Saturday 17 December 2016

Gulls in the hood today

Another day of London gulling - this time in the fog and good to be out with Jamie and Dante again. From the grotty Silvertown area of east London to Burgess Park that fronts the notorious North Peckham estates, I had a great time with the larids!
1st-winter Caspian Gull Lyle Park, London 17th December 2016
First off was Lyle Park, where the regular 1st-winter Caspian Gull 'Lyle' was hanging out early on; there was also an adult Yellow-legged Gull while a re-visit later on produced another first-winter Caspian Gull, this time a more marginal bird with a relatively stubby bill and in flight a fairly decent sized tail band (not inconceivable that there is some Herring genes in its lineage).

Thames Barrier Park didn't really have many large gulls today, but there was an adult Mediterranean Gull (metal ringed) and an oddball, aberrant Black-headed Gull with largely white primaries - saw this bird at the O2 today too, which shows the way birds commute between the sites.

aberrant Black-headed Gull Thames Barrier Park, London 17th December 2016
We visited the mud at the end of the O2 in North Greenwich too - typically a fair number of gulls but being more upriver than the other two sites, it seems to not get as many Casps and today was no exception! Highlight was seeing the regular NTGG ringed Herring Gull V9FT and a 1st-winter (presumably its offspring?) still begging for food!
adult Herring Gull with 1st-winter begging for food at North Greenwich, London 17th December 2016
Once the mud had all gone and the Thames gulls had departed, I headed south and gave Burgess Park a punt. I only had a look for the Mediterranean Gull a couple of times last winter (without success), and had already failed once this winter too, so I was pretty happy to find it back - thought it was probably dead! So as I first found it as a second-winter in November 2008, it is now a grand 10 years old... 

adult Mediterranean Gull Burgess Park, London 17th December 2016

Sunday 11 December 2016

Dusky Thrush - shameless twitching in the Chatsworth estate

I headed out of the smoke early this morning with Jamie P and Steve A, with a mission to see the Dusky Thrush in Derbyshire. It is a species I saw lots of in Japan last winter, as well as single birds in Belgium and Kent previously. Despite this though, the notion of a pretty much gimme Dusky Thrush within three hours of London was too much to resist. So off we headed north, arriving at the 'park and ride' at Chatsworth House just outside the village of Beeley.

Beeley is a pretty lovely village, and its narrow streets weren't exactly ideal for the anorak clad masses, including an ever increasing bunch of geriatrics, to park. So the kind locals sorted out a much better alternative and laid on a complimentary bus service courtesy of the wonderfully hospitable Dukes Barn. And it was within the grounds of this place that we all stood to overlook a small apple orchard - which thankfully didn't have any bookings for kids the week just gone and therefore access was possible. What's more, while the crowd waited, every twenty minutes or so there was an offering of bacon and sausage sandwiches - very nice and British!

Anyway, the first-winter female Dusky Thrush was showing on arrival as it was tucked up in a tangle of branches. It was fairly elusive, and ended up showing itself fairly well on three occasions during the morning - either on the ground pecking for earthworms or on one occasion landing nicely on a tree at fairly close range: -
Dusky Thrush Beeley, Derbyshire 11th December 2016
Certainly brighter than the Kent bird, but then again it would be if you compare December vs May. Although if this individual decided to head south and winter in Spain or Morocco, I doubt there'd be too much in it come May next year. But anyway, a really nice bird and good to see a few people; crowd behaviour was good although I think a fair number of the crowd probably needed to get hearing aids as the noise level was absurd at times. And extra value was provided by some chump taking some shots of a Redwing early on and asking 'is that it?', followed two minutes later when he declared a flyover Kestrel as a Sparrowhawk because it has 'rounded wings'. Not really sure what he got out of the whole experience but anyway, here are a couple more shots of this mega Asian thrush...

