Rose-Coloured Starling

Rose-Coloured Starling

Friday, 28 August 2015

Caspian Gull at Ainsdale

Large gulls have been a particular focus this summer all for the wrong reasons. Reporters/journalists know next to nothing about them mainly picking up on the negatives drawing attention to what are genuinely interesting birds. There's so much to learn about gulls and there's always new things to learn. I've always had a keen interest in them, however I do struggle at the best of times with aging and ID if their not familiar and when you think you're getting there, you get a hybrid thrown in the mix like the Great Black-Backed Gull x Yellow Legged Gull of Richmond Bank a couple of years back but that's another story!
Caspian Gulls are one of the main reasons for people questioning ID... Is it? Isn't it? What are the ID features? Many Caspian Gulls that are called, are Yellow Legged Gulls or something else although numbers are increasing on the near continent and more are making it across to Britain. Slowly more and more people are getting to grips with what to look out for and the over all 'jizz' that screams out for a classic Casp.
One has spent most of it's time on Ainsdale beach, Lancs during the last 5 weeks as it undergoes a wing moult into a second winter plumage. With the bird reported showing down to a few metres, it suddenly dawned on me to why I hadn't been sooner.

I arrived not really knowing where to look... low tide, hordes of people, dogs barking, barbeques; you name it but not a gull in sight. As I looked beyond the chaos, there was one lone gull stood straight out towards the tideline... Looked liked the pics, surely can't be that easy?! On closer inspection, it was, and remarkably tame. With some of the stories of how people have been walking the length of the beach 5 or 6 times without a glimpse, I felt I had stroke it lucky.
There are many features that should be picked up on when identifying Caspian Gulls. Note the crisp, clean white head on this first summer bird and it's small dark/black beady eye which are also good indications on adult birds and something that can come in useful for when you're picking out birds in a gull roost. Luckily here it is stood on the beach giving close views and it's upright posture is one of the first things that should attract attention to a bird being questioned as a Caspian.
Caspian Gulls always have pale/white under-wings so if you have a bird in question without one, it certainly isn't a Caspian.
From a distance you can see it's clean white head stand out like a beacon - Herring and Yellow Legged Gulls have way more extensive streaking at all ages.
Juvenile and first summer birds have pinkish legs whereas adults have a lemon-yellow coloured legs. It's also worth noting that they're longer than Herring and Yellow Legged Gulls. Caspian Gulls have a long, slender bill which again came be quite distinctive at range.
This angle of the bird shows it's long sloping forehead and bill length. Although it is difficult to see as the bird is under-going moult but in a strong juvenile plumage, the greater coverts are quite finely patterned rather than more chequered like a Herring Gull/Yellow-Legged Gull would have.
Caspian Gulls are still a difficult bird to ID and even though one can't rule out a hybrid, traditionally, the main features talked about are generally a good indication that you'd be on to a winner. Getting a variety of pictures is also a vital piece to the puzzle as they can be used after to compare and check for finer details such as the amount of black colouration on the primaries
The bird at Ainsdale spent most of it's time on it's own only associating with the local Herring and Lesser Black-Backed Gulls when there was free food on offer. I used that as a good time to compare and contrast plumages. A real class, educational bird and well worth going to see if you have the time.

Monday, 24 August 2015

Booted Warbler at Gramborough Hill, Norfolk

After a great day at the Birdfair in Rutland on Saturday, we were assessing our options for the rest of the weekend. With a Booted Warbler just over 2 hours on the Norfolk coast, we decided to take a punt on getting there before dusk and seeing the elusive warbler. We arrived in good time however the sun was quickly descending and the wind was becoming stronger.
A few tense minutes passed with tantalising flits and flights between the gaps of the dying sycamore leaves hence why confirmation was delayed earlier that day. A female Pied Flycatcher also added to the tension fly catching in the depths. A few moments later, it popped up briefly onto a branch in a sheltered patch of the sycamore. We hadn't planned this trip and this was evident with one scope and one pair of binoculars between myself, Steff and Christopher Bridge which caused chaos on the first show. Luckily, however, it continued to show better as the evening progressed and as it did, I was able to really study the features of what made it a Booted rather than anything else.
On quick, brief views, it had a rather phyllosc-like movement and resemblance to it. It's grey-brown appearance was rather apparent; more greyer than I had expected in fact and with a nice widening prominent supercilium. I could also make out the shorter but pinkish bill (compared to the much rarer Syke's) and although my images don't show Booted Warblers have pinkish coloured legs and much darker browner toes (another key feature and seperaration from Syke's Warbler).

Friday, 14 August 2015

Great Shearwaters on the Scilly Pelagic - Part 2

Great Shearwaters were one of my most wanted birds to see on the Scilly Pelagic and luckily I got my wish on the third and final pelagic of the weekend to save the trip. It had been a quiet weekend in terms of scarcities and rarities. Ireland seemed to be fairing better with both Wilson's and Fea's Petrels seen off their pelagics during our stay in Scilly. 

