Monday 29 December 2014

All quiet during the festive period

The holidays are always nice and relaxing when spent here in the UK. The birding has, admittedly, been limited, though I did get time to write the gulls section for the 2013 London Bird Report. Anyway, a couple of visits to Burgess Park and around Rotherhithe haven't revealed any cold weather gems, but I'll keep trying. London's at its (mediocre) best when it acts as an 'urban heat island', attracting birds that have been frozen out from elsewhere. It often takes more than just a couple of days, so hopefully by the end of the week things may start to happen. In the meantime, these were the commonest bird I saw today: -
Ring-necked Parakeet Southwark Park 29th December 2014
That's what happens when you stick to urban London I guess. These beasts, and umpteen Egyptian Geese - they're increasing exponentially it seems! No Med Gull at Burgess Park over the past few visits, and the only thing slightly noticeable is an increase in Shoveler numbers, a handful on Burgess Park on 27th and then 18 today at Southwark Park.

Wednesday 24 December 2014

Delivering Christmas presents in Sevenoaks

I got back from Mallorca late last night, and tasked with a few chores today I started early. Had a couple of pleasant hours in Sevenoaks delivering present to my brother, his wife, my niece and nephews. Genuinely, they live exactly 1.1 miles from Sevenoaks WR and despite much contemplating of driving straight past, I gave in. It was rude not to have a look. Who wouldn't if you were that close?
American White Ibis Sevenoaks WR, Kent 24th December 2014
Having been present a few weeks now, this juvenile American White Ibis sparked a remarkable degree of interest from specific quarters within the hardcore twitching fraternity. As someone who formerly went for dross like this at the drop of the hat, I've learnt that in terms of the listing game this sort of stuff gets you nowhere. African Spoonbill, Purple Gallinule, Spur-winged Plover, Chinese Pond Heron, Cinnamon Teal, Pied Crow... seen 'em all. End result - zero. All nice to see of course, God's creatures and all that. I headed back into London, and drew blanks at Crossness and Burgess Park, where I couldn't even locate the Med Gull. And there was I thinking Mallorca was devoid of birds.

To liven things off, here's an American White Ibis from earlier this year, looking slightly less pissed off in the Texas sun.
American White Ibis High Island, Texas April 2014
Hope everyone has a decent Christmas. What present would I like? A belated one next autumn, an Eastern Crowned Warbler holding out for me please.

Tuesday 23 December 2014

Just a few birds in Mallorca

I've just returned from 4 relaxing days on Mallorca. Bird wise, it was a non event. In brief the birds were relatively uncooperative, I didn't try too hard as a lot of it was standard Mediterranean stuff I'd seen many times before. Mind you, as I was staying in the mountains around Puigpunyent, the hotel grounds held Hawfinch, Cirl Buntings, Black Redstarts and more Firecrests than I've probably ever seen before. So I suppose I did see some birds. Not many gulls though, which is what it's all about. Just a few of these around Alcudia one evening: -
Audouin's Gull Alcudia, Mallorca 21st December 2014
Other than that, I visited Porto Colom where Andy H had given me some nailed on info about where to find Balearic Warblers. And so I parked in the northeast corner of the harbour, then walked along the gravel track (Cami de S'Algar) to the coast. From here I walked south past the cove, and was able to locate about four Balearic Warblers in the low coastal scrub - pretty camera shy though, and with Karen waiting about ready for lunch, I didn't hang around. Lots of Sardinian Warblers, a couple of Thekla Larks and thankfully copious numbers of Song Thrushes. Mediterranean Shags (race desmarestii) were nice and showy in the harbour here too, with good numbers also seen up the coast near Alcudia.
Mediterranean Shag Porto Colom, Mallorca 21st December 2014
Perhaps with a bit more effort, I could probably have seen a few more species, but for some reason this place really didn't inspire me to get out and about birding too much. I'll be glad to get back to London birding in the morning!
adult Yellow-legged Gull Port d'Andratx, Mallorca 23rd December 2014

Wednesday 17 December 2014

A 19 year old Black-headed Gull and another Casp at Crossness

I didn't get round to posting about what I did on Sunday. Mainly because since then, work has taken over and I'm looking forward to the Christmas break come the end of this week. Anyway, I headed off to Crossness where I met up with John A. We had a decent walk around the place, where there were lots of birds - typically nothing too special to start off, with a Greenshank and Common Sandpiper by the outfall, a couple of Little Egrets and Yellow-legged Gulls, and a handful of Meadow Pipits and a Chiffchaff.

