An adult Red-throated Diver turned up in Peterborough during the cold weather last week, and I paid it a couple of visits. On my second visit, the bird spent its time exclusively floating motionless, closing its eyes, and I assumed it was a goner. It has since perked up and moved to Ferry Meadows, where it seems much healthier.
Red-throated Diver, Thorpe Meadows Rowing Lake, March 2018
Local birding has otherwise been reasonable enough, with a good passage of birds once the thaw set in, with species such as Pintail and Mediterranean Gull at BLGP and the returning adult Yellow-legged Gull at Deeping Lakes, which again seems paired with a Herring Gull.
This week has become progressively colder in Lincolnshire, with up to a foot of snow having fallen in places by yesterday evening and the temperature having not risen above freezing for three days now. The so-called "Beast from the East" (vomit) has really tightened its grip over the past 48 hours.
I've not had chance to do any proper birding yet this week due to work, but a few bits of note. First of all, a single Lesser Redpoll visited my mother's feeders on Monday afternoon, just as the first few flakes of snow began to fall.
By Tuesday, the first good snowfall started to concentrate birds. Temperatures recovered slightly as the sun came out and the unfrozen pits at Baston and Langtoft held good excellent numbers of birds, including over 500 Wigeon, 16 Snipe, and around 350 Lapwings (with a couple of Golden Plovers), as well as three Pink-footed Geese.
Northern Lapwings and a couple of European Golden Plovers on 27 February - these birds have since long departed as South Lincolnshire has become a freezer.
Today has been utterly bitter. Snow is drifting, covering and closing even the main roads. In some places it has drifted up to a metre deep - quite astonishing to see in Britain, particularly on the first day of March. I've been busy working and haven't had chance to get out birding, although I've been watching a male Reed Bunting busy around mum's feeders for much of the day and then a Fieldfare came in late afternoon to feed on the apples we put out.
I will try to produce a more lengthy photo-blog from my January trip to Kuwait with Sam Viles in due course, but in the meantime here is an article I wrote on the few days for the BirdGuides website: www.birdguides.com/articles/a-weekend-in-kuwait
All in all, a fairly low-key weekend. On Friday I joined Peter Alfrey at Beddington for a couple of hours. We enjoyed the (very white) juvenile Glaucous, the regular juvenile Iceland and a chunky first-winter Caspian among the large numbers of gulls using the (for now) still-active landfill site. I also glimpsed a Mediterranean Gull, which I think gripped Pete off a bit as they've gone very scarce here in winter.
Glaucous Gull flies in front of the Beddington 'Death Star' - much more on this obscenity at Pete's blog.
On Sunday I popped over to see the Horned Lark at Staines, but it was favouring the south side of the causeway and, on a bright morning, was therefore into the sun all the time. The drake Greater Scaup was on show at the north-west end of the South Basin. Then, in the afternoon, I headed over to the WWT, which was pretty quiet - a 2cy Yellow-legged Gull was as good as it got.
The only thing I photographed at Staines on Sunday - A380 aircraft always look impressive in the air!
While at Choshi Port, Japan, in late January I happened across a ringed, but somewhat unhealthy looking, adult Vega Gull. My assumption was that this might have been ringed locally but, when it transpired that it didn't belong to a Japanese scheme, my ears were pricked.
I've just had word back from the Bird Ringing Centre in Moscow that this is a Russian bird. It was ringed in the Chaunskiy district of Chukotka, Russia, on 22 July 2017 and my sighting at Choshi is the first since then. More impressively, Choshi is 4,107 km from where this bird was ringed - quite incredible, and easily my 'furthest' recovery. In London, where we deal mainly in Herring Gull rings, I usually see London-ringed birds, that have just about flown across the breadth of the capital, or, more exotically, birds from Suffolk or Yorkshire. Occasionally there's a more interesting Common, Lesser Black-backed or Great Black-backed from elsewhere in Europe.
To get such a recovery on this Vega perhaps isn't too surprising given where they breed, but I was nevertheless flabbergasted when I opened the email first realised just how far away from Choshi this bird had been ringed!
How far the Vega Gull has travelled - so far that you can see the corners of the earth in this Google Earth screenshot!
Adult Vega Gull 'G4Y' - looking rather worse for wear. Perhaps not much left in the tank for this bird.
It's been a particularly quiet weekend around my local spots, with precious little among the gulls. Aside the usual Bittern and Jack Snipe combination (which are always nice), the highlight of the weekend was a smart Black-tailed Godwit on the wader scrape at WWT London on Sunday afternoon.
Black-tailed Godwit, WWT London, 4 February 2018.
Herring Gull Y:G41 originates from Rufforth Tip, North Yorkshire, where it was ringed on 30 June 2017. Since then it's been seen intermittently along the Thames in west London, popping up again this weekend.
I was out of the country when the American Horned Lark first appeared at Staines Reservoirs, Surrey, last November. Arriving back on the Tuesday after its initial appearance, I gave the lark a few hours before work that day, only to miss it - was seen again later that day, but then disappeared for the remainder of 2018.
