Thursday, 28 February 2013

Pintail reach double figures

28th February - a quick check before work this morning.  A Tawny Owl was calling on my way in, which is new for the year.  Otherwise, a notable increase in the presence of immature LWHG - I'm still hoping that this will draw in the Iceland Gull that's utilising the nearby Hedgerley landfill - mainly Herring Gulls and some LBBG today.  The regular Pintail were lurking around the base of the island and on closer inspection, I could see 3 pairs plus some other males - there haven't been 3 females before this period and with a bit of searching and a walk to the SW corner for a better view, I could see that a further pair had joined the regular 8 birds, so now 10 birds on site - not bad! 7 males and 3 females.

The Snipe continue to hide themselves in the reed bed and have not been at all obvious since the weather turned cold again.  A pair of Shelduck are still on site.

I made a return visit at 3pm to look at the gull pre-roost.  A 1w Med Gull was immediately obvious standing on one of the near sections of spit.  However, it managed to lose itself before I could take a record shot and then the whole flock was put up by something unseen and most of the gulls departed.  With time marching on, that put paid to gull watching for the day, so I left.

Friday, 22 February 2013

Another day another Med

20th February - nipped out briefly late afternoon to check the pit and watch the gull pre-roost.  Nothing new in and very cold, with a biting easterly breeze straight into my face.

Common Gulls were in in numbers again, crammed in at the base of the spit.  I picked out the top of a black head amongst these, which looked good for Med and eventually it showed well enough to confirm a nice adult Med.  This bird was in near full summer plumage, with a solid black hood, apart from a white patch at the base of the bill and nice white eye lids.  A much more advanced bird than yesterday's bird.  I watched it until 17:35, when as usual most of the smaller gulls took flight and flew off west.  Little else of note amongst the LWHG.

Another awful record, as the light was dipping and it was a long way off.  It had its bill tucked into its back, but you can see the extent of the black hood and the lack of black in the primaries.

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

I'm All Right Jack

19th February - a cold start, but by the afternoon, it was pleasantly mild and very sunny.  I made a mid afternoon visit by which time, viewing from the west on a sunny afternoon gives the best conditions and everything was lit up and bathed in sunshine.

There are still huge numbers of Snipe on site.  Usually in the morning, they are huddled at the base of the reeds in small groups and can be hard to see and count, but by the afternoon, they often become more active and are easier to see.  I decided to try a count and reached an amazing 103 birds - my highest count to date, though I think there have been slightly higher counts this winter.  Buoyed by seeing 2 Jack Snipes earlier in the day at my old stomping ground Dinton Pastures, where there were only a few accompanying Snipe, I decided to have another look at these birds - there had to be at least one Jack amongst them!  Having been through these birds many times over the past few months and finding nothing but Common Snipe, it felt a bit like just reward that almost the first bird I looked at this afternoon had no central crown stripe and there it was feeding away out in the open on a small grass strip between the reeds and the lake, a lovely little Jack Snipe.  These apparently used to be much more regular here some years ago, but are now much harder to locate and this was only my second here.  Fortunately it remained on view feeding along the reed line for the rest of the afternoon, enabling at least 4 other people to see it.  Funnily enough, I am used to seeing these little birds bobbing away as if on springs, but this bird only did this rarely and was generally probing in a sewing machine like style - maybe he was just hungry!

A couple of awful record shots, just about show its small size and dark body with 'stand-out' golden mantle stripes - it was quite a long way away and it is a small bird (excuses, excuses!).  All my shots had its distinctive head pattern and small bill hidden in the grass!

It's the small bird head down in the centre - honest!