The forecast cold weather never really materialised, so there were no thrushes or wildfowl on the move. However, scanning across the gulls on the foreshore on the way back we came across a 1st-winter Caspian Gull; a relatively sturdy, large bird so presumably a male. However, unlike at the tip, viewing distance was an issue for decent shots. And so, happy enough, I headed the short distance to Southmere.

A couple of weeks ago, on 30th November, I'd been there and found a Black-headed Gull with a white ring AVC. With a bit of research, it was a Danish bird and so I emailed Kjeld Pedersen. The bird was still present the Sunday just gone, and so I emailed him again to let him know it was still on Southmere, Thamesmead. Anyway, it transpires that this bird was ringed as an adult in 1997 - so the latest it can have been born was 1995! Amazing stuff, at least 19 years old and still going strong.
Black-headed Gull 'AVC' - ringed in Copenhagen, Denmark as an adult in March 1997; therefore this bird is at least 19 years old.
Remarkably, despite having its ring read over 75 times during its life, it had never ventured out of Denmark - remaining in the Copenhagen area, where it was first ringed (as a female) on 20th March 1997. Interestingly too, there had hardly been any November/December sightings of this bird so perhaps it has previously moved west early winter (just remaining undetected).

Saturday 13 December 2014

More Caspian Gulls on the last tip visit for 2014

Very similar conditions to last Saturday. A nice, crisp day with good light and lots of gulls making the most of the tip's offering. With less than a handful of hours sleep post-Christmas party, there was nothing like the fresh smell of rubbish to wake me up this morning. Admittedly I wasn't at my best today, so it was good to be able to fall back on Steve A's sharpness! There were a total of three 1st-winter Caspian Gulls located - two seen a couple of times over the morning, while another was more brief.

1st-winter Caspian Gull (bird 1) 13th December 2014 - a relatively typical individual with deep brown based greater-coverts, pale underwing and dark centres to the scapulars.

1st-winter Caspian Gull (bird 2) 13th December 2014 - present for most of the morning and similar to the bird above, though larger in size and also greater-coverts paler and more barred.
There was also the reappearance of a distinctive bird from late November - presumably a hybrid Herring x Glaucous Gull, and certainly a bird of northern origin.
presumed hybrid Herring x Glaucous Gull 13th December 2014
A couple of Yellow-legged Gulls, an adult and a 2nd-winter, and an adult Med Gull were also present. Lots of Common Gulls present again, presumably frozen out of their usual foraging areas. I spent a lot of the time sifting through the gulls, looking for rings - 32 in total for today, my second highest total of the season. Mainly local birds, but mixed in were individuals from the Isle of Wight and Aberdeenshire, as well as a couple from Suffolk.
2nd-winter Herring Gull (ringed 5D0B) - initially ringed on the Isle of Wight in September 2013, I then saw this bird in March before its return to the tip today

Monday 8 December 2014

Mediterranean Gull returns locally

I've been popping into Burgess Park a few times over the last month, in the hope that the annually returning Mediterranean Gull would put in an appearance. I've usually seen it by the end of November, but a couple of years ago it turned up into December. So when the first slice of bread was hurled out, the distinctive 'awk' call made me look up and smile... it was back again. For anyone fussed, it's the small lake just off the Old Kent Road; park on Cobourg Road. I got asked 'are you a fed?' yesterday, so do be prepared for Joe Public and/or wannabe gangsters.
adult Mediterranean Gull at Burgess Park, Camberwell, London 7th December 2014
I first found this bird in November 2008, when it was a 2nd-winter, so by my calculations that makes it 7 years old - born in 2007, presumably somewhere a fair way away from London! My only ringed Med Gull seen locally (in Greenwich a couple of years ago) came from Poland and a previous Inner London wintering Med Gull had been ringed in Germany.

On a less pleasant note, the lake at Burgess Park was rife Egyptian Geese - 24 in total, my peak count for the site by a long way. Heinous monsters that look better on the Nile in the sunshine.

