Saturday 28 November 2015

Back to the Casps at Dunge today

Last weekend, Porto offered a brief diversion from the regular trips down the M20 to Dungeness. But it was back to business as usual today and mid-morning I was down by the fishing boats at Dungeness. No Mick S or Richard S today, so I was on my own for feeding time. A bucket of fish scraps, cornflakes and twelve loaves of bread were the ingredients for the day.
Long-eared Owl Dungeness RSPB, Kent 28th November 2015
On the RSPB reserve, after seeing a pretty inactive Long-eared Owl (which was thrilling the punters nonetheless), I headed to the Makepeace Hide early a'noon and locked onto my first Caspian Gull of the day, a first-winter. There were a couple of guys who'd gone in there especially to look for the species so I immediately let them know and gave them directions. This was greeted with 'are you sure it isn't a Great Black-backed Gull?' to which I replied very bluntly 'Yes'. I've had this before in RSPB reserves where the needy swivel around and then question those trying to help. Here's the evidence anyway: -
1st-winter Caspian Gull Dungeness RSPB, Kent 28th November 2015
And back in the visitor centre it got slightly better. There was a first-winter Caspian Gull sitting down on one of the islands (different to the bird above, and could possibly have been the ringed Polish bird but I didn't see its legs) while a near-adult bird (with a blackish gonys, retained dark on the tertials and a bit of black in the tail) was busy preening in the water nearby. Once again, I thought I'd be helpful and let people know - this time, the punters were gracious though getting some onto the right island was just the start of my troubles. So I needn't go on to how it progressed from there, but in summary some people probably saw random gulls. Anyway, I genuinely give credit to any birder who regularly birds RSPB reserves - the general level of f*ckwittery I experienced within an hour today drove me back to the solitude and sanctity of my car, and back to the puddles near the fishing boats, where it was just me and the seagulls. And this beauty mid afternoon was the undoubted star of the show: -

1st-winter Caspian Dungeness Point, Kent 28th November 2015
This smart 1st-winter Caspian Gull made it four for the day, and along with four Norwegian Great Black-backed Gulls (including two new rings) that was it. With the wind picking up and a hailstorm darkening the skies, London beckoned.

Tuesday 24 November 2015

Porto weekender

I had a decent weekend the one just gone. Karen and I headed to Porto, largely for a bit of relaxation and to see a new place, but also predictably there was an element of birds thrown in. Unsurprisingly gulls to be precise. That said, I'd genuinely recommend Porto as a really pleasant place to spend do one of those weekend breaks 'normal people' do.

So, this is for me how Porto is set out - everything either happens at the Douro estuary or a few miles up the coast at the port (and beach) of Matosinhos. Loads of gulls mingling about, a pretty dynamic area where no two days would ever be the same. I just got a snapshot of things as my birding was constrained by time but would say the following: -
- Matosinhos was the best site (early mornings as is a roost site before gulls head off for the day)
- Estuario do Douro (from the south side at Praia do Cabadelo) during the day for loafing large gulls
- Foz (along the estuary for small gulls and near the port for large gulls)
- Afurada (along the estuary near the marina for small gulls and a few large gulls)
Other birds seen with zero effort included a large wintering flock of Serins, half a dozen Monk Parakeets and a Black Redstart.
Serin Estuario do Douro, Porto 22nd November 2015
But back to the gulls, and I was pleasantly surprised with what I saw species wise - a sub-adult Glaucous Gull and a second-winter Iceland Gull the main highlights. Also the odd Herring Gull, single Great Black-backed Gulls and Common Gulls, low double figures of Med Gulls plus all the other usual suspects. Ring wise was a bit disappointing but probably down to my lack of time for a concerted effort with just seven found (a Med Gull and Lesser Black-backed Gull from France, a Spanish ringed Yellow-legged Gull and four Lesser Black-backed Gulls from SW England and South Wales). Here's a few shots of the stars involved: -
2nd-winter Iceland Gull Matosinhos, Porto 22nd November 2015
sub-adult Glaucous Gull Matosinhos, Porto 22nd November 2015
adult Lesser Black-backed Gull Matosinhos, Porto 22nd November 2015; ringed in Bristol on 25th June 2006 and regularly recorded in Portugal during the winter and back in Bristol during the summers (and seen on passage at Valdovino, La Coruna in September 2013)
adult Herring Gull Matosinhos, Porto 22nd November 2015
adult Yellow-legged Gull Matosinhos, Porto 22nd November 2015; note the extreme head streaking not unprecedented on Atlantic race birds.
1st-winter Mediterranean Gull Afurada, Porto 22nd November 2015

