Monday 30 December 2013

Southern California - update one

I arrived in Los Angeles late on 27th December, and after enduring a day around Hollywood and Beverly Hills yesterday (where the birding highlights were limited to a load of Yellow-rumped Warblers, Brewer's Blackbirds, Lesser Goldinches and American Robins), I hit Wilson Canyon Park early morning. The Los Angeles RBA and Andy H combined to give out some good gen on Lewis' Woodpecker, a really tricky species to see and one I'd dipped on previous trips. I managed to find one in trees immediately north of the dam car park early morning, along with a load of other regular stuff like Acorn Woodpecker, Bushtit, Townsend's Warbler, California Quail, White-crowned Sparrow and California Towhee.
Lewis' Woodpecker Wilson Canyon Park 29th December 2013
Heading south through LA, traffic was pretty slow and a couple of uneventful stops at Manhatten and Redondo beaches produced the usual gulls (Ring-billed and Western, with a few Heermann's too) and Brown Pelicans, including a couple of ringed birds. Once through the sprawl, we stopped off at the beautiful Crystal Cove State Park - lovely pristine coastal sage scrub fronted by a typically decent Californian beach. Three California Gnatcatchers were seen, all quite easily, by the Parking Lot 1. California Thrasher, Western Bluebird and Common Yellowthroat were seen here too while the beach held a load of gulls including a Glaucous-winged, California and a couple of Heermann's as well as showy Western Willets and Marbled Godwits. All good stuff, and nice to be back.
California Gnatcatcher Crystal Cove 29th December 2013

Western Bluebirds Crystal Cove 29th December 2013

Marbled Godwit Crystal Cove 29th December 2013

Heermann's Gull Crystal Cove 29th December 2013

Tuesday 24 December 2013

More than just snow bells ringing

Here's a little Christmas present. A load of ringed gulls, all photographed this year and from a variety of different schemes with each bird and its individual history. This is likely to be it for me and reading rings in 2013, as I'll next be on the tip in January. Enjoy and have a very merry Christmas.
first-winter Herring Gull VHB - ringed as chick at Havergate Island, Orford, Suffolk on 1st July 2013. After NTGG birds, Mike Marsh's red-ringed Suffolk birds are the most frequently encountered rings.

adult Herring Gull T.841 - ringed as a breeding adult at East Tullos Industrial Estate, Aberdeen on 02/06/13

2nd-winter Caspian Gull XCDD - ringed as a chick in Lausitz, Germany (close to the Polish border) in a mixed colony where Caspian Gulls dominate.

4th-winter Herring Gull PH.AS - seen at the tip three times in 2013 (in both winter periods), it was ringed in Belgium at Zeebrugge (Voorhaven), West-Vlaanderen, on 8th July 2010 and subsequently seen in northern France.

adult Black-headed Gull 2BSR - ringed at Rainham on 2nd March 2013. As well as the red rings on the large gulls, yellow rings are used by the North Thames Gull Group on Black-headed Gulls.

2nd-winter Caspian Gull PLUK - ringed as a chick on 29th May 2012 in this colony at Jankowice, Babice, Poland. By 24th August 2012 it had reached Snogebæk Harbour, Denmark and then a couple of weeks later it was photographed in Sweden at Baskemölla, Skane on 7th September 2012. On 29th March 2013, it was at Koningspleij, Arnhem, The Netherlands before going to Belgium at Les Barrages de l'Eau d'Heure on 5th April 2013, Ueckermünde harbour, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Germany on 15th August 2013 and at Skillinge, Skane, Sweden on 22nd September 2013

adult Herring Gull 1A - ringed as a chick in The Netherlands at Vlissingen-Oost, Zeeland on 2nd July 2007, I also saw this bird on the tip in January 2012. It has spent much of its time on the European North Sea coast, in Belgium, France and The Netherlands.

Herring Gull 2495 - ringed on Seamer Carr landfill site, near Scarborough, North Yorkshire on 13th May 2011
leucistic 1st-winter Great Black-backed Gull J5493 - ringed at Bergekilen ytre, Mandal, Vest-Agder, Norway on 20th June 2013 as a chick, still there on 30th July 2013. One of three chicks from normally pigmented parents, it and one sibling are leucistic while the third chick is normally pigmented

adult Great Black-backed Gull DK8T - ringed on the tip on 12 October 2012. One of 81 North Thames Gull Group rings I've read during the year (on the tip, Crossness and at Rotherhithe)

Saturday 21 December 2013

Freaks on the tip in foul weather

It doesn't look like we're in for a white Christmas this year. On the tip today, the first of potentially three Atlantic lows ripped through making conditions rather unpleasant - though at least I was dry unlike all the gulls I was watching. Each week, the tipping position and number of dust carts coming in is different. Today, the position wasn't ideal for getting close but with Christmas coming up and time ticking on, there were a lot of dust carts coming in so still plenty of nosh for the gulls.

