Monday, 27 January 2014

More January tip action

Another weekend's over, and it followed on in a similar vein to last weekend - trip to the tip followed by social engagements on Saturday, Sunday spent seeing little locally while completing all the shenanigans involved in re-doing our bathrooms. With the weather once again mild, it was relatively hard work on the tip with birds pretty flighty as they didn't need to feed.

1st-winter Caspian Gull 25th January 2014
Highlights overall included a couple of Caspian and Yellow-legged Gulls (an adult and 1st-winter of both species), an adult Mediterranean Gull and a few ringed gulls - mainly local birds as usual, but with a Norwegian GBB Gull thrown in and Herring Gulls from Norfolk and Suffolk thrown in.

1st-winter Yellow-legged Gull 25th January 2014
So, with perhaps a bit of colder weather forecast from an easterly direction during the next week, it'd be nice if next weekend was a bit more fruitful. Five days of work between now and then to deal with though.

Sunday, 19 January 2014

First dump visit of 2014

After a few weeks of absence, it was back to the tip action and yesterday's haul as usual didn't disappoint. It's not everyone's ideal way to spend a Saturday, but the five or so hours I spend up there is usually the highlight of my week. And to kick 2014 off, a northern beast made a visit: -

2cy presumed Viking Gull (Glauc x Herring) 18 Jan 2014; complete with eyelids, hoary tertials and coverts.
As did an old friend - this leucistic, almost albinistic, 1st-winter Great Black-backed Gull from Norway. I also saw this bird a few days before Christmas, and part of a brood of three with another sibling getting the runt genes, while the third escaping with normal genes. 
1st-winter Great Black-backed Gull 18 Jan 2014
It wouldn't be a tip session without a Caspian Gull, and today three birds were noted - a pale-eyed adult (seen previously), a second-winter and a first-winter. The adult was possibly the closest bird of the whole day, just chilling out on a mound right beside me, while the other two were a bit more distant (and the second-winter exhibiting very restricted P10 mirrors so possibly a bird seen previously too). 
1st-winter Caspian Gull 18 Jan 2014

adult Caspian Gull 18 Jan 2014. A pale-eyed individual, which isn't actually a problem as up to 10% of adults are truly clean-eyed (and up to 62% of adults in Ukrainian colonies are apparently 'pale-eyed'. Otherwise, it exhibits a classic wing pattern with a large white tip to P10 and a pale tongue to the underside, black subterminal band to P9 and a complete black band to P5.
Added to this were two Yellow-legged Gulls (an adult and 3rd-winter) and two adult Mediterranean Gulls. I'd been lucky to be with the NTGG when they ringed the 3rd-winter bird (as a second-winter) 15 months ago; amazing how much maturity of bare parts and moult happens in such a short space of time.

3rd-winter Yellow-legged Gull 'YJ6T' 18 Jan 2014 (top) and the same bird when ringed by the North Thames Gull Group at the same site in October 2012 - what a difference 15 months makes both moult and bare part wise.
Today, the local birding stakes were limited to a Ring-necked Parakeet 'singing' in Russia Dock Woodland and a couple of Egyptian Geese at Burgess Park (where there was no sign of the regular Med Gull).

Sunday, 12 January 2014

Outrageous behaviour

I headed out of London on Saturday, with sunny skies and showy birds on the agenda. Inevitably I ended up at a paddling pool in Hove, just like a lot of birders in the southern half of England with any ounce of interest in photography. There are showy birds and then there are birds like this Grey Phalarope, that literally walked past doing its thing on centimetres away. It seems to be fit and healthy, though being completely unperturbed by its surroundings and potential dangers is of course a bit of a worry. But so far, so good and it helps that its favoured paddling pool is fenced in.

