Saturday 22 December 2012

Apocalypse Gulls

Gulls galore at Tanholt

No sign of the end of the world in Peterborough yesterday. There were, however, a lot of large gulls. I remember moaning quite extensively about the demise of Peterborough gulling as the tips appeared to be closing. Not the case, it seems! The new cell at Tanholt is attracting thousands of birds, and I estimated as many as 5,000 large (mostly Herring) in the area both yesterday and today.

Yesterday was great. Got things under way with a first-winter Caspian Gull among at least 1,000 large gulls in fields on the south side of Dogsthorpe Tip - a welcome return to birds loafing here, where they give really good views. Despite searching, couldn't find much else here.

For the first time in a good few years, large numbers of gulls are also using the fields either side of Willow Hall Lane - no doubt because the new landfill cell at Tanholt lies adjacent. Soon picked up a massive juvenile Glaucous Gull in one of the closest flocks - presumably one of the two seen here earlier in the week (the other was an adult). This is quite clearly a different juvenile to that I had at Dogsthorpe in November.

There were yet more gulls on the tip and pits at Tanholt itself. Scanning the birds around the new pit, a smart second-winter Iceland Gull soon appeared from among the Herrings on the banks at the far side. Shortly after, the birds spooked and I lost the Iceland in the melee although had a really smart adult Caspian Gull in flight and later in the field opposite, which was a nice way to end the session.

Had a couple of hours spare this afternoon, but couldn't locate any white-winged gulls. A second-winter Yellow-legged Gull was a surprise on the new pit at Tanholt but I didn't register anything else significant. Still thousands of gulls in the fields at Willow Hall Lane after 15:30 approached - I figured that they must be roosting on the Nene Washes rather than at CEGB Reservoir, so didn't bother going over there for dusk.

The past 24 hours have forced me to eat humble pie - this is Peterborough gulling at its best, made more ridiculous by the fact no one checks the flocks regularly. It seems really dynamic at the moment with lots of turnover and lots of northern gulls. What worries me is that a Slaty-backed or something similar will inevitably slip through the net here.

Wednesday 12 December 2012

Hornemann's Arctic Redpoll

Didn't anticipate that we'd get another chance at an accessible mainland bird so soon after the Norfolk individual. And what a bird - it really has to be seen in the flesh to be appreciated. Big size, stunning plumage and unbelievably tame - I had it to 1.5 metres at times. The call is striking too; a kind of slurred 'chuup' almost like a Bullfinch or a Snow Bunting.

Great day out with James Lowen. A speculative stop at Copdock also saw us pull out 45+ Waxwings there.

Click on the shots below for bigger, better versions in lightbox.

Sunday 9 December 2012

Estonian twitch

Fox Sparrow site, Haapsalu sewage works

Had a great day in Estonia yesterday with Rich, Ernie D and Lee G. Flew to Helsinki on Friday evening and, after a few hours' kip in the car, caught the 07:30 ferry over to Tallinn yesterday morning. We were mightily impressed by how smooth the drive was west to Haapsalu - the roads (and the tyres!) are great.

Arriving at Haapsalu a little after 11:00, it didn't take long for the Fox Sparrow to show on the seeded area just northeast of the sewage works. Viewing was really quite restricted and the light was also low which made obtaining decent photographs a challenge. I was pretty pleased with the handheld digiscoped shots below given high ISO and low shutter speed! A juvenile Goshawk sat in a tree behind the sewage works was a welcome distraction, while several Fieldfares and a couple of Jays were also noted.

Moving round to nearby Vonnu Park at around 14:00, the highlight here consisted of respectable flight views of a Black Woodpecker as it flopped lazily across the lake area. Other bits around the park included several trumpeting Northern Bullfinches, a couple of white-breasted Nuthatches, Great Spotted Woodpeckers and a flock of 30 cracking Mealy Redpolls.

