Thursday 29 March 2012

Andalucian Ibis in Essex

With too much time spent inside this week, and with the Mediterranean style weather, it was time to convert that into some bird action. So with school out, I whacked it up the A12 to Baddow Meads near Chelmsford, Essex, and shared a lovely couple of hours with my Iberian friend, ringed 8J9. Nobody else present - just me and a Glossy Ibis in the sun. Happy days.

So what's the deal with 8J9? Well, predictably it comes from Spain - ringed as a chick at El Rocio, Coto Donana, on 7th May 2007. It was still in the area three years later, being seen near Huelva (just 45km from where it was ringed) on 2nd April 2010. Next sighting wasn't until early 2012 at Borth, Ceredigion, from 2nd to 25th February, before heading straight through Britain to Heybridge, Essex, from to 16th March... and then appearing at this site on 24th March.

Saturday 24 March 2012

Kumlien's Gull - too hot to handle?

Last Saturday, I headed to Rainham to see the 2nd-winter Kumlien's Gull that had been frequenting the tip and adjacent River Thames. Then during the week (on 19th and 22nd) this bird transferred itself to Beddington. So it was a real surprise that at 12.10pm today that I picked up a 'white-winged gull' crusing over us all at Pitsea tip while we were waiting to take a second catch. Within seconds, when it decided to bank and drop, it was obvious it was the same Kumlien's Gull that had been hanging around the London area (as the dock off tail band and primary patterning is a real giveaway): -

Pretty chuffed with things, as everyone managed to get onto it pretty quickly, the excitement started to reach fever pitch. The compactors had started to slow down on the main tip, so there was a feeding frenzy in the trapping area. And then, as if by magic, this northern beauty decided to take a sneaky peak. With some skilful cannon netting, this 2nd-winter Kumlien's Gull can now hopefully be tracked conclusively with its new bling: -
This was apparently the first white-winged gull that the NTGG had ever caught, so there was inevitably some rather good feeling around. Is this also the first ever kumlieni to be ringed in Britain? The bird itself was remarkably docile, and was quickly processed as the weather was rather warm to keep birds for too long. So here is what this bird looked like up close and personal: -
pretty pale eyed; very little dark flecking

birders who saw this individual at Rainham commented on the obvious retained, darker greater-coverts - still noticeable in the hand

A lovely tail band

Grey feathering appearing on the mantle

Note the dark outer webs, especially to P7-10; also this shot illustrates the transluscent ghost mirror coming through on P10

Wednesday 21 March 2012

3cy Black-headed Gull

It's not uncommon to identify Med Gulls in their 2nd-winter in the field on the basis of their obvious dark primary markings. However, I've not exactly been calling every 2nd-winter Black-headed Gull that I see as such. But they're pretty doable so long as you get a good view. And when you've got one in the hand that's certainly the case. Photos from last Saturday at the tip.
slightly dark-tipped bill compared to adults in the same catch; less extensive summer plumage on head compared to most adults. However, this feature possibly more moult timing rather than age related? Though a recent Dutch Birding article on long-lived B-h Gulls suggested that lack of full summer plumage could also be a feature of senility.

Note the subtle black markings in the primary coverts as well as the obvious black mark on the alula

Very obvious dark markings in secondaries as well as the inner webs of the inner primaries
Probably nothing special here for you ringers, but for a field birder like me it's always good to see these things close up. Looking forward to the last catch of the season this coming Saturday!

Saturday 17 March 2012

Kumlien's Gull at Rainham

I had a few spare hours this morning before Karen and I headed down to see my niece in Surrey. So spurred on by reports and text messages yesterday, I made my first visit to Rainham since that gull last February. Pulling up at the stone barges, there was a lot of large gull action and I started off with a bit of ring reading as birds on the pier were just asking for their rings to be read. I then switched attention to the birds on the water, and amongst them was Dom's Kumlien's Gull from yesterday that had presumably just come off the tip: -

If I'm honest, one of the reasons that I wanted to see this bird was to confirm my suspicions about its previous residence. Upon seeing Dom's shots last night, I texted him to say it could well be the Dover bird - a thought that David B also had when I saw him this morning. However, despite trying to conclusively say that it is the same bird, I am struggling to say more than it superficially resembles the Dover bird. The Rainham bird still retains some blotching on its uppertail coverts, while the Dover birds uppertail coverts were completely white. In other respects - including its body and underwing - I also think the Dover bird was more advanced when I saw it two weeks ago.

