Friday, 31 May 2013

Nutcracker showing well

Heading south from Krakow on Monday, the plan was simple - drive into the Carpathians, staying in the lovely town of Zakopane. A nice ski resort turned hiking centre during the spring/summer months. After dumping our stuff at the hotel and despite the relatively inclement weather, we were set for Morskie Oko.

This 'top choice' in the Lonely Planet for the Zakopane area was an easy sell to Karen - a 9km descent up and down a pine clad mountain, with a mountain lake view at the top. Thing is, it's also the best spot in Poland to watch Nutcrackers at close range: -

Nutcrackers at Morskie Oko, Poland 27th May 2013
There were up to four of these inquisitive beasts on show at a time, literally coming to within a few centimetres and feasting on the leftovers of tourists' food. I'd only ever seen the species on one occasion previously - in the Italian Alps a few years ago - so seeing them at such close range was a new, quality experience. These birds are of the relatively sedentary thick-billed race caryocatactes - would be nice if another one of the slender-billed irruptive race macrorhynchos made it to Britain sooner rather than later. Nutcracker is the most regular species I've not seen in Britain and Ireland... managed to miss the Kent bird in 1998 by a rather fine margin after pegging it down from Spurn with Tom Lowe.
Morskie Oko and its Nutcrackers

Thursday, 30 May 2013

Birding in Krakow

This is the first of a few short write ups from a short and very enjoyable, relaxing trip to Poland. Unlike most birders, I didn't venture to the northeast, and stayed distinctly in the south-central area in the region of Małopolskie. First up was the picturesque city of Krakow, the number one destination for tourists in Poland. It didn't disappoint (and wasn't that packed either), but with just one full day, it was a little hectic and only a bit of leisurely birding done between the tourist attractions.

The first thing that strikes you compared to London is the different composition of species - first and foremost, Fieldfares. Displaying, whirring their wings as well as feeding young, this species was present on pretty much every area of parkland. Cracking birds, severely underrated: -
Surrounding the old city is an area of parkland called 'Planty', and though busy during the day it's still possible to see Icterine Warblers and Serins here, as well as the more numerous Blackcaps.
Black Redstarts were also around central Krakow too, even in the Wawel Castle grounds and feeding young in a small church just off the main square.
While I tried my best to endure one of Krakow's museums, after an hour the tedium got too much, and so leaving Karen to it I walked to some nearby riverside bushes where I was happy to find both Marsh and Great Reed Warblers singing. This area was on the south side of the River Wisla; head south on Starowislna and over the bridge and then immediately left (east) and along the river path a couple of hundred metres to an area of bushes and reeds near a turning circle where the asphalt road stops. Nothing ground breaking, but a real bonus within this urban environment.
Meanwhile, Jackdaws are a common sight in the city, and seem to be rather mixed in their appearance - too dull for 'eastern race' soemerringii and lacking the obvious neck collar (though remarkable how this varies in changeable light), but still more contrasting that British birds with a greyish hue to the mantle in many birds - presumably these birds are of the race turrium according to this and this.

Monday, 20 May 2013

Another YLG in Rotherhithe this evening

Every morning and evening, before and after school, I check Greenland Dock. There seems to be a pair of Sand Martins nesting here this year, which is a new breeding pair, while there are always a few cormorants and gulls loafing around. Tonight, there was quite a nice looking 2nd-summer Yellow-legged Gull that allowed quite close approach: -
2nd-summer Yellow-legged Gull - red orbital ring, yellowish legs and dark grey upperparts. In flight this bird had retained a lot of black in the tail, still forming a neat band. Note the predominantly adult-type grey scapulars, with a couple of retained old feathers in the rear scapulars, as well as the abraded (presumably 2nd generation) greater coverts.
Numbers of Yellow-legged Gulls on the Thames usually reach an annual low about this time (or slightly earlier), so numbers should start to increase again hitting a peak late summer.