Days are short around the Baltic at this time of year and, with the light quickly fading, our limited birding time was already drawing to an end. We decided to head back to Tallinn, and spent an enjoyable few hours wandering round the old town, taking in the Christmas market, a couple of local ales and a tasty meal of Estonian sausage and mash.

Later in the evening, we took the last ferry of the night back across to Helsinki, sleeping all the way. A few more hours' kip in Helsinki airport proved the final act of the trip prior to an early flight back to London this morning - after landing at Heathrow at 09:15, I was back home for 10:30. Remarkable what you can squeeze in to a weekend!

Sunday 2 December 2012

Rainham on Saturday

This perfect adult Caspian Gull was one of three on the tip at Rainham on Saturday morning - the others being 1cy and 3cy birds. It is quite a bright-billed and dark-mantled individual, and the pale eye can also been seen in the bottom image. My first Waxwing of the winter also dropped in a couple of times as we watched the tip.

Monday 19 November 2012

1cy Caspian Gull

This first-winter Caspian Gull showed well on the River Thames foreshore late morning until flushed by loud youths on bikes. A further two birds - both adults - were seen on the tip in addition to 15 or so Yellow-legged Gulls.

Note that, in contrast to some messages that have been broadcast, the majority of gulls are NOT at or by the stone barges. I've encountered three independent lost birders on my last two visits to the site. The best place to see gulls is by walking east along the riverside footpath for 300m from Coldharbour Lane. Birds commute between the tip and the River Thames here, and good views can be had of birds either bathing on the river or on the foreshore itself.

Saturday 17 November 2012

Down in the dump

For the first time in a while, I managed to spend the morning at Rainham Tip. Despite a wet forecast, it actually turned out to be an OKish morning weather-wise and, despite the relatively low numbers present, the gulls also produced a few decent bits.

Arriving a little after 08:30, I had a Water Pipit flying around near the stone barges as I made my way along the riverside footpath to the tipping area. This was soon followed by the first Caspian Gull of the morning: a heavy-looking first-winter with really nice scapulars and coverts and a distinct dark smudge behind the eye, which really emphasised the white eyelids.

Over the next few hours, I was joined by a few others including David Bradnum. It wasn't the most dynamic of mornings on the tip with hundreds (rather than thousands) of large gulls, although we did have a further two Casps - a green-ringed second-winter (ring covered in sh*t and thus unreadable) that was a bit retarded on the upperparts and seemed to lack a mirror on p10, and a really smart adult picked up by Dave.

Another Rock/Water Pipit also flew over calling and there were plenty of the expected winter species along the Thames including about a dozen Yellow-legged Gulls (of all ages) throughout the morning. This Rook also showed well on the fence adjacent to where we were stood...

Sunday 11 November 2012

Hooded Merganser

A bird with a crazy profile. Famous last words perhaps, but this one 'feels' so much better than the adult female in Kent back in March. Even if it shows to 20m, it's no tamer than the Wigeon, Teal and Dark-bellied Brents that frequent the same channel. Nice to get out on a glorious day of weather - as at least one other has said, this could be one of the highlights of an often frustrating autumn...

Saturday 10 November 2012

Red-breasted Goose

Through bleary eyes and with a bit of a duff head, I rolled out of bed at 06:30 this morning and drove down to Pagham. On arrival there at around 08:45, Alan Lewis informed me that the Hooded Merganser hadn't been seen and he was heading off to Farlington to look for the Red-breasted Goose. With the drizzle continuing, I decided against wasting time stood on the North Wall and decided to follow suite and head west.

The weather had improved a tad on arrival at Farlington and, although overcast, it had stopped raining and was actually reasonably mild. Alan and I walked around to the east side of the reserve and soon located the Red-breasted Goose showing with around 150 Dark-bellied Brents in fields by the sea wall.

Unfortunately, I'd forgotten to put my camera in my bag on leaving London this morning, and thus it wasn't surprising to find the goose performing outrageously well. I did have my iPhone, though, and the shots below were taken via hand-held 'iPhoneScoping'. Not too bad really.

