Sunday 28 April 2013

BTGs and GWT at Crossness today

Uneventful across the country today, with a real turn in wind direction and drop in temperature. I hadn't had a lie in past 7.30am for over a month, so deserved the one I had this morning to recharge the batteries. John A had done Crossness in the morning, so I decided that a late afternoon visit was the way forward, especially with more overcast conditions forecast.

It was quiet though with no noticeable passage and just the usuals to look at. So with the 35 Icelandic Black-tailed Godwits looking better and better by the day, I focused on them for a bit. In this flock was one ringed bird that has been present in the Crossness/Barking Bay area since 31st March: -
Black-tailed Godwit - ringed at Levington on the Orwell Estuary, Suffolk on 18th August 2008 then seen at Alton Water, Suffolk on 1st September 2009, Abberton Resr, Essex 19th September 2009, Loire Estuary, France 14th February 2010, Ouderkerk, The Netherlands 16th March 2010, Trimley, Suffolk 22nd July 2010, Cliffe, Kent 13th July 2011, Rainham, London 27th December 2011 and then Manningtree, Essex 16th September 2012 before turning up here in late March (look here to see how much it has moulted).
Jim Wilson flagged up a project that he's involved in on one of my earlier posts, where three schools (one in Ireland, one in Devon and one in Iceland) have got together, promoting awareness of this species. Have a little look here if you fancy it.

The numbers of Black-headed Gulls are building up again at Crossness - presumably non-breeders - so I'm wondering whether either of the two Bonaparte's Gulls from last May will come again. However, the current yank was back. It obviously has good taste, preferring south of the river after its day trip to Rainham yesterday.
drake Green-winged Teal - several observers have commented on the more extensive 'mane' of this bird compared to the drake Eurasian Teals. This photo, taken today, exemplifies this.

Saturday 27 April 2013

Showy Subalpine Warbler in Suffolk

Some birds just have it in them to show well. And a Subalpine Warbler that first turned up at Landguard, Suffolk yesterday evening was a good example of this. Having hung around with Jonathan L and Nick C waiting for news on this bird or the Rock Thrush at Spurn (which had gone), the decision on which way to turn was easy. So by mid morning we'd parked up and in no time at all, found this showy male feeding actively in brambles and scrub: -

The bird was superb, a nice male albistrata with a deep red throat and upper breast becoming paler towards the under belly as well as a broad moustachial stripe. I didn't hear it call though. All this loveliness was slightly tempered by a few sour faced souls not happy with the way the crowd was viewing the bird at point blank range - the types who take up birding during their mid/late life crisis, buy a pager then optics before moving to Norfolk/Suffolk where they feel at home as the don of their poxy manor and twitch any old nonsense that they could find themselves if they had any idea what they were actually looking at. Nothing wrong with good views of a showy bird guys.

A nice gathering of a dozen Wheatears were on the common at Landguard, while the journey back to London was a tale of two ducks - a female Ring-necked Duck in amongst a few Tufted Ducks at Chigborough Lakes near Maldon, and then the Green-winged Teal from Crossness had made it across the river to Rainham, where it showed appallingly in heavy showers early evening.

Wednesday 24 April 2013

Rotherhithe's first Wood Warbler

It's fun times at the moment. The sun is shining, and the weather is hot. I've been stuck inside, as usual, since the weekend and with little in the way of migrants in London on Monday and Tuesday decided to do admin stuff and footy, shelving the birding. But, with a step up in action today, I headed out after school onto the mean streets of South London trying to find some birds.

So I got myself to Russia Dock Woodland - scene of the infamous marathon crash on Sunday (check out after about 5 seconds on the video here for the entrance to this mighty woodland) - and started my evening, pre-Tesco stroll. Nice, a couple of Swallows over to start with and then, along with a handful of Chiffchaffs, a Reed Warbler clucking away in the vegetation was evidently a migrant (though they do breed in Rotherhithe - in the reedbed at Canada Water).

So, back to the car and as I was approaching, glanced up into the nearby trees at the back of the primary school and before I even raised my bins knew that the squat, short-tailed stocky phyllosc I'd just found was going to be something special for Rotherhithe - with a couple already found today in London, I'd located Rotherhithe's very own Wood Warbler. Get in. Massive bird here in Central London, and my first in Rotherhithe so happy days. It's all about context, and Wood Warblers are birds I rarely see these days so I was made up just to see one.

