Monday 30 January 2012

YLG @ Tanholt

This adult Yellow-legged Gull was one of three at Tanholt Tip/Pits early afternoon (others 3rd-w and 1st-w). Increasing numbers of Lesser Black-backed Gulls are now returning to Peterborough after spending the first winter period away from the area, and it is this first influx of the species that has presumably brought the YLGs with it.

Michahellis are really rather scarce around these parts from mid-autumn through to late winter, so to see three today was pretty good.

Photos digibinned post-flushing. Despite them being shit record shots in shit light, you can see the primary pattern pretty well - I quite like digibinning for gull record shots locally; I've photographed white-winged gulls over the tips in this way previously.

Sunday 29 January 2012

Pale Mealy Redpoll, 29th Jan

Stumbled upon around 20 Lesser Redpolls on my patch late morning today, including two Mealy Redpolls. One of the birds appeared particularly pale (especially when seen in flight), and for a brief period of time I flirted with the possibility of an exilipes.

However, better views confirmed it to be 'just' a pale Mealy Redpoll although it was sporting a nice metal ring on its right leg - yep, it was last week's bird. Last week, I suggested it was a first-winter female. However, it appears to be a first-winter male - a faint pink wash is apparent on the upper breast, and there is also the slightest hint of a pink tinge in the rump.

The bottom photo demonstrates quite nicely the strong and regular streaking on the upperparts - a feature I do not associate with exilipes (usually much finer, whispy and irregular streaking). Then there are the other obvious features - a broad streak on the longest undertail covert coupled with finer streaks on several other UTCs, the white (but finely-streaked) rump, the base colour to the upperparts, large bill and so on.

Red Kite eating Barn Owl

One of the most surreal things I have ever seen. I had wondered where the resident Barn Owl had got to lately (it usually flushes out of a small patch of conifers when I walk by to check the Old Wader Scrape on my patch).

Will Bowell and I were trudging around my patch looking for redpolls late on this afternoon when I noticed the kite get up very close to the road and perch in nearby tall conifers. Through several expletives, I suggested to Will that the prey item it was carrying was a Barn Owl (judging by the wings). Sure enough, that's what it turned out to be! It had a good old feed on the carcass before being harrassed by a local Buzzard and taking off, leaving the poor owl's wings behind, hanging from the tree..!

Presumably the owl was a recent roadkill victim, and the kite was simply taking advantage of a free (yet bizarre) meal.

Monday 23 January 2012

Langtoft's January Celebrities

Over the last couple of days, I've had a few bits in the Langtoft area. Today at Baston & Langtoft Pits, I had a pair of Smew on the traditional location of the old wader scrape: the first of the winter on my old patch:

I was also pretty surprised to find that, when two redpolls flew over and landed in a nearby alder, one of them was in fact a female Mealy Redpoll (the other being a pretty standard cabaret). When it finally came out of the tangle of branches and perched in a nearby ash, it was fascinating to see the bird was ringed on it's right leg; unfortunately, views were far from adequate to read any numbers or letters.

Also hanging around still are a couple of European White-fronted Geese at West End Pits. The Greylags here can be painfully elusive among the thick vegetation on the islands, although with a bit of 'encouragement' they often come waddling off the island and in to the water. No sign of the Tundra Beans lately though - as much as I'd like to suggest they've gone, they've disappeared for six weeks at a time previously so they're probably still somewhere in the Deepings - we have a lot of Greylags.

Monday 16 January 2012

Local birding 16/1

I had a great day out locally today. Spent a couple of hours mid-morning around BLGP - alot of the smaller pits were at least partially frozen. There were lots of Shoveler (c.30) present, and a Pink-footed Goose was with around 250 Greylags at Grummit's Scrape then on The Ocean:

There seemed to be a fair few ducks around, so I headed round to Tallington GPs to see what was there. It was immediately apparent from the bank on the north side that there were a lot of ducks. Indeed, across the complex I had an impressive minimum of 280 Tufted Ducks, but no hoped for rare aythya. I could hardly complain though, as a drake Smew floated in to view - my first of the winter.

Also around the pits were c.50 Pochard and c.30 Goldeneye, as well as a significant concentration of 17 Little Grebes on one of the smaller pits. Langtoft West End was almost completely frozen, so it was perhaps no surprise that I couldn't find the Tundra Bean Geese here (or much else for that matter).