Also, there was a second-winter Iceland Gull present - presumably the bird that has lingered in the area (and that I saw at Crayford earlier this year). Amongst the ringed gulls that I found was this first-winter that I suspect will have been ringed in a Suffolk breeding colony last summer: -
Compared to Crossness - where if I'm lucky I'd see either John A or Ian M - Rainham was an absolute birder fest. Loads of eyes inevitably meant more birds, and it was good to catch up with Sean H, Keith H, David B and Jonathan W amongst others.

Sunday 11 March 2012

AX3T in Rotherhithe

I had two NTGG birds today - both 1st-winter Herrings - including this bird AX3T that enjoyed the Tesco value bread I lobbed out for it: -
Spookily, at the tip yesterday, it just so happens that the only 1st-winter Herring Gull I took photos of was AX4T just as it had been ringed and processed...
So let's see where and when today's bird in Rotherhithe was ringed. I don't think there'll be any surprises though!

Stayed local as you can tell, doing a check of Rotherhithe. It felt like spring, just without the migrants... although local birds such as Robins, Wrens, Dunnocks etc were in full voice. A couple of Linnets were back on territory near the doctor's surgery, a couple of Egyptian Geese were looking typically hideous with the Ring-necked Parakeets in Southwark Park while, sadly, it seems like there has been a general departure of large gulls from the river.
Local Linnets - an increasingly rare breeder in Inner London
One of the undoubted joys of London birding. Or not.

Saturday 10 March 2012

Last cach of the season?

Back on the tip today, in rather balmy conditions - well, at least I could feel my hands throughout the morning! It took a long time for the large gulls to come in, although by late morning/early afternoon a couple of 1st-winter Caspian Gulls showed up. I found this bird that in the end showed nicely: -
Nice contrast in colouration between the secondaries and coverts.

Black terminal band on the tail contrasting well with the relatively unbarred uppertail.

Finely barred axillaries. This is at the darker end of Casps on the underwing-coverts though.

Still looking nice and full bellied, despite looking slick otherwise in this alert posture. The good old spindly legs show up well here too.

Quite a sturdy individual with knackered greater-coverts and scapulars moulting through. Retained tertials still nicely dark though looking predictably worn at the tips.
There was also another individual, that showed less well but still gave some decent views as it fed in amongst the other gulls: -
Good to see them this late on in the winter, and as you can see both birds looked pretty knackered plumage wise. Meanwhile, there were a handful of Med Gulls around (as well as a couple of Yellow-legged Gulls) that added a bit of fun to the Black-headed Gull monotony.
adult Med Gull in the feeding frenzy
It took a while to get the single catch of birds, but thanks to the compactor drivers, a haul of 419 birds were ringed by the NTGG. This included a couple of Common Gulls and more Lesser Black-backed Gulls than the last time (as they're now starting to move through), as well as lots of Herring and Black-headed Gulls. Once again, I ringed a few birds, got the opportunity to see the gulls up close and personal and had a really good time.
More on these little chaps at some other point

Wednesday 7 March 2012

2nd-winter Kumlien's/Iceland Gull comparisons

After those January storms that produced a load of kumlieni, perceived kumlieni, pale-winged kumlieni and whatever else people were trying to sniff out of the massive numbers of Iceland Gulls that reached our shores, it seems as though the show is now almost over. Just the odd bird continues to linger, including the second-winter I saw a few days ago in Dover that continues to cause a bit of controversy. Its Herring Gull-like structure has echoed calls from some of it being an aberrant individual of this species, something I disagree with.
Completely unenhanced image of the 2nd-winter Kumlien's Gull in Dover. Note the decent kumlieni pattern of obvious dark outer webs and primary shafts to the outermost 4-5 primaries (P6/7 to P10) contrasting with the pale inner primaries. There's also a nice ghost mirror on P10 too.
Perhaps this is actually the real deal? The fact that it doesn't necessarily feel like a nominate glaucoides isn't all bad, as those in the know rave on about the structural differences - with kumlieni being larger and longer-billed etc. All sniffs of turd for a field birder on a lone individual where sexual dimorphism is rife in larids, but who am I to argue.
Thing is though - what's really noticeable on this bird is its retained greyish/brown tail band. I imagine this bird last winter would have been a bit of a beast, with none of that squinting you need sometimes to see the apparent pigmentation on juvenile kumlieni. This bird will have been the real deal. However, the colour shade of the mantle feathering coming through on this bird is extremely dark - Herring Gull dark - but that's no issue. Have a look at this interesting article on adults (actually written by somebody who lives with kumlieni, instead of some pseudo-expert talking about what they see on the computer screen) and scroll down to mantle shade and you'll see what I'm on about. Particularly see how presumed glaucoides can so easily be picked out just on mantle shade from kumlieni.

