Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Cosmic: Britain's first Siberian Accentor

Sometimes you're in the right place at the right time. And, on Sunday afternoon, after nine days on Shetland, we were just about that. Minutes away from checking in for our flight back to Aberdeen, we were sat outside the terminal when John's pager started wailing and his increasingly hysterical voice just about managed to squeeze our "Siberian Accentor ... Shetland ... at Scousburgh ..!"

There wasn't any need for thought. We piled back in to our hired minibus we were in the process of returning and bombed off in no time. Fifteen minutes later and we were watching Britain's first Siberian Accentor happily feeding away in an unsuspecting quarry on the western slopes of Mossy Hill. Oblivious of the carnage unfolding around it, the accentor performed to within a few metres, feeding with the voraciousness of a newly-arrived migrant. I was utterly thrilled to simply be part of the crowd that evening - I can only image what Judd Hunt must have thought when he first clapped eyes on this perfect rarity.

I'll update the blog in the coming days with a more general Shetland review - for the meantime here's a few shots of the accentor.

 Siberian Accentor, Mossy Hill, Shetland, 9 October 2016

 The bird's favoured quarry complete with appreciative crowd.

Friday, 30 September 2016

September ends with a couple of Caspian Gulls

There are still good numbers of gulls visiting Dogsthorpe Tip, on the outskirts of Peterborough, at the moment, and the pit within the tip complex offers pretty good views of bathing and loafing birds. I called in briefly today and had two Caspian Gulls, an adult and a first-winter. Fortunately the adult was one of the closest birds! Also present today was a single first-winter Yellow-legged Gull among around 1,000 large gulls.

Saturday, 17 September 2016

First tip visit of the season

A Saturday morning spent at Pitsea produced a fairly meagre scattering of gulls - a little disappointing after Rich Bonser had visited over the two previous Saturdays and enjoyed excellent numbers, including several Caspian Gulls. Highlights were limited to a tame fox, the returning leucistic Great Black-backed Gull (and, incidentally, its normal-looking sibling for its first time at this site) and 10+ Yellow-legged Gulls. With tipping activity at a minimum, we'd called it a day by late morning.

A couple of adult Yellow-legged Gulls among the detritus - quite amusing how well camouflaged they can be

Yellow-legged Gulls of various ages

'Big White' the Norwegian Great Black-backed Gull - back again!

A surprisingly smart Red Fox - you tend to see really mangled individuals here

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

Fantastic Frampton

Back on 22 August - the morning after Birdfair - I popped over to Frampton Marsh to meet up with warden Toby Collett to take a look round and see what the RSPB does to manage this brilliant reserve. I've written an article on my visit, which can be read on the BirdGuides website.

It so happened that my visit coincided with a massive arrival of Curlew Sandpipers - they were literally everywhere, flocks were coming and going and their calls echoed around the reserve. We counted over 200 by the end of the morning, all but a few being fresh juveniles.

As well as this there were a minimum of 10 Little Stints, several Spotted Redshanks, hundreds of Black-tailed Godwits and Knot plus four-figure numbers of Dunlin. It was among the latter that I found the undoubted highlight of the morning ... a leucistic bird! I've never seen leucism in any shorebird before and although it's documented in many species, I can't recall ever seeing photos of a Dunlin quite so white. Amazing looking thing, particularly in flight when the closest thing it resembled was a miniature Fairy Tern or Snow Petrel!

Frampton is absolutely stuffed with birds. It must be a brilliant local patch, although I'm amazed Toby and the team get any work done here with so many distractions constantly on show! I wish I could visit more often - it certainly felt a bit of a non-event when I was checking the gulls on the Thames in Chiswick later that day!

Waders and wildfowl cover the scrapes at Frampton Marsh

Monday, 22 August 2016

Another juvenile Caspian Gull

A quick lunchtime visit to Dogsthorpe Tip on Monday produced another juvenile Caspian Gull. This latest individual was particularly pale and distinct, despite scapular moult having only just commenced, and was also a massive bird.