Grey Phalarope Hove, East Sussex 11th Jan 2014
A juvenile Glaucous Gull in the nearby harbour at Shoreham did the business, albeit briefly. It would have been a whole lot easier if the whole place wasn't fenced off and restricted access. Guess that's the way of the world these days though. Meanwhile, having started off at Dungeness in the morning, it was obvious that the massive gull influx of last weekend had subsided so all I came away with were a decent Great White Egret, a Black-throated Diver and a redhead Smew. Still, these were with little effort and that'd be a good day's birding in itself in a London context.
juvenile Glaucous Gull Shoreham harbour, West Sussex 11th Jan 2014
Today I stuck much more locally, and in the gloom mustered up a Kingfisher and a couple of Lesser Redpolls in Russia Dock Woodland while near the O2 I had an adult Yellow-legged Gull and a Rock Pipit on the foreshore.

Saturday, 11 January 2014

Southern California - update six

So last morning in Santa Barbara, and last day of the holiday. I was out at dawn, wanting to make the most of the time that I had left. Santa Barbara was a really decent place, with a nice vibe and loads of decent birding too. So a morning really wasn't going to do it justice but I gave it a go. Ebird sightings and the local email groups were critical, and it meant that I had a very decent morning seeing some quality, sometimes tricky species.
Grace's Warbler, Goleta 5th Jan 2014
First off was this Grace's Warbler, which I lucked out on at the abandoned golf course at Ocean Shores, Goleta as well as a female Vermilion Flycatcher (that is an annually returning bird). Loads of sparrows were skanking about the place too; just White-crowned and Songs but nice enough.
adult Thayer's Gull, Santa Barbara 5th Jan 2014
Despite the nearby temptation of a Tufted Duck, I decided to skip this decent ABA bird and headed back to downtown Santa Barbara where a 'slam dunk' (yank speak for a classic) adult Thayer's Gull was hanging about the lake at Alice Heck Park while literally a couple of hundred metres away, a Hermit Warbler was in some tipu trees by the Wells Fargo bank alongside a load of Townsend's, Yellow-rumped and Orange-crowned Warblers.
Hermit Warbler, Santa Barbara 5th Jan 2014

Townsend's Warbler, Santa Barbara 5th Jan 2014
After a spot of breakfast, and dropping Karen off for a spot of general tourist stuff, I headed down to the beach for a final papping session. Black Skimmers and Royal Terns were the non-larid stars (represented by Western, Heermann's, California and a few Mew Gulls), along with the usuals such as Bufflehead, American Coots, Willets, Marbled Godwits and Savannah Sparrows.
1st-winter Royal Tern, Santa Barbara 5th Jan 2014

Black Skimmer, Santa Barbara 5th Jan 2014
The nearby town of Carpinteria, on the way back east towards Los Angeles, has been home to California's one and only ever Grey Hawk and for anyone passing on route 101 - between junctions 87 and 88 - check the power lines and I'm sure you'll find it.

Grey Hawk, Carpinteria 3rd Jan 2014
And to round things off, the last bird I got was a Prairie Warbler - another wintering scarcity - in an area of willows on the aptly named Santa Claus Lane. And so it was back off to grey and grim London, but with an excellent holiday had and a load of good birds seen (and photographed). American birding really is excellent and generally nice and easy.

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Southern California - update five

I was back on the Pacific coast on Saturday, ready for a nice day out from Ventura to the island of Santa Cruz, famed for its endemic Island Scrub Jay. The weather was absolutely ideal for the hour or so crossing, and wildlife was literally everywhere. It started in the harbour where loads of Brown Pelicans, Western Grebes and California Gulls were gathered. As we set sail, the obligatory California Sealions were loafing about.
California Sealion, Ventura 4th Jan 2014
The crossings there and back with Island Packers were outstanding, especially given that this wasn't a specialist wildlife cruise. On the way over, we diverted to get some close looks of six Grey Whales while on the way back the boat stopped to see a pod of literally hundreds of Common Dolphins. Much better than some of the whale watching boats I've been on!
Grey Whales, Santa Barbara Channel 4th Jan 2014

Common Dolphins, Santa Barbara Channel 4th Jan 2014
To top it off though, I saw what I wanted bird wise too. The main target was Scripps' Murrelet - one of a two way split of Xantus' Murrelet, with Guadalupe Murrelet, a couple of years ago. They made me wait though, and it wasn't until I was withing sight of Santa Cruz Island that I saw my first of a total of five birds. Black and white birds, with an obvious white eye ring and whirring flight. Cassin's Auklets were present in good numbers, fifty or so, along with a dozen or so hefty Rhino Auklets. Black-vented Shearwaters were present in the high hundreds, as well as a couple of Pacific Fulmars. 
Scripps' Murrelet, Santa Barbara Channel 4th Jan 2014

