Sunday 25 November 2012

Quiet bar the Belgian Black-headed Gull back again

I'm struggling with this one. Out for most of daylight hours on both days this weekend. I guess the struggles will, again, at some point pay off but not this weekend. Amongst the gloom and copious amounts of rain yesterday, I saw probably my most distant Waxwing ever from the balcony at Rainham along with at least one Water Pipit, an adult Med Gull and a handful of Yellow-legged Gulls in the stone barges/tip area. Then back in Rotherhithe, I saw absolutely nothing and the Med Gull at Burgess Park hadn't returned and looks likely not to.
River Thames at Rotherhithe this afternoon - looking over to the Canary Wharf complex
Today, in much brighter conditions, I checked a few spots in Greenwich before heading towards the flooded fields and recycling centre at Dartford where I discovered zero gulls! What the heck was happening? But a subsequent text conversation with Andy L made me discover that blustery, bright days mean gulls vanish from Dartford. Anyway, there was a near-adult Yellow-legged Gull off Sara Crescent, Greenhithe while a walk along the Thames at Crossness produced a further 2 adult Yellow-legged Gulls as well as good numbers of Dunlin and Black-tailed Godwits.

1000s of Black-headed Gulls scanned through at various sites today, with not one bit of interest amongst them - except that in the last hour of light back in Rotherhithe, I was re-acquainted with my Belgian friend from last winter as it sat on the perimeter fence of Canada Water: -
Black-headed Gull 7T39953 - ringed near Antwerp, Belgium and once again present in the Tesco car park at Canada Water, Rotherhithe
At least one BTO ringed Black-headed Gull present, but given that I've yet to receive any info on the metal-ringed BTO Black-headed Gulls I read last winter, I'm not sure whether I'll bother with the effort to submit them this time.

Sunday 18 November 2012

Kent winger and wheatear

I headed out of London today with John A, under crisp blue skies. After a good old Sausage and Egg McMuffin stop on the outskirts of Ashford, it was inevitable that the lighthouse garden at Dunge was void of the Pallas' Warbler. We realised that within a few minutes, and left the crowd who perhaps didn't realise the obvious. And then we located the longstaying Glaucous Gull on the beach by the fishing boats; in tow were two of those pesky photographers, namely Mick S and Jono. So, instead of taking a photo of them and complaining to Birdforum, I employed the usual field skills and got amongst it too. Look at this bad boy, back for its 3rd winter: -

3rd winter Glaucous Gull, Dungeness
There was a stonking male Black Redstart by the fishing huts too, and a visit to Lade produced a rather distant but still smart looking juvenile Long-tailed Duck. With plans to do the RSPB reserve and a load of GWEs saved for next time, we headed off east rather casually on news of an Asian Desert Warbler near Dover. As John and I had both seen the species before, with continued negative news, we chalked it and went north to Sheppey, where we thought we'd get blinding views of a stonking Desert Wheatear in the crisp late a'noon light.

Instead, we were accompanied on our walk down from Harty church by a couple of chumps that loved telling us about how they'd seen the Abberton Desert Wheatear, and then delivered blows of identifying a flock of Woodpigeons as Golden Plovers, and a close group of Reed Buntings as Redwings. As the bloke who called all us birders @r$eholes earlier this week would say 'some people never learn'...
Desert Wheatear, Shell Ness
Right, now the Desert Wheatear. For sure a stonking 1st-winter male, but with a rather large dyke in the way it was only going to be scope views and poor record shots. So, that's the end of the autumn for sure - this species is notorious for delivering the final nail in autumn's coffin and the harbinger of another long, dark and larid-filled winter.

