Monday 31 December 2012

late December bits (27-31 December 2012)

27 December.  River Adur, Shoreham Fort, Widewater and River Adur circuit.  Cycled round in a couple of hours.  Weather better than forecast but tide still not helpful as only low after dark so no sandbars in the Adur.  Seven Purple Sandpipers on the wooden pier, 7 Red-breasted mergansers on Widewater, 7 Sanderling on the beach there, 2 Rock pipits on Shoreham Airfield and one at the Fort.  Also the Coot and the Mute Swan family still on Widewater with an interloping swan chased off and a Sparowhawk over Shoreham.

28 December.  Weather too bad to venture out when little prospect of seeing anything.

29 December.  Walk around Rackham with Megan and Vanessa.  Amberley Wildbrooks were very flooded with lots of distant wildfowl.  Very windy with few small birds in evidence, the best being 2 Treecreepers and a Nuthatch at Rackham and a Mistle thrush and 30 Redwings in Parham Park.

flooded Amberley Wildbrooks from Rackham

30 December.  Day in London with family.

31 December.   River Adur, Shoreham Fort and Widewater.  Chickened out and drove today.  Lowish tide on the Adur first thing, but it was always coming in.  A colour-ringed Greater Black-backed Gull was on the Adur but it flew off west before I could read more than the first character (a J so presumably Norwegian).  More success on the shore by the Sailing Club where North Thames Herring Gull NM8T was present, along with 400 other gulls until a dog walker put them up.  I counted at least 10 Purple Sandpipers near the fort but didn't wait for the high tide to see if all 12 were present.  Also at the Fort were 3 Rock Pipits, one a well marked bird that I could imagine was a littoralis, but maybe many are at this time of year?  A few birds were moving distantly with 81 Gannets, 17 Kittiwakes, 5 Fulmars and a Red-breasted Merganser flying west and 18 Brent Geese (4+14) east.  The Mute Swan family (2 adults and 5 youngsters) were on Widewater along with 11 Red-breasted Mergansers (2 pairs, a male with 2 females and 4 females/young).

Herring Gull NM8T, ringed as a 2CY at Pitsea (Essex) on  27 March 2010 and seen on the Adur on 17 September 2011 

Wednesday 26 December 2012

Adur Valley goose and swan hunt (26 December 2012)

26 December.  I was keen to see Alan Kitson's Red-breasted Goose but as its been covering a wide area decided the best policy was to cycle up the Downs Link detouring as appropriate.  This worked well apart from a few stiles off route which were a bit of a pain to negotiate.  The Grey Lag flock on Beeding Brooks, seen from the Public Way from Smugglers Lane to Horton Hall comprised about 90 birds including a lone Brent Goose.  The Brooks were very flooded so I continued to Small dole and across to Streatham Manor.  The area to the north was flooded too and the next goose flock were where the Adur forks south of Bines Farm.  Here the Red-breasted Goose was found with 50 Grey Lags and 70 Canadas.  Unfortunately rather distant but still a nice bird.  Its length of stay will probably determine whether it is considered to be an escape or of unknown origin (and probably not better/worse than others in the county to which that applies).  Returning down the Downs Link 17 Bewick's Swans were seen distantly on the floods east of Wyckham Farm, very encouragingly 6 were young birds.  also seen were 2 Peregrines over (Dacre Gardens), 2 Stonechats, flocks of 8 and 11 Long-tailed Tits and a Jay.  No winter thrushes at all, or Bullfinches which are becoming increasingly scarce and no sign  of any Common Sandpipiers although the river was high (on the way up and back).
Red-breasted Goose south of Bines Farm
appears to be fully-winged ...

25 December.  An hour or so on Christmas morning produced 12 Purple Sandpipiers at Shoreham Fort and 6 Red-breasted Mergansers on Widewater.

