Thursday 31 December 2015

Last Visit to Shawell for 2015

I finished work at 13:00 today and rather than rush home I tried my luck at Shawell hoping for a 'white-winger'. No 'white-winger', but there was plenty of gulls at the A5 Lagoons including three pristine adult Yellow-legged Gulls and a smart adult Caspian Gulls.

Its been challenging this month at Shawell. The gulls have rarely stayed in one place for long and have often been using the fields near the M1 motorway where they are difficult to view. Hopefully they will settle back in to their normal routine in 2016 and a few 'white-wingers' will arrive.

I managed to grab a few images of one of the adult Caspian Gulls in flight.

Anyway I wish you all a Happy New Year - lets hope it's a good one!

Saturday 28 November 2015

A Visitor From Finland and Three Caspian Gulls

Once again it was bitter cold at Cotesbach Landfill site, as the wind was cold and it had gained momentum over the open spaces of the quarry. One of the first birds I saw this morning was the wing-tagged Red Kite that was present at the site during the summer. He looked much smarter now that his old worn out feathers have been replaced with a new set.

I positioned myself in a spot that overlooks a mound of earth that the gulls like to rest on and I wasn't to be disappointed. I managed to read 12 colour-rings mostly on Herring Gulls. Much to my surprise, I re-found the Finnish colour-ringed Herring Gull that I first saw in 2014 was back in the area. I can't remember noticing that it had yellow legs last time, but it legs were very yellow compared to the pink legs of the other Herring Gulls close by. It also had a large white tip to its longest primary - another feature of omissus.

Herring Gull C02CN, Cotesbach Landfill Site - Ringed at Ruovesi, Pirkanmaa (61°51'N 23°52'E)
Finland as an Adult on 29/05/2007

Amongst the gulls at the tip were a couple of Caspian Gulls, a fourth-winter seen previously and a new first-winter. At the A5 Lagoons a third-winter graced the bank between the lagoons. At the time it looked really good, but maybe it has a hint of Herring Gull about it. As Ronald Klien has just said "Our former description (Klein & Gruber 1997 in Limicola) was written, before the Central European mishmash began".

Third-Winter Caspian Gull (with maybe a hint of Herring Gull), Shawell A5 Lagoons, 28/11/15

Digiscoping can be difficult at the landfill site due to the wind and the gulls can be distant. The gulls are spread out across a wide area as the site is a massive sand quarry and a landfill site. I can get close to the gulls near the tipping area, but on sunny days I am staring straight into the sun and it was quite sunny first thing. That said I usually manage to at least get a record shot. What I can't do is compete with the super pictures Michael Southcott and the boys are getting down at Dungeness in Kent.

I have seen two new first-winters this week plus the red colour-ringed first winter (10P6) that I saw earlier in the month. The un-ringed ones had differences in the greater coverts, so I am confident they are different gulls. Caspian Gull are real shape changers - one minute they can look sleek, long winged, long legged, small headed and long narrow billed, but the next dumpy, shorter winged etc.

First-Winter Caspian Gull, Cotesbach LF Site, 28/11/15

As you can see this one has nice dark brown Greater Coverts with pale tips to just the outer ones. Compare this to the one below that I saw on 25/11/15. That one had more white in the Greater Coverts and had replaced more of its Median Coverts. Both smart looking gulls, which sadly the photos don't do justice to. They looked much better through my scope honest.Both images are screen photos from Shacky videos.

First-winter Caspian Gull, Cotesbach LF Site, 25/11/15

The sub-adult below appears to be a new one, as I've compared it to the others I've seen lately and it appears to be different. The only suggestion it isn't an adult was a small dark mark on one of the tertials and its coverts didn't quite look right for a full adult.

Sub-Adult Caspian Gull, Cotesbach LF Site, 28/11/15

Monday 23 November 2015

Bloody Freezing

I was up an about early on Saturday morning due to my insomniac wife crashing and banging about downstairs. Peeling back the curtains to see what the weather was doing I was quite surprised to see that it was snowing. The snow didn't last long but the freezing weather conditions were in for the day.

