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.

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