Saturday 29 September 2012

Back in southeast London

After all the travels recently, it was nice to actually be able to spend the morning trawling through the usuals in Rotherhithe and slightly further afield in southeast London. Loads of Black-headed Gulls on the river, and Common Gulls have returned in numbers. Just a couple of miles further east in Greenwich, the quality was upped somewhat. A couple of Black Redstarts were mooching about an area of derelict land, with a male showing particularly well pecking about, rather unperturbed by my presence.

I also found a nice adult Mediterranean Gull on the Thames by the Anchor & Hope pub late morning, and after showing well for a bit on the water it flew onto the nearby barges showing off what appears to be Polish bling. Before I headed off home, I had a good chat to a couple of Charlton fans looking forward to their game against a Keen-less Blackburn just a few hundred yards away.

PJN0 - research suggests a Polish origin

Tuesday 25 September 2012

All quiet on the western front

What does a picture like this conjure up to you?
Well, in short, no birds and a load of shenanigans. In fact hay bales wrapped ingeniously by Legoman faces in County Kerry were the find of the trip. With an easterly blow and no new fronts coming in from the Atlantic since the weekend before, Josh J and I knew this trip the weekend just gone would be a quiet one. But you've got to try, and that's what we did. Saturday was spent in west Cork, checking the estuaries around Clonakilty, Rosscarbery and Timoleague with loads of common birds seen as well as a decent looking Azorean Gull candidate that has been lingering the area for the past month or so.

Wanting to see at least one yank this weekend, we headed to Garretstown beach where amongst the most selfish, insolent and obnoxious dog walkers that I've ever had the discourtesy to encounter, was a nice juvenile Semipalmated Sandpiper. This bird was what I'd call a 'typical' individual so compare it with the recent Western/Semi-p on the Wirral. I think structurally there's not too much wrong with the comparison, and that's one reason I've always been in the Semi-p camp on that bird. Back in the day, juvenile Western Sandpipers were easy to identify weren't they??!!

Anyway a group of people and their three dogs, that could see Josh and I watching birds on the beach, walked straight pass us flushing the waders, and then got an absolute ear bashing from me that involved several necessary and unnecessary. So much so that, before any garda incident evolved with the next potential incident, we departed to the tranquility of further west. And quietness is what we got - nothing else of note seen for the rest of the day at places like Ballydehob, Bantry, Castletown Bearhaven, Derrynane and Ballinskelligs. The Sunday proved as eventless, although a couple of hours at an elusive Reed Warbler on Valentia Island proved frustrating while Carrahane was as poor as it can possibly be in late September. Some lovely looking passerine habitat found though, and certainly worth bashing soon after a deep low hits in October.
habitat on Valentia Island
Whatever the weather and lack of birds this time around, Irish weekends are always a nice time so at least for the foreseeable future that's it, and back to stuff this side of the Irish Sea from now on. Unless those lows come bouncing in again...

Monday 17 September 2012

The golden touch

That time of year again, with the weekend commute to Shannon. Keeping the faith with Achill Island, where I managed some success this time last year, it was with some anticipation and a Papa Johns that Josh J, John A and I headed off to the wild west of County Mayo on Friday night.

In the half light the next morning with a fresh westerly, a walk along the golf course at Keel provided nothing too unusual - just a couple of Whimbrel, a Golden Plover and a few Ringed Plovers. A check of a few other sites produced a massive Mayo find in the form of a juvenile Black-necked Grebe; not sure when the last one was in the county but it's a big Irish west coast bird. Back at the golf course, we pulled up on the seaward side looking across the machair. With a quick bins scan I locked onto two plovers, and after a second or so look, I rushed to the boot and grabbed the scope knowing what I was going to see - along with the earlier Euro Golden Plover, this smaller more attenuated bird was a proper fresh American Golden Plover. Result, and presumably thanks to the remnants of Hurricane Leslie.

from left to right: European Golden Plover, American Golden Plover and JJ
When first found, you could tell it was fresh in, probing around desperately and then looking really lethargic and hunched up getting a bit of shut eye after its transatlantic crossing. On the Sunday, it was much more spritely - sprinting around on the short turf and flying around a bit more with its lone European cousin. Anyway, this bird showed to within just a few metres and reinforced my view that juvenile yank waders up close and personal cannot be beaten.