Monday 24 December 2012

Shoreham Caspian Gull or hybrid (24 December 2012)

24 December.  At Shoreham Fort at high tide this morning a small white headed Herring Gull type was standing on the inner east arm.  More interested at the time in checking for colour rings (none seen) I took a couple of images of this bird but soon lost interest as it didn't do anything, my camera battery was playing up and I had to leave to do some Christmas shopping.  Reviewing images later it looked more interesting than it first appeared - that is the problem with digiscoping - too much messing about and not enough studying what I'm looking at.  Checking against 'Identification of Caspian Gull - part 2' in last December's British Birds (Vol 104 p702-742) I thought it looked sufficiently convincing, with a few minor issues, for a Caspian Gull to try and trait score it.

Here is the bird.  Another that will require a bit more research ...

a small headed snouty gull with long wings, white tipped dark tertials but rather white greater coverts
Trait scoring this bird (as per British Birds, see details below) is a bit subjective but I get 23.  This is in the zone between a pure Caspian Gull (12-25) and a hybrid (22-32).  Pure Herring Gull clocks in at 29-37.  I briefly saw its underwing, which wasn't gleaming white but neither was it very dark.  Its legs do not look particularly long and thin but its front and back ends are convincing.  I'm glad I've seen one before. 

Scapular moult 0/2 (no first generations scapulars left), 92% of Caspian Gulls and 78% of hybrids are thus.

Greater covert pattern 3/3 (lots of white), just 4% of Caspian Gulls but 50% of hybrids are like this.

Ventral bulge 1/1 (despite my best efforts I can't really see one), 38% of Caspian Gulls and 66% of hybrids are like this.

Primary projection 0/3 (long, > 0.6), 72% of Caspian Gulls and 56% of hybrids are thus.

Greater covert moult 5/5 (no moult), 35% of Caspian Gulls and 78% of hybrids are like this.

Median covert moult 5/5 (no moult), 19% of Caspian Gulls and 67% of hybrids are like this.

Tertial moult 3/3 (all old), 66% of Caspian Gulls and 89% of hybrids are like this.

Darkness of head and body 2/4 (light streaking), 43% of Caspian Gulls and 22% of hybrids are like this.

Tertial pattern 0/3 (diffuse white tip), 65% of Caspian Gulls and 33% of hybrids are like this.

Scapular pattern 4/4 (all contrastingly patterned), 15% of Caspian Gulls and 88% of hybrids are like this.
Also at Shorehan Fort were, eventually, all 12 Purple Sandpipers and the Black Redstart while a handful of Brent Geese were flying past, 11E and 8 W).  A low tide visit to the Adur was again disappointing  with no exposed sandbars and a bait digger on the shore.  About 1000 large gulls were right out on the airfield but most were Herring.  Too far to pick out anything interesting or see, let alone read, any colour rings.

Purple Sandpiper on the beach before joining the high tide roost on the wooden inner pier

Black Redstart by Shoreham Harbour's West Arm.  The bird has a rather strange almost rufous tint to the face and upper breast
nice not to be a gull

Sunday 23 December 2012

Lewes and Cuckmere again (23 December 2012, updated)

23 December.  Disappointed with yesterday's photographic efforts and with a better day forecast (no rain!) I met John King in Mayhew Way, Lewes where the seven Waxwings were performing, although the light was only somewhat better.  There were few gulls by the Ouse Project so we drove straight on to the Cuckmere to look at the gulls north of the Golden Galleon.  Here a third-winter Caspian Gull was watched for ninety minutes although it was always distant and often asleep.  Later a presumed advanced second-winter Caspian Gull was seen but although it showed many features of Caspian Gull its coverts were perhaps coarser and the mantle a shade darker than usual - but then gulls are very variable.  Unfortunately yesterday's fine adult could not be found although neither of these two were the similar aged birds seen the previous day.   I called in at the Adur on the way home but the tide was coming in, not helped by a neap tide and a full river.   Few gulls were loafing, although they did include a 3CY North Thames Herring Gull YK7T previously seen there on 17 March 2012.  It was ringed at Pitsea, Essex in October 2010 and seen at Boulogne-sur-Mer a few days later.  I then ran out of time with the blog and more images, with captions, now follow.

