Monday, 21 May 2018

Expensive misbehaviour

Rule of life - work hard and treat others how you would expect to be treated. Evidently that hadn't been the case one October weekend back in 1994. I'd been grounded for something, who knows what for, but I remember distinctly calling the infamous 0891 700249. For those youths who weren't around in those days, this was the Birdline North West hotline and you were fed the news by the voice of mainly Ted Abraham, and occasionally Alan Davies or John Gregory. All heroes to a 13 year old kid. Anyway, that Saturday evening despite knowing I wasn't going anywhere the next day, I phoned Birdline North West 'just to see what was about'. Well, to cut a long story short, it was carnage - two mega birds had been found that day, a Song Sparrow at Seaforth that was 20 miles from home and the first ever twitchable mainland bird (and the first since 1989 anywhere) and a Greater Yellowlegs on the River Eden in Cumbria (the first fully twitchable one since Minsmere in 1985). Bad times for a naughty boy and despite trying, my generally legendary parents did not budge. I must have done something very poor.

And I was punished with 'Song Sparrow Sunday' as it was known at the time. Scillies emptied out, there were big crowds watching from the mound at Seaforth the next morning and the bird performed admirably for the day. As did the Greater Yellowlegs. By the next weekend, I'd evidently managed to get back into my parents' good books but the Song Sparrow was long gone. My Dad took me up to see the Greater Yellowlegs in Cumbria that showed nicely as it fed in a small channel at Rockcliffe. But 24 years later there hadn't been another Song Sparrow! And before the Seaforth one, they'd largely been a Fair Isle speciality - so being honest, I expected to have to pay top dollar to avenge my misbehaviour of 1994. And sure, that was of course the case with the latest one, turning up predictably on that isolated isle...
Song Sparrow Fair Isle, Shetland May 2018
Fair Isle's 2018 Song Sparrow was trapped and ringed in the plantation originally, and then performed nicely through the comfort of the observatory's window as it came to seed in the garden there. Very nice indeed, and a stark contrast in environment to the mean streets of southeast London. 

Sunday, 20 May 2018

Terek Sandpiper at Rye

A Terek Sandpiper was found mid-morning yesterday (Saturday) at the very pleasant Rye Harbour NR. For some reason, I really fancied it - not often that I have a desire to see birds I've seen a lot of before. But who would turn their nose up at another Terek? I actually had to look into the archives of my notes to find out how many of them I had seen in Britain previously - the answer being a paltry three (Bowling Green Marsh, Devon in June 1996, Frodsham, Cheshire in April 1999 and then one at Cliffe, Kent in May 2005). So of course I fancied another...

Having had the car serviced in the morning, and then waited for Karen to enjoy her Royal Wedding watching, we headed off from London in a very civilised fashion at 2.30pm and arrived at Rye within a couple of hours. Getting to Rye is one of the most pleasant drives you can do from London to the south coast, and with the sun shining all was good. Then after a 15 minute walk, the Terek Sandpiper was performing really well on the Salt Pool (just north of the Ternery Pool) as it fed along the west end of the lagoon.
Terek Sandpiper Rye Harbour, East Sussex 19th May 2018
Although Terek Sandpipers are a fairly common fixture further east, they're a bit of a unique species that I never tire of seeing. And this was easily the most showy one I'd seen in Britain. The reserve was full of activity too, with the sight and sound of Mediterranean Gulls pretty much constant while Sandwich Terns flew over all the time, and there was even a decent Curlew Sandpiper on the walk to and back from the Terek. And by the time we had finished at Rye, there was one last thing to do... find a nice country pub to punctuate the journey home.
Terek Sandpiper Rye Harbour, East Sussex 19th May 2018

Saturday, 12 May 2018

Caspian Gull at Thamesmead

It has been a couple of weeks since I did a post - last weekend was too hot and sunny for much to be about in all honesty. So I made the most of a very pleasant time with Mum and Dad, seeing some bits like Garden Warbler and Surrey heathland stuff in the process. And then on the Bank Holiday Monday, a trip to Dungeness revealed about four Little Gulls on the RSPB reserve, along with a couple of Great White Egrets on Dengemarsh, and a few Whimbrels and Bar-tailed Godwits moving along the coast. We also managed to get the young lad his first ever Turtle Dove on Romney Marsh, as it purred in the blistering heat.

And so to today, waking up to the promise of grey skies and rain - just what you need for birding in London! And with rain forecast from midday, that when I headed out. First stop, aside from the local Rotherhithe spots, was Thamesmead and the river off Princess Alice Way. Typically on arrival, there were no gulls present and just a load of scrotes playing their drill music. However, things changed within a couple of minutes and half a loaf: -



1st-winter Caspian Gull Thamesmead, London 12th May 2018
This is the first Caspian Gull I've had at Thamesmead for ages, as the winter we have had really hasn't been great for them by recent high standards. It was quite a nice one too, and though probably coming from a western population given its propensity to linger around, I wouldn't be labelling this bird with the increasingly used 'German muck' label.

