Saturday 30 January 2016

Tip top again

Only the second visit to the tip this winter, and last weekend's visit was memorable for the wrong reasons - no Casps alongside a cold that wiped me out for the rest of the weekend. And so it was thankfully back to normal today, and with a few more gulls too, there was a return to form. Three Caspian Gulls in total - a smart first-winter that lingered around for most of the morning, a large adult and then a rather aggressive third-winter bird. All of them very nice indeed.
1st-winter Caspian Gull, Essex 30th January 2016
adult Caspian Gull, Essex 30th January 2016

3rd-winter Caspian Gull, Essex 30th January 2016
And then it was on to a couple of familiar faces that had advanced a bit since I saw them last winter. The first one was a bird I'd first seen back in December 2013, and is one of the most distinctive gulls about - J5493, a Norwegian ringed Great Black-backed Gull that was ringed in southwest Norway as a chick in June 2013; and has been leucistic as a first-winter, second-winter and now third-winter.
3rd-winter Great Black-backed Gull J5493, Essex 30th January 2016
The next one is a lot less straightforward, and present again after a stint last winter. See here for discussion from last February when it was a second-winter. My thoughts still remain pretty similar - do Iceland and Herring Gulls really not hybridise? The only thing to really add to last year's thoughts are the obviously pale mantle compared to the accompanying Herring Gulls.

3rd-winter gull sp., Essex 30th January 2016
Finally, among the 20 gull rings I managed to get, was this one AB9T. An obvious adult Yellow-legged Gull ringed by the NTGG. However, it was ringed by one of their minions as an adult Lesser Black-backed Gull back in 2012. What people don't realise is how fraught a big catch can be, and Paul R who heads the ringing team often doesn't see every bird to check they've been identified correctly. Add to this there is often people ringing the gulls that'd struggle to identify anything beyond 'small' and 'large' gulls, so inevitably there have been a few birds like this that have, metaphorically speaking, slipped through the net.
adult Yellow-legged Gull, Essex 30th January 2016

Wednesday 27 January 2016

2nd-winter Slaty-backed Gulls

Here are a few photos of 2nd-winter Slaty-backed Gulls from Japan last month - all taken at various sites along the Hokkaido coast from 25th to 31st December 2015. Just like my post on 1st-winters last week, they're not a precise science with a bewildering variation of structure and moult. However, here are a few common features noted: -
- uniformly dark tail with dark tips to all feathers (outertail feathers unmarked internally at tip)
- largely unmarked, pale rump
- smudged, uniform greater-coverts and upperwing-coverts dark centred and lacking internal markings
- apparent to very obvious inner primary window in flight
- bulbous bill, in most cases pink at the base with subterminal dark band bleeding in towards tip
- obviously pink legs
- pale iris in most cases

Anyway, I'll let the photos do the work here but this age, in particular, felt pretty robust and brutish. I suspect that seeing one of these out of context, in Europe for example, for the trained guller would get the heart going pretty quickly...

Sunday 24 January 2016

Glaucous-winged Gull and others in wet Cork last Sunday

Last Sunday (17th January) was typically Irish. It rained without letup from dawn to dusk, I had a famed breakfast baguette and I finished with a pint of Guiness in Cork airport before departure back to London. In between, I threw a few loaves, saw a few gulls and got thoroughly soaked to the skin.

Star of the show, and the reason for driving overnight from Wexford to west Cork, was the adult Glaucous-winged Gull in the harbour at Castletown Bearhaven. Although the streetlights were still on in the gloom at 9am, one slice of bread was enough to bring this Pacific monster into view. Being honest, it wasn't as much of a beast compared to the many I've seen on the US west coast (in California, Oregon and Washington) or Japan just a few weeks back. Hanging around among predominantly first-winter Herring Gulls, it even got a beating from them. Swarthy looking too, with the mantle a shade darker than the accompanying adult Herring Gulls and the primaries at the darker end of the spectrum for the species. A long, parallel-sided bill also. A few dissenters from the other side of the Atlantic, but on the whole I reckon I've just about managed to put that square peg into that round Glaucous-winged hole. Just.

