Thursday 31 May 2012


The year I was born, 1981, signified the last twitchable Orphean Warbler in Britain. Rather a lot has happened since then, including the split of the species into two - Western (hortensis) and Eastern (crassirostris). I've seen both abroad on a number of occasions, and must admit I have struggled to see hard and fast diagnosable differences in the field. Yeah, perhaps hortensis are warmer looking birds overall (especially on the rear flanks and undertail coverts) but getting them singing is the best way forward. Unless you trap one and that's what happened at Hartlepool earlier this week...
Western Orphean Warbler - WOW
Identified as a Western, based on its bill length of 16.5mm (hortensis 15.3-16.9mm and crassirostris 18.0-22.1mm per Shirihai's book). Of the previous 5 records, the first bird at Portland was identified to today's species level as a Western Orphean Warbler on the basis of a tail feather left with the record that has subsequently been DNA'ed. While the Scilly bird in 1981, looking at photos, also seems to be a Western Orphean Warbler. No idea about the other three though.

Right, that's it and looking forward to the long weekend and hopefully one more mega out of this spring.

Sunday 27 May 2012

Unbelievable - TWO Bonaparte's Gulls at Crossness

London listers had been waiting for an eternity for a Bonaparte's Gull, and so the bird I found last Saturday (19th May) was duly soaked up by all: -
1st-winter Bonaparte's Gull, 19th May - bird one. Note the isolated ear-covert spot, tertial patterning and obvious retained feathering on its median coverts
1st-winter Bonaparte's Gull, 19th May - bird one. Note the obviously greyish tinge to the nape, darkish edge to the secondaries and black tips to every retained tail feather
 And this bird then showed on the Sunday (20th May), the Monday (21st - the day I last saw it), the Tuesday (22nd - when it was well photographed by Andrew Moon and James Lowen here and here), with presumably this bird accounting for the Wednesday 23rd and Thursday 24th sightings.

With no sign on the Friday (25th), I told Josh that it was worth a shout Saturday as I imagined there wouldn't have been too much coverage and the bird had been mobile anyway - commuting between Crossness and the other side of Thames at Barking Bay. So this is what we found at the incinerator outfall yesterday (26th) morning: -
1st-summer Bonaparte's Gull, 26th May - bird two. Note the advanced hood, uniform pale edge to the secondaries (that contrasts more with the primary tips than bird one) and the newly moulted central tail feathers.

1st-summer Bonaparte's Gull, 26th May - bird two. Again, the hood is obvious while the retained feathers in the greater coverts and tertials are different to bird 1.
Having not seen the bird in the flesh since Monday (21st) and the last photos I'd seen were dated 22nd, I was pretty amazed how much the bird had moulted - as you'll see from what I said yesterday on my blog post.

Anyway, I got a call this afternoon from David Bradnum who suggested that there were actually two birds. Something I was not wholly surprised about, based on yesterday's bird, but for the London location this was almost pie in the sky stuff. He'd been told to look out for a bird acquiring a hood, as this is what I'd said to Jonathan L and Dom M yesterday. Anyway, David had seen a Bonaparte's Gull and it wasn't hooded, and looked unlike the bird Josh and I had seen yesterday morning. He'd just seen this, the original bird, at Barking Bay (more shots from today by Jake E can be found here): -
1st-winter Bonaparte's Gull, Barking Bay, 27th May - bird 1. (photo copyright David Bradnum)
And so, there you have it - Bonaparte's Gulls in London; they're like bloody London buses. You wait ages for one and two come at once. After all those trips to Ireland looking to find this species, I've now found two in the birding wasteland of London within a week. Shit really does happen!

Summary to date on the Bonaparte's Gulls at Cross Ness: -
Bird 1 present 19th to 27th May 2012
Bird 2 present on 26th May 2012

Saturday 26 May 2012

Bonaparte's, Brent and bits at Crossness

Just before picking Josh up at the tube station this morning, I managed a quick walk around Canada Water where I recorded a high total of 5 singing Reed Warblers. We then headed off east to Crossness where, under clear blue skies, Paul H's adult Dark-bellied Brent was roosting on the other side of the river in Barking Bay.
Walking east along the Thames path, and despite negative news yesterday, I was pretty sure that the 1st-summer Bonaparte's Gull would still be about. And indeed it was - quickly found off the incinerator outfall on the falling tide from 8.50am-9.30am. Blimey though, this bad boy had changed its look since Monday having moulted through a nice mottled hood.
Bonaparte's Gull now sporting semi-summer attire

Little and large...

