Sunday 30 June 2013

Local birding heals the wounds

It's been a week or so since I last posted. The week just gone has been a hard one, as completely unavoidable work commitments meant that I missed what could be my only chance of a White-throated Needletail in Britain - the first bird I've missed (that I feasibly could have seen) for over a decade.

Right, the less said about that the better and time to try and move on. Locally, it has been predictably quiet although the female Long-tailed Duck lingers on, having transferred back onto Canada Water a couple of days ago. Three ringed Herring Gulls have come from different schemes - Suffolk, Sussex and the NTGG - and a Mute Swan I saw this morning seems to have been ringed in Derbyshire or Yorkshire.

This morning, I had a good walk around Crossness, and compared to last weekend, it felt just a tad bit more dynamic. There were a thousand or so Black-headed Gulls, including five juveniles (my first of the year), while adult and 1st-summer Mediterranean Gulls were subtly roosting in amongst them. Three Yellow-legged Gulls (two 2nd-summers and a 1st-summer) were an increase too.

adult and 1st-summer Mediterranean Gulls, Crossness 30th June 2013

Friday 21 June 2013

Still she stays in Rotherhithe

June is always grim round these ends, but having a quality bird, the female Long-tailed Duck, within walking distance of my flat at this time of year has meant only one - I have become a slave to the bird. Before work each day I check on her, after work I have been checking on her and then when I can't find her I worry. Well, not quite, but when she's been absent from Canada Water - just like today - I've checked other areas of the patch to find her. And this evening, for the first time, she was on Surrey Water.

Other goings on in Rotherhithe include one unattached Reed Warbler still singing his heart out by Canada Water station, Common Terns fishing in Canada Water (though no nests occupied at Surrey Water once again), at least two pairs of Egyptian Geese roaming around and good numbers of Sand and House Martins can consistently be found over Surrey Water.

Saturday 15 June 2013

Pacific Swift in Suffolk

I recently got accused of losing it - the impetus to see rares that is (following on from my comments about the Bee-eater in Kent last Sunday). So while the accuser is seeing his owls and woodpeckers in Finland, it was time to put the record straight at 10.45am today.

I had a bad start to the day, going to Tesco to buy some bread, only to find that 'my' Long-tailed Duck that I was going to entice had done a bunk from Canada Water. I got back to Greenland Dock to check out 'my boys' (even Karen realises that when I say this, she knows it's the local gulls). Then came one of those numbing moments when the dulcit tone of the Mega Alert starting to go off, announcing that a Pacific Swift had been found at Trimley, Suffolk at 10.40am.

Within 30 seconds, I was in my trusty Focus and on the road. The adrenalin of chasing a Class A rare was back. Pacific Swift is no Bee-eater, it's no run of the mill dross that is a weekend filler if little else is about - during the day twitches like this are what us boys live for. One hour and 45 minutes later, I pulled in along the lane and parked up with news of the swift's continued presence. I'd only ever been to Trimley once before (for a stonking summer plumaged adult White-winged Black Tern in June '96), but I remembered that it was a fair walk. This time, the walk turned into a jog and to be honest it wasn't too far. But far enough when there's a big bird, that could fly off any minute, at the end of it. Josh J, Matt M, Justin L and Shaun H joined in the fun - including some news that it had done one only to return - but after half an hour or so, we clapped eyes on the crowd and this is what was waiting for us: -

Pacific Swift Trimley SWT, Suffolk 15th June 2013
The bird itself was pretty sweet, nice and scythe shaped with a more attenuated rear end and obvious forked tail compared to the hundreds of Common Swifts. Especially in the sunshine it was obviously browner - not quite Alpine Swift brown, but getting there - and its flight was slightly more laborious, with more leisurely and deeper wingbeats.

I spent a couple of hours on site, just lapping it up. It's not often that a bird turns up these days when I haven't got any other commitments. I managed to get into the hide for a little bit of papping, and the walk back to the car was nicely timed just before the heavens opened. Good to see the likes of John P and Alan C, as it's not often I get dragged out of London on a summer's day these days.

Anyway, Pacific Swift is my first new WP bird of the year, though hopefully I'll get a couple more next month in Egypt. And it has been a bonkers start to 2013 for me on the British scene, what with the Pine Grosbeak and the Svensson endorsed Dusky Thrush. Bring on the autumn for more tickage please.

