Sunday 20 March 2011

More local action..

Gaining a bit of height in the fens, © Mike Weedon

Not a bad weekend, both weather and bird-wise locally. Still no true migrants (apart from a few singing Chiffs), but some nice bits. It turns out there are a pair of Smew on my patch, and today (Sunday) there was an impressive influx of Tufted Ducks.

Highlight of the weekend was an adult Dark-bellied Brent Goose along Deeping High Bank on Saturday 19th. First seen in flight after being flushed by a passing glider, the bird then settled in fields on the opposite side of the river. It was often tucked up behind the far bank, thus requiring some athleticism to view (above). This only my second Brent in the Peterborough area, following one my Dad and I found along the same stretch of river in November 2003!

Dark-bellied Beast

Friday 18 March 2011

Back to earth 18/3

Following on from a couple of great trips over the past few weeks, I've popped home for a long weekend this weekend. It was nice to get out in the pleasantly spring-like conditions this morning for some long overdue local birding.

First stop was my old patch, Baston & Langtoft Pits. No true spring migrants yet but nice to see a couple of raucous Oystercatchers back again to breed. Highlight was an absolutely stunning drake Smew on the old wader scrape; for the past few years now (admittedly not last as I wasn't around to look), a drake has popped up here in March/April - latest date I had it was 22nd(ish) April back in 2008 I believe. Guess it must be a returning bird; again no redheads though. This species has become really quite rare in the Peterborough area. In the shelter belt just west of ARC Pit, it was nice to see 20+ Bramblings - the best numbers I can recall seeing here. Some of the males were even participating in subsong which was great. The same could be said for the wonderful flock of 100+ Siskins near Gull Pit. This site is now a traditional area for big flocks at this time of year. Typically, there were a few Lesser Redpolls mixed in, and I did see a female-type Mealy which is a nice patch year tick. Otherwise, there wasn't too much doing; just a couple of Green Sandpipers.

I pressed on to Crown Lakes where Steve Dudley had had a drake Green-winged Teal the previous evening; alas no sign of the bird and only 7 Teal present! To compensate for such disappointment, there was only one thing for it - a bit of gull action and fast food.

Dogsthorpe was devoid of gulls, with the reason soon becoming apparent - no tipping. It looks like the landfill site is in a transitional stage. The dump boys are digging out the pits here, presumably to make more room for more of Peterborough's waste; hopefully by April when I'm back they'll be back tipping. No great shakes though; all the gulls had congregated at Tanholt and Eye Tip. Although the tip here is impossible to view, the gulls often loaf in nearby fields and on the pits. Today, several hundred were on the new pit with another 1,000 or so in the field opposite. There was alot of changeover in the 90 minutes or so I stayed, partly natural and partly due to a Red Kite then Buzzard causing a great deal of unrest amongst the larids.

Bird of the day was this splendid first-winter Caspian Gull; a worn and faded individual:

In addition to this, a couple of 1st-winter Yellow-leggeds were also seen, presumably having arrived with the increasing numbers of Lesser Black-backed Gulls around now (YLGs are pretty rare in these parts in winter). However, the sexiest gull of the day had to go to this beaut:

Adult summer Mediterranean Gulls have to be one of the best-looking larids out there. This bird was pretty vocal; guess it won't be long before it's back on territory. In contrast to this fine specimen, there were plenty of foul Herring Gulls about. I never fail to be astounded by how variable this species is in juvenile/first-winter plumage. It seems like every time I head to the tip I see a combination of features I've not seen before! Here's a few from today:

When I first picked this up I was naturally quite intruiged. It almost reminded me of this. Then it turned around and, for all intents and purposes, it looks like a fairly typical Herring Gull, albeit quite a large one and of course having very pale primaries. The tail and rump pattern was of a typical Herring (just tea-coloured rather than black), and the greater coverts and tertials look fairly normal, just pale. I can't even see any real reason that Glaucous might be involved, apart from the size.

And this one looks like it might have Glaucous in it somewhere, at least facially. Plumage-wise, it was pale but not really that far off this argentatus I had back in December. I suspect it is probably just an argentatus.

And the final bird, below, is another argentatus. In contrast to the two grotty creatures above, it is still remarkably fresh and, most critically, is still in full juvenile plumage (excuse the photo quality). Birds like this aren't all that unusual, even in March:

Unfortunately my camera has finally packed up, so I fear that may be the last of images for a while. At least until I can afford a new camera, anyway.

Thursday 10 March 2011

Siberian White-winged Scoter

A montage of videograbs of this first for Ireland. The jury is still out on which subspecies it is although our personal notes and recollections would suggest stejnegeri as the more likely candidate; but hopefully that will be confirmed in the next few days with further, more educated views.

Update 11/3: most opinion seems to be settled on Stejneger's Scoter.