Waxwings in Lewes, not raining but light still not brilliant

black berries were favoured as much as red ones
hopefully these will be the first of many Waxwings I see this winter
my favourite goose - Bar-headed in the Cuckmere
Now the gulls.  Very good experience although flooding meant the gulls were rather further away than normal and certainly further away than was ideal - for seeing feather detail and digiscoping.  At least the light was good and both birds gave prolonged views allowing one to get a good impression of them although the more I learn the more I realise I don't know (and the more frustrating the literature, at least for these ages).  They certainly present the greatest challenge for local birders, at least of species that realistically might be encountered.  As always conversations with David Cooper have proved immensely helpful although I'm happy to admit to struggling more than he does with these gulls - reading colour-rings on the Adur is usually much easier!

The third-winter Caspian.  After yesterday's age-related problems (of which I wasn't exempt) I initially thought this was the second-winter found by David Cooper which had a noticeable smudge on the side of the breast.  This appears to be just about evident in this image but in fact what I took to be a breast smudge is, because its head is turned away, faint nape streaking from a residual shawl.  It was eventually aged as a third-winter based on an almost wholly white tail, with the trace of a darker sub-terminal band on the inner feathers.

the dark mantle, white head and long primaries drew my attention to the rear left bird but it seemed a long wait for it to raise its head and confirm my suspicions
this image shows the pear shaped head with forward positioned small dark eye (some faint shadowing present), long sloping forehead.  The long thin bill is somewhat foreshortened and not showing to full effect.  Note also very white head and bulging breast. 
this image shows the brownish tinges to the coverts, the whitish edged tertials and very faint white tips to the primaries.  The head looks uncharacteristically large and the bill stubby but that is due to the angle and foreshortening.
this image shows the white head , forward placed eye and pale yellowish-olive bill with dark tip.  The mantle was a shade darker than argenteus Herring Gull (to the right) although that is not evident in this image due to the angle
this image shows the birds flat back, long wings, small head, long thin bill and small dark eye.  Pretty much a typical Caspian Gull structure.  Its neck hints of the annaconda swallowing a capybara.
as above, but capybara now swallowed, with the residual hind neck streaking just about visible, as is the wholly white out-tail
the bird was briefly seen in flight, but only head on when the only 'new' feature noted was a completely white undertail.
on one occasion the bird got out of the water and briefly (to brief to film) walked around.   Momentarily it stood next to two Lesser Black-backed Gulls and assumed a more upright posture putting it head and shoulders above them.  Its legs appeared long and thin and it gave the impression of a sagging vent so all the hoped for boxes were ticked. That is all the hoped for boxes until the last couple of weeks when one now hopes for a Polish colour-ring too!  Being unringed this was not the third-winter found by David Cooper (but only seen badly by me) the previous day.

third winter Caspian Gull, hand-held and rather shakey but it gives a good impression of the bird

as above

Presumed second-winter Caspian Gull.  The first bird (above) I was happy with the species but had some initial uncertainties about its age, at least until I saw its tail.  With this second one it never looked anything other than a second-winter but my concerns were more to the species, or purity thereof.  Very helpful discussions with David Cooper make me feel that this is a Caspian Gull too, as it very much has that species structure, but a further image search is probably required when I can face doing so!  This was differently plumaged from the much more advanced second-winter (confused as a third-winter) seen the previous day.

this bird was picked out as being 'different' by its darker mantle (c.f. argenteus Herring Gulls to the right).  This shows its small white head, dark eye and dark primaries.  It also shows very dark and coarsely patterned coverts and at times the mantle was perhaps darker than usual for Caspian Gull although that might be my lack of experience. 
this image shows the very small white head, dark eye, bulging neck and darker mantle
this image makes the head appear square and the bill short but is not considered to be representative due to the angle/foreshortening.  That doesn't negate the bullet hole eye which shows very well here.  The black tail band can be seen and part of one dull olive leg (unfortunately it never showed any more).
this image shows the tail band well but also the dark coarse coverts, some that have been replaced by more adult grey feathers.  Very long wings and white edged tertials can also be seen,.
this image shows a more typical head shape, small with a long sloping forehead, forward placed eye, long thin dull yellowish bill with black tip, long wings and white tipped tertials.  Faint hind neck streaking is just about visible, coverts don't look quite so contrasting?
the forward positioned eye and residual shawl streaking can be seen in this image.
as above but with apparent small pale notches in the tertials, 
a very clean headed bird with just a few streaks in the hind-neck, in this image the coverts don't appear so contrasting either ...
presumed second-winter Caspian Gull being attacked, blink and you'll miss it

presumed second-winter Caspian Gull

Saturday 22 December 2012

Lewes, Newhaven and Cuckmere in the rain and murk (22 December 2012)