Atmospheric shot - imagine the backdrop of a picturesque and remote rocky coast with a Bonaparte's Gull feeding in the surf. The reality is an outfall in the Thames with floating turds and factories.
So, while getting our fill of the gull and watching a Little Egret drop in too, the Dark-bellied Brent Goose decides to fly in and land on the river before drifting towards Belvedere. The paddocks promised a lot, but delivered nothing bar a single LRP and a happy looking fox slap bang in the middle of the scrapes. Back at the river, there was no sign of the Bonaparte's and Mr Lethbridge and Dom were failing from the other side too. However, they did locate a 1st-summer Grey Plover which was nice, if a little distant.

A quick sweep of the Rotherhithe loop delivered not much at the beach as a couple of goths were pissing the gulls while walking on the Thames foreshore, though I was made up with three pairs of Common Terns on Surrey Water - with birds bizarrely perching on lamp posts within the foliage - and two Sand Martins over the Old Salt Quay pub.
An urban tern

Monday 21 May 2012

Wood Sands and Bonaparte's Gull still

I had a stroll at Crossness this evening. Rude not to really with nice weather and good birds. There were a couple of NTGG ringed gulls off the golf centre as I arrived, amongst a load of large gulls that included 4 Yellow-legged Gulls. Couldn't see the Bonaparte's on this side of the river, so headed east to the paddocks where Kev J had found a Wood Sandpiper earlier in the day.
Wood Sandpiper on West Paddock, Crossness
It was still there, and showing nicely from the screen in the gloom. All of a sudden, it disappeared into the grass and seconds later there was a Wood Sandpiper on the far flood. It hadn't flown there, but what John A and I now know is that our suspicions of two birds were confirmed soon after by Tony W. So, 2 Wood Sands - the first at Crossness this spring.

John A got a call from Dom M as we headed back towards the incinerator, and it was good news - he'd got the Bonaparte's Gull on the other side of the river (as it seems to be most of the time) in Barking Bay. In the last rays of light, viewing across the river, the Bonaparte's Gull was present alongside 5 Black-headed Gulls though the views were slightly underwhelming to say the least.
Have a load of Bonaparte's Gulls - Ontario December 2011

Sunday 20 May 2012

Bonaparte's Gull still on the river

Pretty cold this morning, with an obvious change in wind direction to the north. I arrived at 7ish again, and there was a small crowd gathered in the gloom waiting for the Bonaparte's Gull to show. It took an hour or so, but sharp-eyed Paul H on the other side of the river found it again in Barking Bay - just as I'd arrived at the incinerator! So a nice walk back of a mile or so from where I'd just come from. Anyway, to cut a long story short, I first had the Bonaparte's Gull flying west quite close and then much more distantly on the other side of the river (from the golf centre) for a much more prolonged period. After I left, it was seen further east off the stone barges at Rainham before returning to Crossness/Barking Bay this evening.
1st-summer Med Gull
Not much else doing, but a nice 1st-summer Med Gull was on the foreshore - this bird the same as that seen on Friday and a plumage I rarely see - along with a handful of Yellow-legged Gulls as usual. Finally, it's probably the last time I'll see Ian M at Crossness before his move to the Midlands so all the best mate; it's been a genuine pleasure.
Some of yesterday's big hitting crowd

Saturday 19 May 2012

London's first bona fide Bonaparte's Gull

As always, I struggled to get up this morning but was on the patch at Crossness just before 7am.Overcast with not much doing on the Thames, but I enjoyed all the showy Whitethroats. It really was quiet in Barking Bay and off the golf centre with nada in the way of waders. So I walked east, heading for the paddocks to check for passers and any smalls on the flood. But I never got there...

