Sunday 30 March 2014

Last tip visit of the season

It was warm and sunny yesterday when I visited the tip for what will probably be the last time of this winter period. Late March can be a bit hit or miss gulls wise, but it turned out pretty well in the end. A couple of new birds caused a bit of a headache identification wise, while the gull detective work that often follows - tracking down ringing schemes - was also rather lenthy. But all worthwhile with a juvenile Iceland Gull, two Caspian Gulls (first-winters, one Polish-ringed), two Yellow-legged Gulls (first-winters, including a Swiss ringed bird) and half a dozen Med Gulls (including a displaying pair) recorded. Added to this, 16 gull rings included 3 Norwegian Great Black-backed Gulls plus the Swiss and Polish birds mentioned above.
juvenile Iceland Gull Essex 29th March 2014 - the usual bird that has been present the last month or so

Caspian Gull Essex 29th March 2014 - green-ringed P323. Ringed at Kozielno near Paczkow in south-central Poland (near the Slovakian border) in a colony of 300 nests, mainly Caspian Gulls and a few Yellow-legged Gulls. The chicks that were ringed had a 90-95% chance of being a Caspian Gull. Note the shorter and stubbier bill than you'd expect.

1st-winter Yellow-legged Gull Essex 29th March 2014 - ringed in Switzerland last year, most likely from Lake Neuchatel
1st-winter Yellow-legged Gull 29th March 2014 - A real brute of a bird. The barred uppertail-coverts and rump and pale inner primary window, however, are at odds with the usual expectations of this species.
1st-winter Great Black-backed Gull Essex 29th March 2014 - ringed as a chick at Leiholmen, Mandal, Vest-Agder, Norway (58°00'19"N 007°38'54"E) on 6th July 2013.
 Today was spent locally, where a brief rest from a day of work, produced a Sand Martin over Russia Dock Woodland as well as a few Blackcaps and Chiffchaff singing.

Thursday 27 March 2014

1st-winter Yellow-legged Gull up close in Rotherhithe

On the way back from the Hume's Warbler on Sunday, I had a quick look in on the dock that my flat backs onto. It's normal pretty quiet, but a 1st-winter Yellow-legged Gull was a nice surprise and a real performer. Here's a few shots: -

1st-winter Yellow-legged Gull Greenland Dock, Rotherhithe 23rd March 2014

Sunday 23 March 2014

Hume's Leaf Warbler at Ramsgate

If at first you don't succeed, try again. So that's what I did today. A couple of weekends ago, I headed to Ramsgate for the afternoon and failed to locate the Hume's Leaf Warbler that had been overwintering in the cemetery there. So with carte blanche for the day, following a moderate lie in, I headed east once again. And, unlike last time, there was success - within a minute or so of arriving no less.
Hume's Leaf Warbler Ramsgate, Kent 23rd March 2014
This is the first Hume's Leaf Warbler I've seen for a decade, and mirrors the first one I saw - at a similar time of year and also in a cemetery - in Great Yarmouth in 1995. Nice to hear it too, with a call that was still disyllabic like a Yellow-browed, but lacked the far carrying pitch and the obvious downward drop of the end note. Though a pretty scruffy looking thing, and looking bright in the sunlight, it was pretty drab/pallid-toned and its tertials were dark-centred.

Little else of note for the day, though a 1st-winter Yellow-legged Gull on Greenland Dock when I got home performed rather well in the sunshine.

Saturday 22 March 2014

First Wheatears as spring continues

It was once again nice to get up early and see the sunshine. London's a quiet place early on a weekend morning, and so it was that I had a relaxing walk at Crossness today. As soon as I arrived, the first Chiffchaffs were singing away - ten recorded in the end - and the female Garganey was still showing with Teal by the outfall; quite bizarre the length of its stay this time of year. A Greenshank was also still lingering on, in amongst the Redshanks, while the undoubted highlight were my first Wheatears of the spring, five in total - including four males - showing nicely in the paddocks.
male Wheatear, Crossness 22nd March 2014

Sunday 16 March 2014

Ducks and duffer chaffs

Some days, it's a bit of a toss up what to do. I wanted to hit Crossness again, but just needed a bit of a lie in really. And waking up to the sun's rays, I decided to go do a bit of shameless papping in North London - Grovelands Park to be precise. The redhead Smew was quickly located, diving frequently in the shallows; a bizarre sight to see in urban London, and as seems to be the case with park birds, the unknown origin caveat has been whacked onto it.
redhead Smew, Grovelands Park, London 16th March 2014
A couple of pairs of Mandarins were also about, pleasing all the punters out and about on this sunny day, including Karen. So after an obligatory ice cream, we headed off west to Ruislip Lido. After a bit of time where no Chiffchaffs had been singing, a couple burst into action and there was a stuttery bird that let out a few Iberian-esque crescendos mid-song, before going straight back into a normal Chiffchaff routine. Possibly the bird from the morning, but for sure I didn't hear anything too convincing. And so I left, with another weekend gone and the week's slog ahead of me.

