Monday 30 March 2009

Back in the Fens, 30.3.09

Back home for Easter now, arriving home yesterday evening. Last night I was so keen to get on the patch that I dropped everything as soon as I arrived and got amongst it down the pits. Highlights were a White Wagtail, c.30 Sand Martins and 2 Little Ringed Plovers - my first migrants of the year. Other bits and bobs included 12 remaining Goldeneye, a Pink-footed Goose, and a few Oystercatchers.

Today (30/3) my first stop was Dogsthorpe Tip, where there were no gulls due to the use of falconry to discourage birds from visiting the site. As a result I quickly moved on to Tanholt Pits, where a Glaucous Gull had been seen the previous evening. PBC stalwart Brian Stone was already present and had seen nothing of note. I did little better than him. My first singing Chiffchaffs (three of them) were heard, and a Green Sandpiper was nervously bombing round the newer workings. My first Brimstone butterfly of 2009 was busily working its way round the more mature areas of the site.

I moved on to the Nene Washes; first stop was the High Wash which held plenty of Wigeon and a couple of Oystercatchers, but little else. Eldernell was much more inspiring, revealing my first Wheatear (a female) and Swallow of the year, the latter passing east along Moreton's Leam. The wash itself was full of Wigeon and Icelandic Black-tailed Godwits (700+):

Big chunk of limosa islandica.

Eldernell at its early spring finest.

Other birds here included a Ruff, c.10 Pintail remaining and Marsh Harriers, which seemed like they were in every patch of sky you looked at.

The weather was gradually deteriorating, with the wind picking up and clouds rolling in. I decided to call it quits after a visit to March Farmers, about two miles downstream of Eldernell. I was surprised to find the wash still extensively flooded; at this rate it could be brilliant for waders this spring. There were c.50 Tufted Ducks and c.25 Pochards, but no sign of last weekend's Ring-necked Duck. It could have been there though; some aythya were out of view or simply too distant. At least 10 Oystercatchers were also present, and about 20 Whooper Swans remained.

So, not the most productive of days but still nice to see a few migrants amongst the other signs that Spring is almost here.

Sunday 15 March 2009

Tawnies 15/3

Back in Sheffield at the moment, so not alot going on bird-wise. Guess it will stay this quiet for me until the Easter holidays, which begin at the end of March. Anyway, the resident Tawny Owls here on the Endcliffe campus have been very vocal over the past few nights. So far only heard adults, but I suspect there will be some juvs out there somewhere. And, well, that's about it!

Monday 9 March 2009

Ireland, 7th - 8th March

Bantry Harbour, Cork, 7th March

Another Irish visit with Rich Bonser over the weekend; on the whole very successful. We caught the usual late evening flight out to Shannon from Stansted (flights were £15 or so return thanks to a no-taxes deal from Ryanair), and then drove down to Baltimore Harbour overnight, arriving there about 03:00 on Saturday morning. Although there were a few gulls drifting in and out of the lights around the quay, there was no sign of the juvenile Ivory Gull..!

First light came at around 06:45, and by 06:50 I had located the Ivory Gull showing extremely well by the trawlers. Views were exclusively in flight, and the bird soon headed off upriver. It was not for another 90 minutes or so that the bird returned, once again affording views to just three metres, albeit again always in flight. We were entertained by a couple of juvenile Iceland and a juvenile Glaucous Gull in the area and, after having our fill of the bird, we headed off west.

Next stop was Ballydehob, where there was a rather pleasant near summer-plumaged adult Ring-billed Gull chilling out on the estuary. Hormones seemed to be kicking in, with the bird being very vocal and also throwing its head all over the place in display. Whilst the nearby tip held decent numbers of large gulls, there was nothing of interest amongst the gathered larids.

