Monday 31 August 2009

American Black Tern, 30/8

Late on 28th, news broke of an apparent juvenile American Black Tern (surinamensis) at the slightly unexpected setting of Farmoor Reservoir (Oxon). Due to various reasons, I sacked off going on the 29th, playing it cool and eventually going on the Sunday morning.
The bird wasn't exactly difficult to find. Farmoor is great; it's really easy to see everything on a couple of concrete bowls. Sure enough, the obliged for the next hour or so (albeit at distance) as I viewed from the causeway, along with my fellow Bank Holiday Sunday dudes. The bird itself was splendid; a wonderful marsh tern with dusky flanks and underwings, dark grey rump and upperside and grey (as opposed to black) crown. What helped (and indeed made the record so remarkable) was that both confusion species, both 'European' Black and White-winged Black Terns, were present alongside it:

Left to right: leucopterus in flight, niger (middle) and surinamensis

I guess it will be some time before (if ever?) such a trio will ever show up on the same body of water again. Being able to compare the three side-by-side revealed a few things, not least the size and structure of surinamensis appearing more akin to that of leucopterus. In flight, it also seemed to resemble its White-winged cousin more than Black, and spent much of it's time associating with the former. This allowed for fantastic comparison between the clean, crisp White-winger and the much darker, duskier American Black. So, perhaps not a good candidate for a split (you only have to look at the DNA to realise that), but certainly a charismatic and distinctive subspecies that I would certainly recommend seeing.

Above: Upperside...
... and underside

Sunday 30 August 2009

Ireland, 22nd - 28th August

And so it was time for what has become an essential in my birding calender - the annual end-of-August pilgrimage to the west coast of Ireland with the primary focus being seawatching off the Bridges of Ross (Co. Clare). The first weekend of the trip was spent with my mother in Dublin and Cork, with very little birding done at all - best of the bunch were 8 Ruff on Swords Estuary on 22nd.

Mid-morning on the 24th saw me up at Shannon airport to meet the team, who had arrived on the morning flight from Stansted. The 2009 line-up consisted of old favourite Richard Bonser, Little Shear king John Archer, the ever-pleasant Marc Read and Bridges virgin Dan Pointon. The first notable bird of the drive west towards Loop Head was a Common Buzzard over the road c.4 kilometres east of Lisseycasey, an Irish tick for yours truly!
Eventually, we found ourselves at 'The Bridges' by mid-afternoon, and a seawatch until mid-evening yielded an adult Sabine's Gull, Balearic Shearwater and c.30 Sooty Shearwaters amongst others. Further seawatching sightings over the following four days will be listed below.

Other birds were quite difficult to come by during the week, though a 3CY Ring-billed Gull at Spanish Point regularly broke up the monotony when the seawatching got dire; plenty of juvenile waders about too but nothing particularly spectaclar with water levels still very high.

25th August; moderate SW wind with showers:
Wilson's Storm-petrel (1) west @ 07:35
Sabine's Gull (9) adults
Grey Phalarope (2)
Pomarine Skua (2)
Long-tailed Skua (1) adult
Sooty Shearwater (c.70)
Storm-petrel (8)
Arctic Skua (7)
Great Skua (3)
Arctic Tern (25)

26th August:
Sabine's Gull (3) adults
Leach's Storm-petrel (1)
Pomarine Skua (1)
Balearic Shearwater (1)
Storm-petrel (17)
Arctic Skua (11)
Great Skua (3)
Common Scoter (10)
Arctic Tern (7)
27th August, mid-afternoon to dusk, wind moderate WSW:
Sabine's Gull (5) adults
Leach's Storm-petrel (1)
Balearic Shearwater (5)
Sooty Shearwater (46)
Storm-petrel (9)
Great Skua (25)
Arctic Skua (6)
Arctic Tern (32)

28th August, 06:30-09:00, wind brisk WNW veering NW:
Sabine's Gull (23) one juvenile
Grey Phalarope (16)
Leach's Storm-petrel (8)
Long-tailed Skua (1) juv
Pomarine Skua (1)
Storm-petrel (75)
Sooty Shearwater (c.100)
+ good numbers of Arctic & Great Skuas

Arctic Skua, Bridges of Ross (Co. Clare)
Pomarine Skua, Bridges of Ross (Co. Clare)
2nd-summer to adult (3rd-)winter Ring-billed Gull, Spanish Point (Co. Clare)
Cow, Kilbaha (Co. Clare)

Great Spot, 4th August

A photo of what was a new British bird for me (after missing at least two in recent times), it was remarkably elusive in the couple of hours I had spare to look for it. Feeding avidly on caterpillars, it was often accompanied by a juvenile Common Cuckoo. Perhaps more spectacular than this worn adult was the massive influx of ladybirds; some pockets of the coast looked orange at a distance! Closer study revealed a remarkable amount of cannibalism going on - the live ladybirds were feasting on their less-fortunate brothers!!