Saturday 6 December 2014

A trio of Casps in crisp conditions

I think that cold, clear winter days are my favourite conditions for birding in southeast England. Often with harsher frosts elsewhere, you tend to get the odd cold weather movement down here. And with a decent frost overnight, while trying to scrape the Land Rover, decent numbers of Lapwings were passing overhead.

Steve and I shared the tip today with the NTGG, who managed a couple of big catches ringing a high total of 567 gulls. The gulls for us though started relatively slowly, with just a couple of Med Gulls of note from our first position. It's remarkable what a slight shift in position can do, and it didn't take long for things to start happening, initially with this showy adult Yellow-legged Gull. This was one of three seen, along with a 2nd-winter and 1st-winter.
adult Yellow-legged Gull 6th December 2014
There were a lot fewer gull rings compared to last weekend, suggesting a turnover of birds with the cold weather. Common Gull numbers were up too, often an indicator species as birds only really flood onto the tip when their normal fields are frosted over. About 5 Med Gulls were seen in total, all adults apart from one 1st-winter bird.

It took time, but it did happen, with three Caspian Gulls seen on the tip today. There was a showy 1st-winter bird that remained faithful to a specific area of crap for an hour or so. Quite aggressive, it was seen to chase off intruders as well seen regularly to long call - I'd put the video I took up here if I knew how!

1st-winter Caspian Gull (bird 1) 6th December 2014
A second Caspian Gull - a 2nd-winter - appeared, albeit briefly, and papping it before it headed off revealed that it was green-ringed - presumably a bird from eastern Germany; though unfortunately, it seems like it was just a bit too distant for the ring to be read.
2nd-winter Caspian Gull 6th December 2014. A green-ringed bird, but perhaps just a bit too far for the code to be read with any certainty.
As we came off the tip, there was an area of rubbish where a load of gulls were scrounging while it was being compacted, and in this small group was the third Caspian Gull of the day - another 1st-winter. Slightly larger than the showy individual above.

1st-winter Caspian Gull (bird 2) 6th December 2014.
Finally, there was a leucistic Herring Gull present too - a bit of a Glaucous Gull imposter, though it seems as though this bird was in fact different to a juvenile Glaucous Gull reported nearby during the week.
leucistic Herring Gull 6th December 2014. Very difficult to age leucistic birds, as I learnt last year as a pale iris doesn't necessarily mean this bird isn't a first-winter.

Saturday 29 November 2014

A handful of Casps and copious amounts of rings

A nice bright day today, and with that for some reason the tip was really busy (which often it isn't in bright conditions). With a good area to view both the loafing gulls and the tip face, there was a fair amount of action and a lot of movement of birds too. It was a heavy day for both decent species, but also my single best day for rings - 38 rings read from 7 different projects! Here's a summary: -
- 5 Caspian Gulls (two adults and three first-winters)
- 3 Yellow-legged Gulls (an adult, a near-adult and a first-winter - the near adult bird was ringed at Rainham last winter and has been to France and Switzerland in between now and then)
- 3 Mediterranean Gulls (two adults and a first-winter)
- a pale-winged first-winter bird, presumably of northern origin with some Glaucous Gull genes
- 38 gull rings with 27 North Thames Gull Group birds, two Dutch-ringed birds and others from Sussex, Suffolk, Yorkshire and Cambridgeshire.

No puncture either, which made a change compared to the last three weeks! So all in all, a very enjoyable day that ended with a Kingfisher during a short walk around Russia Dock Woodland, Rotherhithe.
1st-winter Caspian Gull 29th November 2014

adult Caspian Gull 29th November 2014 - note the underside to P10

1st-winter Caspian Gull 29th November 2014 (above two photos) - a dusky bird in comparison to the first photo

Yellow-legged Gull 29th November 2014 - ringed (YY5T) at Rainham Tip, London on 22nd Feb 2014 and then seen at Blaringhem, Nord, France on 27th February 2014 before spending time Ile aux oiseaux de Preverenges, Lausanne, Switzerland from 9th April to 1st May 2014
Dutch-ringed Herring Gull 29th November 2014 - ringed by Kees Camphuysen as a breeding adult on Texel, Netherlands on 25th May 2014. Its nest of 3 eggs this year got predated unfortunately.