Nice to get out of London for a bit, though rather a lot of driving so looking forward to next weekend where - unless the proverbial hits the fan (everyone's talking Grosbeaks apart from me) - I'll be on the tip and staying local.
shingle ridge at Dungeness early morning

Saturday 10 November 2012

London pipits and gulls

It felt almost untouched locally, given how long it is since I've been out and with the change of season too - a real wintery feel these days. With John A, headed to Crossness where expecting fresh mud on the foreshore was greeted by a nice high tide. The fool that I am, for some reason, meant that I'd read last weekend's tide times so was a full cycle out. Not much to be done about that now we were there, and with movement limited to a dozen Fieldfares and 60 or so Black-tailed Godwits, headed round to the north side of the Thames where at least there'd be some larid action. Before we got to the gulls, though, on the saltmarsh by the stone barges was a nice, vocal Water Pipit: -
In amongst all the gulls on the tip, I managed to pick out a rather smart 1st-winter Caspian Gull, presumably a female and unfortunately rather distantly: -
Hopefully the first of many this winter season! There were also 3 Yellow-legged Gulls present, and with them tipping on the river side, the views of the gulls aren't too bad from the footpath east of the stone barges currently.

Only other news from this week is a Cormorant I saw before school on Tuesday - a ringed individual 'EBY' - being able to read the metal ring which included 'STONIA', it was no surprise to hear that it was ringed as a nestling on the small islet Vesit├╝kimaa, Saare maakond, Estonia on 3rd July 2011. Nice.

Sunday 4 November 2012

Corvo debrief - interested in late October 2013?

Now firmly back in London, with the birding and overall scene feeling rather wintery (including the Christmas range starting to creep into the local Tesco), Corvo feels like a distant memory. I did a quick trip tally for the last week and the total of 121 individuals of 15 American species was pretty neat - 2 Pied-billed Grebes, 2 Double-crested Cormorants, 6 American Wigeon, a Green-winged Teal, 2 Ring-necked Ducks, a Surf Scoter, a Semi-p Sandpiper, 81 White-rumped Sandpipers, 18 Semi-p Plovers, 2 Lesser Yellowlegs, a Bonaparte's Gull, a Ring-billed Gull, a Mourning Dove, an American Robin and a Lincoln's Sparrow (as well as a Monarch butterfly).
Lincoln's Sparrow, middle fields 31st October 2012; a different individual to that earlier in the season (based on head pattern, tertials and mantle streaking)
With the autumn being so good there this year, there has been quite a lot of people thinking about going next year and even while I was there last week, Katt was already fielding enquiries from newbies for next year at the Comodoro.
Corvo from the plane - last birders to leave on 2nd November 2012
So, pause for a moment and think about this... what do you want from your holiday to Corvo?
1. A twitchathon of American landbirds
2. Finding some American landbirds for yourself with few birders

If it's the latter, come late. There is so much potential late on in the season - just look at Peter Alfrey's dates of 19th October to 2nd November in 2005 that put the place on the map. The 2006-2008 visiting birders also came late October - discovering 2 Black-throated Blue Warblers and a Black-throated Green Warbler amongst other things. Late October this year there were 4 of us, and last year just 4 birders too (compared to 30+ during the peak weeks). Scant coverage indeed, and last year when there were westerly winds the birds that we found were just the tip of the iceberg. I've now done this last week of October 4 years in a row, and I'll be back again next year.
Lighthouse Valley - Prairie, Golden-winged, Yellow, Black-and-White and Yellow-rumped Warblers recorded here in October 2012
The last 2 years, birding with my Dutch buddy Arthur Geilvoet, we've found White-tailed Tropicbird, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Common Yellowthroat, Lincoln's Sparrow and Indigo Bunting. Add to this seeing 'leftover' Double-crested Cormorant, Rough-legged Hawk, Mourning Dove, another Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Northern Flicker, Chimney Swift, Buff-bellied Pipit, American Robin, Black-and White Warbler, Northern Parula, Summer Tanager and a further Indigo Bunting  - not a bad haul for 4 trips 'out of season'.
White-tailed Tropicbird, Vila Nova October 2011
To get to Corvo, you usually travel via Sao Miguel, Terceira (or Flores too) with highlights at this time of year having included Great Blue Heron, 2 Double-crested Cormorants, Wood Duck, a flock of 19 Blue-winged Teals and American Black Tern as well as innumerable yank waders in the quarry at Cabo da Praia.
Indigo Bunting, airfield October 2010
The Corvo scene is presumably a little like the Scilly scene in the early days, and it is a close knit place. Regular visitors have first dabs on accommodations, which is at a real premium peak season (5th to 20th October) and a week either side of this seemed to be relatively booked up this year too. Birding on Corvo is hard and requires a lot of effort, and you are by no means tripping over yanks. Therefore when you find them amongst the Blackcaps, Chaffinches, Canaries, Blackbirds and House Sparrows you still get that adrenaline kick.
Yellow-billed Cuckoo, middle fields October 2009
Honestly, if you're reading this intrigued, and fancy it late next autumn please email me as we really need more people coming late on - and peak season genuinely is full these days.
View from the miradouro overlooking Vila Nova do Corvo, the airfield, lower and middle fields

