Thursday, 20 April 2017

Black-winged Stilts

Before work this morning I went to Brascote Pits. It was fairly quiet there but I did see my first Lesser Whitethroat of the year. Unusually for a spring bird it showed well on the outside of one of the hawthorns.

Just as I was about to leave a text came in from Chris Hubbard saying three Black-winged Stilts had been seen early morning at Stanford Res. They were a county tick for me, so I rushed over and luckily they were still there. A male and two females as far as I can see. One of the females was still quite immature.

I couldn't stay long, so I had to make do with some distant images from the Leicestershire side. The birds were feeding while I was there in the channel showing the course of the River Avon. The water levels are low enough to show the channel that marks the county boundary. They were mostly mid-channel, but they did come on to the Leicestershire side at times. The agreement between Northamptonshire and Leicestershire for recording purposes is birds on the water are counted for both counties. Birds on the banks are of course counted for the single county they are in.

Sunday, 16 April 2017

The Iceland Gull is Still Enjoying Shawell

I have been spending some time at Stanford Reservoir recently, but I still can't drag myself away from Shawell for long.

You would have thought we were still in the grips of winter with the amount of gulls at Shawell yesterday. I spotted the pale juvenile Iceland Gull that Steve Nichols and I first saw on April 1st. It was a quite mobile initially, but showed well later in the afternoon at the lagoons. I also saw a couple of first-winter Caspian Gulls as well.

The weekend before another German ringed Caspian Gull  (yellow X312) was at the lagoons. X312 was a slightly odd looking, so it might have a bit of Herring Gull in it.

Juvenile Iceland Gull, Shawell A5 Lagoons, 15/04/17

First-winter Caspian Gull, Shawell A5 Lagoons, 15/04/17

Saturday, 1 April 2017

Iceland Gull

It has been a difficult month at Shawell - plenty of gulls, but difficult to pin down. Today Steve Nichols and I were scanning through a group of gulls when Steve spotted a a second calendar-year Iceland Gull.  It's hard to tell whether it is the same juvenile that I saw in both January and February with faded plumage, or is it a new bird?

Iceland Gull, Shawell, 01/04/2017

Iceland Gull, February 11th 2017

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Birding The Algarve

I'm a bit late posting this, as I've been busy with other jobs since returning home.

At the end of February Dawn and I made another journey to the sunny Algarve. I have now been to The Algarve six times including autumn, spring and winter trips. One of the tasks I have been doing before writing this was to work out my Portuguese bird list. My total is 208 species, with an average of around 125 per trip.

I managed to get some new ticks on this trip, which included Dunnock! Also Arctic Skua, Common Scoter, Great Black-backed Gull, Razorbill, Purple Sandpiper, Song Thrush and Sora.

A storm at the end of the trip proved excellent for sea watching. I was able to watch Great Skuas passing along the coast right from my hotel balcony. At Cape St Vincent Cory's Shearwaters were passing by continually and amongst them I counted 20 Great Skuas in an hour.

Cape St Vincent

The following morning after an even stronger blow I picked up 11 Common Scoters passing westwards just offshore at Praia da Rocha. At the eastern end of Praia da Rocha the Arade River empties into the sea. At this point there are two breakwaters and along one of these I found a single Purple Sandpiper. These are quite scarce down in The Algarve, so a good bird to find for a visitor.

Purple Sandpiper

Before I set off on my trip I knew that a Sora Rail was wintering near Silves. This is only about 20 minutes from Praia da Rocha where we stay, so as soon as we picked up our hire car we headed to Silves. It was high tide when we got there, so we had plenty of time to kill. Dawn had a look around Silves, which is a splendid old town with a fortified town wall and castle. I spent some time photographing some metal ringed Black-headed Gulls. One had been ringed in Poland and the other at Silves. Eventually the water level dropped as the tide fell and as soon as the mud was exposed out came the Sora. The viewing position is much higher than the riverbed, so it was difficult to photograph well.


We visited the usual spots in the course of the holiday. Salgados Lagoons had been drained of much of its water and so fewer birds were there than normal. In contrast we had a great day near Faro at Ludo Farm and Ria Formosa West. Here we recorded 73 species in the day. The highlights were a couple of showy Glossy Ibis and a female Little Bittern.

Glossy Ibis

Little Bittern

I always search the harbour at Portimao for colour-ringed gulls. Since my first trip in 2013 I have been on the lookout for colour-ringed Yellow-legged Gulls from further north in Portugal - the supposed heartland of the sub-species lusitanius. Since 2013 I have actually realised that the breeding Yellow-legged Gulls along much of The Algarve's rocky coast are also of the sub-species lusitanius. On this trip I was pleased to find two first-winter Yellow-legged gulls that had been ringed on Berlengas Island near Peniche.

Yellow-legged Gull (L. m .lusitanius)

These first-winter lusitanius Yellow-legged Gulls are slower to moult their tertials and coverts compared to their michahellis cousins. This is the same with firs-winter LBBGs, so identification can be tricky at times.

