Monday, 20 February 2017

Blame the Germans!

On Saturday, I ventured out a very short distance from my home and stumbled upon a yellow-ringed gull in Rotherhithe. It was obviously a Caspian-type Gull, and therefore worthy of some bread baiting - and I knew by its code X007 that it was from that dreaded German colony. In fact, this is our fourth German 'Caspian Gull' in Central London this winter and they're all on a sliding scale of not exactly classic, whether it be the scapular pattern, tertials, greater-coverts or structure. And this lad was no exception: -

hybrid Caspian x Herring Gull X007 Rotherhithe, London 18th February 2017
It was initially on the beach by the Hilton Hotel and then moved a few hundred yards east to Durand's Wharf where Richard Page-Jones managed to catch up with it too. In flight, it fitted the Caspian bill in several respects with an even black-banded tail and uppertail coverts just about fine for the species; as was the typical nape streaking contrasting with the pale head. I could also pick it up on call, very guttural and Caspian-like (though it never did the albatross posture). However, the bill itself was relatively short while the underwing coverts were fairly dark and intricately barred. On the deck, the second generation scapulars had fairly argenteus-like anchors while the greater-coverts were nicely notched with no obvious dark bases. So all in all, this is a really obvious Caspian x Herring Gull hybrid: -

hybrid Caspian x Herring Gull X007 Rotherhithe, London 18th February 2017
It was ringed as a chick at Laussig to the northeast of Leipzig, Germany on 7th June 2016 and then seen in The Netherlands at Katwijk on 31st August 2016, Zantmotor on 16th September 2016 and then again at Katwijk on 5th October 2016 before being seen at Crayford Marshes, Kent on 23rd January 2017.

On another note, this was the 25th Caspian-type Gull Jamie, Dante and I have had in the three mile zone from Rotherhithe east to Thames Barrier Park since late September. Pretty special to have these beasts from the east essentially on my doorstep these days; a sure sign of westward expansion, reaping the rewards of less tip action and a couple of extra pairs of eyes searching. With the exception of Dungeness, this has probably been the best area for Casps in Britain this winter!

