As previously mentioned in yesterday's Irish trip summary, a point-blank juvenile Eurasian Dotterel proved the highlight of five days' birding around County Mayo. When Dave Suddaby initially texted with the news, he'd mentioned it was with a flock of European Golden Plovers and any hope of obtaining images seemed virtually non-existent. How pleasant it was, then, to turn up and find the bird on its own in a field of cows, performing to within metres ...
The bird was initially a little wary of us and at one point flew off, calling regularly, but soon returned and got used to its new cohabitants, unconcernedly feeding to within a few metres of us for the hour or so we spent with it.
The bird itself was absolutely pristine, with bright buff and peach tones to its upperparts and breast. I was intrigued by the brownish, diffuse 'barring' on the belly, something I'd not noticed before. All in all, it was a fantastic experience, hampered only by the very dull and breezy conditions, which made photography a little less straightforward than it perhaps should have been.
I've just returned from a long weekend in County Mayo with Kit Day. As always at this time of year, American waders were our primary focus, but alas it proved a slow five days for arrivals from across the Atlantic. In fact, a scour of the loughs of south-west Mayo on Thursday and then Achill on Friday produced barely any noteworthy birds, save a colour-ringed Eurasian Curlew at Mulrany and the usual assortment of species, most notably good numbers of Chough on Achill. Such is the nature of the beast when birding out west – when it's quiet, boy is it quiet!
With Rich Bonser due in on Saturday morning, we left Achill to him and headed for a second go at south-west Mayo. As it had been on Thursday, Corragaun Lough was bizarrely wader-less. However, Roonagh Lough was much 'birdier' and Kit soon picked up a couple of Golden Plovers feeding in short grass just south of the outflow, while good numbers of Ringed Plover and Sanderling, plus a few Dunlin, were roosting on the beach. As we walked down to the outflow, the plovers flushed and then I heard a distinctive prrrrt call a couple of times – it was a Pectoral Sandpiper and the bird duly flew into view, landing alongside the plovers. Here it began to feed happily and we thought it would be game on for photos – until a yellow-bellied Common Snipe flushed out the adjacent marsh, taking the Pec with it, until we lost it as a speck in the sky to the south. Back to square one ...
Still, it was at least something, although it didn't prove the precursor of a flood of transatlantic arrivals! With Rich reporting little among the usual suspects around Achill's hot-spots, we decided to continue north and explore some new sites that I'd not previously visited. First up was the estuary, beach and machair at Dooyork – there's a fantastic area of saltmarsh here, but it held nothing on our visit (and just a few GPs were noted on the beach). Then we moved up to Trawmore Bay where, as we sat scanning the Sanderling and Ringed Plovers out on the mudflats, we received a BirdGuides message about a Baird's Sandpiper, in Mayo, at ... Trawmore beach! Eh?! Well, as it transpired, it was a Dave Suddaby find earlier in the day, just as the tide had begun to drop. With the tide now well out (it was around 16:30 by this point), the waders were scattered for miles and there was predictably no sign of the Baird's ... so with that it was back to Achill to meet up with Rich and have a few pints.
We gave the regular Achill sites a hammering on Sunday morning, albeit with the same result – zilch. Then it was onto Trawmore Bay to catch the falling tide. This is a great site ... the birds are close and the viewing sheltered from strong W/SW winds. A juvenile Curlew Sandpiper was nice, but the Baird's didn't come in during the hour we spent on site. Dave Suddaby then texted to say that he'd found a Dotterel on the Mullet, near Cross Lough. With little else on the cards, Kit and I said our goodbyes to Rich (who was heading back to Dublin via Sligo) and headed round to Cross Lough to have a look at what would be an Irish tick.
We were fortunate to find Dave still on site as we pulled up on the south-west side of Cross Lough. His description of it as a "typical Dotterel" pricked our ears and we were thrilled to find it was indeed a showy bird. As far as I can recall, it's the first confiding juvenile I've seen anywhere. Despite the attention of several boisterous cows, we were able to score some pleasing images of the bird over the following hour. A juvenile Ruff was also seen nearby.
As it turned out, this was the bird of the weekend. Who'd have thought it – a weekend on the west coast of Ireland, in strong westerlies, and the rarest bird is one that has come from some way east of Mayo. Such is the unpredictability of birding.
Monday once again proved a quiet affair, with strong winds and some torrential rain. The Golden Plovers on Keel Golf Course had built up to six birds, although contained nothing rarer, nor did the 80-strong Ringed Plover flock (no sign this year of the Semipalmated, despite plenty of searching). A handful of Dunlin were among the Sanderlings and Ringed Plovers at Tonatanvally, while numbers at Sruhill Lough were scant all weekend. We did Roonagh and Corragaun Loughs on our way south back to Shannon Airport, finding a dead Glaucous Gull at the former and 17 Ringed Plovers at the latter (the first waders we'd seen here on this trip!), but nothing more exciting. Our final stop was Nimmo's Pier, where a loaf of bread failed to draw in the adult Ring-billed Gull seen a few days previous.
