Thursday 27 February 2014

Chinese Pond Heron in Kent

I'll keep this one brief, and to the point. On Sunday morning, I was once again near Hythe, Kent waiting in the darkness and overlooking the small urban valley at Turnpike Hill. After a bit of walking about and searching, I called it a day just after 10am as birders hadn't really seen the target, a Chinese Pond Heron, after then on any day.
Chinese Pond Heron at Saltwood, Hythe, Kent 23rd February 2014
So just a couple of hours after getting back to London, this swine of a bird - probably the least predictable indvidual I've had the misfortune to try and twitch - was refound again in gardens on the other side of the village, Saltwood, where I'd been earlier. Previously it hadn't exactly hung around long enough to be twitched any further away from Dungeness, so getting Karen all assembled and ready to head down was a bit of a bold call. Thankfully, despite a couple of negative reports, we arrived there late afternoon with the bird chilling out on a log in the field adjacent to the end of Redbrooks Way. It was present for 20 minutes or so, at a decent distance, before flying back east over the houses when we lost it from view. Obviously very heavily streaked, with a deep orange bill base and quite dark mauve upperparts with some russet coming through on the nape and ear-coverts. Anyway, here's one a bit more advanced in plumage from my travels: -
Chinese Pond Heron at Mai Po, Hong Kong, August 2011

Saturday 22 February 2014

Irish trip day seven - Cork and Kinsale

Our final day of the trip and it was a toss up between going around Galway, which is always nice, or doing some dirty long distance twitching back down to Kinsale, Cork for a nice showy and pink Ross's Gull. The latter won overwhelmingly: -

adult Ross's Gull Kinsale, Co.Cork 22nd February 2014
This was remarkably my first Ross's Gull since one in Plymouth in 2002 (though I did see one disgustingly in Suffolk in 2006), so I was pretty chuffed with the show it put on. Though erratic in its appearances, it did show well by the quay near the Trident Hotel every hour or so. There was also a juvenile Kumlien's Gull present, while nearby at Kinsale Marsh an adult Ring-billed Gull was on the rocky causeway.
juvenile Kumlien's Gull Kinsale, Co.Cork 22nd February 2014
With our flight back to London scheduled for the early evening, there was still time to increase the Ring-billed Gull tally! Popping in at the rather depressing Atlantic Pond in Blackrock, there were a couple of them - an adult and a second-winter. Cork County Council advised not to feed the birds bread, and as an alternative suggested vegetables such as lettuce and celery. Suffice to say, there was floating bits of lettuce in the water that evidently didn't suit the culinary needs of our feathered friends, while abandoning Cork City Council's advice and whacking in a load of brown bread allowed us to eyeball this: -
2nd-winter Ring-billed Gull Atlantic Pond, Co.Cork 22nd February 2014
So onto another top spot, the slipway at O'Callaghan's Strand in Limerick town - within twenty minutes of Shannon airport too. Here there was a nice looking first-winter Ring-billed Gull along with a pretty dopey, placid looking juvenile Iceland Gull.
1st-winter Ring-billed Gull Limerick, Co.Limerick 22nd February 2014
And that was that, the end of another decent trip. Without the mega find unfortunately, despite a lot of trying, but with 14 species of gull including Ross's Gull, Laughing and American Hering - plus 88 white-winged gulls and 11 Ring-billed Gulls - it wasn't too shoddy a week.

Friday 21 February 2014

Irish trip day six - Killybegs and Leitrim

We were on site at Killybegs first thing in the morning, ready for a good day's gulling. The previous evening, loads of trawlers were in and there were gulls swirling in the darkness. Exciting times. This place always gets me excited, as it brings back the good times, and was also part of my first Irish trip back in 1998. Those days of fish guts slopping around all over the place are long gone what with increased health and safety, but it was good to get the car stinking of fish for the subsequent 24 hours for old time's sake.
adult Kumlien's Gull Killybegs, Co.Donegal 21st February 2014
Anyway, as it turned out there were indeed loads of gulls but there was only a small percentage of wingers. We cruised around, spending time at the main pier, Mooney's boatyard as well as looking at the harbour mouth from the other side of the bay. Totals included four Kumlien's Gull (two adults, 2nd-winter and juvenile), 5 Iceland Gulls (adult, 3rd-winter, 2nd-winter and 2 juveniles) and 6 Glaucous Gulls (2nd-winter and 5 juveniles). Most memorable were a couple of the Kumlien's Gulls, a cracking dark-eyed, stocky looking adult on the rocks by Mooney's boatyard and a showy juvenile off the main pier mid-afternoon. 
juvenile Kumlien's Gull Killybegs, Co.Donegal 21st February 2014

It was also good to meet Gavin Thomas on the main pier, where an adult Little Gull was seen distantly - gull species number 13 of the trip.
juvenile Iceland Gull Killybegs, Co.Donegal 21st February 2014

juvenile Glaucous Gull Killybegs, Co.Donegal 21st February 2014
Heading south during the late afternoon, the drake American Wigeon was found on the shoreline at Drowes river mouth, Tullaghan - possibly the only bird I'm ever likely to see in County Leitrim. The hour or so before darkness was spent on a wild goose chase in Sligo, culminating in a couple of nice flocks of Barnacle Geese but little else of note.

