I've just published a full photo album from January trip to Hokkaido, which you can flick through by clicking here or on the Steller's Sea Eagle below. Expect plenty of eagles, seaduck and ... gulls!
If you've not yet read my write up on a fantastic week in Japan, you can do so by clicking here.
I spent a few hours at Rainham this morning with Rich and Dante, watching gulls coming off the tip and onto the River Thames in the Coldharbour Point area. A couple of Caspian Gulls, both second-calendar-year birds, were seen, including a particularly impressive bird that showed fairly well on rocks by the point.
Yellow-legged Gulls were as plentiful as ever, with at least 30-35 seen, most of which were juveniles. Despite good turnover from the tip, we didn't see the juvenile seen near the landfill by Dom. There wasn't much else about save the usual Black-tailed Godwits in Aveley Bay.
With the tides conducive to a feasible post-work gull session, I headed down to Thames Barrier Park after work on Tuesday evening. Unfortunately there weren't too many large gulls present, although lobbing a few loaves in soon drew more in from afar. That said, the increased number by 7 pm, when the tide was almost at its optimum, nonetheless produced just three juvenile Yellow-legged Gulls.
Perhaps the most exciting sighting was a white-ringed juvenile Lesser Black-backed Gull. The bird, 'MU', was ringed as a chick in The Netherlands, although I'm currently waiting for full details. Other than that, it was quiet. A couple of juvenile Great Black-backed Gulls were still begging from their parents and I couldn't see any Meds among the Black-heads.
I was working at Warners head office in Bourne at the end of the week, so took the opportunity to stay at home, see the family and do a bit of local birding.
As it turned out, there was actually a fair bit on the move despite the hot and clear conditions. Repeated visits to my old patch at Baston & Langtoft Pits throughout the day seem to bring reward. The 'wader pit', as it's been dubbed, has lost about a foot of water since the start of the summer, exposing islands and leaving juicy areas of shallows. A morning visit on Thursday produced Wood Sandpiper, Garganey and an adult Black-tailed Godwit. By the evening the former two birds had disappeared, but Blackwits had jumped to 13. Interestingly, a colour-flagged Lapwing has transpired to be a bird tagged as a newly hatched chick at Berney Marshes, Norfolk, on 7 May this year.
Interest seemed to stem from the repeated turnover of gulls, waders and wildfowl using the pit. Morning visits on Friday produced a few pristine juvenile Common Gulls, four Little Ringed Plovers and a newly arrived drake Eurasian Wigeon, with an adult Yellow-legged Gull, two Dunlin and six Black-tailed Godwits present mid-afternoon. Then, in the evening, shortly after a Green Sandpiper had flown over me, Mike Weedon found a colour-ringed adult Turnstone on the wader pit. A fascinating inland occurrence and I'm hoping that we'll get some detail back on where it was ringed, as a scan of the CR-birding site produced no obvious candidate for the ringing scheme.
An early visit on Saturday brought fly-through Ringed Plover and Dunlin, a Common Snipe and a minor influx of Shoveler, with 14 birds a notable increase on the previous day's two. Then, mid-morning, a second visit brought a fantastic juvenile Spotted Redshank – my first-ever juvenile here, although it was quite wary and had gone by late morning. Without my camera, which is being fixed, I had to make do with phone-scoping through the vegetation. With regular sightings of Marsh Harriers, Red Kites and lots of gulls, Lapwings and ducks to go through, birding here is a real joy at the moment and it was with a pang of sadness that I headed back to London on Saturday afternoon.
On the way back to London, I called in at the McCain's chip factory between Stanground and Whittlesey, just to the west of Peterborough. This is now the only gulling site in Peterborough, following the closure of the once legendary Dogsthorpe and Tanholt landfill sites (these used to have thousands of gulls). I could only find around 200 gulls on the large pit at Bradley Fen but quickly picked up a very fresh juvenile Caspian Gull – the earliest I've seen one in the Peterborough area. Unfortunately viewing conditions here mean that birds are distant and swimming which makes assessing jizz difficult, but the bird eventually had a flap and flew around a bit, showing off pretty much everything you'd want to see, and was very easy to pick up in flight when it thermalled off high over the chip factory.