Another challenge I had set myself was to find a colour-ringed gull there that I'd also seen at Shawell. Well there was something familiar about the code DLDA. When I checked I realised I'd seen this one at Shawell during June 2016. It is a Lesser Black-backed Gull and was ringed as a chick in 2012 in Suffolk.

I'm also always on the look out for one of the Severn Estuary Gull Groups colour ringed Lesser Black-backs. I had only seen one during my previous trips, so I was pleased to find another this time.

Lesser Black-backed Gull

The two hour drive to Castro Verde was once again worthwhile. We arrived at the LPN centre just after the sun had started to peak above the distant horizon. Approaching the reserve we spotted Crested Larks frozen to the spot, as they were caught in the beam from our headlights. As we parked up a Lesser kestrel landed in the tree right by our car. It sensed our presence and disappeared as quick as it had arrived. I was surprised to hear many Quail singing, as it was still February.

We set off on the circular walk and found it difficult to avoid standing on the thousands of slugs and caterpillars that covered the path.

I missed out on seeing a Great Spotted Cuckoo last May, so I was delighted when I saw one flying towards us on this trip. It alighted on a fence not too far away and stayed there for at least five minutes. The caterpillars that were everywhere proved attractive to the cuckoo and in the video below you can see it enjoying eating a few.

Little Bustards avoided us this time, but we did enjoy watching a male Great Bustard displaying.

The video below shows the Great Spotted Cuckoo, displaying Great Bustards and a Lesser Kestrel. Don't forget to set it to HD quality.

I had always wanted to visit Sines on the west coast of Portugal, because of its strategically placed fishing harbour. I did this time, but I was very disappointed. There were few gulls there and the fishing fleet didn't arrive with a good catch to bring the gulls in. I'm sure another time it would be much better. I did enjoy seeing the surfing waves rolling in on one of the beaches near to Sines.

The harbour at Sagres proved better, although the rare gull I hoped to find was avoiding me. I did enjoy photographing a couple of Great Black-backed Gulls there, which was a new bird for Portugal for me.

Great Black-backed Gull

It felt like spring in the Algarve with Swallows and House Martins already nest building. The White Storks were also on their nests, but they are always on their nest in The Algarve.

House Martins
White Stork

The Algarve is a great place for birding and as you can see it has quite a lot of diversity.

Sunday, 19 February 2017

The Easiest Twitch Ever

I am a bit slow off the blocks these days when collecting new British Ticks. I had seen a sickly Blue Rock Thrush at Hemel Hempstead many years ago and I missed a good one on the Scilly Isles by a day, so when one turned up in Stow on the Wold I was not really that tempted - that much! I was a bit fed up last Sunday due to the weather, so I decided to have a ride down to the Cotswold's in search of a bird that was confusing the yellowy coloured Cotswold stone for a rock face in the Med.

It took just over an hour to get there. I walked into the Maugersbury Close and soon spotted my target perched on a roof top. No wait for hours to see this bird. After a couple of minutes it flew off and didn't reappear. I was back home almost before anyone knew I gone.

The light was terrible, so I videoed it.


Saturday, 18 February 2017

Today's News From Shawell

I was looking forward to today's session as Steve Nichols had seen two adult Glaucous Gulls yesterday on the tip. He had managed to distantly view the landfill area from the small lane on the north side.

The weather was against me at first with fog making viewing difficult. As it began to clear I spotted a juvenile Glaucous Gull distantly, but soon lost it as the gulls took to flight. I re-spotted it several times before it came close enough for a record shot. It appears to be another new one, as last week's Glauc was really dark whereas this one was a typical biscuit brown.

Juvenile Glaucous Gull

At the same time as the juvenile Glaucous came close so did the regular juvenile Iceland Gull.

Juvenile Iceland Gull

After taking record shots of the two gulls above I began to scan through the gulls on a raised plateau situated about another 100 metres behind the main flock. Amongst them was an adult Glaucous Gull. It may have been last week's colour-ringed one, but its legs were hidden in a rut. It was too distant to photograph well, so I didn't bother trying

Four Caspian Gulls were around too. Three first-winters and a second-winter.

First-Winter Caspian Gull
First-Winter Caspian Gull

Friday, 17 February 2017

The Vikings Have Arrived

Over the last week I have seen not one but two Glaucous x Herring Gull hybrids - aka Viking Gulls. Both in the Shawell area.

Both were structurally very similar to Glaucous Gulls - large size, shortish primary projection and large bi-coloured bills. The first one, a first-winter, was a large gull with pale buff upperparts and greyish brown primaries. It had a full greyey brown tail band, which is not that common, but certainly not unprecedented for this hybrid type. The other was a second-winter. When I spotted it it was facing head on and I thought it was a Glaucous, but as it turned sideways on I could see its primaries were not right - too dark.

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

White-Wingers at Shawell During My Watch - 2012 to Present Day.

White-wingers (Iceland and Glaucous Gulls) are the highlight of the winter months for any gull watcher prepared to suffer the cold. Below is an account of all the denizens of the frozen Arctic wastes that have graced Shawell since 2012. I have been lucky enough to have seen all of them apart from a juvenile Glaucous Gull seen by Neil Hagley on January 4th 2012. No Glaucous Gulls had been recorded at Shawell prior to 2012, as far as I know. In comparison six Iceland Gulls had been recorded at the site between 2009 and 2012. 