Mandarin Ducks, Grovelands Park, London 16th March 2014

Saturday 15 March 2014

First signs of spring in London

Given the weather of the last week or so, with all those winter storms behind us, spring does seem to be on its way. I'm not going to get ahead of myself as we're only just in mid-March, though a lot of birds are singing away and this morning I recorded my first spring migrant of the year - a showy female Garganey at the outfall at Crossness. They're just about annual these days here, so to see one so soon into the year was decent enough.
female Garganey, Crossness 15th March 2014
Other than that, there were typically loads of birds but with not much too special mixed in - 3 Green Sandpipers, 26 Wigeon, 300 Teal, a NTGG-ringed Black-headed Gull and a Song Thrush the highlights other than the star duck. No Wheatear, no Sand Martin but for sure they'll come some day soon.

Saturday 8 March 2014

Sunny tip gulling

Usual routine once again, and not too sure how many more visits to the tip there'll be before all those spring migrants come hurtling in and attention is diverted elsewhere. Well, to be honest, British birding in spring is exceptionally hit and miss so I'm pretty happy to just stick to the gulls for now. Admittedly with the sun shining today, it didn't really feel like tip watching weather but last week's juvenile Iceland Gull was still around, as was the regular leucistic Norwegian-ringed Great Black-backed Gull. Three or four Med Gulls were also bombing about, including a 1st-winter, but gull numbers were down on the previous week.
On the way out of the tip, I stopped off at Wat Tyler Country Park and saw a rather uninspiring 1st-winter Spoonbill, as it roosted in the creek by the marina, along with a Spotted Redshank.

juvenile Iceland Gull, Essex 8th March 2014 - same bird as last weekend
It was also the first time the NTGG were able to get up to the tip this year, a combination of lack of staff on the tip and this winter's bad weather. They managed three catches, with the third including a nice adult Med Gull.

Saturday 1 March 2014

Iceland, Caspian and Med Gulls on the tip

After a week of work, and the joys of a week on the road in Ireland well behind me, I was back into my usual Saturday routine today. So back on the tip three weeks on, things had changed a little as you'd expect. Lesser Black-backed Gulls were present in larger numbers, as were Common Gulls, and the odd mute wintering Med Gull had transformed into over a handful of vocal, hooded birds. There were also a load of rings including the dominant North Thames Gull Group red ringed birds, but also a couple from Milton Tip/King's Lynn and also two GBB Gulls from Norway.

Pride of place today though goes to a lovely, smokey juvenile Iceland Gull that came in late morning and was then present on and off until mid afternoon; at times it showed to just a few yards in the sunshine and was actually the first one on the tip for nearly a year and a half.

juvenile Iceland Gull 1st March 2014
There was also just one Caspian Gull, a first-winter, but what was lacking in quantity was recompensed by views of this hefty looking bird, presumably a male: -
1st-winter Caspian Gull 1st March 2014
Amongst the crowd, there was a familiar individual - the leucistic first-winter Norwegian-ringed Great Black-backed Gull. Ringed as a chick in Mandal, Vest-Agder on 20th June 2013, this was the first time I'd seen it since 18th January (having first seen it on 21st December 2013). It showed exceptionally well today, at times alongside the juvenile Iceland Gull: -

leucistic 1st-winter Great Black-backed Gull 1st March 2014 (with Iceland Gull, below)
Mediterranean Gulls too were putting on a performance, with at least six including this Belgian bird that I'd seen at Southend Pier on 2nd February (and back at the tip in December 2013). There was also a 1st-winter Yellow-legged Gull too.
adult Mediterranean Gull 1st March 2014
I'm already looking forward to next week, as give it a month and the majority of these gulls will have headed off back to their breeding areas, and that'll be that for another gull watching season.