I started my adventure at Cotesbach Landfill site, but I was staring into the jaws of a bitter north wind, so I soon retired to the relative shelter of the hedge near to Shawell A5 Lagoons. 

The main highlight was seeing the same small female Caspian Gull that I first saw on November 14th. All of the regular features of a Caspian Gull were on show but in miniature. 

Seeing the pattern of the primary feathers on a Caspian Gull is often quite difficult, which is why good photographs are essential when trying to persuade a records committee that your identification is sound. I was lucky to get a photo of the upperwing of this one which is never easy at Shawell.

As you can see the longest primary on its right wing has a nice white tong on the inner side of the feather and a large white tip. There is still a little black near the tip of P10, but this should disappear as it reaches full adulthood. A few other dark markings on its wing reveal that it isn't quite fully mature.

Sub-adult Female Caspian Gull

Sub-adult Female Caspian Gull

Another highlight this week was the re-sighting of a Herring Gull I first saw in December 2013. It was colour ringed in north-west Norway and as well as visiting Shawell it has also been recorded at Vardo at the very top of Norway. 

Lets hope it warms up a bit for next weekend, but maybe a ''white-winger might just have arrived on the north wind and be heading for Shawell.

Saturday 14 November 2015

Caspian Gull Influx

Judging by the numbers of Caspian Gulls being reported this week there has been a small arrival of these smart looking gulls. Albert Village Lake and Dungeness seem to be the top spots, but I haven't done too badly at Shawell. I have seen six different ones in a week Including the colour-ringed first-winter I saw last Saturday.

Fourth-Winter Caspian Gull, Shawell A5 Lagoons, 14/11/15

The weather has been a bit challenging, but British 'sea-gulling' is not an activity for lightweights. In the video below you'll see the sort of conditions on offer this week - a far cry from the The Algarve in September. I've had it worse so no point moaning on.

As well as the Caspian Gulls it was nice to record another Norwegian colour-ringed Herring Gull. Winter is on its way judging by the number of Herring Gulls arriving and the Great Black-backed Gull count exceeded fifty today.

Below is a video of some of the Caspian Gulls seen. Some were quite distant, so you will need to practice your observation skills.

Monday 9 November 2015

Caspian Gull Red 10P6

This morning I received a reply from the POLRING website (thank-you) about the colour-ringed first-winter Caspian Gull that was at Shawell on Saturday. They confirmed that the colour-ring reading was correct and that red 10P6 was ringed in a Caspian Gull colony in south-west Poland. It is always comforting to know you are on the right track and there's nothing better than confirming the origins of a bird with a colour-ring. It was ringed on 21/05/15.

First-Winter Caspian Gull Red 10P6

 I would very much like to organise a trip to this area to see the Caspian Gull colony - watch this space eh! This is the second colour-ringed Caspian Gull from this colony that has graced the shores of Shawell A5 Lagoons.

In a straight line its natal island is 799 miles - see below.

The Site of the Caspian Gull Colony Red 10P6 Originates From

Saturday 7 November 2015

Another Update From Shawell

Apologies for the lack of posts recently,  I have been busy working and trying to catch up with all the paperwork generated by my trip to Portugal.

The highlight at Shawell last month was a female Pintail, which I saw on the October 8th. This is only the second record for my recording area. 

Due to the re-siting of the landfilling area at the Cotesbach LF site, I have struggled to get good views of the gulls. At Shawell A5 Lagoons I have experienced mixed fortunes due to the complete absence of gulls at times. A German colour-ringed Caspian Gull refused to give up the code on its ring despite me seeing it three times. The green German colour rings are not easy to read when the gull is distant.

Most of the Caspian Gulls I've seen recently have most likely been hybrids. The one below was a strange looking beast - Herring Gull body and legs with a Caspian Gull head.

Presumed Caspian Gull x Herring Gull

The next one, an adult, was not quite right. Its primary pattern seemed OK, but not perfect and its jizz was not quite right. 

Presumed Caspian Gull Hybrid

The next one was a giant, which looked OK at times but at other times it looked odd. Of course it may be within normal variation, but I wasn't fully convinced.

