Monday, 29 April 2013

How About This For Gull Watching

Guess the gull species?

Let me have your suggestions for a caption for this image, which by the way isn't a fake.

Sunday, 28 April 2013

A Complete Gulling Season at Shawell

Having developed a keen interest in watching gulls at Shawell A5 Lagoons, Leicestershire during the early months of 2012, I decided that I would try and visit the area as often as possible. Between July 2012 and the end of April 2013, which is essentially the main gulling season, I tried to visit at least once a week. Initially my efforts were restricted to the A5 Lagoons, but more recently I have divided my attention between the Cotesbach landfill site (also known by birders as the Shawell landfill site) and the A5 lagoons. Please note that access to the landfill site is only available with permission from the land owners - do not trespass.

The plan was to improve my knowledge of both Caspian and Yellow-legged Gulls, especially the immature ones, and read as many colour rings as possible.

This was quite a challenge especially during the coldest days of winter. I stuck it out despite loosing feeling in my feet several times. On one occasion I just had to pack up, as the snow was falling too heavily to see through my scope.

I recorded ten species of gull, of these six were seen on most visits.

Where possible, I have photographed the more interesting birds. This is quite challenging, as most of the time the distance between the subject and the camera is 100 metres plus. I tried basic digi-scoping by holding the camera against my scope, but this was frustrating to do and the results were generally poor. Recently I have attached a DSLR to my scope via an adapter. The results have improved, but not yet to my full satisfaction - getting closer is the challenge.

Below are accounts of each of the species recorded:

Saturday, 27 April 2013

Oh So Pretty

Before heading off to Melton Mowbray, I had to get my fix of big gulls at Shawell. I went to the landfill site, where over 400 gulls were gathered. Mostly Lesser Black-backs, but amongst them were two 1st winter/summer Caspian Gulls. One of them was a small female and she was a stunner. She showed all the text book features, which really stood out due to her dainty frame. What's more she put on a real show. The photo below shows just how pretty she was although the subtle 'pencil markings' on the nape are not so obvious as in the field or is the slenderness of the bill. The differences between 1st-summer Herring Gull and Caspian Gull are poles apart - there were plenty of the former to compare with. That said, it is much easier to separate Caspian and Yellow-legged Gulls from Herring Gulls than it is to rule out the presence of any hybrid genes in individual birds. 

Digiscoping her was difficult as it was very windy, but I did at least get one reasonable record shot. I previously questioned in my 'Challenging Gulls' posting  the origin of these 2nd calendar-year birds at this time of year and I'm even more intrigued now.

2CY Caspian Gull

First-Summer Ring-billed Gull

1st-summer Ring-billed Gull

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Favourable Winds

Spring migrants have been in short supply until last week when the strong south to south-westerly winds provided the ideal catalyst for mass migration. The highlight was the high number of White Wagtails that were grounded from mid-week until Friday night. Quite a few sites in Leicestershire & Rutland recorded large groups with the highest being 54 at Rutland Water. At Brascote Pits I counted 11 on Friday night. As well as the White Wags, good numbers of Yellow Wags and Wheatears were also seen.

Northern Wheatear, Croft Quarry

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Despite the Warmer Weather It's Still Siberian

For one reason or another I hadn't rushed to go to Barrow upon Soar to see the Siberian Chiffchaff. I had watched the story unfold and full credit to Steve James, Dave Gray and Colin Green for sticking with it and eventually getting the much needed sound recordings.

I almost didn't go today due to the strong southerly winds, but this proved to be a benefit as the bird was restricting itself to the sheltered side of the hedge near the entrance to the marina.

Siberian Chiffchaff

Saturday, 13 April 2013

Challenging Gulls

It was great to look out of the window this morning and see blue skies. I was feeling good about the world until I reached Stoney Stanton where the higher ground had attracted fog. First off I checked out a barn that a Barn Owl has been using occasionally. Instead of a Barnie, a pair of Little owls were sitting on the roof. I watched them from my car until they disappeared from view and then set off towards Cotesbach landfill site.

Hirundines have started to appear in good numbers locally and it wasn't long before my first Swallow of the year flew past followed by three Sand Martins.

I didn't stay long at the landfill site, as many of the gulls had flown towards the Shawell A5 Lagoons and viewing is difficult from the north side in bright conditions.

Two colour-ringed LBB Gulls were on the shore at the A5 Lagoons - J1PV ringed in Norway as a pullus (chick) in 2011 and HZB an adult ringed in Gloucestershire.

Around mid-day the first of three 1st-winter Caspian Gulls appeared. 

The gull pictured below was immediately striking with its clean white head and stilt like legs. In the photo the head appears nice and snouty and the bill is dark and fairly long and slender. Pencil fine streaks were evident on the neck, which is a feature of immature Caspian Gulls. The dark brown tertials are typically white tipped (thumb nail on the tips), but the coverts are bleached and the mantle and scapulars are also faint, but still appear quite silvery. Worn faint coverts and scapulars are not unusual at this time of year. Pale edges to the greater coverts are still visible. The tail had a distinct black band and the underwings were mostly white. This bird was large and very aggressive.

The One on the Left

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Something You Don't See Every Day

I was at work yesterday and something caught my eye falling vertically past my window. I looked out and on the floor, much to my amazement, was a Common Buzzard. It was spread-eagled on the floor looking exceedingly un-happy. I raced downstairs and out the door, but amazingly it had taken off again, albeit a bit shakily. A customer had witnessed the event first hand and he explained that two large crows (Ravens) had forced it to hit the building and tumble down the outside before crashing to the floor. 

I watched it sneak past the Ravens who were themselves under attack  by a much quicker adversary.

It all happened too quick to any get any photos unfortunately.

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Lost Barn Owl

I have been keeping an eye on a pair of Barn Owls since discovering their nest last year and all seemed to be going well as I saw the pair together only a couple of weeks ago. However, I've heard second-hand that a Barn Owl has been found dead not too far away. 

Late this afternoon I visited the site and saw just one owl, so it may be that one of this pair  has been killed.

Barn Owl

Birdwatch Magazine

I was pleased to hear that my record shots of the Snowy Owl at the Garbh Uisge Beag, Cairngorm mountains have made it into the 250 Issue of Birdwatch. So much so that I sent my wife out to purchase a copy - pleaded more like.

There are some really interesting articles, especially the one about tracking Corncrake migration and finding their wintering range.

The piece on the owl was pretty small and I thought it might have been good to mention the Cairngorm mountains, but it is great to see it in print.

Here's to my next great adventure and yours too...

If you missed reading about my Snowy Owl adventure click HERE

Saturday, 6 April 2013

More Cold Weather Gulling

The cold north-easterly wind has been holding back the gulls from moving on to their breeding areas, as well as preventing the bulk of the summer migrants making their way to Britain. Amongst today's crop was the smart 1st-winter Iceland Gull that I first found on March 9th.  It was quite a sight watching it in flight amongst the other gulls.

Faded 1st-winter Iceland Gull, Shawell A5