So it was with mixed emotions that I read the news on 22nd that the bird was back. Pleased that it had reappeared, but less pleased with the fact that I was sat in north-eastern Hokkaido, Japan. Of course, its presence hardly detracted from where I was, having spent an afternoon enjoying superb views of Red-crowned Cranes, but it was still a little galling that it had chosen the exact week I was away to reappear. Given it had only lasted a few days at Staines on its last visit, I wasn't hopeful for it to hang on for my return on 27th.
Surprisingly, it did. Daily messages of it showing well along the causeway were a little galling, so it was a pleasure to read it was still there on 27th and, early on Sunday, I headed over to Staines. Happily the lark was still there, and showing well on both sides of the causeway. It was also quite vocal, uttering a call reminiscent of 'our' Shore Lark but perhaps not quite the same. At a range of 15 metres, the views were fantastic through the 'scope, although just a tiny bit distant for my 400mm lens. It didn't help that there were about 50 excitable birders following its every move - I'm sure if there was a small crowd there it'd probably feed right up the bank, almost to the railings. What a great bird, too - clearly strongly reminiscent of flava but differing in size and shape (it appeared a bit smaller and slimmer) as well as plumage tones (more rufous/vinous, darker and colder browns/greys).
'North American Horned Lark' (presumably alpestris/hoyti), Staines Reservoirs, 28 January 2018
Had a nice day at Dungeness with Rich, Dante and Niall. En route we stopped at Crayford, where a Mediterranean Gull was seen among the good numbers of congregated birds at Jolly Farmers.
Then it was down to a rather breezy Dungeness fishing boats, where the regular Caspian Gull was still performing well - this bird is easily the most photographed Casp in Britain this winter and has probably been seen by hundreds of birders since it turned up in September. Still, it's a very elegant individual and always worth photographing.
2cy Caspian Gull, Dungeness, 7 January 2018
Moving down to The Patch revealed thousands of gulls feeding around the outflow, although the light was challenging to say the least. Thankfully the regular juvenile Glaucous Gull performed well overhead, although the 3cy Iceland Gull was a little more difficult to pick out among the throng. An adult hybrid Black-headed x Mediterranean Gull was the first I've seen of this cross in Britain (I'd previously seen a couple in Ireland, both on the same weekend trip).
2cy Glaucous Gull, Dungeness, 7 January 2018
The RSPB reserve was somewhat devoid of gulls, yet the presence of a drake and redhead Smew, a female Ruddy Duck (my first in the UK for some years) and a bunch of Goosander were pleasant.
After a quick trip to Lade for some stodge from the local store it was back to the fishing boats, where Mick, Richard et al were photographing a very smart 3cy Caspian Gull on arrival. No hint of a p10 mirror, it was otherwise a very contrasted and crisp bird that was easily picked out from among the Herrings with the naked eye. It was blowing an absolute gale from the ENE, which made photography a real challenge given the position of the sun.
3cy Caspian Gull, Dungeness, 7 January 2018
With nothing else on show, I took some photographs of the gulls floating in the gale. There was evidently quite a lot of food washing up on the beach as the gulls were actively feeding ... and ignoring the less appetising loaves we were chucking out!
A good first day of 2018 at the WWT - or rather afternoon, as I didn't get out until gone 1 pm (and not because of a heavy night).
One of the first birds on to the 2018 list was Greenfinch, a species which took me the best part of a month to connect with at the start of 2017. I've seen quite a few already this winter, so perhaps they've had a better year than of late.
Highlights throughout the afternoon included nice views of a Bittern sat up in the reeds, a pair of European Stonechats showing well and a Jack Snipe in full 'bob mode'.
Of course my attention is always drawn straight to loafing gulls on the main lake and wader scrape. With the tide right up throughout daylight hours making gulling on the river a non-starter, the reserve was my only hope. A reasonable initial tally of 80 Herring Gulls was logged, and among them I soon picked up what looked like a third-winter (4cy) Caspian dozing among those gathered distantly on the wader scrape. A couple of hours later and the bird became a bit more active, soon confirming its identification as a rather smart Casp.
4cy Caspian Gull, WWT London, 1 January 2018
There's always turnover here during the afternoon although, a couple of Herring x LBB hybrids aside, nothing else of interest was seen until after sunset, when a flurry of gulls of arriving gulls revealed a second-winter Yellow-legged Gull and then what immediately looked to be a familiar face, soon confirmed by a red ring inscribed 'G0UT'! This was the first time I've seen G0UT since July and my, what a disappointment. There's no doubt it's got Caspian in it (and that predominates), but it must be a bird from one of the mixed colonies in Germany - look how generally retarded the plumage feels (a la 3cy Herring rather than Casp), and those extensively pale-fringed tertials, as well as the rather stubby bill. All a bit grim, but nice to know it's still around and I look forward to watching how it develops in the coming months.