Wednesday 31 May 2017

Red-footed Falcon & Greenish Warbler day out

Last night, I decided that I needed a day out of London  whatever happened. I'd (almost) reached a threshold with the gull watching near home, and not going away this half-term, a brief respite was needed. Young Dante had said at the start of spring that he really wanted to see a Red-footed Falcon, and with a 1st-summer male present until late at Dunwich Heath, Suffolk yesterday evening, a plan was hatched. It had been a while since I'd seen one in Britain too.

And it was a lovely late spring morning to boot too as we arrived at c.6.30am. Bitterns booming, Cuckoos calling, Dartford Warblers scratching away along with a far carrying cry of multiple Mediterranean Gulls. As if that wasn't enough, a 1st-summer Little Gull flew north over us as well. It was a real tonic from scanning through London's scabby 1st-summer gulls, much as I do still love them. After just less than an hour of searching, Dante spotted a grey blob in a very distant tree that turned from '99% a Woodpigeon but worth a scope' to 'I think that it actually looks pretty good' and with that, the target bird was nailed early doors.
1st-summer male Red-footed Falcon Dunwich Heath, Suffolk 31st May 2017
With a bit of fieldcraft, this nice looking 1st-summer male Red-footed Falcon did show well. Same plumage as the one I ticked at Prawle, Devon that was scarily 21 years ago this Friday. Though the sheltered reedy valley it favoured was typically fringed with trees so getting a clear view was fairly tricky. At one point, I could see it devouring a decent sized dragonfly and then as the morning started to warm up, it got a bit more active as it sallied over the reeds. And with news of a singing Greenish Warbler in coastal Essex, it was time to pack up and head off.

It was late morning by the time we arrived at Colne Point, having navigated ourselves to the small area of bushes and houses at Wall Street just inland of the seawall. On arrival, the bird was showing to the small crowd who were gathered on the seawall. And singing nicely too, with three or four 'chee' notes and then a little warble at the end - fairly pleasant but it'll be unmemorable as time fades if I'm honest. Initially it favoured a conifer before setting up stall in a small oak at the west end of the area. Try as I might to turn it into anything rarer, it was a lovely classic looking Greenish - the first one I'd ever seen in Britain in spring!

Greenish Warbler Colne Point, Essex 31st May 2017

Sunday 28 May 2017

Bank Holiday in London

I often read blogs and get envy about how great everyone else's birding experience seems to be compared to mine. Superlative phrases such as 'boom', 'the best day ever', 'with such a good group of people' etc seem to be the norm with some. And so, welcome to my world that is London birding - where the phrases 'it's all about context' and 'I really need to see a Casp' are the most often used. Surely others must have the same experiences... so instead of the 4 Red-footed Falcons, Alpine Swift and Red-rumped Swallow dished up at Spurn today, my two days of birding in London have comprised a couple of Grasshopper Warblers and a handful of Yellow-legged Gulls.
Grasshopper Warbler Rainham Marshes, London 27th May 2017
adult Yellow-legged Gull Thamesmead, London 27th May 2017
Guess it really is all about context. May need to get out of the big city at some point soon!

Wednesday 24 May 2017

Big city struggle this spring

The joys of winter have quickly receded. Early spring and its promise of things to come has faded into the almost distant past. It now feels like summer is here. My sojourns to Thames Barrier Park, Crossness and Thamesmead the weekend just gone and the one before have been disappointing. However, a first-summer Bonaparte's Gull first found by Paul H at Creekmouth on 14th May has salvaged things somewhat.
Bonaparte's Gull Crossness, London 15th May 2017
Nice to see it at Crossness too, where it was my fourth one there. A remarkable fact given that there have only been five London records, with the first one being in May 2012. It was also good to get Dante onto his first BBRC gull species. Wouldn't put in past that boy to score London's sixth some point soon. No pressure.
1st-summer Mediterranean Gull Crossness, London 15th May 2017
Other than two 1st-summer Med Gulls at Creekmouth on 14th May (with one at Crossness the day after), I really have seen very little apart from 10 ringed gulls which included a long-staying Dorset ringed 1st-summer Great Black-backed Gull in Rotherhithe and a 1st-summer Herring Gull that has made its way down to Thames Barrier Park from Rufforth, Yorkshire via Nottinghamshire and Leicestershire. And I saw a very distant Common Crane at Rainham in the Sunday evening sun just gone.