Ring-billed Gull, Ballydehob, Cork, 7th March

It was then on to Bantry, where one of the first gulls noted was a juvenile Iceland Gull hanging in the wind above the pier. The creek held a 1st-winter Mediterranean Gull, 2nd-winter Glaucous Gull and this 1st-winter Ringer:

Ring-billed Gull, Bantry town, 7th March

Our Irish tactics are usually based on the smash-and-grab theory; we rarely linger at any one site unless it is big/good. Castletown Bearhaven is both. Since my first visit in December, I have been constantly questioning why this site is not watched as much as it probably should be, given that it is Ireland's second-largest fishing port behind Killybegs. As we arrived at the town, it was evident that there were alot more gulls about than back in December. It wasn't long before white-winged gulls were in evidence; indeed our final tallies were 1 juvenile Kumlien's (present since late January but looking a little more faded now), 10+ Icelands (adult & 9+ juvs) and 7 Glaucous Gulls (2 adults & 5 juvs). In addition, there were two 1st-winter Mediterranean Gulls and the usual adult Ring-billed Gull plus several Black Guillemots to pad out the sightings list. One of the Glaucs appeared to be the dinky little bird we first saw back in December, being more Iceland Gull-like in proportions and size, and smaller than many of the Herrings beside it:

Point Ba- sorry, Glaucous Gull, Castletownbere, 7th March

L. g. kumlieni, Castletownbere, 7th March...

... and the 'business' end

Yours truly with friend, Castletownbere, 7th March

After spending almost three hours at Castletown and feeling quite happy we'd seen and checked all the gulls present, we decided to head off and continue north on to the Iveragh Peninsula (Co. Kerry). The Derrynane Estuary near Caherdaniel held c.50 Lesser Black-backed Gulls (one of several migrant flocks observed loafing at various beaches/estuaries over the weekend) but little else, so we pressed on up to Reenard Point for late afternoon.

What greeted us was something quite unexpected; there were very few gulls present but a ludicrously high percentage of wingers - after scanning we confirmed 11 Iceland Gulls (2 adults, 3rd-winter and 8 juvs) and a cracking 3rd-winter Kumlien's Gull showing well by the pier. To put this in to perspective, there were probably no more than about 25 Herring Gulls present; a very low total for this site and presumably having something to do with the fish factory being closed for the weekend. Again, another site that is appallingly underwatched, but regularly produces decent counts of wingers - how long will it be before this site gets a smithsonian?!

A drive round to Portmagee produced little aside yet more Black Guillemots (they seemed to be at almost every site we checked), and back at Reenard as dusk approached revealed the Kumlien's Gull still, and a couple of Great Northern Divers. The day was celebrated in Caherciveen's most established fast food restaurant - Joey's, and then later in a nearby bar where a couple of Guinness (Guinnesses/Guinni?) were sunk.

The overnight kip in the car can only be described as eventful as stormy conditions battered the west coast of Ireland - thankfully I didn't need to get out to relieve myself as I suspect I would have been blown to Tipperary; certainly not the most enjoyable night's sleep I'd ever had.

We awoke to an adult Iceland Gull blogging about over the beach at White Strand (where we had kipped) - not a bad way to start the day, and a sign of things to come. Back at Reenard, there were just four white-winged gulls amongst about 10 gulls present; the third-winter Kumlien's was still there as were three juvenile Icelands. As not alot was happening, we headed north once more. Cromane (on the south side of Castlemaine Harbour) held a few birds, including the adult Spoonbill which was still present. This bird, an Irish tick for yours truly, is now in its fifth calender year at the site having arrived as a juvenile in 2005 - it must be a lonely old life spending your time alone in a couple of muddy creeks in Kerry. There was also a Greenshank here.

adult Spoonbill, Cromane, 8th March

Next came the fairly dull drive along the south side of the Dingle peninsula; a brief stop at Inny Strand produced zilch, whilst Trabeg was as uninspiring as ever with just a few of the common gull species of note. By this time it had become very cold and had started to snow making even getting out of the car a real chore.

Dingle Harbour did its best to warm us up, with the sun poking through amongst the squalls, but the biting northwesterly still managing to chill us to the bone. Again, winger totals here were excellent, with 9 Icelands (adult, 2 2nd-winters and 6 juvs) and 3 juvenile Glaucous Gulls. An adult Mediterranean Gull and the ever-present Black Guillemots spiced things up.
Moving on to the north side of the peninsula, a brief scan of Baile an Reannaigh at Smerwick produced an entirely unexpected adult Ring-billed Gull. Nearby at Ferriter's Cove, there were an impressive 5 Glaucous Gulls (adult, 2nd-winter and 3 juvs) and a juvenile Iceland Gull amongst the main flock on the beach. Yet another Glaucous Gull, a juvenile, was amongst gulls on Ventry beach where there were also c.50 Pale-bellied Brent Geese, but the Black Duck was notable in its absence.