I plonked my scope down by the incinerator outfall, hoping that yesterday's Med Gull might still be around. Scanning the gulls along the foreshore, I tracked onto something that immediately made woke me up, gave me a real rush of adrenaline. For bloody ever, John A, Ian M and I have always been saying that this will be where London's first Bonaparte's gets found. And, f**k me right there was a proper candidate. It needed to fly (to nail the underwing), come a bit closer but it was going to be one for sure. And with every second counting and John A unable to get out (but he did on my call!), the big dick London players were tipped off to be on their way. I also gave Hawky a call on the north side, and just as all this commotion was going on, the bad boy obliged and came closer - and it was, as expected, a properly nice 1st-summer Bonaparte's Gull. London's first bona fide Bonaparte's - RBA and Jerry were duly called, so time to get the party started.

The bird flew west after a short while, and Hawky did a proper bit of squinting and expertly picked it up on our side of the river from his side. This was as John A arrived, so the three of us had seen it now. But, just before Crossness's longest stalwart Ian M arrived it did the dirty and headed upriver. Good to see a few guys turn up pretty quickly - Bob W, James L, James H, Johnny A, Mick S - but it was Keith H who relocated it west of the lighthouse on the far side of the Thames. So it was now time for Hawky and Shaun H to get the shots, while London's number 1 Andrew M, Roy B, Andrew S and Andrew V had to make do with distant views from our side. I left when a certain annoyingly vocal crowd member arrived, drowning out even the raucous local Starlings.
There is one accepted London record of Bonaparte's Gull as it stands - a first-winter seen at Barn Elms on 29th Jan 1983. This record is in need of reappraisal as the single observer has supplied Surrey and southwest London's birders with a lot of reports of good birds that they have not seen. So everyone (apart from one man) is treating this bad boy as London's first...

Wednesday 16 May 2012

East London melody

A quick trip after school produced decent enough, but not spectacular, views of a Melodious Warbler in a holly bush within striking distance of all the Olympic commotion.The little blighter didn't sing at all when I was there, or at least not knowingly as anything bar the endless passing cars was difficult to hear.
Brownish legs and deep based, orange bill

Capturing the typical posture you'd expect for this species

A decent hour or two this evening with the bird, and evidently appreciated by all the London big dick players as they've been a bit thin on the ground over the last couple of decades within the capital. Good to see a whole host of people there including John A, Paul H, Dave W and Barry R. Quote of the day to LGRE who greeted me with 'those are snazzy shoes Rich', relating to my pretty average looking work shoes. And that's coming from a man who revels in his trademark white slip ons. Genius.
Looks atypically round headed in this shot, as it looks towards the camera.

Nice brownish legs. Shame this is taken from below, but with a bit of imagination you can just about make out the tail projecting beyong the wingtip twice the length of the primary projection.

Sunday 13 May 2012

All quiet

Thought I'd just copy Hawky's blog title for today, as that's exactly what it was - quiet. Very little doing this side of the river too in the uncharacteristic spring 2012 sunshine. Struggled to get out of bed once again but hadn't missed anything by the time I got to Crossness. In fact, it was almost dead save for c.20 Swallows in dribs and drabs northwest, a Little Egret east and then 12 Ringed Plover and 6 Dunlin in Barking Bay.
Whitethroat at Rotherhithe
Back at Rotherhithe, it was excellent to see 2 Whitethroats again on territory - a real scarce Inner London bird, with my patch perhaps being the only regular breeding site in Inner London. Not much else going on, and the gulls on the foreshore failed to deliver any rings today. Oh yeah, if anyone recognises where this ringed GBBG may come from please let me know (it had gone before I got the code): -
Any ideas where this big boy comes from?

Saturday 12 May 2012

It really is black and white... it isn't one.

Karen came over to the laptop this evening. The screen looked like this when she arrived: -
I'm pretty sure she's not a closet BF user, but astute as always, she then knowingly stated that 'you were one of those that lost your nerve'. There was nowhere to hide, between the words of a perceptive non-birder and Alan Lewis - the only guy who has consistently been outspoken against the rising tide of views, questioning the contemporary establishment that seems to be brainwashing the masses these days. I had to admit I'd handed my bollocks over to the men in white suits when I headed up north for a bit of ficedula fill. Though Alan was, as I expected, correct that the bird was not an Atlas Flycatcher. Karen finished her words of wisdom off by stating 'I still don't understand why you have to get influenced by others, as you told me it wasn't one the evening before you went'. If only it was all that easy and I evidently need to man up somewhat. But at least I don't have to alter any of my blog posts though!