Thursday 20 February 2014

Irish trip day five - The Mullet

It was another good day out west today, and we were lucky with the weather too. Anyway, the day was spent on The Mullet and amongst other things one of the highlights was a quick cup of tea at Dave Suddaby's place - gripping tales of where the Cedar Waxwing buzzed about etc etc and a genuinely top bloke. So much quality too, dead and alive. Here's the dead one first.
American Purple Gallinule - found dead at Carne golf course on The Mullet on 2nd Feb 2014. Since then, it has been residing in a freezer awaiting sending it to a museum.
The day started off at Termoncarragh Lake, where a pretty smart drake Black Duck was showing. I like them anyway. A juvenile Iceland Gull was chilling on the lake too. Heading to the south, there was an adult Glauc and juvenile Iceland Gull at Fallmore while nearby in Blacksod Bay the female King Eider showed distantly along with copious amounts of Great Northern Divers and half a dozen Purple Sandpipers.
Juvenile Glaucous Gull, Cross Lough, The Mullet 20th February 2014
Heading back up The Mullet, there were a load of Glaucs still hanging about; the total was well shy of the staggering 40 from last week but there were four (two adults and two juveniles) in the Cross Lough area, and a further seven at Belderra Strand (including an adult, a second-winter and five juvs) as well as a juvenile Kumlien's and Iceland Gull. Annagh beach was quiet, though there was still another beast of a 2nd-winter Glauc. Lobbing a bit of bread out at the harbour in Belmullet town attracted a decent enough adult Ring-billed Gull.
adult Ring-billed Gull, Belmullet, Co.Mayo 20th February 2014
Slightly further east, near Barnatra and Carrowmore Lake we checked out the gulls in the fields mid afternoon and no sooner had we arrived were we confronted by what was presumably the probable American Herring Gull reported a few days ago. The bird seemed to show all the classic in flight traits of the species - all black tail (except for a bit of shelling on the outermost tail feathers), nice greater-covert bar and heavily barred uppertail and undertail. On the deck its tertials were nice and plain brown too. Its primaries though were pale-tipped and seems slightly hoary in terms of its overall colouration. However, this all seems to apparently fit within the variation of a northern, Newfoundland bird. Additionally, the bill was pink-based though feeding in cow shit all day didn't really let you see this feature too well.

Wednesday 19 February 2014

Irish trip day four - Mayo

After the first three days were generally nice and sunny, it was back to typical mid-February Irish weather today. Heading out northwest from Galway early doors, we hit the usual Mayo sites as if it were September... but with no waders. Anyway, south Mayo produced a juvenile Iceland Gull in a field at Devlin South (just south of Roonagh) while the regular female Ring-necked Duck was located on Lough Baum in amongst a group of Tufted Ducks. The winter storms had taken their toll right across the area, with a lot of coastal flooding due to the sea breaching the usual flood defences. Roonagh and Cross Loughs were both really high, and birdless, except for a group of seven or so distant Barnacle Geese.

Heading around Clew Bay and onto Achill Island, things started to pick up. Mayo's never outstanding on the winger tally, but to see six on the golf course at Keel was a bit of a result - 4 Glaucs (an adult and three juvs) and 2 Iceland Gulls (a second-winter and a juvenile).
2nd-winter Iceland Gull Keel, Achill Island 19th Feb 2014

adult and juvenile Glaucous Gulls Keel, Achill Island 19th Feb 2014
Also still present was a rather showy first-winter Ring-billed Gull too. When in need of close views, despite the desolate landscape, just chuck out a bit of bread and see what happens...

1st-winter Ring-billed Gull Keel, Achill Island 19th Feb 2014
Once off Achill, and with the weather really pretty grim by now, there was no sign of the probable American Herring Gull from a couple of days ago near Carrowmore Lake, but the regular drake Ring-necked Duck was chilling out as was an Iceland Gull in the nearby fields. We managed to get ourselves down to Elly Bay on The Mullet for the last hour or so of light, and despite the driving rain, the 1st-winter Forster's Tern was roosting up on the beach and showing quite well. Bizarrely, the same place as I'd seen one 11 years ago almost to the day.