Other highlights of the weekend included a fly over Pec Sand at Keel golf course yesterday morning, and a Jack Snipe at Corragaun. Otherwise, it was just decent scenery, good company and wading deep in the channels at Corragaun Lough with no reward. There's always next weekend.

Thursday 13 September 2012

A very odd Azorean Gull

Just before I headed back from Terceira on 31st August, I spotted this juvenile gull in the fish port at Praia da Vitoria. It was certainly one of the most bizarre looking creatures I'd seen for a long while - just why would a juvenile Azorean Gull (strictly speaking first-winter, as a couple of second generation scaps are coming through) have a pink based bill especially so close to its birth?

This bill colour gave a superficial resemblance to California Gull/Glaucous Gull for a passing moment. Completely at odds to Azorean Gull and certainly Yellow-legged Gull - though I've seen shots of a 'pink-billed' YLG from France in December. You'll see on the shots above that Azorean Gulls really do have a bit of a Nearctic feel, presuming that is what this bird is - particularly in flight if you look at the dark secondaries and dark based greater coverts. However rump, uppertail and undertail coverts as well as tail band are exactly what you expect for atlantis too. This bird also shows the dark shins that atlantis show.

Anyway, just be thankful this bird didn't end up out of range as it would have a heck of a lot of people scratching their heads. Here are a couple of typical juvenile atlantis from late August to compare it with: -

Thanks to Josh J, Peter Ad, Peter Al, Julian H and Kevin M for their input.

Monday 10 September 2012

Audouin's ring reading results

You might remember that on 20th August 2012 I saw this beautiful, fresh juvenile Audouin's Gull. Naturally, as it's a rarity in the Canary Islands, I sent the record off to Ricard Gutierrez and the Rare Birds in Spain website with the ring details.

And it turns out that this bird comes from the Ebro Delta, Tarragona, Catalonia colony being ringed as a chick on 27th June 2012 by... the same Ricard Gutierrez I'd emailed. As he and his mates only ringed 40 of the 1000 or so Audouin's chicks, this record is pretty coincidental!

On the ring reading front, other recent interesting records that I've made of gulls (yes, yawn) include: -
  • a Lesser Black-backed Gull at Rainham, London on 21st August 2012 that has spent the last three winters at Pinto rubbish dump, Madrid having been initially ringed at Rainham on 12th September 2009.
  • colour-ringed Med Gulls at Lodmoor, Dorset on 8th September 2012 included a 3rd-winter ringed as a chick near Antwerp, Belgium on 29th May 2010 and last seen on 20th September 2011 at Llantsantffraed, Ceredigion and another 3rd-winter (again aged in the field by a slight dark subterminal band to P10) ringed as a chick near Pas-de-Calais, France on 22nd June 2010 and subsequently seen at Portscatho, Cornwall on 14th September 2010 and Playa del Rincon, Gijon, Asturias, Spain on 15th January 2012.

Sunday 9 September 2012

Crakes, Dowitchers and Monarchs

These days it's either local stuff, foreign birding, lifers (when they increasingly rarely turn up) or sometimes just birds I want to go and see. And this weekend, it was one of those weekends where on Friday night there were choices. And so it was that just after dawn on Saturday, having picked John A up after his 50th (well done John!), I was in the hide at Rainham just after the crake had showed.

