Monday 26 February 2018

Beast from the east birding

All this talk about the beast from the east (a reference to the current weather) had me all excited on Saturday. It was cold and for the first time in a long time, it was coming from the east - just what us London birders like. I had the opportunity of three things for the day - go up north to Thurso and search for a Taiga Merlin, head south and see another Ross's Gull or check London for its gulls. And of course, after a hectic first week back after half-term and the current weather, the last option won out and it was time to check the delights of south-east and east London.

It ended up hard work though, with the first couple of hours at Crayford being full of gulls but nothing remotely exciting (and Jamie P checked it a hour or so later and reached the same conclusion!). I headed west and back into London, and checked the distinct grimness of Southmere, Thamesmead. Located amidst a ghetto, frequented regularly by travellers and on this occasion someone told me the last couple of nights a Mute Swan had been mutilated there each night. Lovely place! But today, having parked up, I scanned the Black-headed Gulls and to my surprise there was a 1st-winter Little Gull in amongst them...
1st-winter Little Gull Thamesmead, London 24th February 2018
I was really happy with this, as it was just the second one to be found in London in 2018 (the first was an adult at Swanscombe less than a couple of hours before!) and for me, it's always nice to get these little wins when it comes to slogging urban turd holes looking for the birding equivalent of gold. This Danish Black-headed Gull was also frequenting the same ghetto: -
Danish ringed adult Black-headed Gull 'ZJB' Thamesmead, London 24th February 2018
Unfortunately the Little Gull was brief as it turned out, and despite waiting for over an hour, there was no repeat show and no opportunity to improve on the record shots I got initially. Therefore, I headed over to Thames Barrier Park via the Woolwich Ferry, where there were good numbers of Common Gulls and a first-winter Yellow-legged Gull. No Caspian Gull, which wasn't a surprise given the paucity of them this winter compared to 2016/17.

Not a bad day overall, as any February day in London with a Little Gull is notable enough in itself.

Tuesday 20 February 2018

Back in the London sunshine

A week of typically blustery Irish weather, with hail, sleat and snow regularly thrown, meant that it was a nice relief to be back in big city life with the sun shining. Inevitably, as is usually the case, the birding was slow. Saturday's visit to Thames Barrier Park produced little of note while similarly the river and woodland in Rotherhithe were typically quiet. Not even a gull ring to write home about.

On Sunday, it was time to revisit the Little Bunting at Walthamstow Marshes which I'd only seen in horrific conditions when it first turned up. I met the man of the moment, Dante S, on site where it had already shown nicely. There was a seeded tray now, put out by local birders, to entice it a little bit closer... which nearly worked. However, I was more than happy with prolonged views of it in its favoured bush as it sunned itself in the early spring-like weather.
Little Bunting Walthamstow Wetlands, London 18th February 2018
Walthamstow Wetlands seems to be the new place for Joe Public to spend their time. A place where all types from society congregate and inadvertently annoy you. The amount of times people were either walking past, totally oblivious of their fever pitched noise levels or inanely asking what we were looking at, did detract from the experience. And I credit Paul W, Jamie P, David B et al for persevering with this site now in its current form. And so I took solace, as always, in some nearby gulls at Eagle Pond where Dante and I managed three Black-headed Gull metal rings (Sweden and two British) and another annoyingly incomplete one from Finland...
Swedish ringed Black-headed Gull Snaresbrook, London 18th February 2018 - ringed as a 1st-summer 598 miles to the northeast at Pildammsparken, Malmö, Skåne on 3rd June 2009
As always bring on next weekend and fingers crossed for the start of some cold continental weather.

Monday 19 February 2018

Ireland day six - Achill Island

If there was one place that I have an affinity with away from the River Thames, then it is the lost world of Achill Island in west Mayo. Particularly the area around the village of Keel. Every time I go there, I feel as though it has immense potential... even in midwinter. The flooded golf course and machair looked perfect for a Killdeer, but alas it wasn't to be. It is also a prerequisite of Achill that you get a soaking, and on Friday it was no exception with socks, hat and trousers being nicely dried off on the dashboard as I headed back to Knock airport.

