Sunday, 11 June 2017

Elegant Tern in Sussex today

Back in the summer of 1999, I remember heading over to Lady's Island Lake in County Wexford for the second Elegant Tern for Britain and Ireland (following the first, in Northern Island in 1981). This bird showed nicely in the colony there, displaying everything you'd expect in the species with a whacking carrot bill and white rump. In those days there was still a large element of incredulity that such a Pacific coast species could turn up (with such regularity) over here.

And so the pattern went on, and it was a crazy case of going to see any 'orange-billed tern showing features of Elegant' at that time - just because you didn't know which one was going to look better than the previous! But in essence, they all looked pretty damn good and the likelihood is that the five Elegant Terns I've seen previously relate to less than five individual birds - saw further singles, following the Lady's Island bird in July 1999, at Dawlish in July 2002, Porthmadog a few days after that, then singles in Dorset in May 2005 and a bird at Beale Strand, Kerry in September 2013 (the same place as I saw the Royal Tern last summer). At the same time, in France, they'd managed to ring three of these type of terns (see here for more detail) which culminated in DNA testing they were in fact Elegant Terns.

When one of these French birds turned up last week (Bird C in the article), it was therefore time to make a move for it once it had settled in the tern colony at Church Norton, Pagham harbour. The sixth one I've seen, but knowing this bird is an Elegant Tern DNA wise means that's the job done as it were - can't get better than that, though the views were rather sub-optimal in the heat haze: -
Elegant Tern Church Norton, West Sussex 11th June 2017
You can't have everything, and being just a couple of hours from London, it made for a pleasant morning out with John A. Loads of nice Med Gulls too, which is always a bonus.

Managed to get a bit closer to Elegant Terns a couple of months ago as they roosted outside my hotel in Arica, Chile so rude not to post a couple of shots here: -

Elegant Terns Arica, Chile April 2017

Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Red-footed Falcon & Greenish Warbler day out

Last night, I decided that I needed a day out of London  whatever happened. I'd (almost) reached a threshold with the gull watching near home, and not going away this half-term, a brief respite was needed. Young Dante had said at the start of spring that he really wanted to see a Red-footed Falcon, and with a 1st-summer male present until late at Dunwich Heath, Suffolk yesterday evening, a plan was hatched. It had been a while since I'd seen one in Britain too.

And it was a lovely late spring morning to boot too as we arrived at c.6.30am. Bitterns booming, Cuckoos calling, Dartford Warblers scratching away along with a far carrying cry of multiple Mediterranean Gulls. As if that wasn't enough, a 1st-summer Little Gull flew north over us as well. It was a real tonic from scanning through London's scabby 1st-summer gulls, much as I do still love them. After just less than an hour of searching, Dante spotted a grey blob in a very distant tree that turned from '99% a Woodpigeon but worth a scope' to 'I think that it actually looks pretty good' and with that, the target bird was nailed early doors.
1st-summer male Red-footed Falcon Dunwich Heath, Suffolk 31st May 2017
With a bit of fieldcraft, this nice looking 1st-summer male Red-footed Falcon did show well. Same plumage as the one I ticked at Prawle, Devon that was scarily 21 years ago this Friday. Though the sheltered reedy valley it favoured was typically fringed with trees so getting a clear view was fairly tricky. At one point, I could see it devouring a decent sized dragonfly and then as the morning started to warm up, it got a bit more active as it sallied over the reeds. And with news of a singing Greenish Warbler in coastal Essex, it was time to pack up and head off.

It was late morning by the time we arrived at Colne Point, having navigated ourselves to the small area of bushes and houses at Wall Street just inland of the seawall. On arrival, the bird was showing to the small crowd who were gathered on the seawall. And singing nicely too, with three or four 'chee' notes and then a little warble at the end - fairly pleasant but it'll be unmemorable as time fades if I'm honest. Initially it favoured a conifer before setting up stall in a small oak at the west end of the area. Try as I might to turn it into anything rarer, it was a lovely classic looking Greenish - the first one I'd ever seen in Britain in spring!

