Saturday, 17 March 2018

Avocets at Crossness and a London Shag

The predicted fall in overnight temperatures did indeed happen, and I was greeted this morning by some fairly persistent snow showers. A check of the Rotherhithe sites produced nothing of note, but not too surprising given that just over 12 hours previously it had been 15 degrees or so! These cold weather movements don't literally happen overnight...

And so to Crayford, where there were few gulls on Jolly Farmers and not lots of birds about at the recycling centre either - though it evidently did get better later in the day as Andy L had an Iceland Gull. But that was after I left, as I headed to Crossness while the tide was still out and mud was exposed. Remarkably there wasn't a Lapwing in sight, as this was the species severely displaced a couple of weeks ago with the cold snap, but there was a fair bit to look at. Most notably 4 Avocets (three together off the golf centre and another distantly in Barking Bay) along with 20 Black-tailed Godwits, half a dozen Dunlin and a third-winter Yellow-legged Gull.

Avocets at Crossness, London 17th March 2018
After checking Southmere and Thamesmere, I headed north through the Blackwall Tunnel and into the shadows of Canary Wharf. Yesterday, Sean H had found a 1st-winter European Shag on Millwall Outer Dock yesterday, and he'd messaged me earlier today to let me know if was still present. Rather embarrassingly it took me over an hour and half to find the thing! I walked around the dock, and then also around Millwall Inner Dock, only to find it where I'd first looked. I'll assume it flew back in again!
European Shag at Millwall Outer Dock, London 17th March 2018
This Shag was the first one I'd seen in London, or at least the first one I can recall. It is a species that I had been looking for fairly avidly here in Rotherhithe, so this sighting was a bit bitter sweet - Millwall Outer Dock is literally opposite Greenland Dock, on the other side of the Thames! So near yet so far...

Friday, 16 March 2018

Got G0UT at Crayford last Sunday plus a new Caspian Gull & Purple Sand

Another week passes me by in a manic fashion, so it isn't until now I've had the inclination to write about a good day locally on Sunday morning. Dante met me, as usual, at Canada Water and we headed off east to Crayford to where the gulls hang out. When we arrived at the recycling centre, the sharp lad picked out a 2nd-winter gull that appeared briefly, and was red-ringed, that had a couple of things going for it as a Casp. After a few minutes, it reappeared and with the scope trained on it, we were able to clinch it as none other than the notorious G0UT. It later located to the nearby Jolly Farmers wasteground, where I picked it up at much closer range and papped it: -
presumed Caspian x Herring Gull (G0UT) Crayford, London 11th March 2018
G0UT was ringed as a 1st-winter Caspian Gull at Pitsea tip, Essex on 25th March 2017 - it has the unfortunate claim to fame of being the last Caspian Gull to have been ringed there (if it actually is one). Two days after ringing Josh J had found it in west London at Hammersmith on 27th March 2017 and here, and at the nearby London Wetlands Centre, it lingered until 2nd April 2017. By 13th April 2017, it was in The Netherlands at Katwijk (photo here) and was then back in west London by 23rd July 2017 where it lingered around Fulham intermittently until last seen on 1st January 2018 - looking like this on 31st July 2017. Then it was on the east Norfolk coast at Happisburgh on 6th March 2018 before deciding to head back to the delights of Crayford last Sunday, 11th March 2018. Good history so far, and a great case study of how a relatively crap looking 1st-winter Caspian Gull gets progressively worse as it ages... be interested to track this bird into adulthood fingers crossed.

Anyway, there was a more clear cut and aggressive 1st-winter Caspian Gull on the roofs by the recycling centre briefly mid-morning - a bird I'd not seen previously so assume one that was passing through London and back to the continent. March is a decent time of year for there to be an influx of new Caspian Gulls into London, having presumably wintered elsewhere in the UK, and filtering east/southeast as they filter back towards Germany and beyond.
1st-winter Caspian Gull Crayford, London 11th March 2018
The other site we visited on Sunday was Swanscombe Marshes - a big shout out to Barry W who gave us expert directions, with precision, which meant that I was able to see my first Purple Sandpiper in the London recording area and the lad to see his first one ever. And what's more, we managed to park in a place that meant we didn't get a parking ticket and the ever present pikeys at this site didn't nick any of my wheels! Not my fondest of sites, but with the target bird and 10 Turnstones, pretty good stuff for London. Plus a Yellow-legged Gull and Rock Pipit thrown in too for good measure.