Heading back home for an early lunch, I toyed with the idea of a visit to Dogsthorpe Tip. However, with the tips seemingly closing for good and reduced gull numbers over the past month or so, I was nearly put off the idea. As it was such a lovely day, I decided to head over anyway and, if there wasn't much doing, I planned to tackle the Nene Washes. My fears were unfounded though: around 700 large gulls were on the tip and adjacent pit. It didn't take long for a beautiful, pale biscuit-coloured Iceland Gull to appear:

Result! The bird disappeared around 20 minutes later but was replaced by this subtle 2nd-winter Caspian Gull. Although not the cleanest looking individual with relatively limited moult apparent on the upperparts and a relatively pale iris, I guess this is probably a pure bird rather than a hybrid. Facially it looks really snouty, it has a long and thin bill with next to no gonydeal angle, has that characteristic 'hanging belly' appearance as well as long (but not extremely long) pale legs. Uppertail and UTCs are pretty clean also and, perhaps most critically, it did show a small pale mirror on p10 (not apparent in photos).

Local birder John Saunders arrived, and I was able to instantly put him on the Casp. With John eyeing Iceland Gull for his local year list, we decided to head round to the fields south of the tip. Sure enough, the Ice was located at the front of the flock and, with some careful stalking in my car, we were able to obtain fantastic views.

With work beckoning, I headed home via Deeping High Bank. A couple of vocal adult Bewick's Swans were on the River Welland north of Crowland water tower, and 8 Goosanders (5 drakes) were also in the same area.

Continuing north, I was thrilled to find a redhead Smew by the S-bend in the river. This is the first I've seen at this site; I guess it must be the bird from nearby Deeping Lakes at the weekend.

Western Sandpiper, 15th January

Finally caught up with Cley's Western Sandpiper on Sunday. Although at times distant and surprisingly elusive, it did show fairly well. Having said that, a bit distant for images. I was quite struck by, without wanting to sound cocky, how much it seemed an 'obvious' Western to me. The structure, bill shape, retained rufous scaps etc. Perhaps that's the benefit of hindsight creeping in, or perhaps its just having spent hours studying them over the last couple of months.

Also saw the Coues's Arctic Redpoll at Titchwell. Although I can see why a few people have worried about this bird from photographs, it doesn't really look like anything but an exilipes in the flesh. To me, anyway.

Saturday 14 January 2012

Thanks to a couple of ships...

... I had a pleasant few hours in Hampshire on Saturday morning:

Spanish Sparrow, Calshot

Dark-eyed Junco, New Forest

On the way home, I realised I had timed the return journey quite well in that the sun was just setting as I reached Grafham Water. Called in for a look through the gull roost. Impressive numbers present, although I only had a light fleece (really cold this evening) and the warden was locking up the car park so I had my work cut short. Didn't find the anticipated winger, but lots of gulls still arriving as I left. This juvenile Shag was on the boom:

Tuesday 10 January 2012

Juvenile Herring Gull 9/1

This is one of the most striking juvenile argentatus Herring Gulls I have ever seen - a remarkably dark beast at Dogsthorpe Tip yesterday.

The four Tundra Bean Geese, last seen on 28th November 2011, were again on my patch during the afternoon with the Greylags and a juvenile European White-front.

Sunday 8 January 2012

Ireland, 6th-8th January

I've just come back from a mixed few days in Ireland. I missed out on a winger-fest at Killybegs by two days (Derek Charles had a mind-blowing session on Sunday), but still recorded almost 40 individuals. There were some other highlights, too.

Day 1: 6th January

After an overnight commute on the back of a delayed ferry from Anglesey, I arrived at Killybegs in the early hours. A few hours' sleep was greatly appreciated before light eventually came around 08:30. There wasn't much activity in the harbour and, after conversing with a local fisherman, it transpired no trawlers had been out during the week due to the extreme weather conditions. No surprises then that there weren't too many gulls about - just a few hundred at most. My final totals for around three hours throughout the morning were a juvenile Kumlien's, 3 juvenile Icelands and 4 juvenile Glaucous Gulls. Following the weather, a real disappointment (Derek had over 60 white winged gulls on 8th!).

