Monday, 13 March 2017

Early spring promise

The mild conditions of recent days have generated a rush of summer migrants, many of which are arriving days (even weeks) earlier than usual.

I had my first Chiffchaff of the year singing at Lonsdale Road Reservoir, Barnes, at sunrise on Friday morning - this quickly followed by the regular 2cy Caspian Gull frequenting the playing fields at Dukes Meadows. I still look at this bird sometimes and shudder a bit, as structurally I think it looks quite Herring-like at times. I guess it's probably from Germany.

It looks fine here, but sometimes this bird takes on an appearance quite unremarkable for cachinnans. I've never seen/heard it calling.

Plenty of gulls have been on the move in recent days - the warm conditions of Saturday and Monday in particular were good for observing visible migration, with Black-heads almost streaming east at times. Not a single bloody Med Gull, though. The wait for one on my patch goes on. A few gull rings included the usual NTGG birds, red-ringed 2cy Herring 'J+H' from Peter Rock's scheme in Bristol, yellow-ringed 3cy Herring 'Y.161' (from Rufforth, N Yorks), and the following two:

 Adult Lesser Black-backed Gull white 'A8CF', Fulham, 11 March 2017 - from Sussex but awaiting details on when it was ringed

3cy Common Gull green 'J88Z', Chiswick, 12 March 2017 
Ringed as a 1cy female at Stavanger, Norway, on 16.11.15 and still in the city environs in Feb 2016, this is the first sighting of it since (and the first away from SW Norway)

There have also been up to three 2cy Yellow-legged Gulls knocking about recently, all familiar birds from recent weeks, but no new Caspian Gulls in recent days.

2cy Yellow-legged Gull, Fulham, 11 March 2017. I first saw this bird at Beddington on 3 March.

Sunday was a real red-letter day. Murky conditions produced a fall of early-spring migrants at the WWT including a pristine pair of Garganey, a Sand Martin, three singing Chiffchaffs and a smart male Northern Wheatear. Meadow Pipit was notable, too. On a sunnier Monday, I had a Common Sandpiper on the river at Fulham.

Monday, 6 March 2017

A mixed weekend

A foray to the wetland centre on Saturday revealed 50 species, with a handful of notable sightings: a winter-plumaged Water Pipit, two Reed Buntings, two male Stonechats a couple of Mandarins in with the captive birds, still two pairs of Pintail, best views yet of the 2cy Yellow-legged Gull with aberrant bill and one of the Peregrines showed fairly well as it drifted over.

2cy Yellow-legged Gull - the regular bird with aberrant bill

Male European Stonechat

The river held comfortably the highest number of Herring Gulls that I've recorded here so far - around 350. Unfortunately nothing could be found among them and the party was ended prematurely when a Common Buzzard went low south-west, flushing them all.

I decided to stay in on Sunday morning in order to get some work done. Bad decision - before I knew it, David Campbell was doing damage at the wetland centre with Iceland and Caspian Gulls. I spent the rest of the afternoon working the river, dodging the at times biblical rain showers, and saw little more than the usual two Yellow-legged Gulls - the aberrant bird was observed on the river for the first time near Hammersmith Bridge while the regular bird at Chiswick Eyot was showing well.

Yellow-legged Gull, Chiswick Eyot, 5 March 2017

A visit to Beddington Monday morning was productive with six Caspian Gulls (four 2cy and two 3cy), including the pallid, yellow-ringed 'X319', which was seen on the Thames in East London by Rich et al on numerous occasions before it became regular at Beddington.

Confiding 2cy Caspian Gull at Beddington, 6 March 2017

A quick check of the gulls along the Thames between Fulham and Chiswick in the afternoon produced very little, aside continuing Dutch Black-headed Gull 'EE5T' and a German Common Gull, 'ALJJ'. This bird was ringed as pullus on Heligoland in summer 2015 and mine is the first sighting of it since!

3cy Common Gull 'ALJJ', Fulham, 6 March 2017

Friday, 3 March 2017

Good gulling at Beddington

Thanks to a kind invite from David Campbell, I went to spent a few hours sifting through the gulls at Beddington. It was my first visit there since April 2007, the day after the Glaucous-winged Gull was seen, and it's fair to say the site has changed somewhat - not least the construction of a hideous incinerator that is set to be a massive and permanent blot on the skyline.

