Tuesday 31 July 2012

Washington State update part 1

The last few days have been spent in Washington State - absolutely blinding scenery of all descriptions from coasts to mountains and all on a grand scale. What's more I've visited the first Starbucks, been to Kurt Cobain's home town and visited La Push beach where a fair bit of Twilight is filmed. So there's the culture. Now for the birding which is why [most of] you read this. Just the first couple of days here for now.
Rufous Hummingbird Blewitt Pass, WA 25th July 2012

Rock Wren Vantage, WA 25th July 2012

The first day was a real whistle stop tour of the Washington Cascades with Seattle birder Robert Riedl who showed me some quality sites for birding. The area east of the Cascades was remarkably warm, and I was taken aback by the variety of habitats at differing altitudes we birded. Just some of the highlights included both Rufous and Calliope Hummingbirds at feeders on the Blewitt Pass, Cooper's Hawk, Great Horned Owl, White-throated Swift, American Dipper, Rock Wren, Western Bluebird, McGillivray's and Nashville Warbler, Cassin's Vireo, Mountain Chickadee, Chipping and Brewer's Sparrows, Evening Grosbeak and Yellow-headed Blackbird. Loads of UK interest too with stuff like Common Nighthawk, Cliff Swallow, Swainson's Thrush, American Robin, Yellow and Yellow-rumped Warblers all seen frequently.
Savannah Sparrow Westport, WA 26th July 2012
So the next day I headed to the coast and I was really feeling the birding here. I started off at Westport, did the loop round to Ocean Shores before heading up the coast to La Push. Loads of WP relevancy and in amongst my favourite bird families again - gulls and waders! Hundreds of gull headache photos taken throughout, though as I write this it must be said that the Glaucous-winged Gulls dominate heavily up here. Plus loads of California, Heermann's, Ring-billed and a few Mew and American Herring Gulls too. Wader wise, adult Least Sands seen in their thousands as well as hundreds of adult Western Sands with a few Dunlin and Semi-p Sands mixed in, and both dowitcher and yellowlegs too. Some good looks too at some showy erythrogaster Barn Swallows. All good practice for autumn 2012 way out west. Also good to see some more Surfbirds and Black Turnstones after all these years, while a Wandering Tattler on the jetty at Westport (Washington, not Mayo!) was a new wader species for me.
1st-summer Heermann's Gull Westport, WA 26th July 2012
Ocean Shores was just full of birds, with the Pacific Ocean putting the Atlantic to shame - Sooty Shearwaters literally 100 yards off the beach streaming through in their 1000s, as were Brown Pelicans with loads too of Rhino Auklets, Pigeon Guillemots and Guillemots (Common Murres over here). Heading up the coast I managed to shrug off the crowds and gain some atmospheric mist, and last hour or two spent at La Push produced stuff like Pacific Diver, White-winged and Surf Scoters, five Harlequins as well as really rubbish, distant views of Tufted Puffins (that breed on the stacks offshore) and the crows on the beach here are apparently Northwestern Crows.

Friday 27 July 2012

Olympic Gull

Despite being thousands of miles away from London at the moment, I've not quite lost the Olympic spirit. Out here in NW Washington lies within the overlap zone of Western and Glaucous-winged Gull. Many of you will be aware that these birds hybridise like mad with each other, and these hybrids are termed 'Olympic Gulls'. So, there you have it... for now, at least.
'Olympic Gull' - La Push 26th July 2012. One of many hundreds of this hybrid swarm seen on the Washington coast.
Anyway, it's late so I'll save all the nice stuff for later. Suffice to say stuff I've seen like hummingbirds, Harlequins, Tufted Puffins and Evening Grosbeaks are probably slightly more widely appreciated than these gulls!

Tuesday 24 July 2012

One to ponder

I can confirm that this will be my last post about Yellow-legged Gulls. Well, at least for the next two weeks! I photographed this 2nd-summer bird at Rotherhithe on 7th July. It had me, and others that I've subsequently emailed, perplexed as it's not the most obvious of Yellow-legged Gulls - and indeed shows some characters you wouldn't normally associate with the species.

At the time I thought that it was potentially a Yellow-legged Gull based largely on mantle colour but obviously it has a fully dark eye, tepid bill colour yet the state of moult isn't ideal but it seems to show no white mirror on P10. There certainly seem to be too many features wrong for it being a cachinnans (which it isn't) - axilliary pattern and colour, tail pattern, legs and perhaps you’d ideally want some grey inner greater-coverts. If you ignore all the bare parts and eye colour you could say that there isn’t an awful lot wrong for michahellis. However, I'm not fully convinced it is a pure Yellow-legged Gull I wonder whether it could potentially be a hybrid... perhaps something like a herring x mich or even a mich x cach but that is just pure speculation.

Chris Gibbins added that the bird shows some mixed signals too, but pure birds are so variable anyway and in 2nd-summer plumage there are no ways to identify hybrids. Interestingly he also suggests that if it is a pure Yellow-legged Gull it may be sick and hence the dull/delayed development of bare part tones.

