Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Mallorca weekender

It had been over 15 years since I last visited Mallorca and a return visit was in order to connect with two specialities: Balearic Warbler and [Balearic] Tyrrhenian Flycatcher. Though I'd seen the flycatcher previously, this was as an uneducated 10-year-old and long before the potential split had been suggested, so it was as good as a tick.

I found the island to be much busier and more developed than when I'd previously visited with my parents in the 90s/early 2000s. There were also literally thousands of cyclists! Of course by no means a bad thing, but quite extraordinary to see so many people dedicating time to this ever-more popular hobby. It also meant you had to be pretty careful driving around corners on the winding mountain roads ...

Despite the increased development, many areas of the island remain beautifully unspoilt. It's always nice to see more traditional farming methods being practised and field edges full of Corn Buntings, Stonechats and larks (among others) - a stark contrast to the largely barren wastelands of the South Lincolnshire fens. The weather was also brilliant - although a little breezy on the Saturday, the sun shone throughout the weekend and the temperature was very pleasant in the low twenties (apart from at dawn, when it was positively chilly).

Bird-wise, I struggled a little with Balearic Warbler but eventually found a confiding bird at the Boquer Valley late morning on Sunday. Unfortunately the light was very strong by this time and my photos aren't what I'd hoped for on the outward journey (having dedicated two early mornings to finding them).

♂ Balearic Warbler, Vall de Boquer, 7 May

Occupying a similar niche to the warblers were both Thekla Larks and Tawny Pipits. I hadn't seen the former for a few years, and the views of the latter were perhaps the best I've ever had.

Migration wasn't as prevalent as it had been the previous weekend when, by all accounts, the island was littered with passerines after heavy storms. Nonetheless small numbers of nominate Spotted Flycatchers, Willow and Garden Warblers and a single Common Redstart were seen. Best passerine was a Melodious Warbler at Formentor lighthouse on the Saturday evening, apparently a fairly uncommon bird on Mallorca (but presumably overlooked?). I was also pleased to see a female Pallid Harrier over Portocolom on Saturday morning - I guess this would have been a big deal 10 years ago, but it seems to be recorded annually on Mallorca these days.

♀ Pallid Harrier, Portocolom, Mallorca, 6 May

It was also great to see a few Red-footed Falcons. I had three (ad ♂, 2cy ♂, 2cy ♀) at Vilafranca de Bonany and two (ad ♀, 2cy ♀) at Maria de la Salut. Heat haze was always a problem for photos as I saw both 'groups' in the middle of the day, but a few records below.

 Adult ♂ Red-footed Falcon, Vila Franca de Bonany, 6 May

 2cy ♀ Red-footed Falcon, Maria de la Salut, 7 May

Adult ♀ Red-footed Falcon, Maria de la Salut, 7 May

After seeing them fairly poorly in Corsica a few years ago, it was nice to reacquaint myself with the vocalisations and appearance of Moltoni's Warblers, with three singing males at Embalse de Cuber, as well as locally breeding Tyrrhenian Flycatchers there. Overhead in the mountains produced 20+ Griffon (these must be a recent thing on Mallorca - I never remember seeing them before?) and a handful of Cinereous Vultures and Booted Eagles.

Eurasian Griffon & Cinereous Vultures, Embalse de Gorg Blau, 6 May

It was a truly enjoyable couple of days away, and a cheap trip to boot - my return flight cost me £80 with Easyjet. I did the trip alone, but two or three up would make it an particularly inexpensive weekend trip, and very much recommended for some reasonable and relaxed birding in pleasant surroundings and weather.

Monday, 8 May 2017

Still looking at gulls ...

Quiet in the patch environs on Monday, save the common summer visitors that have arrived since my last intensive visit back in mid-April. Highlights were an Oystercatcher and this 3cy Yellow-legged Gull.

Thursday, 4 May 2017

A little late to the party

After several days of northerlies, migration exploded back in to life on Sunday in quite impressive fashion. I moved house over the weekend and had no time to get out birding, this made all the more galling by the appearance of a Red-winged Blackbird on North Ronaldsay - which I knew I had absolutely no chance of doing anything about, even if I am a bit of a failed twitcher these days.

