Tuesday, 19 September 2017

School madness - YBW

What a bizarre, exciting experience today. Those regular readers will have read that my day job is rather detached from the (perceived) serenity of birding. I'm in charge of behaviour in an inner city London school. So there I was mid-morning, sitting in the internal exclusion room on a timetabled period of supervision where if kick offs happen around the place, then the perpetrators come my way. Fortunately there hadn't been any referrals so I was getting on with the typically copious workload. And with the window open, there was a moment of madness, a really bizarre sensation. It was crystal clear, and surrounded by high rise buildings there was real crispness and clarity when I heard an unbelievably out of context upslurred, high pitched disyllabic 'tswee-eet' that is such a familiar sound in autumn these days. But hang on... I'm in Central London, it's not the coast and this is work. It continued to call several times in quick succession.

Not quite sure why I bothered, as it was obvious that there was a Yellow-browed Warbler in the isolated single tall tree outside of school here in Elephant and Castle, but I quickly whacked a bit of xeno canto out. And in true form, the bird sallied down and revealed itself as a smallish green warbler to my naked eye. Always scornful of no bins sightings when assessing other peoples' records, I legged it outside to my car and got my bins and back up to where the action had been. A bit of xeno canto later, and with the bird still calling, I got some decent views of a nice fresh looking Yellow-browed Warbler whacking about and doing its thing. Quality stuff - and with it now being 10.30am it was off to break duty, teaching and then meetings/sorting nonsense out til 5.45pm. The joys of work.
The Yellow-browed Warbler tree surrounded by South London urbanity

I couldn't find the Yellow-browed Warbler late on, and I know that one birder had a search mid/late afternoon and couldn't find it either. No surprise to be honest, as past form over the last 8 years has made me conclude birds quickly pass through due to the marginal habitat. I've had Reed Warbler, Willow Warbler and a fair few Chiffchaffs over the years and I can't remember one hanging about long.

Just shows that it is all about context, and it is the first Yellow-browed Warbler I've found away from what you'd describe as typical coastal locations. Where of course I've found a fair few over the years. But when you're a London birder on 70+ hours or work a week, you bloody punch the air when you get results like this. True urban birding - The Urban Birder would be proud.

Saturday, 16 September 2017

Staying local with little reward

It's this time of year where I tend to float about based on the weather, and if there isn't anything obvious then my local gulls get a look in. Last Sunday, feeling a bit jaded from the previous day's travel to the Hebrides and back, found me at Thames Barrier Park. A couple of times a year, they close the gates on the barrier for routine maintenance and the gulls go wild. Despite the large numbers, there was no Caspian Gull unlike the week before. Around eight Yellow-legged Gulls, but that was it. And because there was so much food, they weren't that fussed about my loaves. Meanwhile back in Rotherhithe, this third-winter bird was a bit more obliging on the slipway just east of Greenland Pier.
3rd-winter Yellow-legged Gull Rotherhithe, London 10th September 2017
 I stayed local today too, for my sins. A walk around Russia Dock Woodland was quiet, with little of note. Genuinely, it was a really quiet day - four Yellow-legged Gulls (adult, two 1st-summers and a juvenile) at Thames Barrier Park, nothing of interest at the O2 and then just the presumed hybrid Herring x Lesser Black-backed Gull on the beach in Rotherhithe last thing.
adult Yellow-legged Gull Thames Barrier Park, London 16th September 2017
3rd-winter presumed Herring x Lesser Black-backed Gull Rotherhithe, London 16th September 2017

Sunday, 10 September 2017

A great start to the autumn

I genuinely cannot remember how many years the thought 'will this be the year we get an American Redstart?' has come up in conversation. For birders of my generation, brought up on books like Rare Birds by Cottridge and Vinicombe, it has been a very long time coming since those fabled American Redstart sightings at Kenidjack, Cornwall in 1983 and Galley, Cork in 1985. To a decent extent, it is these 'old school' birds that feel better than firsts as they're what you've been brought up on.

American Redstart nearly happened for me in September 2008 when one was found late one afternoon in southwestern Ireland at Mizen Head, County Cork. Getting there early next morning, in sunlit skies and a light wind, it was evident that that bird had done an overnight bunk. I did manage to see one mid-Atlantic, high up in the treetops and looming darkness of Ribeira da Ponte, Corvo in October 2015, but when another magic Bruce Taylor find developed on Thursday evening it was game on again for that all important British and Irish perspective...