I rarely leave without something interesting happening, and today was no exception. Modern technology means that if you know the correct channels, in some cases, it's possible to get information on your ringed gulls immediately. That is, if they're Norwegian courtesy of Ringmerking...

first-winter Great Black-backed Gull - black ringed J5493
This freak of a first-winter Great Black-backed Gull was ringed as a chick on the south coast of Norway near Mandar, Vest-Agder on 20th June 2013 (and still in the area on 30th July). One of three chicks from normally pigmented parents, it and one sibling are leucistic while the third chick is normally pigmented - check out the shots from of the brood here and here. Interesting to note how its eye is already pale despite its proven age. Shows you how little relevance iris colour may be when it comes to ageing leucistic birds. Anyway, no tip visit is complete without a bit of Caspian Gull action - and two birds, a second-winter and first-winter, were seen today. Both bizarrely were green-ringed: -
2nd-winter Caspian Gull XCDD - ringed in Lausitz, Germany (close to the Polish border) in a mixed colony where Caspian Gulls dominate.
1st-winter Caspian Gull - green-ringed though too distant for combination to be read easily. Either a German or a Polish bird.
With the poor weather and tipping position, I only managed to read 11 rings today - originating from Germany, Belgium, Norway and eight locally ringed NTGG birds.

Thursday 19 December 2013

Update from the tip last Saturday

It's been crazy days this past week. Saturday seems a distant memory what with a wedding, umpteen Christmas parties, Christmas shopping and the small matter of the last week of school keeping me busy. So I've finally got just a bit of time to do an update. And needless to say it's gull filled. Once again, the tip gave three decent, if not individually very different, Caspian Gulls - two adults and the unringed second-winter from the previous Saturday.

Caspian Gull bird 1. Presumably a near adult with more extensive black in P9 and P10. Otherwise, a nice unbroken band to P5, dark mark on the outer web of P4 and fairly typical looking structurally and bare part wise.
Caspian Gull bird 2. A pale-eyed individual but not the slick proportions with the 'hanging tummy', mid grey mantle, long primaries and tapering back. A nice parallel-sided, tepid looking bill too with slender, pale yellow legs.
 There was also an adult Yellow-legged Gull, at least two adult Med Gulls and a hybrid Herring/Lesser Black-backed hybrid.

hybrid Lesser Black-backed x Herring Gull. Compared to Herring Gull was long-winged, tepid yellow-orange legs, heavily streaked nape, darker grey mantle, obvious trailing edge to secondaries and significant black in wingtips.
And 22 rings read was a good haul too - all from the UK this time around apart from a French/Belgian ringed Med Gull. Most interesting were a couple of birds from the Grampian Ringing Group, ringed as breeding adults in Aberdeenshire in previous summers, as well as a bird ringed at Seamer Carr landfill site near Scarborough, from a ringing scheme I'd not recorded previously.
Herring Gull - ringed as an adult at East Tullos Industrial Estate, Aberdeen on 02/06/13. This is the first sighting since it was ringed.

Friday 13 December 2013

Caspian Gull PLUK seen in 7 countries

Reading gull rings is a bit of a growing obsession. I'm not going to play the pseudo-scientific card as that's not why I do it to be honest - I just find hearing about a bird's life history pretty interesting. And personally, it doesn't get more interesting that this bird - a Caspian Gull PLUK.
Earlier this year, I visited southern Poland where I was lucky enough to visit one of the country's 'Caspian Gull colonies' at Jankowice, Babice, thanks to ringer Jacek Betleja. Having got a boat out to the reedy island, we discovered a few young chicks as well as seeing many adults with both green and yellow ring combinations. So, seeing PLUK on Saturday on the Essex tip, I immediately realised this was one of Jacek's birds presumably from this colony. And remarkably, it was...
PLUK was ringed as a chick on 29th May 2012 in this colony at Jankowice, Babice, Poland. By 24th August 2012 it had reached Snogebæk Harbour, Denmark and then a couple of weeks later it was photographed in Sweden at Baskemölla, Skane on 7th September 2012 - a photo can be seen here. It wasn't seen again until late last winter, on 29th March 2013, when it was at Koningspleij, Arnhem, The Netherlands before relocating to Belgium at Les Barrages de l'Eau d'Heure on 5th April 2013. It had tracked back east during the summer, and was seen in Ueckermünde harbour, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Germany on 15th August 2013 while, now as a second-winter, it was back in Sweden at Skillinge, Skane on 22nd September 2013 where it once again was photographed here. And there was then an absence until it turned up in Essex last weekend...
Many thanks to Jacek Betleja for the information, and to Olof Jonsson too who provided me with the Swedish photographic links, as well as to Steve A of course. All in all, a very interesting history of a bird that is only 18 months or so old!

