Friday 24 February 2012

Eye Green 23rd Feb

On the way back home from London/Peterborough I called in briefly at Eye Green NR. The Scaup I found at CEGB a couple of weeks back has relocated here, where it is showing better to say the least:

I also found two Pink-footed Geese (pristine adult and grotty first-winter) showing extremely well among a small gaggle of Greylags here. This is certainly a fine example of the notion that 'vagrant' geese quickly alter to the habits of their chosen carrier species. Most Greylags in the Peterborough area are actually pretty wary and flush easily, but not those at Eye Green... my best ever views of PFG locally.

Wednesday 22 February 2012

CEGB Iceland 18th Feb

Late posting, but anyway - better views seem to make clear the bird is in fact a 4th-winter (near-adult). Essentially adult like but quite a bit of brown in the wing coverts and tertial crescent not as well-defined. Great find from Matt Webb - been waiting years to see an adult/near adult Iceland in Peterborough

Friday 17 February 2012

Peterborough Gulls 16th Feb

There were absolutely loads of gulls in Peterborough this week - the most I have seen for ages. This is presumably due to a combination of last week's cold weather and increased tipping activity. Matt Webb found an adult-type Iceland in the CEGB roost earlier in the week and I fancied my chances of relocating it either at The Dog or in the roost. Couldn't find it on the tip, but instead found a cracking second-winter! Also one of last week's adult Caspian Gulls showed up again plus a third-winter Yellow-legged. Went round to the roost; another adult Caspian there and Matt's Iceland, which looks to be a third or fourth-winter - almost adult like but bill looked a bit immature as did the wing coverts. However, I stress my views were very poor (distant).

Adult Caspian Gull at Dogsthorpe Tip - same bird as 7th February.

2nd-winter Iceland Gull at Dogsthorpe Tip.

3rd/4th-winter Iceland Gull in the roost at CEGB Reservoir.

Had an hour at the tip this afternoon (17th) following the superb Common Yellowthroat in Gwent. Thousands of gulls again, but most were flighty and kettling off in to the distance by mid-afternoon. A morning session could be excellent tomorrow, wish I wasn't working...! Two first-winter Meds this pm. Apparently the 3w Iceland roosted again at CEGB - it must be using the tip, really want to see it here!

Friday 10 February 2012

Scaup 10th Feb

Another day, another good local bird. This first-winter drake Scaup was on CEGB Reservoir, Peterborough this evening - excuse the awful shots taken in the last of today's light. It's the second I've found in the area this winter, following a young female at the end of November.

The gull roost was quite impressive tonight and included 1,200+ large. An adult Caspian and first-winter Yellow-legged were seen, although no white wings. Which, in such a winter, I find quite amazing.

Thursday 9 February 2012

Frustrated by a Ringer

Today proved to be another great day. Obvious highlight (all ten seconds of it!) was a splendid adult Ring-billed Gull at Dogsthorpe Tip. I picked up this bird by it's head (not literally) at 12:50, sticking out of a mass of Black-headed Gulls gathered on the eastern slope of the tip. Unfortunately, about ten seconds later, the entire flock got up and flew around a bit before settling and, despite Brian Stone and John Saunders joining me, we couldn't relocate the bird by 14:45.

The gulls were really flighty and simply didn't stay still today. Along with the Ringer, this was epitomized by Brian picking up at 1w Med when stood next to me for all of a few seconds before being lost in the melee once more. Realistically, I think there is a good chance that the Ringer could be seen again if it continues to visit the tip, as the gulls are usually much better-behaved than they were today and generally sit still for much longer.

Other interest today was provided by a brief first-winter Caspian Gull which looks to be different to the three seen on Tuesday (one of which was seen again yesterday), making it the ninth bird since Saturday. It is quite small and slender-billed, with pale greater coverts and a rather diffuse (worn) pattern on the upperparts:

I also had two third-winter Yellow-legged Gulls, one of which is below. Michs are usually pretty rare in our area in winter, although there seem to be quite a few around at the moment (I've had at least six over the past week or two).

At Tallington, I had a drake aythya hybrid which turned out to be a bird I had previously seen at BLGP in Feb-Apr 2009; just shows how faithful these things can be to specific areas winter after winter! Also there was a 1w European White-front - one of the Langtoft birds relocating.

Third-winter Caspian Gull, 8th Feb

Two Caspian Gulls at Dogsthorpe in a quick look this morning included one of yesterday's first-winters and new third-winter. I initially assumed this was yesterday's fourth-winter, but there are clearly several differences (e.g. bill structure and pattern, primaries etc).

I must say I find ageing third/fourth-winter Casps difficult at times (guess it isn't reliably done in some birds). However, I'm pretty confident both yesterday's and Saturday's birds are 4w birds and today's a 3w. In addition to the primaries, there is quite alot of 'muck' in the upperwing coverts (and some brown on the fringes of the underwing coverts). Today's bird also seemed to show a tiny bit of black on the central tail feathers.

So, that's eight Caspian Gulls at The Dog since Saturday - two adults, two 4th-w, a 3rd-w and three 1st-w. Amazing stuff: all credit to weather conditions.

Tuesday 7 February 2012

Cold weather Caspians

I had a couple of hours spare this afternoon (in between a bank meeting and work), so called in at Dogsthorpe Tip. It was immediately apparent that a shed load of gulls were present: around 1,500 large was the highest figure I've had here this winter.