22 December.  I tried unsuccessfully for the Lewes Waxwings during lunchtime on Thursday 20th although it was a good excuse to take the car to work rather than cycle on another wet and windy day.  They were still being seen so I retuned to Mayhew Way on Saturday morning arriving at about 9.15.  At 9.30, by which time Dave Cooper and Brenda Kay had arrived, seven flew in and I watched them in the rain continually for two hours getting a few poor photos, not helped initially by inadvertently setting the camera to 1/320sec which gave some very dark results.

Two of seven Waxwings by Mayhew Road, Lewes
Waxwing along Mayhew Road, Lewes
By now John King had arrived and we decided to see if we could find any interesting gulls in the Newhaven/Cuckmere area.  First we tried Newhaven Harbour as the tide was low although few gulls were on the beach and the main attraction was 5 Fulmars flying along the cliffs apparently prospecting.  There were hundreds of gulls by the Ouse project although one had to almost look directly into the rain to see them and most were standing back on.  Nothing was evident amongst those we could see from the shelter of the car, although we were not helped by being on the east side of the road with our viewing interrupted by traffic.  With the rain easing off we got out of the car and started to go through the flock more seriously but I'd only got half way through when they all flew off.  We continued to the Cuckmere where Dave Cooper had found three Caspian Gulls north of the Golden Galleon the previous Sunday (while I'd been to see the Hobbit).  A lot of gulls flying south down the valley was not a good sign as we drove over the hill from Seaford and the fields were very flooded but there were still reasonably numbers of mainly Greater Black-backed Gulls north of the road.  We checked these without finding anything and  as the rain had eased off we walked further north where a more mixed flock was partially obscured behind hedges.  An adult Mediterranean Gull and a pair of South African (Cape) Shelduck were present there while I had a very brief view of an interesting gull which immediately flew south.  Half the other gulls flew too but started drifting back and while we were waiting hoping more might do so Dave Cooper phoned to say he'd found a third-winter Caspian Gull just north of the Golden Galleon - presumably in the Greater Black-backed Gull flock we'd earlier dismissed!  We joined David five minutes later and he pointed out a bird, fast asleep half way across the valley and directly head on!  A brilliant bit of spotting.  Eventually it woke up and we were able to see enough on it to agree with the identification although subsequent examination of David's images suggests it was an advanced second-winter rather than a retarded third winter.  It was also not the bird David had originally seen, which was a third-winter.   I left John and David to find my dome lens cover which I'd dropped near the further flock and by the time I'd returned David had refound the third winter, this one with a yellow ring on its right leg.  It was also asleep and head on and by now the murk had descended but eventually it showed well enough for me to just about identify it.  David left and a few gulls flew off, including the original third winter, while some of the others moved around revealing an adult Caspian Gull amongst them (either that of it had just dropped in).   A very satisfying day despite very poor weather and rubbish photos.  Later discussions with David suggested that the adult might have been the unringed bird he saw the previous Sunday as it too was characterised by a very flat head.  My only image of it is not worth showing being just a blurry sleeping grey mantled white headed gull.  It had a pure white head with forward positioned bullet hole dark eye, long thin slightly drooping bill, long neck, darker than argenteus Herring Gull mantle, long wings, extending well beyond the tail, white tip to p10 which was more white than black, dull long thin legs and a sagging vent.  I did not note a capybara in its gullet and it didn't do any giraffe impressions as it soon sat down to sleep. 