Greenish Warbler Colne Point, Essex 31st May 2017

Sunday, 28 May 2017

Bank Holiday in London

I often read blogs and get envy about how great everyone else's birding experience seems to be compared to mine. Superlative phrases such as 'boom', 'the best day ever', 'with such a good group of people' etc seem to be the norm with some. And so, welcome to my world that is London birding - where the phrases 'it's all about context' and 'I really need to see a Casp' are the most often used. Surely others must have the same experiences... so instead of the 4 Red-footed Falcons, Alpine Swift and Red-rumped Swallow dished up at Spurn today, my two days of birding in London have comprised a couple of Grasshopper Warblers and a handful of Yellow-legged Gulls.
Grasshopper Warbler Rainham Marshes, London 27th May 2017
adult Yellow-legged Gull Thamesmead, London 27th May 2017
Guess it really is all about context. May need to get out of the big city at some point soon!

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Big city struggle this spring

The joys of winter have quickly receded. Early spring and its promise of things to come has faded into the almost distant past. It now feels like summer is here. My sojourns to Thames Barrier Park, Crossness and Thamesmead the weekend just gone and the one before have been disappointing. However, a first-summer Bonaparte's Gull first found by Paul H at Creekmouth on 14th May has salvaged things somewhat.
Bonaparte's Gull Crossness, London 15th May 2017
Nice to see it at Crossness too, where it was my fourth one there. A remarkable fact given that there have only been five London records, with the first one being in May 2012. It was also good to get Dante onto his first BBRC gull species. Wouldn't put in past that boy to score London's sixth some point soon. No pressure.
1st-summer Mediterranean Gull Crossness, London 15th May 2017
Other than two 1st-summer Med Gulls at Creekmouth on 14th May (with one at Crossness the day after), I really have seen very little apart from 10 ringed gulls which included a long-staying Dorset ringed 1st-summer Great Black-backed Gull in Rotherhithe and a 1st-summer Herring Gull that has made its way down to Thames Barrier Park from Rufforth, Yorkshire via Nottinghamshire and Leicestershire. And I saw a very distant Common Crane at Rainham in the Sunday evening sun just gone.

Just hoping there is still a bit of life in the spring what with these south-easterlies and warm weather.

Sunday, 7 May 2017

London spring birding with decent ducks, waders and gulls

After the excitement of last weekend, it was back to urban birding today and yesterday. And it was really enjoyable. In fairly dull conditions yesterday, I headed out with Jamie P to Crossness where we had a bit of wader action - two lovely Bar-tailed Godwits the undoubted highlight as they fed near the golf centre on the Thames foreshore, while nine Grey Plover flew from Barking Bay towards Rainham just as the last mud was being covered. A steady passage of Swallows (and a single Sand Martin) too.
Bar-tailed Godwits Crossness, London 6th May 2017
And that was that. Time to get back to the larids, and lobbing bread off Princess Alice Way, Thamesmead has become a new routine of mine. Mid morning, and within five minutes of lobbing the loaves, this German beaut turned up - as far as I'm aware, it hasn't been seen anywhere since it was seen by Dante and Jamie at Thames Barrier Park on 20th November last year (having been ringed at Grabendorfer See, Brandenberg on 6th June 2016 as a chick): -

1st-summer Caspian Gull X090 Thamesmead, London 6th May 2017
We headed out of London for a bit, and to Cliffe. Not sure why we went if I am honest, but felt like a decent move. I guess a couple of Cuckoos, a singing Nightingale and a couple of Whimbrel were birds I wouldn't see too easily in my usual birding areas. We returned after an hour or two, taking in seconds of the Caspian Gull at Thamesmead and scouring the gulls in Rotherhithe to little avail.

Today, and it was back to Thamesmead for the midday high tide. Just a first-summer Yellow-legged Gull of note there so over the Thames on the Woolwich Ferry to Thames Barrier Park, somewhere I'd not visited for a month or so. A quick scattering of bread, and after shifting position from near the barrier to the usual winter spot, I had my eyes on another German 1st-summer Caspian Gull. This time it was X319, a bird I'd seen here previously on 4th February that had also been seen at Beddington in January and prior to that in the Netherlands in November last year (having been ringed at the same site and on the same date as yesterday's Casp X090).