The three less-than-common gull species that you can reasonably expect to come across with some regularity on the Thames in London are Caspian, Yellow-legged and, at the right times of year, Mediterranean. All three are easier to find the further east you go, as my fledgling East London gulling career already seems to be testifying. I must admit I feel a bit of a poacher, having started visiting Thames Barrier Park regularly – a site put on the map by the efforts of Rich et al – and in many ways I miss 'my' stretch of the river around Chiswick and Fulham.
But there's no doubt that TBP 'feels' better. There are always several Yellow-legged Gulls milling around and I've already had three Mediterranean Gulls here in four visits, this being a species I never even saw in the 18 months I watched the river at Fulham (although I must have been unlucky, for they were regularly seen at the adjacent WWT). So far just the one Casp, the 3cy bird that featured on this blog last week – which was again present on 23rd, easily recognisable by the damaged primaries in the left wing, even if bill colour appears to be on the change and moult is progressing quickly.
My two visits to TBP (on Friday and Monday) didn't set the world alight, but the usual handful of Yellow-legged Gulls on both dates kept me ticking over, while an adult Ringed Plover on Friday was a surprise. Apparently this is a species that Rich, Jamie and Dante have never seen here during their many visits. Other bits included a pair of Oystercatchers and a Little Egret fishing in rock pools by the Barrier itself.
The gulls were a bit moody on Monday. On a hot, sunny and breezy evening, they didn't seem particularly fussed about my bread and were unusually skittish. One of the few that consistently showed well was a moulting adult Mediterranean Gull which, although a bit scruffy in moult, nonetheless still managed to look dashing.
I took a short weekend trip to Terceira, Azores, back in February, with the primary aim of seeing the wintering Redhead, but also seeing (and hopefully finding) a few other American vagrants. The trip was an overall success, with over 30 individual American birds seen on Terceira alone, including self-found American Herring Gull and Lesser Scaup. For a gallery of images from the weekend, either click here or on the Redhead image below.
I've just published an album of Mauritanian images in the Photography section of my website. Expect Golden Nightjars, Blue-naped Mousebirds, Dunn's Larks and a whole host of gripping Western Palearctic specialities. To view, either navigate to it via the Photography banner at the top of this page or click on the roosting Golden Nightjar below!
With the second half of July now upon us and birds again on the move, it's well and truly time for part timers such as myself to get back out in the field. Going birding twice in the space of four days isn't something I've done for a long time, and to be honest I nearly didn't bother this morning – it was another sweltering day with long spells of unbroken sunshine across London.
I took a sweaty tube ride down to North Greenwich, where my first stop was the 'beach' on the north side of the O2 Arena. It's a funny site; it always feels like it should be really good, and with a good few hundred large gulls always loafing here, it really should be. Yet it seems to consistently under-perform when compared to the likes of Thames Barrier Park, despite usually holding more birds overall. Furthermore, the birds are often a bit skittish and don't readily come to bread, as they do pretty much everywhere else along the river in London. Today was no different really; it just 'felt' unproductive and my final tally of three Yellow-legged Gulls (one juvenile and a couple of 2cy birds) was disappointing if unsurprising. However, a smart juvenile Mediterranean Gull did appear for a while, although never really showed as well as I'd have liked it to.
With little doing, I decided to cross the river and head to TBP, where I was joined by Dante. Several Yellow-legged Gulls were in evidence, with at least a dozen, including 10 juveniles, logged by the time the tide covered up the spit. Dante also broke his own distance record for throwing a slice of bread, which he was very pleased about. It must have gone travelled about 40 metres. Very impressive. Even more impressive, though, was a juvenile Mediterranean Gull, which showed brilliantly.
On such a sunny day, it was an inevitability that the harsh light severely hindered photography, but the bird performed so well that it was impossible not to point the lens at it. Interestingly, it bore a white ring ('3891') and is presumably from Belgium or The Netherlands (tbc).