Juvenile Caspian Gull rivalling Great Black-backs for size

The pit here is pretty big and most of the gulls are out of range for the DSLR but birds on the spit show quite well. When gulls take off from the spit and head back to the tip to feed, they tend to fly quite close by - so the views can be quite good with luck.

Thursday, 18 August 2016

Caspian Gulls in Peterborough

I'm back in Lincolnshire for Birdfair weekend and have been able to sneak in a couple of fairly brief sessions at Dogsthorpe Tip over the past two days - one on my way back home yesterday and one before work this morning. In total I've seen five Caspian Gulls: two 3cy and juvenile yesterday and then two of those birds plus a second juvenile and a near-adult (4cy) this morning.

Scope views of the pit are pretty good at present but both yesterday and today have been very warm, with an abundance of heat haze making photography difficult. It's a stretch for my 400mm lens to produce anything decent at the best of times here and so the efforts below are really just for documentation. Unfortunately the near-adult wasn't photographed despite doing a brilliant fly-past at about 30m range - I should have nailed it but my camera was on the wrong settings and so all I have are blurs.

Bird #1: juvenile, 17-18 August
I'm a bit sceptical about whether this is a pure Caspian Gull. Plumage is a little on the dark side - not out of range for a juvenile Casp but, when combined with the fairly Herring-like structure (quite big-headed and short-billed) plus quite heavily marked uppertail and undertail coverts, alarm bells sound. However it possesses the typical mouse-brown basal colour as well as the long, drooping lower tertials of a juvenile Casp and does kind of just look like one - if you don't stare too hard! The underwing is pretty pale, too, if not as pale as it can be in cachinnans. Perhaps it's from Germany.

Bird #2: juvenile, 18 August
Unlike the other youngster, no doubt about this one! First shot is with the DSLR, second with my iPhone 5.

Bird #3: 3cy (2s/3w), 17 August
Structurally quite obvious and also showed a small white mirror on retained p10.

Bird #4: 3cy(?), 17-18 August
I didn't realise this was a different bird to the above until I reviewed images this evening! Present almost next to the other 3cy on 17th, hence the confusion.

At least eight Yellow-legged Gulls were seen over the two sessions with the commonest age class being juveniles (four) followed by 2cy (three) and a single 4cy. Weirdly no adults; traditionally I've found them to be the commonest age class here in past summers.

Juvenile Yellow-legged Gull, 17 August

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Chiswick, 16 August

A quick visit to the River Thames by Chiswick Eyot at last knockings on Tuesday evening revealed two 2cy Yellow-legged Gulls among just 25 large gulls. I've been really impressed by the turnover of birds here; both of these are new individuals that I'd not seen before. The usual tactic of lobbing out a loaf of wholemeal brought them to within a few metres at times, but the light was too far gone for any flight shots.

2cy Yellow-legged Gull (bird #1), Chiswick, 16 August 2016

2cy Yellow-legged Gull (bird #2), Chiswick, 16 August 2016

Comparison of 2cy Yellow-legged (left) and Herring Gulls, Chiswick, 16 August 2016

Monday, 8 August 2016

Monday gulls

A short Thames gulling session around Chiswick Eyot on Monday lunchtime produced a juvenile Yellow-legged Gull among at least 110 large gulls. The michahellis was quite a dark and well-marked individual with scapular moult well under way, and clearly a different bird to that seen last week. I also had a juvenile on a brief pre-cricket visit on Sunday, but have no idea whether it's the same bird.

Juvenile Yellow-legged Gull, Chiswick, 8 August 2016

Arguably more interesting, though, was a blue-ringed 2cy Lesser Black-backed Gull. This is the first ringing recovery I've had over four visits in the past ten days, and nice for it not to be a red NTGG job! Suspicions that it was a Dutch bird were quickly confirmed by Roland-Jan Buijs - it was ringed as pullus on 13 June 2015 at Vlissingen-Oost, Zuid-Holland. This is the first time it's been seen anywhere since then.

2cy Lesser Black-backed Gull blue '9B', Chiswick, 8 August 2016