Black-vented Shearwater, Santa Barbara Channel 4th Jan 2014
And then it was onto the island itself. While getting the 'orientation' (being told what you can and can't do, in plain English), the first Island Scrub Jay appeared. In fact, right by the jetty and this seemed to be the best place for the birds, and a fantastic Island Fox, during the few hours I spent on the island. Make sure though, that if you're going to look for the Scrub Jay, you get a ticket to Prisoners' Harbour as the first stop off at Scorpion Harbour isn't meant  to be much cop for them. Anyway, the island itself is a lovely place for relaxing and getting away from traffic [and loud American tourists] - other birds noted included four Rufous-crowned Sparrows, the local Song Sparrows (said by some to be the Channel Island race graminea but more likely an intergrade between that and the mainland race heermanni), Spotted Towhees, Yellow-rumped Warblers, an Osprey and a couple of Spotted Sandpipers on the beach. 
Island Scrub Jay, Santa Cruz Island 4th Jan 2014
Island Fox, Santa Cruz Island 4th Jan 2014

 So all in all, a particularly enjoyable day out and back in Santa Barbara for early evening for the last night of the trip. Still plenty of birding to be done on the last morning though!
Spotted Towhee, Santa Cruz Island 4th Jan 2014

Monday, 6 January 2014

Southern California - update four

Birds of the deserts. I spent a couple of nights in Palm Springs, where amongst the shopping malls and Marilyn Monroe statues, there were a couple of decent little sites that I visited on consecutive mornings late last week.
Black-throated Sparrow, Santa Rosa National Monument 2nd Jan 2014
The first place I visited isn't really on the birding map, and perhaps should still be considered a bit of a subsidiary site. However, for some reason, I really wanted to see Black-throated Sparrow - a real looker of a bird. And with the invaluable resource of Ebird, I was able to sniff out Santa Rosa National Monument which is a small area of desert with a visitor centre immediately south of Palm Desert on route 74. I wasn't to be disappointed, as there were a couple coming to feeders by the car park and they showed exceptionally well. Verdins, Rock Wrens and Black-tailed Gnatcatchers all provided suitable quality backup, while a trip up the (expensive) aerial tramway gave me decent views of higher altitude species, Steller's Jay and Mountain Chickadee. Remarkably these birds seemed unperturbed by stupid, offensive grown men howling in the woods - seems to be a US pastime that as soon as they're in the country, they take the liberty to behave like stupid animals.
Verdin, Santa Rosa National Monument 2nd Jan 2014
After a night of bargain shopping, I was ready to get amongst Big Morongo Canyon Preserve - a really diverse site 20 minutes north of Palm Springs and recommended by Mr H and Vicky, who visited the place a week previously. I managed to get some excellent views of California Thrasher, as well as commoner species like Ladder-backed Woodpecker, Costa's Hummingbird, Phainopepla and Hermit Thrush. The place is well set up with trails, and felt really birdy - the couple of hours I spent here really didn't do the place justice.
California Thrasher, Big Morongo 3rd Jan 2014
Phainopepla, Big Morongo 3rd Jan 2014
 And so that was my desert birding experience for this trip. Off to the coast again...