Sunday 8 December 2013

My old faithful Med Gull

Back in November 2008, I found a 2nd-winter Mediterranean Gull on the lake at Burgess Park. It's not exactly the first place you'd think about to go birding - as it borders the notorious Aylesbury Estate - but it has been kind to me, as I've also found Ferruginous Duck and Red-crested Pochard here. Anyway, this Med Gull has become a bit of a southeast London stalwart and once again it's back for its sixth winter (I first saw it this winter a couple of weekends ago). And in the sunlight today, it was looking pretty stunning: -

adult Mediterranean Gull Burgess Park, London 8th December 2013
Earlier on today, I headed to Crossness, where amongst lots of common birds - including 400+ Dunlin and 24 Wigeon - the highlight was a solitary adult Yellow-legged Gull and a colour-ringed Black-headed Gull. Sites like this really need either some strong wind or a nice freeze up, neither of which happened today.

Saturday 7 December 2013

More Caspian Gulls and colour rings

Another Saturday on the tip. It's a long old winter in southeast England, but this type of stuff makes it much more bearable. In fact, I'd go as far to say that gull watching on stinking rubbish tips ranks extremely highly for me in terms of enjoyable pastimes. Especially as it was another action packed day, more so than last week - with four Caspian Gulls (adult, two 2nd-winters and a 1st-winter) and three Med Gulls the highlights. Throw in 19 colour-ringed gulls - from Norway, northeast Scotland and Poland as well as the usual local schemes - and it was pretty constant action all morning.

The undoubted highlight for me was seeing a Polish-ringed 2nd-winter Caspian Gull. As soon as I saw it, I recognised the ring combination as that used by Jacek Betleja and colleagues in Jankowice - a Caspian Gull colony I'd visited here only 6 months ago.

2nd-winter Caspian Gull (Polish ringed PLUK) - pretty typical individual with obvious advanced moult on the coverts, retained tail band, long thin legs and obvious mirror to P10.
There was another 2nd-winter too that hung around intermittently for most of the morning, as did a typically smart 1st-winter, and an adult was seen early afternoon only. A few shots of these below: -

2nd-winter Caspian Gull - less typical individual than above structurally yet retained dark based tertials lacking any internal shelling, uniform retained greater coverts and advanced moult more typical. Note, however, only the smallest of mirrors on P10.

adult Caspian Gull - note just an isolated black mark on the outer web to P5, as opposed to the more classic black band.
1st-winter Caspian Gull - lovely, classic first-winter that has already dropped several tertials and in active covert moult.

Saturday 30 November 2013

Uncropped Casp

It's been a long time coming, and with my first November Friday night sleep in my own bed (instead of the car or Lisbon airport), I was feeling fighting fresh this morning. It was relatively mild, and as I headed onto the tip for my first winter larid session, a lot of the gulls were just chilling out. Typical behaviour for mild weather, as they don't have to feed so no intense or desperate feeding frenzies today.

After half an hour or so, a nice adult Caspian Gull was picked out from the masses, and with good views I reached for the camera... just as a dust cart decided to drive through all the gulls. Needless to say, it wasn't to be seen again. And it took another three or so hours for another Caspian Gull to appear; just as I was heading back to my car, one of the last birds on the edge of the flock (as is so often the case): -

1st-winter Caspian Gull 30th November 2013
This first-winter was absolutely stunning, and at times came too close to be able to fit into my camera view finder. Certainly the closest ever experience I've had of the species in Britain, and an absolute highlight of the year. Honestly, it really was brilliant (I can hear you gull haters groan).

Also on the tip were a couple of Yellow-legged Gulls (adult and 1st-winter), at least three Med Gulls and a number of ringed birds - a Belgian Herring Gull, that I'd seen in March, was back while there was a Norwegian Great Black-backed Gull that had been ringed as a chick in Lindesnes, on the Norwegian coast, last summer.
adult Yellow-legged Gull 30th November 2013
On the way home, I checked in at Crossness. Another four ringed birds - all NTGG ringed - including two that had remarkably been ringed this morning nearby! There were also two Yellow-legged Gulls (adult and 1st-winter) on the foreshore along with 500 or so Dunlin, a couple of hundred Teal and twenty or so Wigeon.

Genuinely a good feeling sitting in my flat writing this mid-evening, instead of gallivanting about the place. Then again, it's a long old winter so certainly no regrets in terms of making the most of this autumn.

Friday 29 November 2013

Azorean Gulls and something else?

It's looking like this weekend will be the first one for a long while where I'm going to be able to go birding locally in London. So get ready for some gulls fingers crossed. In the meantime, what with work being totally manic, it's only been tonight where I've had some time to sort out some shots from the Azores. So, as is always the case when I'm out there, I papped a load of true atlantis Yellow-legged Gulls (Azorean Gulls). All the shots below were taken on Sao Miguel at Vila Franca do Campo on 26th October 2013.




And on the Sunday evening in Ponta Delgada, with Lee Gregory (whose photo is below - thanks!), this really interesting bird was observed which to my eye is a standard 1st-winter michahellis: -
It looks rather slight in appearance compared to the Atlantic Gulls, with much more overall paler plumage especially on its underparts, a lack of those extensive chocolate brown bases to the greater-coverts while interestingly the legs are more bubblegum pink and lack those obvious 'shin pads' that all first cycle Azorean Gulls show.