Sunday, 29 October 2017

A quick tour of Lincolnshire and Norfolk

It's fair to say that, twitching aside, there have been rather too many gulls cropping up in my birding in autumn 2017. It's a bit boring, admittedly - but when you live within the boundaries of Zone 2 on the Tube Map, there's generally not much else to look at. I'm happy to admit that I don't have the patience to sit and hope for (at best) a Hawfinch in a several-hour vis-migging session in Chiswick Park, when I can go and feed the gulls on the Thames.

For once this weekend, I found myself outside of the M25 yet not twitching. I visited my old patch, Baston & Langtoft Pits, and saw little more than a scattering of returning wildfowl. I dipped a Bee-eater on the south side of Peterborough. Then I went to Norfolk, where a blasting northerly gave hope of a decent seawatch. I should have known better than to try the exposed position of Salthouse beach, yet I could see plenty of Gannets, auks, gulls and a few Great Skuas passing by as my scope shook in the gale. The light was pretty nice, though.

Salthouse beach, 29 October 2017

A walk along the beach with my father and his dogs was bracing and birdless, but walking back along the landward side of the shingle bank produced the usual Stonechat at Gramborough Hill and, more excitingly, a single Shore Lark, which bounded westwards low to the ground, out of the wind and almost landing on a couple of occasions, before continuing past the beach car park and seemingly dropping in some way to the west of there. As far as I can recall, this is a self-found tick for me - not an easy bird to find if you live away from the east coast.

In Cromer, the first-winter Caspian Gull performed beautifully on Sunday morning. After only showing briefly a couple of times in four hours on Saturday afternoon, I had to go back for better photos. In terms of views, it's the best Casp I've seen in Britain. It's no exaggeration to say it virtually walks round your feet. It's also a really smart bird plumage-wise, bearing more than a superficial resemblance to a first-winter Common Gull - check out the scaps and coverts.

From Saturday ...

... and from Sunday:

1cy Caspian Gull, Cromer, Norfolk

Monday, 23 October 2017

Caspian Gull X574

My fourth Caspian Gull of the season (adopting Rich's 1 July - 30 June cycle) was along the River Thames at Fulham late morning on Sunday 22nd. Like several other Casps in London in recent times, it bore a German ring and originates from the famous Grabendorfer See colony, where hybridisation with Herring Gull is quite prevalent.

The ring read X574, which quickly confirmed it as the same bird seen by Jamie Partridge over at Thames Barrier Park the previous day. Ironically, while watching X574, I received a message from Jamie to say he'd got the first-winter I saw in Fulham back on 19 September! A fair swap, I'd say.

Although some of the 'Casps' from this colony can look pretty questionable, it's fair to say that X574 looks fine for a pure bird. A big and aggressive beast (presumably a male), it was very vocal and gave a full range of classic cachinnans calls, which made it very easy to pick out as it swooped in to the melee attracted to my wholemeal bread offerings.

1cy Caspian Gull X574, Fulham, London, 22 October 2017

So, as mentioned previously, my fourth Casp of the season here. Though I'm already well behind Rich, Dante and Jamie's nine (as of 23/10) in the Thames Barrier/Greenwich area, I can't ever really expect to keep up with this East London hotspot given the greater number of gulls moving up and down the Thames Estuary. However, I'd be very happy if I make it in to double figures by spring (last winter I had a total of four, although at least a couple of extras were recorded by other birders).

Also on show on Sunday were at least five Yellow-legged Gulls, a very decent tally for October given that there were 'only' about 150 large gulls present (100-200 individuals is about average here at weekends). Monday's session was nowhere near as impressive - reduced numbers included 'just' three Yellow-legged Gulls and at least one Lesser Black-backed x Herring hybrid.

1cy Yellow-legged Gulls, Fulham, 22 October 2017 - the top bird has a distinctive bill and should be easy to track around London this winter. The bottom bird is regular along 'my' stretch of the river at present.

Sunday, 15 October 2017

X307 reappears in Hammersmith

While watching the Rock Thrush at Blorenge, Gwent, on Saturday morning, I was a little bit gripped to see a tweet from BTO head honcho Andy Clements that he was watching a second-winter Caspian Gull circling Hammersmith Bridge - argh! Fortunately the tides were good for an afternoon's gulling session and so Rich and Dante dropped me at Baron's Court on their was back through to east London, and I hired a bicycle to get down to the Thames. One of the first birds I looked at was a 2cy Casp, which quickly transpired to have a yellow ring. The bird's demeanour looked quite familiar, and it was no real surprise when close views revealed it to be X307.

Caspian Gull X307, Fulham, London, 14 October 2017

I've seen X307 here on one occasion previously, in late July. As can be seen in the above, X307 is a quite demure and 'cute' bird with a dainty bill and lightweight structure. So, presumably a female. Curiously, there is only a tiny hint of the 'diagnostic' p10 mirror, which is just about detectable on the left wing. Perhaps not too surprising for a bird from Germany. Plumage otherwise looks pretty good.

The odd Yellow-legged Gull was seen over the weekend, including a couple of 1cy birds and this regular near-adult.