Saturday 22 November 2014

Third time unlucky

This is the third week in a row I've visited the tip. And for the third week, the day ended with a flat tyre. Obviously tips are hazardous places with bits of metal and the like sticking out of the ground, but given the last couple of years there have only been a three or so punctures in total, this is real bad luck. And before having to leave prematurely, there were actually lots of gulls but unlike last week, the Caspian Gulls didn't really perform. In fact, there was just one first-winter bird today that disappeared behind one of the compactors and couldn't be relocated. Add to that a 2nd-winter Yellow-legged Gull and half a dozen locally ringed gulls, and that was my lot.
one of several locally ringed Herring Gulls from today - ringed by the North Thames Gull Group

Saturday 15 November 2014

A handful of Casps to kick off the season

It seems that with all those Desert Wheatears last weekend, the winter has now typically set in. And, to be honest, it couldn't come soon enough. The autumn promised a lot with the weather systems in early October, though actually delivered very little except for my bi-annual Eastern Crowned Warbler dip. Gulls are the winter theme, as here in a people saturated southeast England, there isn't really much else to look at that really interests me. I'm fine with that though, as today exemplified.

first-winter Caspian Gull (bird 1) 15th November 2014 - a typical, brute of an individual with a nice clean underwing. Greater-coverts a bit frosty but clearly a fine Casp.
A dreary, relatively mild day on the tip kicked off the season. The ringers were about too, and managed a decent catch of birds. The cannon netting didn't really disrupt the flow of the birds too much today, and with a load of dust carts coming in and out, there was plenty of food for the gulls. And loads of gulls too - more than what we were getting on average last winter. So, with cachinnans withdrawal symptoms, today I was back on it with a total of five Caspian Gulls seen - three first-winters, a third-winter and an adult-type. There were also a similar number of Yellow-legged Gulls knocking about, as well as a Med Gull and a couple of leucistic Herring Gulls. Gull rings were limited to just half a dozen locally ringed birds, but it's actually quite tricky to scan for birds and look at their legs!
1st-winter Caspian Gull (bird 2) 15th November 2014. A cute looking, short-billed and rather short-legged individual with rather advanced bare part colouration and feather wear. I guess it may not have pure Caspian lineage.

1st-winter Caspian Gull (bird 3) 15th November 2014.

3rd-winter Caspian Gull (bird 4) 15th November 2014

adult Caspian Gull (bird 5) 15th November 2014
Already looking forward to next weekend, and the run up to Christmas. At least it's a good excuse not to be able to go shopping on a Saturday.
2nd-winter Yellow-legged Gull 15th November 2014

Sunday 9 November 2014

Another day in Kent...

It's going to be a long old winter with just gulling to keep me going. So with a 1st-winter Desert Wheatear just a short drive out of London on the Kent coast at Reculver, it was rude not to pay it a visit. Josh kindly gave me a lift for what is likely to be my passerine highlight of the autumn, trumping the current contender of Yellow-browed Warbler.
1st-winter male Desert Wheatear Reculver, Kent 9th November 2014
It seems to be the 2014 fashion of being rather harsh on these desert dwelling critters. What with all the long lenses shoved up their rear ends, there has inevitably been a little bit of overkill - the amount of photos on the web between this bird, and the other two (in Norfolk and Suffolk), is a little extreme. But, that said, chats are still pretty good looking, characterful birds that always have pleased the crowd. The way this bird sallied from its rocks was nice to see.
1st-winter male Desert Wheatear Reculver, Kent 9th November 2014
The Desert Wheatears we get here in late autumn - the harbingers of winter - are probably eastern birds from Kazakhstan/Central Asia (races atrogularis/deserti) as opposed to North Africa (race homochroa). And to add a bit of nostalgia to the occasion, it's 20 years since I first saw this species in Britain - on a dull November day, with my Dad, on wasteground by the side of a Morrison's in Blackpool.