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Dusky Thrush in Kent

Fraught is the word that comes to mind. Somehow, I'd managed to get myself involved in having to supervise a load of 16 year olds on a revision/activities weekend in landlocked Wiltshire in mid-May. I generally chance these kind of situations, safe in the knowledge that previous efforts mean. I rarely have to make a move for rares nowadays. However, getting a call from Josh late Friday night about photos of a Dusky Thrush in Kent had me sweating somewhat. And then, with a text from Lopez the next morning letting me know it was still about just before 6am, I was well and truly caught with my pants down... totally unprofessional.

Being the first twitchable Dusky Thrush since 1959, desperate times call for desperate measures and so, with balls of steel, I was watching the first-winter female Dusky Thrush in Margate cemetery by mid afternoon: -

first-winter female Dusky Thrush Margate, Kent 18th May 2013
Remarkably, this was my second new British and Irish lifer of 2013 (after the Pine Grosbeak) - equal to my year end total for 2012 (Western Orphean Warbler and Belted Kingfisher). Don't really like talking about lists, but two new birds by mid-May is exceptional these days. Obviously this Dusky Thrush was a top bird as all thrushes generally are, but nothing looks wise on the first-winter male I saw in the sparkling Belgian snow in January 2009. Allow me to reminisce: -

first-winter male Dusky Thrush Erezee, Belgium January 2009
I was back in Wiltshire by early evening, while back in London this evening a trip to Crossness revealed absolutely nothing. It was a year today that the first of two Bonaparte's Gulls turned up down there so, with that in mind, I at least wanted to have a look through the Black-headed Gulls but predictably to no avail. Reason for no posts for a while? Stale local birding with no birds. Highlight last weekend were a couple of Wheatears.

Monday, 6 May 2013

Gulling in May? It must be quiet

Well, that was a non-event. Back in the day when I was a pager-toting teen, I was positively salivating at the prospect of a bank holiday weekend in May - heading south from my home in Cheshire to feast my eyes on a load of European scarce in the southern half of England. Now I live down here, the birds are gone. Bank holiday birding excitement is no more. At least this weekend didn't do it. It felt more like early June locally than it did early May. Spring really had died on its arse, though hopefully just momentarily, as the quality from the northern isles still awaits us cheque book birders.

Crossness highlights first thing were a paultry Dunlin and 2 Curlew. A bit of sunburn, a Red Kite and nine Crossbills were all rural Essex had to offfer. It's not a good sign that when you live in Central London, bird of the day is actually within a couple of hundred metres of my flat in Rotherhithe. A showy 1st-summer Yellow-legged Gull - not a good month for the species even in London, so here are a few photos. Thought it might be a lusitanicus-type, but they're not meant to be as leggy as this bird: -

Anyway, while chilling out trying to pap the mich, Greenland Dock was a (comparative) hub of bird activity - 2 Common Buzzards over, a couple of Sand Martins, a pair of Egyptian Geese and two Common Terns. Just hope that next weekend is better.

Saturday, 4 May 2013

Stalking seagulls

I've got a big gathering of large gulls on Greenland Dock, next to my flat in Rotherhithe, at the moment. They may look a little worse for wear at this time of year, and they're all non-breeding youths cackling away. Early this morning as I was heading out to Crossness, I found this 1st-summer Herring Gull and bizarrely the ring combination rang a bell for some reason: -
Herring Gull VY8T Rotherhithe, London 4th May 2013
When I got home, I checked my geeky 'gull rings 2013' spreadsheet and hey presto, I'd seen this bird on the tip in Essex on 16th March 2013 (and it had been ringed at Rainham, London, on 15th December 2013). Here's a shot of it from March: -
Herring Gull VY8T Essex 16th March 2013
Otherwise, today at Crossness was quiet except for an unobliging male Whinchat in the paddocks and a couple of Arctic Terns bombing west past the outfall mid morning. I went there on Thursday too, where there was a Turtle Dove (a rare sight these days) and a Green Sandpiper amongst the usuals, while a couple of Common Terns seem to be back in Rotherhithe today. Hope there is some action this Bank Holiday...