's birds and we don't necessarily know what's going on between Newfoundland and Iceland. Sure, these are northwestern birds but that's as far as you can often go.
Typical scene from this week's trip - a Glauc, a Kumlien's and 2 Iceland Gulls
Just one of 110 seen during the week
Anyway, a tour of other sites produced a couple more Iceland Gulls at Ferriter's Cove, though they quickly dispersed as some scrotes decided to practice their golf swing on the beach flushing all the gulls in the process. The final afternoon of the trip was spent bashing some sites close to Tralee - the highlight being a nice adult Ring-billed Gull at Barrow harbour and an adult Glaucous Gull at Carrahane Strand. 
Kittiwake in Dingle harbour
So, that's that. Despite lacking that little bit of proper bang - something like a Thayer's - I ended up seeing 4 Kumlien's Gulls (adult, 2 2nd winters, juvenile), 110 Iceland Gulls (25 adults/near adults, 4 3rd winters, 35 2nd winters, 46 juveniles), 25 Glaucous Gulls (2 adults, 1 3rd winter, 8 2nd winters, 14 juveniles) and 10 Ring-billed Gulls (7 adults, 1 2nd winter, 2 1st winters).

Surely worth more than £35?

Add in an American Black Duck, a Lesser Scaup, 4 vagrant Canada Geese, a Black Brant, 2 Ring-necked Ducks and a Tundra Bean Goose and it's easy to see why I'd recommend a week of chilled out birding along the Irish west coast in winter.

Tuesday 14 February 2012

77 wingers so far...

I've been in Ireland since late Friday night, doing a bit of a tour along the west coast. Earlier today, the three of us (me, Alan C and Staines) hit Nimmo's Pier for a bit of a winger photo feast. Loads of signs up telling the locals not to feed swans etc with white, stale or mouldy bread so we whacked a load of wholemeal into the melee and got a pretty average 6 Icelands (4 juvs and 2 second-winters) and a couple of adult Ring-billed Gulls.
Mr Biscuit

Adult ringer - does what it says on the tin
We had a quick cruise west along Galway bay to Rossaveal where, amongst a load of Herrings, was a solitary juvenile Glaucous Gull; a pretty poor haul compared to what I've had here in the past. Rahasane Turlough was full of birds - 1000s of Wigeon and Teal - but no sign of the hoped for drake American Wigeon. We then headed into Clare, where the highlight of a rather tough afternoon was an adult Ring-billed Gull on the beach at Lahinch. No sign of any Surfers in the bay though.

I spent the previous three days up north, starting with a bit of a dip at Enniskillen where we had a go for the putative Thayer's Gull seen earlier last week. Sligo held half a dozen Iceland Gulls, including these bad boys on the river: -
adult Iceland Gull

a dopy looking juvenile Iceland Gull
There were 3 Richardson's Canada Geese at Ballintemple, Sligo - status quo for this fine site, in amongst the masses of Barnacle Geese. And Killybegs held 26 wingers too (20 Icelands and 6 Glaucs) plus a hybrid presumed Glauc x Herring.

Mayo was good value, and as we headed into the county on Sunday we stopped off in Balina where there was a fairly retarded 2nd-winter Ring-billed Gull complete with a pinkish toned bill and largely dark eye - plenty of the birds I saw in Canada back in December, and the vagrants I've seen over here previously, are much more adult-type in appearance.

What a retard
Just to the north, Killala Bay produced a quality Black Brant in amongst the Pale-bellied Brents as well as further Glaucs and Icelands.

Little and large

After another fitful night's sleep in accommodation (my mother and Karen will be proud!), we headed out to the wild, wild west and did The Mullet where there were wingers everywhere - Icelands seemed to love the fields where we saw 16 in total while the windswept coasts were where those big beastly Glaucs were hanging out, including one on a rather long dead whale carcass.

JJ had raved about a large, long-necked Canada Goose he'd seen a few weeks back at Termoncarragh and after a fair bit of searching we managed to find it in amongst a mixed bag of geese including 2 Tundra Beans (presumably an absolute mega Mayo record), 3 Greenland Whitefronts and a few Icelandic Greylags.
After the Mullet, we headed south taking in Carrowmore Lake where a couple of Ring-necked Ducks were hanging about with the Tufted Ducks, before heading onto Achill Island for the last couple of hours of light. Checking a fish factory was really disappointing, though there were a couple of Glaucs in the scenic setting of Keel beach before finishing off as per usual with the drake Black Duck at Sruhill Lough.

So, to date, nothing amazingly special but relaxing, good company and 77 white-winged gulls so far. See what the next few days bring - just doing this post from The Lighthouse Inn in Kilbaha with a decent pint of Guiness next to me...Loop and the surroundings in the morning.

Sunday 5 February 2012

Cracking cach in the snow

So this year's helping of snow comes to South London and, well, I can say that they'd learnt from their mistakes. It was with remarkable ease that I got to Crossness this morning, taking little over my usual time. So well done to Southwark, Lewisham and Greenwich for doing a good job and keeping the roads going.

And a good job I got to Crossness as I located an absolutely cracking 1st-winter Caspian Gull off the golf centre early afternoon - the first 1st-winter I'd seen here for ages, and easily the best age in terms of looks for this cracking species gull. Just have a look at these shots and tell me that Casps aren't totally beautiful: -
As obvious as Casps get!

A Caspian torpedo... nice dark centred tertials lacking any notching

Scaps here show nice anchors and transverse barring, as you'd expect

Noticeably white-headed with a long, parallel-sided bill lacking much in the way of an obvious gonys

Matchstick legs

Black primaries and secondaries contrastingly nicely with the chocolate brown upperwing coverts; also nice pale tips to the greater coverts. A whitish rump contrasting with the black tail band

Not the cleanest Casp in terms of its underwing... but palish central area
Normally a bit of the white stuff causes a bit of movement, and for sure that happened today. There weren't any wild geese or swans, but 11 Golden Plover over by the outfall mid-morning were the first I'd seen at Crossness, and for John A too, the first truly on the patch (as birds at Rainham can sometimes be seen from the Belvedere end of the Thames Path). I managed to miss 5 Goldeneye off the golf centre just before I arrived, but several Grey Plovers (at least 7) were mincing about and the Bar-tailed Godwit was still on the foreshore. A few Meadow Pipits and a Skylark moving overhead, and a load of Snipe frozen out and on the foreshore.
Common Snipe on the foreshore