Tuesday 28 August 2012

Genuine Azorean Gull influx?

On Sunday, three possible Azorean Gulls were reported in County Cork - at Clonakilty, Rosscarbery and Ballycotton. The first two (a near-adult and a somewhat retarded 3cy) were photographed:


This adds a fascinating twist to the story of Azorean Gull in Britain and Ireland. Perhaps these streaky-headed, dark-mantled gulls are atlantis after all? Although not worth jumping to any conclusions just yet, it must be noted that we've been subject to a series of trans-atlantic weather systems since the first around 16th August - indeed, the gales that affected much of southwest Britain and Ireland during that first system stemmed right from the Azorean archipelago. Worth thinking about, at least. For good measure, here are a dew more shots of the bird I had at Rainham last Tuesday:

Monday 27 August 2012

Bank Holiday at Dungeness

I spent the weekend with my mother on the south Kent coast at Dungeness. Although not a birding trip, I still managed to get out a fair bit on each day. Some of the highlights of seawatching on Saturday and Sunday included Sooty and Balearic Shearwaters, and Black Terns. I missed out on the big passage this morning (including hundreds of Black Terns!), but in a short seawatch late morning I had a juvenile Long-tailed Skua (later found out ten had been seen throughout the morning).

The main reason I missed everything this morning is because I spent most of the time traipsing around the peninsula looking for passerines. Three Tree Pipits flew over early on, while I also had Whinchat, 6 Wheatears, 15 Willow Warblers and 50+ Yellow Wagtails. Yesterday proved a similar line-up (though lesser numbers), with 2 Tree Pipits, Whinchat and Wheatear.

The RSPB reserve was pretty quiet, although the Great White Egret was noted on Denge Marsh late morning on Sunday, when four Garganey and a couple of Little Ringed Plovers were on ARC Pit. Two Little Stints (adult & juvenile) were on ARC Pit early this morning along with a juvenile Ruff, c.20 Dunlin and a smattering of Common Sandpipers.

Throughout the weekend, up to four Yellow-legged Gulls were around the fishing boats. They sure show well here. Also had a red-ringed first-summer Herring Gull (HX4T) - a London bird.

Thursday 23 August 2012

Azorean Gull at Rainham?

During the four hours I spent at Rainham on Tuesday, I had two birds which, for all intents and purposes, may be hybrids. The first bird, an adult, was the less interesting of the two, and was what I would call a likely Lesser Black-backed x Herring Gull, similar to this bird photographed by Dominic Mitchell in late 2011 (could it perhaps even be the same?).

Adult gull, presumed hybrid Lesser Black-backed x Herring.

The second is a 3cy bird, moulting in to a third-winter plumage. Age aside, it looks remarkably like some of these claimed Azorean Gulls of recent autumn/winters (Oxon, Beds) - mantle colouration at the dark end of Yellow-legged Gull, but also too pale for Lesser Black-backed. Structurally, it felt like a Yellow-legged Gull - big and robust, long-winged, with nice and long yellowish legs. Fascinatingly, it had a broad and full black tail band, with some barring left on the uppertail - again, only just visible in the images but nevertheless significantly more than one would expect to see on a michahellis of this age. The retained secondaries (only just visible in the photos) were a dark chocolate brown, and there was also a brownish wash to some of the new lesser/median coverts. A retained tertial (maybe two, I couldn't see) was dark chocolate-brown with some pale scalloping limited to the tip.

I couldn't make out the eyering colour, but reviewing photos it appears to have some reddish tinge to it at least (although atlantis at this age don't necessarily show an obvious red eyering at this age). The iris is a very pale yellow. The head streaking is dense, creating a hooded effect. I was initially put off by how this streaking extends down the nape/neck, although looking at photos shows that this is not a problem in atlantis at this age - had it been an adult, that might have been different.

NB: have been looking at the primary pattern as closely as my (poor) images will allow; the one thing that concerns me is the pattern on p5 - see eighth photo down - although the black band is complete, it does not seem as broad as in the adults that I've seen shots of in flight. However, it looks pretty similar to the Oxfordshire adult of 2009. There also seems to be a hint of black in the outer web of p4. Unfortunately it doesn't help that the bird is in active moult and the primaries just seem to be all over the place. UPDATE: p5 doesn't seem to be out of range.