Saturday 8 November 2014

Back to the gulls thankfully

It's been a week now since I returned from the Azores. And after enduring a 30 hour journey back from Corvo to London (5 flights and 6 airports later!), I got involved in my usual post October Azorean trip activity - driving overnight to the northeast of England to dip another Eastern Crowned Warbler. At least the gulls still love me though...
1st-winter Yellow-legged Gull at Dungeness, Kent 8th November 2014
And so, with a week done at school already, it was time to start hitting that favourite activity of mine that'll see me through from now til April. Gulling. It didn't start too well, as Steve and I met up for a tip visit but with a flat tyre on the vehicle and nobody about at the workshop to fix it, we headed off. I went to Dungeness, after briefly toying with the idea of seeing a nice cute Desert Wheatear. Down at a blustery Dunge, the highlights were two 1st-winter Yellow-legged Gulls, three ringed birds (including two Scandinavian Great Black-backed Gulls), lots of Kittiwakes moving west offshore and a solitary Great White Egret drive by on the ARC Pit.
1st-winter Great Black-backed Gull at Dungeness, Kent 8th November 2014 - ringed as a chick in Nordjylland, Denmark on 1st July 2014.

Friday 31 October 2014

Azores days 6 and 7 - goodbye to Corvo for another year

So that's it. Another autumn on Corvo done, just writing this from the airport on Terceira before a late flight to Lisbon. It's been another enjoyable one - with the obvious highlight being the Northern Shrike (as well as the en-route Willet). But again, a swine of an Eastern Crowned Warbler has turned up and caught me with my pants down once more. I'll be back in London not soon enough (as TAP are on strike so I've been re-routed via Madrid, and as a result, trying to get back quicker wasn't an option) but if it's there tomorrow then I'll be in Cleveland for dawn Sunday...
Long-billed Dowitcher on the airstrip, Corvo 31st October 2014

But anyway, here's the update from the last couple of days on the rock. And I'll start with today - where a walk around the village fields pre-flight produced a lovely Long-billed Dowitcher on the airstrip. Birds right up until the last, and with a cargo ship seen passing east, sure there'll be some new yanks on the island. Just nobody to find them, as we all left the rock this afternoon.

So what about yesterday? Not much really. Started off at the reservoir, where there was a single White-rumped Sandpiper and a Snow Bunting to show for my efforts. I then headed down into Lapa where there was a Monarch butterfly whipped through, stirring up memories of those halcyon days on Scilly in the 90s - where these orange beasts, and other yanks, were more or less taken for granted. I also located a Chiffchaff in Lapa too, and while this was going on, the Germans had relocated the Scarlet Tanager in Tennessee Valley. For me, despite an afternoon vigil, there was no sign and I descended down into the village as the sun started to set.

With a few hours to kill in Terceira this afternoon, it was rude not to head to the hotspots. The Short-billed Dowitcher at Cabo da Praia made it a double dowitcher day, while other stuff there included single Pec and White-rumped Sands, a couple of Semipalmated Plovers and Euros such as a Redshank, Little Stint and two Curlew Sandpipers. Around at Paul da Praia, there was a female Lesser Scaup and Blue-winged Teal to round things off.

Wednesday 29 October 2014

Azores day 5 - shrike it lucky

The fog was still around this morning, but not as bad as yesterday. So I headed up to the far end of the island and went solo into Lighthouse Valley - the theatre of dreams with records of Golden-winged and Prairie Warbler amongst others. There was, alas, nothing there today amongst the Blackcaps, Canaries, Blackbirds and Chaffinches.

The other guys managed to locate the Chimney Swift from the whale watching hut between Lighthouse Valley and Cantinho but by the time I got there, the fog had closed in and there was no joy. So Jerome and I headed down the middle road, stopping at Poco d'Agua for a bit where I was able to see my first Redpoll on the Azores. Looked pretty standard to be honest. And then I headed up to Pico where, despite a fair bit of effort, I saw nothing. Heading out of Pico though, the Germans were trying to radio through something - in the end, I deciphered that there was a Northern Oriole in Poco d'Agua and they confirmed this. So off I went, getting Jerome in the process.

Needless to say, we both arrived by the road and the bird had flown a minute or so previously. So I then asked 'was it a bright individual?' to which Jurgen showed me a shot on his camera... it was not a bloody Northern Oriole, but the Northern Shrike - an absolute crippler of a bird, a species I'd never previously seen in the US and something I thought I'd be going into the caldeirao to see. I hit the roof, with the cock up in communication. A nervous half hour or so, in wind and poor visibility, was testing but in the end, the sun shone through and the bird duly performed.
1st-winter Northern Shrike (race borealis), Poco d'Agua, Corvo 29th October 2014
Despite being a first-winter, the bird was really vocal - singing continually at times, perched low in the hydrangeas. Pale lores, heavy barring and overall dusky tones to the head and nape were really obvious. I watched the bird for an hour or so, before it headed down the valley and into the gloom. Once again, coming late to Corvo had paid off with the best bird of the season still lingering.