I was heading back to Lincolnshire on Monday to see family, so was quite excited to hit my old patch, Baston & Langtoft Pits - particularly as a moderate south-easterly was blowing when I woke up and, as I drove north, occasional showers were passing through. Actually, it turned out to be a bit of a disappointment with the best birds of the morning being two adult Whooper Swans flying north and a Bar-tailed Godwit flying through in the evening - not a patch on the previous day's dynamism, and I couldn't help but feel that I was a little late to the party. That said, 13 Dunlin was a figure virtually unimaginable here in the days I used to watch BLGP (wader habitat was always in limited supply compared to nowadays) and there were good numbers of breeding waders plus the usual singing warblers and a Cuckoo - no Turtle Doves though.

I visited Barnack's delightful Hills and Holes reserve with my mother late morning. I remember going here as a small kid and being thrilled by Marbled Whites, Six-spot Burnets and so on, and it's been a place I've treasured ever since. Clearly a bit early for the above insects (and rather cold too!), but a good carpet of Pasqueflowers, Cowslips and Early Purple Orchids.

Early Purple Orchid, Barnack, 1 May 2017

Someone had found a Black Redstart at Deeping Lakes earlier in the day so, after a family meal, I twitched it. An area tick for me, this was a fairly confiding (and very vocal) bird. Pintail was a good May record there and another Cuckoo was singing plus plenty of Common Terns over the main lake.

Black Redstart, Deeping Lakes, 1 May 2017

Back at BLGP early on Tuesday morning, misty conditions had grounded singles of Greenshank and Eurasian Curlew but, most satisfyingly, a female Long-tailed Duck was present on the Corner Pit on the north side of the complex. This is the second I've seen here (following one in December 2006) and appears to be the bird last seen at nearby Deeping Lakes on 23 April.

Female Long-tailed Duck, Baston & Langtoft Pits, 2 May 2017

Black Swan - present intermittently on the same island on 1 and 2 May. No idea where it went when it wasn't there.

Taiwan stuff to come soon, hopefully.

Sunday, 9 April 2017

Iceland Gull in Peterborough

I don't think I've seen many (if any) white-winged gulls in Peterborough in April before, which I guess is quite surprising - that said, I probably haven't spent too much time looking at gulls here in previous Aprils. Both Glaucous and Iceland Gulls had been lingering at Dogsthorpe Tip throughout March and so I popped in on Thursday morning to see if either was still around - the Iceland was.

There doesn't look to be much food waste going in to Dogsthorpe at the moment and, with the incinerator in full effect just a few miles away, I guess gull numbers will dwindle here. Then again, I've been uttering that threat for the best part of a decade and yet still the area still draws in thousands of birds in winter, so hopefully the end is not nigh, even if gulls can't be expected to feed successfully on sofas, sawdust and various other bits of dry waste. The tip really must be close to completion, though - there is hardly any room to put more waste now.

juvenile Iceland Gull, Dogsthorpe, 6 April 2017

Monday, 3 April 2017

April arrives - yet I'm still looking at gulls

I managed to get out a fair bit over the weekend and logged a few migrants, but once again it was the gulls that provided the bulk of the entertainment. A leisurely walk around Chiswick House & Gardens on Saturday morning produced a Nuthatch and my first Swallow of the year zipping over, as well as the usuals. I've recently bought the Canon 100-400 ii zoom, and I must say image stabilisation has changed my life - my hands aren't very steady and I was amazed at how good the IS is at minimising my wobble! It seems pretty sharp too.

Mistle Thrush, Chiswick, 1 April 2017

The river produced the usual assortment of gulls as well as four Shelducks along the Fulham stretch and a Meadow Pipit over. A mid-afternoon visit to London Wetland Centre failed to produced G0UT (which had been seen in the morning) but a white-winged gull was picked up in flight at 15:30. It was distant and high up, but I managed to get it in the scope and confirm it was the Iceland rather than the regular Glaucous Gull that has been knocking around. The Iceland had been seen here again on Thursday and was presumably making the most of the warm conditions of Saturday to drift around West London after having been seen at Beddington that morning.

Juvenile Iceland Gull over London Wetland Centre, 1 April 2017

One each of Fieldfare and Redwing were the highlights of another early traipse around Chiswick House on Sunday morning, although it was clear that there had been an increase in singing Blackcaps overnight - in fact that species seemed to be very common everywhere on Sunday.