Saturday 10 December 2016

Caspian Gulls and gulling in London

Things have changed a bit on the gulling front this winter. It seems as though Pitsea is on its way out, and with just a handful of trucks going up there on Saturday mornings, I haven't been there for a couple of months. Similarly, Rainham is not what it used to be but that has been happening for a few years now. The government's push for more incineration of waste has meant our gulls don't have those dumps to scavenge on.

On a much more positive note, and perhaps slightly related to the above, there do seem to be a lot more gulls around within 'zones 1 to 3' (tube map wise). The O2, which is a spot I've been doing regularly for a few years now, combined with a couple of sites slightly further east on the north side of the river - Lyle Park and Thames Barrier Park - have been decent recently. But add to that, and what is really great, is that there are two other (younger!) gullers who are doing some damage - namely Jamie Partridge and Dante Shepherd. It genuinely is nice not be be ploughing a lone furrow. In fact, it seems like there have now been nine Caspian Gulls in this area since September...

Anyway last Sunday and today, this beautiful and crisp 1st-winter Caspian Gull was favouring the foreshore at Thames Barrier Park (and earlier at Lyle Park) - enjoying a bit of bread at times too. You get some Caspian Gulls that are just fine to see, while others are quite memorable like this gorgeous thing. Really bright light last weekend in contrast today where it never actually got light!

Caspian Gull 1st-winter Thames Barrier Park/Lyle Park 4th December 2016
Caspian Gull (1st-winter) Thames Barrier Park 10th December 2016 (same bird as above)
A visit to Lyle Park this afternoon produced another 1st-winter Caspian Gull, significantly more advanced in moult on the coverts compared to the bird above: -
Caspian Gull (1st-winter) Lyle Park 10th December 2016 (new individual)
There were also three Yellow-legged Gulls today, an adult and two first-winters. And a few North Thames Gull Group rings - first-winter Herrings that had been ringed at Pitsea in November.

Monday 5 December 2016

Masked Wagtail in Pembs - early December treat

I've always been one for going and having a look at things, tick or no tick. And when a Masked Wagtail turned up in Pembrokeshire midweek last week - the first for Britain no less - it all sounded like a plan for the weekend. Instead of being in Central Asia, this individual looks like it has chosen the village of Camrose (just north of Haverfordwest) to spend the winter...

It was certainly a showy thing, frequenting the road and adjacent gardens/rooftops in typical Pied Wagtail-style. Well worth the 2am start and a team of 5 up - cheers to John, Josh, Jerry and Graeme for the company. As well as the obvious black facial mask, check out the extensive white in those wings!
Masked Wagtail Camrose, Pembrokeshire 3rd December 2016
Another quality bird to add to the autumn of 2016 - interesting to speculate where it made first landfall, having presumably filtered through the country since arriving in that October mega eastern invasion along with all those Siberian Accentors.

Wednesday 30 November 2016

Denmark, France, Guernsey, Iceland, Netherlands, Norway and Wales

Well, at least the title got you reading! Just come back from a weekend trip to Porto (and Vigo) like I did this time last year. I had a couple of hours on the beach at Matosinhos, near Porto and came up with seven rings, all from different countries. Still awaiting a few details but the following gives you a decent picture...

No white-winged gulls this trip, but if anyone enjoys a combination of gulling and a pleasant city give Porto a go. Here are a collection of united nations Lesser Black-backed Gulls (7 countries) all on the same Portuguese beach on Saturday.
1st-winter Lesser Black-backed Gull - Norwegian. Ringed near Bergen this summer, and present in Portugal since October
adult Lesser Black-backed Gull - ringed in SW Iceland in May 2007, winters each year in Portugal and has been seen back in Iceland during the summer too

adult Lesser Black-backed Gull - ringed at Chouet landfill, Guernsey a couple of years ago, this is the first sighting outside of the Channel Islands
1st-winter Lesser Black-backed Gull - ringed on a Cardiff rooftop in July, this bird has been about in Portugal since October

adult Lesser Black-backed Gull - ringed in Denmark, still awaiting the details...

adult Lesser Black-backed Gull - Dutch ringed, still awaiting the details but most likely from the Texel colony

1st-winter Lesser Black-backed Gull - French ringed, details still awaiting (and knowing the majority of French ringing scheme coordinators, it'll be a while!)