Saturday, 10 March 2018

What a difference a week makes

I headed out today not bothering to wear a jumper. Admittedly I did still have my coat with me, but turn the clock back a week and the ground was covered in snow as I set out. A quick check of Greenland Dock revealed Black-headed Gull numbers were down, so perhaps a sign of spring as the numbers do reduce from now on. But a visit to Crayford and specifically the wasteground at Jolly Farmers revealed winter's grip was still there, with a shed load of gulls which included this Dutch ringed Lesser Black-backed Gull: -
adult Lesser Black-backed Gull K.PAC Jolly Farmers, Crayford, London 10th March 2018 - ringed as a juvenile on Texel, The Netherlands on 14th July 2008; seen at Crayford Marshes previously in 2011 and 2013 as well as in northern Spain and back on Texel.
There was a bit of a smoky 1st-winter Herring Gull too, but it was just that, as well as a fair number of Thames ringed Herring and Black-headed Gulls. While there, I met Andy L who said that the usual crew were off to Dungeness for the afternoon. So I cheekily grabbed a place in the car with him, Richard S and Mick S. After the usual fry up at the Oasis Diner just outside Lydd, we were at the fishing boats early afternoon and the loaves were out.

With Jamie P and Laurence P there too, it wasn't long before an adult Caspian Gull turned up: -

adult Caspian Gull Dungeness, Kent 10th March 2018
This bird was a bit of an interesting beast, with a decent underside to P10 and primary tongues, while it had nice bright legs and also a hefty looking bill on it. A really nice bird to see, as seeing adults these days - now that Pitsea tip is no longer - is pretty tricky. A juvenile Glaucous Gull was also about, but didn't want to come close at all: -
juvenile Glaucous Gull Dungeness, Kent 10th March 2018
However, despite staying until near dark there was little else of interest to look at. Three Sandwich Terns that headed west were pleasant enough, and an adult Mediterranean Gull was as always nice.

Sunday, 4 March 2018

Beast from the east birding... just!

School stayed open all week. And so it should have done, despite a moderate amount of snow. But what that meant for birding was unfortunately no snow days for me. So Saturday was the first time I was able to get out and experience what the cold weather had done to London's birdlife.

I started in Rotherhithe, at Russia Dock Woodland, where Thursday's snowfall and easterly winds had produced a remarkable record of a forlorn looking Dunlin (I'd seen an iPhone video of it!) and Richard PJ managed to flush up a Woodcock the same day. There was still considerable snow on the ground first thing, and so I did a thorough sweep of the area and it produced - I flushed a single Woodcock from undergrowth to the right of the Stave Hill entrance, my first one ever in Rotherhithe. Very happy when a plan comes together, it was off to Canada Water to pick Dante up. While waiting, I had a new BTO metal-ringed Black-headed Gull so should hear about that sometime this week.

We did a sweep of a few Rotherhithe sites that I'd not done beforehand, but there was little except a few Fieldfares and Redwings moving through, and so we ventured on to pastures new. Dante had done really well on Thursday and Friday at the O2 Greenwich, with a Little Gull, 2 Kittiwakes and a Golden Plover highlighting events, but I didn't really fancy that this weekend. After a brief stop in Woolwich opposite Thames Barrier Park, where there was little, we headed to Thamesmead and the small lake adjacent to the Morrison's. Here on Thamesmere the day got going again with a 2nd-winter Caspian Gull (or more likely Caspian Gull with Herring genes) on the ice - a nice showy bird, calling like a Caspian Gull but without the P10 mirror as well as feeling a bit Herring-like facially. I'll let you have this picture that makes it look most Caspian-like :)
Caspian Gull (or hybrid) Thamesmead, London 3rd March 2018
Next up on the ice here was a white-ringed Black-headed Gull from a scheme I didn't immediately recognise. So getting cr-birding up on the phone and a quick check revealed it was from Croatia. Marvellous, and so I quickly emailed the details to their gull guru Luka J, and within 15 minutes he'd emailed me back saying it was indeed one of his from the rubbish dump in Zagreb: -
Black-headed Gull SN2N at Thamesmead, London 3rd March 2018 - ringed at Jakuševec dump, Zagreb, Croatia on 26th Feb 2017 and seen at Mannheim, Baden-Württemberg, Germany on 23rd Dec 2017
Onto Crossness, where we had a decent walk - firstly to Barking Bay where a number of waders (including 2 Avocets and a Grey Plover) were distantly foraging on the mud on the other side of the river. And then we walked east, where a handful of Lapwings on either the path or any area of decent grass were evidently products (victims) of this cold snap. As were the remarkable numbers of Dunlin present, with upwards of 500 birds milling about.
Lapwing Crossness, London 3rd March 2018
A drake Pintail too was a good record, along with another Avocet and Grey Plover, as we walked from the golf course towards the outfall. 54 Shoveler, 69 Fieldfare as well as a dozen Wigeon were also fallout from the week's 'beast from the east'. Really great stuff, topped off by a male Black Redstart on the walk home.
drake Pintail Crossness, London 3rd March 2018