Crossness in the rain was full of promise, but delivered two Wheatears in the paddocks and four Dunlin at the outfall. Swift numbers were well up though compared to last weekend, presumably due to the inclement weather. Nearby at Crayford, there were loads of gulls but nothing too special with the highlight being a 1st-winter Yellow-legged Gull on the roofs by the recycling centre.

Sunday, 29 April 2018

Arctic springtime in London

I'm writing this having just thawed out from a day out and about in London. The biting wind and overcast conditions were a far cry from last weekend's summer weather. However, London usually has more promise with laden skies and rain with this weekend being a fairly satisfying one locally...

I had a good stroll round Crossness yesterday with John A, where there were some moderate highlights with a male Wheatear, a 1st-summer Yellow-legged Gull, 7 Swifts and 2 Swallows topping the bill. Waders were surprisingly absent, with single Black-tailed Godwit and Common Sandpipers as well as 3 Redshank. A check of Russia Dock Woodland didn't produce the previous day's Spotted Flycatcher that Richard PJ had seen but Blackcaps were belting it out from every patch of cover.
Wheatear Crossness, London 28th April 2018
And then on to today, with a day around London with Dante and Jamie P as it had been a while. The wind was bitter and you could tell the northerly element, which seemed to get worse as the day progressed. Yet starting off at Southmere, Thamesmead early on it was obvious that the hirundines had been having a rough time - about 80 Swallows, 25 House Martins and 5 Sand Martins in all - with many sitting on the railings by the car park (that is now bollarded off to stop pikeys settling again). This was the largest amount of hirundines I'd seen here since May 2014, the day I found a Red-rumped Swallow here but alas it wasn't to be today.
Swallow Southmere, Thamesmead, London 29th April 2018
Nearby at Crossness, it was quiet and dull although a Hobby was a decent enough site as well as having a good opportunity to see what was around wader wise on the paddocks. So with the weather feeling like it was mid-February, it was back to what we know best and a check of Crayford and the area around Viridor and Jolly Farmers.

I'd actually thought that it would be a quick check and move on, as I'd not heard of anything at the site recently. But how wrong could I have been. I could talk you through things as they happened, but I think the totals speak the loudest - this was an excellent gulling session, and I can't remember ever seeing three white-winged gulls together at a London site, let alone in April. A juvenile Glaucous Gull, two Iceland Gulls (a new 2nd-winter (seen at Rainham Marshes previously) and a juvenile that has been around for a while) and at least two 1st-winter Caspian Gulls.
juvenile Glaucous Gull Crayford, London 29th April 2018
The highlight for me, undoubtedly, was the juvenile Glaucous Gull as it was my first here at Crayford. I picked it up initially in flight, but it was a really small bird or at least that's the sense we got when we first saw it in the morning. The 2nd-winter Iceland Gull (seen previously at Rainham by Jonathan W and Shaun H) was a great bird too, with a nice amount of moulted grey on its mantle. While there were at least two 1st-winter Caspian Gulls, with one a bit better than the other piece of presumed German muck.
juvenile Iceland Gull Crayford, London 29th April 2018
2nd-winter Iceland Gull Crayford, London 29th April 2018
We did break our productive gull session up with a couple of hours at Nazeing GP in the Lea Valley. No sign of the Red-rumped Swallow there, but it was fun enough scanning through the large hirundines at least when we were out of the wind. So that was it for another weekend, and onto the working week once again.

Sunday, 22 April 2018

Back birding in springtime Britain

I landed back in London last Sunday, and predictably the last week has been manic. Catching up on the things I should have done over the Easter break, trying to fend off any lingering tiredness while fending off the oppressive London heat in what has been the hottest April temperatures here for over half a century. And add to that, I spent until 3pm yesterday (yes, Saturday) in a work thing too so it was jolly nice to be out and about when it finally happened...

Aside from a couple of hours yesterday evening around Rotherhithe, where Russia Dock Woodland was alive with the sound of Blackcaps but little else, today was my first opportunity to do some springtime birding. It started with an epic fail, because I slept in past the time I could escape my area due to London marathon road closures. So when the roads did finally open mid afternoon, I headed off to Crossness to see what I could see.

It was a pleasure to be out and about in the sunshine, and it was the first time I'd birded Britain under blue skies for what has felt like an eternity. Admittedly, things started off quiet with little in Barking Bay or on the Thames foreshore by the golf centre. However, a roosting godwit near the outfall looked very bright and small, so persevering with it when it finally put its head up was worth it - as it was a lovely summer Bar-tailed Godwit. There were also a dozen lingering Black-tailed Godwits the other side of the outfall, plus a decent number of Common Terns.
Black-tailed Godwit at Crossness, London 22nd April 2018
The paddocks, though, provided the undoubted highlight of the visit - a stunning male Whinchat, that showed well but briefly in the first paddock down from the Thames path: -
male Whinchat at Crossness, London 22nd April 2018
There was also a female Wheatear in the main paddock area, which showed nicely for me and Mick S (who'd seen three in this area the day before): -
Wheatear at Crossness, London 22nd April 2018
And with Whitethroats, Reed Warblers, Sedge Warblers and a single Lesser Whitethroat singing all in all a very rewarding visit. Cue the deterioration in weather for next week...

