Saturday 30 July 2016

midsummer in London - Yellow-legged Gulls and more

juvenile Mediterranean Gull Greenwich, London 30th July 2016
 I got back from a few days in Romania late on Tuesday, and since then it has been a combination of work sandwiched around the tides for Central London gulling. This time of year is always decent, with juvenile Yellow-legged Gulls taking pride of place - they're always nice and crisp, and going to the right places you're able to get some really nice photos. Add to that a few rings (mainly local ones) and the first juvenile Mediterranean Gull today, and so London isn't necessarily the birding desert many of you think it is. There are two places that I tend to focus on locally...

Within 50 metres of my flat lies the River Thames. Lucky I know, but one of the main reasons for moving and staying here for so long. Anyway, there are three gull sites here - with all three blowing hot and cold. At the moment the best place is immediately east of Greenland Pier where just the other side of the lock gates, throwing a bit of bread out (at high and low tide) is likely to get the odd juvenile Yellow-legged Gull coming in. At low tide it's fine to get onto the foreshore so you can get eyeball views. Few other sites where views are consistently so good!
juvenile Yellow-legged Gull Rotherhithe, London 29th July 2016
juvenile Yellow-legged Gull Rotherhithe, London 29th July 2016
juvenile Yellow-legged Gull Rotherhithe, London 30th July 2016
The two other places where I watch gulls in Rotherhithe are the jetties by the Surrey Docks Watersports Centre on Greenland Dock and then further west around the peninsular, at low tide, the beach adjacent to the Hilton Doubletree Hotel.

Greenwich by the O2
At this time of year, the whole place is full of tourists but as soon as you head along the Thames adjacent to the O2, the crowds thin out and the gulls begin. Vital to be here a couple of hours either side of low tide, otherwise you'll be wasting your time. But it's always got a decent gathering (low 100s) of gulls and I've been regularly getting a handful of Yellow-legged Gulls here since early July. The place to watch is along the Thames Path, at the head of the peninsular where there are some obvious trees with the beach below it. Better numbers here than Rotherhithe but the views aren't always as good.
juvenile Yellow-legged Gull Greenwich, London 30th July 2016
juvenile Yellow-legged Gull Greenwich, London 30th July 2016
juvenile Yellow-legged Gull Greenwich, London 30th July 2016
juvenile Yellow-legged Gull Greenwich, London 27th July 2016
There is also a bit more variety here too, and in spring I found a juvenile Iceland Gull here. Though today I had to make do with this white-winged gull: -
leucistic adult Herring Gull Greenwich, London 30th July 2016

Canada - Algonquin 31st May & 1st June

I meant to do this post a lot sooner after I got back but busy life takes its toll on blogging. Anyway, Mark L and I spent our final couple of days of our holiday in Algonquin National Park; a relative wilderness area three hours north of Toronto. It's a really special area with lovely boreal scenery and just a couple of roads traversing an otherwise vast area of forest and spruce bog. Also, importantly, it holds a lot of breeding species with some tricky to find elsewhere - main targets here are usually Black-backed Woodpecker, Spruce Grouse, Boreal Chickadee and Grey (Gray?) Jay. Click here for a decent birding map that we used for our visit.

The Mizzy Lake Trail was where we focused our efforts; firstly driving along the Arowhon Road where we quickly saw our first target - Boreal Chickadee - while singing Ovenbirds, Yellow-rumped Warblers and Red-breasted Nuthatches were to become familiar sights and sounds.
Red-breasted Nuthatch Algonquin, Ontario 31st May 2016
The plan for our first day was to just walk, walk and walk until we felt we'd had enough and/or the birding activity died down. Thankfully it didn't get amazingly warm as we walked along the trail to Wolf Howl Pond, West Rose Lake and 'Flycatcher Bog' for several km. The mosquitoes were present here, though never a real annoyance. The birds started flowing within just a couple of hundred metres of leaving the car, with this female Spruce Grouse staying pretty chilled by the path as we admired her: -
female Spruce Grouse Algonquin, Ontario 31st May 2016
Swainson's Thrushes, White-throated Sparrows and Ovenbirds continued to sing/skulk from the undergrowth while Golden-crowned and Ruby-crowned Kinglets were seen with some regularity.
Ovenbird Algonquin, Ontario 31st May 2016
One of the things that was most frustrating were the singing Nearctic wood-warblers - for colourful birds when singing they remained pretty static so they were pretty tricky to locate as they had a tendency to throw their tunes a bit. Blackburnian and Yellow-rumped were the most numerous, while Canada, Magnolia, Black-throated Green, Black-throated Blue and Black-and-white Warblers were also seen (and heard) along the walk.
Myrtle Warbler Algonquin, Ontario 31st May 2016
On the open water, a handful of Hooded Mergansers were noted along with a couple of Great Blue Herons. Another couple of Boreal Chickadees were located too, in small flocks with their commoner Black-capped cousin: -
Boreal Chickadee Algonquin, Ontario 31st May 2016
Up until this trip, for one reason or another, Grey Jay was a species I'd missed out on - always visiting periperal sites and/or at the wrong time of the year. So when a fluttery group of birds came to investigate us along a remote path, I was all for giving them a bit of attention. What is it though with yanks, jays and rings - these guys were 'banded' as were the Florida Scrub Jays (understandably) and the Mexican Jays I saw in Texas.

