Monday, 31 March 2014

Second-winter Caspian Gulls

Over the weekend I visited Shawell twice. You may already have read my previous posting, so I won't go on about Sunday's adventures. A greater number of gulls were present at Shawell A5 lagoons on Saturday, the most numerous were Lesser Black-backed Gulls. Amongst them were a few gems. A couple of third calendar year Caspian Gulls provided much of the entertainment and two Yellow-legged Gulls were also paying a visit.

The two Casps were slightly different, the one in the picture being slightly more advanced. The other one still had fine dark streaks to its mantle feathers and they were a little more silvery grey. Strangely as often happens its bill was slightly more mature looking. Both birds had long stilt like legs and shared the typical bill profile of this species.

Third Calendar Year Caspian Gull

Sunday, 30 March 2014

Second Year Ring-billed Gull

As you know, I've put in my time at Shawell A5 Lagoons and today I got some reward for my efforts.

I had been a good boy this morning so it was off to Shawell again for the afternoon. I was hoping to see five more colour-ringed gulls to bring my total for the site to 300. On arrival there was a couple of hundred gulls loafing about, but a Common Buzzard flushed them and they all flew off towards the nearby landfill site. 

After this I decided to eat my sandwiches, as there was only about half-a-dozen Common Gulls left behind. Suddenly they were all in flight right in front of me. Amongst them was a gull that was larger and had slightly longer wings, but also quite similar in appearance. The Common Gulls were not happy with this bird and they were really harassing it and forced it to land on the water. The view of it on the water was good and almost immediately I thought that it was a second calendar year Ring-billed Gull.

The first thing I noticed was its bill, which was pink based and had a really distinctive black tip. I also had a similar aged Common Gull in view and its bill shape was clearly different - much weaker. Also its grey saddle was slightly paler than the Common Gull. Before I had the chance to check out the rest of its plumage it was mobbed again. Fortunately it came back down on the water and this time I was able to check the features I’d missed the first time. I saw that the greater coverts were similar in colour to the mantle and I had just enough time to rule out the possibility of it being a Herring Gull. It was clearly smaller than even the tiniest female Herring Gull; its head was more rounded and its wing pattern was not right for that species.

Sadly it was over a bit too quick for my liking, as I pride myself on getting a record shot of the birds I find. Of course the record is subject to approval by the LROS records committee, but I'm happy with my Identification.

To brighten up the posting here are some of my photos of other Ring-billed Gulls that were not hassled by Common Gulls:

Click on Read More.

Monday, 24 March 2014

Corn Buntings

Plenty of sunshine and some good birds - can't be bad!

Some of my time on Saturday was spent gulling at Shawell and Sunday morning I shared my time between looking for Corn Buntings in the west of Leicestershire, doing my bit of the 'winter thrush survey' and starting to look at the Peregrine survey.

I found five singing Corn Buntings at the regular sites and also a few pairs of Grey Partridges and a single male Wheatear. The large arable fields prove quite popular with Wheatears at this time of year as the crops are quite short allowing them access to the soil to look for food.

I only managed to get a record shot of one of the Corn Buntings. Unfortunately I didn't find one that would let me approach closely in my car. A few years back I was able to drive up close to a singing male, but that one no longer appears to be in the area. In fact I can no longer find any near Orton-on-the-Hill these days.

This year the Leicestershire & Rutland Ornithological Society (LROS) are conducting a survey to try and establish how many Corn Buntings are still to be found in the counties. Please send any records to Steve Lister the county recorder CONTACT DETAILS

Corn Bunting

Saturday, 15 March 2014

Adult Iceland Gull at Shawell

March is a good time for 'white-winged' Gulls at Shawell A5 lagoons, but so far this March I had come away empty handed after each visit. That all changed today when this little beauty arrived.

Adult Iceland Gull

Friday, 14 March 2014

The Peregrinations of M.CAV

I recently spotted a Lesser black-backed Gull at Shawell A5 Lagoons in Leicestershire. It sported a green colour ring with the code M.ACV. This gull has been fitted with a data recorder, which uses GPS technology to record its movements. The data recorder has small solar panels to charge its batteries. The data is downloaded when the gull is within 5km of the base station in the Netherlands. In order to see the map showing its recent visit to Shawell I will have to wait until it goes back to the colony where it breeds.