Saturday 12 November 2016

Dungeness today - back with the Casps

I must have been to Dungeness over a dozen times since August. Every one of those times I have been, I drew a blank on the real target and love of mine - Caspian Gulls. They were being seen the day before, the day after and it wasn't for the want of trying. But today, in really grim weather, it all changed... and those sweet white-headed beasts from the east returned with a vengeance. Four 1st-winter birds came down to the offerings between mid-morning and dusk, while I sat in my warm, dry car.
Bird 1
Was the first one that came in - present for 15 mins or so mid/late morning: -

Bird 2
Stuck about most of the day - first seen by the fishing boats in the roost there before coming in to the puddles all afternoon: -

Bird 3
Present at the puddles briefly early afternoon. A fairly mucky looking bird: -

Bird 4
Came into the offering mid to late afternoon and stuck about a bit: -

There was also a rather dopey looking 1st-winter Yellow-legged Gull present mid to late afternoon: -

All good stuff, and feels nice to be back among the Casps.

Sunday 6 November 2016

Cliff Swallow at Minsmere - some dirty twitching

News broke on Friday night of a Cliff Swallow at Minsmere, Suffolk. With Saturday going to be a day of having just the gulls for company as it now turns all wintry, this swallow sounded like a pleasant diversion. And so to secure some views, an early start from London with Josh and Staines was required.

I'd previously seen a Cliff Swallow hawking over Porthellick, St.Mary's, Scilly on a sunny autumnal day in September 2000, as well as countless birds on most of my US trips. So what was the point in going to Suffolk and sacrificing on all the sleep? I don't know really, but I felt compelled to as soon as the news broke. It was either this, or chance an Eye-browed Thrush much further away in Northumberland. But with the onset of winter, I genuinely felt that as it was a weekend it'd be rude not to eek out the last bit of quality from this autumn. And, up until yesterday, it was going to be the first autumn since 1994 where I hadn't seen an American landbird. Which saddened me.

And so in all its glory, the Cliff Swallow got up with its seven Swallow companions (did check for erythrogaster but still we await our British first) and showed itself well in bushes behind the visitor centre. With over a couple of hundred in the crowd, must admit that none of the usual twitcher bashing was needed; bar the odd person getting in each other's way, the whole event was harmonious and a decent mainland twitch.
Cliff Swallow Minsmere RSPB Reserve, Suffolk 5th November 2016
I couldn't resist going down to Dungeness after the swallow, hopeful that the northerly winds and dropping temperatures would have enticed more gulls in to the beach. But that wasn't to be - there was a distant 1st-winter Caspian Gull on the reserve from Firth Hide but bar a couple of Great White Egrets, a Cattle Egret, a redhead Goosander and an adult Yellow-legged Gull pickings were rather slim. Though I did manage to read a Danish Lesser Black-backed Gull ring after 20 minutes of trying! Success all round.

Friday 28 October 2016

Beasts from the east - October 2016

For many people, this autumn has been full of good birds - the run of easterlies has been mind blowing, especially for those based in Norfolk northwards. Here in London, and for those based inland or on the south coast, it has been a world away. Very quiet, with just the gulls as usual for company.

Anyway, I did make it out for two good birds - the first of these being a superb Eastern Crowned Warbler, a real nemesis of mine as many of you will already know. I was on Corvo for the first one in Trow Quarry, Durham in October 2009 - only to fly back and dip on the Sunday morning. The second one, in Hertfordshire in October 2011, was trapped and ringed and never seen again - though I did get to the site and record another dip. There was a sense of deja vu for the third one at Brotton, Cleveland in October 2014 - again I was on Corvo, flew back and predictably dipped on the Sunday morning. So the fourth British record of Eastern Crowned Warbler, at Bempton, Yorkshire this October meant I was able to put the wrongs of the past to right. And what a superbly showy bird it was; probably in my top 10 birds I've seen in Britain and Ireland as loads going on with it, both subtle and obvious, as it fed in the sunshine and showed superbly. 5,432 miles travelled in the end for this species - 3,768 by air and 1,664 on the road!