Grey Jays Algonquin, Ontario 31st May 2016
A load of Cedar Waxwings buzzed about in the trees and Red-eyed Vireos were common, and I found a cracking male Spruce Grouse munching away in a trackside spruce; Alder Flycatchers were present in a couple of the boggy areas and a single Least Flycatcher was located too. In these swampy areas, Swamp and Lincoln's Sparrows were seen along with a fair few Common Yellowthroats - all good stuff! However, by mid afternoon (having been out since dawn) we felt as though we'd exhausted the place despite having failed to locate Black-backed Woodpecker. And so we headed east within the National Park boundary to the Lake of Two Rivers area and the adjacent abandoned airstrip; the gen promised so much (including Black-backed Woodpecker) but delivered so little - a nice Pileated Woodpecker, a few Chipping Sparrows and Yellow and Chestnut-sided Warblers being the highlights.

As it got towards dusk, we had another failed Eastern Whip-poor-will and American Woodcock attempt. For some reason too, I declined rapidly and spent the rest of the night either sleeping or feeling distinctly ill. And as the next day dawned, I was slow to rise still feeling grim - though Mark L was great by getting me going but realising he was going to have to do everything! Though I started off by finding this big boy on the Mizzy Lake trail - a nice Moose (the first of three): -
Moose Algonquin, Ontario 1st June 2016
Having retraced our steps along the Mizzy Lake trail, we got to West Rose Lake and in the bare trees by the lakeside there was our final Algonquin target - a nice female Black-backed Woodpecker! It showed well for half an hour or so before becoming more distant, and was thankfully nice and easy given how grim I was feeling.
Black-backed Woodpecker Algonquin, Ontario 1st June 2016
With time ticking on before the need to go back to Toronto for our flight home, we had a quick walk around the Spruce Bog trail (at the east end of the park) where things were quiet, except for a Moose and this cracking male Chestnut-sided Warbler: -
Chestnut-sided Warbler Algonquin, Ontario 1st June 2016
And so that was that, another successful US trip with decent company and plenty of birds. Highlights for me being displaying Upland Sandpipers, singing Kirtland's Warblers and Bobolinks galore, Henslow's and Le Conte's Sparrows, lekking Sharp-tailed Grouse plus obliging Spruce Grouse and Grey Jays in Algonquin. Not bad for 5 days of birding!

Sunday 3 July 2016

French weekender

Karen and I had a quick break the weekend just gone on the other side of the Channel. Really pleasant time and so easy from southeast London (and cheap - think our wine savings paid for our Eurotunnel trip!). We stuck to the area within an hour or so west/southwest of Calais and were very nicely surprised about the small towns and decent countryside we encountered. Add to that some brilliant seafood (rarely post food recommendations on here but the Fruits de mer at La Marie Galante in Audresselles were very memorable) and a load of gulls, and I'll be back for some second helpings!

Though we stayed in Le Touquet, which is a decent resort town, the gulling is centred on Boulogne-sur-mer and the suburb immediately south called Le Portel. As this is France's largest port, I can well imagine the copious amounts of gulls present in autumn and winter but even in early July the nesting activity was massive - loads of local Herring Gulls plus it was good to see urban nesting Kittiwakes and their young.
Kittiwakes Boulogne-sur-mer, Pas-de-Calais 3rd July 2016
Of everything else, there were a dozen or so Mediterranean Gulls cruising around - the odd one or two settling down.
Mediterranean Gulls Le Portel, Pas-de-Calais 3rd July 2016
Gull rings included three Great Black-backed Gulls from Norway, a Dutch ringed Herring Gull and three Belgian birds (two Herring Gulls and a Lesser Black-backed Gull).
Great Black-backed Gull (JC055) Boulogne-sur-mer, Pas-de-Calais 3rd July 2016 - ringed as a chick at Lille Vigeskj√¶r, Lindesnes, Vest-Agder, Norway on 5th July 2015,  then seen at Ameland, The Netherlands on 1st November 2015 before turning up at Boulogne-sur-Mer, Pas-de-Calais, France from 27th November 2015
Lesser Black-backed Gull (UK:AB) Boulogne-sur-mer, Pas-de-Calais 3rd July 2016 - ringed as a chick at Zeebrugge, Belgium on 20th July 2012 and seen to winter in Huelva, Spain (October 2013, February 2014 and 2015); also regularly seen in the Boulogne area as well as back in Zeebrugge, Belgium on 16th June 2016
Anyway, the trip was a good excuse to get out of London after a few hectic weeks and it has certainly given me some food for thought for quick winter gull ring reading trips!