Oh yeah, I also went out birding today. An early morning at Crossness wasn't early enough, as I missed another Turtle Dove. It was a lovely morning, but they don't necessarily equate to the most productive on the bird front. Passage on the Thames was quiet, and the highlights were limited to a couple of Yellow-legged Gulls on the mud, a Wheatear in the paddocks and a Hobby that whizzed east over the golf course.
Back in Rotherhithe, standing at the top of Stave Hill was colder than anticipated and didn't produce the hoped for Red Kite, though a few hirundines and Swifts were moving through. It was good to see a Common Tern back on one of the nesting platforms on Surrey Water (I've had one on Greenland Dock several mornings before school this week), while loafing gulls by the Hilton Hotel included a couple of ringed birds - another NTGG Herring while a green-ringed bird, presumably Dutch from what I have figured, didn't behave well enough for me to get the whole code. Tomorrow perhaps...

Friday 11 May 2012

Corvo late autumn 2012?

I'll be heading off to Corvo again this autumn and, having just got my holiday dates, it'll be a late one so I'll be on the Azores from 27th October to 3rd November. So, if there is anyone who fancies a late autumn stroll on a volcano and enjoy searching for some good vagrants, please give me a shout [an email] if you fancy just coming along.
Corvo's caldeirao - the crater lake

Ribeira as Cancelas; one of many valleys on the east side of Corvo favoured by American passerines
Exciting birding in one of the most scenic places you'll ever visit. And there's likely to be no more than a handful of birders present - and a likelihood you genuinely can find some vagrant birds. Just like this White-tailed Tropicbird that I found at Vila Nova do Corvo in October 2011: -
White-tailed Tropicbird, Vila Nova do Corvo, Corvo, October 2011
I've now visited Corvo for three consecutive late Octobers, and the yank roll call is topped by Northern Flicker, Summer Tanager, Black-and-white Warbler, Northern Parula, Common Yellowthroat (self-found), Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Chimney Swift, Buff-bellied Pipit and two Indigo Buntings (1 self-found).
Summer Tanager, Fojo, Corvo, October 2011

Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Lower Fields, Corvo, October 2009

Indigo Bunting, the airfield, Corvo, October 2010
The quarry at Cabo da Praia on Terceira is really exciting too, and you just never know what's going to be in there on each visit - and the views of the birds are good too. A fair few yanks will be seen here too. Highlights of the last three Octobers have included Great Blue Heron, a mega flock of 19 Blue-winged Teals, Least Sandpiper, American Golden Plover and multiple Long-billed Dowitchers, Semipalmated Plovers, Lesser Yellowlegs, White-rumped, Semipalmated and Pectoral Sandpipers.
Great Blue Heron, Paul da Praia, Terceira, April 2010 (also seen in October 2010)

Pectoral Sandpipers, Cabo da Praia, Terceira, October 2010

Lesser Yellowlegs, Cabo da Praia, Terceira, October 2009

Long-billed Dowitcher, Cabo da Praia, Terceira, October 2009

Monday 7 May 2012

Is spring here yet?

I'd spent the last couple of days in Hampshire with my parents, relaxing in front of a log fire. So much for it being May. Although, for a couple of hours early on today, the sun was shining and there was a enough of a southeasterly to waft a Whinchat and 8 Wheatear into the paddocks. A Hobby was also a welcome sight, as well as the first real numbers of Swifts pushing through - including 100+ at Southmere along with c.70 Swallows (and lesser numbers of Sand and House Martins). The Thames, however, was naff with just the usuals and no waders.
It was back to business at Crayford, where with no sign of the recent Iceland Gull, I immersed myself in gull rings and plucked half a dozen NTGG birds out of the birds feeding on glass(!) at Viridor Recycling Centre. If ever anyone thinks their birding is quiet, go and have a look at your local gulls for rings - I've now had near on 50 ringed birds in London this year.

