Friday, 14 December 2012

Buff-Bellied Pipit

After yesterday's failed attempt to get to Queen Mother Reservoir, I was able to leave as soon as I got the kids to nursery. I threw everything into the car and made a dash for it but didn't bother with waterproofs since it was dry when I left and I'm too stupid to check the forecast. It started tipping down on the way there and when I arrived I found a soaked looking Lee Evans manning the gate so that the day permits could be issued. Once on the reservoir wall I could see a group of people looking this way so stopped and scanned and found the pipit, at that point quite distant, feeding in the grass on the path. As the rain got worse it vanished for an hour or so until refound further south round the reservoir. The bird worked its way round towards us until it was feeding on the concrete reservoir bank just a few feet from us.
I found getting decent pictures challenging. It was such a dark day it was a real balance to get the ISO higher enough to give a decent shutter speed without making it too soft. Extremely smart bird with an amazingly long and dagger-like bill. It had a really striking face pattern, with pale lores (although it could show a darker loral smudge from front-on), a strong eye-ring but not especially marked super. The mantle was fairly plain, with the background colour matching that of the head, nape and rump. Legs black or charcoal grey depending on the light. It also called a couple of times, quite unlike Water or Rock Pipit calls, a single fairly flat and un-squeaky 'tsit'. I've heard them make squeakier calls in the US but only heard this call today.

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Get Shorty

The Long billed Dowitcher reported at Lodmoor on Monday only raised a few eyebrows as a bit early for a juvenile, but by Tuesday some pics were available and Rich Bonsor noticed the tertials looked a bit stripy. Just before midnight the word went out that it had been ‘conclusively identified’ as Short billed from new photos. Since I’d been out the night before, and I hate dipping, I waited until positive news on Wednesday morning and set off through the London rush hour for Dorset, arriving around 10am. It had last been seen around 8am and I had a long wait until it eventually showed for a few minutes in a little channel between patches of juncus (or something like that, there was a big discussion on whether it was juncus or something with a longer name – as you can tell I know nothing about plants). After a few more views as it worked its way around the channels it eventually flew and started feeding in open water giving brilliant views.
The shot above shows the internal stripping on the tertials and greater coverts and a bit of the tail pattern with the white and black bars of around equal width. You can also (just) see the relatively long primary projection (at least compared to typical Long billed) which is shown better in the following shot.

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Spoons and Shrikes: two ticks

OK, not Brit ticks, but a patch tick and a London tick. First, news that a Spoonbill had reappeared at Barnes had me running for the car. I’d missed it (presumably the same bird that has spent most of its time at Rainham) last week, when it turned up just before the reserve shut, so a second chance was really welcome. A quick scan from the Obs showed the Spoonbill sitting on the shingle bank favoured by the loafing gulls. It was, predictably, asleep. I went round to Dulverton to find Johnny Allen already there and watched the bird for a while, during which it woke up briefly a few times to preen. Water levels were high throughout the site and there were no waders around, but the young birds included two Pochard chicks, one Gadwall chick (down from two a week ago) and four Common Tern chicks.
Next up was a run out to Hayes where a male Red backed Shrike had been seen yesterday evening and again this morning. The M4 is closed so I went round in a big loop to avoid it and didn’t run into too many holdups. The shrike was showing less than a hundred yards from the car park – originally buried in a bush but often showing well as it hunted for prey on the ground. Absolutely stunning male and a London tick. I don’t list in London but I do keep a list of birds I've seen there (confusing I know). It’s the kind of thing I had half assumed I would have seen in the London area before, but I hadn’t. Double tick!

Friday, 6 July 2012

Barnes WWT - No Spoonbill

A Spoonbill had been seen at the London Wetland Centre yesterday evening just before it shut, so I headed over this morning in the hope of it still being there. No luck with the Spoonbill and not that much else around but numbers of winter duck are starting to build up with 11 Teal and 3 Shoveler around the site. One Redshank on site – another year when they've failed to fledge young. Four Common Tern chicks with many of the adults fishing on site – some pics below.

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Swift and Slow

An initial report of a possible Little Swift in Cheshire on Friday didn’t make a huge impression on me as they'd been a whole succession of ‘white rumped swift’ reports over the last few weeks. But later reports had it showing well until it went to roost. I couldn’t make it up there all day Saturday, so I was comforted by reports of it showing down to a few feet all day. Even though there was no report of it roosting on Saturday I headed up on Sunday with no news for most of the journey, only to get a ‘no sign’ report as I got closer. Today was bright and sunny so this just felt like it was not going to happen with the bird moving off with the good weather. After a little time in the town I ended up away from the coast where the bird had been seen just a few minutes before, tumbled out of the car to find I’d missed it by a few minutes. Then suddenly it was in the sky with some Swifts, its fluttery flight and occasional towering making it possible to pick it up at some distance. It was ranging high and over a wide area but showed frequently and occasionally fairly close over the heads of the half a dozen of us watching the bird.
The journey home was abysmal, taking several hours longer than the journey there as roadworks and delays forces increasingly random detours to keep moving, during which I probably drove within less than five miles of a singing Corncrake that would have been an English tick (OK I don’t keep an ‘England’ list but I haven’t heard one for over twenty years).

