Sunday, 14 January 2018

Gulls in the gloom

It is pretty depressing weather here in London at the moment. Every day is matted in cloud. And the winds seem to be swirling around too, with easterlies last week, back to westerlies this week and next week we're meant to get some northerlies. So with no overall weather pattern, it hasn't really given anything to chance to move in any direction! And hence why it feels like a rather poor winter. But, predictably, there are always gulls to look at - though even these guys seem to have deserted all the usual sites and headed to the delights of Crayford and its recycling centre. So that is where I headed today, as well as spending an hour or so there yesterday.
juvenile Iceland Gull Crayford, London 14th January 2018
The result being a reappearance of the juvenile Iceland Gull that I had last Saturday. This time, it did a flyabout around Jolly Farmers mid morning before then being seen at the recycling centre at Viridor itself (Andy L then had it later on the FedEx building).

There was also two nice looking 1st-winter Caspian Gulls, both unringed and both fairly distant. Bring back those views at Thames Barrier Park please!

1st-winter Caspian Gulls Crayford, London 14th January 2018
Two Yellow-legged Gulls were around too, with an adult on the warehouse roofs, and a 1st-winter pecking about at the recycling centre.
1st-winter Yellow-legged Gull Crayford, London 14th January 2018
A total of twenty rings were read over the two days - all Herring and Black-headed Gulls and, with the exception of a Sussex ringed Herring, all were North Thames Gull Group birds.

Thursday, 11 January 2018

Sunday at Dungeness

A lot of people seem to have had a day at Dungeness on their New Year's menu. And with a few bits and bobs around, me, Dante, Josh and Niall K headed down there on Sunday. Being honest, it was a nice day with some good stuff seen in cold and extremely windy conditions. With Niall in tow, and a Dublin lad who doesn't see too many Casps, it was predictable that we'd start with the most showy and predictable Caspian Gull of this winter, a lovely 1st-winter that is regular at the fishing boats: -
1st-winter Caspian Gull Dungeness, Kent 7th January 2018
Moving on from there to The Patch, there was a swarm of gulls. Before we'd even got to the seawatching hide the juvenile Glaucous Gull was coasting over the power station before heading back towards the sea. With the conditions, there were a lot of birds about and in addition to the Glauc, the second-winter Iceland Gulls was picked up too. And an interesting adult Mediterranean x Black-headed Gull hybrid too. All nice stuff, but never that close and always looking into the light which is the case with The Patch on morning visits (unless overcast).

Heading onto the reserve, gull numbers were low. Perhaps they were all out feeding, taking advantage of the windy conditions, or it may just have been a bit too exposed. Four figure numbers of Cormorants were about on the island from Makepeace Hide while an assortment of wildfowl was decent enough - two Smew (a redhead and Dante's first white nun), a small flock of Goosander while a female ***** **** provided the young lad with an obligatory lifer.

Back at the fishing boats with Mick and Richard, conditions were a bit vile in the afternoon. Despite there being loads of gulls! Heavy spray due to high tide and strong winds meant there was no way any gulls were able to land on the beach. And so we had to settle for this lovely white-underwinged second-winter Caspian Gull, which admittedly didn't show the classic P10 mirrors: -
2nd-winter Caspian Gull Dungeness, Kent 7th January 2018
Anyway, after a while we settled for that as our lot. Ten species of gull for the day and some pleasant enough wildfowl. Dungeness is always a decent day out, but I do often feel like I should be in London looking at birds that nobody else has looked at.

Saturday, 6 January 2018

Iceland Gull at Crayford

Had a few hours out and about locally today. Firstly around Rotherhithe, where the gulls were quiet and then, fourth trip this winter to Burgess Park in Peckham - once again no sign of the previously wintering Mediterranean Gull there, which I originally found back in 2008, so assume it's now no longer with us. Sad times. But anyway, to blow the cobwebs off after a return to school midweek, I headed to Crayford to spend a couple of hours with the gulls there. And within 15 minutes, I'd found a nice juvenile Iceland Gull at the back of the flock.
juvenile Iceland Gull Crayford, London 6th January 2018
In typical 21st century style, I watched it for a few seconds, got some shots with the camera and then started taking some BOC (back of camera) shots with my phone. Turned around, and all the birds had flown off. That'll teach me for being a slave to the technology, as it didn't come back! But there were a couple of Yellow-legged Gulls (a second-winter and first-winter), as well as this adult Caspian-type Gull that Andy L found: -
adult Caspian Gull (or hybrid) Crayford, London 6th January 2018
Looks ok for an adult Caspian Gull, but there is a little bit too much of a dark underside to P10 for my liking, though perhaps this is the posture too. It never did fly, or at least when it did I was reading the rings of the large numbers of Black-headed Gulls which included this adult Mediterranean Gull (2E50) that had been ringed at Pitsea back in 2013.
adult Mediterranean Gull 2E50 Crayford, London 6th January 2018
So that was that, back to a warm flat and a relaxing Saturday evening.