Anyway, it turned out to be the most productive session I've had of the winter. Clearly the recent cold weather had driven a lot of gulls westwards from the continent - Herring Gull numbers were up massively. Either side of a brief visit to Tanholt Pits, I recorded no less than six Caspian Gulls at Dogsthorpe - two adults, a fourth-winter (different to Saturday's), and three first-winters. Also at The Dog were a couple of Yellow-legged Gulls (adult and 1st-winter), but it seemed a bit bizarre there wasn't a winger anywhere to be seen. Photos of five of the Casps can be seen below; amazingly, the bottom four birds were all seen together on the pit at one point among just a few hundred large gulls!

Bird one: first-winter - can you spot it?

Bird two: a distinctive first-winter with long and extensively-pale bill

Bird three: fourth-winter (near -adult). Note the brownish wash to the coverts and tertials as well as black in bill indicating age; primary pattern also perhaps not quite as developed as in adults

Bird four: adult - classic in all respects

Bird five: a longer-billed and paler-eyed adult than that previous but no less distinctive

The aforementioned brief visit to Tanholt wasn't bad either - this relatively uninspiring little set of gravel pits seems to be doing rather well in this weather. Lots of gulls are currently using the site to loaf in between visits to the adjacent landfill, and can be seen sitting on the ice. Equally, the snow-free back bank of the pit is currently a wader mecca - today there was a Grey Plover, a Sanderling, five Dunlin and a Redshank. Among a couple of hundred large gulls today was this fourth-winter Yellow-legged Gull:

If only it was always like this!

Monday 6 February 2012

Fermanagh Thayer's-type revisited

So, here are my best (although still incredibly ropey) shots of the Co. Fermanagh Thayer's Gull, taken on 6th January of this year at Lower Lough MacNean. They are unaltered, just cropped.

Although thayeri was considered at the time, I naively came to the conclusion in the field that it was probably just a dark Kumlien's Gull (albeit a Thayer's lookalike). This was based on my distant views and interpretation of the bird's features (with the recent Dunbeg bird, to which I thought it showed many similarities, niggling at the back of my mind). A combination of features that suggested identification away from a typical Thayer's Gull were:

  • predominately pale scapulars (i.e. dark tips only)
  • reasonably pale and well-marked tertials
  • tail a milky dark brown rather than black
  • primaries look a 'diluted' dark brown rather than black/near-black
  • extensive pale in greater coverts as well as upperparts in general
  • obvious pale base to bill
  • relatively delicate structure

This bird was relocated, perhaps not unsurprisingly, some 10km or so to the east at Enniskillen Dump during late January, where much better views have since been obtained. And, judging from Derek Charles' photos as well as this youtube video, it looks an altogether more promising candidate. However, the features mentioned above still apply and, as such, it is not a unequivocal, dark juvenile Thayer's. Having said that, it does look OK for one.

Problem is, is looking OK good enough in a Western European context? While this bird may look alright on the west coast of the USA, in vagrant context (where Kumlien's Gull is a much more likely occurrence) the situation is perhaps somewhat different. It was my impression that a classic would show a combination of darker primaries, secondaries and tertials, more extensively dark coverts and scapulars, and perhaps a more robust structure - many Thayer's just look bulkier than Iceland/Kumlien's, more akin to Herring Gulls (although don't get me wrong, this bird is within range; it looks bulkier than your average glaucoides). Even if you take a holistic approach to studying this bird, I just thought it seemed to show a bit too much pale in it to confidently identify as an obvious thayeri at the time - particularly on the upperparts. That's not to say it isn't one, though, and think the dull light conditions (and dark green fields) made it appear paler than it really is. Plus it didn't help I was viewing at around 400 metres' range! In hindsight I should have tried harder to get closer, or at least hung around longer to obtain better views in better light.

To me, this is still one of the better candidates we've had in recent years - better than the Dunbeg bird, the Oxon/Derbys bird a few years back, and also the Rossaveel 'thing' last winter. However, it clearly isn't a dark juvenile Thayer's such as that in Denmark in 2002. Obvious moult and wear aside, it doesn't actually look too dissimilar to the 2005 Barnatra bird.

So, to sum up... it's a dark member of the glaucoides/kumlieni/thayeri complex. Great looking gull. Do I think this bird is a classic, unequivocal Thayer's Gull? No. Could it be one? Probably.

One thing is for sure - if it isn't thayeri, then my goodness can kumlieni come close!

Saturday 4 February 2012

Caspian Gull

This Caspian Gull was one of two at Dogsthorpe Tip on Saturday morning. I'm not too sure about the age of this bird - it's either an advanced 3rd-winter or a slightly retarded 4th-winter. The primaries look better for the former age but everything else perhaps fits with the latter; note the retained immature tertials on the bird's left hand side in the third photo. The right wing was pretty much adult like.

A first-winter Herring Gull also found a football on the pit, proceeding to play with it on the ice. Didn't fancy its skills much, though.

Friday 3 February 2012

Dipping in Sussex

Spent most of the daylight hours of Friday 3rd dipping things in Sussex. First the Paddyfield Warbler at Pagham Harbour, then the Rough-legged Buzzard at Burpham and, finally, the Parrot(?) Crossbill at Black Down NT. Nice day for weather, though it was absolutely freezing.