Thursday, 30 August 2012

Azorean Gulls

Pretty topical post as, while here on the Azores, there has been a couple of reports of Azorean Yellow-legged Gulls from Ireland. And to me these two birds - a near-adult and especially a 2nd-summer/3rd-winter - look like as good as you're going to get.

Here's a photo of a similar looking 3cy bird taken today at Praia da Vitoria, Terceira - note the similarity in primary moult, solid brown greater-coverts and secondaries and all black tail. This bird, and the Irish bird, are both swarthy looking beasts with this image created by the paling iris set against dense head streaking. This bird has slightly more advanced bare part (bill) colouration, but that's about it.

Near adult/adult Azorean Gulls are all hooded by now, just like the Irish bird. The head streaking is always fine and densely packed and is rarely blotchy like you get in LBBGs. It seems that near-adult Azorean Gulls (so 4cy+) retain darker markings in their greater-coverts to later ages compared to other YLG taxa. Here are a few shots from today, of various individuals - compare with the Irish near-adult: -


Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Little change at the quarry

It's been a pretty unpleasant day weather wise here, though surprisingly for the Azores little in the way of wind. Three well spaced trips to Cabo da Praia today revealed no fresh in waders, but a good opportunity to soak up what is already there with today's haul including the Terek Sand still, adult White-rumped Sand, 3 (adult and 2 juv) Pecs, adult Semipalmated Plover, 2 Hudsonian Whimbrels, 2 Curlew Sands, 2 Ruff, 2 Knot, 4 juvenile Black-tailed Godwits amongst the KPs, Turnstone and Sanderling.
Terek Sandpiper Cabo da Praia, 29th August 2012

Hudsonian Whimbrel Cabo da Praia, 29th August 2012

like chalk and cheese - Hudsonian Whimbrel (right)

adult Pectoral Sandpiper Cabo da Praia, 29th August 2012
Also had a look around the island - plenty of gulls in the middle area around Ginjal/Junco and Cabrito but weather pretty poor. Lots of Roseate and Common Terns lingering about, and a seawatch off Lajes produced 20+ Great Shears - which were a nice touch as they headed purposefully east - and a single Manx Shearwater. Best find of the day? Os Moinhos, potentially the best restaurant on Terceira according to research and it lived up to its billing. Sorry to say it, but it was better than O Pescador...

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Cabo da Praia strikes again

I've been on the Azores since Saturday, but there's one place like no other that just has you coming back for more at this time of the year. And so it was, after my flight from Flores this morning, as soon as I landed on Terceira I wanted to get to 'the quarry' at Cabo da Praia.There's always a sense of anticipation as you just know there's rare to score in there. One of the most exciting places in the WP. And today was no exception, with the first Terek Sandpiper for the Azores completely shocking me, as I located it roosting in with the Sanderling flock! A vagrant in the true sense of the word, lost in the Atlantic.
adult Terek Sandpiper Cabo da Praia, Terceira 28 August 2012

east meets west...
What with a Lesser and Greater Yellowlegs on Sao Miguel today, it was inevitable there'd be the odd yank and indeed there was - 4 Pec Sands were fresh in, with three of them coming in, circling and feeding up. An adult White-rumped Sandpiper too, joining the regular Hudsonian Whimbrel and Semipalmated Plover.
Bonaparte's Sanpiper - the one from the west with the white rump

Hudsonian Whimbrel
So that was today. Apart from swimming under waterfalls and enjoying the piscinas naturales at Faja Grande in the (too) nice weather, and wishing it was a month or so on, I did squeeze in some birding on Flores. Covered all the sites, did a bit of scouting for sites later on in the autumn. Also came up with a Pied-billed Grebe at Lagoa Branca, a Spotted Sandpiper at Lagoa Lomba and at least one decent Black Duck, a drake, at Lagoa Branca so all was not lost. No Eastern Kingbird, Louisiana Waterthrush or Swallow-tailed Kite this time though...

And of course, a post wouldn't be complete without the mention of gulls. Rest assured plenty of shots of Azorean Yellow-legged Gulls taken. Also the Azores is one of the best places to look at Roseate Terns so good to see (and photograph) a lot of juveniles on this trip.