Friday 2 November 2012

They think it's all over... it is now

Last day of birders being on Corvo this autumn, and just like last year Arthur and I were the last to leave. With the American Robin still lingering around yesterday, I just wanted to check out Lighthouse Valley one more time this morning. Dropping Arthur and Jari at the caldeirao, this gave me enough of a chance to see the 3 Cranes feeding in the bottom albeit distantly. Ilkka was then dropped off, and did a 3 hour stint sitting on the bridge at Da Ponte (seeing naff all) while in the 'magic junipers' - having hosted Prairie, Golden-winged, Yellow, Black-and-white and Yellow-rumped Warblers this autumn - all I could manage was the first Chiffchaff of the autumn there. Going back up the track, I stumbled upon a Lapland Bunting which was a new Azorean bird for me.

It was certainly 'friendly', so as the Birding World article suggests this is a feature of the North American/Greenland race subcalcaratus, then it probably was. You really can't make that sh*t up, can you.
Made in Leicestershire? Nope, I don't think so - a true adult Azorean Gull
Heading back down the island, I had a search above the miradouro, as well as looking around the power station and middle fields (and photographing Azorean Gulls at the rubbish dump), while Arthur located the longstaying (but elusive) Night Heron at the west end of the airfield. And, it literally was birding til the plane took off. Having checked in, we walked the 100 metres or so to the old harbour and located a 1st-winter Semi-p Sandpiper and 2 Semi-p Plovers.
Already booked myself in again for the late stint next year - anyone fancy it? Good to see everyone again too - Katt and Manuel especially. One thing these last few days taught me is that, unless you go when everyone else is on Corvo, there really is no room for passengers on the island. Corvo is tough, and those Finns found that out - they'll be taking up good beds in peak season, waiting for you all to find them their birds, just like we did for them!
Corvo - view from the plane as we left the island today

Thursday 1 November 2012

Getting back to full fitness

I'll tell you what, if I lived on Corvo I would be as fit as a fiddle. Started off in Lighthouse Valley, where predictably there was no sign of the Prairie Warbler though 2 Cranes flew over, presumably heading towards the caldeirao. Really bizarre stuff to see them on this island in the mid-Atlantic - totally lost on Corvo.

Arthur and I then split up, in the vain hope of seeing an elusive spotted, chestnut backed thrush - I did Cancelas and he did Fojo - but to no avail. We met up again, and headed up painfully to the reservoir. Up to 5 White-rumped Sands, a Semi-p Plover, a Wheatear and 25+ Snow Buntings were our total rewards. Then, heading down towards the power station, I saw a thrush with white tail feathers through the corner of my eye and, bang, there was an American Robin - same bird as last seen on 21st. In between their taxi rides, the Finns had seen a Spotted Crake in Da Ponte and an Osprey over.

Back down in the village late on, and there was the Mourning Dove sat on the track really not fussed with us all staring at it. Memories of this bird's state brought me back to the near motionless bird I saw on the Hebs back in 1999 (when it was still a real mega!). Presumably it'll be local cat food. Last half hour of light was spent looking out to sea - 20 or so Great Shearwaters in amongst the 1000s of Cory's.
Mourning Dove - Corvo cat fodder

American Robin record shot, but as the famous Corvo saying goes 'no photo, no bird'
Last day on Corvo tomorrow, and far too short a trip because of the weather (and my job).