Saturday 16 December 2017

Day out at Dungeness 16/12

Had a good day out at Dungeness with Rich and Dante today. We had a six and a half Caspian Gulls - two first-winters (a really nice one and a less nice one), two third-winters and two adults plus a hybrid first-winter.

Most of these were scattered around Burrowes Pit at the RSPB reserve during the day, although the better of the two first-winters showed well near the fishing boats for a little while in the morning, albeit not long enough to really blow it away - but thanks to Martin for letting us know about it. Numbers were generally quite low around the fishing boats today, presumably due to the settled weather conditions.

First-winter Caspian Gull, Dungeness, Kent, 16 December 2017

I also managed a few photos of the hybrid, a bird that I assume is, as Rich would say, 'German muck'. At a distance it looked quite Casp-like but, on better views, clearly wasn't, looking much more like a Herring with some Caspian qualities at closer range. It's quite a washed out bird and, in flight, looks pretty Herring-like with a huge window on the inner primaries. Underwing was pale, being a latte colour.

Caspian x Herring Gull, Dungeness, Kent, 16 December 2017

It was otherwise a very pleasant, if cold, day's birding around the Dungeness peninsula. We enjoyed singles of Long-tailed Duck and Slavonian Grebe at Lade Pits, a pleasing 16 Bewick's Swans and a flyover Merlin from Cockles Bridge and Great Egret, two Ravens and six Goosanders on the RSPB reserve.

Monday 11 December 2017

Fuerteventura, 8-10 December

Fuerteventura is a cheap place to visit in the depths of winter and, with its targets all relatively easy to see, it can comfortably be cleaned up in a weekend. With little else on for the second weekend of December, I'd booked flights with Jet2 from Stansted (£130 return including a hold bag) at the end of November.

Fortuitously, a few days after booking, the Western Palearctic's fifth Dwarf Bittern was found just a stone's throw from the airport, and it was no surprise then that this proved the first target on arrival on Friday afternoon. I was accompanied by Ed Stubbs, who'd been tempted to book his flights when the bittern broke, and we were enjoying this mega Afrotropical vagrant within minutes of arriving on site on Friday afternoon.

Dwarf Bittern, Llanos Pelados, Fuerteventura, 8 December 2017

Also here were a couple of pairs of the local race of African Blue Tit, at least five Fuerteventura Chats (the first I'd seen since I was a young lad on holiday with my parents), several Egyptian Vultures and a variety of waders including Green Sandpipers and Little Ringed Plovers. As it transpired, this was actually one of the birdiest spots we visited on the entire island - no wonder it's produced both the bittern and (apparently) Allen's Gallinule in recent weeks.

Ed had booked a very reasonable apartment in Puerto del Rosario (£20 pppn) - dodgy door aside, it was excellent value. After some tapas and a few cervezas with Ed and Alan Lewis, we got our heads down.

We were at Tindaya for first light and had soon bagged a couple of Houbara Bustards - a new bird for both of us. We saw a total of five, but none was really close enough to be well photographed. Just a single Cream-coloured Courser was seen plus a handful of flyover Black-bellied Sandgrouse and the usual Southern Grey Shrikes, Berthelot's Pipits, Lesser Short-toed Larks and Trumpeter Finches. It was then back to the airport to collect Rich Bonser and chauffeur him to the bittern which, again, was showing on arrival - sounds like we've been quite lucky as there are stories of birders waiting for hours. The bittern showed terrifically, albeit in the strong early afternoon sunshine, as did a pair of Fuerteventura Chats.

 Dwarf Bittern, Llanos Pelados, Fuerteventura, 9 December 2017

Fuerteventura Chats, Llanos Pelados, Fuerteventura, 9 December 2017

We spent some time searching sites along the coast, all of which turned to be absolutely pants, so we headed over to the reservoir at Los Molinos. Here there was a throng of noisy Ruddy Shelducks, a male European Stonechat and a few Spoonbills and Snipe.

Ruddy Shelducks at Los Molinos, 9 December 2017

Another pleasant evening of Spanish cuisine and beers followed, with another early morning start at Tindaya on the Sunday producing at least four more bustards and, finally, a showy one that walked across the track in front of us.

Houbara Bustard, Tindaya, Fuerteventura, 10 December 2017

The less said about the rest of the weekend (i.e. waiting in airports for delayed flights), the better.

Sunday 29 October 2017

A quick tour of Lincolnshire and Norfolk

It's fair to say that, twitching aside, there have been rather too many gulls cropping up in my birding in autumn 2017. It's a bit boring, admittedly - but when you live within the boundaries of Zone 2 on the Tube Map, there's generally not much else to look at. I'm happy to admit that I don't have the patience to sit and hope for (at best) a Hawfinch in a several-hour vis-migging session in Chiswick Park, when I can go and feed the gulls on the Thames.

For once this weekend, I found myself outside of the M25 yet not twitching. I visited my old patch, Baston & Langtoft Pits, and saw little more than a scattering of returning wildfowl. I dipped a Bee-eater on the south side of Peterborough. Then I went to Norfolk, where a blasting northerly gave hope of a decent seawatch. I should have known better than to try the exposed position of Salthouse beach, yet I could see plenty of Gannets, auks, gulls and a few Great Skuas passing by as my scope shook in the gale. The light was pretty nice, though.