Anyway, it was a rancid day weather wise but the gulls loved it. Keel once again was the place and the golf course had a good selection - after starting at the west end (where I thought I heard a chu-it call but quickly dismissed it, more later...), I headed to the east side to the south of Sruhilbeg Lough. I was happy with the haul in the foulness, with an adult Iceland Gull and eight Glaucous Gulls (three adults, two 2nd-winters and three juveniles).
adult Iceland Gull Keel, Achill Island, Mayo 16th February 2018 
juvenile Glaucous Gull Keel, Achill Island, Mayo 16th February 2018

adult Glaucous Gull Keel, Achill Island, Mayo 16th February 2018 - particularly beautiful!
I then did a smash and grab of the north end, around Doogort and Tontavalley where all I could muster were a couple of longstaying Ring-necked Ducks (a pair) on Lough Doo. And a lot of rain! With the latter not abating either when I reached the southeast end of the island, where a juvenile Glaucous Gull was on the beach by Cloughmore Pier and the salmon processing plant there. That being the 10th white winger on the island for the day, and with the rain not stopping, I headed off... or so I thought.
pair of Ring-necked Ducks Lough Doo, Achill Island, Mayo 16th February 2018
One thing I hadn't realised was, that despite the desolate day, I hadn't been alone on Achill! So when news filtered through of the continued presence of the Semipalmated Plover at Keel just as I was hitting Mulranny, that hollow and galling feeling returned. I'd not been thorough enough earlier in the day, and had bowed to the poor weather and not followed up on 'that' chu-it call. I cared enough though to turn the car around, rag it back to Keel and do a quick scan of the waders on the golf course. Far from ideal, but in the 30 or so Ringed Plovers on the flood was a smaller bird with that distinctive pale gape line at the base of its lower mandible - target bird seen, distantly and in the rain. But genuinely, every minute counted as I then had to drive like breakneck speed through the country lanes of Mayo to get my flight back to London...

Thursday 15 February 2018

Ireland day five - West Cork and Limerick

What a difference a day and a county line make. Today was a struggle, and I kind of thought it would be. West Cork is often not the best place for wingers, which are your staple pick me ups out here. From a British perspective, you feel like a site has been worthy of a visit if you see an Iceland or a Glaucous Gull. The lads out this way probably think differently mind. Anyway, I headed out from Kenmare in the early morning gloom and gave the pier there a go, to no avail - there was a Bonaparte's Gull there last spring and I've seen distant wingers here in the past. And then it was out onto The Beara peninsular, a place of fondness having seen Glaucous-winged Gull, Wilson's Warbler and Scarlet Tanager on it...

But today it was really quiet. I took the north loop in, with the only bird of note being a juvenile Iceland Gull northeast of Allihies as it fed in the surf at Dooneen. Nothing on Pallas Strand, Eyeries nor at Ballydonegan Strand. And the prize winter site here, the fishing port of Castletown Bearhaven (where the Glaucous-winged Gull was), was having an off day. Just two Iceland Gulls, a near-adult and a 2nd-winter, while I couldn't muster up the regular Ring-billed Gull at low tide.
near-adult Iceland Gull Castletown Bearhaven, County Cork 15th February 2018
And so to Glengariff, a site where I had some wingers a couple of years ago when I twitched the Glaucous-winged Gull. About fifty large gulls here today, none with white wings. And then on to Bantry and Ballydehob, both sites where I have seen several Ring-billed Gulls in the past. Today, I couldn't find anything of note with copious throwing of Supervalu 79 cent brown loaves. An expensive business for no reward!

With my flight back from Mayo tomorrow afternoon, it was time to head north and so that's what I did. With a pleasant stop in familiar territory late afternoon - O'Callaghan Strand, Limerick. And this proved to be the site of the day, with an adult Ring-billed Gull and four Iceland Gulls (an adult and three juveniles) being the reward. Ten loaves of bread were used here, two mine and then a random punter and his son turned up with eight loaves to feed the gulls!
adult Ring-billed Gull Limerick, County Limerick 15th February 2018

juvenile Iceland Gull Limerick, County Limerick 15th February 2018
So that was it - a quiet day with 'just' seven Iceland Gulls and a Ring-billed Gull. Just one morning left before it is back to Caspian and Yellow-legged Gull hunting.