adult Glaucous-winged Gull Castletown Bearhaven, County Cork 17th January 2016
As I awoke in the half light (after a very fitful night's sleep in the car), I saw a juvenile Iceland Gull by the fish harbour on Dinish Island - almost forgot to mention that, given how regular they are out in Cork. Anyway, having had my fill of the Glaucous-winged Gull and needing to dry off I headed back east. West Cork is a place I know quite well from previous Irish winter trips, and with no previous luck at Glengarriff, I chucked out some bread as a token gesture. And out of nowhere, at a site that is pretty marginal to say the least, in came a showy juvenile Glaucous Gull as well as a 2nd-winter Iceland Gull. Job done, happy days etc.
juvenile Glaucous Gull Glengarriff, County Cork 17th January 2016
Onto Bantry where a ringer is usually a dead cert. And in totally heinous conditions, bread was flung and in came an adult Ring-billed Gull.

adult Ring-billed Gull Bantry, County Cork 17th January 2016
In all seriousness, I can't remember many days where the rain was that continual. It actually stopped me getting out of the car at Ballydehob and Schull, while at Baltimore the foul conditions meant that my searching wasn't as thorough as I wanted it to be. The same went for Union Hall, Rosscarbery and Clonakilty where a flock of 35 Magpies were the 'highlight' in the grim conditions. It was early back to Cork airport for the mid evening flight, and a well deserved pint of Guiness.

Saturday 23 January 2016

First tip visit of the season (and no Casps)

For a variety of reasons, it hasn't been possible to get up onto the tip until today. And this post will be extremely brief due to a horrendous cold and possibly one of the least fruitful visits I've had up there. No Caspian Gulls, no Yellow-legged Gulls with just a couple of Mediterranean Gulls the highlights aside from the 25 ringed gulls I had - one Dutch, one Scottish, one Norwegian with all the other birds local.
adult female Herring Gull T:548, Essex 23rd January 2016. Ringed at Montrose, Angus, on 2nd July 2013 and the fourth time I've seen it at Pitsea Landfill; previous sightings being on 23rd November, 7th December 2013 and 2nd February 2015.
I guess the only other bird of interest was an adult Lesser Black-backed Gull with symmetrical white feathering in its upperwing.
adult Lesser Black-backed Gull, Essex 23rd January 2016
Let's hope I feel better and the birds are a lot better next weekend. 

Wednesday 20 January 2016

1st-winter Slaty-backed Gulls

I'm going back to Japan on this post. And one of the things I really wanted to get to grips with during the trip was the concept of a 'search image' for 1st-winter Slaty-backed Gull. Unfortunately, I found this to be extremely difficult on the basis of both plumage traits and the massive range in structure. Hopefully this post though will illustrate how distinctive they can be, to varying extents, and you'll see like other gulls the variability in moult and plumage wear - all photos taken on Hokkaido from 25th to 31st December 2015.

To summarise shared characteristics, I guess the following will do: -
- pale-fringed, dark brown to near black primaries
- plain brown tertials
- all dark tail
- tightly barred uppertail and rump
- dark, velvet underwing coverts
The problem is though, 1st-winter Slaty-backed Gulls really are variable and to some extent it's an unknown in terms of how much leakage in the gene pool there is with Glaucous-winged Gull (check out the second photo down as an example). Any comments on these birds are appreciated. For sure though, one of these at some stage is likely to wing its way to Britain or Ireland...

Tuesday 19 January 2016

Duncannon dipping

Last Sunday, Sir Killian found an adult Vega Gull at Duncannon, County Wexford. Possibly the classiest find and illustration of skill you're likely to see. With others, I ended up spending more time than I wanted at Duncannon with little reward - the bird had flown or at least it wasn't in the immediate area. This area of southwest Wexford was actually a part of Ireland I'd not visited before, so the huge numbers of gulls around taking advantage of huge numbers of sprat was a bit of a surprise. Apparently this is an annual phenonemon...
sprat catching gulls Duncannon, Wexford 16th January 2016
Duncannon, however, is not a site you'd want to be searching for a lone gull - it's on a wide estuary that spans right the way down to Hook Head with gulls moving in and out with the trawlers. The Vega Gull could still be about of course, but with a full set of wings through regrowth imminent, it'll be that bit harder to pick out going forward too. As it is with most sites in Ireland, there is always the chance of a white winger or two so true to form, I noted a couple of juvenile Iceland Gulls and a juvenile Glaucous Gull during my visits.
juvenile Iceland Gull Duncannon, Wexford 16th January 2016
There was also a ringed Great Black-backed Gull from Skokholm first thing too, and with some decent company and guys I hadn't seen for a while, it wasn't too arduous to be honest. I also worked out that the thermals I'd bought for Japan are a very useful addition when sleeping in the car in Britain and Ireland.