A dampener was then put on proceedings when a 1st-winter American Herring Gull was found down at Castletown Bearhaven, but after being briefly gripped, we got back amongst the action with a few wingers still showing nicely in Dingle Harbour. Lough Gill, Fermoyle and the Cloghane Estuary were all quiet (the former site quite remarkably not even holding a single aythya!), but Blennerville hit back with a couple of adult Ring-billed Gulls on the estuary upriver of the windmill, where there were also c.50 Black-tailed Godwits.

Routine grilling of minor sites on the way back to Shannon airport produced fairly little as usual; Fenit had 3 Great Northern Divers around the pier but few gulls, Black Rock Strand had no gulls but 3+ Great Northern Divers offshore (the tide was exceptionally high here), and Tarbert offered 9 Scaup and c.30 Teal on the Shannon.

In recent times, a stop in the centre of Limerick city has been a fix on the agenda of most winter trips to Ireland. Many of the locals regularly feed the swans from Bishop's Quay, and naturally plenty of 'small' gulls are attracted. As a result, the site is becoming quite well-known for producing Ring-billed Gulls, and today was no exception with a 2nd-winter bird showing well on the Shannon. Perhaps this is the bird I first found here as a 1st-winter last February. The nearby marsh held a few Tufted Ducks and Pochard, as well as c.15 Redshanks but little else, and so the weekend was ended on a fairly quiet note.

So, in summary another excellent weekend out west. Hopefully we have again proved there is more to Ireland than just Nimmo's and Killybegs..! We had a minimum of 56 white-winged and 7 Ring-billed Gulls over the two days, visiting none of the particularly 'popular' sites on the west coast. Bring on next winter!

Friday 6 March 2009

Norfolk, 5th March

With news of a Siberian Thrush picked up injured (see a photo here), held hostage and then later released in a field somewhere in North Norfolk in the afternoon of the 4th, the only thing I could do was plan to go yesterday morning. This involved getting up at an ungodly hour to catch the first train home, and then calmly driving there. With no news forthcoming, I had the bright idea to spend a few hours knocking about in West Norfolk during the morning.

First port of call was the Saddlebow area, where there weren't any gulls (nor Killdeers for that matter!). I then went over to Blackborough End Tip. A few gulls to sift through here revealed a 1st-winter Yellow-legged Gull before the main flock decided to 'do one' and fly off. I spent a bit of time driving round the East Winch/Blackborough area looking for gulls in fields, but there weren't any - for some reason the tip wasn't working so presumably this accounts for such sparsity.

As I was driving back towards Kings Lynn, my twitching genes got the better of me and I decided to pay a visit to Dersingham Bog, which has been harbouring a few decent bits of late. It took a while to battle through the ever-present midweek brigade, but eventually I was able to scan the heath; typically the Great Grey Shrike was nowhere to be seen. Consolation was more than provided by the superb Rough-legged Buzzard which was showing over the marsh distantly from the cliff; a particularly pale individual made it stand out quite considerably when next to the accompanying Common Buzzards and Marsh Harriers. Other than a few Siskins blogging about, there was not alot else to be seen, so I decided to head home and give the patch the once over.

In short, the patch was a wholly disappointing affair with little more on offer than a Green Sandpiper, 3 Little Egrets and a Redshank. There was evidence of some sort of Golden Plover movement with 10 high NE along the River Welland and 7 NW over the Deeping bypass.

Today (6th), a lunchtime drive around the patch revealed a Green Sandpiper, 2 Little Egrets, c.10 Siskins and 3 Buzzards. Bring on Ireland.