The finder is the first name or initials. I have used my initials (CDB) and everyone else is named.

Glaucous Gull

Glaucous Gulls are a scarce but regular winter visitor to the Shawell area of Leicestershire.  2013 was the best year so far with seven different ones: six in the first winter period and one in the second. 20 in total.


  • Juvenile, Cotesbach Landfill site on December 28th (CDB). At the time it was raining very heavily and it was very windy, so I didn’t risk damaging my camera.


  • Fourth-winter at both Cotesbach Landfill site and the A5 Lagoons on February 16th (CDB, Andy Forryan and  Garsham Roberts). 

  • Juvenile at the A5 Lagoons on February 22nd (CDB). 

  • Second-winter at both Cotesbach Landfill site and the A5 Lagoons on March 9th (Steve Lister, CDB). 

  • Juvenile at the A5 Lagoons on March 16th (CDB). It spent all afternoon on the lagoons.

  • Juvenile at Shawell A5 Lagoons on March 27th (CDB).  I consider it to be a different individual to the one on March 16th due to its small size and plumage differences.

  • Adult at Cotesbach Landfill site on March 28th (CDB). 

  • Second-winter or pale juvenile at the A5 Lagoons on December 14th (CDB, Steve Nichols). 


  • Second-winter at Cotesbach landfill site and the A5 Lagoons on January 18th (CDB). 


  • Second-winter at the A5 Lagoons and Cotesbach Landfill site on January 20th to 24th (CDB, Steve Nichols, Dave Scott and Andy Forryan). 

  • Third-winter at Cotesbach Landfill site on January 25th (CDB). I


  • Juvenile at Cotesbach Landfill site on January 9th (CDB). 

  • Juvenile on January 16th & 21st and February 18th (CDB, Steve Nichols). I

  • Second-winter, January 21st at the A5 Lagoons (CDB, Steve Nichols). It had an injured leg.

  • Fourth-winter at both Cotesbach landfill site and the A5 Lagoons on February 18th (CDB). 


  • Juvenile at the A5 Lagoons on January 11th (CDB). 

  • Juvenile at the sand quarry on January 21st (CDB). 

  • Juvenile at the sand quarry on January 27th & 28th and February 4th (CDB, Steve Nichols, Mike Alibone).

  • Juvenile (dark individual) at the sand quarry on February 11th (CDB, Tim Kociuch, Steve Nichols).

  • Adult at the sand quarry on February 11th (CDB, Tim Kociuch). This one had a colour-ring (orange G1NT) that was fitted by the North Thames Gull Group in March 2015. It has also been seen in Northamptonshire and Cheshire. It or another was again seen on February 17th at the landfill (Steve Nichols) and on February 18th in the sand quarry (CDB). On both the 17th & 18th its colour-ring was not visible, but on the 18th CDB saw the same or a similar mark on the adults neck that is visible in the photo from the 11th.

  • Adult with some vestiges of winter plumage at the landfill on February 17th (Steve Nichols).

  • Juvenile at the sand quarry on February 18th (CDB).

Iceland Gull

They appear at the same time as the other large white-winger although they can turn up later than the Glaucous Gull. Sightings have been made as late as April. 2012 is the best year so far with five individuals. I have seen 16 so far at Shawell since 2012.


  • Third-winter at the A5 Lagoons between January 9th and 28th (CDB, Neil Hagley et al). 

  • Second-winter at the A5 Lagoons on February 29th (CDB). This one was probably a male and it had a distinctive bill pattern. Not photographed due to camera failure.

  • Second-winter at the A5 Lagoons on March 3rd (CDB, Steve Lister, Garsham Roberts).

  • Adult at the A5 Lagoons on March 1oth and 17th. (Neil Hagley, CDB and Steve Lister). Seen by Neil on the 10th and re-found by CDB on the 17th. Not photographed.
  • Second-winter at the A5 Lagoons on March 23rd (Dave Gray, CDB).


  • a biscuit coloured Juvenile at the landfill site on February 9th (CDB). Not photographed.

  • a pale juvenile at the A5 Lagoons on March 9th, 27th and 28th plus April 6th (CDB, Steve Lister).

  • second-winter at both the landfill site and the A5 Lagoons on January 18th (CDB, Steve Nichols, Dave Gray).

  • Adult at the A5 lagoons on march 15th (CDB).

  • Third-winter at the A5 Lagoons on December 17th and 20th (CDB, Steve Nichols)

  • Juvenile at the A5 Lagoons briefly on March 14th (CDB).


  • Juvenile at the A5 Lagoons on February 12th (CDB). 

  •  Faded juvenile at the A5 Lagoons regularly from March 16th (CDB, Steve Nichols). Sadly it broke its wing and had to be taken into care and put to sleep as the injury was too severe. 

  • third-winter at both the landfill site and the A5 Lagoons on April 9th (CDB).

  • juvenile at the sand quarry on January 21st and February 7th & 11th (CDB, Steve Nichols, Tim Kociuch).

  • Adult at the sand quarry on February 4th (CDB).

To be continued...