Sunday, 27 January 2013

Bird-filled London town

London isn't that bad for birding, really. I know that I waffle on about it being the birding abyss, having grown up in rural Cheshire, but today was time to disprove that statement. And in the sunshine too as it turned out.
1st-winter Kittiwake, Crossness 27 Jan 2013
Crossness has been severely underwatched in the last couple of weeks, what with John A in India and Kev J back at Crayford despite the Aleppo-style gun battles. So I decided to get back on it, and it wasn't long before I was in on the action with a nice, though rather lethargic 1st-winter Kittiwake off the golf centre. Normally Kittiwakes on the Thames move straight through, but this youth decided to stay put for all my visit. Loads of other birds in the blustery conditions including a Grey Plover, 3 Yellow-legged Gulls and a couple of hundred Dunlin.
Slavonian Grebe, Littlebrook 27 Jan 2013
Nearby, I had another look at the confiding Slavonian Grebe at Littlebrook in much better light conditions and minus the snow. Good to bump into Kit D, Mick S, James L and Jonathan L amongst others, who were all snapping away with their long lenses. So knowing that my shots would be rather meagre in comparison, I headed back into Central London and to Hyde Park with the warning from Jonathan L that 'you're going to kill somebody this afternoon Rich'.

Bearded Tits, Hyde Park 27 Jan 2013
I didn't by the way. Despite my admittedly short fuse when it comes to the general public, for some reason I didn't get too many questions while I was watching the celebrity Bearded Tits and it was a relatively pleasurable experience in nice, bright sunlight - though those darn reeds were blowing about a bit too much for my liking. 48 Egyptian Geese chilling out by The Lido were good value too.
And to yesterday, with just a couple of spare hours before I had to venture indoors for the remainder of the day - a 2nd-winter Yellow-legged Gull on the beach at Rotherhithe and a couple of friendly Egyptian Geese greeted me as I walked out of my flat.
Messy eater in Rotherhithe 26 Jan 2013

Sunday, 20 January 2013


I awoke, and it was already snowing. Even so I decided to venture out to Dartford as a really showy Slavonian Grebe had been found at Littlebrook. Well, all I can say is that it was the most obliging Slav I've ever seen and despite the snow, I managed some reasonable images.
With the snow getting heavier and Karen wanting to be picked up, Rotherhithe was calling. And so I hit the beach, where there were a load of larids loafing. And amongst them was my first Yellow-legged Gull in Rotherhithe for 2013, a nice enough, fairly advanced 3rd-winter bird looking pretty p*ssed off with life in the snow.

Otherwise, I just chilled out and had a nice walk through all my regular haunts listening and looking out for stuff, but quite a bit of the passerines seemed to have vacated the area bar a handful of Redwings, while parakeets were squawking about a bit more than usual. Here are a few Rotherhithe snow scenes: - 

Saturday, 19 January 2013

Cold weather produces two Ruff

I had one of those bizarrely intellectual moments as I typed the title of this post. What is the plural of Ruff - Ruff or Ruffs? I've always dropped the 's' and haven't managed to find any definitive contradiction, so I'll stay with what I know.
Two Ruff and one Lapwing, Deptford Creek 19th Jan 2013
So here goes it. Early afternoon and I check one of my regular, usually birdless, spots at Glaisher Street, that overlooks a small channel 'Deptford Creek' that flows into the Thames a few hundred metres upriver of The Cutty Sark, Greenwich. Chuck some bread out and while the larids swarm me, four waders fly to the foreshore out of nowhere. Two Ruff and two Lapwing - the latter decent anywhere in Central London whereas the two Ruff are mega, my first ever here. The tide quickly pushed all the birds off the area with the Ruff heading north over the Isle of Dogs and the Lapwings heading west along the river over Rotherhithe.
Odd wader habitat but I guess that's what cold weather does to birds...
Prior to that I'd checked all the water bodies in Rotherhithe/Burgess Park from early on, with little success bar an increase in Tufted Ducks. The cheap bread I always have in my car didn't attract any interesting larids, and the 39 Waxwings trilling right over me by the Holiday Inn, Dartford would have made lovely shots if it wasn't the worst day for light you could imagine. An adult Yellow-legged Gull and a couple of ringed gulls nearby, and that was the score for today. Not bad as this was a bonus birding day, as my Saturday intervention class for my kids was cancelled due to the poor weather. More snow tomorrow apparently.

Friday, 18 January 2013

Brown-headed Gulls age by age

While in Thailand a couple of weeks ago, I managed a couple of hours at Bang Poo where there were excellent photographic opportunities to get amongst large numbers of Brown-headed Gulls. It's just shy of an hour from Bangkok in decent traffic, and the Thais have turned feeding gulls into a much loved past time - so much so, there are stalls that line the pier that offer gull food that the locals then purchase and lob out for all the brunnicephalus.
larid loving Thais at Bang Poo
So, what do Brown-headed Gulls look like overall? Marginally larger and sturdier, longer-legged and slightly heavier billed than Black-headed Gulls. Adults are obvious, first-winters not so much and also interesting to see some evidence of presumed second-winter birds. Loads of individual structural differences too. I managed to pick out a couple of first-winter Black-headed Gulls in amongst them, which were decent enough in flight but then blended in much more when on the deck. So here goes with the details - all photos taken on 23rd December 2012 at Bang Poo.

Piercing, pale irises and large white round mirrors to the two outer primaries - primary coverts and bases to the primaries crisp white, contrasting nicely with mid grey on the rest of the upperwing. Quite handsome really, at least when they're not something you see everyday.