Thursday, 17 May 2012

That's Entertainment

Picked up the news of a Melodious Warbler singing in Leyton before 9am but had a few family things to do first so I wasn’t free until noon. One of the fun features of the Birdguides iphone app is that it’s really quick to see how far away the bird is (although with the irritating reminder ‘that this may not be the exact location of the bird’, I think we get that). It read 13.3miles with an estimated travel time of 33 mins. Now for anyone living outside of London or any other major town, that might seem reasonable, but 13 miles in London is really at least an hour, maybe an hour and a half with extra roadworks. I couldn’t really face the drive so I put off going by doing some work, but eventually cracked and jumped in the car. Arriving an hour later I joined a small group of people eyeballing a holly tree. The Melodious Warbler showed well on and off in the holly and the cherry trees next to the road. A brilliant find by Stuart Fisher who heard it singing on his way to work. When I got there the traffic noise was so loud I could barely hear a Robin singing about 20 feet away, so picking this up was a really good catch.

While the views were quite good, getting a photo was tough. When it did perch in the open it was only for a few seconds so these shots are through the leaves. Interestingly it showed quite heavy pale fringes to its tertials, secondaries and greater coverts.

Why the post title? Cos That's Entertainment is the best London Melody (and one of my favourite tracks ever).

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Odd Wagtail at Barnes

A morning trip to Barnes on a chilly and grey May day brightened up with a flock of at least 15 Yellow Wagtails on the Grazing Marsh. Initially quite distant they slowly worked their way around the bank. One of them was a very attractive and interesting bird that at first glance I thought might be a Channel Wagtail (a hybrid between flava and flavissima) since the head colour was very pale grey but the grey extended out onto the mantle and scapulars and the supercillium was bright yellow.

I had a look at a few books, mags and websites when I got home and found out that some flava do have yellow supercilliums (called xanthophrys) but I don’t see that a hybrid between a ‘xanthophrys’ flava and flavissima (which might have a yellow supercillium) would also have the pale grey mantle shown by this bird. There is a green tinge to the scaps but it’s mostly grey.

Maybe a hybrid between a Channel Wag and a standard flavissima could show this combination? But I still don’t see where the pale grey mantle comes from. So maybe just an odd Yellow Wag with some kind of colour abnormality? Stunning bird whatever it is. I shall try to do some more homework, but all ideas welcome.
UPDATE - just seen that this has been reported as a Blue headed Wagtail (flava) on Birdguides. I don't see how it can be, but interested in comments.

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Plastic or plausible?

Despite the grim weather I joined the steady trickle of birders who've visited Whetsted Gravel Pits to see the Hooded Merganser found by Marcus Lawson. I must have driven past the Radipole bird at least half a dozen times without going to see it and it’s probably hard to see that this one has much better credentials. On the positive side the previous Kent bird at Chilham in 2005 was accepted so maybe it’s OK if they're in Kent. If nothing incriminating is found (like a mass break out from a collection) I suspect that acceptance will depend on whether it’s still hanging around come summer. I would in no way encourage anyone to pay a visit armed with an air rifle at the end of March.

Very smart bird, not as bright as some I've seen in the States (although the weather didn’t help) but some of the photos on Surfbirds show nice bright white in the tertials and a strong greater covert bar so I assume it’s an adult. The tertial ground colour looked dark brown rather than black but that could have been a result of the poor light. I found this which shows the features of adult and immature Hoodie wings, with the overall patterning on the bird being pretty close to the adult female shown. This bird also showed a lot more yellow on the bill than the Chilham bird.

It was diving pretty constantly, frequently catching a variety of food and bringing it back to the surface to swallow. This was the most typical view of it.

It was sharing the pit with, among others, a Goldeneye and a pair of displaying Great Crested Grebes while the other pit had a male Smew.

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Wandsworth Caspo

On Saturday I took the boys out for a trip along the river to Wandle Creek and Wandsworth Park (where there's a playground they like). I also hoped there was a chance, even if only a small one, of reconnecting with the Caspian Gull I saw last week at the London Wetland Centre (LWC) on this stretch of the Thames since it's only a mile or so downstream. Scanning some way up river I was still stunned to see what looked like a first winter Caspian Gull sitting with other gulls some way upriver. On trips out with the boys I only take bins and a camera so no scope so, especially in the light of what had happened at the LWC, I tried to chivvy the boys along a bit to get there before it flew off. Luckily it was still there when I finally got opposite it and could see it was a Caspian, but a different bird from the one I’d seen last week at the Wetland Centre.

It was a big bird, looking bigger than nearly all of the Herring Gulls and standing taller than all of them. The photos below show the 'Caspian basics' of four colour pattern (white head and underparts, grey mantle, mid-brown wing coverts and dark brown primaries). It also shows the grey neck shawl, solid brown centred greater coverts with white fringes, solid brown tertials with pale tips and very thin fringes. The bare parts show a bicoloured bill with the end third dark and the basal two thirds paler, but with dark cutting edges. The legs are long and pale pink.