Thursday, 4 January 2018

Crayford Casps 2nd January 2018 - and Casps here a decade ago

I spent the period between Christmas and New Year in much warmer, brighter climes so it was a real back to London feel when I headed out with Dante for the morning on Tuesday 2nd January. While I'd been away, London's gulls had been rather average with the exception of one site - the area around Crayford's recycling centre. A few Caspian Gulls had been recorded here, especially on the wasteground at Jolly Farmers (named after a now defunct pub). A grim place in a number of ways, but the gulls have previously and evidently still do love it...

We spent about three hours here, recording in total at a push two 1st-winter Caspian Gulls - one a fairly non-descript, smallish bird that was fine in every respect while a second bird probably had a bit of Herring in it if I'm entirely honest with myself - wide open greater-coverts particularly grim.
1st-winter Caspian Gull Crayford, London 2nd January 2018

1st-winter Caspian Gull (or hybrid) Crayford, London 2nd January 2018
There was also a large 1st-winter Yellow-legged Gull as well as a handful of gull rings, all from the North Thames Gull Group (ringed at either Rainham or Pitsea).

The area was probably where I first got involved in earnest with Caspian Gulls, and during the winter of 2006/2007 I spent loads of hours here with Andy L really getting to grips with them. Particularly at Littlebrook Lake, a small pool that had been created during the construction of a housing estate. Interesting to look at some of these photos now (see below), and despite the poor quality by the then trusty Samsung NV3 digiscoping days, it is easy to see these birds were pure eastern beasts! Were we missing the 'German muck' birds back in those days, or have they just become more prevalent with the westward expansion of the species? Who knows. Probably both. Anyway, enjoy these poor images: -
1st-winter Caspian Gull Littlebrook Lake, Dartford December 2006

1st-winter Caspian Gull Littlebrook Lake, Dartford December 2006

2nd-winter Caspian Gull Dartford Marshes December 2006

2nd-winter Caspian Gull Littlebrook Lake, Dartford December 2006

Monday, 25 December 2017

Dwarf Bittern twitch to Fuerteventura

I came out of Western Palearctic retirement a couple of weekends ago. There are a few birds that, despite never likely to occur in Britain/Ireland, still hold that bit of mystique due to their WP status. And a Dwarf Bittern that had recently been found on Fuerteventura was a classic example of that type of bird. Not exactly easy to see in their native sub-Saharan range, and an extreme vagrant to the WP with no twitchable birds over the past decade either. With it lingering too, and showing nicely, that was all the more reason to have a weekend on a sun-soaked island.

Arriving late morning on the Saturday, I was kindly picked up by Josh J and Ed S who'd arrived on the island the day before. A quick drive took us to Barranco de Rio Cabras where, parking in the middle of the desert, we quickly walked a couple of hundred yards to the barranco (canyon/wadi) where there the bird had been. It was a bit of a surprise to find so much water and vegetation down in the bottom, but as the other guys had seen the bittern the day before, it didn't take long to locate: -

Dwarf Bittern Barranco de Rio Cabras, Fuerteventura 9th December 2017
It was a really showy bird, so long as you waited for it to feed along the small stream - any sudden movement, and it was gone. A proper delight to see, more reminiscent of a Striated/Green Heron rather than a bittern in terms of how it was feeding. The place was also full of other decent species with a couple of pairs of Fuerteventura Chats, two White Storks, Egyptian Vultures, Berthelot's Pipits and African Blue Tits all seen in the barranco on the couple of visits we made there.
Fuerteventura Chat Barranco de Rio Cabras, Fuerteventura 9th December 2017
It's rude on any trip to Fuerteventura to not go and see its resident specialities, so on the Sunday morning the Tindaya Plains delivered with five Houbara Bustards, including a showy bird just as we were heading off: -