Friday, 24 August 2012

Houbaras and more on Lanzarote

Flying out on a Friday and coming back on a Monday, Lee G and I had a couple of lazy days birding in the sun on Lanzarote. Birding is pretty straightforward, when you find the birds... as usual for the Canaries, it's about the quality and specialities.

We'd been tipped off about a site near Guatiza where Houbaras had become habituated to man, coming to goat pens, feeding on trackside vegetation and showing down to yards. We made a couple of visits to this site where, along with 4 Houbaras, that were so easy to see it was unbelievable, species such as Trumpeter Finch, Berthelot's Pipit, Lesser Short-toed Lark and Hoopoe were also seen, making the most of the free food and drink.

We were also keen to see some Yellow-legged Gulls (yawn I hear you say - you thought this was going to be about Houbaras didn't you?) but amongst the flock at Playa de los Pocillos, Puerto del Carmen, one of the first birds we found was this 1st-summer (moulting to 2nd-winter) Ring-billed Gull: -
Ring-billed Gull Playa de los Pocillos, Puerto del Carmen 17th August 2012
I don't see too many Ring-billed Gulls in August so you can see it's in active wing moult with much of the inner primaries new, P9 regrowing and note old P10 which will be replaced to complete the set. Its secondaries are in a bad way, and you can just note on the inner secondaries the old dark bases that are pretty much worn down. The bill was an odd colour, going from pink to yellow which equated to orange, with slight paling at the tip to create the first signs of a 'ring' coming through. This bird was present on both Friday 17th and Monday 20th, while on this last date it was joined by an altogether fresher vagrant - a beautiful juvenile Audouin's Gull, bearing a Spanish ring: -
juvenile Audouin's Gull white ringed 'BPUY'

Audouin's Gull Playa de los Pocillos, Puerto del Carmen 20th August 2012
Other birds noted during our stay included Eleonora's Falcon (hunting over cliffs north of Orzola), African Blue Tit (in the valley at Tabayesco), a few Cattle Egrets and the odd Stone Curlew here and there.
It was also a pleasure to have some decent food and company on our last night, courtesy of the Spanish birders. They really chose a good spread of tapas for us in a traditional restaurant in Orzola - squid, octobus, limpets all done brilliantly and finished off with a massive tuna steak for 6 euros. And as an added bonus, not a single 'Brit abroad' in site which seems to be the case if you head inland or away from the resorts.
Everyone loves a Hoopoe!

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Black-bellied Storm-petrel at the Banco de la Concepcion!

Well, late last night I got back from Lanzarote. Two days at sea, which was enjoyable in decent seas, went bang just before 1.40pm on Saturday 18th August when Oscar - one of the Madrid birders - picked up this little (well actually pretty large) beauty 60 or so miles northeast of Lanzarote at the Banco de la Concepcion: -

As you'd imagine, the relaxed and pretty chilled out boat atmosphere changed straight away and I for one was shouting out the usual offensive expletives as I straight away locked onto it. It surfed the slick for a good few minutes, probably 10 or so in total on and off, and the 1st-summer Long-tailed Skua that was present had to step over to the sideshow of course.

The last shot shows the upperparts warm brown, despite the harsh light. This individual hasn't got the most complete breast band for a BBSP, but from the extensive area of dark on the lower belly it obviously extends up towards the dark chest demarcation, culminating before it with perhaps a hint of dark feathers extending towards the breast. Interestingly Flood and Fisher state that populations on some New Zealand sub-Antarctic islands show broken/incomplete belly lines and some birds show an absence of the mid belly line too. Some nice reading here and some pics on variation here. Also, foot projection in the first link states that White-bellieds show no or little foot projection while Black-bellieds show an obvious foot projection beyond the tail. However, this seems to be conflicting with what Steve Howell notes in Dutch Birding, and says essentially there is a lot of overlap in tail projection so this isn't necessarily a useful feature.

This is the fourth fregatta in the WP, and the third Black-bellied SP following previous records from Madeira in August 2011 and Lanzarote in September 2011 (as well as the Severn Beach fregatta in November 2009). So I imagine this won't be the last given the recent upsurge.

