Saturday, 28 March 2015

Last chance to see...

This stunning male Lady Amherst's Pheasant may (or may not) be the last of its kind remaining in the UK. The species has a fascinating history in Britain stretching back to the late 19th century, and its population peaked in the mid-20th century when it was said to number in to the hundreds across the Greensand Ridge in Bedfordshire and Buckinghamshire.

Increased predation due to a rise in the fox population, along with increases in the population of introduced Muntjac, are cited as likely causes of its subsequent decline. By the turn of the century numbers of Lady Amherst's were suspected to have dropped to a few tens and, by 2010, just a handful remained.

It seems that birds have persisted at just one site for the past few years. I first encountered birds here in 2011, when at least three could be heard calling. It seems that these have now dwindled to just the one... I guess it could theoretically be almost as old as I am!

It's an incredibly wary bird and tends to show for just seconds at a time. Quite where it shows is unpredictable (it's been seen in several spots) though it had been favouring a certain ride in early March, and was apparently seen again there this morning (28 March).

Lady Amherst's Pheasant

Lady Amherst's Pheasant

Wednesday, 11 March 2015


I've just had a most enjoyable weekend on the near-continent in the company of James Shergold and Harry Murphy. Our quarry was a mixed bag of distasteful introduced species and some altogether more appealing Continental specialities. On paper, I guess you'd have to say that the highlight of the weekend was the wintering Wallcreeper in Dinant, Belgium - after a fair old wait, we were treated to some excellent views of this brilliant bird as it alternated between the cliffs and the Palais de Justice. At one point, it even disappeared under the eves for as long as ten minutes before resurfacing! After seeing Wallcreeper at about a mile's range at Les Baux last March, it was great to finally see the species well.

I suppose I shouldn't be admitting to this, but I did get just as much of a buzz out of some of the introduced birds seen over the weekend. Our first stop on Saturday morning was Forêt d'Hesdin, where about a dozen Reeves's Pheasants were seen. Most were females, like this one:

We did see a couple of absolutely glorious males, including this one which briefly posed well for photos before scampering off in to the forest...

With the pheasant and Wallcreeper safely in the bag by mid-afternoon on Saturday, we decided to try a few woodlands in southern Belgium in the hope that we might be able to turf out Middle Spotted Woodpecker. And that we did without too much difficulty thanks to James' sharp eyes - a tick for Harry, as was Short-toed Treecreeper.

A successful first day was capped off with a few beers and fantastic tapas in a hotel near Utrecht. Leaving Harry - a testosterone-fuelled teen - to head off in to the night in search of local Dutch girls, James and I retired to the room for a good night's sleep - very much needed after a long day. Fortunately Harry returned in one piece, and was even up for our early start. Heading over to the east side of Utrecht, we met up with Thierry Jansen and friend who kindly showed us to a Black Woodpecker territory. It didn't take long before we were treated to good views of a male set to the backdrop of overflying White-fronted Geese and singing Woodlarks. Not a bad start to the day!

After this it was a case of 'eyes on the prize' as we re-focussed on two introduced species - Bar-headed Goose and Black Swan. The former was easily encountered near Culemborg while a pair of the latter were seen not far from Vianen, a third swan later seen in fields near Strijen.

Fortunately these were interspersed with more recognisable quality - namely a flock of Lesser White-fronted and many hundreds (thousands) of both European White-fronted and Barnacle Geese, plus Goshawk, Merlin, Med Gulls, Hawfinches and plenty more besides.

After dipping the Long-legged Buzzard at Maasvlakte we began the long drive south, calling in for these boys on the way - the less said about them, the better.

And so that rounded off a fine weekend on the European mainland. It was an excellent reminder of how much better birding can be just across the Channel and, even with the Cat Cs now safely planted on my Western Palearctic list, I'd happily return and do it all again. Very much cheap and cheerful, with some great birds to boot. It's my intention to produce a fuller trip report with GPS for some of the more interesting species (Reeves's, woodpeckers etc) in the coming weeks, so watch out for that.

Saturday, 24 January 2015

Adult Caspian Gull

Popping home to Lincolnshire is always a good excuse for re-visiting Dogsthorpe and Tanholt tips - sites I spent so much time at as a teen. I still vividly remember seeing my first Caspian Gull here, more or less a decade ago now - and this bird at Dogsthorpe still remains one of the 'best' cachinnans that I've seen in Britain.

After briefly calling in yesterday without success, I returned to Dogsthorpe this morning. Bright and breezy conditions are the worst conditions for viewing Peterborough's gulls - for whatever reason, it makes them irritatingly skittish and they rarely settle in such weather. Today proved no exception and so I was frankly amazed when literally the only gull on the tip pit as I arrived was this stunner:

These are by far the best views I've had of adult Caspian Gull in Peterborough and it follows hot on the heels of the two showy juvenile Glaucs on New Year's Eve. True to form it remained for no more than a minute before flying off. As you'll see in the below images the pattern on p7 is striking - a black 'blob' is separate to the black subterminal markings. The primary pattern is also asymmetrical, with a complete 'W' on p5 right wing but just a black spot on the left - really interesting bird.

Otherwise had a third-winter Casp but nothing else despite thousands of gulls present. Checked the roost at CEGB reservoir which was woeful.