The right hand central bird - I think you can make out some of the head pattern in this.
Then my attention to turned to the gathering gulls - Common Gulls are now appearing in some number and there were many hundreds on site.  Amongst these, firstly the regular 1w Caspian Gull arrived, did a spot of preening and then disappeared, so had presumably flown off.  Then I picked out the head of an adult Med Gull in the middle of the throng.  It was difficult to see and kept being obscured, although eventually Dave C picked it out as well.  Judging by the extent of the black hood, although extensively flecked with white, extending over the sides and back of the head, this is possibly the bird seen on 11th Feb, though slightly more advanced. It could equally as well be a new bird.

Wildfowl of note included all 8 Pintail again, mostly under the main island willows, including 6 males and 2 females.  Shelduck numbered 4 birds today.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013


A summary of Caspian Gulls seen on site since August 2012, especially for Rob N!

Bird 1:  It starts in August 2012, with this 1st summer bird seen on the 14th and 15th and probably again on 6th Oct:

Bird 2:  Then on 25th Sept, this juvenile moulting to 1st winter appeared for 1 day:

Bird 2 or 3:  On 9th November, this large 1st winter appeared, which is possibly the Sept bird, as they were both large beasts.  This bird remained regular, but was last seen in early Jan 2013, I last saw it on the 12th:

Bird 3 or 4:  On 23rd November, another 1st winter was captured on film by Dick S - I never saw this bird and I don't think it was seen subsequently:

Bird 4 or 5:  On 23rd December, another 1st winter joined the regular bird and was seen several times and also on its own.  I last saw this bird on 27th Jan:

Bird 5 or 6:  On 5th Feb, another 1st winter put in its first appearance and is now being seen fairly regularly:

An adult was also seen in January, but not photographed.  So, since August 2012, to my knowledge there have been at least 6 and possibly 7 different Casps on site, 4 or 5 1st winters, 1 1st summer and 1 adult.

Closer Today

12th February - the same 1w Casp flew in again at 2:45pm, just as I had to leave!  Luckily, it was much closer today, so a better record shot follows:

This is definitely the third different 1st winter Casp in 2013 to grace the pit, all photographed, plus an unphotographed adult.  If you go back a few months in 2012, there are a further 3 that I can think of, so Caspian Gull is certainly coming to the pit in good numbers at present - a direct result of Hedgerley landfill no doubt - I shall try and put together a photo essay of these - I do enjoy seeing Casps!  But are we missing the second and third winters? I would like to think not.

I counted all 8 Pintail today, 6 males and 2 females and also counted 182 Gadwall, as they were mostly in open water - a very impressive total for this site and I'm sure there were other uncounted birds lurking out of view.

The Snipe seemed to all be out feeding in tight groups on the remaining spit - 94 birds - again very impressive for this site.  Otherwise, as I said yesterday, it's all seeming a bit samey and we could do with some more interesting arrivals.

Monday, 11 February 2013

White-winger, but nothing new

11th February - well its been wet, very muddy and now snow again.  I've been down for a few quick visits in the week, but little has changed.  Today I made a lunchtime visit to see what the snow had brought in.  I was greeted by this nice adult Med Gull.  It's acquiring its summer hood, so is a different bird to an adult winter reported the weekend before last and I think it looks different to the adult bird seen about a month ago too.

The 2 male Shelduck from last week were joined by another male and a female over the weekend and all 4 were still there today.  Pintail numbers had jumped by another single male to 8 birds on Saturday, 6 males and 2 females.  They favour the overhanging the willows on the eastern bank, north of the spit, so are usually hidden from my vantage point on the west bank.  Today, 4 males appeared briefly swimming out from this area, but soon disappeared again and I didn't have time to check how many were actually there.

My 1w LWHG from last week flew in again - is it a Casp, is it YLG?  Well, it certainly looked like a Casp today and I think the darkish area around the eye had put me off unnecessarily.  I saw a lovely white underwing and the scap markings seem fine for Casp, as do the coverts.  Structurally it always looked better for Casp than YLG, so wobble over and Casp it is.  It was distant again though, so only record shots.