News out, but gutted that like with the Redstarts at the start of last week, my camera wasn't with me. Not sure I want to keep a nice SLR with me each day where I work, but this being the second time in as many weeks where I could have papped a Rotherhithe mega and didn't has made me think. John A and a couple of other locals arrived just after I'd last seen the bird (7.10pm) in the declining light so missed out, though with a bit of rain tonight who knows. Though Wood Warblers have a poor track record of staying over in London, but we'll see. Funny thing is that Josh and I were only talking about Wood Warbler as an obvious bird for Russia Dock Woodland as we wondered around the place the Saturday just gone.
Russia Dock Woodland, Rotherhithe April 2013
I didn't do a write up on Sunday's birding, not because it was gash but just time got the better of me. Anyway, a nice long walk with John A around Crossness produced a male Whinchat on southern marsh as the highlight, while 5 Wheatears remained and the Green-winged Teal was still there. Two Lesser Whitethroats were new for the year, and nearby at Crayford I located a couple of Whimbrel while successfully searching for Kev's Spotted Redshank. All good stuff.

Saturday 20 April 2013

Green-winged Teal and migrants at Crossness

Not a cloud in the sky all day. It started frosty as Josh and I headed out to Crossness, arriving shortly after 6am. Conditions like this usually render the river quiet, and that was the case today - just a couple of Common Terns as well as the drake Green-winged Teal still about at the outfall, showing well in good light with ever depleting numbers of Teal.

The paddocks were alive with Wheatears, and with 15 of them, this was easily the highest number I'd seen here. They were in an obvious flock first thing, all coming out of their sleep rather begrudgingly. None of yesterday's couple of Whinchats were around today, but a female Redstart at the sluice gates was nice enough and has lingered here since Monday. Reed and Sedge Warblers were now in, as were Whitethroats in good numbers, so it seems like the hold up was just temporary. Willow Warbler, House Martin and half a dozen Jackdaws were also noted as well as a couple of LRPs.

Right, got to be up early tomorrow if I don't want to get trapped in by the marathon.

Friday 19 April 2013

Willow Warblers and more in Rotherhithe

I spent a couple of pleasant hours locally in Rotherhithe this evening. And with the weekend of birding promise ahead, I was in a relaxed mood. So much so that I actually stood for several minutes, just listening to one of the Willow Warblers that currently occupy Russia Dock Woodland. Willow Warblers are just a passage migrant in Central London, so I only really hear the melancholy song for a few days each year. For some reason, their song always brings me back to childhood memories of long summer evenings, waiting for it to get dark enough for Nightjars at Nercwys. They're certainly more a northern bird for me.

Willow Warblers Russia Dock Woodland, Rotherhithe 19th April 2013
This year, Willow Warblers are about 10 days later than usual, but the seven I had this evening are a way better count than average. Just a couple of Blackcaps singing though, compared to 20 or so I'd expect by now.

I headed to Southwark Park and had a mooch around late on, and though passerines were packing up for the day, a Common Sandpiper on the lake in this urban park last knockings was the first I'd ever seen here - and the first locally of the year (I normally only see a couple each year).
Common Sandpiper Southwark Park 19th April 2013
For some reason, not too sure what exactly, there's a decent possy of non-breeding Herrings Gulls gathering on the pontoons on Greenland Dock; much larger numbers than I've had any other year. They're there in the morning when I head to work, and there when I get back. Nothing interesting in them yet.
Gulls on Greenland Dock this evening

Iceland highlights

I promised I'd come back to my trip to Iceland, even though it was a couple of weeks ago now and the temperature here has finally started to get back to what we expect. But, to be honest, I wouldn't have bothered writing about this trip if it had been distinctly average. Some trips are you know; some places pass over me while others stick long and hard.

