Saturday, 28 July 2012

Gulling in the boro'

LBBs @ Tanholt

Back in Lincs this weekend so headed over to Peterborough to check the gulls out this morning. Absolutely nothing at Dogsthorpe, with no tipping activity happening either. However, Tanholt was a different story, with at least 500 large gulls - mainly Lesser Black-backed - gobbling up detritus on the new landfill cell there. I eventually found a good place to view them, and had nine Yellow-legged Gulls (3 adults, 2nd-summer, 1st-summer and 4 juveniles). Some photos below.

Juvenile; note the presence of several moulted upper scapulars (with anchor markings) already.

Juvenile; same bird as above. A classic in every respect.

Adult (or near-adult) with Lesser Black-backed and Herring Gulls. I always find that older michahellis look much
 grottier facially than Herrings at this time of year, presumably because they moult their head feathers earlier.

Comparison of juvenile gulls: Lesser Black-backed (left), Yellow-legged (above centre) and Herring (bottom right).

In other news, I flushed a Quail on my patch this afternoon as I searched for the recent Black-necked Grebe (no sign). This is the first time I've seen a Quail without hearing it; really surprised me and burst out of the undergrowth Jack Snipe-stylee. Got great views of the facial markings, too - top stuff.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Morocco Trip Report, June/July 2012

You can view and download my Morocco trip report at your will below:

Apologies for the mix-up last night; I've moved the PDF to scribd which seems to solve the problem. Hope it comes in handy to others on future visits!

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Ringed juvenile Yellow-legged Gull

In my previous posting on Sunday, I remained intentionally vague about a yellow-ringed juvenile gull seen at Rainham on Saturday. In the field, Rich and I had no qualms about identifying it as a Yellow-legged Gull, although when initial research suggested the colour and code ('H8J0') was typical of a scheme on Heligoland, Germany, we began to worry. Surely if this was a Herring, it would be right back to the drawing board for juvenile gull identification?!

German-ringed Yellow-legged Gull 'H8J0'

Close-up of the darvic; use your imagination!

Thankfully, the idea that this bird was Herring (or even Lesser Black-backed) turned out to be as far-fetched as it seemed in the field on Sunday - this bird was pulli ringed as a michahellis in a colony in central Frankfurt on May 18th. Relief all round, and no need to throw any of our present understanding (and literature) in the bin! Here's the beef:

Thanks to Rich for getting on with the detective work; unfortunately my blog looks a bit of a clone of his at present, although he is off on holiday for a few weeks and thus I might actually have something to post that he doesn't.

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Summer gulling...

... had me a blast.

Great morning down at Coldharbour Lane, Rainham yesterday morning (21st). Rich B and I had originally intended to spend the morning at Cross Ness but, on waking up and hearing news that that bloody torch was in Greenwich, we diverted north of the Thames and headed east for Rainham. What a good decision that turned out to be.

Having grown up gulling in Peterborough, I'm used to larids being challenging to see and, when you finally get in a good position to look at them, you face the probability of flushing the lot as they're inevitably both wary and flighty. As I've said before, you rarely get a good view of the majority of gulls present in a session; most of the sites they frequent are private, difficult to get in to, or both. I would say that in an average session I manage to check less than 50% of the gulls, with this total particularly low in summer when vegetation hampers viewing even further.

So, what of such a rant? Well, I must say I was hugely impressed with the setup at Rainham. Having the pleasure of being able to see hundreds of gulls unobscured and at relatively close range is always great for me, but particularly so in summer. Here you get great views of the birds loafing on the Thames by the stone barges, and also good views loafing within the tip complex itself. Unsurprisingly, I was keen to get stuck in, pulling out this 2nd-summer Caspian Gull almost right away:

3cy cachinnans: note the small white mirror on retained p10 - diagnostic of the species
... and here you can see the retained third generation tail feathers.

It quickly became apparent that there were shed loads of Yellow-legged Gulls around: in the three or so hours we spent at Rainham, we estimated that we had seen at least 40. Many of these were juveniles; some were really blatant but others had us scrutinizing much more closely - experience from foreign trips to e.g. Morocco has taught us both that michahellis can be remarkably Lesser Black-backed-like, and vice versa. The rest of the birds we saw were 3cy+, with plenty of second-summers and adults although strangely, we could not find a single first-summer anywhere. This is something I've noticed in Peterborough; 2cy birds are often present throughout June and early July but slowly decrease in number, being replaced by juveniles and older birds as July progresses. Not sure why this is, but it can't all be down to inept observers!

Juveniles of argenteus (left) and michahellis (right).

Juvenile michahellis having a stretch, juvenile argenteus looking dumb.

4cy michahellis: particularly washed out bare parts on this one.

