Sunday, 16 July 2017

Yellow-legged Gulls are back!

With a handful of lingering immatures mincing around throughout the spring and early summer, I guess it's fair to say that Yellow-legged Gulls have never actually left London. However, the annual mid-summer build-up of michahellis is now well underway and my first visit to the Thames for a couple of months revealed a handful of these entertaining birds. Curiously, none were juveniles - in fact most were 3cy.

Black-headed Gulls are also coming back in numbers - no Med yet though.

And, as always, it's worth keeping an eye out for rings. Here's a North Thames Gull Group bird that I'd not seen before.

Saturday, 15 July 2017

Caspian Tern on my old patch

Mike Weedon scored heavily with an adult Caspian Tern at Baston & Langtoft Pits, my old stomping ground during my teenage years. Though a regular vagrant to Britain, it's an undeniably impressive species and, with a clear afternoon on the cards, I couldn't resist twitching it.

By the time I arrived it had been missing for the best part of 45 minutes but, after a nervous wait, was picked up fishing over some of the more mature pits in the middle of the (private) complex. Views were initially distant but it then had the decency to perform a close fly-by as it headed back to its favoured roosting spot on the new wader scrape on the north side of the pits - this fantastic site has been producing great birds for a couple of years now, and finally it's had its first true rarity.

Incidentally the bird bears a red ring, identifying it as the individual seen previously in Carmarthenshire and Northamptonshire. The red ring seems to suggest it's Swedish, though I'm not sure if anyone has managed to read the ring fully yet. It'll be interesting to see where it pops up next, assuming it doesn't hang around at BLGP.

A few grab shots below - hurriedly taken using sub-optimal settings and against a grey sky, and not really in focus. But you can tell what it is!

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

On the wrong side of the planet ...

Time is not really on my side at the moment due to various ongoing work commitments (the fruits of which should be available to see soon at, but here are a few record shots of the Grey-tailed Tattler that I was fortunate enough to come across in the famous quarry at Cabo da Praia, Terceira, Azores, while leading a tour there last Friday. Unfortunately we only had an hour in the strong mid-afternoon sunshine to watch this East Asian vagrant before our early-evening flight back to São Miguel. This represents the first for the Azores and Portugal as well as being just the fifth for the Western Palearctic.

As and when time allows I hope to feed back a bit more on recent trips to Taiwan and Colombia, as well as the Azores tour.

Grey-tailed Tattler, Cabo da Praia, 7 July 2017

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