Friday loomed pretty wet, but I was still in London due to critical child protection commitments, but when it was confirmed (rather unsurprisingly given the overnight conditions), I made arrangements to travel up on Saturday. And thankfully that 'unprofessional' day delay didn't have repercussions and the bird was still about. So by early afternoon yesterday, we'd had an enjoyable landing on the famous beach airport at Barra, a quick taxi drive up to the church at Eoligarry and this...
American Redstart Eoligarry, Barra, Outer Hebrides 9th September 2017
I always say this, but I can't think of a species it doesn't apply for - you really cannot go wrong with yank passerines, particularly their warblers. Give me 6 weeks of westerlies over 6 weeks of easterlies any day, as the real big ones like this travel alone. Transatlantic passerine vagrancy is the best we get in Britain and Ireland - these little birds, a matter of grams, manage to do that ocean crossing, every year. Presumably only the strongest make it, which makes the birds you actually see that bit more impressive. Those Sibes have it easy!
site of the American Redstart on Barra
And it's often the location too. Albeit usually a real pain to get to, particularly in the past decade where the shift away from Scilly has continued, these mega yanks can be in some quality places. Just thinking off the top of my head about the big ones I've seen this millenium - Blue-winged Warbler, Hermit Thrush and Northern Waterthrush Cape Clear, Canada Warbler Loop Head, Purple Martin Butt of Lewis Scarlet Tanager Garinish Point, Alder Flycatcher Nanjizal, Ovenbird St. Mary's, Northern Parula Tiree, Yellow Warbler and now American Redstart Barra. Admittedly the Acadian and Alder Flycatchers at Dungeness and Blakeney had a slightly different feel, as east coast yanks do, as did the overwintering Northern Oriole in Oxfordshire.

Sunday, 3 September 2017

Back home and into this season's Casps...

I spent a couple of hours on the Thames late this afternoon, having fully maxed out my summer holiday before back to another year of beasting and drudgery tomorrow. I only got back from a quick trip to the Azores late last night, so after whacking in five loaves with the weekly shop this afternoon, I dutifully sloped off to feed my larids.

Nice and grey, cool and a bit murky. Just the job for a bit of gulling at Thames Barrier Park. And it was straight into the Caspian Gull action, even before Dante and Jamie P arrived, with this lovely 1st-winter coming straight in. I was pretty pumped by this bird, as it was my earliest ever 'bird of the season' in London and has arrived 17 days before our first last year. And to boot, it is a thug of a bird with no disputing its identity. With its advanced moult, pale underwing and seemingly clean genes there'd be an assumption it comes from east of Germany...

1st-winter Caspian Gull Thames Barrier Park, London 3rd September 2017
And that wasn't the end of the Caspian Gulls, with Jamie picking up a 2nd-winter bird too. A relatively small and dark bird, that isn't the best structurally. But what is most interesting is that this is the same bird that turned up last winter that we called 'Mucky' - see photos here. This is the first example of a returning individual without a ring on this stretch of the Thames. No major surprise, given that there are regularly returning birds with rings all over Britain but interesting all the same.
2nd-winter Caspian Gull Thames Barrier Park, London 3rd September 2017
There was also another '0.5' bird. Well outside the realms of a pure Caspian Gull, but probably some genes in there somewhere.

Note to anyone coming to Thames Barrier Park or Lyle this winter - they have shut the car park at Thames Barrier Park, put parking meters on every single street so good luck to all! Genuinely, I have changed my routine and I now get there on the DLR instead of driving as I have been unable to find anywhere that is free parking in the immediate vicinity (and rest assured, I have tried!).
1st-winter Caspian Gull Thames Barrier Park, London 3rd September 2017

Saturday, 19 August 2017

A ringed Yellow-legged Gull today

I spent this afternoon chucking out bread and feeding the London gulls. My regular pastime. If there was actually some feeling that there was other stuff to find locally I would diversity, but what with all these westerlies, I was back to my default position. Rotherhithe, Thamesmead and Greenwich were all quiet over the high tide period and so I headed north over the river to Thames Barrier Park with the first sniff of foreshore exposed. And sitting there when I arrived was this ringed adult Yellow-legged Gull: -
adult Yellow-legged Gull YL5T Thames Barrier Park, London 19th August 2017
I quickly fired off an email to Paul Roper, knowing it was a Thames ringed bird, and within minutes he came back with an enthuasiastic reply. It had been ringed as a juvenile at Rainham tip, London on 27th August 2011 (photos of it then here) before turning at Nurlu, Somme, northeastern France on 20th January 2012 and then finally being seen the following winter, on 29th January 2013, in southeast France at Bourg-les-Valence, Drome (photo here).