So, a quiet trip out to Ireland on this occasion, but it's rare to leave completely empty handed. And, while the Pec didn't linger and give itself up entirely, it constitutes a fairly satisfying result given the overall lack of American waders in western Ireland so far this autumn. And the Dotterel was class ...
I went down to Langdon Hole (just above the Port of Dover) with Rich and Jamie on Saturday morning. A light scattering of migrants included singles of Pied Flycatcher, Common Redstart and Whinchat, up to four Black Redstarts, six Spotted Flycatchers and a few Northern Wheatears, plus a scattering of common warblers. A 1cy Yellow-legged Gull also circled over and it was nice to see and hear Ravens. Hardly ground-breaking stuff, but no doubt the first of many visits to this promising area.
In the afternoon I called in at Fulham to see if there were any gulls around. The gamble paid off with around 350 large gulls present, including adult and 1cy Yellow-legged Gulls and a dark juvenile Caspian Gull. In flight the bird showed a nice tail band but had a very heavily marked rump and uppertail. Perhaps the legacy of Herring genes somewhere down the line, but the bird was structurally very good and otherwise looked fine. You can also see a couple of nice anchor markings on the moulted scapulars. Photo opportunities are never good on bright afternoons in Fulham and the unbroken blue skies of Saturday meant that I had to settle for record shots almost directly into the sun; these never make judging plumage tones easy and the below images make the bird look somewhat darker than it actually was. Nevertheless, it is quite a well-marked individual with quite a bit of muckiness on the flanks and underwing etc.
I had another look in the Fulham/Chiswick area on Sunday, although gull numbers were slightly lower. Nevertheless Herring Gull Y:G41, a yellow-ringed bird from York, was again in Chiswick (having first appeared here last winter) and a couple of Yellow-legged Gulls were by The Dove pub in Hammersmith.
A first-winter Red-backed Shrike was found at Wanstead Flats on Tuesday and was still showing well today, so I headed down for an hour after work to see if it'd play ball. I found the bird near enough instantly, although it proved quite restless and mobile.
While not the wariest shrike I've seen in my life, it was fair to say that it wasn't the most confiding, either. Nonetheless, with a bit of patience (and luck!), it was possible to creep up on the bird and get within range for some half-decent record shots. It was also nice to watch it catching and dismembering several wasps. Shrikes are always enjoyable and this bird was no exception. Another great bird for Wanstead.
The annual trip to Rutland Water for the British Birdwatching Fair again saw me largely rooted to the BirdGuides stand in Marquee 2 for much of the weekend although, as is tradition for the Birdfair, staying at my mother's allowed me to sneak in some birding in the early mornings and late evenings.
On the way to set up at the show on the Thursday, I called in at the McCain's factory to see if any gulls were about. With precisely zero large gulls in the area, I felt quite despondent, but decided to have a quick drive past both Dogsthorpe and Tanholt, just on the off chance that something might be happening there. Dogsthorpe was capped off, with no activity, and it does really seem that it's game over here. However, contrary to my recent declaration that Tanholt too was finished as a gulling site, I was pleasantly surprised to find several hundred large gulls circling over the site as I arrived. Walking closer and it was clear that tipping was taking place!
Very quickly I was on to my first juvenile Caspian Gull of the morning, this followed by two further juveniles (including yellow-ringed 'X525' from Germany) and a near-adult. Quite pleasingly, there were also plenty of Yellow-legged Gulls in the area, with at least a dozen logged, most of which were juveniles. It was actually quite hard to drag myself away, although I was able to return the following morning for an hour or so with Rich and Hugh and again saw two of the juvenile Casps, including X525. And, on the second visit, we bumped into the site manager, who told us that tipping will probably take place here for another six to seven years. Promising for the gull watcher, at least.
Aside the gulls, birding was decent on my old stomping ground of Baston & Langtoft Pits. I tried to get a couple of visits in each day, both before and after the fair, and managed to connect with a few interesting things, not least a smart juvenile Black-necked Grebe, which first appeared on the Saturday and lingered thereafter. It has apparently become increasingly wary since the weekend, which makes it all the more galling that I absolutely butchered glorious photo opportunities early on the Sunday morning, the grebe preening within 10 metres of me as I lay hiding in the juncus at water level, blasting off dozens of shots ... only to realise my camera was lacking a memory card! As such, below is as good as my images got – into the light, not long after discovery on the Saturday morning. From memory, I think this is my third record of BNG at Baston, following a pair in June 2007(?) and an adult on the same pit as this latest bird in July 2012.
A trio of Garganey on the Sunday evening was also very pleasant, being the most I've seen together here at any single time. Waders were fairly average, with a smattering of migrant Ringed and Little Ringed Plovers, Common Sands and a juvenile Ruff present on the Saturday and Sunday.
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.