For some reason there have been a lot of second-winter Iceland Gulls within this influx, and with this has come a lot of 2nd-winter Kumlien's Gull claims. And I got amongst this in Ireland a few weeks ago in true fashion. I'd been looking forward to seeing a 2nd-winter kumlieni up close and personal by the River Shannon at Limerick and was confronted by this bird, that in fairness put on a good show coming to our bread and an Afro-Caribbean woman's more exotic concoction of 'stuff'...

But what's important to mention with this bird is that it's not a Kumlien's Gull - it's one of those brown-washed Iceland Gulls and a pretty average one at that. The primaries are relatively concolourous, with not a hint of any ghost mirroring that you'd be looking for on a solid kumlieni. Additionally, there's no contrast with the outer and inner primaries with the wash extending throughout and though it's got a slightly darker eye than some 2nd-winter glaucoides, the tail band is pretty naff.

Right then, before I sign off for the night, it'd be rude not to whack out a couple of shots of 2nd-winter Iceland Gulls from my Irish trip a couple of weeks ago. They're pretty smart, albeit rather white and non-descript birds in many ways but you get a fair bit of variation in bare part colouration and moult!
2nd-winter Iceland Gull, Killybegs, Donegal Feb 2012
2nd-winter Iceland Gull, Reenard Point, Kerry Feb 2012
Hasta luego folks. Always discovering :)

Sunday 4 March 2012

Merganser meltdown

The weather was pretty vile today, though not quite as grim as had been predicted. Certainly decent weather for ducks, and with local stuff really quiet and an afternoon low tide, Josh and I headed down to Whetsted GP near Tonbridge to have a look at an exotic visitor.
Hooded Merganser, Whetsted GP, Kent March 2012
Presumably somebody's most loved pet gone awol? Or frozen out from the low countries earlier in the winter? Or, inconceivably, could this further Kent's reputation as the British hotspot for this transatlantic visitor? I doubt the latter, but now the floodgates are well and truly open for this species by the BBRC (following acceptance of the first on North Uist, Outer Hebrides in Oct/Nov 2000). So long as it doesn't linger like the Radipole bird and develop an appetite for bread, then you tick hungry chumps need not worry as you'll be whacking this bag of bullsh*t straight onto your beloved BOU lists. At least there is some back up yankage nearby with those Snow Geese today at Scotney, some of you might say.
You can just make out the white wing bar here - on better photos by others, this is extensive and suggests an adult female 
A bad hair day
The drake Smew on the adjacent pit was typically smart, if not a bit distant in the drizzle. Birding at Crossness was really slow though, with a couple of NTGG ringed gulls the highlight in what seems to be that in between time of year - gulls, wildfowl and waders are emptying out while we're still a way off the summer migrants coming in.

Saturday 3 March 2012

Dover Kumlien's

I'd been meaning to get down to Dover for a while, ever since I was emailed the finder's photos of this 2nd-winter Kumlien's Gull a few weeks ago. At that time, I was pretty quick to email through my views that it was a pretty solid looking 2nd-winter Kumlien's Gull. So, with a nice neutral day of light (important for looking at the subtleties of this subspecies/cline), I headed down with Karen to get some first hand experience of this bird. Needless to say, in doing so, drove straight past perhaps one of the rarest birds in the country at the moment (??!!), a Hooded Merganser.

Anyway, back to the gull. Upon arriving in Dover - which in fairness to the place is attempting a bit of a face lift - it didn't take too long to find the bird. It was first of all chilling out on the slipway by the hoverpad before deciding to cruise above the Prince of Wales pier with Herring Gulls and a few nice Kittiwakes.

I'd not really seen a Kumlien's Gull like this previously, and if I'm brutally honest, it felt very Herring-like in its proportions; perhaps a good thing compared to a lot of the Iceland-like Kumlien's Gulls I've seen previously. Additionally, it displayed a very obvious tail and mirrors were apparent in P6-P10 (with an obvious ghosting of a mirror in P10). What was also very interesting was the rather dark adult-type mantle feathering that was moulting through, far darker than what you'd expect on nominate glaucoides Iceland Gulls, and perhaps even a Kumlien's Gull...