Small fan club attracted with bread

Juv Glauc and fluorescent paint

I decided to head south to Enniskillen, where the town dump had recently attracted several Iceland Gulls. Following an unsuccessful search for Nearctic wildfowl around the local loughs, I reached the dump to find a good few hundred large gulls around the dump. All in all, I had eight Icelands (2 adults, 3rd-winter, 2nd-winter and 4 juveniles) and a juvenile Glaucous Gull. There was also a 3rd-winter Glaucous x Herring hybrid and another, adult white-winged gull. The photos below should help to give an impression of jizz - kind of intermediate between Herring and Iceland. It was the size of a small Herring Gull and, facially, really reminded me of this species. However, the primaries are quite obviously white, and the legs short and kind of bubblegum-pink - it also looks quite long-winged for a Herring. These features were enough to convince me it's something more than just an aberrant Herring Gull, although equally it doesn't really look like an Iceland Gull either. As well as being too big and bulky, the grey on the outer webs of the outer primaries also appears far too extensive for a 'pure' Iceland (or Glaucous) Gull. I guess there are two options for this bird - either it could be an unusually small Glaucous x Herring Gull hybrid (although structural features would suggest this unlikely), or the mythical Iceland x Herring Gull? I'd be very interested in thoughts.

Mystery adult white-winger

3rd-w Glaucous x Herring

With time pressing, I headed west to Lower Lough MacNean to have a quick look for the recent blue morph Snow Goose that has been in the area. The closest I got was a flock of Greenland White-fronted Geese distantly in flight for a couple of seconds before they dropped behind a drumlin, although I did find the darkest Kumlien's Gull I have ever seen - Thayer's-like, but the tail was perhaps slightly too pale, and I felt the scapulars and tertials were also not right for a classic. Secondary bar looked decent though. It was feeding in a field with Hooded Crows miles away, so I could only manage a few poor records:

The final stop of the day was Lough Arrow, although I couldn't find anything of note amongst a few small flocks of Tufted Ducks found around the lake's margins.

Day 2: 7th January

Having slept overnight at Cross Lough, the first half an hour of daylight was spent exploring the lough and nearby beach. Three Glaucous Gulls were immediately apparent - two juveniles and a spectacular adult, although the aythya here consisted of nothing more exotic than Tufted Ducks and 16 Scaup.

Roadside Glauc at Cross Lough

Elly Bay and Leam Lough were both really quiet, so I headed for Annagh. On the way, just west of Belmullet, a juvenile Iceland Gull flew across the road and landed in fields. Lifting my bins, I was drawn to the shape of a big, dark goose in the fields behind - bang! A Canada Goose, of some sort, associating with three Greenland White-fronted Geese. First impressions were it was big, had the neck of a giraffe, and was dark. Any idea as to racial identification is most welcome because I really do not have a clue about these things:

Annagh Beach had three more Glaucous Gulls (two 2nd-winters and a juv), and nearby Dun ma Mbo had a juvenile Iceland. I then headed for Carrowmore Lake via Barnatra (Thayer's Gull 2005 fame), and had the two drake Ring-necked Ducks - the usual adult and a new, first-winter. I also saw three Tufted Ducks but not alot else.

Carrowmore Ring-necked Ducks: adult (left) and 1st-winter (right) drakes

The rest of the day was spent mincing around Achill Island and Clew Bay, where I saw nothing. A real anti-climax given the promising start to the day...

Day 3: 8th January

Throughout the morning, I checked various bays and beaches in south Mayo and west Galway with very little luck indeed - I had a single adult Iceland Gull fly over me at Roonah Quay, and another at Clifden (Galway). This was not made any better by contant messages from Derek, who was up doing extensive winger damage at Killybegs - the messages about arriving trawlers being tailed by flocks of Iceland Gulls is enough to make anyone sick, but I felt particularly bad having been there just 48 hours previous. The first productive stop of the day was early afternoon at Rossaveel, where I consoled myself with six (4 juveniles and 2 2nd-winter) Iceland Gulls showing very well around the harbour - at least the trawler activity here had also had some influence.

Icelands: juvenile (top) and two 2nd-winters

Driving back east to Nimmo's, I had a sort of lethargic end-of-trip feeling come over me. I was numbed by the numbers of white-winged gulls further north. Surely there had to be something around Galway? Alongside the charming Tom Cuffe, all I could manage was a muddy 2nd-winter Kumlien's, and 3 juvenile Icelands. There were hardly any gulls around, though.

Solid 2nd-w Kumlien's

With the light fading, I made one last stop before the drive back to Dublin for the evening ferry - for Dermot's drake American Wigeon at Rahasane Turlough. Eventually found the bird in less-than-ideal conditions at some distance in the middle of the floods. Talking of floods - never seen the water so high here!

Thanks to Dermot and Derek for constant updates over the weekend with various bits of generally gull-related news. Much appreciated guys.