Tuesday 18 February 2014

Irish trip day three - Dingle and north Kerry

Another day of sunshine out here in western Ireland. Having stayed the night in Dingle, it was just a few steps across the road to the harbour for a pre-breakfast mooch about where the first wingers started to reveal themselves. Typically, the beasts from the north were in full effect sniffing out any sort of bullying opportunities. All the juvenile birds up until now had been nice and large, white looking individuals but one of the Dingle harbour juveniles was a bit warmer toned.

juvenile Glaucous Gulls Dingle, County Kerry 18th February 2014
After a few looks around the harbour and the adjacent estuary at Milltown, there were eventually 13 white-winged gulls present - 3 Kumlien's Gulls (an adult and two juveniles), 6 Glaucous Gulls (2 adults and 4 juveniles) and 4 Iceland Gulls (near-adult, 3rd-winter, 2nd-winter and juvenile), as well as a 1st-winter Med Gull.

adult (above) and juvenile (below) Kumlien's Gulls Dingle, County Kerry 18th February 2014
Nearby swoops of the beaches to the west netted a pretty mega 10 Glaucs together on the small beach at Ferriter's Cove - all adults except for a 3rd-winter and a juvenile. Ventry had a couple of Med Gulls, but despite the numbers of birds, little else of note. And this theme continued for the rest of the day, with checks of Fermoyle, Lough Gill (where admittedly there were 3 Pink-footed Geese), Kilshannig, Carrahane, Black Rock, the Cashen Estuary and Tarbert revealing very little. The only exception to this was a late lunch stop at Blennerville where an adult Ring-billed Gull and juvenile Iceland Gull were on the estuary, while the newly built Tralee Wetlands (or perhaps better named boating lake!) produced a couple of showy Ring-billed Gulls, a slightly retarded looking second-winter while another bird that's presumably a 3rd-winter bird: -

Ring-billed Gulls Tralee Wetlands, County Kerry 18th February 2014

Monday 17 February 2014

Irish trip day two - The Beara and The Iveragh

With all the recent storms seemingly distant with the sun shining most of the day, we headed along The Beara peninsular checking a few bays. There was still a juvenile Iceland Gull in Castletown Bearhaven harbour early morning, while the King Eider and same Glaucous Gull from yesterday were at Cahermore. Pallas' Strand at Eyeries was the only other bay on the Beara to hold some decent birds - 2 adult and a 2nd-winter Glaucous Gull. At the head of the bay, at Kenmare, a juvenile Iceland and juvenile Glaucous Gull were seen distantly from the pier.

Onto The Iveragh, a check of the always promising looking Derrynane Estuary near Caherdaniel produced little of note, though a bit further west things started to hot up a bit. In fact, as well a juvenile Glaucous Gull that was head deep in a Guillemot carcass, the first Kumlien's Gull of the day, a juvenile, was on the beach to the west of Waterville; a nicely tail-banded bird with subtle dark pigmentation in the outer primaries.
juvenile Kumlien's Gull, Inny Strand County Kerry 17 February 2014
Just a bit further west at Inny Strand, one of the sites I'm more used to checking on September wader trips, there were an impressive three Kumlien's Gull - two juveniles and a 2nd-winter - as well as another 2 Glaucous Gulls (an adult and a juvenile). The Kumlien's Gulls were again relatively subtle birds, with the chunky 2nd-winter having a bit of ghost mirroring and one of the juveniles the darkest of the day.

two juvenile Kumlien's Gulls (above) and second-winter Kumlien's Gull (below), Inny Strand County Kerry 17 February 2014
Further checks of Ballinskeligs and Portmagee were fruitless, while the usually decent Reenard Point held a single juvenile Kumlien's Gull; the storms that hit recently all came from the northeastern seaboard of the US so it's no surprise that a load of these have been displaced to western Ireland this winter.

Sunday 16 February 2014

Irish trip day one - County Cork

It's February half-term now and that means the standard use of a week's holiday for gulling. This year, like in 2012, it's a little bit closer to home than last year's California trip. So true to form it's another week in Ireland. And with these winter storms, let's see what the damage is. After flying out late last night (after a pointless day seeing naff all in the way of herons in Kent), we hit Ballycotton early doors and encountered the 1st-winter Laughing Gull as soon as we arrived. It then duly obliged with a bit of baiting: -

1st-winter Laughing Gull Ballycotton, County Cork
There were also a couple of adult Glaucous Gulls present. Kinsale was predictably quiet, though there were a couple more Glaucous Gulls (an adult and a nice white juv - typical of a Nearctic origin), and then another Glaucous Gull and a couple of Med Gulls were about at Clonakilty/Ring. Usual stop off points at Rosscarbery and Ballydehob provided zilch in the way of notepadders, though the usual ritual of lobbing out bread at every site paid off at Bantry where a couple of 2nd-winter Ring-billed Gulls decided to take the bait: -