Iceland's one of those places - even the capital Rejkjavik has a decent vibe, and I reckon if you lived there it'd be the best capital to live in within Europe if on your lunch hour you wanted to pop out and find the odd yank or two. There's a pool at Bakkatjorn, just a couple of miles west of the centre of town, and at the end of the Seltjarnarnes peninsular that gets decent hauls of yank waders most autumns as well as the odd gull or two; including an adult Ring-billed Gull when I was there. However, I loved the showy Eiders that came to bread with the Mallards: -
But if there is one place that did it for me, it was the Snaefellsnes peninsular - a remote, rugged and beautiful area a couple of hours drive to the northwest of Rejkjavik. I'd recommend it to anyone with an interest in scenery and/or nature.

As you can see, we were blessed with beautiful weather. Set amongst this stunning backdrop, the wildlife was unbelievable too - sheer numbers of species that really get me going. You're talking high thousands of Fulmars, mid thousands of Glaucous Gulls and Kittiwakes and then low thousands of Eiders and Iceland Gulls. I'd not seen such a high concentration of birds anywhere to be honest. Here is a bucket load of wingers, inbetweeners and an argentatus Herrring Gull, with Fulmars and more white-winged gulls in the background.
The cliffs at the tip of the peninsular, and just to the south of the lighthouse, included several of these boys - Brunnich's Guillemots - and nice to see them in summer kit, as opposed to the lone individual in Lerwick a few years ago (the only one I'd seen previously).
And where you get high concentrations of birds, you're bound to get other wildlife too. I've been on a bit of a quest recently to see Killer Whales, failing in Washington last year and California earlier this year. So to say I got rather pumped up about the pod - at least seven of them - from land by the Öndverdarnes lighthouse was an understatement. The sea was like a dreamscape, flat as a millpond, and these handsome beasts were feeding close offshore. Killer Whales, looking stunning in the calm waters: -
Harlequin Ducks were around and about; seemingly paired or on the verge of pairing up. Some nice views could be had around the village of Grundarfjörður: -
Yann Kolbeinsson had been a true gent throughout the trip, supplying me with news and info. I always enjoy a bit of a Western Palearctic gripping yarn, and given that Yann's just a couple of years older than I am and having seen all those rares that you associate with Iceland (Cerulean and Palm Warblers, Least Flycatcher etc) I was enjoying his tales and visiting the sites of these mega rares. Not that I was likely to find any type of passerince really, but it's always good to put a visual to the names of Eyrarbakki and Stokseyri. But what he did say is when on Snaefellsnes check the pools near Rif, as they'd got past form including Wood Duck and Redhead. This I did, and with some patience, managed to find Iceland's first female Lesser Scaup: -
I'll be sure to return to Iceland in the not too distant future - one to add to the Azores and Ireland on the list of my favourite destinations. It's not as expensive as people make out, especially if you do an off season visit like this. The scenery is amazing and the birds are present in massive numbers. It's a good place for gull lovers to go scratch their heads too as, amongst the Glaucous (adult immediately below) and Iceland Gulls (near adult below) there are innumerable 'Viking Gulls', a hybrid swarm of Herring x Glaucous Gulls, much more numerous than I'd anticipated.

And, what's more, I always felt that there could be something lurking round the next corner. A thoroughly enjoyable trip. And the question that gets posed to you the most when you come back from Iceland 'did you see the Northern Lights?' - here's the evidence.

Wednesday 17 April 2013

The fall of London

I've only just got over the excitement. In fact, I was just far too stunned on Monday evening to write anything while yesterday evening I was scoring a screamer of a goal for the second consecutive week (both multi-observed by Josh et al) so was nowhere near the computer.

So, has London fallen? Not in the sense some of you neo-socialists and anti-capitalists think. Monday 15th April actually produced possibly the best Spring fall of migrants the capital has ever seen. From my office, on the mean streets of Elephant and Castle, I could hear a Willow Warbler singing away and throughout the day, whilst at work, there were updates on massive numbers of migrants from sites where if you had a good day you'd see a single Redstart with some grafting.
Rotherhithe - Russia Dock Woodland with Canary Wharf looming large in the background
So feeling pretty pumped, I managed to get to Russia Dock Woodland in Rotherhithe for just shy of 6pm and the impact was pretty instant - bang, a quality male Redstart flitting about in bushes by Alfred Salter Primary School. Then, quarter of an hour or so later I stumbled upon another male Redstart the other side of Stave Hill - this was immense as I'd only seen one Redstart in Rotherhithe previously here. And it didn't stop there as by the wind turbine, was my third and final male Redstart of this hour of really excellent London birding. Four Willow Warblers, two Whitethroat, three Swallows and a load of Chiffchaffs added to the buzz.

