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

Sunday, 7 August 2016

Swamp donkey

Adult Western Swamphen, Minsmere, Suffolk, 1 August 2016

A Western Swamphen was found at Minsmere on Sunday 31 July. I didn't actually hear about the bird until the evening as I was playing cricket and didn't have my mobile to hand. As such I visited early on Monday morning, and enjoyed fine views for much of my stay from 07:45-10:30. That said, the bird was always over the far side of the pool and thus rarely any closer than about 100 metres.

In my (and many others') opinion, this bird meets all the criteria you'd hope for in a wild bird. An unusual northward dispersal has been occurring in France this year and it's easy to fit this bird in to the pattern observed there. You can read much more about this influx in an article by Hugo Touzé and myself on the BirdGuides website:

The bird's last showing at Minsmere came on Friday, resulting in a six-day stay. There has been no sign since. I'd argue that the relatively short stay is another factor in favour of this bird being wild - though the most northerly swamphen in France (in Morbihan) is still present at the time of writing, having been found back on 20 July. Others, further south in France, lingered for up to a week or so.

The jury's of course still out and it may be that some damning evidence comes to light that renders it unacceptable as a wild bird - though I doubt that'll be the case, and I suspect (hope) that it rightfully finds its way on to Category A.

Friday, 29 July 2016

Gulling in Chiswick

After my walk along the Thames in Chiswick today, I'm slightly embarrassed that I've never bothered to look at gulls here in the summer months before. There are never that many large gulls full stop (normally just a few tens) but, inspired by Rich Bonser's ability to pick up regular michahellis and even the very occasional cachinnans among similarly small numbers on the Thames near his Rotherhithe flat, I decided it was worth a shot today. All I can say is I can't believe I hadn't tried before!

While hardly ground-breaking stuff, I was pretty chuffed with two Yellow-legged Gulls among 60-70 large gulls on the Thames between the Fuller's brewery and the Black Lion pub, a few hundred metres to the east. In fact, I had my first  - a second-summer - within moments of arriving.

Second-summer Yellow-legged Gull, Chiswick, 29 July 2016

Unfortunately it didn't come in to the near-whole loaf of bread I lobbed out, although there was a nice selection of fresh juvenile Herring and Lesser Black-backed Gulls to admire among the c.25 large gulls that joined the melee.

Walking west up to the brewery revealed about 40 further large gulls loafing just west of Chiswick Eyot, including a couple of adult Great Black-backed Gulls. Here I found a juvenile Yellow-legged Gull, which went on to show considerable interest in my bread and showed really well. Sadly I only had a couple of slices left so didn't have much time with it cruising around my head, but I intend to reload on the bread front and head back down at low tide early tomorrow morning.

Juvenile Yellow-legged Gull, Chiswick, 29 July 2016

So a great way to spend to an otherwise sleepy Friday. Suddenly, birding in Chiswick actually seems quite appealing! The only drawback to the gulls here, which give great views, is that you're viewing from the north bank of the river - so on a bright day, light will inevitably be a bit crap. But it's otherwise great - and with Common Terns drifting past, Little Egrets fishing and the usual array of Egyptian Geese to keep you entertained, it's not all that bad for Central London.

The next generation :-)

Thursday, 28 July 2016

Fair Isle's summer wildlife

Back in late June I was invited up to Fair Isle by the RSPB to have a look at their new Puffin project. Due to fog we ended up getting stuck on the island for a couple of extra days but were well looked after thanks to the great generosity of David, Susannah and the team at Fair Isle Bird Observatory. Of course there are much worse places to be 'stuck' in mid-summer than on Fair Isle, and the wildlife did not disappoint.

  • You can read my article on the RSPB's Puffin project here.

Quite a few Arctic Skuas around; most are dark morph birds on Fair Isle. One or two pairs had very young chicks.

Angel of Death aka Bonxie - 2016 looks to be a record year for them here

Puffins are just brilliant

Northern Wheatears are breeding everywhere on the island

I walked for ages looking for Heath Spotted Orchids before I realised why I had been missing them - they're absolutely tiny on Fair Isle, as the 10 cent coin demonstrates!

Plenty of Common Snipe displaying around the island but not often this photogenic

Monday, 18 July 2016

Quick New Forest trip

My housemates have been busy obsessing over Pokemon Go, but I've resisted the temptation to download it myself and instead decided to pop down to the New Forest on Monday morning to 'catch' a couple of real-life organisms instead: Bog Orchid and Silver-studded Blue. Having not tried for them before, the former was a new orchid for me and it was several years since I'd seen the latter.

First stop was a small, boggy slack not too far from the A31. Among the many sundews (Drosera rotundifolia?) and other interesting plants I eventually got my eye in and started to pick out my first Bog Orchids. I'd heard that these things are notoriously difficult to see as they tend to be absolutely tiny but there were several well-grown and robust specimens that positively towered at around 15cm! The closer I looked, the more these dainty orchids became apparent - I counted at least 30 without too much effort. Photographing such a tiny plant among dense, grassy vegetation wasn't such an easy matter, and you have to be extremely careful here to avoid trampling the orchids and other plants. Thanks, as ever, to Sean Cole for his handy gen.

Bog Orchids are tiny and can be extremely difficult to see among the vegetation

An impressively sized and photogenic specimen - just a shame it was a little over

Another sizeable specimen and in better condition

Close-up of the above individual

There were several robust specimens 'towering' at over 10cm tall, but this was a more typical spike (with 20 pence piece for size comparison)

I then headed over to Ocknell Plain and spent about half an hour chasing the hundreds of Silver-studded Blues around, trying for nice photos. A hard species to do justice to once they've warmed up!

The only individual I found with its wings still closed on what was a very warm morning 

 A delightfully fresh male sunning itself

On my way back to London I called in at Alice Holt Forest, near Farnham, and spent a little over an hour walking up and down the ride at Straits Inclosure. It was a gloriously hot and sunny morning and therefore flummoxing to learn from all the butterfly-ers returning along the track that no-one had seen any Purple Emperors! Plenty of butterflies were on the wing, though, including several Marbled Whites and some beautiful Silver-washed Fritillaries. I hung around at the second observation tower for a while and was rewarded with a flyover Purple Emperor at 11:18 - it did a couple of loops, attacked a Brown Hawker and then disappeared in to the treetops. Despite my best efforts to lure it down, I didn't see it again - or any others for that matter.