Monday, 30 December 2013

Portland Harbour (30 December 2013)

A trip down to Portland Harbour with John King for the Brunnich's Guillemot which showed very well, although on one occasion it was almost obliterated by driving rain and spray in gale force winds.  The storm quickly moved through and we also saw Black Guillemot, 2 Razorbills, 2 Great Northern and a Black-throated Diver and lots of Shags.  Nice to see Martin Casemore and Brian Short amongst others. 
Brunnich's Guillemot in Portland Harbour
 insurance against Scottish devolution and something I'd not seen since Japan in 2003
the same digiscoped with completely different colours, the reality was probably somewhere between the two
the Black Guillemot in Portland Harbour kept its distance
another auk I'd not seen for over 10 years

Sunday, 29 December 2013

Old Lodge and Shoreham (24-29 December)

29 December.  Four hours at Old Lodge watching the Parrot Crossbills with John King and others - a good turn out by Sussex standards and nice to catch up with a few old friends.  The Parrot Crossbill flock initially had eight birds in it (before they flew I'd counted at least 4 males and 3 females feeding unobtrusively in a large larch).  They flew again when nine were seen but I was to busy failing to get a recording t count them, although I did get a poor recording later on the one occasion they became quite vocal.  They moved a short distance into the reserve and there I could be sure of 5 males and 3 females but was not quick enough to get onto all six males the one time they were all on view at once.   They all appeared to be of a similar size and structure - large, bulky, thick necked, big headed - although the impressiveness of their bills appeared to vary with the viewing angle.  Their foreheads most often appeared quite flat but again the angle or posture made a difference. Unfortunately I saw no Common Crossbills alongside them although as we arrived about 15 flew out of the trees we first saw a Parrot in. Old Lodge was otherwise very quiet with 35 Redwing and 2 Coal Tits the best I saw.  A Grey Plover was the best on the Adur on the way home.  The following Parrot Crossbill pics are shown in the order n which they were taken.  Birds were often obscured to varying degrees and sometimes against the light so most leave something to be desired.
this angle makes the head looked quite rounded and the bird easily overlooked

no overlooking this one with a massive head and bill

this was perhaps the closest I got to the Shovel-billed Kingfisher analogy
little forehead evident from this angle
certainly one I would overlook on its own
although a slight movement of the head makes it look much more impressive, and big headed 
the big head and thick neck are evident even when seemingly alert

even foreshortened the bill is impressive
27 December.  Seven Purple Sandpipers and 25 Turnstones at Shoreham Fort.  8 Red-breasted Mergansers at Widewater (the six and a pair), the Mute swan family, single Coot and some Little Grebes.
Little Egret at Widewater

Red-breasted Merganser at Widewater
26 December.  Two North Thames colour-ringed gulls by the Yacht Club, 3 Purple Sandpipers, 15 Turnstone, a Rock Pipit and 14 Greenfinches at Shoreham Fort and a Perergine on the Power Station chimney but no nest box there.  Hundreds of gulls feeding on small crabs and shellfish washed up by the storms but I was unable to pick anything of note from amongst them. 200 Lapwing and 3 Song Thrushes by the Adur.

N8HT, both these birds were ringed at Rainham Tip on 16 November
where is my nestbox?
built to last - gates on the west arm damaged by wind again
feeding frenzy

25 December.  Happy Christmas.  Three Mistle Thrushes over Worthing Cemetery during a post Christmas lunch walk.

24 December.  11 Little Grebe, the Mute Swan family (pair with 5 young), 6 Red-breasted Mergansers and one Coot on Widewater.
4 of the 6 Red-breasted Mergansers on a rough Widewater
all six

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Lower Cuckmere 22 December 2013

Sunday 22 December.  Visited the Cuckmere with John King to look at gulls again.  We spent over three hours with a flock of about 500 north of the Golden Galleon with an adult Caspian Gull showing well but distantly for about half that time.  Also 4, possibly 6, adult Yellow-legged Gulls, two adult argentatus Herring Gulls and several frustratingly brief views of a putative first-winter Caspian Gull.  The gulls eventually all flew south and we then walked down to the scrape on the east side of the river seeing Bar-headed Goose, Kingfisher and roosting Spoonbill.  There were about 2000 gulls in the fields west of the river but rather distant from where we were.  