Kees Camphuysen has kindly provided me with the google map, which allows you to look at its winter movements on a daily basis. During the winter of 2011/12 it visited Cotesbach Landfill site and presumably Shawell A5 Lagoons, but in 2012/13 it only got close, but appeared to stay on the Warwickshire side of the A5. With this mapping you can see where it rested on a factory roof in Daventry and that it visited a field near Huncote and also Cadeby. It also stopped off in Leicester. 

This Gull has also been seen by Steve Lister at Albion landfill site near Albert Village Lake, Leicestershire. 

The first map reveals all of its travels in winter 2011/12:

Sunday, 9 March 2014

A Close Look at Purple Sandpiper

During my recent holiday, I was lucky enough to spend time photographing a small flock of Purple Sandpipers. The light was fantastic, but at times a bit too bright (never happy). Anyway reviewing the images later on I noticed that many of the feathers have a purple sheen to them. This is rarely seen apparently and it is this purple sheen that gives the species its name.

If this is true that it is rarely seen then whoever named it had really good eyes or perhaps they shot one and looked at it in bright sunlight?

Photographs often reveal things that are not obvious when watching a fast moving bird.

Purple Sandpiper, Nairn

Saturday, 8 March 2014

Back to Shawell

It's back to Shawell now, but the memory of Scottish harbours full of 'white-wingers' is still fresh in my mind (not quite full, but it sounds good). I expected to find at least one 'white-winger' at Shawell but no such luck. I've had to be satisfied with encounters in the murky world of Caspian Gulls, plus a small influx of Yellow-legged Gulls. At least ten different Yellow-legged Gulls have been present this week.

The Caspian Gull below shows a good set of features, Long sickly flesh coloured legs; long parallel sided dingy yellow bill (dark marks on bill suggest immaturity); dark forward set eyes; small headed; long winged and the pattern of black and white on the underside of the longest primary feather (P10) is typical of a sub-adult Caspian Gull. The black subterminal mark on the bill and the upper wing pattern appeared slightly immature, so it is probably a fourth-winter. The primary coverts still have some black visible, which is another good indicator of its immaturity. 

It is not so easy to see, but a white tongue cuts under the black of P10. That said there is slightly more black than classic individuals show, but its still within normal variation especially if my ageing is correct. It can be seen better on some photos I took of it, but this one shows a nice profile.

The shape of gulls can alter in a split second. One minute this Caspian Gull looked elegant and small headed and the next it could look hunched and larger headed.

Sub-adult Caspian Gull

Germany to Senegal Via Shawell

On July 24th 2013 I spotted a Lesser Black-backed Gull at Shawell with an orange ring and the code PB4.T. It had been ringed at Rainham Tip, Greater London on August 29th 2009. Late spring records from Helgoland, Germany suggest it breeds in that area.

In January this year John Wright from Rutland visited Senegal searching for Ospreys from the Rutland Water Osprey Project. As well as finding lots of Ospreys he also saw quite a few Lesser Black-backed Gulls. Amongst them, you've guessed it, was PB4.T. Quite a coincidence really and the saying 'it's a  small world' fits these sightings well.

This is the furthest south a LBB Gull recorded in Leicestershire & Rutland has migrated.

John saw PB4.T at Tiougoune, Senegal, which is between Dakar and Saint Louis.

Thanks to John for allowing me to show you his splendid illustration.

Lesser Black-backed Gull PB4.T (illustration by John Wright)

Sightings so far for PB4.T

Friday, 7 March 2014


Whilst I was birding the coast around Nairn last week I spoke to a wonderful Scottish lady who told me about the Mussel-Peckers. Initially I struggled to understand as she had a really broad Scottish accent, but eventually I worked out that she had said Mussel-Peckers. Shortly afterwards the penny dropped and I realised she was talking about Oystercatchers. 

Mussel-Pecker was a new name to me and it put a smile on my face as I realised that I would be using this name regularly now.

A Couple of Mussel-Peckers

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Cairngorms February 2014

Looking up from the comfort of my armchair I could just make out the lower slopes of the Cairngorm Mountains, but the summits were still hidden from view. The rattle of the tiles above told me that I would have to wait a while longer before setting off on my adventure.

