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

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Blackwit, Glauc and more goodies

I was away in Paris over the weekend so news of the Glaucous Gull again at the WWT on Saturday and Sunday was mildly galling. I spent much of the day there on Monday failing to see it, though nine Little Gulls provided an enjoyable distraction; it's hard to get tired of watching these elegant birds. I recorded 58 species at the WWT on Monday with some notable omissions - not least the Firecrest which was found after I left! A male Little Ringed Plover was new for the year while other sightings included s/pl Water Pipit, Willow Warbler and an apparent hybrid 5cy Lesser Black-backed x Herring Gull (thought by some to be michahellis, but I don't buy that - primary pattern, structure and tepid bare part colouration all point away from YLG), at least the fifth such hybrid I've seen since I started watching gulls in this area last summer. A Thames-ringed gull was seen briefly and looked interesting, but I dismissed it as a Herring (more on that later).

I didn't have my lens, so these handheld, phonescoped shots will have to do ...

As I cycled back from the wetland centre I had a pair of Mandarins performing well on the Thames and six of the Little Gulls circled over before heading back to the scrapes. As it was such a glorious day, I decided to work remotely from the banks of the Thames by the Old Ship pub. We'd been there about half an hour when a kettle of about 15 gulls circled over. One of these looked very white with the naked eye and, on lifting the bins, it proved to be the Glaucous Gull. It circled overhead for a minute or so, giving great views in the late afternoon sunshine, before drifting off west over Chiswick. Just brilliant - I never anticipated that I'd have a chance of both white-winged gulls on this stretch of the river in my first winter watching it.

I had a bit of time on Wednesday to sneak out to the river at low tide and was greeted by a 2cy Caspian Gull resting on the spit by the River Cafe. When it got up, it revealed a red ring - amusingly, the combination read 'G0UT'. I'm waiting for confirmation but it sounds like this bird was ringed at the weekend. Also present was 2cy Herring 'A4ZT', which has been hanging round here of late. Having reviewed photos, it turns out that good old G0UT is the ringed bird I saw poorly on Monday.

2cy Caspian Gull 'G0UT', Hammersmith, 29 March

Last Friday, I added Black-tailed Godwit to my local year list after twitching one at the WWT.

Phonescoped Black-tailed Godwit (& Redshank), 24 March

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

17-20 March update

A fairly steady weekend, the clear highlight of which was my earliest ever Willow Warbler - a male in song on the boundary of the WWT on Saturday morning. Also new for me this year was a flyover Siskin. I had my second Wheatear of the year, another male, on 19th while other highlights at the WWT over the weekend included lingering Water Pipit, Jack Snipe and Pintail. I had at least one sighting of Peregrine and the drake Tufted Duck x Pochard performed particularly well on Sunday. Gulls were pretty unremarkable over the weekend.

The usual drake Tufted Duck x Pochard hybrid

Away from the WWT, the Yellow-legged Gull made appearances at Chiswick Eyot on Friday and Sunday, and I had a drake Mandarin fly over Lonsdale Road Reservoir on Saturday morning. Small gull numbers have really dropped off (to virtually zero) along the river, but large gulls remain fairly steady.

The regular 2cy Yellow-legged Gull at Chiswick Eyot

Monday, 13 March 2017

Early spring promise

The mild conditions of recent days have generated a rush of summer migrants, many of which are arriving days (even weeks) earlier than usual.

I had my first Chiffchaff of the year singing at Lonsdale Road Reservoir, Barnes, at sunrise on Friday morning - this quickly followed by the regular 2cy Caspian Gull frequenting the playing fields at Dukes Meadows. I still look at this bird sometimes and shudder a bit, as structurally I think it looks quite Herring-like at times. I guess it's probably from Germany.

It looks fine here, but sometimes this bird takes on an appearance quite unremarkable for cachinnans. I've never seen/heard it calling.

Plenty of gulls have been on the move in recent days - the warm conditions of Saturday and Monday in particular were good for observing visible migration, with Black-heads almost streaming east at times. Not a single bloody Med Gull, though. The wait for one on my patch goes on. A few gull rings included the usual NTGG birds, red-ringed 2cy Herring 'J+H' from Peter Rock's scheme in Bristol, yellow-ringed 3cy Herring 'Y.161' (from Rufforth, N Yorks), and the following two:

 Adult Lesser Black-backed Gull white 'A8CF', Fulham, 11 March 2017 - from Sussex but awaiting details on when it was ringed

3cy Common Gull green 'J88Z', Chiswick, 12 March 2017 
Ringed as a 1cy female at Stavanger, Norway, on 16.11.15 and still in the city environs in Feb 2016, this is the first sighting of it since (and the first away from SW Norway)

There have also been up to three 2cy Yellow-legged Gulls knocking about recently, all familiar birds from recent weeks, but no new Caspian Gulls in recent days.

2cy Yellow-legged Gull, Fulham, 11 March 2017. I first saw this bird at Beddington on 3 March.

Sunday was a real red-letter day. Murky conditions produced a fall of early-spring migrants at the WWT including a pristine pair of Garganey, a Sand Martin, three singing Chiffchaffs and a smart male Northern Wheatear. Meadow Pipit was notable, too. On a sunnier Monday, I had a Common Sandpiper on the river at Fulham.

