Sunday 29 December 2013

Christmas gulls in Peterborough

Clockwise from top left: juvenile Iceland Gull 1, juvenile Iceland Gull 2, second-winter Caspian Gull, ringed first-winter Caspian Gull 'PNDZ', unringed first-winter Caspian Gull, adult Yellow-legged Gull.

I've had a couple of gull sessions in Peterborough over Christmas. Christmas Eve was pretty productive with two juvenile Iceland Gulls and three Caspian Gulls at Tanholt Pits. The 27th was slightly less produced but one Iceland remained at Tanholt alongside the ringed Caspian Gull above, and a different second-winter cachinnans was at Dogsthorpe Tip. The gull roost doesn't seem to be in full effect at CEGB reservoir, but the adult Yellow-legged Gull above was nice on 27th - michahellis are considerably scarcer than cachinnans in Peterborough in winter.

All the photos above are crap as I left my point-and-shoot in London, and had to make do with my iPhone.

Wednesday 11 December 2013

Black-throated Diver

Marc Read and Black-throated Diver

Spent a couple of hours lying around in swan shit in Princes Park, Eastbourne on Monday morning. The evergreen Marc Read was on hand to pick me up and drop me off at the train station, maximizing the time I had before having to hop it back to London. The reason for my visit - a juvenile Black-throated Diver - was a little more wary than I'd hoped, and never really gave frame-filling views. Nevertheless, pretty pleased with my shots - most obtained by simply running around the lake margin to get as close as possible while the bird was submerged..!

All in all a pretty fun couple of hours, with the changeable light conditions allowing for a nice variety of shots to be taken.

Monday 25 November 2013

Back at the dump

It's approaching that time of year where the days are so short that it rarely seems to get properly light and, to boot, the temperature is abnormally low for so early in the winter season. With a calm day forecast, I decided to seize the opportunity for my first visit to Rainham since the summer, mainly to see what the deal was with tipping activity and where the gull numbers were at.

Gull numbers were fairly low to be honest, though this might be explained by the fact it was a Monday morning. I had 5-10 michahellis of various ages arsing around on the Thames, but no Casps. Bird of the day was a pretty smart 1cy that, to me, can be labelled a Glaucous x Herring Gull:

I'm pretty aware that argentatus can come pretty big and pale - indeed, I see such birds each winter (here's one from Peterborough). However, there's enough to suggest a hybrid in this bird beside its overall paleness:
  • large size and overall bulk (compared to Herring)
  • tertial pattern
  • tail patten: just visible in the bottom photo, a lack of any sort of clear-cut dark band is obvious
  • primary pattern: broad pale chevrons as well as arrow-shaped internal patterning typical of Glaucous Gull (e.g. here and here)

Sunday 24 November 2013

Caspian Stonechat on St Agnes

First-winter male Caspian Stonechat at Warna's Cove, St. Agnes - the fifth for Britain

Dan and I had been keen to do something this weekend, toying with the idea of S France before settling on Cornwall earlier in the week. Our plans were cemented with news that a 'Siberian' Stonechat on St. Agnes was in fact a Caspian (hemprichii). As such, we teamed up with John Pegden and spent Saturday on Scilly, where I was finally able to lay to rest my penchant for dipping Sibe Stonechats in Britain. Irrespective of splits and ticks, it was an absolutely cracking little bird that showed to within three metres - yet another highlight of 2013 for me. I know I keep saying it, but I must buy an extender for my lens!

With negative news on the Pacific Diver from the Cornish mainland, our plans to stick in the far south-west over the weekend were all too easily abandoned and we went our separate ways on arriving back in Bristol. Perhaps we should have showed an ounce of perseverance - the diver was seen again today and there's a very smart male Marsh Hawk down there, too! Schoolboy error.

Tuesday 12 November 2013

Sunday in Lisbon

First-winter American Purple Gallinule, Monsanto, Lisbon, 10th November

A somewhat uneventful Friday was gradually slipping by without incident until mid-afternoon, when I opened up my Facebook to see that David Monticelli had casually posted a crippling back-of-camera head shot of an American Purple Gallinule from Monsanto, Lisbon! Spluttering my mouthful of tea all over the table, I logged straight on to Skyscanner to check flight prices. Sunday was my only realistic option, and the prices looked good, so I spoke briefly with Rich Bonser and we decided to see if the bird was still there in the morning before booking anything. Later that evening, Rich called to say that he was going on the Saturday as Sunday's flight prices rocketed. I checked myself, and my heart sank - after an expensive autumn, a £500 day return was far too much to bother with, so I left things as they were and forgot about it for the time being.