I joined Dante Shepherd for a couple of hours on this rising tide at Thames Barrier Park (TBP) this morning. It actually proved to be a pretty good session, with eight species of gull recorded. Just before Dante arrived, I was treated to East London's answer to hunting lions on the Serengeti – a Great Black-backed Gull catching, killing and eating a Feral Pigeon. That's one less flying rat in these parts ...
Aside that piece of action, the highlight was a 3cy Caspian Gull, which Dante ably picked out from the 150 or so large gulls present. It was quite subtle so we were initially cautious, although the more we looked at it the clearer it became that it was a Casp. TBP is a south-facing site so if it's a sunny day then you're in trouble for photos, hence the images below leave a lot to be desired. It's a fairly small bird, lacking the imposing and often striking structure of some big males, although plumage is good: note the small mirrors on the retained p10 feathers, for example. The knackered left wing should make it quite noticeable for a couple of weeks, although it's well into primary moult now, with p5 growing and p6 dropped.
It's always nice to get your first juvenile Yellow-legged Gulls of the summer on the board, and today was that day. A respectable total of nine was amassed, including four juveniles, the others being a mix of all other age classes.
A nice adult Mediterranean Gull also dropped in for a few minutes, but wouldn't be drawn by our frantic bread chucking and soon headed off upriver.
And finally it's worth paying tribute to this little critter, which seemed far too young to be floating around on the Thames on its own, close to a sandbar populated with GBBs. However, it could fly and seemingly held its own against fully grown gulls in the vicinity. Several fledged juvenile LBBs were seen, with two juvenile Herrings also arriving on the spit during our visit.
With all target birds secured and the pressure off, Saturday and Sunday proved a relaxing couple of days. Plenty of World Cup action was watched, including England's demolition of Panama on Sunday afternoon, and a fair bit of eating and sleeping also occurred.
A very lazy Saturday morning saw us head for Madeira's north-easterly extremity, Ponta de São Lourenço. Here the habitat is much drier and barren than the rest of the island and we soon found six Rock Sparrows, as well as a handful of Berthelot's Pipits, a couple of Spectacled Warblers and the ubiquitous Plain Swifts. The fish farm offshore occasionally attracts Monk Seals from the small colony on Desertas, but we weren't in luck.
After a bite to eat in Machico, we headed the the south end of the island, where a Monk Seal had been seen recently. Unfortunately there was no sign of it, while the island's only significant freshwater pool held little more than a bunch of rancid Muscovy Ducks and a couple of strange coot species, which remained unidentified. Then it was up into the island's interior, where low cloud had enveloped the peaks and made for a cool, unproductive afternoon. However, Madeiran Orchid was a nice tick, with plenty flowering around Ribeiro Frio. In the evening, we scored good views of a pair of Madeiran Barn Owls (Tyto alba schmitzi) above Machico, before having a few beers in town.
An early start on Sunday saw four of us at Pico do Areiro for sunrise, where the views were quite spectacular. To see where the Zino's Petrels breed in the daytime only enhances the species' aura. To think that one of the rarest birds in the world routinely leaves the sea to ascend 1,800 metres up a mountain each night, simply to breed on the slopes here, is quite amazing. What a bird and what a place. Unfortunately several spikes of the endemic Rock Orchid (Orchis scopularum) were well over, although one still retained a few flowers.
With the conditions much improved from the previous afternoon, we headed down to Ribeiro Frio and spent a couple of hours photographing the abundant Madeiran Firecrests here, with some success. The dark understory and restless nature of the birds made obtaining the perfect shot a challenge, but they were at least very numerous and generally confiding. Even more confident were the Madeiran Chaffinches at the Levada do Balcoes viewpoint, while a single Trocaz Pigeon was seen flying high over Ribeiro Frio as we enjoyed a coffee and cake - all very civilised, particularly given the usual exhaustive nature of my birding trips! We went out for food after the England game, before packing our bags and heading to the airport for the flight home. All in all, a fantastic five days: easy birding, terrific scenery, nice food and great pelagic trips!
A full gallery of images from the trip can be found by clicking here.