Sunday, 15 January 2017

A quieter weekend

I covered the Thames between Barnes and Fulham daily over the weekend without any decent reward. Gulls numbers were in the main quite low, even on Sunday, and the often awful weather conditions didn't help for seeing anything else. The best thing I could sift from among the gulls was this presumed hybrid Herring x Lesser Black-backed Gull - it looked more obvious in the field, but you can still see the tepid yellow leg colour and slightly darker mantle than argenteus Herring, as well as the typical black bills markings that you often see on hybrids of this age (rather similar to in LBB).

Herring x Lesser Black-backed Gull, Fulham, 15 January 2017

I decided to join the WWT this weekend, primarily so that I can have regular access to the London Wetland Centre. My first visit, in the rain on Sunday afternoon, produced the same first-winter Caspian Gull I saw on the Thames last week (I suspect it's spending most of its time in the immediate area) from Peacock Tower as well as singles of Bittern, Water Pipit and Jack Snipe - the latter was often swimming around in the open, quite strangely. Other notable local birds included a drake Pintail and male Stonechat.

First-winter Caspian Gull, London Wetland Centre, 15 January 2017

Friday, 13 January 2017

Caspian Gull XDFE relocated in Norfolk!

The 4cy Caspian Gull I saw on the River Thames in Fulham on 6 January was seen yesterday in Thetford, Norfolk, by Dawn Balmer. It's unequivocally the same bird - the bill pattern has several unique features that are easily recognisable and plumage looks identical too. No doubt they'll see it again and find I read the ring wrong ... :-) here's XDFE as a first-winter at Dungeness in August 2014.

Kudos to social media and the hyper-connected contemporary birding scene for this coming to light.

Caspian Gull 'XDFE', Thetford, Norfolk, 12 January 2017 © Dawn Balmer 

Sunday, 8 January 2017

Showy Caspian at Hammersmith Bridge

I've been hoping for one of these on my adopted 'patch' since I started looking at the gulls properly last summer. Rich, Jamie and Dante have been gripping me off with their shots of ever-present Caspian Gulls in East London but I've kept the faith with the stretch of the River Thames between Chiswick and Fulham. Finally, it's paying off. After Friday's brief third-winter, which was not photogenic in any way, I was suitably thrilled to pop my head over the river wall at Hammersmith and see this first-winter Casp gazing back at me.

I was initially a bit concerned about the mucky underwing and structure but Rich quickly allayed my fears and, having watched and photographed it for an hour or so, I'm happy it's more than fine for pure cachinnans. The first of many happy encounters here, I hope!

And a slightly larger photo ...

Friday, 6 January 2017

First patch Caspian Gull

I've decided to try and be a little more proactive about my birding in and around London in 2017 - it's about time I accepted that this is where I live, the birding will never be vintage and it's about making the most of what's in front of you.

The first step towards this is of course to adopt a patch. It'll inevitably lead to uninspiring, gull-heavy blog posts throughout the year, particularly given that Larids offer just about the only consistent point of interest in Central London, but I guess it's better than nothing ...

So, my adopted 'patch' will be the River Thames between Barnes Bridge and Craven Cottage, Fulham. This includes Leg o' Mutton (Lonsdale Road) Reservoir, where mature woods and dense patches of scrub should offer a glimmer of hope for interesting passerines at the right times of year. It'll likely end up including Barnes WWT, too, when I finally get sick of counting Herring Gulls and Cormorants on the river itself.

WWT or not, the patch fits comfortably within to the Patchwork Challenge area remit. So, I might as well give that a go too. Happily it'll qualify for the 'green' mini-league as I do all of my birding here either on foot or via bicycle. As such you can expect to find me loitering somewhere near the bottom of the table come December.

The River Thames at Barnes - the west end of the 'patch'

In the meantime I paid my first visit of 2017 to this stretch of the Thames today. Highlight was by far and away a third-winter Caspian Gull on the river off Lysia Street, Fulham. This is the same spot where I had an Iceland Gull in early December; birds seem to gather here routinely and it could be a fruitful place if watched regularly.

I identified this bird in the field as a second-winter (3cy) which, if you look at the perched shots, is fairly understandable. It was actually the presence of a green ring on its left leg which gave away this bird's age. Green XDFE was ringed as a chick at Gräbendorfer See in eastern Germany in June 2014. It has only been recorded a few times since, including at Dungeness in September 2014, and this is the first time it's been seen since summer 2015.

Actually there are a few tell-tale signs that this bird is in its fourth calendar year, but these are more apparent in flight. What is really striking is the restricted white in the outer primaries - with the restricted white mirror on p10 only, these look much more typical of a 3cy rather than 4cy bird.