So where has it been since? Who knows but presumably it is now breeding in eastern France, Switzerland or Germany, where there are a lot of lakes and few birders. And why do I speculate this orgin? From the limited evidence I have from this bird's previous movements and three ringing recoveries of Yellow-legged Gulls that I've had in London/Essex - two from the big Swiss lakes and one from southern Germany.

I had a further three juvenile Yellow-legged Gulls at Thames Barrier Park this afternoon with Dante and Jamie P, while there were three more at the O2 this evening - felt a bit cheated with this paltry total given that we'd waded through the hordes of Bros fans on their way to listen to a couple of peroxide blonds from yesteryear sing 'When Will I Be Famous'.

juvenile Yellow-legged Gulls Thames Barrier Park, London 19th August 2017

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Meanwhile back in London...

I've been away from London since my last post. Had a lovely time with Karen in Kenya and Zanzibar seeing all sorts of exotica. From big cats to whales, monkeys to ostriches, bustards to huge numbers of wildebeest. But there was one thing that was missing... not a single gull was seen! So since Sunday, I have had time to fix that with a few local sojourns.

On Sunday, I managed to get Josh J out of his posh west London quarter and over to the south and east with Dante and I. We started at the O2 where there were two lovely juvenile Mediterranean Gulls, the first of the season for me here in London and both metal ringed! With a bit of camera clicking at different angles, we were able to establish that both birds were from The Netherlands with ring codes 3740890 and 3742464, so given that they're only 1,574 digits out I'm assuming they'll be from the same colony. Let's wait and see!
juvenile Mediterranean Gull (Dutch ringed, bird 1) O2 Greenwich, London 14th August 2017
juvenile Mediterranean Gull (Dutch ringed, bird 2) O2 Greenwich, London 14th August 2017
And then onto today, where I had another juvenile Mediterranean Gull on the mud by the O2 in Greenwich today. This one was unringed, and given that I only saw one juvenile there in August last year, it seems that the increasing breeding numbers just outside of London are directly translating into more here. Though still waiting on one in Rotherhithe for the year.

juvenile Mediterranean Gull (unringed) O2 Greenwich, London 16th August 2017
Since I left in late July, for some reason, there has been a reduction in Yellow-legged Gull numbers. I've had just the one in Rotherhithe since I returned - a second-summer yesterday - while numbers at the O2 and Thames Barrier Park have been in the low single figures with mainly juveniles still hanging about. And no Caspian Gulls either, so hopefully there'll be a few turn up with the next load of easterlies.

Friday, 28 July 2017

Caspian and Bonaparte's Gulls plus a Black-headed Gull from Lithuania

There seems to be a fair few gulls on the move locally. Not least was this 1st-summer Caspian Gull at Thames Barrier Park on Saturday. It's a new individual into London, and not one of the remnants from last winter. First seen by David DL on Friday morning, and nice to catch up on this relatively matted, dark mantled bird - a real brute too: -

1st-summer Caspian Gull Thames Barrier Park, London 22nd July 2017
Other than this bird, it has been nice to find Yellow-legged Gulls really locally. No juveniles yet in Rotherhithe but the mud by the Hilton Hotel continues to draw them in - three on 22nd July (two 2nd-summers and a 1st-summer) being the highest count and my first juvenile here today - and a regular adult on Greenland Dock continued to linger until 16th July.
adult Yellow-legged Gull Greenland Dock, Rotherhithe 16th July 2017
near-adult Yellow-legged Gull River Thames, Rotherhithe 16th July 2017

1st-summer Yellow-legged Gull River Thames, Rotherhithe 15th July 2017
 Little else doing though, so a visit to the wader mecca of Cliffe with Jamie P and Dante on 15th was in order. Great birds but poor, distant views - a really early juvenile Marsh Sandpiper and 10(!) Black-winged Stilts, three adults and seven juveniles! Gone are the days when Sammy or the odd vagrant was your only sniff of a chance with this species. And yesterday, 27th July, Dante and I made a quick trip out to Oare Marshes where the regular adult Bonaparte's Gull was showing well, and the wader fest contained a nice adult Curlew Sandpiper. A white-ringed juvenile Mediterranean Gull there too had been ringed in Antwerp in mid-June, so that was good to see, as was a single Garganey.
adult Bonaparte's Gull Oare Marshes, Kent 27th July 2017
On return to London, we stopped off at Thamesmead in the hope of baiting a few large gulls in. However, this didn't happen and we had to be content with the smalls which included this inquisitive adult Black-headed Gull all the way from Lithuania (awaiting full ring details): -
Lithuanian-ringed Black-headed Gull Thamesmead, London 27th July 2017