You can tell it's autumn: the weather is confused. Wet and windy for periods today, yet humid and still really quite warm in the intermittent sunshine, it was one of those days where you constantly taking layers on and off while in the field.
I headed over to Erith Pier for a few hours this morning to see what was happening with the gulls. It was a blustery day with intermittent heavy squalls, during which the wind would really pick up – but there were also sunnier and calmer periods, too. There were plenty of gulls to look through and I was only about 20 minutes in to the session when a first-winter Caspian Gull suddenly appeared, quite innocuously, among the melee, having sneaked in unannounced as they often do. It was quite a delicate bird: small, elegant and lightweight looking, with a long bill and small head. Plumage wise it was nice, with an almost complete set of moulted scaps and a very white-headed look. The underwing could have been cleaner but, overall, it was a pretty pleasant bird. Unfortunately it appeared during a dull spell and only hung around for about five minutes before flying upriver, meaning photo opportunities weren't as good as they can be here.
Shortly after the Casp, a tight flock of at least 45 terns flew past heading upriver. The calls of both Common and Arctic were clear and, while most of the birds were the former species, around a dozen of the latter were intermixed. A little later in the morning, at around 11:40, a couple of Sandwich Terns also appeared off the pier. Evidently the changeable weather had generated some sort of tern movement, something noted at other sites both around London and across the Midlands.
Yellow-legged Gull numbers have evidently fallen away but, as is typical as we go into autumn, small numbers do persist and birds of all ages were seen today, even if my total did not exceed five ... a few Common Gulls were about, too.
Both species of seal also put in appearances during the morning, with a particularly impressive bull Grey causing havoc among the gathered gulls.
Leaving the pier at midday, I did the usual tour of sub-sites along the drive back towards Central London. A Grey Seal and a 2cy Yellow-legged Gull were off Princess Alice Way, Thamesmead – the latter a bird I've seen here before – and a ringed 2cy Common Gull came to the offerings at King Henry's Wharf, Woolwich. White 'JC973' is Norwegian, having been ringed on as a chick on an island on the outskirts of Oslo, and was seen as a first-winter in February just a mile or so away at Thames Barrier Park by young Dante. It was then in The Netherlands in April.
Final stop was just upriver of the Thames Barrier by the Anchor & Hope pub. A 2cy Yellow-legged Gull put in a brief appearance but, once again, there was no Casp – bear in mind that this site sits directly opposite Thames Barrier Park, it's amazing to think none the East London gullers have seen one here yet, despite small numbers of large gulls present on every visit. Nonetheless, an adult Sandwich Tern heading upriver here at 13:04 was a real bonus and a great end to a surprisingly decent day of London birding.