So, with it all quiet on the local front, John A and I needed a fix and met up with Graeme S to have an afternoon at Elmley RSPB, Kent. And what a jolly nice jaunt it was too. People go on about the walk at this reserve. It's not that far you know you lazy, useless pussies. Honest, it isn't so that myth is over with. So a couple of Black-winged Stilts were seen on the flood from Southfleet Hide; nice for a few seconds before the realisation set in that having tons of Avocets in this country is bad enough, so why do we want even more raucous, territorial wader monsters to overpower our lovely indigenous waders?
A poor photograph of two waders
So, I quickly moved on to a quality bunch of 5 Spotted Redshanks - not quite jet black, but they were getting there. So much better than Avocets and Stilts! And even better were a couple of continental Black-tailed Godwits near Counterwall Hide; picked these birds up at range initially based on their overall peachy/orange appearance, leggy look and then the bills were both gleaming orange from the base to a 2/3rds to 3/4s to the tip. Also good to compare these to a totally separate flock of passage Icelandic birds that looked more squat and with a redder bill base and darker tip. And they never mixed... so interesting stuff there.
An equally poor photograph of two different waders
Upwards of 80, probably 100 or so, Whimbrels present too plus a couple of Barwits, a few Turnstone, 3 Grey Plover and a Little Tern. With Yellow Wags, Marsh Harriers everywhere and 85+ Med Gulls Elmley is a seriously under-rated spot. Many thanks for the late Gordon Allison for making the reserve what it is today.

Thursday 3 May 2012

Flamborough Flycatcher

I said to Ash today 'I've seen this bird better on the internet than I have today'. Not that it showed poorly. I knew all its feather detail before it even popped out onto a branch at South Landing. That's modern birding for you. And to cap it all off, field birders like me can't be sure what it is with any degree of certainty - that's a fact. If I were a betting man, which I'm not, I'd still be laying my money down on the Pied x Collared side (those coverts still don't seem right); but let's wait and see - its identity lies in the hands of the scientists! Bring on those men in white suits.
Ficedula sp., Flamborough, East Yorks May 2012

Wednesday 2 May 2012

Anti Atlas?

Atlas Flycatcher. The real deal.
Now you clicked on here and thought that was taken at Flamborough? Wrong, as if you have a close look it's a nice adult male Atlas Flycatcher looking how they should in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco - I took this in early May 2007, and saw the species again in the same area a couple of years ago too.
I haven't been to Flamborough for the flycatcher. Loads of people looking to others to see what they're doing and asking around on what the various information services are saying. Well, BirdGuides and RBA have got it bang on the money 'you cannot go any further than 'possible Atlas Flycatcher or hybrid' on current knowledge. And Birdline are going on what's in the available printed literature - it's a Collared/Pied hybrid. I wonder how many people would have travelled to Flamborough if that RBA message 'possible Atlas Flycatcher' had read 'possible ATLAS FLYCATCHER'? That's what today's birding world has come to.

Some folk have just slapped their shots on the web under the banner 'Atlas Fly' and had done with it - see the Surfbirds gallery. Yeah nice shots, but it ain't an Atlas Fly unless you're better than these perceived experts who joe birding public continually put on a pedestal. This is the problem with the UK these days, and not just birding; it's all about catering for the lowest common denominator... and this situation just exemplifies exactly that. But there is no point trying to educate the uneducated. Trust me, it's my day job.

I used to be right on for going for stuff like this like a fly on shit. The never-ending saga of stuff you kind of know has a whiff of the proverbial when you go for it - basically identifications that people are making up as they go along and general hearsay - and it never comes to anything. Caspian Reed Warbler at Filey, Common Merganser in Belfast are just a couple that immediately spring to mind. But DNA has changed all this... and within a week or two, those feathers that dropped out at Flamborough on Monday hold the key.

I now realise that Small and Etherington's original article, along with Nils Van Duivendijk, have oversimplified things on the greater coverts but what I still am yet to be convinced on is, bar the outer couple of greater coverts, surely the central and inner greater-coverts of Atlas Fly should be white based (or at least have an extremely marginal black base - say less than 5% of the feather). And this ain't good on the Flamborough bird.

I am looking forward to new literature on the Atlas Fly/Collared x Pied hybrid subject, but I would expect this to come from Morocco/Tunisia with a sufficient sample of birds in hand and of 2cys (perhaps 3cys?!) and adults. Conjecture and focusing on the minutae of Mediterranean vagrant apparent Atlas Flycatchers without the sufficient DNA evidence to prove anything beyond all reasonable doubt will not push this extremely tricky subject forward with any definitive conclusion. Call me cynical if you like.