Sunday 28 January 2018

Another shot at the Horned Lark

I was out of the country when the American Horned Lark first appeared at Staines Reservoirs, Surrey, last November. Arriving back on the Tuesday after its initial appearance, I gave the lark a few hours before work that day, only to miss it - was seen again later that day, but then disappeared for the remainder of 2018.

So it was with mixed emotions that I read the news on 22nd that the bird was back. Pleased that it had reappeared, but less pleased with the fact that I was sat in north-eastern Hokkaido, Japan. Of course, its presence hardly detracted from where I was, having spent an afternoon enjoying superb views of Red-crowned Cranes, but it was still a little galling that it had chosen the exact week I was away to reappear. Given it had only lasted a few days at Staines on its last visit, I wasn't hopeful for it to hang on for my return on 27th.

Surprisingly, it did. Daily messages of it showing well along the causeway were a little galling, so it was a pleasure to read it was still there on 27th and, early on Sunday, I headed over to Staines. Happily the lark was still there, and showing well on both sides of the causeway. It was also quite vocal, uttering a call reminiscent of 'our' Shore Lark but perhaps not quite the same. At a range of 15 metres, the views were fantastic through the 'scope, although just a tiny bit distant for my 400mm lens. It didn't help that there were about 50 excitable birders following its every move - I'm sure if there was a small crowd there it'd probably feed right up the bank, almost to the railings. What a great bird, too - clearly strongly reminiscent of flava but differing in size and shape (it appeared a bit smaller and slimmer) as well as plumage tones (more rufous/vinous, darker and colder browns/greys).

'North American Horned Lark' (presumably alpestris/hoyti), Staines Reservoirs, 28 January 2018

Sunday 7 January 2018

Good birding at Dungeness

Had a nice day at Dungeness with Rich, Dante and Niall. En route we stopped at Crayford, where a Mediterranean Gull was seen among the good numbers of congregated birds at Jolly Farmers.

Then it was down to a rather breezy Dungeness fishing boats, where the regular Caspian Gull was still performing well - this bird is easily the most photographed Casp in Britain this winter and has probably been seen by hundreds of birders since it turned up in September. Still, it's a very elegant individual and always worth photographing.

2cy Caspian Gull, Dungeness, 7 January 2018

Moving down to The Patch revealed thousands of gulls feeding around the outflow, although the light was challenging to say the least. Thankfully the regular juvenile Glaucous Gull performed well overhead, although the 3cy Iceland Gull was a little more difficult to pick out among the throng. An adult hybrid Black-headed x Mediterranean Gull was the first I've seen of this cross in Britain (I'd previously seen a couple in Ireland, both on the same weekend trip).

2cy Glaucous Gull, Dungeness, 7 January 2018

The RSPB reserve was somewhat devoid of gulls, yet the presence of a drake and redhead Smew, a female Ruddy Duck (my first in the UK for some years) and a bunch of Goosander were pleasant.

After a quick trip to Lade for some stodge from the local store it was back to the fishing boats, where Mick, Richard et al were photographing a very smart 3cy Caspian Gull on arrival. No hint of a p10 mirror, it was otherwise a very contrasted and crisp bird that was easily picked out from among the Herrings with the naked eye. It was blowing an absolute gale from the ENE, which made photography a real challenge given the position of the sun.

3cy Caspian Gull, Dungeness, 7 January 2018

With nothing else on show, I took some photographs of the gulls floating in the gale. There was evidently quite a lot of food washing up on the beach as the gulls were actively feeding ... and ignoring the less appetising loaves we were chucking out!

Saturday 6 January 2018

A confiding Hawfinch

Thanks to Lee Fuller and Ian Wells for their help in photographing this beautiful male at Romsey, Hampshire.

Monday 1 January 2018

2018 begins at WWT London

A good first day of 2018 at the WWT - or rather afternoon, as I didn't get out until gone 1 pm (and not because of a heavy night).

One of the first birds on to the 2018 list was Greenfinch, a species which took me the best part of a month to connect with at the start of 2017. I've seen quite a few already this winter, so perhaps they've had a better year than of late.

Highlights throughout the afternoon included nice views of a Bittern sat up in the reeds, a pair of European Stonechats showing well and a Jack Snipe in full 'bob mode'.

Of course my attention is always drawn straight to loafing gulls on the main lake and wader scrape. With the tide right up throughout daylight hours making gulling on the river a non-starter, the reserve was my only hope. A reasonable initial tally of 80 Herring Gulls was logged, and among them I soon picked up what looked like a third-winter (4cy) Caspian dozing among those gathered distantly on the wader scrape. A couple of hours later and the bird became a bit more active, soon confirming its identification as a rather smart Casp.


4cy Caspian Gull, WWT London, 1 January 2018

There's always turnover here during the afternoon although, a couple of Herring x LBB hybrids aside, nothing else of interest was seen until after sunset, when a flurry of gulls of arriving gulls revealed a second-winter Yellow-legged Gull and then what immediately looked to be a familiar face, soon confirmed by a red ring inscribed 'G0UT'! This was the first time I've seen G0UT since July and my, what a disappointment. There's no doubt it's got Caspian in it (and that predominates), but it must be a bird from one of the mixed colonies in Germany - look how generally retarded the plumage feels (a la 3cy Herring rather than Casp), and those extensively pale-fringed tertials, as well as the rather stubby bill. All a bit grim, but nice to know it's still around and I look forward to watching how it develops in the coming months.

3cy Caspian Gull (or hybrid) 'G0UT', WWT London, 1 January 2018

3cy Yellow-legged Gull, WWT London, 1 January 2018