You also get nice views of other petrels too: -
White-faced Storm-petrel - pretty much guaranteed at the Banco de la Concepcion

Wilson's Storm-petrel - nice fresh birds seen with newly moulted primaries

Madeiran Storm-petrel - the commonest storm-petrel of the trip. This is an adult warm season breeder due to the worn primaries that will be replaced shortly. Many birds were in active primary moult as you'd expect.

Bulwer's Petrel - common, though not too bothered about coming into chum slicks and generally seen just cruising about the boat
In the words of an eminent French ornithologist 'next time you have something to say about the number of times lightning strikes... please just shut the f*ck up'. So perhaps this September or next year, the BBSP lightning will strike for a third time?

Thursday, 16 August 2012

juvenile Med Gull still showing well at Rotherhithe

I'll make no apologies for this post, firstly as Med Gulls are probably my favourite species of gull - so that means my favourite species of bird. Secondly, in bird starved Central London, you rarely get highlights and if you do you've worked hard for them. And thirdly when a bird is showing as well as this juvenile Med Gull was this morning, again coming to crackers at Greenland Pier, then it deserves a bit of attention and a few photos. An absolutely lovely bird just a few steps from my flat.

Unfortunately for Mr Lethbridge and Dave DL, who both searched mid morning, I think I fed it too well and there was no sign. There were also 3 Common Sandpipers doing their thing off Greenland Pier this morning. Remarkably my record count for the site (and perhaps Inner London?).

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Sandwich Tern and Med Gull at Rotherhithe today

I'd been out early on and Crossness revealed nothing. Just sat down to start doing some of my dissertation when John A called saying there'd been some good tern passage past Gallions Reach. So I walked the 100 yards or so to the river from my flat, and in the rain there was immediately a smart adult Sandwich Tern that had just flown by Greenland Pier, heading downriver towards Greenwich at 11.49am. Only my 2nd ever at Rotherhithe. If this wasn't enough, my first juvenile Med Gull of the year for Rotherhithe was also off Greenland Pier - using some leftover crackers I managed to entice it in.

A Common Sandpiper downriver (scarce here) and 2 Common Terns ended a nice distraction from writing.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Long-billed Dowitcher photo shoot

I've never yet been fortunate to come across a lone dowitcher in the Britain or Ireland. Admittedly I've seen a lot of them (over 15 in fact), occasionally in braces, since the first stonking adult that I was lucky to see on the Weaver Bend, Frodsham back when I was just a young lad in 1990. Add to this three on the Azores and throw in a couple of Short-billed Dowitchers at Rosehearty and Lady's Island Lake for good measure, and hell yeah, you'd think I was some sort of expert on them. Well no, nobody is to be honest and the more you look at adults (juveniles are slightly easier) the more you realise that things are not always that straightforward. And these guys have fried with my brains to be honest. Unless you get them to call of course. Which these birds did thankfully, or at least the birds that called were Long-billeds! All photographs taken at Shollenberger, Petaluma, California in some nice crisp evening light on 6th August 2012.
Long-billed Dowitcher possy Shollenberger, Petaluma, California 6th August 2012
In the US, habitat preference is a fair indicator according to the correspondence I had with Californian legend Rich Stallcup. Short-billed with a major preference for tidal, saltwater situations while the Long-billed are much more inclined towards freshwater, where these shots were taken. Obviously any vagrants in the UK won't be as habitat faithful... and you'll also see that bill length and moult timing are both variable to say the least.

Tail pattern isn't that much of a decent feature, which isn't how I envisaged it or what I wanted to hear. Nor really is wing projection beyond the tail. Basically Long-billed are pretty variable with either even bars or broader dark bars. But, then again, have a look at these images to see the variability in just this one flock. Have a read of this to get you thinking even more, and this one too that contradicts a lot from the previous link! It'll totally screw your head up, just like it has mine.

Also, primary and secondary feather moult takes place in Long-billeds at migration stop off sites while in all subspecies of Short-billed Dowitchers they moult their primaries predominantly on/near their wintering grounds (per O'Brien, Crossley and Karlson).

Any comments appreciated, as adult dowitchers are more baffling than I thought a few weeks ago.