First-winter Caspian Gull or Hybrid

Today was a day for ducks, but I braved the rain and set out for Shawell A5 Lagoons. The rain had stopped when I arrived, but only until I had set up my scope. As soon as I started to search through the gulls the rain got worse. As I struggled to set up my umbrella something scared the gulls and most of them flew off. About ten brave Great Black-backed Gulls soon settled back down on the bank between the lagoons and with them was a gull that was not much smaller than its larger cousins. Increasing the magnification on my scope I realised it was a young Caspian Gull. Better still it had a red colour ring, but the ring was almost completely hidden in the grass. The rain had got even heavier so I hunkered down under my umbrella and waited for the gull to move. Eventually it ran towards the shoreline and luckily it paused long enough for me to read 10P6. This is from a Polish ringing scheme and hopefully I will get a reply from them early next week.

First-winter Caspian Gull Red 10P6
First-winter Caspian Gull Red 10P6

Thursday 8 October 2015

Another Azores Gull

After finding what I considered to be an adult Azores Gull (Larus michahellis atlantis) at the fish harbour in Portimao, Portugal I have been very keen to find another. In 2014 I drew a blank, but during my latest trip to Portimao I scored again.

These are very distinctive gulls, so much so I picked both out with the naked eye. 

Third-winter Azores Gull
Third-winter Azores Gull

The tone of grey is very distinctive on its own, but add the dark hooded effect created by the dense head streaking and you have a very unique looking gull. In addition the short legs and the robust body help to distinguish these gulls from other species. Though I'm not qualified to suggest that Azores Gulls should be treated as a separate species, I do think that from an identification point of view that they have a good claim to be treated as a full species.

The Algarve is a 'melting pot' for Yellow-legged Gulls and a mine field for anyone delving into the subject. Most of the Yellow-legged Gulls around Portimao are of the type we associate with the Mediterranean: large brutes with squarish heads and the typical tone of grey. Amongst them are some that you think hold on a minute that one doesn't look quite right. However, go as far south and west as you can go on the European mainland and things get more difficult. On the harbour wall at Sagres was a whole gang of adult Yellow-legged Gulls that were smaller, less brutish and probably paler than the typical Yellow-legged Gull most of us are familiar with. This for me is an on going challenge.

Below is one of the less typical gulls Yellow-legged Gulls that can be found amongst the ordinary ones. It has a hood that catches the eye, but the grey tone is too pale for an L.m. atlantis

Yellow-legged Gull
Third-winter Azores Gull
Third-winter Azores Gull
Third-winter Azores Gull
Third-winter Azores Gull
For images of this gull and my previous Azores Gull on Flickr click HERE

Autumn in the Algarve

I have been away on my annual pilgrimage to the Algarve. The weather was fantastic, so was the local beverage - Sagres larger. Oh and the birding was excellent too.

It will take me a while to catch up due to loads of photographs to review and 104 gull colour-rings to process. As normal the harbour at Portimao was excellent for gulls as was the beach at Praia da Rocha. Elsewhere the birding was great and I managed to add some new birds to my Portuguese list. These included two Spanish Imperial Eagles, a Black Vulture and a smart Lesser Yellowlegs.

Below are some of the photos I've edited so far:

Black Vulture


Audouin's Gull

Juvenile Audouin's Gull

Balearic Shearwater

Cory's Shearwater

Sooty Shearwater

Great Shearwater

Tuesday 22 September 2015

First year Caspian Gull

The timing of my arrival at Shawell mid-week was spot on. I always enjoy it if I get the opportunity to time my lunch break to co-incide with me being near Shawell. This week a massive wave of gulls came rolling in from the nearby landfill site just as I arrived. At least 18 Yellow-legged Gulls pitched down amongst the 1000+ gulls. However, the icing on the cake was what appeared to be a first year Caspian Gull.