I've just had a quick tally of the scores from this mega day from the London Bird Club Wiki and it's totally mindblowing, especially if you realise how average London birding is most of the time: -
- 49 Redstarts
- 292 Wheatear
- 295 Willow Warblers
- 23 Yellow Wagtail
- 7 Whinchat
- 3 Ring Ouzel
- 1 Nightingale
- 1 Pied Flycatcher
- 1 Grasshopper Warbler

It's not like we're Spurn or anything here. By the next morning though, it was pretty much back to normal with just a couple of Whitethroats and Willow Warblers to show for my efforts before school, and then this evening a ringed gull on Greenland Dock was even more back to the usual stuff.

Sunday 14 April 2013

Crossness on the last day of my holidays

All good things come to an end. Quite a nice relaxing couple of weeks, what with a week spent locally after that chilled out trip to Iceland. But it's back to school tomorrow and in the comparative heat of today, headed to Crossness early on. There was a smart Little Gull roosting off the golf centre when I arrived - a bit unprecedented as this species is normally on the move here, on active migration. After a while, it got up and headed off west upriver; an Arctic Tern did exactly this mid-morning too.
Little Gull Crossness 14th April 2013
You'll probably have noticed that my photos when at Crossness go to pot, and the Little Gull above is a decent example of this. It's always too far for any DSLR shots, and when the tide is out and like not perfect then even digiscoping is a big struggle. But in a way all this is good as, sometimes these days, I seem to take more photos than actually look at birds in detail - so at Crossness there's no opportunity to do this and so the birding rules.

The same two ringed Black-tailed Godwits as this time last week were still in the flock but despite the much warmer temperatures, just a few Swallows and a couple of Willow Warblers were around. No Whitethroat or Sedge Warbler yet, though I'll take bets I'll be seeing them next weekend.
Teal twitchers at Crossness
The drake Green-winged Teal was still at the outfall, and a few people continued to have a look at it. Crossness seems to provide an everlasting impression on everyone who visits - that whiff as you pass along the Thames footpath and past the sewage farm isn't for the feint hearted, this weekend being no exception. The place isn't perhaps a walk in the picturesque wilderness, but it sure is the best birding site in southeast London.

I then had a chilled out afternoon at Eltham Palace, where a couple of Swallows whizzed by and a Peregrine patrolled the skies briefly. On the way home I stopped off at Deptford Park, where a single Fieldfare hung on in the heat.

Saturday 13 April 2013

Green-winged Teal and more summer migrants

It's raining and cold outside as I type this from the warmth of my flat. A stark contrast to the blue sky of first thing this morning and the predicted temperature tomorrow. Anyway, went down to Crossness again for a few hours this morning where the drake Green-winged Teal was performing for those that had come to see it: -
drake Green-winged Teal Crossness 13th April 2013 - slightly better photo that yesterday's attempt... but only just
I recorded three first for the year here too, with a cracking male Yellow Wagtail in the paddocks, a couple of Sand Martins over as well as a Willow Warbler in bushes near the golf centre. Added to this a handful of Swallows heading northwest and a Common Tern on the river, Spring is indeed finally here. See what tomorrow brings.
male Yellow Wagtail in the paddocks today - after all those grey skies this winter, time to get the sun glasses out

Friday 12 April 2013

Green-winged Teal at Crossness

I hadn't been to Crossness since Monday, and what with it being the last day of the holidays, thought it'd be rude not to venture out given the squally showers and a bit of south in the wind. Anyways, there was a nice winter plumaged Sanderling off the golf centre - my first of the year here - and a Swallow flew by midriver. There was also a couple of Yellow-legged Gulls on the foreshore, which had been absent for a while.