Sunday 15 November 2015

Thank goodness for rings

It was one of those weekends that, despite things looking promising, didn't exactly pan out as well as it could have. Saturday was spent at Dungeness (in very poor weather) and today I decided to stay a bit more local to home.

Yesterday, despite there being reports of up to 7 Caspian Gulls on the RSPB reserve, my blind faith in the point area meant that I didn't stray there to take a look. And I even managed to miss an adult Caspian Gull at the point! I guess these things happen. Despite loads of bread (and corn flakes) I just had to concede defeat and left Caspian-less. Just four rings too - the faithful Dutch Great Black-backed Gull B4, a new Norwegian Great Black-backed Gull (below) and two Sussex ringed birds (which are next to useless as I never get a reply).
Great Black-backed Gull (J15X) Dungeness, Kent 14th November 2015 - ringed as a chick at Ă˜stre Hillekvistholmen, Mandal, Vest-Agder, Norway on 17th June 2007. Seen at Le Portel beach, Pas-de-Calais, France on 11th September 2007, Boulogne-sur-Mer Port, Pas-de-Calais, France on 29th September 2007 and then back in Norway Brennevinsmyra, Mandal, Vest-Agder on 14th May 2012

And to today. I walked out to the mud my the O2 in Greenwich mid-morning, as that was when it was low tide. A Rock Pipit showed up briefly and had a look around. Easily my best views of this species in London to date; though when it clocked me, it flew off east calling vociferously.
Rock Pipit Greenwich, London 15th November 2015
Plenty of gulls, but there was a Thames Clipper that for some reason had been left here so a little bit of disturbance too. Anyway, the gulls coped - there were two Yellow-legged Gull (a second-winter and first-winter) and a slick looking, white-winged Black-headed Gull. Added to this a couple of interesting Black-headed Gull rings (from Lithuania and Denmark - awaiting ring details) as well as a couple of NTGG Herring Gulls, and it wasn't too bad at all. A check in at Burgess Park didn't produce the hoped for Med Gull that is still yet to return this winter, though the copious amounts of Egyptian Geese now present get more brazen as time passes. Pecking at my ankles when I chucked out bread to the gulls was their new trick today...
Black-headed Gull Greenwich, London 15th November 2015; white-winged though this the only obvious feature that would suggest any Med Gull influence - otherwise a fairly typical Black-headed Gull

Tuesday 10 November 2015

Two Polish ringed Caspian Gulls from Sunday

It was back down to Dungeness on Sunday, and with the previous day being action packed, a mid morning arrival was again planned. Good to strike when the iron is hot, because even if you're reading this now and thinking that Caspian Gulls are ten a penny here, believe me there have been plenty of blank days. Just ask Mick S and Richard S about the long wait they had until the first autumn birds arrived in late September. Admittedly it seems to have been good since then though...