Just hoping there is still a bit of life in the spring what with these south-easterlies and warm weather.

Sunday 7 May 2017

London spring birding with decent ducks, waders and gulls

After the excitement of last weekend, it was back to urban birding today and yesterday. And it was really enjoyable. In fairly dull conditions yesterday, I headed out with Jamie P to Crossness where we had a bit of wader action - two lovely Bar-tailed Godwits the undoubted highlight as they fed near the golf centre on the Thames foreshore, while nine Grey Plover flew from Barking Bay towards Rainham just as the last mud was being covered. A steady passage of Swallows (and a single Sand Martin) too.
Bar-tailed Godwits Crossness, London 6th May 2017
And that was that. Time to get back to the larids, and lobbing bread off Princess Alice Way, Thamesmead has become a new routine of mine. Mid morning, and within five minutes of lobbing the loaves, this German beaut turned up - as far as I'm aware, it hasn't been seen anywhere since it was seen by Dante and Jamie at Thames Barrier Park on 20th November last year (having been ringed at Grabendorfer See, Brandenberg on 6th June 2016 as a chick): -

1st-summer Caspian Gull X090 Thamesmead, London 6th May 2017
We headed out of London for a bit, and to Cliffe. Not sure why we went if I am honest, but felt like a decent move. I guess a couple of Cuckoos, a singing Nightingale and a couple of Whimbrel were birds I wouldn't see too easily in my usual birding areas. We returned after an hour or two, taking in seconds of the Caspian Gull at Thamesmead and scouring the gulls in Rotherhithe to little avail.

Today, and it was back to Thamesmead for the midday high tide. Just a first-summer Yellow-legged Gull of note there so over the Thames on the Woolwich Ferry to Thames Barrier Park, somewhere I'd not visited for a month or so. A quick scattering of bread, and after shifting position from near the barrier to the usual winter spot, I had my eyes on another German 1st-summer Caspian Gull. This time it was X319, a bird I'd seen here previously on 4th February that had also been seen at Beddington in January and prior to that in the Netherlands in November last year (having been ringed at the same site and on the same date as yesterday's Casp X090).

1st-summer Caspian Gull X319 Thames Barrier Park, London 7th May 2017
I then headed to the O2, where Jamie had scored another Casp (a new individual), but having failed to see that I had to make do with three 2nd-summer Yellow-legged Gulls.
2nd-summer Yellow-legged Gull O2 Greenwich, London 7th May 2017
A very nice way to finish off the weekend before the carnage commences once again in the morning. And I nearly forgot to say that on Wednesday evening, I had five of these (four drakes and a female) outside my flat on Greenland Dock - the first ones I have seen in Rotherhithe.
drake Red-crested Pochard Greenland Dock, Rotherhithe, London 3rd May 2017

Wednesday 3 May 2017

Dirty long distance twitching for another British first

Early afternoon on Saturday, news came through of a Red-winged Blackbird found on North Ronaldsay, Orkney by Simon Davies. A first for Britain no less, which broke the serenity of what was going to be a nice long weekend of local birding combined with a wedding anniversary dinner that evening. Anyway, it was worth more than my life to bail on the latter, but by dawn the next morning (Sunday 30th April) I'd got myself to a small airfield in northern England for the usual process that I'd organised the afternoon before...

It didn't take long before news came out that the Red-winged Blackbird was still there. These days, it isn't the waiting anxiously for a phone call from someone on site to confirm as it used to be - Twitter's the way forward. After a relatively quick, thankfully uneventful flight we landed on the short gravel runway and got chauffeured to the site by those good eggs from North Ronaldsay Bird Observatory. Things were on lock down, as the bird was feeding out of sight in a pretty thick iris bed. If everyone descended on the specific place, it'd have been carnage for potential breeding species so quite rightly Simon and his team were doing some damage limitation for the appreciative crowd - a controlled, sporadic walk through of the area to allow people to see the bird.

And that is exactly what happened - on three occasions, the bird flew from the iris bed, perched on a wire and then scrubbed around near some gas canisters. And then went back to the iris bed and that was that.
Red-winged Blackbird North Ronaldsay, Orkney 30th April 2017
Worst views of Red-winged Blackbird I have ever had? For sure. Most expensive Red-winged Blackbird I have ever seen? By some margin. That's the twitching game - still do it, still live for it. Happy days.