Tuesday, 3 December 2019

Yellow Ring Day (3 December)

Tuesday 03 December. I took Cookie down to the Adur at low tide to look for gulls. There were a few below the Old Toll Bridge, a bait digger not helping, and 26 Ringed Plover. There were more gulls opposite Ricardo's which included two with with colour-rings, Yellow T5PE, a Black-headed Gull ringed at Koronowo, Kujawsko-Pomorskie in Poland in May 2017 (when already adult). It was seen at Shoreham Fort in December 2018 by Kevin Duncan and by me at Shoreham Sailing Club in February 2019. Does it return to Poland in the summer? The other was local Herring Gull White A6XY, a rehabilitated bird from Croft Road in Southwick which was ringed in June 2010 when a third summer. I'd previously seen it on the Adur between November 2010 and December 2016. In the afternoon I took Cookie to the Cuckmere to try again to see a Caspian Gull this winter. My three previous attempts had produced plenty of Yellow-legged Gulls but no convincing Caspians. RKH, RES and KH were grilling the gull flock when I arrived and had seen two Caspians but a light aircraft had flushed the flock and they'd not seen them return. I wanted a bit further to try the flock from a different angle and picked out 5 Yellow-legged Gulls (3 adults, a third and a second winter) and it looked as if I would draw a blank on Caspians again even when I returned to the others to find they had a very distant bird that looked a strong contender. I thought so too but it was rather obscured most of the time and although what I could see of it looked good there were a number of features I couldn't see. I spent some time trying to obtain images of the bird and reviewing them thought there were two good contenders but couldn't really get much further. Just as I was about to leave a stunning Caspian Gull appeared at the front of the flock. It was mostly unobstructed and at a much more helpful distance, although still not close. It had a yellow colour-ring but it was too far to be able to read it (other than the final digit appearing to be a 7) and usually hidden in the grass. I assumed that it was an advanced first-winter although extensive image searches failed to produce a perfect match.
Polish Black-headed Gull T5PE, something of a contortionist
a mark on the ring made the code on this side of it look like T5RE from a distance


Herring Gull A6XY still going strong in its 13th year
sleeping adult Yellow-legged Gull in the Cuckmere
partially obscured third-winter Yellow-legged Gull
another adult Yellow-legged Gull


later it stood up revealing its yellow legs
Caspain Gull contenders
range and poses not helpful, most of my images have them preening with heads and bills hidden
bill on left hand of the two looks particularly long, thin and washed out in this image
the white head and yellow bill might be one of the above bird's
first-winter Caspian Gull in the Cuckmere


long legged with a yellow ring just about visible on the right
a typical snouty four coloured bird





it was much smarter than most of these images suggest, all the usual excuses apply (distance, poor light, hand held camera etc. etc.)

reviewing my images I realised the bird appeared in the last Yellow-legged Gull image above, not sure how I missed seeing it then!

leaving Cuckmere


Monday, 2 December 2019

West Dean Woods to Scotney (28 November-2 December)

Monday 2 December. An enjoyable cold, sunny day in the Rye area with Matt who I met at Glynde shortly after 05:45 (I was a few minutes late due to unexpected de-icing). We started before dawn at the Bittern viewpoint at Rye. No Bitterns but 8 Great Egrets left the roost (4 then 2 then 2) as well as 4 Marsh Harriers (one a male), 2 Peregrines and 3-4000 Starlings. We walked around to Castle Water, the Long Pits and the Flat Beach seeing 4 Egyptian Geese, 75 Shoveller, 70 Pochard, a Goldeneye, 2 Kingfishers, Raven, a superb Cetti's Warbler and a Firecrest. Matt drove on to the Sussex end of Scotney where we saw 120 presumed feral Barnacle and 24 more Egyptian Geese, 2 Avocets and 3 Marsh Harriers (one a male). A brief stop on the way back to Pett added a Tree Sparrow - my first in Sussex since January 2009! At Pett we saw about 200 Scoter from which we picked out 11 Velvets, 7 Red-throated Divers, 2 Ruff, 180 Curlew, another Great Egret, 2 Marsh Harriers (one a young male), 2 Bearded Tits and 2 Reed Buntings. We finished the day back at the Bittern viewpoint (still no Bittern) but very much against the light we saw 3 Great Egrets come in, three Marsh Harriers (one a male)over the reedbed and 2000+ Starlings murmurating. Thanks to Matt for the driving. Next time I must remember to wear thicker socks and gloves.
Great Egret at Pett
sunset at Rye, Starling murmuration exit stage left ...


Sunday 1 DecemberMegan and I took Cookie to Brooklands hoping the Firecrests might still be around but we couldn't find them, just 2 Goldcrests and a Great Spotted Woodpecker seen around the bushes and Chiffchaff and Cetti's Warbler heard. Seven Teal and 4 male Pochard were on the lake although the latter flew off east at 09:55. 