We will have to wait for them for another year at the very least but this year was devoted to Great Shearwaters. In total, we had at least 5 showing off around the boat on the Monday evening whilst we were out chumming and drifting. Attracted to all the commotion of the gulls, it was a mad 2 minutes when it started after a Great Skua was called as it landed on the sea. We edged closer in order to have a better look when a Sooty Shearwater was shouted out as it glided to the right of us. No more than a couple of seconds later the Sooty was replaced by a Great Shearwater shearing within a few metres of us. 

Great Shearwaters are the more striking of the two large shears that enter british waters with Cory's being the other. We didn't see any Cory's Shearwaters on the pelagics sadly but having seen them in the Canaries, it wasn't too much of a disappointment. 

Even from a distance on a seawatch, Great Shearwaters can be remarkably easy to ID; it's striking head patterning with a dark cap and white neck collar does stand out. Great Shears are also darker on the back than Cory's and is slightly smaller in size and less powerful with a stiffer appearance in flight as seen in the image below.

The underparts between the two species differ marginally with Great Shearwaters acquiring some distinct stained markings whereas Cory's have a pure, clean, white underparts. Another useful ID tip will be drawn to it's tail where it has a prominent white patch but beware at a distance they can be misidentified for a juvenile Gannet with very similar markings including this white rump patch, dark wingtips and a hint of a dark cap. 

Great Shearwater diving for food - note the unclean appearance of the underwing
The Great Shearwater carried out a short circuit of flying around the boat, landing, diving and taking off again as seen in the video below. It completed this at least 5 times wowing the observers

Also the trip blessed us with some cetaceans in the form of Common Dolphin and Bottled Nosed Dolphins. The latter being a lot more elusive and keeping well beneath the ocean surface.
Common Dolphin blasting through the water alongside the boat followed us for a good 10 minutes

Bottled Nosed Dolphin were more elusive but were great to witness
The Scilly Pleagics were an amazing experience in a fantastic part of the world and I know I for one will be wanting to return soon!

Thursday, 13 August 2015

Scilly Pelagic Magic - Part 1

The Scilly Isles are renowned for it's capabilities to produce a mega bird more or less at any time of the year especially during migration hotspots with the most recent being the second record of Great Blue Heron for the UK back in the Spring. The pelagics that Bob Flood puts on for both birders (and fishermen) brings people up close and personal to what would normally be a distant flyby from the coastline with Skuas, Terns, Gulls, Shearwaters and Petrels. 

I went on 3 pelagics over the weekend and saw a fantastic amount of quality birds that you never really get the opportunity to see every year. Gulls were enticed from the very start in order to attract attention to other passing seabirds. Inquisitive Fulmars were a familiar site throughout keeping within close range to the boat 

The Friday evening was a nice introduction and brought us close to European Storm Petrels as we chummed and drifted on the ocean attracting them in on the fine breeze. 

This Storm Petrel decided to dice with death hovering between two Great-Black Backed Gulls

A nice Great Skua ended the day keeping a watchful eye for a last minute scavenge at dusk

Saturday brought sunshine, calm seas and light easterlies - a truly nightmare situation for anyone that was expecting a rare seabird. However it was a very enjoyable day at sea being rewarded with Long-Tailed Skua and Sooty Shearwater. Both were resting on the sea due to the such calm conditions which allowed the superb views and photo opportunities. 

Long-tailed Skua - First summer individual

This is a short video of the Sooty Shearwater we encountered on the Saturday Pelagic

Find your own Juvenile Med Gull - they're out there!

It's the time of year where juvenile dispersal is at a high and individuals turn up at a location near you. Mediterranean Gulls can often blend in with a flock of Black-Headed Gulls especially in a large flock of mixed adult and juvenile birds so it's often worth carefully 'grilling' each bird looking for the diagnostic Med Gull characteristics to single one out.

This was a bird I picked out at Pennington Flash (below) last week while everyone was watching the Sabine's Gull. Again, this juvenile was amongst a feeding flock of Black-Headed Gulls. Note the more bulkier appearance/shape than a Black-Headed Gull. Med Gulls have a darker eye but a plainer face, as a Black-Headed Gull will have a dark/black cheek spot. If you look carefully at the scapulars on the back of the gull, you will also notice that a Med Gull will have more distinct white fringes than what a Common and a Black Headed Gull will have. 

Sabine's Gull at Pennington Flash

Gulls have received a lot of bad press recently and this is down to reporters/writers not understanding what they're talking about about. Gulls also are lumped into one category; yes, they can be eyeing up your sandwich but they're are also natural scavengers.. they have so much more to offer! Sabine's Gulls are one of the nicest looking birds and breed in the high Siberian and North American arctic. We could effectively get records from both locations given the right conditions and most are observed best in strong winds. The Little Orme (Penrhyn Bay) is excellent for a seawatch regularly producing a good flow of Leach's Petrels, Manx Shearwaters, Skuas and the odd Sabine's Gulls in a good NW'ly blow.