The main stand out features are its very long and flat backed profile and its white head. It has already replaced its mantle and scapulars feathers with pale grey ones with faint dark markings. The black marks on the same feathers on the young YLGs are much more distinctive. Its coverts are brown with very little else apart from pale edges. Its tertials are typical for this species showing the white 'finger nail' pattern at the tips.

Its bill is not exceptionally long or thin, but this is typical of this age. Once the feathers near the bill start to wear the bill should take on a longer appearance.its head doesn't look that small, but it is probably OK.

It is possible that this is an odd michahellis, but the overall impression on the day that it was more likely to be a cachinnans. This is based on its long winged flat backed profile; the subtle marked grey mantle; its white head and the tertial pattern. 

Sunday 20 September 2015

Another good day at Shawell

A clear blue sky greeted me yesterday morning as I set off to Shawell, but mist soon hampered my progress. By the time I arrived at Shawell the morning mist had thickened considerably leaving me no option but to have a snooze in my car. The gulls had somehow managed to navigate from their night time roost site, as once the mist began to clear I could see thousands of them on the bank opposite me. At first the visibility was too poor to identify the species, but as it improved I managed to spot the second-winter Caspian Gull I first saw on Wednesday.

Second-winter Caspian Gull

As you can see the stand out feature is a small white head and a longish thin parallel sided bill. The plumage is typical of a second-winter: a grey mantle and a mostly grey median covert bar on the closed wing. The greater coverts are mainly dark greyey brown and the lesser coverts are brown and dirty white with a slight chequered pattern. The tertials generally stand out as being blacker than other similar species at this age and the white tips show a finger nail type pattern. As you can see this gull shows the typical tertial pattern. The tail had a lovely black band across its complete base. Its legs don't look exceptionally long in the photo above, but in other poses they look thin and long. It can be difficult to assess leg length and shape from photographs, as they can alter from one photograph to the next. The thinness is often only obvious when the gull is facing you, as their legs are not round. Its 'Persil' white head stood out a mile amongst all the other gulls.

I had a great day searching for colour rings, as several thousand Lesser Black-backed Gulls were present. In the end I read 26 colour-rings including some for the first time. Many of them were intermedius LBB Gulls from Norway.

The colour ring on the one below was a challenge to read, as the ring was obviously quite old and starting to wear. It looked like KLAS. This is from the Netherlands.

LBB Gull Green KLAS

There are still plenty of Yellow-legged Gulls at the site although fewer first year birds than last weekend. They are not quite so easy to identify now as the juvenile Herring and Lesser Black-backed Gulls are moulting their scapulars and mirroring some of the features that helped separate the young YLGs only a few days ago. Generally the YLG have whiter heads and shorter, thicker and blacker bills, but it can be fun.

A large third or fourth winter YLG caught my eye at the lagoons and stayed around for a while.

Yellow-legged Gull

Yellow-legged Gull

Yellow-legged Gull - note the adult like P10 that is just growing

Wednesday 16 September 2015

Caspian Gull

I spent a short while at Shawell at lunchtime today and amongst several thousand gulls was a nice second-winter Caspian Gull. As normal the falconer was there so the gulls were quite distant. Taking photos of gulls at this range with a strong breeze blowing is quite a mission, but I was able to get a few record shots.

The 70 x magnification, or power as the Americans seem to say, of my scope makes it possible for me to read colour-rings at distances of up to 400 metres if the codes are clear. One of my old (less of the old) favourites was there today - third calendar year Lesser Black-backed Gull C+F.  I have now seen C+F on 14 separate occasions. C+F is almost in adult plumage now, which is quite a transformation  from what he looked like back in January - see HERE

Sunday 6 September 2015

First-Winter Already

I have been working hard this summer at Shawell to pick out a juvenile Caspian Gull, but it has not gone to plan! In July I thought I'd got one, but that one turned out to be most likely a hybrid. Another one in August proved to be even more challenging. On Facebook's European Gulls it was given the thumbs up, but its coverts were quite fussy. I would like to see the coverts being a bit plainer. That said I favour Caspian Gull rather than a very skinny long legged Yellow-legged Gull.