Dunlin Crossness, London 3rd March 2018

Avocet Crossness, London 3rd March 2018

male Black Redstart Crossness, London 3rd March 2018
A check of Southmere, Thamesmead produced half a dozen Pochard and a load of gulls but little of interest in them, and a rather disappointing Crayford continued the trend. As the gloom increasingly descended, we stopped off at Danson Park where there was a single North Thames ringed Black-headed Gull. And that was that for a decent Saturday's birding.

Today was much quieter, largely because I was hemmed in by a sporting event for several hours as well as doing some pre-trip planning for Easter. But I did manage to get out around Rotherhithe - two North Thames ringed and two metal ringed (one German and one British) Black-headed Gulls. Another week of madness at work before those Wheatears and Sand Martins start arriving! Possibly.

Saturday, 3 March 2018

A day in Dorset and Hampshire

Last Sunday (25th February) seems a long time ago now, but I've finally got round to a quick post about a splendid twitchy day with Jamie P and Dante. We set off at the rather amicable time of 6am from Rotherhithe, and after a lovely crisp winter's morning drive, arrived in a freezing cold Weymouth before 9am. Before we'd arrived, the target bird - an adult Ross's Gull - had already been seen at Lodmoor RSPB. But it hadn't been there for long, and just as we arrived, there was news that it had been found again at Ferrybridge...

So three or so miles of driving, through the winding streets of Weymouth, and we arrived at Ferrybridge to be greeted with 'it has just flown off over the shingle bank and out to sea'. As it was so early in the day, and knowing the afternoons seemed to be better anyway for this bird, I wasn't actually too fussed. And so we headed to Chesil Cove to have a scan of the bay, which was nicely sheltered from the easterly wind. Nothing there so we ventured to Radipole Lake RSPB, which is where the Ross's Gull had favoured the most the previous day. After an hour or so of waiting around, the adjacent golden arches were too much of a temptation, and so we all ventured in. Having just devoured my first Big Mac Grande (first ever, not of the day!), and with Dante midway through his and Jamie still waiting for his vegetarian thing, a phone call from Steve A said that the Ross's Gull was back! Literally 200 metres of frantic walking, McDonalds in hand, we all headed over and there it was - the adult Ross's Gull: -
Ross's Gull Radipole Lake RSPB, Dorset 25th February 2018
It was obviously a smart bird. With just a very slight pinkish hue and a subtle neck ring, its tiny bill gave it a nicely cute appearance as is always the case for the species. This was the sixth adult I'd seen in Britain and Ireland, and one of the best when it came to views. The crowd were enthralled, so much so that some parisitic local scrounger took it upon themselves to nick a scope from the crowd, and rode off with it on his bike!

There had obviously been a load of ringing having taken place in Weymouth, and I was able to get a couple of metal rings from birds in the car park at Radipole before the prize bird appeared: -
adult Herring Gull Radipole Lake RSPB, Dorset 25th February 2018 - ringed as a chick in Weymouth on 17th July 2006