This bird shows a small mirror to P8, apparently present in 10% of adults (black otherwise)
These birds are presumably second-winter birds, and from the knowledge I've gained ringing Black-headed Gulls, usual sub-adult plumage traits such as dark-centred primary coverts also apply to Brown-headed Gull. Here are a some examples.
Obvious dark smudge on primary coverts suggestive of a sub-adult bird
Retained dark secondaries and restricted mirrors in P9 and P10 (with the latter growing) - bird showing atypically late moult
If you had a lone small (presumably female) bird that just wouldn't flap its wings, then you'd want to see more. You'll see that there is proper structural difference between individuals - some almost Med Gull bill girth, with others much more slight like Black-headed Gull. In fact the smallest Brown-headed Gull is just a couple of cm larger than the largest Black-headed Gull, so although some heavy-billed large Brown-headed Gulls are so different, if you're unlucky then you could have slight issues - though not too sure whether the WP record really stands up to modern day larid scrutiny. In flight, however, they're quite obvious with solid dark inner as well as outer webs to the outer primaries and the white primary bases creating that wing flash seen in adults.
A large, advanced 1st-winter
A more meak looking individual
Quite a sturdy-looking, thick-billed bird
Note the contrasting white upperwing coverts with solid black on both webs of the outer primaries
And just for good measure, here is a first-winter Black-headed Gull that was in amongst the Brown-headed Gulls - its small size was evident (to an extent it was like picking out a Bonaparte's Gull from Black-headed Gulls here in the UK - more buoyant flight) as well as the obvious pale centres to the outer primaries.

1st-winter Black-headed Gull, Bang Poo 23rd Dec 2012

Sunday, 13 January 2013

International bling

Today I took Peter A around locally, as for some reason he was wanting to see a patch that was worse than his. And on this line, we succeeded royally by failing to see much. 11 Yellow-legged Gulls on the River Thames and nearby flooded fields and the most confiding Shoveler Peter had ever seen - on the lake at Southwark Park - were the highlights. However, the company brightened up the day and it was good to show someone around while talking about way out west.

So back to yesterday, where I've just managed to send all my rings to the relevant ringing scheme coordinators. Loads of bling, mainly red (NTGG birds), but there was also an international contingent including a brute from Norway, a newbie from Belgium and a familiar Dutch guy.
Great Black-backed Gull - ringed as a chick at Ryvingen, Karmøy, Rogaland, Norway on 25th June 2009 then seen at Oostende, Belgium on 9th ovember 2009 and then Koksijde Strand, Belgium two days later. Since then though, this is the first report. Note that as a 5th calendar year bird, it's not quite in adult plumage by way of a dark gonys
Belgian ringed Herring Gull - birds of this ringing scheme are relatively regular in southeast England
Herring Gull '1A' was born in Zeeland, The Netherlands back in July 2007 - and nice to bump into it again. Same time, same place! Full history details on this previous post 
So with yesterday and today's ring reading, the 2013 score of rings I've read goes from 0 to 12. There'll be plenty more for sure.

Saturday, 12 January 2013

On the tip with casps and company

It was good to be back in the gull action, as a couple of weeks in Thailand really leaves you large larid dry. So with a cold snap predicted, today was perfect timing to get back amongst it and try and see some interesting stuff on the tip. It wasn't quite as roar as I'd envisaged, but there were certainly some interesting birds present amongst the 20,000 or so gulls highlighting with a couple of nice 1st-winter Caspian Gulls: -

Bird 1 - a pretty classic bird, with perhaps more covert wear than usual and a couple of tertials dropped too. A new bird on the tip today.
Bird 2 - a worn, abraded bird where you can visibly see the primary wear in the middle photo, as well as the heavily worn tail and the chewed tips to the greater coverts. This bird was around last weekend too.
There was also an interesting looking adult Herring Gull, that can only really be described as an omissus-type based on a combination of argentatus style primaries (this bird having an extensive white tip to P10 as well as a large white tip to P9 with a back subterminal band), yellow legs and an attenuated profile.
Med Gulls were ever present in amongst the Black-headed Gulls - half a dozen or so seen, all adults including a green-ringed Belgian bird, and already some birds moulting head feathers through.
Plenty of bling elsewhere - Norwegian Great Black-backed Gulls, Dutch and Belgian Herring Gulls as well as the usual haul of locally ringed birds. And an enjoyable day topped off by a lovely meal this evening with my parents and Karen. Thanks to everyone involved today.

Thursday, 10 January 2013

Great Knots colour-ringed and en masse

Still going through the left over things from Thailand. On Christmas Eve, in the Laem Pak Bia/Pak Thale area, Great Knots were a common sight which was great. Across the saltpans, probably thousands present although quite skittish and always alert. Really distinctive jizz, despite their comparatively none descript winter plumage.
In amongst the masses of this species, was a colour-flagged bird green over orange 'EP'.
colour-flagged Great Knot, Pak Thale, Thailand 24th Dec 2012
Simon Buckell kindly sorted me out with a list of possible flagging schemes on the Asian flyway -  where it was quickly apparent it was a Chinese flagged bird - and then duly sent the details away. And a quick reply revealed: -
'this GK was banded at Yalujiang, China on 15 April 2012, with a capture body mass of 212g. The bird was also attached with a radio tag in spring 2012. The radio tag on the bird should have been lost during moult... and the bird was last seen at the ringing site on 19 May 2012.' Thanks to Simon and Clare Morton for promptly getting all this info together.