Below shows the small headed and big chested appearance.It also shows the mantle pattern with a mix of feathers with thin shaft streaks and thick white tips and the blockier 'diamond pattern' scap feathers.

Showing the blackish tail band, white upper tail and rump. You can also (just) see the secondary pattern of dark centres with pale fringes.

Shows tertial pattern with worn pale tips. The tips of the inner ones especially are very worn (the pale parts of feathers always seem to wear more quickly than darker ones - some effect of melanin protecting the feather?).

On the way back a call from a bush revealed this Chiffchaff. This is the first I've had around here this year, but presumably an over-wintering bird rather than an early migrant.

I don't think this is the first Caspian for the patch - I'm fairly sure one was reported here a few years back - but it is the first one I've found or seen here. This is one bird I've been very keen to get on this patch so I'm pretty excited! With the Barnes bird, plus those at Beddington and Rainham (and probably elsewhere) there is a good number of Caspos in London at the moment.

Sunday, 26 February 2012

A good day and a problem

The day started at Staines with four Black necked Grebe fairly close in, a couple of redhead Smew on the North Basin and an adult male and redhead on the South Basin, 30+ Goldeneye including two groups of displaying males, a juv Shag on the tern rafts and later swimming around on the South Basin. There were also two Scaup – one an adult female and the other that was either a dull adult female or a first winter. While grilling the ducks and chatting to another birder he picked up a Short eared Owl over the far side of the North Basin being mobbed by corvids and which quickly ditched into a tree. It was pushed out of the tree after a few minutes and tracked the east side of the reservoirs before turning west over the south bank and heading in the direction of Staines Moor.

Then the problems started. On the way back from Staines I dropped into the Wetland Centre and everything was pretty uneventful until I got to the Peacock Hide. I scanned around a bit and, fairly close on the nearest bank of the Wader Scrape, was a first winter Caspian Gull. It was an immediate stand out bird with a white head, long wings, all dark greater coverts with white tips to the lesser, median and greater coverts forming three pale lines on the wing, and dark pale tipped tertials. After taking it all in I reached for my camera – and that moment a huge troupe of bird tour people clunked, shouted and tramped into the hide and the Caspo flew off across the Main Lake with the other large gulls. And, while some of the other gulls returned, the Caspo didn’t.

Now why is this a problem? Well the problem is that the LWC has a history of reporting Caspians, some of which are, err, well, not always Caspians. I've been birding at the LWC for nearly seven years and in that time I've been shown about a dozen and a half ‘Caspians’ which turned out to be mostly Herring Gulls or LBBs (with a couple of GBBs thrown in). Of the ones that get reported there never seem to be any photos. So, fairly or unfairly, records of Caspians from Barnes tend to be looked on with a certain amount of suspicion, despite the fact that at least some of them are probably gen.

Which brings me back to the problem. I've just had a Caspo at Barnes with no photo. Which feels like I'm just adding to the problem. Do notes still count?

UPDATE: Thankfully someone else also saw this bird - Stephen Menzie - including some great pictures here.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Mellow Yellow

A very quick blast up the M4 with the sun rising behind me took me to Rhiwderin in Gwent on Sunday. I'd toughed it out a day since the forecast for Saturday looked extremely wet and therefore the bird seemed unlikely to perform that well. There were also a number of other nice birds in the area and it made more sense to make a day of it rather than stand in the rain for fleeting glimpses of a sheltering bird. The twitch was really well managed with one of the local guys manning the style into the field and the donations bucket.

I joined the long line of birders with scopes trained down the hedge and eventualy out popped the first winter male Yellowthroat. It slowly worked its way up the hedge until it was finally pretty close to the end of the line where I was standing. At that point a bunch of long lenses pushed themselves to the front and got in everyone's way - including one guy who I offered to let stand in front of me to get a shot and then stayed put with the back of his head six inches from my face until asked to move. But the twitch was mainly really well behaved and brilliantly organised.

Super smart bird - I've seen a lot of these in the States and Canada but they are really stunning and well worth a look.

After a long while spent watching the Yellowthroat off and on, headed off to Comeston Lakes to see the male Lesser Scaup that's been regular there for a while. The first surprise though was a ringed Whooper Swan in among the Mutes.

The Scaup showed well, although a bit too distantly for good photos.

Next off to Cardiff Bay to try for the Bonaparte's Gull. Rather bizarrely, I saw my first ever Bonies Gull at Cardiff Docks, probably only a couple of miles from here. Unfortunately I wasn't so lucky today and dipped, but did get to see 1-2 ad Med Gulls which were smart.

Last stop of the day was Slimbridge, back the other side of the bridge. I don't come to Slimbridge very often but I really like it. I admit I don't really get the whole 'collection' thing and the evening feeds are a bit zoo like but anywhere with such a range of wildfowl is very cool. Today there were over a hundred Bewick's, c230 Whitefronts, c160 Barnies on the Dumbles plus waders. The female Lesser Scaup was still on the Rushy Pen showing very well (the States must have been the last time I saw two in a day) and at the end of the day a Water Rail showed really well by one of the feeders. All in all a pretty spectacular day!