Monday 19 March 2018

The biting easterly returns

It was bitterly cold again over the weekend. Although temperatures didn't quite plummet as low as they did a fortnight ago, nor did the snow return, the brisk easterly wind was absolutely awful to be out in.

Nevertheless, it did produce a nice adult Little Gull over the wader pit at BLGP. I say wader pit, as things stand there won't be many waders on here this spring as water levels are probably a good two feet above what they were at this time last year. Hopefully it's not the end of this site but things are presently not looking too good.

Little Gull, Baston & Langtoft Pits, 18 March 2018. Note storm petrel impression in the second image.

The Long-tailed Duck has also returned to BLGP for a second spring. At least, we presume it's the same bird, first seen on Deeping High Bank in January 2017, then at Deeping Lakes before moving to BLGP in May of last year. It was back on the High Bank this January, before turning up at BLGP on 16th of this month. It's been favouring the same corner of the (ex-)wader pit ever since.

Long-tailed Duck, Baston & Langtoft Pits, 18 March 2018

Other recent birds have included two adult Whooper Swans, Dunlin, Peregrine, up to three Ravens, several Red Kites and a male Marsh Harrier.

In other, sadder news, I found several Mute Swan corpses under wires just north-east of the wader pit. The birds have been commuting between the pit and a rape field, where they are feeding. Unfortunately the wires were not fitted with deflectors and it's made a mess of at least five swans. I reported this to Western Power Distribution on Monday and, within hours, they'd sent a team down to fit reflectors. A hugely impressive response for which the swans (50+ still in the area) will no doubt be grateful! Every cloud has a silver lining, though, and the corpses have been attracting a variety of scavengers, including both Raven and Red Kite.

Red Kite eating Mute Swan, 17 March 2018. Not the strangest snack I've seen a kite eating here; in about 2006 I saw one eating the remains of a Barn Owl!

One of the dead Mute Swans below the offending wires, which have subsequently been fitted with hi-viz deflectors. Hopefully no more scenes like this.

Wednesday 7 March 2018

Red-throated Diver etc

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.

 Raven, Baston & Langtoft Pits, 6 March

Adult Yellow-legged Gull, Deeping Lakes, 7 March

Thursday 1 March 2018

Birds in 'the beast'

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.

Sunday 18 February 2018

A weekend in Kuwait

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:

Grey Hypocolius, Sulaibhikat, 13 January 2018

Sunday 11 February 2018

A quiet weekend

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!

Saturday 10 February 2018

My best ever ringing recovery!

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.

Sunday 4 February 2018

Blackwit saves the weekend

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.

Sunday 28 January 2018

Another shot at the Horned Lark

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

Sunday 7 January 2018

Good birding at Dungeness

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!

Saturday 6 January 2018

A confiding Hawfinch

Thanks to Lee Fuller and Ian Wells for their help in photographing this beautiful male at Romsey, Hampshire.