Saturday, 18 February 2017

Last day in the Newfoundland snow

Well, overnight Tuesday into Wednesday it didn't stop snowing. And with this being our last full day it was another one where a walk to Quidi Vidi Lake was all that could be done - there must have been another couple of feet of snow that had fallen! We set out quite late, as the weather was meant to abate as the day went on. And with the snow, there were a lot more gulls present on the lake - pretty impressive numbers, especially of American Herring Gulls.
adult American Herring Gull Quidi Vidi Lake, Newfoundland 15th February 2017
We started briefly at the west end, by Rennies River, where there was a Common Gull present among the loafing Kumlien's and American Herring Gulls. This was presumably a different bird, as when we walked the half mile to the Virginia River outflow the usual ringed Common Gull was present too along with its Ring-billed Gull friend.
juvenile Kumlien's Gull with American Herring and Great Black-backed Gulls Quidi Vidi Lake, Newfoundland 15th February 2017
With a bit more open water at Virginia River outflow, the gulls were making the most of it - a good suite of Kumlien's Gulls, about twenty Glaucous Gulls and at least a thousand American Herring Gulls about. And then at 12.30pm, this guy showed up for ten minutes and had a preen and bathe before heading off...
adult 'Yellow-legged Gull' Quidi Vidi Lake, Newfoundland 15th February 2017
This is the bird that people have been coming to see - a Yellow-legged Gull Newfoundland-style. When I first picked the bird up, I shouted to Richard 'I've got this Yellow-legged Gull thing but it looks s**t to me'. And that is how I left it; apparently the large mirror to P10 and P4 markings make it an atlantis which is fine when it comes to primary markings. However, what isn't fine is structurally it felt just like a Lesser Black-backed Gull with an elongated, streamlined jizz and the bill was meak and meagre, never once giving an impression of a Yellow-legged Gull to me - not even a female. Add to this the piercing white iris, overly dark upperparts and the fact it was obviously smaller than the American Herrings around it.
adult 'Yellow-legged Gull' Quidi Vidi Lake, Newfoundland 15th February 2017
Now I've seen things the other way around - American Herring Gulls among atlantis Yellow-legged Gulls in the Azores as well as an adult American Herring Gull among Portuguese Yellow-legged Gulls as recently as December last year. And size wise, there isn't really a significant difference - unlike this bird. I saw the Portimao 'American Herring Gull' (with tepid yellow legs) too late last year, again with Yellow-legged Gulls, but that's a different story altogether. So despite some rather forceful replies from across the pond on this issue vehemently stating it's an atlantis Yellow-legged Gull, private correspondence from top European gullers backs up my opinion on this bird - that it really isn't what you'd expect for a Yellow-legged Gull, especially in a vagrancy context.
juvenile Glaucous Gull Quidi Vidi Lake, Newfoundland 15th February 2017
adult Kumlien's Gull Quidi Vidi Lake, Newfoundland 15th February 2017
adult Kumlien's Gull Quidi Vidi Lake, Newfoundland 15th February 2017
adult Kumlien's Gull Quidi Vidi Lake, Newfoundland 15th February 2017
adult Kumlien's Gull Quidi Vidi Lake, Newfoundland 15th February 2017
juvenile Kumlien's Gull Quidi Vidi Lake, Newfoundland 15th February 2017
juvenile Kumlien's Gull Quidi Vidi Lake, Newfoundland 15th February 2017
juvenile Kumlien's Gull Quidi Vidi Lake, Newfoundland 15th February 2017
juvenile Kumlien's Gull Quidi Vidi Lake, Newfoundland 15th February 2017
So that was that. A thoroughly enjoyable trip, characterised by gulls and the white stuff. We headed to the airport for our scheduled flight just after midnight. As luck would have it, with two days of cancelled flights, ours was only the second flight to leave St. John's since early Tuesday morning and we got back safe and sound into London on time. And then it was straight out to Thames Barrier Park... where just four Yellow-legged Gulls and a regular Norwegian-ringed Common Gull greeted me.
hybrid Black Duck x Mallard Quidi Vidi Lake, Newfoundland 15th February 2017
Black Duck Quidi Vidi Lake, Newfoundland 15th February 2017
I'll do some more detailed posts on Kumlien's Gulls if the manicness of school starting on Monday doesn't get in the way.
adult Kumlien's Gulls St. John's, Newfoundland 15th February 2017

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Snowstorm gulling at Quidi Vidi

The forecast snowstorm did happen. And it was certainly an experience. Just as we got up, snow started falling heavily and the brisk wind made visibility really poor. An attempt to drive up to Quidi Vidi Lake was aborted within 100 metres of the hotel, with the car sliding about a bit too much for my liking. So it was ditched, and we walked there on foot. No other people about, and just a couple of 4x4's on the road. Lovely!

We managed to find a relatively sheltered spot at Rennies River, where the resident duck population looked suitably annoyed with life. The hardy buggers that they are, the gulls seemed a lot more active and sure they were when the bread got hurled out. Just the usuals of course, American Herring Gulls and Kumlien's Gulls but it was better than sitting in the hotel for the day.
adult Kumlien's Gull Quidi Vidi Lake, St.John's, Newfoundland 14th February 2017
adult Kumlien's Gull Quidi Vidi Lake, St.John's, Newfoundland 14th February 2017
juvenile Kumlien's Gull Quidi Vidi Lake, St.John's, Newfoundland 14th February 2017
juvenile Kumlien's Gull Quidi Vidi Lake, St.John's, Newfoundland 14th February 2017
juvenile Kumlien's Gull Quidi Vidi Lake, St.John's, Newfoundland 14th February 2017
adult Kumlien's Gull Quidi Vidi Lake, St.John's, Newfoundland 14th February 2017
adult American Herring Gull Quidi Vidi Lake, St.John's, Newfoundland 14th February 2017
1st-winter American Herring Gull Quidi Vidi Lake, St.John's, Newfoundland 14th February 2017
Walking around to the northeast side of the lake in a blizzard was a bit raw, but we were greeted by a few Glaucous Gulls and the single adult Ring-billed Gull at the Virginia River outflow.