Monday 2 March 2009

Back in Lincs 27/2 - 1/3

Went home for the weekend, giving me the chance to enjoy heartbreak in the rugby on Friday night amongst other things. With the Great White Egret still knocking about in the area (and apparently having been seen on Thursday on the patch), I decided to put some time in to relocating this bird, but ultimately failed. Having said that, one or two decent bits were seen, and I can't get over just how Little Egrets are now expected winter fayre! Sightings over the weekend:

Deeping Bypass: Little Egret
Katesbridge: 2 (m&f) Goosanders on the River Glen
Baston & Langtoft Pits: Nordic Jackdaw (3) by the Cross Drain, and a Tufted Duck x Pochard hybrid; superficially Tufted-like, but very dark grey mantle as opposed to black, pale grey flanks, and lack of 'tuft'.

Baston & Langtoft Pits:
3 Mealy Redpolls by Gull Pit
7 Little Egrets
3 Pink-footed Geese in fields north of Grummit's Scrape
2 (m&f) Ruddy Shelducks on the New Works
Tufted Duck x Pochard hybrid: different bird to yesterday; deep reddish-purple head, orange eye, mid-dark grey mantle, pale grey flanks, intermediate size between the two species - probably the regular Deeping Lakes individual relocating

BLGP: c.30 Siskins, 2+ Mealy Redpolls still, c.10 Lesser Redpolls, 1 Green Sandpiper, 4+ Little Egrets, 4 Shelducks, 2 Nordic Jackdaws, 1 singing Corn Bunting, 1 Pink-footed Goose and the hybrid Tufted Duck x Pochard, which had relocated to the Ocean
Thurlby Fen: c.40 Yellowhammers, 1 Brambling and 1 Buzzard

1st-winter male Mealy Redpoll, Baston & Langtoft Pits, 1st March 2009

Mealy Redpoll detail - note the pointed tail feathers indicating a second calendar-year bird.

Please click for bigger versions!

Ireland, 28th - 30th December

Spent a few days out in West Ireland with Rich Bonser just before New Year. Sightings as follows.

28th December: Mayo

Achill Island: c.60 Tufted Ducks, c.30 Whooper Swans and Teal at Keel Lough
Carrowmore Lake: drake Ring-necked Duck, small numbers of Tufted Duck and Wigeon
Belmullet: 3rd-winter Ring-billed Gull and adult Mediterranean Gull off the leisure centre
Annagh Head: 2 Great Northern Divers
Termoncarragh Lough: 19 Pink-footed Geese (including grey neck-collared bird 'LNC'), c.500 Barnacle Geese and c.40 Greylag Geese
Loughs Conn & Cullin: very quiet
Mallard Lough, nr Castlebar: c.50 Whooper Swans
Doogan Lough: 6 Tufted Ducks
Westport Quay: c.75 Teal, c.75 Wigeon and 2 Greenshanks
Roonagh Lough: c.150 Common Gulls amongst plenty of the commoner species

29th December: Kerry

Ventry: drake Black Duck again between the pool and Cuan Pier, Greenshank
Smerwick Harbour/Ferriter's Cove: both quiet
Dingle: 2 (2w, juv) Iceland Gulls in the harbour
Fermoyle: 2w Iceland Gull on the beach, Great Northern Divers offshore
Lough Gill: c.120 Scaup, 100+ Teal, c.30 Tufted Ducks, drake Pintail and a Barncle Goose over
Blennerville: quiet
Reenard Point: 4 (adult, 3 juvs) Iceland Gulls, 1 Black Guillemot, 1 Great Northern Diver
Portmagee: adult Mediterranean Gull
Ballinskelligs Bay: drake Surf Scoter off Inny Strand with 1500+ Common Scoter, several Great Northern Divers

30th December: Cork

Castletown Bearhaven: 7 juv Iceland Gulls, 2 juv Glaucous Gulls, adult Ring-billed Gull, adult Mediterranean Gull
Glengarriff: adult Mediterranean x Black-headed Gull
Bantry Bay: 2 first-winter Ring-billed Gulls, 3 (2 ads, 1w) Mediterranean Gulls, 2 (m&f) Goosanders and 2 Little Egrets
Union Hall: 2 juv Iceland Gulls
Rosscarbery: juv Iceland Gull, 800+ Golden Plovers, 2 Greenshanks and several Little Egrets
Clonakilty: 2w Ring-billed Gull