Thanks for all the kind words; full credit to Davey Farrar for initially locating this bird!

Click on the image for a larger version.

Tuesday 8 March 2011

Ireland, 5-7th March

A long weekend out in west Ireland with Oliver Metcalf turned out to be generally productive. Saturday 5th was spent in Sligo and Mayo, with the Small Canada Goose noted at Raghly whilst nearby in Sligo Harbour a juvenile Kumlien's Gull and adult Ringer were noted. The Small Canada is being touted as a Taverner's; I must admit I know nothing about the bewildering array of forms that occur in the Canada/Cackling Goose complex, but this bird looked better for a Small Canada than the other 'Taverner's' I saw in Dumfries a few years back. Whilst possessing a longer, snakier neck than the surrounding Barnacles, it was of a similar size to them and looked somewhat diminuitive. As can be seen in one of the photos below, it has a significant chin strap.

Taverner's-type Canada Goose

We moved round to The Mullet, where the 1st-winter American Coot took some locating as it stayed predominately amongst the reeds at the north end of Termoncarragh Lake. c.400 Barnacle Geese were also there, whilst the returning drake Ring-necked Duck was easily located at Carrowmore Lake. We then did a selection of the usual spots on Achill Island but couldn't locate anything save a female Black Duck x Mallard hybrid. Doogan Lough also held very little, so we headed down to Galway for the night.

We overnighted it in the car at Angilham, at the south end of Lough Corrib. First light therefore saw us scanning the (flat calm) lough. Calm conditions are always vastly helpful at this expansive (and at times frustrating) site. Within a few minutes a bird caught my attention amongst the main Pochard flock; larger, longer-necked, paler flanks and upperparts and an apparent all-black bill. I calmly said to Ollie that I might have a Canvasback, and proceded to get him on to the bird. At the distance it was at (c.500m) and in poor light, the bird looked really rather good. However, being all too familiar with the very Canvasback-like hybrid that has been touring sites in Britain over the past couple of winters, I was somewhat hesitant so put out news of a 'possible Canvasback or hybrid'. The bird then swam frustratingly distant (up to c.1km), although the combination of features previously mentioned made it identifiable at such range. The bird was also noted displaying, and whilst calling puffed out a rather sizeable gular bulge.

Dermot Breen then joined us a little after 09:00, by which time the bird had fortuitously flown in to the nearest Pochard flock. Unfortunately, the rest is history. As soon as it landed it became apparent that the bird wasn't a pure Canvasback and, somewhat amazingly, appeared to be the very same individual that had previously been noted in North Yorks and Suffolk - I had seen it in the former county in November 2009...! So, a bit gutting but entertaining all the same. The drake Ring-necked Duck x Tufted Duck I saw at this site last March was also present again. A few images of the duck below; the fourth down is a more typical, distant view of the bird giving a very Canvasback-like impression.

The 'Canvasback'...

Up to Rossaveel, where juvenile and 3rd-winter Glaucous Gulls were seen but no sign of the possible Thayer's-type creature. Nimmo's revealed the usual adult Minger(s) and a Sandwich Tern but no Forster's. We did Loughrea, where we failed to repeat my 'success' of a Ring-necked Duck last year. Rahasane Turlough held lots of ducks including plenty of Pintail, but no rares. Round at Doorus Pier, a bit of luck was on our side as the Forster's Tern, with its wonderful silvery wings and distinctive head pattern, gracefully bounced in to view with a Sandwich Tern, before flying off up the coast. Finally tracked this beast down! We searched several sites along the north Clare coast but had little more than Long-tailed Ducks, Black-throated Divers and Common Scoters.

Coastline between Black Head and Ballyvaughan, Clare

The next morning dawned and, following a considerable overnight drive, we looked out over Ballinskelligs Bay, Kerry. Despite searching the throng of Common Scoter offshore, we had little more than 5 Long-tailed Ducks but certainly no Surfers. An adult Iceland Gull was at Reenard Point amongst very few gulls indeed. Most interesting bird of the day was the Velvet-type Scoter off Rossbeigh. Whilst I don't see many drake Velvets well, I couldn't help but feel this bird looked odd. It had a whacking great upturned white tear behind the eye, and the base of the bill felt very bulbous. The colouration of the bill was more reddish-orange than yellow-orange, but with no literature to hand, we couldn't really go much further. Here's a poor video of it:

The adult Spoonbill was at Cromane. Our best find of the day was on the Dingle peninsula; an adult Yellow-legged Gull was amongst a newly-arrived flock of migrant Lesser Black-backed Gulls at Ferriter's Cove. It was certainly a day to enjoy the weather; beautiful blue skies and mild sunshine with not a breath of wind.

Sunny Cromane, Kerry.

Sunny Dingle, Kerry...