juvenile Glaucous Gulls Quidi Vidi Lake, St.John's, Newfoundland 14th February 2017
Here the snow intensified, and though the odd Song Sparrow and Dark-eyed Junco seemed happy enough scrubbing about in the brutal conditions, I had had enough. And so by mid afternoon it was back to the hotel for a bit of relaxation and thawing out.
The typical Quidi Vidi Lake larids - hardier than me today!

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

The calm before the storm Newfoundland style

People talk about the weather wherever you are. Although when you're up here in Newfoundland, driving past 10 foot piles of snow everywhere, and then everyone you see says 'we're in for a winter storm tomorrow' it is probably worth taking note. And so with tomorrow (Tuesday) potentially a white out, we made the most of today's calm (though dull) conditions.
American Herring Gulls St. John's, Newfoundland 13th February 2017
With things back to normal after the weekend, there were loads more gulls about at Quidi Vidi Lake today - mainly due to the landfill at the top of the hill back in full swing. Among the hordes of American Herring and Kumlien's Gulls, there was a large increase in the number of Glaucous Gulls; probably in excess of 20 birds, with the great majority being big white juveniles.
juvenile Glaucous Gull Quidi Vidi Lake, St. John's, Newfoundland 13th February 2017
An interesting bird was this Iceland/Kumlien's Gull - the lack of any pigmentation in its primaries, no tail band and an extensively pink based bill would suggest nominate glaucoides but can a bleached kumlieni actually be ruled out? Suffice to say, if this was in Britain there'd be nobody mooted it as a Kumlien's Gull...


juvenile Iceland/Kumlien's Gull Quidi Vidi Lake, St. John's, Newfoundland 13th February 2017
With a bit of snow overnight, the gulls today performed nicely on the white background. Here's a selection of the usual suspects...
juvenile Kumlien's Gull Quidi Vidi Lake, St. John's, Newfoundland 13th February 2017
2nd-winter Kumlien's Gull Quidi Vidi Lake, St. John's, Newfoundland 13th February 2017
1st-winter American Herring Gull Quidi Vidi Lake, St. John's, Newfoundland 13th February 2017
adult Kumlien's Gull Quidi Vidi Lake, St. John's, Newfoundland 13th February 2017
2nd-winter American Herring Gull Quidi Vidi Lake, St. John's, Newfoundland 13th February 2017
adult Ring-billed Gull Quidi Vidi Lake, St. John's, Newfoundland 13th February 2017
adult Common Gull Quidi Vidi Lake, St. John's, Newfoundland 13th February 2017
It wasn't just about the gulls. Quidi Vidi, like all of St. John's parks where there is freshwater, provide a haven for wildfowl and there were a couple of Eurasian Wigeons, ten or so American Wigeons, three Goosanders (Common Mergansers), a dozen Tufted Ducks and loads of Black Ducks, Mallards and hybrids.
drake American Wigeon Quidi Vidi Lake, St. John's, Newfoundland 13th February 2017
Slim pickings on the passerine front understandably, with a single Red-winged Blackbird still living through the freeze along with those hard fellows, Song Sparrows and Dark-eyed Juncos.
Dark-eyed Junco Quidi Vidi Lake, St. John's, Newfoundland 13th February 2017

Monday, 13 February 2017

The gulls and ducks of St.John's, Newfoundland

The first full day in Newfoundland - and predictably, it was a good one. For a European birder it is a fairly easy adaptation if I'm honest. And I would imagine for North American birders, you can see the appeal - Tufted Ducks are the commonest freshwater aythya, Black-headed Gulls the commonest small gull, Common Gull have outnumbered Ring-billed Gulls (admittedly two vs one) while Eurasian Wigeon are relatively straightforward to see too.