Saturday, 24 December 2016

Pre-Christmas Iceland Gull

Best bird of a couple of days' searching around Peterborough was this juvenile Iceland Gull at Dogsthorpe Tip on 23rd. I was genuinely surprised to see it drop in to the pit given how scarce both white-winged gulls have been up to this point. Despite good numbers of gulls, nothing else of note seen - not even any Casps.

Monday, 12 December 2016

Ringed Black-headed Gulls on the Thames

Here are a few ringed Black-headed Gulls that I had on the Thames last week ...

1) Adult yellow ' 2PJB', Barnes, 5 December. Ringed at Pitsea, Essex, in March 2016. More details here.

2) Adult white 'EE5T', Fulham, 5 December 2016. Ringed as an adult at Griend, Netherlands, on 6 June 2016. First recorded in the UK at Hyde Park, London, on 19 October before my sighting in Fulham.

3) Adult metal 'HV11.766' ringed as pullus at lake (55.1192, 23.7542) north of Kaunas, Lithuania, on 18 June 2011. Not recorded subsequently until in Chiswick on 2 December 2016!

Saturday, 3 December 2016

Masked Wagtail

Britain's first Masked Wagtail (Moticilla alba personata) was identified in the small Pembrokeshire village of Camrose earlier in the week. While not (yet) a split, this particular individual was a real looker and it seemed rude to pass on the opportunity of joining Richard Bonser and team and heading west this morning.

The bird performed well on and off from around 08:20, often to within just a few metres as it fed on the road and along driveways. It seems very settled here, familiar with its surroundings and it would be surprising if it doesn't spend the winter here. It's a fantastic bird too, and well worth a look - tick or not.

Thanks to Rich for driving.

Masked Wagtail, Camrose, Pembrokeshire, 3 December 2016

Friday, 2 December 2016

Iceland Gull in Hammersmith!

I went for my first bike ride along the Thames for a couple of weeks this morning in the hope of finding a Caspian Gull. I had a Lithuanian Black-headed Gull at one of my usual spots in Chiswick (I'll blog about this bird at a later date) but only about 30 large gulls, so decided to continue east past Hammersmith Bridge and down towards Fulham.

This turned out to be a good move as I stumbled across a juvenile Iceland Gull among about 80 large gulls on the river adjacent to the Wetland Centre. This was actually the first time I'd biked down here this winter and it was nice to find a new spot for loafing gulls at low tide - Chiswick has generally been poor for numbers of large gulls in the past month.

Initial views of the Iceland Gull, Fulham, 2 December 2016

Eventually the bird showed pretty well, although steadfastly refused to show any interest in the four loaves of bread I threw at it. As such the scope for flight shots was minimal (I only grabbed a few as it flew past me towards Hammersmith) and I had to make do with perched shots at an awful angle and against a typically grubby Thames background.

After about half an hour the bird decided to fly off west upriver, over Hammersmith Bridge (thus in to my regular 'patch'!) before turning north and disappearing off over the West London skyline. It turns out that this is the same bird seen by Pete Alfrey at Beddington on 24 November and then by Dave Harris in the Island Barn Reservoir roost on 28th - not that that's surprising, given that there are so few Iceland Gulls in the country at present.

A white-winged gull with Hammersmith Bridge in the background - the stuff of dreams

Sunday, 20 November 2016

Forster's Tern in Essex

For anyone who took up twitching after the early 2000s, Forster's Tern has been a real British blocker. This bird, found yesterday on the Stour Estuary, is the first to linger anywhere in Britain since 2003 - and in fact the last widely twitchable bird was a couple of years further back than that. As such, this bird attracted quite large crowd on a bleak November day.

I've seen two Forster's Terns in Ireland (the regularly returning bird in Co Galway and a first-winter in Co Mayo in February 2014) but it was hard to ignore the temptation of heading up to Mistley this morning for a British tick, particularly given how well the bird was reported to have shown on Saturday afternoon. Eventually it did one close fly-by but in my haste I didn't notice my camera settings were a little awry and the meagre offerings below are about as good as it got for me. Weather conditions and light were absolutely awful and as anyone with a camera will know, photographing a grey bird on a grey background is never particularly easy - particularly as it bombs past at high speed.

Forster's Tern, Mistley, Essex, 20 November 2016

Saturday, 19 November 2016

American Tree Sparrow in Sweden

Awful photos (ISO 5,000) of a brilliant bird in near-darkness late on Friday afternoon. Amazingly it did a Friday night bunk and a crowd of 400 (including Brits, Finns and Germans) all dipped. I think just about everyone had assumed that this bird was well settled and many seemed to think it might even stay all winter. It seems I was very lucky!

American Tree Sparrow, Staffanstorp, Sweden, 18 November 2016