Following a good SW'ly blow a week ago, a rather nice adult Sabine's Gull has moved onto Pennington Flash showing down to a matter of feet next to Horrock's Hide. The gull seems to have made Pennington Flash its home for the time being and has associated well with the resident Black-Headed Gulls there. 

With the bird showing so well, it has proved an attraction with locals attracting quite a crowd. An incident at the weekend raised a few concerns about its health after it was dragged under the water by a pike but luckily was able to get away. 

With it's beautiful dark brown head and a hint of yellow on the bill, it spent most of it's time whizzing around on the surface of the water picking off flies to eat. A real beauty to see up close.

Influx of Black Storks

The last two weeks has proved to be one of the best opportunities for seeing Black Stork in the UK with at least 6 individuals across the South and East of the country. The number however in more than likely higher with many sightings elsewhere through fly-overs and unconfirmed views. With news of a France Darvic ringed individual present at Spurn YWT and showing well, I gave into temptation and went across with Chris Bromley early on the Tuesday morning (04/08).

It was too early, too windy and too cold (for August) and there was very little sign of the bird initially. Luckily, the locals had a better understanding than we did and they located the elusive juvenile in quick succession close to the Bluebell pond amongst dense grasses and high reeds.

It didn't really go anywhere else for the whole more and seems to be at it's least active when we went to see it with many good views and flight shots of the stork appearing since. With the darvic ring, we were able to understand that this bird was in fact ringed as a nestling in a forest near Bossus-les-Rumigny, Ardennes on 3rd June 2015. This means it's covered at least just over 300 miles (490 km) already!

 What is even more remarkable; a second French darvic-ringed Black Stork was found at Loch of Strathberg, Aberdeenshire last week with the ring number coming from either the same nest or a neighbouring nest as the Spurn bird.

At the time of writing this blog post, it appears to have moved on spending nearly a week on site at Spurn. Hopefully it will keep itself safe for us to track further in the future.

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Red-Footed Falcon, Staffordshire

With recent news breaking of a first summer Red-Footed Falcon showing and giving mouth watering views down to a matter of feet, it was a too good of an opportunity to miss with it being a 90 minute drive down the road. After seeing a couple of adult males and a previous first summer Derbyshire male, it still wasn't enough and managed to make it down there a few days into it's stay. 

Summering in Eastern Europe, the migrant falcon exceeded expectations often coming close to the onlookers. It spend a lot of its time perched keeping an eye out for a meal. It seemed to mainly feed on worms and other invertebrates it could find.

It's plumage was a lot more advanced than the previous first summer male I'd seen, plumage can apparently vary quite a bit at this age as it moults towards its darker, majestic adult plumage. 

It was quite mobile in the hour I was there but superb to get the close flight views as it moved around the entrance to Chatterley Whitfield Colliery. 

A juvenile Black Redstart was also a nice edition to the day showing from distance around the building but people have been asked not to enter the white gates of the private site. 

Here's a short video of the bird during the hour I was there

White-Winged Black Tern, Leighton Moss

A short video and image on the White-Winged Black Tern seen at Leighton Moss 10 days ago. A beautifully summer-plumaged individual which stayed for a 2 days showing bet from Lower Hide. It often spent time sat on the post or hawking around the lagoon. Great White Egret, 4 Marsh Harriers, 2 Garganey's and a Marsh Tit were also on offer around the reserve.

The last bird I saw in this plumage was a the Cemlyn Bay bird present for a couple of days last year (2014)

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Green Sandpiper and a Little Bittern

Really, I should be writing about the Little Bittern I went to see at Old Moor RSPB, Yorkshire, last weekend but it was a distant flight view and quite uninspiring at the range so I'll quickly move on to the Green Sandpiper that gave much better views from Wath Ings hide whilst waiting for an American Wigeon that never showed.

Green Sandpipers are birds I just about see during each year but this year, I've managed to see one a lot earlier than usual. They differ from the more familiar Common Sandpiper with the much darker back and wings whereas Common Sandpiper's feature a white wingbar and have a lighter, browner colouring. Green Sandpipers are also slightly larger with longer legs and no barring on the tail.
Green Sandpiper's mainly pass through the UK with the intention of breeding in northern Europe and wintering in South and West Europe and Africa although in the UK, records can crop up at either side of the year.
This one at Old Moor is likely to be a failed breeder and is one of the earliest returners to make it's way back from it's northern site. Other birds included a nice Black-necked Grebe, 7 Avocet, a female Goldeneye and of course the Little Bittern!
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