Juvenile michahellis having a drink on the Thames.

Another juv michahellis; note commenced moult in the scaps.

Pseudo-michahellis, presumably intermedius?

Rich picked out a smashing juvenile Mediterranean Gull (probably the freshest I've ever seen) while, earlier in the morning, I cottoned on to harsh 'kir-iick' of an adult Sandwich Tern as it bombed westwards upriver - had there been a breath of wind, I imagine it would have sneaked by unnoticed. We also had a few locally-ringed Herring Gulls, and a juvenile gull complete with yellow ring. Hopefully report back on this later in the week, as we're a little confused right now.

Leaving the sights and smells of Rainham behind, we headed over the Thames (via a snarled up Dartford Crossing) to Crayford. Very few gulls here, so we continued west to Cross Ness. Again, it was very quiet along the foreshore on the rising tide, with entertainment being provided by four Black-tailed Godwits and at least six Common Sandpipers. After scoring a McDonald's, it was back towards birdless West London for a sleepy afternoon in the sun.

Saturday, 14 July 2012

BNG still

The Black-necked Grebe was still present at Baston & Langtoft Pits this morning. Although the bird was a lot closer, the light hadn't improved much. Some winter white coming through on the lower neck and the flanks are pretty faded, but otherwise still looking rather dapper.

Friday, 13 July 2012

Ten minutes back on the old patch...

... and this pops in to view:

Another example of how underwatched the Peterborough area is. This beauty of an adult Black-necked Grebe showed well in the miserable conditions today on my old patch, Baston & Langtoft Pits. It is the first BNG I've had here since a pair in June 2007, I believe. Sad to think that the reason it is here so early is that it must have failed breeding somewhere else, though.

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Morocco, 24th June - 1st July

Late on Sunday evening, I arrived back from a typically exhausting trip to Morocco. I've visited the country twice before (April 09 and July 10), although still hadn't seen several of the more localized species which occur within its boundaries. Accompanying me were Dan Pointon and Will Soar, who had both visited on one occasion previously.

Prior to our visit, I had targeted seven species and a further two subspecies which I had not been previously. Just two of these species were not observed; details of each can be found below. If anyone wants further details (and GPS) for these or other species, please do not hesitate to email me.

*Marsh Owl: three birds seen on the west side of Merja Zerga during the evening of 25th.
*Double-spurred Francolin: three seen in flight c.2km north of Ben Slimane during the morning of 26th (JJ only), while at least two were heard at the traditional spot at Sidi Yahya on 1st July.
*Fulvous Babbler: remarkably, I had not seen this species on either of my two prior Moroccan visits despite searching. Once again, they proved relatively difficult to pin down, although we eventually located a family party of at least six individuals on the western outskirts of Errachidia.
*African Desert Warbler: several birds were seen in the 'usual' wadi c.5km along the track to Cafe Yasmina, by the 'Yasmina 9km' sign.
*[Western] Mourning Wheatear: a first-summer male was located in the hills c.14km west of Tinghir on 28th. This has been a regular spot for sightings during spring 2012. A male was also seen distantly in the gorge c.2km west of Imiter on the same day.
*[Pharoah Eagle Owl]: although there was plenty of faeces distributed all over the regular sites west of Rissani, we failed to find the species there. We also failed at the Mourning Wheatear site above, although finally connected with a single adult in the gorge south of the main road c.2km west of Imiter on 28th.
*[Saharan Olivaceous Warbler]: we found this striking race of Eastern Olivaceous Warbler to be fairly common across the southeast of the country. First seen in the Ziz Valley north of Errachidia on 26th, we also found plenty in the lush wadi c.20km west of Errachidia, as well as near Rissani. They were also abundant in tamarisks at Barrage El-Mansour, Ouazarzate at dawn on 29th, with many singing.
African Dunn's Lark: we could not locate the regular bird(s) at the Desert Warbler site; presumably they disperse following the breeding season.
Egyptian Nightjar: despite intense searching of the wadis north of Auberge le Tresor, we could not locate any birds. Striking a piece of rotten luck, we found that the hotel at Derkaoua (quoted as almost guaranteed at dawn) was closed, and no nightjars were found in the area.

Adult Marsh Owl

First-summer male Western Mourning ('Maghreb') Wheatear...

Three studies of adult Pharaoh Eagle Owl: surely a good species?

Little Owl in the early morning light at Barrage el-Mansour, Ouazarzate.

Temminck's Lark east of Boumalne du Dades. It appears to have been a great year for the species.

Crested Coots enjoying some of Pointon's biscuit supply at Dayet Aoua.

Three Royal Terns on the Oued Souss at dusk on 29th.

Record shot of one of the many Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters seen in the southeast of the country.


Saharan Striped Polecat