Friday, 2 December 2016

Iceland Gull in Hammersmith!

I went for my first bike ride along the Thames for a couple of weeks this morning in the hope of finding a Caspian Gull. I had a Lithuanian Black-headed Gull at one of my usual spots in Chiswick (I'll blog about this bird at a later date) but only about 30 large gulls, so decided to continue east past Hammersmith Bridge and down towards Fulham.

This turned out to be a good move as I stumbled across a juvenile Iceland Gull among about 80 large gulls on the river adjacent to the Wetland Centre. This was actually the first time I'd biked down here this winter and it was nice to find a new spot for loafing gulls at low tide - Chiswick has generally been poor for numbers of large gulls in the past month.

Initial views of the Iceland Gull, Fulham, 2 December 2016

Eventually the bird showed pretty well, although steadfastly refused to show any interest in the four loaves of bread I threw at it. As such the scope for flight shots was minimal (I only grabbed a few as it flew past me towards Hammersmith) and I had to make do with perched shots at an awful angle and against a typically grubby Thames background.

After about half an hour the bird decided to fly off west upriver, over Hammersmith Bridge (thus in to my regular 'patch'!) before turning north and disappearing off over the West London skyline. It turns out that this is the same bird seen by Pete Alfrey at Beddington on 24 November and then by Dave Harris in the Island Barn Reservoir roost on 28th - not that that's surprising, given that there are so few Iceland Gulls in the country at present.

A white-winged gull with Hammersmith Bridge in the background - the stuff of dreams

Sunday, 20 November 2016

Forster's Tern in Essex

For anyone who took up twitching after the early 2000s, Forster's Tern has been a real British blocker. This bird, found yesterday on the Stour Estuary, is the first to linger anywhere in Britain since 2003 - and in fact the last widely twitchable bird was a couple of years further back than that. As such, this bird attracted quite large crowd on a bleak November day.

I've seen two Forster's Terns in Ireland (the regularly returning bird in Co Galway and a first-winter in Co Mayo in February 2014) but it was hard to ignore the temptation of heading up to Mistley this morning for a British tick, particularly given how well the bird was reported to have shown on Saturday afternoon. Eventually it did one close fly-by but in my haste I didn't notice my camera settings were a little awry and the meagre offerings below are about as good as it got for me. Weather conditions and light were absolutely awful and as anyone with a camera will know, photographing a grey bird on a grey background is never particularly easy - particularly as it bombs past at high speed.

Forster's Tern, Mistley, Essex, 20 November 2016

Saturday, 19 November 2016

American Tree Sparrow in Sweden

Awful photos (ISO 5,000) of a brilliant bird in near-darkness late on Friday afternoon. Amazingly it did a Friday night bunk and a crowd of 400 (including Brits, Finns and Germans) all dipped. I think just about everyone had assumed that this bird was well settled and many seemed to think it might even stay all winter. It seems I was very lucky!

American Tree Sparrow, Staffanstorp, Sweden, 18 November 2016

Saturday, 5 November 2016

Cliff Swallow

November rarities often come right out the blue, and such was the case with this Cliff Swallow at Minsmere, Suffolk. Found on a miserable Friday afternoon, it was clear that the bird wasn't going far that evening and as such it was with a high degree of confidence that up to 300 or so birders gathered on the reserve at dawn the following morning.

Some, myself included, were duped by a message of it reportedly roosting in reeds by Bittern Hide and spent the first 45 minutes of daylight there. No swallow, but great views of an Otter fishing just in front of the hide as well as a couple of fly-by Bitterns and a spectacular flock of Starlings.

The bird was first seen shortly after seven but proved a bit of a nightmare for the first half hour, almost to the point that we thought we'd dipped given that it had been seen gaining height over South Hide. Happily it came back, settled down and showed very well with up to eight Barn Swallows in bushes just north of the reserve's north wall. At times it was just overhead, though it spent most of the morning sat in hawthorns, presumably warming up, until we left a little while before 08:30.