Alert posture makes it look quite big, but it's actually a mid-sized bird
The Green Sand flew in again, as it often does and Snipe numbers are still impressively high, with at least 85 visible feeding on the spit today, but otherwise, same old same old.

One other bird of note from last week was a Coal Tit - never an easy bird on this site due to the lack of conifers, but one has been seen a few times coming in from the north to the area around the cottages.  The bird I saw alerted me to its presence as it was in song.  It disappeared off back north.

Thursday, 7 February 2013

Or is it YLG?

6th February - I saw the 1st winter LWHG again that I'd called as Casp yesterday and had some doubts that it wasn't a Yellow-legged Gull.  It has always been fairly distant, but some of the features don't seem quite right for Casp.  In particular, what looked like a faint shadowy effect from the back of the eye yesterday looked more like a defined eye mask today - a good YLG feature, but not good for Casp.  Also, a slightly better look at the inner scapular markings, showed some lower ones that looked like the double anchor marks of YLG rather than the faint single anchor marks of Casp.  It still shows some features that are good for Casp, but equally a slightly built YLG might show them as well.  In some ways, I should be pleased if it is a YLG, as that would be a year tick, but it is not a great feeling to call the wrong bird initially.  I am hoping to see the bird again in better circumstances to confirm in my own mind one way or the other and have also sent some of the distant record shots to a renowned expert for comment, but I think I know what the answer is.  Gulls, don't you just love 'em!

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Week's Highlights

5th February - 3 visits over the past week haven't given me any new year ticks and not a lot in the way of new birds, but these are some of the highlights:

Woodcocks are obviously like buses, as after a poor gull roost on the 1st, as I walked back to my car, one flew SW over the car and car park field and on over the STW where it was nicely underlit by the bright lights.  It was presumably heading to the riverside meadows to feed.

Pintail are still much in evidence and have been rising in number by 1 or 2 birds over the past few days.  Often asleep out of the water on the island, where they can be very difficult to see under the willows.  The original 3 males were joined by a further pair on the 28th - per my last post, which may or may not have moved on, as an additional pair was not reported again until last Saturday, 2nd.  Then on Sunday 3rd it was up to 6 and today 7 birds were showing, initially hidden away on the island, but in the afternoon showing well up-ending on the far side of the spit.  They comprised the original 3 males, plus 2 further pairs.

There were 2 male Shelduck present on 31st and 1st, but down to a single male today.  There was also an apparent influx of diving duck last week on the 1st - I counted 273 Tufted Duck, including my old friend the blue nasal-saddled female, BFK - see here and 85 Pochard.  Shoveler numbered 68, but I had to leave before the large numbers of Wigeon, Gadwall and Teal could be counted.  2 Dabchick have been more in evidence too.

A Chiffchaff on the 4th is a regular wintering collybita, as is the irregular Green Sand, which turned up on the spit briefly today.

Gull wise, Black-headed Gulls are present in many hundreds over the spit during the day, with hundreds more feeding on the flood meadows.  These have attracted an adult winter Med Gull recently and I'm sure with scrutiny, more will begin to turn up.  Common Gulls have also started their annual Spring build up, when 2-3000 birds will roost here.  LWHG have been fairly uneventful, certainly during my largely daytime visits - the roost might be more productive.  A count of 46 GBB Gulls on the 31st was my highest so far this year.  Today, pre school pick-up, a 1st winter Caspian Gull arrived, which is yet another new Casp for the year, making 3 1st winters and an adult so far in 2013.  This bird was mid-sized and had a distinctive dark shadow behind the eye forming a dark line from the eye towards the rear crown.  It also had the beginnings of a pale based bill, with the basal two thirds appearing paler than the black tip.  The pattern of the scaps was different to the other birds, with rows of little dark diamonds on the upper scaps - the thin dark shafts and anchor marks more evident on closer views.  It was always fairly distant, so with the usual apologies for poor record shots, here's a few to give you an idea of its appearance:

You can just see the long, thin pale pink legs