Saturday, 4 January 2014

Southern California - update three

New Year's Day, always a decent day to get things started. I made a conscious effort to record the first 10 species of the year, as I'd seen this idea on Facebook with people from all around the world contributing and quite interesting to see what's common where. So from Brawley in southern California here goes, in this order - 1. House Sparrow 2. Yellow-rumped Warbler 3. White-crowned Sparrow 4. Mourning Dove 5. Great-tailed Grackle 6. Northern Flicker 7. Northern Flicker 8. Black-tailed Gnatcatcher 9. Northern Mockingbird 10. Abert's Towhee.
male Gambel's Quail, Sonny Bono NWR 1st Jan 2014
Once these had been seen, Cattle Call Park further delivered with a Gila Woodpecker, Costa's Hummingbirds and Verdins. And then it was up to the Salton Sea, one of the most bizarre places I've been too - a highly saline environment, way below sea level with random mineral smelting plants scattered across the otherwise arable landscape. Not the first time I'd been here as I've got foggy memories of a scorchingly hot, intolerable day there with my Dad back in the early 1990s. Today though, we started at the Sonny Bono NWR and checked out the area by the visitor centre - loads of Snow Geese and a few Ross's Geese in the fields and common birds of the area such as Common Ground Dove and Gambel's Quails by the feeders.
Common Ground Dove, Sonny Bono NWR 1st Jan 2014

Snow Geese, Sonny Bono NWR 1st Jan 2014
Despite the whole area looking like it's been obliterated post nuclear bomb style, one thing you can't take away from the place is the stack full of birds it holds. Hundreds of thousands, seriously, probably millions. Black-necked Grebes, Double-crested Cormorants, Ring-billed Gulls, Shovelers, American Coots, Buffleheads, Ruddy Ducks all dominate as well as loads of waders like Dunlins, Least Sands, Black-necked Stilts and American Avocets all filled the shoreline at Obsidian Butte.
Greater Roadrunner, near Salton Sea 1st Jan 2014
Nearby, a drive about the area eventually produced views of a Greater Roadrunner doing what its name suggests, while some obliging Burrowing Owls and flocks of Savannah Sparrows were decent value.
Burrowing Owl, near Salton Sea 1st Jan 2014
As I've mentioned previously, I was at the Salton Sea previously in August. However, given that I was in my early teens and my gull identification probably wasn't what it is these days (though Yellow-footed Gull is ticked off for that trip and I do remember seeing big gulls with yellow legs!), I wanted to try and see Yellow-footed Gull on this visit. No easy task in January, and I was told this in no uncertain terms by some dick of a birder in the car park at Sonny Bono. However, there were literally thousands of gulls spread across the shore and they were coming and going continually; what was handy though was that there aren't loads of large gulls and where they are, they congregate together. And the largest congregations were in the pre-roost at Redhill Marina where, amongst the couple of hundred American Herrings and single Western, I located an adult Yellow-footed Gull. Result... and though rather distant, its dark mantle, large size and long yellow legs were really obvious. This rather nicely rounded off a bird filled day, and I really haven't gone into the detail the area deserves, but to see huge numbers of birds is always a highlight. Northern Harriers, American Kestrels, Western Meadowlarks, Red-winged Blackbirds and Loggerhead Shrikes add some landbird backbone to the massive wader and waterfowl numbers too.

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Southern California - update two

I'm still posting this in 2013, though for some it'll now be 2014. The last couple of days have been spent in and around San Diego, right near the Mexican border here in California. Endless sunshine, decent seascapes and plenty of birds too. California's full of easy birding, and wherever you stop there'll be umpteen Yellow-rumped (Audubon's) Warblers chipping away as well as White-crowned Sparrows, California Towhees and the like. These aside though, I was keen to mop up on a few specialities that have been hanging about these southern climes. First up, I headed an hour or so northeast and inland where bizarrely a flock of Blue-footed Boobies turned up - now down to two due to fatalities, 2013 has been a bumper year for this southern species with loads of records in California both coastal and inland since September time.
Blue-footed Booby - one of two at Lake Skinner 31st Dec 2013
Returning to San Diego, I stopped in Balboa Park where along Park Avenue a lingering Painted Redstart duly obliged, alongside a few Townsend's and Orange-crowned Warblers.
Painted Redstart - Balboa Park, San Diego 31st December 2013
Then it was onto a residential area in Chula Vista, where after a while after finally finding the right place, I located the annually returning Thick-billed Kingbird - as well as a few Cedar Waxwings that were bombing about. Near here, and right on the border with Mexico, I've spent a fair amount of time around the Imperial Beach and Tijuana Slough areas - birds have included Pomarine Skua, Marsh Wren, Little Blue Heron and the really distinctive Belding's Savannah Sparrow.
Belding's Savannah Sparrow - Tijuana Slough 30th December 2013