Thanks to Chris G, Stu P, Alan C, Josh J and Andy L for their comments.

Monday 23 July 2012

German-ringed juvenile YLG at Rainham

Exciting news, well for me at least. Josh and I located a yellow-ringed juvenile Yellow-legged Gull 'H8J0' at the stone barges at Rainham on Saturday (21st July). A bit of detective work revealed it was part of the Helgoland ringing scheme in Germany - thanks to Paul Roper and Luka Jurinovic for this.

The bird had been ringed in a colony in central Frankfurt, as a chick, on 18th May 2012 - it was also seen by Dave Walker at Dungeness, Kent six days before our sighting on 15th July 2012. I've always wanted to know where all these YLGs that accumulate in the Thames come from - the southeast locality would suggest they're coming across from the near continent as opposed to Iberia.

Saturday 21 July 2012

Great day's gulling

I've got that bloody torch to thank for today's decent day. Received a text from Josh early morning, just before he headed my way, to say the Olympic torch was leaving Greenwich 7.21am - exactly when we'd have been going through the place on the way to Crossness. So a rapid change of plan and we headed to Rainham and parked by the stone barges. And on the first scan, a Caspian Gull was making itself look obvious on the near side of the gull flock. As usual, a bit of a beast of a bird sitting higher mantled than the surrounding Herrings and LBBs.
2nd-summer Caspian Gull - note the advanced state of moult with the inner greater-coverts moulted through. White mirror in old P10 noticeable on this image too. Tail feathers largely retained, forming a pretty scraggy tail band.

2nd-summer Caspian Gull - fortuitously standing in front of a Yellow-legged Gull, so you can just about (?) detect the paler mantle tone.
A Sandwich Tern flew high upriver at 8.30am, the stillness of the day allowing its call to carry what was at least half a mile. Rainham was ripe with Yellow-legged Gulls with at least 40 seen during the course of the morning; many adults, 2nd-summers and at least a dozen juveniles too. For once this year, the sun was a bit bright and a lot of haze got up and made decent shots tricky. While having a chat with a couple of typical Rainham-style punters over the finer details of Grey Herons and explaining that watching gull was a sign of a mis-spent youth, a really fresh juvenile Med Gull appeared in view - my first juv of the year and looking at its plumage state, can't really have been away from its colony long. A couple of Common Gulls were present too, but there was a real dearth of significant numbers of juvenile Black-headed Gulls once again.
juvenile Mediterranean Gull - about as fresh as they come out of the nest

One of many YLGs
Coming back home, we stopped off at Crossness which turned out to be pretty quiet in the heat with just half a dozen Common Sandpipers and 4 Black-tailed Godwits on the foreshore.
The London Olympics - the twattery has begun. No longer will I be able to get to Crossness with ease. If you're sticking around for it, enjoy. I won't be though.

Sunday 15 July 2012

Another close up look at a YLG in Rotherhithe

Came back from a day out, and checked 'the beach' just by the Hilton Hotel in Rotherhithe early evening. There was a nice 3rd-summer Yellow-legged Gull amongst the usuals, while the first local juvenile Lesser Black-backed were around too. Rotherhithe must be one of the best places to get decent views of Yellow-legged Gulls in Britain and it's surprising nobody else has decided to come down to have a look. Ever.

The following shots illustrate the active primary moult of this individual - the outer primaries (P7 to P10) are old retained feathers, while the new inner primaries are grey in colour (P1 and P2 are grown, P3 half grown and P4 can just be seen coming through) with P5 and P6 fully dropped. The old P10 shows a small mirror while there also seems to be active moult within the tail feathers (that retain some dark blotching). Some nice info on Yellow-legged Gulls here, especially when it comes to ageing.

Saturday 14 July 2012

London is the best place in Britain for...

Yellow-legged Gulls. The last few days of June, and then particularly throughout July, sees a build up of these birds along the Thames foreshore as they head north from further south in Europe. There are normally a few floating about any month of the year, but midsummer is the best time to see real numbers - including some rather smart juveniles such as the one below.
Juvenile Yellow-legged Gull Crossness 14th July 2012

There were 7 YLGs present on the foreshore this afternoon at Crossness. This included two juveniles - beating the paultry total of one juvenile Black-headed Gull in amongst the 1000 or so of them. Evidently breeding success has been horrific with the high water levels.

Living in a stone's throw of Stratford and Greenwich, it seems that the Olympic twattery has started with Olympic lanes, construction traffic and notifications to avoid areas meaning it took me almost an hour to get from Rotherhithe to Crossness today. Just as well I won't be here for the carnage when it actually starts as it's going to be a nightmare for London's population.

Sunday 8 July 2012

Caspian Gull in Rotherhithe

I spent most of the day doing some bits on my dissertation (don't ask, but it's as much fun as a dose of chlamydia (presumably)), though admittedly this was interspersed with a bit of river inspection. Trying to dodge the mid morning showers, low tide didn't reveal many gulls on the foreshore largely due to some ring piece and their dog scurrying around the usual larid haunt. Common Terns were pretty vocal around the flat today, but all adults and no sign of any young around here this year unfortunately.