No bother I thought, having just missed it by a few minutes it was likely to come out of the reeds again. But it didn't, albeit for a couple of seconds, and so mid morning decisions had to be made and I kept with the initial plan of teaming up with the Wanstead boys (Jono L, Tim H and Nick C) and heading to Dorset... so fast forward to today, Sunday. Original plan was to dawn it again but my body couldn't do it, and I eventually woke up at 10am - wanting a lie in ready for the first Irish assault next weekend. Anyway, cutting to the chase, I lucked out and on arrival at 12.30pm the juvenile Baillon's Crake was showing as well as it would given the distance of the hide from the reeds. Result.
Juvenile Baillon's Crake at Rainham 9th Sept 2012 - no prizes, but note the white spotting on the coverts. Reeds conveniently positioned to obscure much of the bird, including its short primary projection.
Ok, so now back to yesterday and Dorset was nice; indeed nice to be beside the seaside and Weymouth beach was packed. The drive down was grim though, and we diverted via the A303 as some twattery had gone on down the M3/M27. Lodmoor RSPB was packed full of birds - full of my favourites too, Med Gulls, with at least 15 of them. And hiding in the juncus clumps was the juvenile Short-billed Dowitcher, the third for Britain and Ireland (remarkably I'd seen the previous two too). It wasn't great for photos due to the haze, but as well as the often quoted tiger striped tertials (which were marked into the feather centres), prominent supercilium bordered by a dark lateral crown stripe, buff breast etc I wanted to check out Pekka Sarvela's bill base angle identification feature in the field (click here for the paper) on an obvious bird. It worked and it seemed to work on these from a month ago too. Lots of ringed birds observed at Lodmoor as well - all sent to the ringing coordinators and think they include 3 French/Belgian Med Gulls, a Dutch Black-headed Gull, a Scottish Sandwich Tern and an Abbotsbury Mute Swan. Interesting stuff, except the swan.

Monarch butterfly, Portland, Dorset 8th Sept 2012
Nearby on Portland there was a Monarch butterfly. These big boys - truly impressive butterflies - used to be the harbinger of yank landbird arrivals back in the day, and I remember being pretty excited when I saw my first one on Scilly 15 or so years ago. This was my first on the British mainland, and you don't hear of the numbers that used to turn up on Scilly either. Not sure why, but talking to Chris L at Rainham today who's straight off a 5 year stretch on the islands he was saying that the October crowds these days are full of chumps, with less and less capable birders there to find the rares. Though they'd surely be capable of not missing a big orange butterfly coming at them, presumably.

Thanks to all for a highly enjoyable, relaxed and refined day out. Always nice to get out of the smoke and see some birds in good company. Rounded off with a decent fish and chips on the way home.

Sunday 2 September 2012

The best site for American waders in the WP - Cabo da Praia

Cabo da Praia will be getting a lot of air time over the next month, that's for sure. It always does in September and October when those low pressure systems roll in. I was only on Terceira 4 days the week just gone and I ended up going there on 10 occasions. Located at the east end of Terceira, the easternmost of the central Azorean islands, you wouldn't naturally think it's the best (western) geographically but it you're looking for wader habitat on the Azores, save for a few rocky shores, runways, muddy fields and caldeiras, then Cabo da Praia is the best option by a way. Admittedly it is slap bang in the middle of the Atlantic so that does help a bit! The only other real wader sites, Lajes do Pico and Faja dos Cubres, are phenomenally underwatched. 
Cabo da Praia, November 2008
Unfortunately, a lot of development has taken place next to the quarry in recent years but this seems to have stopped and the southern area of the quarry has remained unchanged for the last 5 years. And waders still seem to love this site. It's an interesting place as it affected by tides but not directly tidal - located just metres from (and below) the sea, and protected by an embankment, groundwater seepage ensures that water levels fluctuate with the tides. So, amongst the three regular species - Kentish Plover, Turnstone and Sanderling - you should be able to find the odd stray bird.
Semipalmated Plover Cabo da Praia November 2008

Semipalmated Plover Cabo da Praia May 2011
Semipalmated Plover is regular at the moment too, thanks to a longstaying bird that has been present for the last few years.
three of a flock of nine 1st-winter White-rumped Sandpipers at the quarry in November 2008
1st-summer Long-billed Dowitcher that overwintered at Cabo da Praia, April 2010

two juvenile Pectoral Sandpipers in October 2010

juvenile Western Sandpiper in September 2009

juvenile Spotted Sandpiper in September 2009

1st-winter Lesser Yellowlegs in October 2010
One of two Hudsonian Whimbrels in August 2012
Also the odd non-wader can frequent the quarry too: -
White-winged Black Tern in May 2011

Three of a record flock of nineteen Blue-winged Teals in October 2009