Thursday 13 June 2013

Visiting a Caspian Gull colony

Two weeks ago I was privileged to visit a 'Caspian Gull colony' in southern Poland with the master of all those green and yellow rings, Jacek Betleja, that all gull fans love to read. I first made contact with him having seen one of his green-ringed birds, 355P, in January last year and he kindly coincided his first visit of the season with my visit to Poland. Late May is an excellent time to visit the colony, with some chicks already hatched, and adults actively feeding them. This colony is located on a grassy island, in the middle of a gravel pit, so there's only one way to get there - Jacek's blow up boat.

The gulls here at Jankowice, near Zator, nest in long grass so you can appreciate that when any ringing takes place all the adults fly off, so you're left with lone chicks. Although I was slightly comforted by the large proportion of adult birds that fitted well within the parameters of Caspian Gull, there were some birds that showed mixed characters (mainly with Yellow-legged Gull). Therefore, with the adults gone, the official line from the Polish Ringing Scheme for ringing these chicks is to call them 'Larus cachinnans colony': -
- chicks ringed in mixed colonies where Larus cachinnans is the dominant species (it is most likely that these chicks are cachinnans, but other species and hybrids are not excluded); this is the most common code, because most colour-ringed birds are from southern Poland, where this species is the dominant one.
Caspian Gull egg

typical Caspian Gull nest scrape in long grass/nettles
Each nest typically contained two chicks, sometimes three

With this breeding colony at a lower latitude than many of the Herrings Gulls that either breed in or visit Britain, this Caspian Gull colony's breeding cycle was more advanced - an explanation for typically more advanced moult of Caspian Gull. The chicks were typically the size of those shown above, though some were rather larger: -
As well as freshwater fish, these gulls are still suckers for human rubbish even within the breeding season. Chicken wings and sausages were just some examples of the detritus that the doting parents bring back for their offspring, with all sorts of rubbish scattered around the nest scrape.

Anyway, Polish Caspian Gulls ringed by Jacek have of course been seen on many occasions in the UK, and have reached as far west as A Coruna in northwest Spain. The older ringing scheme uses green rings with white writing (three numbers and then a P) and the newer rings - easier to read in the field - start with a P and then are followed by three letters. I managed to read 18 different ring combinations, with histories of birds mainly centred in Poland as you'd expect, but also some visiting the Czech Republic, Hungary and Germany.
492P was born at this colony in 2009, and returned again in 2011, as well as having been seen in the local area on a couple of occasions too.
Born in 2009 at this colony, this is the first time PADK has been seen back at its place of birth, now presumably as a breeder. It has been seen several times in southwest Poland, as well as in Budapest, Hungary on 9th March 2011.
This area of Poland also supports most of the country's Night Herons, and it was good to see adults at close range coming into the colony on the same island as the Caspian Gulls.

Monday 10 June 2013

Today's most updated bird nationally is...

Four times! That's how many updates the Long-tailed Duck got today. Perhaps the most updated rarity in the country today, I shit you not. Aside from a couple of Marsh Warblers and a Bluethroat at a popular North Norfolk birdspotting venue, it actually was. A steady procession of London's birders presumably made it away from their desks to have a look at this Arctic waif. I made it back from my cesspit of toil for a mid evening papping session with London's most celebrated birding blogger.

No apologies for even more LTDs. They'll keep coming, perhaps punctuated by the odd Caspian Gull soon enough just to spoil you. Finally sorted out the 1000s that I took at the Polish colony the week before last...

Sunday 9 June 2013

A productive afternoon in Kent

It had been ages since I'd been out of London, and after checking that the female Long-tailed Duck was present on Canada Water (which it was), Karen and I headed out for the afternoon. Fortunately, just as we'd set off into Kent, there was news that a Black Kite seen yesterday was present again. To be honest, I'd pretty much forgotten yesterday's sighting, so it was a real bonus that after a short wait, the bird performed over a picturesque valley near Selling (southeast of Faversham). Excellent views, though the light was poor.