Saturday, 21 April 2018

NZ day 1 - Tawharanui and Muriwai

Three weeks ago now, we stepped foot on New Zealand soil for the first time. After arriving early on in the morning, we had a bit of a tortuous time getting our car from Hertz due to understaffing on Easter Sunday, but thereafter it was plain sailing. Target for the day was to stay awake til the evening, so with this in mind what could be better than some fresh air and (reported to Karen as a little) birding. Tawharanui and Muriwai, both north of Auckland, were the places we would visit. First stop though was Warkworth, where we had breakfast in the autumn sunshine and where I saw my first Red-billed Gulls by the river there: -
adult Red-billed Gull Warkworth, North Island 1st April 2018
After this pit stop, it was on to the beautiful Tawharanui Regional Park: -
Tawharanui, North Island 1st April 2018
One of the things you have to quickly get used to in New Zealand is the situation with their endemic birdlife - it is grave, and was graver. Therefore they closely monitor a lot of species, and hence they have an elaborate amount of rings on them. Additionally, and more disconcerting from a moral listing perspective, their most rare birds have been 'translocated' to safe areas i.e. predator free zones. And to be predator free, it often means a fence somewhere... almost Jurassic Park style! But once you get this, you're good to go and enjoy New Zealand's birds which is exactly what I did.
Variable Oystercatcher Tawharanui, North Island 1st April 2018
Entering Tawharanui, there was lots of obvious birdlife with Pukekos (Australasian Swamphens) the most prevalent, while Swamp Harriers patrolled the skies. On the lagoon, I saw my first of many New Zealand Paradise Shelducks as well as a handful of Brown Teals, which were the only ones I saw all trip. Add to that a nice showy Variable Oystercatcher and a couple of Caspian Terns, and with the sun beaming down, life was half decent.
drake Brown Teal Tawharanui, North Island 1st April 2018

New Zealand Paradise Shelduck Tawharanui, North Island 1st April 2018
Pukeko (Australasian Swamphen) Tawharanui, North Island 1st April 2018
We then parked up by the beach, and thanks to John B, I walked a short way up the Ecology Trail to be confronted with three absolute beasts from a time gone by - Takahes! Following their rediscovery in the Fiordlands of South Island in 1948, and massive issues with predation, the population has been translocated all over New Zealand to areas that are either islands or are predator free. Even in the original rediscovery area of the Murchison Mountains, the population is supplemented by released birds. They're fascinating to watch as they chew the grass: -
Takahe Tawharanui, North Island 1st April 2018
Also in this area, I saw what were to be my only North Island Robin and North Island Saddlebacks of the trip while good numbers of Tui and New Zealand Bellbirds were great to see for the first time.
Tui Tawharanui, North Island 1st April 2018

North Island Robin Tawharanui, North Island 1st April 2018
Karen was relaxing on the beach, and when joining her I was able to locate three or four New Zealand Dotterels which evidently seem to breed in the area, as well as a group of White-fronted Terns and good views of both Red-billed and Kelp Gulls.
White-fronted Tern Tawharanui, North Island 1st April 2018
New Zealand Dotterel Tawharanui, North Island 1st April 2018
Reluctantly having to leave this wonderfully scenic spot, we drove from the Pacific coast to the Tasman Sea where there is a well known colony of Australasian Gannets at Muriwai. And so, after the hour's drive, I spent a pleasant hour with these birds. Though it was on the late side for breeding, there were still some stragglers left with their young: -



Australasian Gannets Muriwai, North Island 1st April 2018
And that was that, with the sun starting to dip a little and fatigue rapidly setting in, we were Auckland bound for a spot of dinner and then a long, much appreciated sleep.

Tuesday, 10 April 2018

A long way just for gulls - NZ

I'm currently enjoying a break from Britain, and decided on New Zealand. Yes, it's a fair way away from Britain so you may be wondering why I'm here. Of course there are all the albatrosses, the lovely native Takahes, Keas, kiwis and the like plus mega waders such as Black Stilts and Wrybills. Predictably though, I'm here on a mission for two gulls that you get nowhere else in the world - now that's the reason I've come to New Zealand!

Anyway, there is a lot to be said about this place and with its dramatic and ever changing landscapes, it is hard pushed not to be impressed round most corners. I'd day the North Island is a bit like a sunny, trendy Wales with its rolling hills while the South Island is a mix of Wales, Scotland and then Iceland... so pretty spectacular. Karen and I have come on a fairly whistle stop tour (not unusual!) which has taken in a drive from Auckland right down to Dunedin, with a ferry crossing in between. Seas with albatrosses, vineyards with fine wine, rivers with white water rafting, beaches with penguins, forests with kiwis and mountains with parrots. All done. But for now, I'll leave you with the two reasons for pushing me to come to this wonderful place - Black-billed Gull, the world's most threatened species of gull, and then Red-billed Gull.
adult Black-billed Gull Queenstown, South Island, New Zealand April 2018
adult Red-billed Gull Rotorua, North Island, New Zealand April 2018
Plenty more photos of critters and landscapes to come...