Eastern Crowned Warbler Bempton, Yorkshire October 2016
It's now fairly old news, but the massive influx of Siberian Accentors into Europe this October has been the main event. As of today, there have been 170 seen - with 11 in Britain following the first British record on Shetland earlier this month. In over 20 years of twitching, I've never seen a species' status change so much following a single influx. Nevertheless, despite being somewhat devalued, I am not totally sure I'll ever be seeing another one over here and if there is a wintering bird somewhere accessible I'll be sure to go and take a look. Like the warbler above, this Siberian vagrant was absolute quality.
Siberian Accentor Scousburgh, Shetland October 2016
And so as October seems to be wrapping itself up with Isabelline Shrikes and Desert Wheatears, there goes another autumn's offering. The less said about the Eastern Kingbird the better - though with three records all since 2012, I'd like to think that I'll get another sniff soon enough despite its still mega status. We'll see.

Friday 2 September 2016

Namibia - the coast

Namibia has a pretty large coast, but like many tourists I stuck with the specific area around Walvis Bay and Swakopmund for a couple of days - before venturing north a bit to Henties Bay and then heading off inland...

Anyway, August is wintertime and though there were still tens of thousands of birds (mostly flamingos!), the famous salt pans at Walvis Bay were comparatively quiet - still, with White-fronted and Chestnut-banded Plovers in good numbers as well as a couple of Red-necked Phalaropes and Curlew Sandpipers, it wasn't all that bad!
White-fronted Plover Walvis Bay
Chestnut-banded Plover Walvis Bay
Not to mention retina burning action wherever you looked - the place teeming with Lesser and Greater Flamingos, as well as White Pelicans and a whole whack of Crested Terns.
Lesser Flamingo Walvis Bay
Greater Flamingo Walvis Bay
The key species to locate here is Damara Tern. And a month or so later this would have been extremely easy. However, with the majority of the population moving north in winter, it took me until the second day to locate two birds feeding off the promenade in Walvis Bay. Nice diminutive things with a dagger like bill - I did see plenty of signs warning people of their colonies and not to stray off the tracks, which was obviously a decent thing (despite the lack of birds!).
White Pelican Walvis Bay
Cape Cormorant Walvis Bay
Karen is a sucker for a boat trip on a holiday, so this was the only place to cram one in - and like many trip reports I'd read we plummeted for a real dudey one where the boatman had his Cape Fur Seal that he hand fed and some bow riding Heaviside's Dolphins. While eating a load of oysters and champagne (that's how I roll), I looked out and noticed a load of nice stuff including a couple of White-chinned Petrels, several Cape Gannets as well as Crowned Cormorant, African Black Oystercatcher and the only Grey-headed Gulls of the trip (the latter three species seen while the punters enjoyed the seal colony).
copious numbers of Cape Fur Seals Walvis Bay
Cape Gannet Walvis Bay
Obviously, there were a few larks about - managed to locate Gray's Lark in the stony desert east of Swakopmund salt pans and this Red-capped Lark was an enjoyable roadside bird.
Red-capped Lark between Walvis Bay and Swakopmund
We stayed in Swakopmund, and in the place we were staying, this vocal Southern Masked Weaver was busily tending to its nest.
Southern Masked Weaver Swakopmund
However, and I'm sure regular readers know this already, there was a good reason for me to visit Namibia. Hartlaub's Gull - a gull tick, nice and common too all along the coast. They didn't even need bread to be enticed but of course it helped...

1st-winter Hartlaub's Gulls
And the Kelp Gulls were superb and monstrous too!
adult Kelp Gull
1st-winter Kelp Gulls
So with our coastal jaunt completed, it was off back into the desert to see some cave art in Damaraland. And of course some more decent birding and mammals.