Then to this evening, and with some lovely sunshine, I walked the couple of hundred yards to the river and found this distant 2nd-summer Caspian Gull on the river at the bottom of Rope Street, just west of Greenland Pier - a real surprise.
Round-headed profile with pixel thin dark eye, off pink legs, nice extensively dark based retained tertials and rather bleached coverts. Hope you can see all this from this photo!

Long, spindly legs pretty evident here despite the poor photo quality

Distance, poor light are the excuses... the centre of the underwing was nice and pale, there was a decent retained bar on the secondaries while even on this really poor photo you can just about make out a pale mirror to P10
It wasn't one for pictures as the barges at the moment are on the other side
of the river. However, I tried a few ways of getting decent images (including the video cam option) but none of them worked! I got a couple of flight shots, but with the flash going off due to poor light, they lacked the detail I'd usually get. I was pretty happy with this individual though, and as with the last and only Caspian Gull I found in Rotherhithe, it was pretty much on its own large gull wise. If you want to have a look at some better photos of 2nd-summer Casps click here!

Saturday 7 July 2012

A (little) bit of movement

It was pretty encouraging news from Rainham yesterday, where there were a whopping 7 Wood Sands on Aveley Pool. Having not been able to get out to Crossness since last weekend, I was out there early this morning schlepping it to West Paddock to check the flood. And, er, there was a Redshank and 3 Lapwings wader wise there plus an elusive Little Egret. All this rain just means no muddy margins, and the grass has grown too high to be able to see some areas! However, back on the foreshore some wader movement was evident - 8 Black-tailed Godwits still in summer kit, glowing in the sun. Though they all looked very nice, this early on in the season surely means they're breeding failed.
Icelandic Black-tailed Godwit, Crossness July 2012
Heading back to Rotherhithe as there was little else of note, the tide was good for gulls at what I call 'the beach' - an area of mud/sand on the bend by The Hilton Hotel, directly opposite Canary Wharf. Large gulls gather here, and offer close views so ring reading is easy, and just occasionally the odd Yellow-legged Gull decides to join the party. Like today... with this adult as well as a more distant 2nd-summer.
Yellow-legged Gull, Rotherhithe July 2012

Yellow-legged Gull, Rotherhithe July 2012

Monday 2 July 2012

Startop's Sabine's

News filtered out today of a 1st-summer Sabine's Gull at Startop's End Reservoir, one of the water bodies near Tring. Naturally, being a lover of this pelagic species and the opportunity to see one up close, I was on it like a fly on shit. Setting off from southeast London early evening, the rush hour was kind to me and I arrived on site shortly before 7.30pm.
1st-summer Sabine's Gull - note the black bill (with a tiny bit of yellow noticeable on the upper mandible at close range), partial hood and dark nape and smallish white primary tips compared to an adult
In rather overcast conditions, it was initially looking pretty average perched mid reservoir before flying closer. It had been doing this for most of the afternoon apparently, but armed with my trusty bread (I always have a loaf of pikey bread in the car as you never know when your next set of gulls need feeding), it really did get amongst it...

I must admit, I couldn't remember precisely the last Sabine's Gull I'd seen inland - as it transpires, a quick thumb through the notes reveals I saw a couple back in 2005, an adult at Grafham and a juvenile at Chew but neither of these were close. So tonight's experience was the first time I've been able to see this species up close and personal. Impressive in a very different way to the hordes I've seen over the years on seawatches on the Irish west coast.

I left the site at 8.50pm, with the bird roosting on one of the artificial islands. Enjoyed the bird in good company, with Paul H and Jake E.

Sunday 1 July 2012

Birding boredom

It's a painstaking post this one. I keep kicking myself as I really should have gone away in my spring half-term... but rest assured, I won't be making that mistake again. I have been birding, or at least trying to pull something out of the bag, here in this London birding abyss of late June/early July. And what have I seen since my last post - 3 Egyptian Geese and a ringed Herring Gull in Rotherhithe. The Common Terns have predictably abandoned nesting this year due to the appalling weather, having been flooded out from their nesting platforms on Surrey Water.

Even Crossness failed to deliver anything special, with the regular Med Gulls seemingly abandoning ship and no Thames seabird despite the blustery weather. Bar a single Curlew, one of those hybrid Shelducks still lingering and large numbers of Black-headed Gulls, the notebook was pretty empty as I managed to miss John A's 1st-summer Little Gull on West Paddock, due to my inability to get out of bed anytime before late.
Black-headed Gull Crossness, May 2012
So it's been a virtual birding week for me through the net - looking at various photos from Alaskan voyages or Australian pelagics etc etc, as well as trying to gen up on my west coast US trip in the next few weeks - so it will soon be my time again to see some birds. Thank God.