Wednesday 14 February 2018

Ireland day four - Kerry

I started off from Tralee in the half light this morning, having gleaned from the locals that Dingle hadn't been checked for a while. How times change, as I remember the days when this peninsular was relatively well covered and a couple of teams went out each year on their Irish winter trip. Today, it was just me and the Kerry birders seem much more Tralee and upper Iveragh based these days. And so I hit Dingle harbour and with the first couple of slices, came the first white winger - predictably a juvenile Iceland Gull.
juvenile Iceland Gull Dingle harbour, Kerry 14th February 2018
I then swung round to Milltown and the estuary there where gulls bathe, and had three further white wingers - a smart adult Iceland Gull that was snoozing most of the time, and an adult and relatively dark juvenile Glaucous Gull. There were a handful of Med Gulls here too, and compared to the north, a fair few Lesser Black-backed Gulls about as well.
juvenile Glaucous Gull Dingle harbour, Kerry 14th February 2018
Next up was Ferriter's Cove, again a classic site from the autumns gone by. Instead of there being any rare waders here today, the gull flock contained a further four wingers - two juvenile Glaucous Gulls and an adult and juvenile Iceland Gull. Walking out onto the sand, I got my feet soaked for the rest of the day for my troubles. Ventry was quiet, and so I headed back east - towards Tralee. And waiting for me at Tralee Bay Wetlands was another juvenile Iceland Gull along with the first Ring-billed Gull of the trip, this regular adult: -

adult Ring-billed Gull Tralee Bay Wetlands, Kerry 14th February 2018
It'd been a few years since I'd been in Ireland during the winter, and it showed. This was the first opportunity I'd had to see the first Black Scoter for the country, overwintering each year in the scoter flock at Rossbeigh, on The Iveragh. It didn't take me long to locate it, as my timing couldn't have been much better with decent light and the scoter flock reasonably close (for scoters). The bill shone out like a beacon and was slightly more orange than the yellow-billed Commons. Nice, and added to that, there was a female Surf Scoter too in the flock which was a real bonus. I then headed down the peninsular and into familiar territory of old - a chuck of the loaves by the quay at Cahersiveen produced two big juvenile Glaucous Gulls: -
juvenile Glaucous Gull Cahersiveen, Kerry 14th February 2018
And then at Reenard Point, just a couple of miles further on, there were three wingers, and all adults - one Glaucous Gull and two Iceland Gulls: -
adult Iceland Gull Reenard Point, Kerry 14th February 2018

adult Glaucous Gull Reenard Point, Kerry 14th February 2018
Checking Portmagee and Ballinskelligs produced little of note, save for a load of Great Northern and Red-throated Divers and a load of Common Scoters. A good group of gulls feeding in the surf at Waterville were checked but to no avail. And the last winger of the day was a big old white 2nd-winter Glaucous Gull, roosting on the distant sandbank at Inny Strand. I'm now in Kenmare, ready to hit some more sites tomorrow and pleased with the haul of 15 white wingers in Kerry, as well as the two yank scoter species and a Ring-billed Gull... and still not seen a birder this week!

Tuesday 13 February 2018

Ireland day three - heading south

I woke up this morning in Killybegs and the harbour had emptied, with the fishing fleet clearing off overnight. I spent the first hour having a mooch about and couldn't find yesterday's Bonaparte's Gull (though it was successfully twitched later). Just four Glaucous Gulls, including the regular adult, and five Iceland Gulls. And so I headed off from this white winger haven, with the first stop predictably Donegal town where two juvenile Iceland Gulls were present - two of the three seen there on Sunday.

The next few stops were really unproductive, as they always are! Whenever I am up in Donegal Bay, I always try and have a look at the seaduck but always fail due to the blustery conditions. And today was the same with little of note at Rossknowlagh, Bundoran and Mullaghmore. Next time perhaps. An hour or so of scanning the thousands of Barnacle Geese in the Raghly/Lissadell area, just north of Sligo, again didn't reveal anything of note. It seems like it has been a poor winter for Small Canada Geese, and so it wasn't a major surprise to leave empty handed. Barnacle Geese though are one of my favourites.
Barnacle Geese Raghly, County Sligo 13th February 2018
I then spent a couple of hours in Sligo town, a place again I've been to on several trips previously. For love nor money, I couldn't reel in the Ring-billed Gull at Doorly Park for some reason - thought it would be a banker, but obviously not! It was nice though to see three Iceland Gulls, two second-winters and a juvenile. One of the second-winters had an obvious tail band while some of the photos seeming to show brown in the wing, though seeing it in bright sunshine really wasn't constructive at all. It was this bird though, reported as a Kumlien's Gull here and here. A couple of photos to illustrate how light and background changes things.