Saturday 30 November. An enjoyable day out in West Sussex started at West Dean Woods and Monkton Farm where I arrived at 07:30 hoping to see a decent number of Hawfinches. I left after an hour having probably seen 11, mostly perched up although no more than five were on view at once. Also Buzzard, Great Spotted Woodpecker, 5 Jays, Marsh Tit, 3 Fieldfares, 25 Redwing, Mistle Thrush, 30 Chaffinces and 3 Greenfinches. I headed to Fishbourne where handily someone was watching the Water Pipit which showed well through a telescope. As the tide came in I saw Long-tailed Duck, 10 Goldeneye (5 males), 14 Red-breasted Mergansers, Slavonian Grebe, Spotted Redshank, 5 Greenshank, Kingfisher, 2 Great Spotted Woodpeckers, Stonechat and Rock Pipit. On the way home I spent 45 minutes at Sherwood Rough seeing an estimated 7 Hawfinches sitting up along the east edge of the clearing although no more than three were seen at once. Also there Jay, a Coal and 10 Long-tailed Tits, Nuthatch and male Redpoll. I still had time to drop into Arundel WWT before closing. Coal, Marsh and 10+ Blue Tits were on the feeders, Scaly-sided Mergansers, Harlequins and some smart Black-necked Grebes in the covered enclosures on my way to the hide. Two Marsh Harriers had roosted before I arrived but I saw three (including a male) and a ring-tail Hen Harrier that flew around the reedbed for 5 minutes before dropping in. A superb Kingfisher performed well but the light was too poor for photographs.

Redshank and barely identifiable Water Pipit at Fishbourne
fallen leaves in Rewell Woods
Friday 29 November. Taking advantage of some sunny weather Megan and I took Cookie to Rackham and Parham Park. Lots of duck were on the nearer, flooded part of Amberley Wild Brooks (at least 500 Wigeon and 30 Pintail) although with only 8x binoculars I didn't spend long looking through them. A five minute raptor watch from the lookout produced three distant harriers, a ring-tailed Hen and two female/juvenile Marsh. Although not much, 3 Coal and 5 Long-tailed Tits, 3 Goldcrests, 2 Nuthatches and 2 Redwings in the woodland was more than we usually manage. A walk in Parham Park added 6 Egyptian Geese and a ShelduckGreen Woodpecker, Mistle Thrush and 25 Goldfinches. Later I took Cookie up to Beeding Hill hoping to see Little Owl without success, Jackdaws appear to have moved into the area. Looking out over Beeding Brooks through a telescope I had a reasonable view of a Barn Owl despite it being over a mile away.
deer on Amberley Wild Brooks
Thursday 28 November. I took Cookie to Shoreham Fort where we saw 4 Turnstones, a Purple Sandpiper, Meadow Pipit and 30 Greenfinches. Widewater was very quiet with 4 Little Grebes and we soon moved on to the Adur Saltings to be sure to arrive before the tide come in too far. We arrived 90 minutes before a big high tide (6.5m) which was probably about right and watched from opposite the houseboats. I saw 26 Teal, 12 Lapwing, 66 Snipe, 68 Redshank, the Greenshank and Curlew, a second-winter Mediterranean Gull, a Kingfisher (seen twice), 7 Long-tailed Tits and a Rock Pipit. The snipe were flushed from the saltings by the rising tide, flying high off over the A259 in the direction of the Dogs Trust. In all 58 were seen flying off with 8 remaining in the small area of saltings left uncovered by the tide where the shanks and Curlew had gathered. Back home a Jay was seen in the one small tree in our front garden.
Greenshank and Redshank on the Adur
second-winter Mediterranean Gull on the Adur


Adur saltings at high tide
Jay in our front garden


the light was awful



Wednesday, 27 November 2019

Strugling with Cuckmere gulls (24 & 26 November)

Wednesday 27 November. Another grim looking day, I took Cookie to Brooklands where between showers an excellent Cetti's Warbler, Chiffchaff, 2 Firecrests, 5 Goldcrests and a Mistle Thrush.Just 3 Teal and 4 Little Grebes were seen on the lake with 100 or so very ordinary looking gulls. Hearing a Pheasant on the rough ground between the lake and the A259 was unexpected.
not the underwing of the thrush I dream of finding
Tuesday 26 November. A return visit to the Cuckmere where I spent 3.5 hours checking through a fairly static flock of about 900 gulls of which 700 were Great Black-backs. Several Yellow-legged Gulls were obvious and again I saw what I took to be a third-winter Caspian Gull although the one useful image I obtained of it, while perhaps not representative, was rather off-putting. It also added to my unease about the third-winter seen on Sunday so I'll have to try again. As well as this bird I ended up seeing at least 6 Yellow-legged Gulls (5 adults and a second-winter), 3 argentatus Herring Gulls, 2 colour-ringed Great Black-backed Gulls (too distant and in too long grass to read), a neatly hooded Lesser black-backed Gull, 8 Brent Geese and a Sparrowhawk.
gulls in the Cuckmere
preening gull I thought looked good for a third-winter Caspian ...

