Saturday, 2 January 2021

Bramblings, Gulls, Starlings and Stonechats

 This winter has been dominated by Bramblings, Gulls, Stonechats and Starlings locally.

There have been a couple of Starling roosts that have been really exciting.

Photos taken in Southwest Leicestershire.

Male Brambling

Female Brambling


Caspian Gull

Friday, 1 January 2021

2020 Highlights

 For me personally 2020 was a good year despite all of the problems. I have mostly stayed locally apart from a quick holiday in February before Covid 19 became a thing. At some point Adey Baker and I decided that we could make a book out of the Southwest Leicestershire List and so lockdown and a twisted ankle gave me time to get going. 268 pages later it looks like our Sunday morning pipe dreaming is becoming a reality. There is still a fair way to go and we are not able to offer an expected publishing date yet, but hopefully late 2021/2022.

Bird wise it has been a fantastic year and arguably the best for this area. Below is a list of my local highlights for 2020; I hope you saw some of these and thanks for sharing your finds and company.


The third-winter Kumlien's Gull and juvenile Glaucous Gull from December 2019 still at Shawell; a new sub-adult Kumlien's Gull at Shawell on the 3rd; an adult Glaucous Gull and a Merlin at Shawell on the 4th; 144 Snipe and 27 Jack Snipe at Kirkby Mallory; a first-winter Mediterranean Gull at Shawell on the 10th; a new second-winter Kumlien's Gull at Shawell on the 15th and four Goosanders at Stoney Cove on the 21st.


A new third-winter Iceland Gull at Shawell on the 7th and the third-winter Kumlien's Gull was still present.


Three Avocets at Shawell A5 Lagoons on the 14th.


Curlew singing near Tooley Spinney, Earl Shilton on the 3rd and a Hobby on the 26th.


A pair of Avocets at Brascote Pits on the 18th & 19th.


A pair of Avocets (one with a colour-ring) at Shawell A5 lagoons on the 8th; another pair of Avocets at Brascote Pits on the 13th and a Roseate Tern at Shawell Sandpit on the 20th.


Juvenile Mediterranean Gulls at both Brascote Pits and Shawell Sand Quarry on the 28th.


A Cuckoo at Brascote on the 1st and single Pied Flycatchers at Croft Hill on the 14th and the 30th & 31st. 


A Shag at Stoney Cove from September 2nd; Wryneck at Brascote Pits from the 5th; two redstarts at Brascote Pits on the 6th and a remarkable influx of Stonechats into the area began with a pair at Brascote Pits on September 25th; 


a Knot and a Red-breasted Merganser on the 4th; three Yellow-browed Warblers: one at Croft Hill on the 6th and singles at Brascote Pits on the 16th and 26th; a Rock Pipit over Croft Hill on the 6th; Crossbill over Croft Hill on the 11th; 1270 Redwings over Croft Hill on the 11th; Woodlark over Croft Hill on the 17th; Bramblings over Croft Hill on 18th & 19th and four Goosanders at Brascote Pits on the 31st.


Single Goosander on the 1st at Brascote Pits; a single male Brambling on the 21st heralded the start of a nice influx at Brascote; a Goosander flew low over Brascote on the 22nd; a Cetti's Warbler at Shawell GP on the 27th and eight Bewick's Swans low over Earl Shilton on the 28th.


22 Bramblings at Brascote Pits on the 1st; eight White-fronted Geese low over Brascote also on the 1st; a Merlin at Cotesbach landfill site on the 9th; a very good candidate for a Yellow-legged Gull of the form known as lusitanius at Cotesbach Landfill site also on the 9th a drake Goosander over Brascote Pits on the 14th and two Starling roosts in the area: one of c10,000 and another of c30,000.

Male Brambling Brascote

Starling Murmuration

Here's to an even better 2021!

Wednesday, 9 December 2020

Lusitanius Yellow-legged Gull at Shawell?

 I was at Shawell today and winter is definitely upon us judging by the large number of gulls using the site. There were some smart looking adult and near adult Caspian Gulls, but it was a Yellow-legged Gull that caught my eye. Having travelled to Iberia on many occasions, I am familiar with the subspecies L. m. lusitanius. This subspecies frequents the Atlantic coast of the Iberian Peninsula. In The Basque Country the Yellow-legged Gulls are quite distinctive and are sometimes thought to be closer related to Herring Gull than Yellow-legged Gull. Today an adult Yellow-legged Gull in the sandpit off Gibbet Lane really reminded me of this form. Without a colour-ring it is perhaps not possible to prove, but the head shape, fine head streaking and general body shape fit well. The Yellow-legged Gulls from the Basque Country are generally sedentary, but one ringed bird has been seen in England and I have seen a colour-ringed bird from there in the Algarve.