Alan L called up as I was heading down the M20 to say the red-ringed 1st-winter Caspian Gull 65P5 was still about. Armed with a dozen loaves of bread, it was going to be in for a good Sunday lunch with my arrival. And it did indeed duly oblige, deciding to stay in the puddles and point roost area all day - quite a large bird, aggressive at times but still on the placid side for a Casp. Relatively classic, though the central and outer greater-coverts on the pale side at the feather bases.
1st-winter Caspian Gull 65P5 Dungeness, Kent 8th November 2015
Try as we might, despite trying hard for further Caspian Gulls, it wasn't really happening. That is until early a'noon at the puddles where keeping track of 65P5 as it roosted on the shingle ridge, I scanned left and thought I was seeing double - another red-ringed Caspian Gull. Surely not, but yes - and even more remarkable was the ring code of 85P5, just two rings away from the original bird...
1st-winter Caspian Gull 85P5 Dungeness, Kent 8th November 2015
You can see that this first-winter is extremely advanced, and initially I had to double take on its age, largely on the basis of its advanced bare part colouration. Anyway, its certainly a quick developer because when seen at Stanwick GP, N'hants on 10th September it had already extensively moulted through its scapulars and several median coverts. Not recorded since then, but if you were trying to find the cleanest looking 1st-winter Caspian Gull in early November, you'd be hard pressed to find a better looking candidate. A pretty beautiful looking gull!
700 mile straight line distance from the colony at Kozielno, Gmina Paczkow, Poland to Dungeness. Both 65P5 and 85P5 were ringed on 21st May 2015 as chicks in a predominantly Caspian Gull colony.
Anyway, both these birds come from southwest Poland and were ringed by my friend Jacek Betleja - a great guy who spends time and effort ringing his colonies to keep people like me happy in the winter. These two birds could well be siblings, as they were both ringed on 21st May 2015 as chicks. But Jacek commented on that date he ringed 200 chicks, and though the ring sequence is so close, it'll never be known if they're siblings or from adjacent nests - this isn't recorded.

I'll have to do a few photo pieces when I get a bit of free time to edit all the photos!

Saturday 7 November 2015

Casptastic at Dungeness

I thought it'd be good today at Dunge, as it's like many things in birding - the worse the weather, the better the birds. And so I headed down earlier than normal, loaded up with gull feeding material and full of expectations.

It was pretty blowy all day, and so quite rightly decided to do the puddles as sitting on the beach would have been thoroughly unpleasant. There were a few birders about, including Barry W and John T, as well as the usual suspects of Mick S, Richard S and Dave W. And there were lots of gulls too, including at least four, probably five, 1st-winter Caspian Gulls!

Bird number one was a showy bird present on the puddles pretty much all a'noon; typically vocal and aggressive, it was a classic first-winter in every respect. Ridiculously confiding and entertaining, I may need to do a post on this bird on its own.

1st-winter Caspian Gull (1) Dungeness 7th November 2015
Bird number two arrived late on in the day, and was actually the bird I was hoping to get out of the day. Present in the Dungeness area since 27th October, this first-winter was ringed in Poland (65P5).
1st-winter Caspian Gull (2) Dungeness 7th November 2015
Bird number three was again, like all others today, a first-winter and present in the roost late morning. A fairly obvious individual, though greater coverts on the pale side compared to a classic. It didn't allow too close an approach either, nestled in between all the other birds and trying to keep shelter from the wind.

1st-winter Caspian Gull (3) Dungeness 7th November 2015
Bird number four was present mid morning briefly, until it flew off towards the power station. A fairly classic looking bird, with obvious wear in its left wing that was quite distinctive.
1st-winter Caspian Gull (4) Dungeness 7th November 2015
There was another 1st-winter Caspian Gull briefly in the puddles, but it headed off before any meaningful photos could be taken - so could have feasibly been bird number three or four above. However, the beast below (probably number five) was the first 'Caspian Gull' I clapped eyes on this morning, and with Barry W and John T, identified it as such initially. However, when seen in flight its uppertail was rather well marked combined with its blunt bill and mottled central great coverts - probably would be fine if seen distantly in a Midlands gull roost, but given the hybrid context is closer to us than the majority of the real deals then surely we're going to get birds, potentially such as this where there could be a bit of mixed heritage. 

1st-winter Caspian Gull (or hybrid) Dungeness 7th November 2015
There were also four Yellow-legged Gulls (adult, second-winter and 2 first-winters) plus a nice assortment of gulls with bling. Some usual suspects (such as a couple of regular Norwegian and Guernsey Great Black-backed Gulls) but also the 'fish and chip' Dutch-ringed Great Black-backed Gull from last weekend plus a NTGG ringed Herring Gull that I'd stalked from Rotherhithe!
3rd-winter Herring Gull L1GT Dungeness 7th November 2015 - ringed at Rainham in Feb 2014; then seen in Cambridgeshire, northern France and several sites in London including by me in Rotherhithe on 10th May 2015 
And, when a couple of dog walkers ploughed straight through our efforts flushing all the gulls shortly before dusk (and got a deserved tirade of expletives from me), that was it for the day. I really didn't have a reason to be angry given the fantastic day...