2nd-winter Iceland (or possibly Kumlien's) Gull Sligo, County Sligo 13th February 2018
And a nice showy juvenile Iceland Gull couldn't have been any more obliging at Quay Street car park.
juvenile Iceland Gull Sligo, County Sligo 13th February 2018
After that, it was a long drive south...

Monday 12 February 2018

Ireland day two - Bonaparte's Gull and more in Donegal

I woke up to another icy scene here in Killybegs. There'd been a bit of overnight snow once again, and it was bitter but bright. I'd planned to spend today heading north from Killybegs up as far as Dunfanaghy, taking in some sites that rarely get any coverage, and then coming back into town here for mid afternoon. And so, after another Full Irish, I headed north through the snow covered hills having watched an adult Glaucous Gull and a couple of juvenile Iceland Gulls in the harbour early morning.

First stop was Portnoo, and the adjacent Narin Strand. I'd never visited this place before but it had a bit of form with a King Eider a few years ago and the odd winger. But today, I had to put up with three lovely drake Long-tailed Ducks and a close Black-throated Diver along with the more numerous Great Northern Divers and Black Guillemots. I headed off, and rejoined the N56 where just to the southwest of Lettermacaward there was a juvenile Iceland Gull roosting up on the small estuary.

Next stop was the furthest point - Dunfanaghy New Lake and the surrounding fields. I'd been up here before, the first time to twitch a Taverner's Canada Goose back in 2001, and quite liked the feel. I scanned through the ducks, hoping there'd be some kind of yank present, but to no avail. There was a confiding juvenile Iceland Gull chewing up the worms in a field full of Common Gulls, while the 600 or so Barnacle Geese and 30 Greenland Whitefronts reminded me I was a fair way away from London.
juvenile Iceland Gull Dunfanaghy, Donegal 12th February 2018
Heading back, I stopped in at Magheroarty and as well as getting my first ever views of Tory Island, that was a nice adult Glaucous Gull plonked on the beach.
adult Glaucous Gull Magheroarty, Donegal 12th February 2018
Another site I'd heard of from back in the day, when there was a lot more active fishing was Burtonport. Given the void of sightings from here for over a decade, I didn't think there'd be too much. But a quick laying of the loaves provided me with company - a load of gulls including single juvenile Iceland and Glaucous Gulls. Typical Donegal winter birding!

Back at Killybegs, and with a couple of hours of light left, I started scouting about the main pier and Gallagher's - typically a few white wingers, including a nice adult Iceland Gull that did a flyby. Looking over to the other side of town, the factories were obviously working as there were hordes of gulls and so I headed over. Frustratingly, there was a metal ringed Herring Gull that I couldn't get anything on but single Glaucous and Iceland Gulls coming to the scraps were pleasant enough.
juvenile Iceland Gull Burtonport, Donegal 12th February 2018

juvenile Glaucous Gull Burtonport, Donegal 12th February 2018
And so it was back to the harbour. I parked up in the layby to the west of the lifeboat slipway, and scanned the pontoons. A few Glaucs... and then I scanned the thirty or so Black-headed Gulls on the water. And bang, there was that adrenaline hit! All because of a small gull with a decent neck shawl sitting in among the Black-headed Gulls. I knew straightaway that I'd locked eyes on a Bonaparte's Gull...

2nd-winter Bonaparte's Gull Killybegs, Donegal 12th February 2018
Initially I thought it was an adult, but then when it did a quick fly about and I got some shots the black in the inner primaries and markings on the primary-coverts revealed it was in fact a second-winter. It wasn't the gull I'd expected to find here at Killybegs, and remarkably it is the first record ever for County Donegal. That's now two counties I've found the first Bonaparte's Gull in. Probably says more about what I have done with my life rather than anything else!

