Saturday 24 December 2016

Pre-Christmas Iceland Gull

Best bird of a couple of days' searching around Peterborough was this juvenile Iceland Gull at Dogsthorpe Tip on 23rd. I was genuinely surprised to see it drop in to the pit given how scarce both white-winged gulls have been up to this point. Despite good numbers of gulls, nothing else of note seen - not even any Casps.

Monday 12 December 2016

Ringed Black-headed Gulls on the Thames

Here are a few ringed Black-headed Gulls that I had on the Thames last week ...

1) Adult yellow ' 2PJB', Barnes, 5 December. Ringed at Pitsea, Essex, in March 2016. More details here.

2) Adult white 'EE5T', Fulham, 5 December 2016. Ringed as an adult at Griend, Netherlands, on 6 June 2016. First recorded in the UK at Hyde Park, London, on 19 October before my sighting in Fulham.

3) Adult metal 'HV11.766' ringed as pullus at lake (55.1192, 23.7542) north of Kaunas, Lithuania, on 18 June 2011. Not recorded subsequently until in Chiswick on 2 December 2016!

Saturday 3 December 2016

Masked Wagtail

Britain's first Masked Wagtail (Moticilla alba personata) was identified in the small Pembrokeshire village of Camrose earlier in the week. While not (yet) a split, this particular individual was a real looker and it seemed rude to pass on the opportunity of joining Richard Bonser and team and heading west this morning.

The bird performed well on and off from around 08:20, often to within just a few metres as it fed on the road and along driveways. It seems very settled here, familiar with its surroundings and it would be surprising if it doesn't spend the winter here. It's a fantastic bird too, and well worth a look - tick or not.

Thanks to Rich for driving.

Masked Wagtail, Camrose, Pembrokeshire, 3 December 2016

Friday 2 December 2016

Iceland Gull in Hammersmith!

I went for my first bike ride along the Thames for a couple of weeks this morning in the hope of finding a Caspian Gull. I had a Lithuanian Black-headed Gull at one of my usual spots in Chiswick (I'll blog about this bird at a later date) but only about 30 large gulls, so decided to continue east past Hammersmith Bridge and down towards Fulham.

This turned out to be a good move as I stumbled across a juvenile Iceland Gull among about 80 large gulls on the river adjacent to the Wetland Centre. This was actually the first time I'd biked down here this winter and it was nice to find a new spot for loafing gulls at low tide - Chiswick has generally been poor for numbers of large gulls in the past month.

Initial views of the Iceland Gull, Fulham, 2 December 2016

Eventually the bird showed pretty well, although steadfastly refused to show any interest in the four loaves of bread I threw at it. As such the scope for flight shots was minimal (I only grabbed a few as it flew past me towards Hammersmith) and I had to make do with perched shots at an awful angle and against a typically grubby Thames background.

After about half an hour the bird decided to fly off west upriver, over Hammersmith Bridge (thus in to my regular 'patch'!) before turning north and disappearing off over the West London skyline. It turns out that this is the same bird seen by Pete Alfrey at Beddington on 24 November and then by Dave Harris in the Island Barn Reservoir roost on 28th - not that that's surprising, given that there are so few Iceland Gulls in the country at present.

A white-winged gull with Hammersmith Bridge in the background - the stuff of dreams

Sunday 20 November 2016

Forster's Tern in Essex

For anyone who took up twitching after the early 2000s, Forster's Tern has been a real British blocker. This bird, found yesterday on the Stour Estuary, is the first to linger anywhere in Britain since 2003 - and in fact the last widely twitchable bird was a couple of years further back than that. As such, this bird attracted quite large crowd on a bleak November day.

I've seen two Forster's Terns in Ireland (the regularly returning bird in Co Galway and a first-winter in Co Mayo in February 2014) but it was hard to ignore the temptation of heading up to Mistley this morning for a British tick, particularly given how well the bird was reported to have shown on Saturday afternoon. Eventually it did one close fly-by but in my haste I didn't notice my camera settings were a little awry and the meagre offerings below are about as good as it got for me. Weather conditions and light were absolutely awful and as anyone with a camera will know, photographing a grey bird on a grey background is never particularly easy - particularly as it bombs past at high speed.