The morning produced nine species of gull - the usual five plus:
  • 2cy Caspian Gull: also seen at Rotherhithe by Rich Bonser on 26 February [and then by several observers at Thames Barrier Park on 4 March]
  • 2cy Glaucous Gull
  • 2cy Iceland Gull: regular bird that has been around all winter (I saw it on the Thames in Hammersmith in early December)
  • Five Yellow-legged Gulls (2 ads, 5cy, 2 2cy): one of these has been seen regularly by Rich, Dante, Jamie et al on the Thames in East London. Curious how they move round, and fascinating that they're being tracked so closely this winter.
2cy Caspian Gull - almost as big as a heron

Dumpy 2cy Glaucous

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Regular Yellow-legged Gull at Chiswick

This 2cy Yellow-legged Gull has been regular at Chiswick Eyot in recent days. It's quite a distinctive bird with heavily marked scapulars and worn flight feathers - the primaries are quite bleached, for example. Covert moult has commenced, as is evident in the pics below.

2cy Yellow-legged Gull, Chiswick Eyot

A large and aggressive bird, here it is pictured bullying a 2cy Herring Gull

I've also had up to three at the Wetlands Centre lately, so they appear to be on the move. This presumably ties in with Lesser Black-backed Gull migration, which also seems to be well underway. Small pulses of birds have been passing through my stretch of the Thames and I had blue-ringed 2cy V.JZ4 last week, which is apparently from Denmark (awaiting details on that one).

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

A weekend in the Peterborough area

I took advantage of meetings up in Lincolnshire to spend a weekend at home - primarily to see family but also cram in some birding, too. In short, I've never seen so many birders locally! The now-famous Bluethroat at Willow Tree Fen has been drawing large crowds ever since it turned up and I joined them on a few occasions. Unfortunately, feeding this bird mealworms has only made it more elusive - now it doesn't need to forage, it pops out on the footpath to pick up a snack every half-hour or so, grabs one and heads back to the reeds almost right away. Still, a very nice bird to see so close to my old stomping ground, and in February..!

I'm not sure if it's because I've become accustomed to the largely bird-less expanses of Central London, but my old patch at Baston & Langtoft Pits seemed really 'birdy' on each visit. Most rewarding was a pair of Grey Partridges, a species I almost never see these days and one I've not seen at Langtoft in many years. Presumably reintroduced stock, but fantastic nonetheless. Up to 35 Yellowhammers and 10 Corn Buntings (but no Pine) was also nice, as were stunning views of a hunting Barn Owl one evening. Good numbers of wildfowl included hundreds of Wigeon, a Pink-footed Goose among the Greylags and a fine adult Whooper Swan among the Mutes. Returning shorebirds included an impressive count of 10 Oystercatchers.

 Male Grey Partridge 

Barn Owl 

Whooper Swan

Of course no trip back 'home' would be complete without paying homage to Peterborough's gulls, and it was nice to find a second-winter Iceland Gull at Dogsthorpe Tip, as well as an imposing first-winter Caspian Gull. Large gull numbers were in general quite healthy, with perhaps 3,000 or so of the three commoner species (~ 90 per cent Herring) at Dogsthorpe.

Iceland Gull 

Caspian Gull 

Pale Herring Gull

Monday, 13 February 2017

A familiar Yellow-legged Gull and hints of spring

It felt almost springlike out of the wind today, and fittingly I saw my first butterfly of the year - a Red Admiral hurriedly commuting between riverside gardens adjacent to Chiswick Eyot. Poor thing must've been chilly.

With cloudless skies and temperatures having recovered somewhat from the weekend, it felt like a decent day to be looking skyward and so it proved. A Common Buzzard headed south over London Wetland Centre at height at 11:49 and a little later, a Red Kite drifted low west over the Thames and then the Harrods Furniture Depository at 12:06. Both new species for the year, the latter the first I've seen here.

Common Buzzard high over the wetland centre ...

... and a somewhat lower Red Kite

Personal highlight of the morning was a striking 2cy Yellow-legged Gull. This bird, with its extremely distinctive aberrant bill pattern, was first seen by Rich Bonser by the O2 Arena on 17 August 2016 and then intermittently either there or at nearby Thames Barrier Park until 23 December (and again on 11 February per Dante Shepherd). See Rich's photos here. This is, to the best of my knowledge, the first time it's been seen away from East London.

