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.