Sunday 11 February 2018

Ireland day one - Killybegs and Donegal

It has been a few years now since I ventured out to Ireland for a winter trip. And with school manic and plenty of plans for the rest of the year, I thought staying 'local' for the February half-term was the thing to do. I've done plenty of these trips previously, with some decent rewards, but have usually raced around from site to site. Today though, I just based myself at Killybegs with a brief sojourn a few kilometres up the coast and a visit to Donegal town.
juvenile Glaucous Gull Killybegs, County Donegal 11th February 2018
One thing that I'll say is Killybegs has become 'gentrified', if that's what you'd call it. Bar the odd whiff of that familiar fishy smell, it is no longer the case that your car is stunk out by fishy odours for days. A shame, but there are still plenty of gulls about here as today testifies. In fact, I saw around 50 white-winged gulls which comprised of 15 or so Glaucous Gulls (an adult, 2nd-winter and the rest juveniles), at least 35 Iceland Gulls (three adults, third-winter, three second-winters and the rest juveniles) plus a second-winter Kumlien's Gull on the estuary at low tide mid morning.
adult Glaucous Gull Killybegs, County Donegal 11th February 2018 

juvenile Glaucous Gull Killybegs, County Donegal 11th February 2018

juvenile Iceland Gull Killybegs, County Donegal 11th February 2018

2nd-winter Iceland Gull Killybegs, County Donegal 11th February 2018

juvenile Iceland Gull Killybegs, County Donegal 11th February 2018
Access these days has become a lot more restricted at Killybegs, and you haven't got the outfall which was here in the 90s when I first visited. Given this is still one of Ireland's largest fishing ports though, and its location in the northwest, it still obviously gets the birds. And it seems as ever to be criminally under-watched, as today exemplifies where I didn't see another birder.

juvenile Iceland Gull Donegal town, County Donegal 11th February 2018
Add to that haul a juvenile that flew over fields by the Wild Atlantic Way southeast of Kilcar and three nice juveniles in Donegal town centre, and you could say I'd certainly had my fill of white-winged gulls for the day.
juvenile Glaucous Gull Killybegs, County Donegal 11th February 2018

Sunday 4 February 2018

Horned Lark at Staines and the usual suspects

Another weekend passes too quickly. Yesterday was one of those typically grim, grey and wet days which seem to be standard at the moment. After a morning hosting a bunch of kids for Saturday detention, I headed off to Crayford where things were fairly quiet - just an adult Yellow-legged Gull of note - while back in Rotherhithe there was a new Polish-ringed Black-headed Gull T8VE.

So on to today. Despite living in London and its extreme rarity status, I hadn't actually been for the (presumed) Horned Lark as of yet. I elected on going for the Ross' Gull last Saturday, woke up too late last Sunday to want to brave the traffic through London and then on its first appearance in November, I was in Portugal. So having picked Jamie and Dante up at Canada Water, we headed to Staines early morning. It was, fortunately, a nice bright day and on arrival the target bird showed really well: -

(presumed) Horned Lark Staines Reservoir, Surrey 4th February 2018
 The Horned Lark was feeding actively along the causeway, completely unperturbed by the small crowd. Though it spent most of the time on the south side, it did fly over to the north bank of the causeway where it showed really well with the light behind us. I did actually twitch over to Scilly in October 2001 for the individual there, which bar one on the Outer Hebrides, is I believe the only other British record of this North American (sub)species.

Anyway, having seen a really distant Scaup and a nice close Goldeneye, I quickly realised that the reservoirs of West London on a February morning were predictably bleak. And so we headed round to more familiar surroundings - Crayford recycling centre! And just like yesterday, we left Caspian Gull-less. Just two Yellow-legged Gulls, an adult and a first-winter, the best in a large number of gulls present.

The bright weather continued, and enticed us to Wanstead. Where it was Common Gull central as always, with probably 700 or so spread around the place - including two regular Norwegian ringed birds as well as an absolutely stonking 2nd calendar year bird that had hardly moulted anything (on close inspection three lower scapulars): -

juvenile Common Gull Wanstead, London 4th February 2018
adult Common Gull (JZ66) Wanstead, London 4th February 2018 - ringed as a first-winter at Hovindammen, Valle Hovin, Oslo,, Norway on 16th September 2015, and has been in Wanstead throughout this and the previous two winters

adult male Common Gull (J3EN) Wanstead, London 4th February 2018 - ringed at Tveitevannet, Bergen, Hordaland, Norway as a first-winter on 14th September 2013 and seen at Wanstead and Thames Barrier Park last winter 
There was also an adult Lesser Black-backed Gull at Wanstead that had been ringed in Gloucester on 22nd May 2010. Back in Rotherhithe, just as it was getting dark, I pulled into Greenland Dock by my flat and saw the Polish Black-headed Gull (T8VE) from yesterday again as well as a NTGG ringed one too, and two metal-ringed birds as well (one from Germany and another BTO ringed).

Five more days until half-term... bring on the gulls!