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.

Friday, 5 December 2014

Quick trip to North Yorks

Imagine opening your curtains one morning and seeing this hopping about in the road!

Popped up to North Yorkshire in the ever-delightful company of Dan Pointon to have a look at this gorgeous Eastern Black Redstart (P. o. phoencuroides), which had been busying itself about a housing estate on the north side of Scalby for a few days. I can't entirely remember why I didn't see either of the 2011 birds, though I suspect the reason was something list-orientated - not bothering to travel for a subspecies (or similar).

Male Black Redstarts are seriously brilliant birds and this one, with its brick-red breast and belly sharply demarcated from the black face and throat, grey forehead and brownish upperparts was one handsome beast. At times it looked remarkably Common Redstart-like but both behaviour and structure were much more reminiscent of Black Redstart. I'd actually go as far as saying this is one of the best-looking birds I've seen in Britain and the fact that it's not a species in its own right shouldn't detract from that.

Unfortunately behaviour didn't match appearance and while it did show incredibly well on a few fairly brief occasions, it was utterly restless and kept zipping off in to gardens. It appeared to be conducting a fairly loose circuit, ranging over a good few hundred metres (at one point it stormed off down the hedgerow of an adjacent field and didn't come back for a couple of hours). As such it proved a frustrating subject for the lens but there are some decent pics floating about the internet now. Here are a couple of my best, more on Flickr as always:

We also popped up to nearby Cloughton Wyke where we found the Richard's Pipit in its favoured field south of the Hayburn Wyke Inn. A really big and obvious bird that called frequently, it was also typically mobile and wary.

I suspect that will be it for the good birds now this year, unless someone turfs out a surprise passerine. Come to think of it, has there ever been a better year for a late, late autumn hyper-rarity? The mild weather seems to be encouraging a number of common migrants to attempt to winter here - think Swallows, Whinchats and two species of warbler on a Leyton traffic island, for example. A Siberian Accentor would be ideal, as would a Black-faced Bunting - though I'd settle for a Pine!

Monday, 1 December 2014

Black Brant hybrids

My guess is that these birds are probably well known to Norfolk birders but, not spending the timethat I once did in the county as teen, I've lost touch and so it was a pleasant 'surprise' to come across them on the saltings at Holkham. I guess one of these birds is responsible for recent reports of a Black Brant in the Burnham Overy area.