The forecast looked good for Friday, so I cut my pieces of freeze proof cake, donned my multiple layers, fastened my boots and checked once more that I had all my safety equipment.

The plan was to slog my way up the steep ridge that arrives on the Cairngorm plateau below the summit of Cairngorm. The sun was out as I set off, but the wind was fierce. Crampons were soon needed, as the combination of slippery ice and strong wind threatened to dump me on my arse.

As I neared the plateau the visibility had reduced dramatically, but I was feeling strong and the summit of Cairngorm called. It was now time for goggles and my trusty balaclava.

Though it was very cold, the conditions were fantastic on the summit, but where was the weather station?

Cairngorm Weather Station 2014

Moray & Nairn

Burghead Harbour
Blue Skies, calm seas and spectacular birds - what more do you need?

At Burghead, last week, a Great Northern Diver was fishing inside the harbour, Long-tailed Ducks dazzled and Eiders 'ah-ooed'.

Confiding Purple Sandpipers and a flock of Pale-bellied Brent Geese graced the shores near the Nairn golf course and offshore divers and sea duck beguiled.

Male Long-tailed Duck

Saturday, 1 March 2014

Kumlien's Gulls etc

I normally spend my February trip to Aviemore playing in the snow, but gale force winds and white outs limited my outings into the Cairngorms to just two.

On the non-mountain days I spent my time birding. The coast between Nairn and Burghead provided some of the highlights, but trips to Gairloch, Gruinard Bay, Thurso and Scrabster were also memorable.

Gulls, surprise surprise, provided lots of entertainment. The list included a Bonaparte's, two Glaucous, two Kumlien's and five Iceland Gulls. The other highlights of the trip will feature in future postings.

The first Iceland Gull I saw was at a pig farm near Elgin. An adult was resting in a field close to the pig farm and for a while I thought I'd got a juvenile Kumlien's Gull, but on close inspection I realised it was a partially leucistic Herring Gull. It showed pale buff markings on the longest primaries, but structurally it was not right although at least it was educational.

At Gairloch I visited the outflow of the Kerry River where two juvenile Iceland Gulls had been reported. Three maybe four juveniles were there and involved in a feeding frenzy near the end of a pipe. I'm not sure if it was sewage or just the outflow from the fish farm that had attracted the gulls. 

Thurso and Scrabster provided real entertainment. On arrival at Thurso I found the regular Bonaparte's Gull roosting on an island in the river, but the light was really poor, so photography proved difficult. At the Scrabster harbour single juvenile Kumlien's and Iceland Gulls showed well and posed for photographs. The first 'white winger' that put in an appearance was what I considered to be an Iceland Gull. It was much paler and the longest primaries were clean white. Once the Kumlien's Gull put in appearance there was no mistaking it.

Juvenile Kumlien's Gull
Juvenile Kumlien's Gull

Juvenile Iceland Gull
Juvenile Iceland Gull
Juvenile Iceland Gull
Juvenile Iceland Gull

After the excitement at Scrabster, I returned to Thurso. The Bonaparte's Gull had disappeared but what greeted me was every bit as good. Resting amongst the gulls on the riverbank was what appeared to be an Iceland Gull, but I was looking into the sun. I moved and quickly realised it was a Kumlien's Gull - get in there! I also realised that the gull next to it was juvenile Glaucous Gull. 

In the photo below you can see the grey wash to the longest primaries. Initially I thought it was a third-winter because of the amount of grey on the mantle and scapulars, but Kumlien's second-winters are often said to show grey saddles. The actual grey wash was very obvious when viewed through my scope, I believe more so than in the photograph. The eyes were dark, which is a good feature, as many Iceland Gulls at this age have paler eyes. The flock of gulls were disturbed by a car alarm (to be honest I was disturbed by it as well). As they wheeled around I got back onto the Kumlien's, and from my position higher up on the river bank I saw the upperwing and the grey wash was most obvious on the outer primaries and the inner primaries appeared paler. I also noticed that the tail band was quite distinctive.

Second-winter Kumlien's Gull

Second-winter Kumlien's Gull

Glaucous Gull
Bonaparte's Gull