Salthouse beach, 29 October 2017

A walk along the beach with my father and his dogs was bracing and birdless, but walking back along the landward side of the shingle bank produced the usual Stonechat at Gramborough Hill and, more excitingly, a single Shore Lark, which bounded westwards low to the ground, out of the wind and almost landing on a couple of occasions, before continuing past the beach car park and seemingly dropping in some way to the west of there. As far as I can recall, this is a self-found tick for me - not an easy bird to find if you live away from the east coast.

In Cromer, the first-winter Caspian Gull performed beautifully on Sunday morning. After only showing briefly a couple of times in four hours on Saturday afternoon, I had to go back for better photos. In terms of views, it's the best Casp I've seen in Britain. It's no exaggeration to say it virtually walks round your feet. It's also a really smart bird plumage-wise, bearing more than a superficial resemblance to a first-winter Common Gull - check out the scaps and coverts.

From Saturday ...

... and from Sunday:

1cy Caspian Gull, Cromer, Norfolk

Monday 23 October 2017

Caspian Gull X574

My fourth Caspian Gull of the season (adopting Rich's 1 July - 30 June cycle) was along the River Thames at Fulham late morning on Sunday 22nd. Like several other Casps in London in recent times, it bore a German ring and originates from the famous Grabendorfer See colony, where hybridisation with Herring Gull is quite prevalent.

The ring read X574, which quickly confirmed it as the same bird seen by Jamie Partridge over at Thames Barrier Park the previous day. Ironically, while watching X574, I received a message from Jamie to say he'd got the first-winter I saw in Fulham back on 19 September! A fair swap, I'd say.

Although some of the 'Casps' from this colony can look pretty questionable, it's fair to say that X574 looks fine for a pure bird. A big and aggressive beast (presumably a male), it was very vocal and gave a full range of classic cachinnans calls, which made it very easy to pick out as it swooped in to the melee attracted to my wholemeal bread offerings.

1cy Caspian Gull X574, Fulham, London, 22 October 2017

So, as mentioned previously, my fourth Casp of the season here. Though I'm already well behind Rich, Dante and Jamie's nine (as of 23/10) in the Thames Barrier/Greenwich area, I can't ever really expect to keep up with this East London hotspot given the greater number of gulls moving up and down the Thames Estuary. However, I'd be very happy if I make it in to double figures by spring (last winter I had a total of four, although at least a couple of extras were recorded by other birders).

Also on show on Sunday were at least five Yellow-legged Gulls, a very decent tally for October given that there were 'only' about 150 large gulls present (100-200 individuals is about average here at weekends). Monday's session was nowhere near as impressive - reduced numbers included 'just' three Yellow-legged Gulls and at least one Lesser Black-backed x Herring hybrid.

1cy Yellow-legged Gulls, Fulham, 22 October 2017 - the top bird has a distinctive bill and should be easy to track around London this winter. The bottom bird is regular along 'my' stretch of the river at present.

Sunday 15 October 2017

X307 reappears in Hammersmith

While watching the Rock Thrush at Blorenge, Gwent, on Saturday morning, I was a little bit gripped to see a tweet from BTO head honcho Andy Clements that he was watching a second-winter Caspian Gull circling Hammersmith Bridge - argh! Fortunately the tides were good for an afternoon's gulling session and so Rich and Dante dropped me at Baron's Court on their was back through to east London, and I hired a bicycle to get down to the Thames. One of the first birds I looked at was a 2cy Casp, which quickly transpired to have a yellow ring. The bird's demeanour looked quite familiar, and it was no real surprise when close views revealed it to be X307.

Caspian Gull X307, Fulham, London, 14 October 2017

I've seen X307 here on one occasion previously, in late July. As can be seen in the above, X307 is a quite demure and 'cute' bird with a dainty bill and lightweight structure. So, presumably a female. Curiously, there is only a tiny hint of the 'diagnostic' p10 mirror, which is just about detectable on the left wing. Perhaps not too surprising for a bird from Germany. Plumage otherwise looks pretty good.

The odd Yellow-legged Gull was seen over the weekend, including a couple of 1cy birds and this regular near-adult.

Tuesday 19 September 2017

First Caspian Gull of the season in Hammersmith

The first Caspian Gull of the season appeared on my regular Fulham/Hammersmith stretch of the Thames on Sunday evening. Tides weren't exactly ideal and with low tide well after dusk, mud was only just appearing as I arrived at 17:00 and consequently gull numbers were pretty low, with only about 50 large gulls. That didn't stop this beauty dropping in during a heavy rain shower, and it remained present until I left over an hour later, coming to my offerings and flying past within just 10 metres or so. Not being the biggest bird, it's not the most structurally outstanding Casp you'll see but plumage is pretty nice with a very pale underwing.

Unfortunately the light is never great here in the evenings as you're looking in to the sun, and changeable conditions (showers and low sun) only allowed for half-decent images.

1cy Caspian Gull, Hammersmith, 17 September 2017

Both of the regular 3cy Yellow-legged Gulls were again in residence; their respective plumages have come on quite a bit in recent weeks and one posed nicely during a calm and sunny spell.

3cy Yellow-legged Gull, Fulham, 17 September 2017