Sunday 10 January 2016

Back to business as usual at Dungeness

After an enjoyable Saturday in school administering some resit mock exams, I was pretty keen to get out today despite the diabolical weather forecast. A bit of local gulling yesterday was unproductive, so I headed (as usual) down to Dungeness. It seems as though things had been pretty static down there while I'd been in Japan, but at least I may see the currently regular Caspian Gull down there (that had arrived while I was away).

And so it was that, with Mick S and Richard S, the regular 1st-winter Caspian Gull arrived to feed by the fishing boats earlier this afternoon. A really bold bird, enjoying the feast we provided and as well as being often the closest bird it also preferred to run around a fair bit rather than use its wings.

1st-winter Caspian Gull Dungeness, Kent 10th January 2016
There was little else of interest, bar a NTGG ringed Herring Gull and a couple of Norwegian Great Black-backed Gulls. It got me looking at the Herrings, and though there haven't been many yet this winter, this guy is probably a northerly bred bird. Not a massive, swarthy typical argie but retarded enough moult wise to assume more northerly than most.
1st-winter Herring Gull Dungeness, Kent 10th January 2016
I had a brief look at the RSPB reserve last thing, and saw the Long-eared Owl by the dipping pond which was proving popular once again with the punters. I'm obviously out of touch with things, but my opinion is that a roosting owl is one of the most boring birds you can feast your eyes on. Evidently not. A couple of redhead Smews distantly from Makepeace Hide in the dismal weather furthered my desire to be back birding in Japan.

Sunday 3 January 2016

Karuizawa no snow but snow monkeys show (then back to the airport)

The first couple of days of 2016 (Happy New Year to all by the way) were spent around Karuizawa with a morning visit to see the snow monkeys (Japanese Macaques) at Jigokudani. However, birding around Karuizawa was extremely hard work, perhaps mainly due to the really mild winter where we were walking about this place - normally with a foot or so of snow already by now - admiring all the greenery. No good for birds really, but we gave it a really good go.
Japanese Serow Karuizawa, Honshu 1st January 2016
Karuizawa, an upscale town in the 'Japanese Alps' is where people come to see the likes of Copper Pheasant, Japanese Waxwing, Pallas' Rosefinch and Japanese Accentor. Unfortunately I saw none of these, despite a day and a half walking around the woods - Josh J flushed a Copper Pheasant and we had brief views of a Naumann's Thrush (which was nice) but other than that, we had to console ourselves with Japanese Green Woodpeckers and Long-tailed Rosefinches. Plus all the usual species for the last time, including lots of Dusky Thrushes, some Japanese Grosbeaks, a couple of Japanese Wagtails and some showy Spot-billed Ducks.

male Long-tailed Rosefinches Karuizawa, Honshu 1st and 2nd January 2016
Meadow Bunting Karuizawa, Honshu 1st January 2016
Spot-billed Duck Serow Karuizawa, Honshu 2nd January 2016
The snow monkeys, however, did show well... which is no less than we expected. We got there for when the park opened (9am) and within 45 minutes had our fill just as the masses started to arrive. Pretty good value primates.

Japanese Macaques Jigokudani, Honshu 2nd January 2016
And so to this morning, Sunday. We got ourselves back to Narita airport, and carefully positioned, had a couple of hours of birding this morning - with the one target of Brown-headed Thrush, seemingly pretty straightforward around the airport hotels. And indeed they were, as within an hour of birding, we'd seen about three of them along with our last looks at stuff like Black-faced Buntings, Japanese White eyes and Oriental Turtle Doves.
Brown-headed Thrush Narita, Honshu 3rd January 2016
So that's it for this trip. Back to work tomorrow but a load of memories and a good first venture to Japan. A country that, unfortunately, puts Britain to shame in terms of etiquette, courtesy and cleanliness. A very impressive place.