I trundled along to the incinerator outfall where I was hoping for a Garganey amongst the Teal and Gadwall. Always checking the common species, in this case Teal, is something you have to do here in London; it's not as if you've got vagrants in droves so it passes the time. And today was one of those days where there was payout as, just off the seawall, in amongst a small group of Teal and Gadwall was a blinding drake Green-winged Teal. Happy days, only the second Crossness record (last one was over a decade ago) and another good London bird that'll keep the punters happy.
drake Green-winged Teal Crossness 12th April 2013
 With the prerequisite hybrid check and the news banged out, I acted as an urgent taxi service for John A where I met him off the DLR at Woolwich. Back on site, along with Steve C and Mike R, all the ducks flew up but within a few minutes, with the heavens opening too, all had seen it. Half a dozen Swallows and my first House Martins - three of them - zipped west before John, Mike and I headed to the paddocks.

Looking from the screen, I picked up a Black-tailed Godwit. Now with 25 Icelandic Black-tailed Godwits on the foreshore, just another of them? Nope, it wasn't as with a change in habitat and the knowledge of nominate (Continental) birds and this creature's appearance meant only one thing - this was a Continental Black-tailed Godwit, presumably a first for the site. John A had come to this conclusion too, so another good bird south of the river (though Rainham has recorded a couple of these under recorded beasts recently). See here for some previous discussion and shots of this form.

Tomorrow's another day. Well, it kind of isn't as it's Karen's birthday.
A rather more confiding Green-winged Teal that I photographed on Madeira in February 2010

Thursday 11 April 2013

First signs of Spring this morning

Thanks to the guys at the local computer store, they've managed to salvage my laptop from a virus that hit it big time on Monday - hence the lack of Icelandic updates but they'll come very soon. It was, to be fair, quite nice not to be laptop dependent and it was a good bit of rehab for me. Shame the local birding wasn't that great, with just a Grey Plover at Crossness on Monday the only bird of note (I should have known better to have wasted time going to Kelsey Park to look for a reported 1st-winter Ring-billed Gull on Tuesday, but couldn't resist the larid draw so close to home).

And so, having had a relaxing day with my parents in Hampshire yesterday, I decided I'd go the opposite direction to the current birding abyss of southeast London and stayed the night at Portland Bird Observatory. Very pleasant it was too, and it was even more pleasant to actually feel as though the winter may almost be over.

After arising and hearing that there was little in the garden first thing (just an Arctic Skua past through offshore), I headed out and did the circuit from the obs, past The Pulpit Inn and to Portland Bill itself. It wasn't a mega fall, but a male Redstart was really pleasant as was a female Black Redstart. There were at least a dozen Wheatears, and also a couple of Willow Warblers in amongst the flycatching Chiffchaffs. All very pleasant stuff.
male Firecrest at Portland Bird Observatory, Dorset 11th April 2013 - nice to see the 'fire' in its crest!
Back at the observatory, the ringers were decent enough to show me and others a couple of Firecrests - the first I'd ever seen in the hand. Off to Reap Lane and a half-hearted search for yesterday's Hoopoe with no luck, though another couple of Black Redstarts (including a stonking adult male) and umpteen Chiffchaffs and the odd Wheatear felt things were moving. I also got the feeling that Swallows were up for heading north with 25 or so going through in pulses, and in amongst them the odd Sand Martin too. Once again, just good to see some migrants and with the predicted rise in temperature this weekend perhaps the bottleneck further south may just be cleared even more.

Sunday 7 April 2013

An old Icelandic friend at Crossness today

I headed out locally to Crossness. An adult Kittiwake was on view distantly as I arrived, thanks to John A who'd managed to get himself up there a few minutes earlier than I had. That snooze button on the alarm was well used this morning...