There are many difficult gulls to be seen at Shawell with yellow legs, but these don't fit Yellow-legged Gull (michahellis). Their primary patterns tend to give the game away, but this bird had the typical very black (dipped in ink) pattern of a Yellow-legged Gull. Herring Gulls with yellow legs are seen fairly regular at Shawell, but they are easily separated from today's bird. 

Putative lusitanius Yellow-legged Gull, Shawell

lusitanius Yellow-legged Gull, The Basque Country, November 2019

lusitanius Yellow-legged Gull, The Basque Country, November 2019

Another view of the bird at Shawell today.

I will finish off by saying anyone visiting Shawell should know that parking is even more limited now than before and even the viewing point can be blocked by plant vehicles. Please take care. If it gets too bad in the New Year news may have to be withheld.

Oh and here is a Caspian Gull from today...

Caspian Gull, Shawell December 9th 2020

Tuesday, 29 September 2020

Back at Shawell it was Quite Baltic

 I have only visited Shawell a few times since lockdown, as there has been no weekend tipping and I've been at work in the week. Today I was away from work and so I spent the morning there. The first thing of note was a record breaking count/estimate of the number of Lesser Black-backed Gull. There was a minimum of 8000 probably 10,000. The water levels had dropped and so I was also able to read colour-rings once again. The highlight of the colour-ring birds was a first calendar-year Caspian Gull from Germany - XJNJ.

Whilst scanning through the hordes I spotted a real belter of a gull. Although it is not safe to identify an adult Baltic Gull without a colour ring, this one for me was spot on. It was initially standing sideways on and it was long-winged and elegant. Unfortunately when I attached my camera the bugger turned its back on the camera.

Pro Baltic Gull features include: jet-black upperparts with no contrast between primaries and the rest of the upperparts, long-wings and only replaced two inner primaries. However, no colour-ring no cigar.

As well as the putative Baltic Gull there were five Caspian Gulls and at least 11 Yellow-legged Gulls plus a Ruff and two Dunlin.

Monday, 29 June 2020

Catch Up

It been a while since I posted anything on my Blog. I have been off work due to the dreaded Covid-19. However, I have used my time wisely writing as much as possible for the book I'm working on with Adey Baker - 'Birds of Hinckley & Surrounding Areas'. It is really beginning to take shape, with around 200 pages done so far and I have some fabulous illustrations and photographs to brighten it up  - more later...

It has been quite an exciting time. The BBRC have accepted a number of colour-ringed Baltic Gulls from Horsvaer, Norway including two of mine from Shawell. This is an excellent outcome for all the effort Morten, Mars and I put in producing the paper for BB.

Another recent highlight was finding a Roseate Tern at Shawell Sand Quarry. This was quite a surprise as I'm sure you can imagine. I noticed a tern sitting on a small sandy island at about 150 metres distance. Picking it up in my scope I though that's not quite right for a Common Tern. It was facing head on and the first thing I noticed was its black bill although not totally black as the base was red. Its head was nicely rounded and the black cap seemed to be a shade blacker than that of a Common Tern. I placed my video camera on, as I fetched my little Sony compact camera from my car boot. I couldn't believe it was gone after only about 20 seconds. A Black-headed Gull had chased it from its island and it didn't look back. The video showed two important characters, the long tail streamers and the pale upperparts. The upperparts were paler than that of a Black-headed Gull and so also paler than Common Tern. I also picked out a contrast between the paler inner primaries and the darker outer ones. It is with the records committee, but hopefully everyone will agree and it will be the fifth record for Leicestershire & Rutland if they do.

The camera trap has yielded some interesting results although the number of ringed birds is low. I have left it working all night and a Fox family have been quite entertaining.

Another fun highlight of the last few days was paddling in a pond getting up close and personal with Red-eyed Damselflies, Small Red-eyed Damselflies and female Emperor Dragonflies.

Red-eyed Damselfly

Small Red-eyed Damselfly

Emperor Dragonfly