American Cliff Swallow, Minsmere, Suffolk, 5 November 2016

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Cosmic: Britain's first Siberian Accentor

Sometimes you're in the right place at the right time. And, on Sunday afternoon, after nine days on Shetland, we were just about that. Minutes away from checking in for our flight back to Aberdeen, we were sat outside the terminal when John's pager started wailing and his increasingly hysterical voice just about managed to squeeze our "Siberian Accentor ... Shetland ... at Scousburgh ..!"

There wasn't any need for thought. We piled back in to our hired minibus we were in the process of returning and bombed off in no time. Fifteen minutes later and we were watching Britain's first Siberian Accentor happily feeding away in an unsuspecting quarry on the western slopes of Mossy Hill. Oblivious of the carnage unfolding around it, the accentor performed to within a few metres, feeding with the voraciousness of a newly-arrived migrant. I was utterly thrilled to simply be part of the crowd that evening - I can only image what Judd Hunt must have thought when he first clapped eyes on this perfect rarity.

I'll update the blog in the coming days with a more general Shetland review - for the meantime here's a few shots of the accentor.

 Siberian Accentor, Mossy Hill, Shetland, 9 October 2016

 The bird's favoured quarry complete with appreciative crowd.

Friday, 30 September 2016

September ends with a couple of Caspian Gulls

There are still good numbers of gulls visiting Dogsthorpe Tip, on the outskirts of Peterborough, at the moment, and the pit within the tip complex offers pretty good views of bathing and loafing birds. I called in briefly today and had two Caspian Gulls, an adult and a first-winter. Fortunately the adult was one of the closest birds! Also present today was a single first-winter Yellow-legged Gull among around 1,000 large gulls.

Saturday, 17 September 2016

First tip visit of the season

A Saturday morning spent at Pitsea produced a fairly meagre scattering of gulls - a little disappointing after Rich Bonser had visited over the two previous Saturdays and enjoyed excellent numbers, including several Caspian Gulls. Highlights were limited to a tame fox, the returning leucistic Great Black-backed Gull (and, incidentally, its normal-looking sibling for its first time at this site) and 10+ Yellow-legged Gulls. With tipping activity at a minimum, we'd called it a day by late morning.

A couple of adult Yellow-legged Gulls among the detritus - quite amusing how well camouflaged they can be

Yellow-legged Gulls of various ages

'Big White' the Norwegian Great Black-backed Gull - back again!

A surprisingly smart Red Fox - you tend to see really mangled individuals here

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

Fantastic Frampton

Back on 22 August - the morning after Birdfair - I popped over to Frampton Marsh to meet up with warden Toby Collett to take a look round and see what the RSPB does to manage this brilliant reserve. I've written an article on my visit, which can be read on the BirdGuides website.

It so happened that my visit coincided with a massive arrival of Curlew Sandpipers - they were literally everywhere, flocks were coming and going and their calls echoed around the reserve. We counted over 200 by the end of the morning, all but a few being fresh juveniles.

As well as this there were a minimum of 10 Little Stints, several Spotted Redshanks, hundreds of Black-tailed Godwits and Knot plus four-figure numbers of Dunlin. It was among the latter that I found the undoubted highlight of the morning ... a leucistic bird! I've never seen leucism in any shorebird before and although it's documented in many species, I can't recall ever seeing photos of a Dunlin quite so white. Amazing looking thing, particularly in flight when the closest thing it resembled was a miniature Fairy Tern or Snow Petrel!

Frampton is absolutely stuffed with birds. It must be a brilliant local patch, although I'm amazed Toby and the team get any work done here with so many distractions constantly on show! I wish I could visit more often - it certainly felt a bit of a non-event when I was checking the gulls on the Thames in Chiswick later that day!

Waders and wildfowl cover the scrapes at Frampton Marsh

Monday, 22 August 2016

Another juvenile Caspian Gull

A quick lunchtime visit to Dogsthorpe Tip on Monday produced another juvenile Caspian Gull. This latest individual was particularly pale and distinct, despite scapular moult having only just commenced, and was also a massive bird.

Juvenile Caspian Gull rivalling Great Black-backs for size

The pit here is pretty big and most of the gulls are out of range for the DSLR but birds on the spit show quite well. When gulls take off from the spit and head back to the tip to feed, they tend to fly quite close by - so the views can be quite good with luck.