Houbara Bustard Tindaya Plains, Fuerteventura 10th December 2017
This was my third visit to the island (following an Allen's Gallinule twitch in December 2011 and a week there back in 2003), and one thing that was really obvious was the spread of Ruddy Shelducks like wildfire. There were nearly a couple of hundred of them at the traditional site of Embalse de los Molinos, while even in Caleta de Fuste - on the golf course there - there must have been in excess of fifty of the beasts.
Ruddy Shelduck Caleta de Fuste, Fuerteventura 11th December 2017
Unfortunately, on the way home our flight back to Stansted was cancelled due to snow there. This meant we had a bonus morning at the expense of Jet2, and while Josh and Ed scoffed their faces on rancid food, Alan L and I had a quick look around the golf course. The highlight being this Golden Plover: -
Golden Plover Caleta de Fuste, Fuerteventura 11th December 2017
And so that was that, another decent weekend break filled with nice memories, good tapas and pleasant company. Just what you want from WP twitches these days.

Friday, 22 December 2017

Local Jack Snipe plus the usual gulls

I finished for the Christmas holidays on Wednesday, so typically I've had time to do a bit of local stuff while fretting over braving the shops and completing the gulls section for the 2016 London Bird Report. It almost feels like it'd be less work going back to work! Although you don't see things like this at work: -
Jack Snipe Greenwich Ecology Park, London 22nd December 2017
Jack Snipe is a bird I rarely see these days, so I was really happy to have a look at this fine chap as it bounced about on the small pond in Greenwich Ecology Park. In fact, it felt like I was back on Scilly staring at them on Lower Moors or Porthellick instead of having it with a backdrop of Canary Wharf. A thoroughly enjoyable, cryptically plumaged bird.

With low tides mid morning, I got the loaves out in the hope there'd be something about. Today and yesterday I visited Thames Barrier Park and it was really barren, which was a great shame considering how decent this stretch of the Thames was last winter. I'm going to put it down to the mild weather and continual west/southwest winds which just doesn't bring the roaming gulls into the big city! Nevertheless, there were four Yellow-legged Gulls there today (an adult and three 1st-winters) and three yesterday (an adult and two first-winters) but not the hoped for Caspian Gull.
1st-winter Yellow-legged Gull Thames Barrier Park, London 21st December 2017
Meanwhile in Rotherhithe yesterday, on Greenland Dock I managed my first ever Shoveler for the site - a female along with 49 Tufted Ducks - that presumably had decided to wander from nearby Southwark Park (where the species is regular).

Monday, 18 December 2017

Snaresbrook Casp and a Danish OAP

I went out for the morning yesterday, with the intention of doing more than I actually did - started out late (couldn't rise from my slumber) and finished early (rain and general gloom). Nevertheless, I'm not one to turn down a Caspian Gull, and so first port of call (after the habitual check of Rotherhithe) was Eagle Pond, Snaresbrook. Not a place I'd been to before, but after a brief wait the 3rd-winter Caspian Gull came in nicely: -

3rd-winter Caspian Gull Eagle Pond, Snaresbrook, London 17th December 2017
This bird isn't an absolute classic, in that it lacks any mirror on P9 that you'd probably expect at this age and whether it's just me, but I'd like a smaller eye. Other than that, it felt ok with a bit of remnant Casp-like neck streaking, decent mantle tone and parallel-sided bill etc. But if I were a betting man, I'd edge towards one of those Casps from the western edge of their range (also affectionately known as 'German muck'). Wherever it is from, it passes the cachinnans litmus test these days though I'm sure that we're all becoming more lenient with age (and yellow 'X' rings)!

Meanwhile, down the road in Wanstead I managed to round the day off nicely with three Common Gull rings (two old faithfuls - from Norway and Pitsea - and a metal ringed Danish bird which proved to be a rather exciting OAP): -
adult Common Gull Wanstead, London 17th December 2017 - metal ringed as a chick at Lille Svelmø, Fåborg, west of Copenhagen, Denmark on 21st June 1995. So 22 years old! 
3rd-winter Common Gull Wanstead, London 17th December 2017 - JZ66, a regular wintering bird here having been ringed in Oslo as a 1st-winter in September 2015

And that was that. Another weekend, a load of gulls. All that a guy needs to keep him away from anything to do with Christmas, thankfully.