adult Black-headed Gull Radipole Lake RSPB, Dorset 25th February 2018 - ringed as an adult at the same site on 31st October 2014
And with everyone happy, we headed off east and into the living cemetery of Christchurch. A lovely place it was, and with the sun shining at Stanpit Marsh, the 1st-winter Stilt Sandpiper was quickly located off Fisherman's Bank. Distant views but perfectly acceptable through the scope. A Polish ringed Black-headed Gull and a pukka breeding plumaged Mediterranean Gull showed a lot better on the near side of the creek: -
adult Mediterranean Gull Stanpit Marsh, Dorset 25th February 2018
With it getting towards the time for birds going to roost, we headed north twenty or so minutes to Ibsley Water, Hampshire to do the gulls coming in for the evening there. As we arrived in the hide, the regular adult Ring-billed Gull was already present and then next on the menu was a 2nd-winter Caspian Gull that piled in with other large gulls on islands to the left of the hide. And then twenty or so minutes later, I located the target bird in the same area, a well-watched juvenile 'Thayer's Gull'. Admittedly it was distant, but it felt at odds to what I'd have expected from this species/form and I'd have been inclined to have put it down as a Herring Gull if I'd seen it in London. An interesting one though, initially found by a birder who I've got a lot of respect for.

Monday, 26 February 2018

Beast from the east birding

All this talk about the beast from the east (a reference to the current weather) had me all excited on Saturday. It was cold and for the first time in a long time, it was coming from the east - just what us London birders like. I had the opportunity of three things for the day - go up north to Thurso and search for a Taiga Merlin, head south and see another Ross's Gull or check London for its gulls. And of course, after a hectic first week back after half-term and the current weather, the last option won out and it was time to check the delights of south-east and east London.

It ended up hard work though, with the first couple of hours at Crayford being full of gulls but nothing remotely exciting (and Jamie P checked it a hour or so later and reached the same conclusion!). I headed west and back into London, and checked the distinct grimness of Southmere, Thamesmead. Located amidst a ghetto, frequented regularly by travellers and on this occasion someone told me the last couple of nights a Mute Swan had been mutilated there each night. Lovely place! But today, having parked up, I scanned the Black-headed Gulls and to my surprise there was a 1st-winter Little Gull in amongst them...
1st-winter Little Gull Thamesmead, London 24th February 2018
I was really happy with this, as it was just the second one to be found in London in 2018 (the first was an adult at Swanscombe less than a couple of hours before!) and for me, it's always nice to get these little wins when it comes to slogging urban turd holes looking for the birding equivalent of gold. This Danish Black-headed Gull was also frequenting the same ghetto: -
Danish ringed adult Black-headed Gull 'ZJB' Thamesmead, London 24th February 2018
Unfortunately the Little Gull was brief as it turned out, and despite waiting for over an hour, there was no repeat show and no opportunity to improve on the record shots I got initially. Therefore, I headed over to Thames Barrier Park via the Woolwich Ferry, where there were good numbers of Common Gulls and a first-winter Yellow-legged Gull. No Caspian Gull, which wasn't a surprise given the paucity of them this winter compared to 2016/17.

Not a bad day overall, as any February day in London with a Little Gull is notable enough in itself.

Tuesday, 20 February 2018

Back in the London sunshine

A week of typically blustery Irish weather, with hail, sleat and snow regularly thrown, meant that it was a nice relief to be back in big city life with the sun shining. Inevitably, as is usually the case, the birding was slow. Saturday's visit to Thames Barrier Park produced little of note while similarly the river and woodland in Rotherhithe were typically quiet. Not even a gull ring to write home about.

On Sunday, it was time to revisit the Little Bunting at Walthamstow Marshes which I'd only seen in horrific conditions when it first turned up. I met the man of the moment, Dante S, on site where it had already shown nicely. There was a seeded tray now, put out by local birders, to entice it a little bit closer... which nearly worked. However, I was more than happy with prolonged views of it in its favoured bush as it sunned itself in the early spring-like weather.
Little Bunting Walthamstow Wetlands, London 18th February 2018
Walthamstow Wetlands seems to be the new place for Joe Public to spend their time. A place where all types from society congregate and inadvertently annoy you. The amount of times people were either walking past, totally oblivious of their fever pitched noise levels or inanely asking what we were looking at, did detract from the experience. And I credit Paul W, Jamie P, David B et al for persevering with this site now in its current form. And so I took solace, as always, in some nearby gulls at Eagle Pond where Dante and I managed three Black-headed Gull metal rings (Sweden and two British) and another annoyingly incomplete one from Finland...
Swedish ringed Black-headed Gull Snaresbrook, London 18th February 2018 - ringed as a 1st-summer 598 miles to the northeast at Pildammsparken, Malmö, Skåne on 3rd June 2009
As always bring on next weekend and fingers crossed for the start of some cold continental weather.