Monday, 6 March 2017

A mixed weekend

A foray to the wetland centre on Saturday revealed 50 species, with a handful of notable sightings: a winter-plumaged Water Pipit, two Reed Buntings, two male Stonechats a couple of Mandarins in with the captive birds, still two pairs of Pintail, best views yet of the 2cy Yellow-legged Gull with aberrant bill and one of the Peregrines showed fairly well as it drifted over.

2cy Yellow-legged Gull - the regular bird with aberrant bill

Male European Stonechat

The river held comfortably the highest number of Herring Gulls that I've recorded here so far - around 350. Unfortunately nothing could be found among them and the party was ended prematurely when a Common Buzzard went low south-west, flushing them all.

I decided to stay in on Sunday morning in order to get some work done. Bad decision - before I knew it, David Campbell was doing damage at the wetland centre with Iceland and Caspian Gulls. I spent the rest of the afternoon working the river, dodging the at times biblical rain showers, and saw little more than the usual two Yellow-legged Gulls - the aberrant bird was observed on the river for the first time near Hammersmith Bridge while the regular bird at Chiswick Eyot was showing well.

Yellow-legged Gull, Chiswick Eyot, 5 March 2017

A visit to Beddington Monday morning was productive with six Caspian Gulls (four 2cy and two 3cy), including the pallid, yellow-ringed 'X319', which was seen on the Thames in East London by Rich et al on numerous occasions before it became regular at Beddington.

Confiding 2cy Caspian Gull at Beddington, 6 March 2017

A quick check of the gulls along the Thames between Fulham and Chiswick in the afternoon produced very little, aside continuing Dutch Black-headed Gull 'EE5T' and a German Common Gull, 'ALJJ'. This bird was ringed as pullus on Heligoland in summer 2015 and mine is the first sighting of it since!

3cy Common Gull 'ALJJ', Fulham, 6 March 2017

Friday, 3 March 2017

Good gulling at Beddington

Thanks to a kind invite from David Campbell, I went to spent a few hours sifting through the gulls at Beddington. It was my first visit there since April 2007, the day after the Glaucous-winged Gull was seen, and it's fair to say the site has changed somewhat - not least the construction of a hideous incinerator that is set to be a massive and permanent blot on the skyline.

The morning produced nine species of gull - the usual five plus:
  • 2cy Caspian Gull: also seen at Rotherhithe by Rich Bonser on 26 February [and then by several observers at Thames Barrier Park on 4 March]
  • 2cy Glaucous Gull
  • 2cy Iceland Gull: regular bird that has been around all winter (I saw it on the Thames in Hammersmith in early December)
  • Five Yellow-legged Gulls (2 ads, 5cy, 2 2cy): one of these has been seen regularly by Rich, Dante, Jamie et al on the Thames in East London. Curious how they move round, and fascinating that they're being tracked so closely this winter.
2cy Caspian Gull - almost as big as a heron

Dumpy 2cy Glaucous

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Regular Yellow-legged Gull at Chiswick

This 2cy Yellow-legged Gull has been regular at Chiswick Eyot in recent days. It's quite a distinctive bird with heavily marked scapulars and worn flight feathers - the primaries are quite bleached, for example. Covert moult has commenced, as is evident in the pics below.

2cy Yellow-legged Gull, Chiswick Eyot

A large and aggressive bird, here it is pictured bullying a 2cy Herring Gull

I've also had up to three at the Wetlands Centre lately, so they appear to be on the move. This presumably ties in with Lesser Black-backed Gull migration, which also seems to be well underway. Small pulses of birds have been passing through my stretch of the Thames and I had blue-ringed 2cy V.JZ4 last week, which is apparently from Denmark (awaiting details on that one).

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

A weekend in the Peterborough area

I took advantage of meetings up in Lincolnshire to spend a weekend at home - primarily to see family but also cram in some birding, too. In short, I've never seen so many birders locally! The now-famous Bluethroat at Willow Tree Fen has been drawing large crowds ever since it turned up and I joined them on a few occasions. Unfortunately, feeding this bird mealworms has only made it more elusive - now it doesn't need to forage, it pops out on the footpath to pick up a snack every half-hour or so, grabs one and heads back to the reeds almost right away. Still, a very nice bird to see so close to my old stomping ground, and in February..!

I'm not sure if it's because I've become accustomed to the largely bird-less expanses of Central London, but my old patch at Baston & Langtoft Pits seemed really 'birdy' on each visit. Most rewarding was a pair of Grey Partridges, a species I almost never see these days and one I've not seen at Langtoft in many years. Presumably reintroduced stock, but fantastic nonetheless. Up to 35 Yellowhammers and 10 Corn Buntings (but no Pine) was also nice, as were stunning views of a hunting Barn Owl one evening. Good numbers of wildfowl included hundreds of Wigeon, a Pink-footed Goose among the Greylags and a fine adult Whooper Swan among the Mutes. Returning shorebirds included an impressive count of 10 Oystercatchers.

 Male Grey Partridge 

Barn Owl 

Whooper Swan

Of course no trip back 'home' would be complete without paying homage to Peterborough's gulls, and it was nice to find a second-winter Iceland Gull at Dogsthorpe Tip, as well as an imposing first-winter Caspian Gull. Large gull numbers were in general quite healthy, with perhaps 3,000 or so of the three commoner species (~ 90 per cent Herring) at Dogsthorpe.

Iceland Gull 

Caspian Gull 

Pale Herring Gull