... until I saw this image (the only one of about 15 to show its head). Despite fleshy straw legs and its pale bill which is probably foreshortened it didn't look quite right.
sleeping adult Yellow-legged Gull
another adult Yellow-legged Gull showing a square head nicely
another adult Yellow-legged Gull 
a larger looking adult Yellow-legged Gull
a snoutty, chesty looking adult Yellow-legged Gull but note pale eye and bright bill and legs
another or one of the earlier adult Yellow-legged Gulls
2.5 hours into my search the front right bird caught my attention with its pale bill
and small eye
but at times the head shape looked decidedly odd
its eye was pale
and wing pattern very much Yellow-legged Gull
another or one of the earlier Yellow-legged Gulls
second-winter Yellow-legged Gull
presumably the same bird two hours later
black colour-ringed Great Black-backed Gull, probably Norwegian. Even if it had been close enough to read the half of the ring is obscured by grass
red colour-ringed Great Black-backed Gull, probably ringed on the North Thames
large size, darker mantle and extensive white in primaries indicate argentatus Herring Gull, one of at least three similar birds seen
ignore the adult Yellow-legged Gull, it is the neat hooded appearance of the Lesser Black-back that caught my eye. Intermedius has a whiter head than graellsii which suggests it is the latter whereas I would have put it down as the former based on mantle colour
Monday 25 November. Possibly my worst ever visit to Mill Hill with Megan and Cookie where I saw single Blue Tit and Robin and no thrushes at all. Followed at low tide by one of my worst visits to the Adur with Little Egret, 6 Redshank and 200 Herring Gulls.
this was the most interesting Herring Gull I could find on the Adur, the unevenly darker upperparts caught my eye, making me wonder if it was an argentatus
Sunday 24 November. I spent from 08:45-15:30 in the Cuckmere, partly with Matt who had done really well the previous day when I had been put off by some early rain. I spent three hours checking at the gull flock which was very jumpy. Most obvious amongst at least 400 Great Black-backed Gulls were several Yellow-legged Gulls, mostly adults. Fairly early on I saw what I took to be a third-winter Caspian Gull but it soon sat down out of sight and despite much effort I never saw it again, presumably flying off and not returning during one of the regular scares. Later I met Matt and we went above the road to check what turned out to be a few gulls up there. We then tried the east side of the Cuckmere look for the Water Pipit he'd seen the previous day and again that morning but it wasn't in its usual place. I returned for another hour with the gull flock increasing my Yellow-legged Gull total to 5-6 adults, a third-winter and 2-3 second-winters. Other birds seen in the Cuckmere were a Bar-headed and 2 Egyptian Geese, Goldeneye, Kingfisher, 2 Chiffchaffs, 2 Goldcrests, male Stonechat and about 20 Rock Pipits. Checking my gull images at home I was disappointed to find that none of the few I had taken of the Caspian Gull had come out, unlike virtually all of my Yellow-legged Gulls. some of which follow:
second-winter Yellow-legged Gull in the Cuckmere
adult Yellow-legged Gull, a rather Caspian stance but the bright bill, pale eye and yellowish legs suggested otherwise. Open wing not seen.


another of the adult Yellow-legged Gulls
a different, larger, second-winter Yellow-legged Gull, the apparent orange tip to its otherwise black bill belongs to a Great Black-back behind
the original or a third second-winter Yellow-legged Gull
a third-winter Yellow-legged Gull, age based on black on the bill, brownish tinge to coverts and indistinct wing mirrors
another adult Yellow-legged Gull
Yellow-legged Gull synchronised preening
the same two birds ten minutes later
thick-billed, bright legged adult Yellow-legged Gull


a different or one of the earlier adult Yellow-legged Gulls
almost back where I started, adult Yellow-legged Gull in Caspian pose, definitely time to give up ...
Saturday 23 November. I'd thought of trying the Cuckmere for gulls but early rain in Shoreham put me off. I took Cookie to Shoreham Fort where two Purple Sandpipers and 2 Turnstone were roosting on the wooden jetty. The Greenfinch flock was still present and I estimated at least 45. Smart birds when one stops to look at them. The Greenshank and 25 Redshank were opposite the houseboats as the tide came in. Later a visit to the Adur at low tide to check the gull roost produced two North Thames Herring Gulls. A7HT was my 250th reading of a gull's colour ring on the Adur between the Railway Line and A27 flyover and not one I'd read before. My 4th reading of X6NT was my 251st, involving 154 individuals of 8 species (88 Herring, 36 Great Black-backed, 8 of both Lesser Black-backed and Common, 7 Mediterranean, 5 Black-headed and single Caspian and Yellow-legged).
Turnstone and 2 Purple Sandpipers in the gloom at Shoreham Fort
North Thames Herring Gull X6NT on the Adur, I'd previously seen it here in November 2015 when it was a second calendar year and May 2018.
Friday 22 November. Megan and I took Cookie up to Nymans in the afternoon when dogs are allowed on short leads. It was virtually birdless (so not much different from previous visits) with Buzzard, Nuthatch and 10 Greenfinches seen. Nice to see the array of autumn colours both there and on the journey.

Thursday 21 November. Nice to see a flock of 40 Greenfinches at Shoreham Fort with Cookie, otherwise just 5 Turnstone on the rising tide. Later we walked a circuit around the Adur seeing 5 Oystercachers, 91 Lapwing, 2 Grey and 21 Ringed Plover, 11 Redshank and 8 Linnets.