Forster's Tern, Mistley, Essex, 20 November 2016

Saturday 19 November 2016

American Tree Sparrow in Sweden

Awful photos (ISO 5,000) of a brilliant bird in near-darkness late on Friday afternoon. Amazingly it did a Friday night bunk and a crowd of 400 (including Brits, Finns and Germans) all dipped. I think just about everyone had assumed that this bird was well settled and many seemed to think it might even stay all winter. It seems I was very lucky!

American Tree Sparrow, Staffanstorp, Sweden, 18 November 2016

Saturday 5 November 2016

Cliff Swallow

November rarities often come right out the blue, and such was the case with this Cliff Swallow at Minsmere, Suffolk. Found on a miserable Friday afternoon, it was clear that the bird wasn't going far that evening and as such it was with a high degree of confidence that up to 300 or so birders gathered on the reserve at dawn the following morning.

Some, myself included, were duped by a message of it reportedly roosting in reeds by Bittern Hide and spent the first 45 minutes of daylight there. No swallow, but great views of an Otter fishing just in front of the hide as well as a couple of fly-by Bitterns and a spectacular flock of Starlings.

The bird was first seen shortly after seven but proved a bit of a nightmare for the first half hour, almost to the point that we thought we'd dipped given that it had been seen gaining height over South Hide. Happily it came back, settled down and showed very well with up to eight Barn Swallows in bushes just north of the reserve's north wall. At times it was just overhead, though it spent most of the morning sat in hawthorns, presumably warming up, until we left a little while before 08:30.

American Cliff Swallow, Minsmere, Suffolk, 5 November 2016

Tuesday 11 October 2016

Cosmic: Britain's first Siberian Accentor

Sometimes you're in the right place at the right time. And, on Sunday afternoon, after nine days on Shetland, we were just about that. Minutes away from checking in for our flight back to Aberdeen, we were sat outside the terminal when John's pager started wailing and his increasingly hysterical voice just about managed to squeeze our "Siberian Accentor ... Shetland ... at Scousburgh ..!"

There wasn't any need for thought. We piled back in to our hired minibus we were in the process of returning and bombed off in no time. Fifteen minutes later and we were watching Britain's first Siberian Accentor happily feeding away in an unsuspecting quarry on the western slopes of Mossy Hill. Oblivious of the carnage unfolding around it, the accentor performed to within a few metres, feeding with the voraciousness of a newly-arrived migrant. I was utterly thrilled to simply be part of the crowd that evening - I can only image what Judd Hunt must have thought when he first clapped eyes on this perfect rarity.

I'll update the blog in the coming days with a more general Shetland review - for the meantime here's a few shots of the accentor.

 Siberian Accentor, Mossy Hill, Shetland, 9 October 2016

 The bird's favoured quarry complete with appreciative crowd.

Friday 30 September 2016

September ends with a couple of Caspian Gulls

There are still good numbers of gulls visiting Dogsthorpe Tip, on the outskirts of Peterborough, at the moment, and the pit within the tip complex offers pretty good views of bathing and loafing birds. I called in briefly today and had two Caspian Gulls, an adult and a first-winter. Fortunately the adult was one of the closest birds! Also present today was a single first-winter Yellow-legged Gull among around 1,000 large gulls.

Saturday 17 September 2016

First tip visit of the season

A Saturday morning spent at Pitsea produced a fairly meagre scattering of gulls - a little disappointing after Rich Bonser had visited over the two previous Saturdays and enjoyed excellent numbers, including several Caspian Gulls. Highlights were limited to a tame fox, the returning leucistic Great Black-backed Gull (and, incidentally, its normal-looking sibling for its first time at this site) and 10+ Yellow-legged Gulls. With tipping activity at a minimum, we'd called it a day by late morning.

A couple of adult Yellow-legged Gulls among the detritus - quite amusing how well camouflaged they can be

Yellow-legged Gulls of various ages

'Big White' the Norwegian Great Black-backed Gull - back again!

A surprisingly smart Red Fox - you tend to see really mangled individuals here