1st-summer Caspian Gull X319 Thames Barrier Park, London 7th May 2017
I then headed to the O2, where Jamie had scored another Casp (a new individual), but having failed to see that I had to make do with three 2nd-summer Yellow-legged Gulls.
2nd-summer Yellow-legged Gull O2 Greenwich, London 7th May 2017
A very nice way to finish off the weekend before the carnage commences once again in the morning. And I nearly forgot to say that on Wednesday evening, I had five of these (four drakes and a female) outside my flat on Greenland Dock - the first ones I have seen in Rotherhithe.
drake Red-crested Pochard Greenland Dock, Rotherhithe, London 3rd May 2017

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Dirty long distance twitching for another British first

Early afternoon on Saturday, news came through of a Red-winged Blackbird found on North Ronaldsay, Orkney by Simon Davies. A first for Britain no less, which broke the serenity of what was going to be a nice long weekend of local birding combined with a wedding anniversary dinner that evening. Anyway, it was worth more than my life to bail on the latter, but by dawn the next morning (Sunday 30th April) I'd got myself to a small airfield in northern England for the usual process that I'd organised the afternoon before...

It didn't take long before news came out that the Red-winged Blackbird was still there. These days, it isn't the waiting anxiously for a phone call from someone on site to confirm as it used to be - Twitter's the way forward. After a relatively quick, thankfully uneventful flight we landed on the short gravel runway and got chauffeured to the site by those good eggs from North Ronaldsay Bird Observatory. Things were on lock down, as the bird was feeding out of sight in a pretty thick iris bed. If everyone descended on the specific place, it'd have been carnage for potential breeding species so quite rightly Simon and his team were doing some damage limitation for the appreciative crowd - a controlled, sporadic walk through of the area to allow people to see the bird.

And that is exactly what happened - on three occasions, the bird flew from the iris bed, perched on a wire and then scrubbed around near some gas canisters. And then went back to the iris bed and that was that.
Red-winged Blackbird North Ronaldsay, Orkney 30th April 2017
Worst views of Red-winged Blackbird I have ever had? For sure. Most expensive Red-winged Blackbird I have ever seen? By some margin. That's the twitching game - still do it, still live for it. Happy days.

Thursday, 27 April 2017

Chile part four - Torres del Paine and the Pampa Larga

Our final day in Patagonia. Far too short. But one of the places that Karen really wanted to visit while we were down here was the famous Torres del Paine National Park. Being about four hours from Punta Arenas, it was going to be a long day and a flying visit. But worth it - spectacular scenery, glaciers and hopefully a bit of birdlife thrown in too. So long as the gloomy conditions cheered up!

First stop was Laguna los Palos, a pretty desolate lagoon about 45 minutes north of Punta Arenas. It was stacked with a couple of hundred Red Shovelers and Silver Teals, along with large numbers of Yellow-billed Teal; the odd burst of colour was provided by a small group of Chilean Flamingos and a flock of Patagonian Yellow-finches in the grassland. However, in the rather dismal conditions, a quick look for Magellanic Plovers was fruitless and so we moved on north where the first of these boys - Darwin's Rhea - were by the roadside...

Heading off the main road an hour or so short of Puerto Natales, we headed east along a gravel track towards Punta Delgada which traversed steppe habitat (pampalarga) which was home to two pretty decent species - Tawny-throated Dotterel and White-bellied Seedsnipe. I'd seen the dotterel in Argentina back in 2003, but the views of a flock of 27 birds here were much better: -

While it took a bit of time and scanning, a group of three White-bellied Seedsnipe were eventually found. These high altitude breeders were probably recently in on their wintering ground here: -
And so with a couple of skunk sightings and endless Guanacos, as well as a load of Black-chested Buzzard Eagles, the other quality species I located here were a couple of Yellow Bridled Finch which were slightly reticent to come close...

After that, it was time to keep Karen happy and spend the afternoon in Torres del Paine. But that was after a quick stop in the picturesque Puerto Natales where Grey-flanked (photo below) and Dark-bellied Cinclodes showed on the seashore along with Black-necked and Coscoroba Swans.
A single Great Grebe and several Red-gartered Coots showed at range on a lake, while Andean Condors soared. In Torres del Paine itself, a pair of Spectacled Teal on a braided river channel were quality but a bit distant for photos, while an Aplomado Falcon zipped past. Infinite Guanacos (photo below) and Darwin's Rheas were an everlasting memory set to the backdrop of high peaks and glaciers... all rounded off in the evening by perhaps the best steak I've ever had (or at least the best steak I've had since Argentina!).
So that was that. A quick whistle stop tour of southernmost Chile, heading north and wanting more. The fresh air, spectacular landscapes (especially if you're a geographer like me!) and real quality birds genuinely make this one of the best and nicest places I have been fortunate to visit. Off to sweat it up north in Arica next with some different larids...