Next morning, and Rich had text to say the bird was still present and looking well. Another check of Skyscanner for alternatives and it appeared that I could fly out Sunday, returning early Monday for a very reasonable price, and so I booked up late afternoon. David M had very kindly offered to stay in Lisbon an extra night to chauffeur us to the bird, and so I met up with him, Ernie Davies and Christian Leth (who'd flown in from Copenhagen) at Lisbon airport at around 09:30. Within an hour we were watching the gallinule, which was blogging around on the small pond at Parque Florestal de Monsanto. Unfortunately it was relatively distant and soon caught a frog - which it quickly demolished - before retiring to a patch of juncus to rest.

Here it stayed for much of the day, often looking pretty ill. In fact, it would let you approach to within a metre - at which range it was pretty clear that it was frightfully thin. It generally stood with its wings drooped, and we started to get pretty worried that the bird might not last the day. Frustrating for those among us with lenses, but more critically a grim state of affairs for the bird. Fortunately though, it did pick up again in the evening and began to feed/hunt. By this time, the sunlight had left the pond and my photographs aren't anywhere near as good as those taken by others.

After walking closer it was, at one point, feeding on seeds (and hunting frogs) less than a metre away from us! Much too close for a 400mm lens, so I put it aside and started filming with my iPhone! Even without bright sunlight enhancing the bird's colours, the close views allowed for intricate study. Purple, royal blue, cyan, green, yellow and even orange are present within millimetres of each other:

With the sun starting to sink, we left the bird at the pond's edge, seemingly in a better state than we had first feared. Alas it appears this was false hope for the bird was found exhausted and taken in to care on Monday. Though we all hope for a positive outcome, I'd hazard a guess that it's gone past the point of no return. A real shame, as it was a genuine stunner.

Huge thanks to David for hanging around in Lisbon and making it a great day, rounded off with a nice meal and a few beers in the centre of town.

Saturday 9 November 2013

Grey Phalarope

Grey Phalarope, Salthouse Little Eye, 8th November 2013

I've not actually seen many showy Grey Phalaropes, so a couple of hours spent with this smart first-winter at Salthouse on Friday morning was most welcome. It spent most of the time in the middle of the pool (c.30m range) but occasionally looped by just a few metres away. The weak late autumn sunshine meant the bird was generally side-lit, so pristine photos were difficult to obtain. Considering this, I'm quite pleased with my results.

Thursday 31 October 2013

The autumn that just keeps on giving...

Hermit Thrush, Porthgwarra, 30th October 2013

Two hours after dawn and we were all going through the motions, slowly accepting that the bird had gone. Then, as if by magic, up it popped - and what a cracker it was! Though it could disappear for extended periods, we enjoyed some stunning views, although it was almost always obscured hence the ropey shots. The bottom pic was taken through a load of grasses and twigs hence the slightly hazed look.

Friday 25 October 2013

Hit and run

First-winter Cape May Warbler, Baltasound (Unst), 24th October 2013

One hour on Unst yesterday, perfect timing with the Cape May Warbler refound as we arrived. Half an hour of blinding views as it hopped about on the ground just a few metres away. Great pilot, great team. Twitching in Britain at its best!

Sunday 20 October 2013

South Coast Semi

First-winter Semipalmated Plover along Hayling seafront, 20th October

Not really a bird to poke a 400mm lens at, the closest we had it was about 25 metres. After hearing it call once at Black Point just before the entire flock flew off, we relocated the bird along the beach at Hayling seafront where it showed reasonably well in windy conditions. A subtle and challenging bird that showed the suite of features you'd want to see (though admittedly I couldn't see the semipalmations on the views I had), and a welcome grip-back just 75 miles from home - I never bothered attempting to see either last year's Hebridean bird or the Kerry bird of 2011.

My guess is that three in three years is just the beginning of a new-found regularity that will see British & Irish records occur much more frequently in the coming years, but only time will tell.

Saturday 19 October 2013

Concluding a fine trip...

...not with a bird from the States, but a lost Oystercatcher of the Central Asian subspecies longipes. I was pretty impressed with how distinctive it was - the brown wash to the upperparts and broad white collar integral to this. By hiding behind a rock on the beach, I was able to obtain some good views and therefore images.

And so, with a final few shots of the bird in to the setting sun, that was that for another fabulous Azorean trip. I'm back in London now, already looking forward to 2014.

Thursday 17 October 2013

Yellow-throated still

The bird - perhaps a first-winter female(?) - showed superbly well in the magic junipers at the top of Poco d'Agua at times today, though could go missing for up to an hour.