Anyway, a singing Chiffchaff was all that the Spring sunshine could muster up, but 37 Icelandic Black-tailed Godwits were migrating birds, and included an old friend that I saw at Crossness last April too: -
Originally ringed as an adult in southwest Iceland on spring passage in April 2000, this bird (red over lime on the left leg, green over lime on the right leg) has done the rounds - initially wintering in Ireland and then switching to Chichester harbour latterly and nesting. Vigfús Eyjólfsson gave me this helpful reply of its history last spring, so who knows to date where it summered/wintered between then and now: -
26.04.00  Grafarvogur, Reykjavík, SW Iceland
27.04.00  Pollengi, Árnessýsla, S Iceland

07-25.08.00  Swords Estuary, Co. Dublin, Ireland
02-08.12.00  Wexford Slobs, Co. Wexford, Ireland

23.04.01  Solvellir, Rangárhreppur, S Iceland
24.04.01  Pollengi, Árnessýsla, S Iceland

13.12.01  Baie de l,Aiguillon, France
01.08.03  Rogerstown estuary, Co. Dublin, Ireland

28.07-15.09.04  Swords Estuary, Co. Dublin, Ireland
20.11.06  Wexford Slobs, Co. Wexford, Ireland
01.05.08  Álftafjörður, E Iceland

25.05.10  Austurey, Iceland (nesting) 
09.09.-01.11.10  Chichester Harbour,  W Sussex,  England

14.03.11  Canvey Island, Thames Estuary, Essex, England

09-27.08.11  Bartlett Creek, Motney Hill, Kent, SE England
21-23.10.11  Bosham Channel , Chichester Harbour, Sussex, England
21.04.12  Crossness, River Thames, London, England

There was also another ringed Black-tailed Godwit, from one of the UK ringing schemes, that I'm awaiting details on...

Saturday 6 April 2013

Harlequin Ducks in Iceland

I got back home this afternoon, after a really enjoyable week in Iceland. A fabulous country, and I'd thoroughly recommend it to anyone - it's Scotland on a grand scale with volcanoes, clean air and full of friendly folk. As well as a fair few interesting birds (including the obligatory gulls), and very few birders there is a lot to find and discover. Admittedly, I did luck out on glorious sunshine all week but I reckon these beauties would look pretty special in the rain too: -

Harlequins at Grundarfjörður 4th April 2013
Harlequins were quite easy to see, and I managed to locate the odd bird on most days of the holiday - down in the southwest near Grindavik (in the bay at Hraunsvik), in the south at Vik and then in the northwest at Grundarfjörður. April is the time of year when they start heading off from their coastal wintering grounds back onto the rivers where they breed, so some seemed paired up whilst others were still in small flocks feeding amongst the surf and rocky coastlines. Earlier in the winter, they'd be larger flocks in the bays while a few weeks on, it's when the long lens brigade pap them on the fast flowing rivers in their breeding habitat. First time I've ever seen drakes in sparkling plumage so an absolute pleasure (saw some in Washington/Oregon in minging kit last summer).

Wednesday 3 April 2013

Iceland introduction

It's been a funny old Spring, especially when you come to Iceland from London and it feels a fair bit warmer. Having arrived late on Saturday night, the last few days of another 'non-birding' holiday have been action packed, with Karen and I making the most of the long days and enjoying the south and southwest of the country while staying in Reykjavik, a lovely city. First morning found us conveniently staying a mile or so away from a couple of American Wigeons at Njarðvík. Here's one of them: -

drake American Wigeon Njarðvík 31st March 2013
Did a nice little loop around the tip of the Reykjanes peninsular, where amongst the nice remote scenery I managed to locate a third American Wigeon of the day - at Garður - before sampling the thousands of distant Eider and gulls, and then half a dozen Harlequins and a Surf Scoter bobbing up and down in the surf at Hraunsvik were pretty neat, albeit a bit distant and into the sun. What have been nice all trip are the copious amounts of borealis-type Eiders, the males complete with sails and orangey bills: -
borealis Eider Bakkatjorn 1st April 2013
Yesterday and today have been predominantly about seeing the sites, which here in Iceland are pretty spectacular - the volcano Eyjafjallajökull that brought Europe to a standstill three years ago, Geyser, The Blue Lagoon and a couple of pretty spectacular waterfalls. Amongst this, though, I managed a couple of lingering Barrow's Goldeneyes on Lake Úlfljótsvatn, a regular adult Ring-billed Gull and an adult Little Gull on the small pond at Bakkatjorn, to the west of Reykjavik, another drake Harlequin at Vik and a bizarre hybrid Wigeon x Mallard. Not as many gulls as I'd have hoped, though local word told me this would be the case down here in the southwest. Off up northwest tomorrow, so hopefully there'll be a few more white wingers to see up there...