The only Red-breasted Geese I'd seen in Britain previously were a couple of adults that spent time in Lincolnshire then Norfolk six winters ago. I had some pretty good views of them up at Saltfleet, although nothing quite like this one. Among a trusting pack of Dark-bellied Brents, the bird came within 30m of us over the ninety minutes we watched it - close enough that optics weren't necessary to enjoy satisfactory views! Some of the Brents were showing to half that distance - crazy birds.

So, despite the 'disappointment' of the merganser disappearing, it actually turned out to be a pleasant few hours down on the south coast. Nice to see Alan and nice to be out of West London.

Sunday 4 November 2012

Juvenile Glaucous Gull

I've been pretty fortunate in that almost every time I've popped home to Lincs this year I've managed to find some decent birds on my old stomping grounds. On Saturday, the best thing I could manage on my old patch at Baston & Langtoft Pits was a vocal Water Pipit, with a Short-eared Owl seen at nearby Baston Fen late afternoon.

But the highlight of the day was a fine juvenile Glaucous Gull on the pool at Dogsthorpe Tip during the late morning. This is the earliest juvenile I've seen in the Peterborough area (previous 9th Dec 2007), although I did have a second-winter in late October last year. As you'd expect for the date, it was a particularly fresh-looking and well-marked individual. The relatively small size (not much bigger than a Herring Gull), cute face and demure bill perhaps suggest it was of the fairer sex.

Perhaps not totally unexpected given the recent northerly airflow, although a pleasing start to the winter gulling season nonetheless. Apparently still present this morning too, seen by Mike Weedon at around 10:30.

Saturday 20 October 2012

Back in London...

... considering what could have been. Corvo is amazing. Bring on 2013.

Thursday 18 October 2012

Final full days on Corvo (weather permitting)

The sun is slowly setting to the west this evening on what is my last full day on the island. Today has been a little quiet, although yesterday ended up producing yet more great birds.

I started yesterday morning in Cantinho, spending four hours up there until I started to lose concentration and talk to the trees. Heading out on to Lighthouse Road, heard that David had relocated the Wood Thrush in Cancelas so spent some time scrambling around the top of the valley there, but saw nothing. Meeting Eric at da Ponte, we decided to head back towards the village when PAC alerted us to a couple of snipe in Lapa - turned out to be nothing interesting so the three of us ambled back along the road towards the miradour. Pierre then picked up a distant thrush in a cow field which transpired to be an American Robin; he called it just as I was about to speculate on the possibility of Eyebrowed Thrush...! The twitch soon formed and the bird showed well - below are my digibinned efforts:

Leaving the thrush, PAC and I once again continued back towards the village only to be called back by a mystery passerine flushed by Eric and David from the roadside. The bird proved to be a Lincoln's Sparrow - seen well only by me (the flusher from the field) for two hours until it finally returned to its favoured tamarisk and most enjoyed decent views. My final act of the day was checking out the American Herring Gull, which was still blogging about at the west end of the runway and looking decidedly healthier than the evening previous.

This morning, there were big blue skies and the wind had completely dropped, so Eric and I headed up the caldeira. I flushed a Wilson's Snipe twice from the north side and, having never seen the taxon before, was genuinely surprised at how obvious the bird was. The white trailing edge to the wing was almost non-existent, the underwing was so heavily barred it looked dark, and the flanks were also extensively and densely barred. I also saw the bird land on the deck, and had decent views of it running around on the floor before it found a little hole to creep in to - remarkably cold-looking compared to the 40+ Common Snipe seen in the caldeira during the morning. The upperwing was very dark with very pale, crisp fringing to the upperparts. Eric and I later flushed a possible second bird which, although not as obvious, had plenty of features suggestive of delicata.

Other birds in the caldeira included a couple of useful Azores ticks - Pink-footed Goose and Osprey - as well as a drake Black Duck, 25+ White-rumped Sandpipers, the juvenile American Golden Plover, 5 Wheatears and a couple of female-type Teal although no sign of the recent Great Blue Heron.