Caspian Gull looking left showing long pale bill, white head, small eye, darker (than Herring Gull) mantle and white tongue to p10 visible on this image
second from the back showing smaller head, annaconda nexk, washed out bill and longer thinner legs
my best image of the head side on, or would be if not somewhat obstructed by something flapping in front of the lens

very long winged even when out of focus

this image best captures the birds distinctive look
stilt like legs, pale bill and small dark eye showing well in this image
[February 2014 addition:  John King and I were completely happy that this bird was an adult Caspian Gull for the reasons set out in the above captions (long, thin washed out bill, small unstreaked pear shaped head, small dark eye, reddish eye-ring, darker than argenteus mantle, annaconda neck, dull long thin legs, hanging rear belly and pattern of p10). We felt that it was a classic bird in every respect, a view shared by several others that I have spoken to (some, like me, quite cynical!) who have seen these images posted on my blog. Unfortunately it never stretched its nearer wing for me to photograph so I couldn’t be sure of the pattern on p4 or p5. Without seeing these features I felt that attempting a trait score might be pointless but without seeing enough for an absolutely certain trait score I feel it is conclusive enough to support its identification as a pure Caspian Gull. The following comes from British Birds104:702-742, Identification of Caspian Gulls part 2 (December 2011) and applies to adults:
P10 overall pattern: white to black ratio. Less black than white. Score 0 (applies to all sampled Caspian Gulls, 25% of hybrids and 39% of Herring Gulls).

P10: white tip. Complete sub-terminal bar. Score 3 (applies to 12% of Caspian Gulls, 25% of hybrids and 7% of Herring Gulls). This is highest scoring (worst) trait noted on this bird, although a similar bird is shown on Steve Arlow’s blog (see above for details) as being ‘typical of some Caspians but generally not commonly seen on the birds in south Essex’.

P10: tongue. White or whitish. Score 0 (applies to 76% of Caspian Gulls, 17% of hybrids and 2% of Herrings).

P5: extent of black. Not seen. Score 0-4. Note that only 1% of Caspian and 0% of hybrids scored 4 for this trait so that outcome can safely be excluded while only 9% of Caspian and 25% of hybrids scored 3 making that a very unlikely outcome too. Most likely score 1 or 2.

P4: extent of black. Not seen. Score 0-2. Most likely score 2 as per 72% of Caspian and 83% of hybrids.

Iris peppering. Dark-looking. Score 0 (applies to 47% of Caspian Gulls but none of the sampled hybrids or Herring Gulls).

Eye-ring colour. Dark/deep orange to red. Score 0 (as 21% of Caspians, 57% of hybrids and 6% of Herrings).

Bill shape. Slim, slight gonydeal angle (ratio 2.4-2.79). Score 1 (applies to 87% of Caspian Gulls, 42% of hybrids and 8% of Herring Gulls).

Leg length. Long. Score 0 (applies to 52% of Caspian Gulls, 42% of hybrids and 5% of Herring Gulls).
The total score for this bird is in the range 4-9 depending on the unseen extent of black on p5 (0-3) and p4 (0-2) but almost certainly 7-8. This is comfortably within the range of the known pure adult Caspian Gulls sampled (4-12) and just outside the range for hybrids (9-20). Adult Herring Gulls ranged from 12-20. This supports the identification as a pure Caspian Gull made on the observed features, none of which suggest any hybrid influence at all. ]


dark mantle, large size, bright pink legs and extensive white primary tip all point towards argentatus Herring Gull, but although the head was streaked it wasn't excessively so
colour-ringed Lesser Black-backed Gull xx54
Yellow-legged Gull in the Cuckmere
red eye-ring just about visible on this one
sleeping Spoonbill
Saturday 21 December.  Nice views of 4 Purple Sandpipers at Shoreham Fort despite/because of the atrocious weather.  I sheltered behind the yellow fishermen's container. nothing was seen out to sea but visibility was poor as well as having strong winds and driving rain to contend with.