Caspian Gull, First-Winter, Cotesbach LF site, September 2015
Yesterday I spotted a young Caspian Gull, but rather than a pristine juvenile it was well on its way to its first-winter plumage. It was at least 200 metres away, so my camera struggled to record a prize winning shot. Nevertheless you can see that it has a grey saddle. Most of the mantle and scapular feathers have been replaced with pale grey feathers. Faint dark markings are visible on most of the scapulars, but 
these are much less distinct than those of the first-winter Yellow-egged Gulls that are present at the moment. Its coverts are plain brown with fine pale edges and the inner greater coverts are solid brown with faint buff edges. Its tertials had white thumb nail like tips, which again is different to YLG's of a similar age. Its head was white with no sign of a dark mask.

Below is a similar looking gull from December 2014.

Polish Ringed Caspian Gull (16P4) Shawell A5 Lagoons, December 2014

Another juvenile gull was causing quite a stir, as its white primaries seemed to scare the other gulls. Its a good job its not a young Herring Gull, as it might be mistaken for a 'white-winger' as an adult. 

Monday 31 August 2015

Another Video of the Possible Baltic Gull

Going through the video of the adult Baltic Gull candidate I found on Saturday, I noticed this section of video. As you can see a couple of intermedius LBB Gulls sail past it on the water and you can clearly see it is blacker than them on the upper parts. On a normal day they would stand out as being distinctly darker than the graellsii LBB Gulls.

Also look how long its wings are.

Sunday 30 August 2015

Adult Baltic Gull?

Yesterday morning at Cotesbach landfill site I came across a gull that looked good for a Baltic Gull. It was an adult, it was jet black and its jizz seemed spot on. Unfortunately one of the machine drivers started working in front of the gulls and flushed them.

Later on that afternoon I spotted it again and this time it was at the A5 Lagoons. I scanned through the gulls on the shore and then BANG!!! It stood out like a sore thumb due to its jet black upperparts. I told Steve Nichols that I had the Baltic Gull contender that I first saw in the morning and got him on it. Steve relayed the features to me as he saw them and he picked up on all the features that a text book adult Baltic Gull should show. He then added 'it's a shame it hasn't got a colour-ring'. A colour-ringed Baltic Gull will come to Shawell eventually, but until then this is as good as it gets.

This is the second Baltic Gull candidate I have had this summer/autumn. However, unlike the first one, which was a second-calendar year, this one might be a none starter without a colour-ring. Second-calendar year Baltic Gulls have a different moult strategy compared to Lesser Black-backed Gulls, which makes them identifiable in summer. There is also some evidence to suggest that autumn adults can be done on moult too, but this may need further research.

Below is a video of the adult - enjoy 

Saturday 29 August 2015

Black-tailed Godwits

Steve Nichols and I were at Shawell A5 Lagoons this afternoon and a group of 11 Black-tailed Godwits flew in. Only minutes before we were discussing the lack of wading birds. They were quite nervous, which was lucky as they flew around for quite a while before they landed. We got excellent views of them in flight as they got lower and lower.

Sadly they were spooked by something not long after they arrived and flew off east.

If I've got it right, they are of the sub-species L. I. islandica.

Video of the Black-tailed Godwits

Tuesday 25 August 2015

Shawell Update

Juvenile Yellow-legged Gulls (Larus michahellis) are still occurring at Shawell although many of them are well on their way to attaining their first-winter plumage. This summer the influx of juveniles has been on a larger scale than in previous years.  Presumably there will be even more Yellow-legged Gulls of all ages visiting Shawell in the years to come.

A mixture of plumage characteristics and jizz make most juvenile Yellow-legged Gulls fairly easy to identify. Some are real monsters, but many don't stand out amongst the juvenile Lesser Black-backed Gulls on size alone. I saw the first juvenile Yellow-legged Gull at Shawell on July 4th and my best count so far is eleven at one time.

Juvenile Yellow-legged Gull, Shawell A5 Lagoons

The juvenile below has been present for a couple of weeks. It has already moulted its scapulars and as you can see its coverts are very pale. It is a real eye catcher as it really stands out because of the amount of pale feathering and its large size. The short thick bill and large heads of this species are obvious on most juveniles, as are the really large lower scapulars of fresh juveniles (see image above).