I've always been pretty sceptical about Azorean Gulls occurring in Britain - at least in the Midlands - and typically opt for the lazy hybrid option. But this bird has fuelled my interests further - this thing looks almost identical to some of the birds I saw on Corvo last October, as well as sharing plenty of similarities this thing photographed on Sao Miguel in September. It's not far off this bird from Terceira, either.

So, what now? Well, apart from muting it as a candidate Azorean Gull, I don't think you can go much further. It would be great to see photos of known hybrids (Herring x LBB or Yellow-legged x LBB), but they seem difficult to come across. All you can say is this bird shares a lot of features with Azorean Gulls of a similar age. However, it would take a braver man than me to totally rule out the possibility of a hybrid of some description.

Tuesday 21 August 2012

A morning at Rainham

One of the great things about evening news shifts is that I have hours of daylight to play with in the mornings. Although it doesn't matter so much in the summer months, it is pretty crucial to me getting out birding during the winter. Anyway, I decided to spend the morning at Rainham Tip, a site I visited properly for the first time last month (after dipping the Slaty-backed Gull early in 2011). It turned out to be a productive visit, with three Caspian Gulls, 50+ Yellow-legged Gulls and a couple of medium-dark-mantled gulls, one of which very similar to these purported 'atlantis-types' that have turned up in the Midlands. I'll do a blog post on the latter, later.

I'll start with the cachinnans, of which all three were seen on the tip itself. First up was a green-ringed bird that had dropped its longest primaries, making it seem slightly more dumpy than it really was. I must admit that I can get a little perplexed when trying to age 'older' Caspian Gulls at this time of year when views aren't great, and this latest individual also confused me - particularly as it was never seen in flight. I guess this bird is a 4cy bird (going in to fourth-winter), with the greenish wash to the bill and black subterminal markings rather extensive. Sadly, it never came close enough to read the ring.

The second bird, a first-summer, appeared for all of a few seconds. I managed a record shot of it facing away, but it soon dropped out of view never to be seen again. Not the prettiest bird, it had dropped all its primaries but hadn't really moulted any scaps. Robust individual, though.

The third, appearing in time for Rich B's hour-long visit late morning, really was a fine beast - a great advert for how obvious adult Caspian Gulls can be. It was massive; both long-billed and rangey as it towered over most of the other gulls present. In active primary moult, with p7 regrowing, p8 dropped and p9+10 retained. P10 on the bird's left wing had snapped off. It spent much of its time displaying, throwing its head around and calling with wings held open. Note the yellowish legs.

And then, of course, there was the usual rabble of Yellow-legged Gulls. There are a lot of 1cy birds around at the moment; most are already well underway in their moult to first-winter plumage, although there are still the occasional younger-looking individuals. Also had around ten 2cy birds today - notable in the absence during my July visit. All others were adults/near-adults:

Monday 20 August 2012

Ringed Med Gull in South Lincs

Each morning before heading over to Rutland, I spent half hour or so checking out some of the more likely spots around my old patch, Baston & Langtoft Pits. Despite some decent wader habitat, I managed nothing than a couple of Green Sandpipers. Wildfowl proved a little more dynamic, with nine Shoveler and a Wigeon on 19th, and five Teal in this morning (20th). Also this morning, among no more than 30 or so Black-headed Gulls, was this fine juvenile Mediterranean Gull:

As can be seen above, a white darvic was pretty obvious on the bird's left leg, with a small metal ring on the right. Creeping closer, it was possible to make out the code "E932". I'm guessing this bird will be from the Netherlands, but will confirm when feedback comes through.

Friday 17 August 2012

Blogging from Bird Fair

I can't escape gulls. Adult Yellow-legged and 2nd-s/3rd-w Mediterranean on the dam at Rutland Water prior to the first morning on the BirdGuides stand at the British Birdwatching Fair, 17th August. Lovely stuff.

Tuesday 14 August 2012

Welsh weekend

I worked for much of the weekend, but did manage to get out either side of news shifts. Kenfig was typically devoid of birdlife; as a birder, I think I'd go mad living on the Welsh coast! Lots of pretty plants and stuff though, like the Sea Holly above.