I'm staying right near the harbour in downtown St. John's, so first stop was down by the quayside. Predictably first bird of the day was Kumlien's Gull - the main flock was on the other side of this picturesque natural harbour, but with a bit of baiting the day was off to a nice start: -
adult Kumlien's Gull St. John's, Newfoundland 12th February 2017
The first of several trips to Quidi Vidi Lake started off with a quick walk about with the usual wildfowl present.
American Wigeon Quidi Vidi Lake, Newfoundland 12th February 2017
Tufted Duck Quidi Vidi Lake, Newfoundland 12th February 2017
Pintail Quidi Vidi Lake, Newfoundland 12th February 2017
Given the temperature overnight, it was unsurprising that passerine activity was pretty manic first thing with Song Sparrows, Dark-eyed Juncos and a Red-winged Blackbird the lot.
Song Sparrow Quidi Vidi Lake, Newfoundland 12th February 2017
Red-winged Blackbird Quidi Vidi Lake, Newfoundland 12th February 2017
On the lake nearby, I laid eyes on my first 'European' Common Gull on these shores - a nice adult, metal ringed (from Iceland apparently).
adult Common Gull Quidi Vidi Lake, Newfoundland 12th February 2017
And then it was to the predictable stuff I was here for - Kumlien's Gulls and the odd American Herring Gull too, including ringed birds of each species (both ringed in St. John's during previous winters).




Kumlien's Gulls (adults top two, third-winter middle two, juvenile bottom) Quidi Vidi Lake, Newfoundland 12th February 2017
A change of scene took us to Mundy Pond, where there were loads more photogenic American Herring Gulls than at Quidi Vidi - good to get the classic bayonets on these Newfoundland adults - and a 2nd-winter Glaucous Gull was about here too.
adult American Herring Gull Mundy Pond, St. John's, Newfoundland 12 February 2017
2nd-winter American Herring Gull Mundy Pond, St. John's, Newfoundland 12 February 2017
1st-winter Black-headed Gull Mundy Pond, St. John's, Newfoundland 12 February 2017
2nd-winter Glaucous Gull Mundy Pond, St. John's, Newfoundland 12 February 2017
We then headed ten or so miles out of St. John's to the small outfall at Chamberlain's near Conception Bay South. There were groups of Goldeneye and Greater Scaup on the sea here, while gulls around the outfall included c.15 Black-headed Gulls, another adult Common Gull, a showy juvenile Glaucous Gull and of course a host of Kumlien's and American Herring Gulls.
juvenile Glaucous Gull Conception Bay South, Newfoundland 12 February 2017
Back in St. John's, we had a scout about the harbour again, where we got accosted in a very un-British way by the security guards; one of them provided us with a printed version of a poem 'Sea Gulls' by a Newfoundland poet John Pratt. Out of courtesy I have read it this evening, but it in no way lights an ever put out flame for poetry. Three Glaucous Gulls were among the hordes of Kumlien's Gulls, as were a good number of American Herring Gulls.
juvenile Kumlien's Gull St. John's, Newfoundland 12 February 2017
The last stop of the day, after another quick check of Quidi Vidi, was Bowring Park. This place was absolutely teeming with Black Ducks (as well as Mallards and assorted hybrids), and like other places in St. John's wherever there is a small amount of water the ducks seem to get fed. So rather disconcertingly all the wild birds were up for any food given - which in this case included two Wood Ducks, a female Green-winged Teal and a drake Eurasian Wigeon!
drake Eurasian Wigeon Bowring Park, Newfoundland 12 February 2017
Wood Duck Bowring Park, Newfoundland 12 February 2017
And that was that - the end to a pretty enjoyable day. We made the most of the good weather, and it is currently snowing a bit here. Tomorrow should be decent but there seems to be a weather warning out for a heavy snow storm on Tuesday. Which could be interesting...