Sunday 22 June 2014

Summer (gull) loving

It's definitely that time of year where if you're not up for a bit of birding boredom, you start looking at flowers and the like. And here in London, it's not exactly full of breeding birds either. I watched a pair of Oystercatchers today and yesterday at Crossness, feeding their single young copious amounts of worms while Shelduck ducklings in their 'nurseries' are always nice enough. So the highlights of a couple of visits to Crossness this weekend - a 3rd-summer Yellow-legged Gull and a Little Egret. Pretty slim pickings.

But, as usual, there is always something to be found amongst London's skanky non-breeding, immature gulls that loaf about places such as Rotherhithe and Crossness at this time of year. Nothing yet in the way of interesting species (but I'm grilling all those Black-headed Gulls at Crossness) but the rings are starting to come in again after a dearth of sightings in April/early May.
Great Black-backed Gull KK2T - photographed in Rotherhithe on 17th June 2012. Looks rather more mature these days...
Along with a handful of locally ringed 1st-summer Herrings Gulls, I saw a 3rd-summer Great Black-backed Gull at Crossness last Sunday. Seems like I've been stalking this bird. LK2T was ringed at Rainham as a 1st-winter on 17th December 2011. I saw it for the first time on the mud off the Hilton Hotel, Rotherhithe on 16th and 17th June 2012, then at Crossness on 7th September 2013... with nobody else having reported it at all. This either shows the lack of observers watching gulls in London (away from places like Rainham and Beddington), or that most people probably have better things to do with their time. Make your own mind up I suppose.

Sunday 15 June 2014

Short-toed Eagle in East Sussex

When I'm abroad and a big bird turns up (a mega, not literally), I'm always relieved when it's a species I've seen before. This was the case a couple of weeks back when Britain's third Short-toed Eagle was found on a Dorset heath. It lingered there for most to see it, while the intervening period saw a case of 'I've seen a Short-toed Eagle', 'no, I've seen a Short-toed Eagle', 'no I've seen a Short-toed Eagle' from East Sussex to Essex to Cambridgeshire. Most of these, inevitably, stink of the proverbial.

Anyway, as it turned out, the bird seen in Ashdown Forest, East Sussex earlier this week had probably remained there all along because early afternoon today, it was still there and news was whacked out...

When news broke, I was not primed to go straight away. Heading in the wrong direction in fact - up the M11 with Karen in the direction of her parents. However, having done what was necessary there, Karen and I were heading back south and around the M25, hitting Ashdown Forest at 5.30pm. This wasn't a place I was too familiar with, and bizarrely the first time I'd ever been to this beautiful part of southern England. Lucking out on pulling into a car park just as a group of birders were zooming off to Long car park, we tagged along, then parked and made our way across the heath to where the bird was perched.
Short-toed Eagle Ashdown Forest, East Sussex 15th June 2014. The same bird as seen previously in Dorset and Hampshire.
A lovely evening twitch to be honest - ended up tracking the bird for an hour or so, watching it rotate its head around almost full circle as it tracked everyone. The bird seemed pretty faithful to the small valley to the west of the Long car park, and as far as heathland habitat goes with a load of reptiles and small birds, I imagine it has once again found a decent place. 
Short-toed Eagle Ashdown Forest, East Sussex 15th June 2014.
Just like last weekend's Spectacled Warbler trip, I'd also seen this species before in Britain - I remember the nervous wait as the first British record of Short-toed Eagle, on Scilly, rose over Great Ganilly before seeing it later on over the boat between St.Mary's and St.Martin's. In certain ways, these 'non-pressure' twitches for species I've seen before are the best. Or perhaps I'm just getting old and hardcore twitching is either a young or a severely autistic man's game!

Sunday 8 June 2014

Enjoying the Spectacle

1992 seems a long time ago. That was when the first Spectacled Warbler was at Filey. I didn't see that one (though I did see a Sardinian Warbler there the following year),. The Porth Meudwy car crash seems like another life time, and so does my only previous British Spectacled Warbler - a mad dash to Landguard in 1997 while I was doing my GCSEs. So, yes, it has been a while... and like many other species these days, Spectacled Warbler doesn't carry the aura it once did 'back in the day.

Spectacled Warbler Burnham Overy, Norfolk 8th June 2014
However, having had two really dross days at Crossness - with highlights being 3 Teal and a Peregrine - and having missed the Short-toed Eagle twitch while I was in St Lucia, I really needed to see something half decent. The annual June/July build up of 1st-summer gulls has started to get me going, but they're not ticking all the boxes just yet.  So venturing out of London just after midday I headed up through the sunshine to the North Norfolk coast where, after a pleasant walk eastwards along the seawall from Burnham Overy Staithe, I clapped eyes on this vocal, diminutive warbler in the dune slack.
Spectacled Warbler Burnham Overy, Norfolk 8th June 2014
To be honest, I really enjoyed it - no pressure, a small Sunday afternoon crowd and a naturally showy bird. It's relatively scratchy song and scolding contact call was good to hear too.