Heading back down to the village, I saw a couple of Collared Doves in the higher fields - a new bird for me here, as the species wasn't about on the island until this year. A stroll around the middle fields late on produced a Tree Pipit (a major bird here) courtesy of Jerome and a perplexing falcon that headed fast over late on has meant a later than expected night.

Tuesday 28 October 2014

Azores days 3 and 4 - foggy on the rock

Yesterday was largely spent in transit getting from Sao Miguel onto Corvo; I ended up briefly visiting a further two islands (Terceira and Faial) on my way here as for some reason, that's what SATA scheduled for me. Anyway the flights were uneventful, as was the birding arounf the village yesterday afternoon. Since arriving here, the whole of the island is covered in fog so places like the caldeirao (where there should still be a Northern Shrike), the reservoir, the upper fields and the upper parts of the ribeiras have been a total write off.

Luckily though, the end of the lower road - Cantinho and Fojo - were birdable to an extent today, so that's where I headed. And in a lucky break, just as I was leaving Cantinho and heading back along the road, the cloud lifted a bit and there was a Chimney Swift flying low over the trees. In true Corvo style - no photo, no bird - so got a few grainy shots on ISO2000.
Chimney Swift over Cantinho, Corvo 28th October 2014
I then headed up into Fojo from the lower road, and slipping and sliding made my way up beyond the white house where I hung about for a while. Pishing away, wading through the Chaffinches and Blackcaps, along came that sweet 'tsip' that is only ever going to be one thing - a Nearctic wood warbler. And indeed it was, a Black-and-white Warbler. But within 10 seconds or so, there was more movement and amazingly another appeared right beside it. Both looking similar, in that they were 1st-winter males, the whole thing must have lasted 30 seconds or so before they both headed off calling across the clearing. Only on Corvo. There have been sightings of Black-and-white Warbler (one bird) in Fojo up until 20th October, with further sightings this autumn of birds in Cantinho and Da Ponte. All, as far as I'm aware, have been 1st-winter males so difficult to unravel how many birds.
Black-and-white Warbler in Fojo, Corvo 28th October 2014
I managed a couple of Chiffchaffs together at the bottom of Fojo, but apart from a healthy total of 4 Woodcocks flushed in the gloom, the rest of the day was effort for nothing. Interesting to note some rather bizarre responses on other social media sites today about vagrant searching in the Azores - seems like those rocked up in their Norfolk armchairs see it as rather easy. Good luck to anyone who tries it out here, as it's tough. And as always, the rewards are contextual.

Sunday 26 October 2014

Azores day 2 - sunny Sao Miguel

The Azores is a funny old place. Every island is different, and with only three flights a week to Corvo (Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays), it was another day for me on Sao Miguel today. To be honest, in other years, I'd have been chomping at the bit to get west but with the tiredness of a hectic week still in me it was nice to chill out at a leisurely pace. I even managed to squeeze in an ice cream this evening.
Western Willet Ponta Degada ETAR, Sao Miguel 26th October 2014
With a full check of the sites in the eastern half of the island, it was obvious that settled conditions equals no birds. Highlights, if that's what you call them, were a female Wigeon and female Teal at Lagoa das Furnas and a female Wigeon at Faja de Cima. However, plenty of opportunities for papping Azorean Gulls were taken, and another Western Willet show - even better than yesterday - made sure I had another nice day. There really is very little that beats getting close to vagrant Nearctic waders. With the Atlantic like a millpond this September, and Ireland failing to deliver, this Willet is the first chance I've had this autumn.
Western Willet Ponta Degada ETAR, Sao Miguel 26th October 2014

I've just had my last supper - a nice bit of local meat with salad - in preparation for the next five days, in the culinary desert that is Corvo. Anyway, hopefully it'll be another memorable trip out on 'The Rock' but we'll see. With a few days of westerly winds and a Northern Shrike (Nearctic race borealis) waiting for me, it could be a lot worse.

Azorean Yellow-legged Gulls at Vila Franca do Campo, Sao Miguel - first-winter (top) and second-winter (below)