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Grey-headed Gull, round two

One of the first shots of Sunday, taken very early in the low light and drizzle

The light might not have been particularly good throughout Sunday (it remained overcast with occasional bit of rain throughout the day) but the Grey-headed Gull certainly performed well. So well, in fact, that it far exceeded all expectations and provided a memorable day for myself, Rich Bonser and Mick Southcott (who'd arrived on Saturday evening),

Mick's 'Dungeness tactics' paid dividends as the bird, along with the local Black-headed and Mediterranean Gulls, became ever tamer as the day wore on. We won their trust with a combination of several loaves of bread, popcorn and salami and the result was phenomenal and prolonged views of this African vagrant to within a range of a metre. A few of my favourite shots are shared below, with plenty more on Flickr.

We also had an adult Caspian Gull in the harbour at Bisceglie with two second-winter birds seen at nearby Molfetta harbour. And, with that, it was time to head back to Bari airport for our evening flight back to London. Not a bad way to spend a weekend!

Monday, 19 January 2015

Fifty Shades of Grey

I spent the weekend around the relatively unspectacular Italian town of Bisceglie, where my quarry was the wintering Grey-headed Gull first found nearby in November 2012. The trip proved an overall success, with the two days differing quite considerably in both weather and views of the bird. I've only managed to have a look through Saturday's images so far, some of which are displayed below.

Saturday was glorious - 18 celsius and unbroken winter sunshine resulted in a rather red face! Having flown out the previous evening with Gordon Beck, Ernie Davis and Gary Fennemore, we spent the day at the small freshwater outflow a couple of km to the south of the town where several birders had connected in recent weeks. The bird's appearances here had been somewhat unpredictable - one French birder had waited three days while others had scored within an hour of daybreak on their first morning. As it turned out we struck a happy medium - five hours in and the bird noisily announced itself shortly after mid-day, arriving at the mouth of the outflow from the north-west and proceeding to preen and bathe at a range of around 40 metres.

Grey-headed Gull on the water with its Black-headed brethren

Naturally I introduced a bit of bread and the bird immediately played ball, giving several vocal fly-pasts allowing for a few flight shots to be taken. The bird then spent an hour or so roosting on the far side of the channel before flying off north-west again at around 13:30. Save for a couple of shots of it on the water, all my photos from Saturday are of the bird in flight.

Other birds included one or two Black-necked Grebes offshore, a handful of Sardinian Warblers and Zitting Cisticolas, a pair of Black Redstarts, a noisy flock of ten Monk Parakeets and a Hoopoe.

The real excitement of the day was a speculative check of the town harbour itself late in the afternoon, where we found the Grey-headed roosting on a pontoon among the Black-heads. Immediate suspicions were that this must be where the bird spends at least a significant majority of its time - something that proved to be the case the following morning...

Sunday, 11 January 2015

Two Ring-billed Gulls in Hampshire

One close....

Ring-billed Gull, Gosport, 11 January 2015

... and the other far away....

Adult Ring-billed Gull with Common Gulls, Blashford Lakes, 11 January 2015

Sunday, 4 January 2015

Day at the dump

Abhorrent weather conditions on Saturday and I very nearly got back in to bed at 6am having had little more than four hours' sleep and hearing the rain splattering against my window. Glad I gritted my teeth and got through it though. Steve Arlow kindly invited me along with him and Rich Bonser for a new experience for me - actually spending time on a dump looking at gulls.

Despite the absolutely disgusting conditions it turned out to be a successful few hours until a puncture curtailed our efforts. Highlight was a juvenile Glaucous Gull which unfortunately didn't perform closely for the camera, but three Caspian Gulls (two first-winters and a third-winter) showed at point-blank range and we also had a few Yellow-legged Gulls. Light was terrible for photos though.

 Big juvenile Glaucous having just swallowed something large and nasty.

 2cy cachinnans with pale, almost whitish scaps.

A pathetically small 2cy cachinnans with tiny bill.

A couple of leucistic birds concerned a Herring and a returning Norwegian-ringed Great Black-backed that had Richard unnecessarily excited, having first seen it on the dump last year. Also a couple of presumed Glaucous x Herrings (or perhaps just pale Herrings).

Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Showy Glaucous Gulls in Peterborough

Several thousand gulls at Dogsthorpe on New Year's Eve including the second-winter Iceland Gull again and two juvenile Glaucous Gulls. I was photographing one thinking it looked a bit more robust than the previous day's bird, not noticing the second in the images until I reviewed a few of the shots. A quick look through the 'scope and there they were, side by side - quite amazing!

Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Post-Christmas wingers

After a visit to Dogsthorpe on Saturday morning with little more than brief views of a 2cy cachinnans to show for the effort, I was surprised (and a little gripped!) to hear that Jonathan Taylor had scored both Iceland and Glaucous Gulls on the tip yesterday. Popped over this morning and was pleased to find both were behaving extremely well on the predominately frozen Star Pit. It's been a while since I've seen any gulls on the pit there, let alone good ones, and so it had a rather pleasant 'old school' feel to it - I remember ticking Caspian Gull here about ten years ago!

I've seen quite a few white-winged gulls in Peterborough over the years, but this is the first time that I actually had two in the same 'scope/camera view. I've had two on the same pit before, but never side-by-side!

Juvenile Glaucous

2cy Iceland

Glaucous + Iceland

Not much else today save for a confiding pair of Stonechats at Baston Fen, where there was also a Barn Owl hunting (but not SEOs). 85 (eighty-five!) Red-crested Pochards and 23 Shoveler on my patch. Another glorious winter's day.

Monday, 29 December 2014

Penduline Tit

This is the first Penduline Tit I've seen in Britain since the flock of four at Rainham in winter 05/06. I wasn't going to bother going but on hearing it was showing well, decided it was worth the hour drive down this morning. And so it proved: though it would go missing it times, it eventually showed to within 10 metres in beautiful golden afternoon light.