2nd-winter Ring-billed Gull Bantry, County Cork
It's pretty amazing how the same sites attract the same species year-on-year, as these two birds were in the same spot as a nice showy 1st-winter on my trip a couple of years ago. Anyway, back to today, and we headed down to near the end of the Beara peninsular where we managed to find the female King Eider (a mega Cork bird) sheltering in a rocky bay near Cahermore; there was also another adult Glaucous Gull here. It was also interesting and sad to find 1 few auks dead on the tideline, while the storms of the previous week were obvious throughout the day - tidal debris on roads and trees uprooted in loads of places. Back in Castletown Bearhaven, a couple of wingers revealed themselves in the near darkness - a juvenile Iceland Gull and yet another adult Glaucous Gull.

11 species of gull seen today. Not too bad an effort.

Sunday 9 February 2014

Cachinnans weekend fix

Being on a weekend thing with work that spilled over to 1pm on Saturday severely curtailed any meaningful birding that I'd have otherwise got involved in. And that includes going to the tip, although with a puncture from last week, the Land Rover was out of action anyway. Between the writing of the gulls section of the London Bird Report for 2012 and collecting tiles for the refurb of our bathrooms, I managed to grab a few hours out this morning. All the local sites were quiet except for when I spent an hour scanning through the gulls on the flooded fields off Bob Dunn Way, Dartford and came up with this beauty: -

Caspian Gull 1st-winter in flooded fields off Bob Dunn Way, Dartford Marshes, Kent 9th Feb 2014.
So, despite the limited amount of time I had, it was once again another cachinnans friendly weekend. Quite a few bits and bobs turning up too, so may get a little twitchy for Saturday before I head off to Ireland for the week. That should be half decent...

Monday 3 February 2014

Med Gull madness

With nice weather yesterday, I headed out with Karen for the afternoon with the intention of doing something I'd been meaning to do for ages. Go to Southend Pier to papp a few Med Gulls. I wasn't disappointed, with all ages showing well, which included three white-ringed Belgian birds including a bird I'd seen at the tip nearby on 14th December 2014. There was also a nice confiding Shag, as well as a load of Turnstones and a solitary Knot. All in all, a very pleasant afternoon stroll along the Essex seaside. I'd recommend it to anyone.

Med Gull, adults (above two photos), Southend Pier 2nd Feb 2014

Med Gull, second-winters (above three photos), Southend Pier 2nd Feb 2014.

Med Gull, first-winter (above photo), Southend Pier 2nd Feb 2014.

Belgian-ringed adult Med Gulls, Southend 2nd Feb 2014 - the left hand bird (E494) ringed as a chick near Antwerp in 2010 and has spent every winter since birth at Southend Pier (as well as being seen at Rye, East Sussex last April) while the right hand bird was also ringed near Antwerp, as a chick in 2002, and I saw this bird nearby at the tip in December 2013.
Shag, Southend Pier 2nd Feb 2014.

Saturday 1 February 2014

First of the month on the tip

A new month, but the same old habits. Despite the deluges of the week, it was nice and bright today on the tip. To be honest, too bright - for accurately assessing colours but also it's days like today that the gulls are a bit jittery, being disturbed at the slightest bit of abnormality (foxes, dustcarts slamming their doors etc). Though there was a bit of a brisk wind, there still hasn't been any serious cold weather this year and it's starting to tell - with just the one first-winter Caspian Gull noted, along with three adult Med Gulls and a first-winter Yellow-legged Gull. I managed to get 18 rings too, all of which were British (though I did see a Norwegian GBB Gull but it flew off before I could get its ring coding!).

1st-winter Caspian Gull 1st Feb 2014
This interesting third-winter bird (below) did show itself though, and was picked out several times during the morning due to its distinctiveness (both roosting up and in the melee). Though structurally quite squat, with its Herring Gull-like legs and shortish, though parallel-sided bill it did also have a darker grey mantle, a speckled iris, red orbital ring and obvious white mirrors in P9 and P10. I'd speculate that this could be a Herring/Caspian Gull hybrid.

third-winter gull sp. 1st Feb 2014
With gull numbers dropping by early afternoon, and the rather more serious issue of a puncture, we had to leave the tip pretty swiftly. Back down by the cars, amongst Canada Geese, was a White-fronted Goose - a bird that has been lingering in the area for a while. On the way back home, I stopped in briefly at Bob Dunn Way, Dartford where there were a couple of Yellow-legged Gulls but little else.