First-Calendar Year Yellow-legged Gull Moulting into First-Winter Plumage

On Saturday August 22nd the gulls were quite distant preferring to sit on a large mound in the quarry. Many were hidden from view, but the Caspian Gull in the image below wandered in to view. It is most likely to be a third-summer (4CY), as it appeared to have some remnant black feathering on the alula. Although it is said that this can be present into adulthood.

Caspian Gull, Shawell, 22/08/15

To give you an idea how good my new Swarovski scope is, the Caspian Gull in the picture above was on top of the mound in the photo below. As you can see using a 50mm lens you can hardly even see the gulls. I could even read colour-rings at that range. Sadly this is the typical distance I have to work with at present.

Shawell Quarry
The only other birds of note recently were a pair of Ruff at the A5 Lagoons on 19/08/15.

Tuesday 18 August 2015

201st For SW Leicestershire

After the excitement of adding the 200th species to the South-west Leicestershire list I settled down to do the office work. Whilst looking up some information in 'The Birds of Leicestershire & Rutland' I came across a sighting of a Marsh Warbler at Shawell GP in 1982, which is number 201. It didn't take quite as long as finding the 200th to add another to the list.

I have also updated Redstart and Pied Flycatcher with some historical records.

Monday 17 August 2015

A First For SW LEICS and the 200th Species

I had recently predicted that the 200th bird for the south-west Leicestershire list would be Cetti's Warbler. Well on Sunday morning I got a call from my wife saying there was a Cetti's Warbler at Brascote Pits. Adey Baker and I were at Croft, but hearing the news we decided to cut short our walk and head to Brascote. As we neared the tree where I had seen a Pied Flycatcher nine days earlier, I saw a small bird near the tree trunk. The sun was in our eyes, but I was sure it was another Pied Fly and I said so to Adey. Luckily it turned sideways on and I got a good view of its blackish wings with lovely distinctive white wing flashes. By the time we had messed about trying, but failing miserably to get a photo of it we had run out of time for a morning visit to Brascote.

After dinner I made my excuses and headed off to Brascote where I met Colin Green. Colin had glimpsed what he thought was the bird but he hadn't heard it singing. I persevered after Colin had left and at 16:00 I saw the bird in one of the small willow trees and it gave a short but powerful burst of song - get in there!

Nick Sharpe had found the bird earlier in the day. Nick arrived just after I had seen it and he told me about the fantastic views he had of it -well done Nick!

Colin returned to the site and got to see it later that evening.


Sunday 9 August 2015

Weekend Report

What a great weekend, unless you're an Australian Cricket fan! I enjoyed Saturday morning sat in my deckchair at Shawell enjoying the cricket and watching the resident pair of Red Kites and the numerous Common Buzzards. I'm not always a fan of the large birds of prey at Shawell, as they scare my gulls. However, the gulls were sitting along way off, so there was nothing else to do apart from enjoy the raptors.

Wing-tagged Adult Red Kite 
Adult Red Kite
Adult Common Buzzard
Juvenile Common Buzzard

The juvenile Common Buzzard above is very inquisitive/hungry and often flies around just above me whilst giving its begging call.

The gulls eventually appeared at the tip when the workmen packed up at 11:30, but frustratingly most of them landed out of view. Amongst them were two adult Caspian Gulls: the one from Wednesday and a new one that was in active primary moult. I was only quick enough to get a picture of the one from earlier in the week.

Adult Caspian Gull (partially hidden)

This morning Adey Baker and I decided that we should do Croft Hill & Quarry after seeing the Pied Flycatcher there on Friday (Adey and his son Ross managed to see the flycatcher, which saves me having to write a description, as they are on the three observer list). No flycatchers but we did get a Wheatear, which are quite rare at the site these days).

Wheatear, Croft Quarry

The large bird of prey theme continued as several Common Buzzards were soaring low over the embankment.

Common Buzzard, Croft Quarry