After brunch I saw a BirdGuides message that the Glaucous was back at the WWT for the first time since Thursday, so I cycled down there and finally enjoyed prolonged views of this bird - my second local white-winged gull in as many days. The sharp contrast between the pale head/upper neck and darker body seems to suggest that it is Beddington bird #2 (see Pete's blog). I wonder why it's suddenly decided to change its behaviour and spend most of its time around the river?

Juvenile Glaucous Gull, London Wetland Centre, 2 April 2017

In the afternoon I went to watch the boat race with my housemates, only for the Glauc to come steaming up the Thames by the Old Ship pub at 16:45 in hot pursuit of the women's event - my third sighting of this monster in a week. And then, on Monday morning, it was back at the WWT, performing well but generally being lazy - seems hard to avoid it at present. Who'd have thought white-winged gulls would routinely figure among my early-spring birding highlights in West London? Not me!

From white to black ... I was almost as excited by this Rook, which flew over the WWT at 10:15 on Monday morning. For those living outside the capital, seeing a Rook inside Zone 4 (i.e. Central London and the 'inner' suburbs) is a genuine challenge, and you have to hope for the occasional flyover like this. Needless to say it was a first for me here.

Mega! Rook over London Wetland Centre, 3 April 2017

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Blackwit, Glauc and more goodies

I was away in Paris over the weekend so news of the Glaucous Gull again at the WWT on Saturday and Sunday was mildly galling. I spent much of the day there on Monday failing to see it, though nine Little Gulls provided an enjoyable distraction; it's hard to get tired of watching these elegant birds. I recorded 58 species at the WWT on Monday with some notable omissions - not least the Firecrest which was found after I left! A male Little Ringed Plover was new for the year while other sightings included s/pl Water Pipit, Willow Warbler and an apparent hybrid 5cy Lesser Black-backed x Herring Gull (thought by some to be michahellis, but I don't buy that - primary pattern, structure and tepid bare part colouration all point away from YLG), at least the fifth such hybrid I've seen since I started watching gulls in this area last summer. A Thames-ringed gull was seen briefly and looked interesting, but I dismissed it as a Herring (more on that later).

I didn't have my lens, so these handheld, phonescoped shots will have to do ...

As I cycled back from the wetland centre I had a pair of Mandarins performing well on the Thames and six of the Little Gulls circled over before heading back to the scrapes. As it was such a glorious day, I decided to work remotely from the banks of the Thames by the Old Ship pub. We'd been there about half an hour when a kettle of about 15 gulls circled over. One of these looked very white with the naked eye and, on lifting the bins, it proved to be the Glaucous Gull. It circled overhead for a minute or so, giving great views in the late afternoon sunshine, before drifting off west over Chiswick. Just brilliant - I never anticipated that I'd have a chance of both white-winged gulls on this stretch of the river in my first winter watching it.

I had a bit of time on Wednesday to sneak out to the river at low tide and was greeted by a 2cy Caspian Gull resting on the spit by the River Cafe. When it got up, it revealed a red ring - amusingly, the combination read 'G0UT'. I'm waiting for confirmation but it sounds like this bird was ringed at the weekend. Also present was 2cy Herring 'A4ZT', which has been hanging round here of late. Having reviewed photos, it turns out that good old G0UT is the ringed bird I saw poorly on Monday.

2cy Caspian Gull 'G0UT', Hammersmith, 29 March

Last Friday, I added Black-tailed Godwit to my local year list after twitching one at the WWT.

Phonescoped Black-tailed Godwit (& Redshank), 24 March

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

17-20 March update

A fairly steady weekend, the clear highlight of which was my earliest ever Willow Warbler - a male in song on the boundary of the WWT on Saturday morning. Also new for me this year was a flyover Siskin. I had my second Wheatear of the year, another male, on 19th while other highlights at the WWT over the weekend included lingering Water Pipit, Jack Snipe and Pintail. I had at least one sighting of Peregrine and the drake Tufted Duck x Pochard performed particularly well on Sunday. Gulls were pretty unremarkable over the weekend.

The usual drake Tufted Duck x Pochard hybrid

Away from the WWT, the Yellow-legged Gull made appearances at Chiswick Eyot on Friday and Sunday, and I had a drake Mandarin fly over Lonsdale Road Reservoir on Saturday morning. Small gull numbers have really dropped off (to virtually zero) along the river, but large gulls remain fairly steady.

The regular 2cy Yellow-legged Gull at Chiswick Eyot

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