I finished the day at Chiswick Pier, feeding a legion of Black-headed Gulls. They recognise me and my bike now - as soon as they see me pull up they come in and wait for me to get the bread out my bag. It's nice to see a lot of them are now acquiring their hoods. Another encouraging sign that the long, happy days of spring and summer aren't far away.

In addition to the gulls, this Egyptian Goose was grateful for my offerings.

Monday, 6 February 2017

Local gulls, Waxwings and more

I did quite a bit of local birding over the weekend. No fewer than three visits to the WWT produced two Caspian Gulls - the usual 2cy bird on Sunday and a very smart 4cy bird that I'd not seen before. It was on the grazing marsh on Friday (when the shots below were taken) and then briefly on the reservoir on Sunday, before flying off upriver. I also saw the 2cy at Hammersmith Bridge and later Chiswick Eyot before it flew off upriver towards Barnes - on both occasions it was showing brilliantly but was flushed by insensitive members of the public!

4cy Caspian Gull, WWT London, 3 February 2017

My Saturday visit produced my first Green Woodpecker and Greenfinch of the year. The latter has declined everywhere in Britain but it's become a seriously difficult species to find in many parts of London - this (and the two I had on Sunday) were the first I can remember seeing in months. My first summer migrants came in the form of a pair of Shelduck, freshly arrived on Saturday. Another year tick was Mandarin - at least two fully-winged, unringed drakes were in the Asian pen with the captive birds.

On Monday I took a cycle up to Gayford Road in Shepherd's Bush - the rowans that line this road are still stuffed with berries and I've been checking them regularly since Waxwings started pushing south just after the turn of the year. What seemed like yet another blank visit was suddenly enlivened as I cycled past the penultimate rowan and a distinctive trill greeted my ears - looking upwards, there was a silhouette with an unmistakable crest. The Waxwing dropped back down to feed, so I parked the bike and got my camera out to reel off a few shots. It quickly became apparent that two birds were shuffling around in the trees but as I lifted my camera, they burst out from the branches and bowled off eastwards. Two subsequent hours of searching plenty of likely spots in Shepherd's Bush and Hammersmith drew a blank - very frustrating!

Final stop before work on Monday afternoon was the River Thames at Fulham - my usual gulling spot. About 75 Herring Gulls was the best number I've seen here for a while (numbers have been low over the past couple of weeks) but I was pleased to see a familiar face rock up - a 3cy Yellow-legged Gull which I last saw here back on 17 December and, I think, I also recognise from back in September. It's well on its way towards second-summer plumage - the bare parts are really beginning to colour up.

3cy Yellow-legged Gull, Fulham, 6 February 2017

Sunday, 29 January 2017

Grey Seal at Hammersmith Bridge

The river was particularly busy with rowing and kayaking crews out in force today. The crowded water, combined with a large volume of Fulham fans walking up to Craven Cottage for their FA Cup tie against Hull, meant the number of birds was well down on what it can be - Teal, for example, were more or less non-existent between Hammersmith Bridge and the football ground.

Most of the gulls were floating around aimlessly overhead - even my bread wasn't enticing them to linger long. Curiously, I noticed the birds suddenly go absolutely mental just upstream from Hammersmith Bridge but nothing big was flying over. The birds were circling low over the water and it was instantly apparent why - a seal's head had popped up mid-channel!

It was a big beast, a male, and looked like a Grey Seal - confirmed by experts on Twitter. It seemed a bit perplexed by the large numbers of rowers going past almost constantly and ended up lingering just downstream of the bridge - it was still there, and showing well, when I came back past the bridge an hour later. It was surfacing about once every five minutes and I managed some decent photos after jumping down from the river wall and sitting by the edge of the water.

Looking at sightings of marine mammals in London on the ZSL website, it seems this isn't quite as unexpected as I'd anticipated. Indeed one individual (possibly the same) was seen as far up the river as Richmond on Saturday.

Otherwise, a couple of NTGG rings were as good as it got - P2MT (4cy) and R5ZT (2cy).