The rest of the day proved pretty lazy in the pleasant weather conditions, with very few bits seen. Tried for the Parula/Yellowthroat combo and also the Lincoln's with no success, although the latter was still around. I checked the dump for the smiths but no sign, and didn't see much else around the village aside a Wheatear.

Willet on Sao Miguel today. Just hoping that we can fly tomorrow.

Tuesday 16 October 2012

Quiet 15th, crazy 16th

Another couple of days to report back on. Yesterday (Monday 15th) proved a difficult day. I started in the Lighthouse Valley with PAC and Eric; we had 'my' Red-eyed Vireo from GWW day, but little else. Climbing out the valley, we were greeted by a text suggesting a possible Mourning Warbler in da Ponte. Needless to say, we spent the rest of the day there - no MW, and not much else to rave about.

Today was much more promising. Many went back to da Ponte for second helpings of the MW dip. I continued on to Fojo, and spent the morning walking up and down the slopes about the picnic area. In four hours of staring a dense laurels, I saw precisely nothing so headed up and out of the wood and on to the lighthouse road. Meeting Ernie Davis, we decided to work the upper part of Poco d'Agua and see what happened. Absolutely nothing, to be precise! Although both Hannu and Ernie saw a thrush with a red tail, which we will all check out tomorrow morning.

I decided to head towards the reservoir, working the upper parts of Lapa as I headed there. Nothing in Lapa, but 9+ White-rumped Sandpipers and 2 Semipalmated Plovers bombing around the reservoir. Finally, Hannu located the Solitary Sandpiper showing well on the small muddy patch of the north side of the reservoir which eventually showed to two metres..!

Hannu and the Solitary.

My heart sunk shortly after when Vincent and Pierre found a Common Yellowthroat in the yams at the top of Lapa; I'd walked this spot just an hour before and had nothing but a Snipe - bollocks! Decided to head back down and try it out, while PAC went up towards the reservoir. After a few minutes there was a loud 'tsiip' and Vincent and I were expecting the yellowthroat to pop back out. No sign, so I walked up the valley and pished - bang! Small warbler with white spots in the outer tail feathers... it lands... fuck! Northern Parula! I was more relieved than anything, being happy just to have finally found something decent out here. The bird was mobile, although showed well on and off over the following couple of hours.

Back down in the village, Gordon, Ernie and I set out on an evening lap of the airfield to see if anything turned up. One of the gulls hanging in the wind over the west end of the airfield this evening proved to be a messed up, near-adult Herring-type - further scrutiny when it finally landed on some rocks (after floating around on the sea with wings open, looking half dead!) showed plenty of features suggestive of American Herring Gull - which it must be, given the weather. As we watched this bird, Ernie radio'd with news of a Canada Goose flying west towards us from the windmills! Sure enough, the goose flew over our heads shortly afterwards, before turning back and heading out to sea to the southeast. Looking at the size and structure (as well as dark breast) it looks a decent candidate for interior (Todd's), not too dissimilar to the bird I found in Co. Mayo in January.

Knackered smiths and big breakers

Digibined record shot; note the mantle colour looks so dark as the bird is soaked!

Presumed Todd's flying around over the airfield.

In the meantime, Gordon had found a moribund teal species by the windmills and had a Laughing Gull fly past! Vincent and I headed round for the teal, which I was easily able to pick up and put in my pocket. Although far from an obvious candidate, it looks likely thay this bird is a female Green-winged Teal (not surprising given the weather), although we'll take some feathers for DNA analysis to make sure either way. I took the bird down to the SPEA girls, who will rest it overnight and let us know how it is in the morning - it seems the bird is more tired than unwell, as it had plenty of fat left and seem fairly spritely despite being unable to fly off. Fingers crossed it makes a full recovery; a nice way to end an eventful day which ended in a genuinely dynamic manner - everyone seems optimistic that new birds will be found over the next couple of days...

The teal in the safe hands of SPEA.