This was only my fifth Black Kite in Britain - following birds on Shetland in June 1997, Hampshire in September 1999, Cheshire in May 2005 and (the Black-eared Kite) in Lincolnshire in November 2006. Admittedly they're dross abroad, but still nice to see. The Yellowhammers and Skylarks singing across the rolling landscape, were also good to see/hear for someone like me stuck in London.

Nearby, after a quick stop in the pleasant town of Faversham, we headed to Oare where Mick S was papping some low flying swifts. I quickly located the 1st-summer Bonaparte's Gull as it roosted on an island on East Scrape. It was distant and inactive, but easily picked up nonetheless, amongst a load of Black-headed Gulls. A 2nd-summer Mediterranean Gull dropped in too, and a scruffy drake Garganey was also present. It must be a good few years since I'd been to Oare, and nice to see it hadn't changed much though the water levels seemed quite high.

Anyway, times have indeed changed as back in the day, I'd have been all over a Bee-eater within an hour or so of me. But today, I'd had enough of this twitching lark and headed back to London, where sure enough another check of the patch revealed nothing new though the Long-tailed Duck was still about this evening.

Saturday 8 June 2013

New for Rotherhithe - Long-tailed Duck

I had a relaxed morning, with just a brief look at the usual congregation of gulls on Greenland Dock. Having started to do a bit of writing up of the gulls section for the London Bird Report 2011, the fine weather tempted me out early afternoon. I needed to go to the shopping centre on my way to Crossness (to get some new passport photos as I've ran out of pages in my current passport!), so did my usual check of Canada Water in the unusually glorious sunshine. It wasn't on the first scan, but pretty soon after, that I picked up a Long-tailed Duck - patch gold! The same bird as seen in Peckham last Saturday to Monday, and then found on Greenwich Park yesterday evening, this mobile female was a welcome find and obviously the first for Rotherhithe.

Having found it mid afternoon, I returned later in the evening to get some photos in a different light. Like in Peckham, it showed well so I managed some decent photos in the changeable light. So as well as this Arctic duck, Rotherhithe was full of birds - four Common Terns on the platforms of Surrey Water, three Egyptian Geese, Reed Warbler, a couple of Sand Martins and plenty of large gulls.

No apologies that this one showy bird has monopolised the last three posts! And if it's still around tomorrow, sure it'll feature again.

Wednesday 5 June 2013

Homage to Peckham's Long-tailed Duck

June in southeast London really isn't the time or place for a Long-tailed Duck. But this lost female was still about on the lake at Peckham Rye Park on Monday evening, still showing well, so I headed back there after school. Arriving at c.7pm, I was hoping that there'd be a little less glare than on Sunday where the white plumage was burnt out a bit on my photos. There was less glare, but there was also a reduction in light and shutter speed.

Yesterday I stopped off at Peckham Rye Park with Josh J before our weekly game of footy, and unfortunately the bird had done one. Mind you, you'd really have to know the size of the so called 'lake' to appreciate that any self-respecting Long-tailed Duck would have been long gone from there soon enough. It was fun while it lasted.

Sunday 2 June 2013

A crazy Long-tailed Duck in Peckham today

The day started with apathy, turning over when the alarm went off as I saw the bright sunshine coming through the curtains. Sunny weather usually means nothing at Crossness, but eventually I rose and got my sorry butt out there. And nothing was what I got, unsurprisingly given the sunshine and time of year. Well, I head a Mediterranean Gull somewhere above and a couple of scummy looking Yellow-legged Gulls dragged their sorry selves along the Thames foreshore. John A also found a Green Hairstreak, a first for the site which was nice enough.

Back in Rotherhithe, large gulls peaked at 125 on Greenland Dock including a NTGG ringed bird. And that was it, so I thought. But while doing the weekly shop in Tesco, I got an email saying that a local guy had seen what he thought was a Long-tailed Duck on the small lake at Peckham Rye Park yesterday. And the photo attached showed he was right... so after a couple of hours of chilling, Karen and I made our way  the 10 minutes or so there. Easy enough, there it was straight away just chilling out on the lake though outrageously unseasonal, but a full set of wings and no leg rings suggest its occurrence is just one of those things. John A arrived a short while later and we both papped this confiding bird, though the bright sunlight and dark water ensured too much glare unfortunately.

Long-tailed Duck - favouring a park lake in Peckham over the Arctic. Total madness!