very poor shot of sleeping presumed second-winter Caspian Gull (3rd from right and slightly side on)
the same bird with its head up.  Much better photos at

Sunday 16 December 2012

Shoreham and Pulborough (15-16 December 2012)

Saturday 15 December.  Wet and very windy, I cycled around the usual areas but with low tides before dawn and after dark I was not hopeful of seeing much on the Adur and that was the case with a single Grey Plover evident.  An adult argentatus Herring Gull was briefly on the mud by the Yacht Club but didn't linger for its photograph to be taken.   Seven Purple Sandpipers were roosting on the wooden pier at Shoreham Harbour as the tide came in and lots of gulls were flying around.  At Widewater the five young Mute Swans had rejoined their parents, while seven Red-breasted Mergansers and a/the returning Coot were also present on the Lagoon.  A big high tide revealed at least 60 Snipe, all looking very ordinary,   96 Teal and 75 Redshank and a Curlew flew in too.  A few urban diversions produced plenty of berry bushes but no Waxwings although it is still early days.

One of seven Purple Sandpipers seen on the wooden pier, others have seen up to 12 so I was missing a few
new gate on the West arm on 17 June 2012,  soon after being errected
new gate on West arm 15 December 2012
a very bad storm or very poor workmanship as it has lasted barely six months
Sunday 16 December.  Same again, but with much less wind and no rain, but I was a bit against the clock so drove to the usual places.  Five Stock Doves over the Adur but little else despite the tide still being quite low.  Shoreham Fort was more productive with single Black Redstart, Robin, Purple Sandpiper and two Rock Pipits (one a suspected littoralis) on the West Arm.  An adult Mediterranean Gull flew east as did two divers, considered most likely Black-throated, and two Brent Geese.  At Widewater six Red-breasted Mergansers, the Coot and Mute Swan family were on  the Lagoon.  An immature male Eider (my first of the year!) and at least 60 Common Scoter were on the sea and seven Brent and seven Red-throated divers flew west.

The sun was still shining so Megan and I then went to Pulborough RSPB where a single Bewick's Swan, about 150 Black-tailed Godwits and a pair of Coal Tits chasing around the feeders were the highlights.

Bewick's Swan at Pulborough

Sunday 9 December 2012

Aldeburgh (09 December 2012)

Sunday 9 December:  Went to Aldeburgh on the Suffolk coast with John King where the Hornemann's Arctic Redpoll gave superb views.  Perhaps not the crowd we'd anticipated but still some welcome faces I knew, not least John & Doreen Cooper (David & Brenda having found one on Unst some year's ago)!  I took almost 525 images which I've finally sorted.  They are a mixture of digiscoped and DSLR although more of the former it was often a bit too close but moving back only invited others to stand in front and restrict my view.  Joys of twitching!  My favourites follow:

superb feather edgings and fluffy body feathers, if only it had turned its head at this moment ...
this image captures the contrasting buffy wash to head and face 
a thin dark top to the yellow bill was quite noticeable
at times its bulk wasn't that evident ...
... at others it looked inflated
the restricted red crown patch and thin lack line down the top of the ill are obvious in this image as is the body bulk
an amazingly confiding bird perhaps experiencing its first encounter with humans, who it mainly ignored
head on the inverted triangular black face showed well
bath time
very white underparts with minimal streaking on the flanks and none on the undertail
zebra striped back
both stunning and subtle

very impressive even when partially obscured
the contrasting buffy face was quite obvious, as were long wings and tail
most likely the best bird I've seen in the UK this year

Saturday 8 December:  Cycled around Shoreham to Shoreham Fort and Widewater checking the usual areas and hoping to encounter some Waxwings but no joy.  There were several duck species on the sea off Widewater but their distance and the bright sun made most of them little better than silhouettes.    Those identified were 6 Gadwall, 27 Teal, 120 Common Scoter and 3 Red-breasted Mergansers.  The 5 young Mute Swans were also on the sea, perhaps their parents were encouraging them to leave.  A pair of Wigeon were on the creek at New Salts Farm and a North Thames Herring Gull by the Fort but was flushed before it could be digiscoped.