Sunday 31 July 2016

Marsh Harrier Over Braunstone Frith

I was over at the old British Shoe site this morning checking on my baby seagulls when all of a sudden pandemoniom struck. Gulls came rushing towards me from the recycle centre and hundreds took off from the remaining part of the roof. Often when something like this happens there is no obvious reason for it, but I spotted a largish bird of prey. I rattled of a few photos and then checked what it was with my binoculars.

I was well impressed when I realised it was a juvenile Marsh Harrier. It was perhaps attracted to the site by the gulls, but they gave it one hell of a telling off and it just kept heading north.

I managed to at least get a poor record shot of it, but you can make it out as a juvenile Marsh Harrier.

Thursday 28 July 2016

Colour Ringed Caspian Gull Returns

I took a ride over to Shawell last night, as its now time to start searching for juvenile Caspian Gulls. There wasn't much happening at the lagoons, so I decided to see if any gulls were viewable in the sand quarry next to the landfill site. There were plenty of gulls, but they were too distant. A single gull was resting on a mound of earth about half way between me and the main gathering. I learnt along time ago that it is always worth setting up your scope for a loan gull, as it just might be a good one.

It was indeed a good one - a colour-ringed sub-adult Caspian Gull - get in there!

I couldn't read its colour-ring, as the ring was facing the wrong way and the code was not visible. It then decided to fly and join the main group. I watched it land and as it walked I could see it had an injured leg. Could it be the bird I saw it 2014, as that one had an injured leg.

Something disturbed the gulls and they flew south towards the lagoons. Before going to the lagoons I checked another part of the site and there was the Caspian Gull sat amongst about 500 gulls. In 2014 it spent more time lying down than standing. After about 30 minutes it stood up and I was able to read its colour-ring - green XNDJ.

I First found XNDJ back in October 2014 at Shawell A5 Lagoons. It was great to see it is still around.

XNDJ went to Earlswood Lakes, Warwickshire during the previous two winters, so it will be interesting to see if it goes there again.

XNDJ was still around on Saturday the 30th at both the landfill site and the lagoons.

Third-Summer Caspian Gull XNDJ
Third-Summer Caspian Gull XNDJ, July 2017, Shawell A5 Lagoons
Second-Winter Caspian Gull XNDJ, October 2014, Shawell A5 Lagoons

Video of XNDJ:

Don't forget if it doesn't do it automatically, change the video quality to HD

Monday 18 July 2016

Male Emperor Dragonfly

I was over at Brascote Pits on Sunday and a male Emperor Dragonfly was on patrol. It hovered occasionally, which gave me an opportunity to photograph it. At first I couldn't quite keep it in focus long enough to fire the shutter, but after a bit of experimenting I came up with the right technique and managed to get some good results.

Male Emperor Dragonfly, Brascote Pits, 16/07/16
Male Emperor Dragonfly, Brascote Pits, 16/07/16
Male Emperor Dragonfly, Brascote Pits, 16/07/16

Sunday 17 July 2016

The Invasion Gathers Momentum

Every July Britain gets invaded by visitors from the south. Yellow-legged Gulls (Larus michahellis) are what i'm talking about of course and 24 were at Shawell yesterday. As I've already said the real prize is a fresh juvenile and there were three at the lagoons.

By the month's end up to 50 YLGs will be present if last years totals are anything to go by.

I wonder what encourages the young birds to fly so far north?

Juvenile Yellow-legged Gull, Shawell A5 Lagoons, 16/07/16

Saturday 16 July 2016

The Proof is In the Picture

If like me you enjoy getting away from the crowds then taking images of the good birds that you find is very important. There are three reasons for capturing images of the rarer birds you find: firstly it helps to prove your ID, secondly it backs up your claim if your a single observer and finally a photo is a great souvenir. I think it's a must for any up and coming birders to take photos. I pride myself on having a very high percentage of my better bird finds either being seen by other birders or being photographed. Occasionally a mobile bird is not photographable but if you get enough credit in the bank you will be forgiven for occasionally not getting a photo.

Digiscoping is a great way of capturing record shots, as you can get images of distant birds. Most scopes these days have adapters to allow you to attach a range of cameras. Even smart phones can be connected to scopes. Basic images can be created without needing to spend a fortune.

Some bird species need to be photographed for the records to be accepted. In Leicestershire the record committee insists that Caspian Gull submissions include photographs.

Compact cameras probably offer the best flexibility for digiscoping. If you can get a camera that the zoom range works with your scope you can just hold it against the eyepiece. At present I handhold a small Sony compact with a 3.6 x zoom straight on to my scope. The focusing is done using the scopes focus wheel.

Another great solution is one of the modern super zoom bridge cameras. These take really good quality video and you can take a screen image of the paused video and turn it into a photograph.

Photographs help to keep you on the straight and narrow as the camera generally doesn't fib. I have found it invaluable with my interest in gulls, the images allow me to study the more difficult gulls again when I get home. It also allows my peers to have a look at my identifications.

The photo below was taken today using my Sony compact RX 100 handheld against my scope. It's at the better end of the quality you can get without having an adapter to fix your camera to your scope. Most images captured with a digiscoping set up are good enough to prove what you saw, but good quality images are possible if the subject is quite close and the light is good.

Corn Bunting Taken with a Sony RX100 Compact Camera handheld to Scope Eyepiece

Friday 15 July 2016

Juvenile Yellow-legged Gull at Last

Yesterday evening I was over at Shawell A5 Lagoons and the first juvenile Yellow-legged Gull was in. Last year the first ones arrived on July 4th, so they're a bit late this year. At least 18 YLGs were there last night, mostly adults. The invasion is well underway.

Juvenile Lesser Black-backed Gulls were into double figures and a juvenile Herring Gull was amongst them. It was good to compare all three species in juvenile plumage.

Juvenile Yellow-legged Gull, Shawell A5 Lagoons, 14th July 2016

Now where's that juvenile Caspian Gull?

Wednesday 13 July 2016


As you know, I have been watching the breeding gulls at the old British Shoe works on the outskirts of Leicester. I was well aware that the building was ear-marked for demolition, but I had been told that it wouldn't take place until October this year.

Gulls Not Welcome
On May 26th I had a drive over to the site for the first time in about two weeks. Gulls were feeding at the Casepak Recycle Centre on Sunningdale Road and all looked well. Things took a major nose dive when I viewed the site from Scudamore Road. The demolition gang had moved in and the building was coming down.

Demolition Work Begins at Sunningdale Business Park (Formerly British Shoe)

I was furious - why knock it down during the breeding season? Why not do it outside of the breeding season? Furious or not, I wasn't that surprised, as the owners had not been very friendly. towards me or the gulls.

In the absence of a Police Wildlife Liaison Officer in Leicestershire, I contacted the Environmental Department at the Leicester Council. Two of the Nature Conservation Officers visited the site and ordered that the work should be stopped until an ecologist had made an assessment along with a structural engineer.

It turned out that the ecologist just wanted a pay day. A licence was downloaded from Natural England and the work carried on. This was done without consultation with the officers from the council. Luckily I was keeping an eye on proceedings and spotted that work had started again. Once more the work was stopped.

The downloadable licence from Natural England allows certain species to be killed or their nests destroyed if there is a risk to public health or public safety. Lesser Black-backed Gulls can be killed or there nests destroyed with this licence and Herring Gull nests can be destroyed but the actual birds can't be killed.

I argued that the licence was not applicable as the gulls were not causing a danger to public health or safety and that there were now Herring Gull chicks on the roof .

A new ecologist was employed by those carrying out the demolition work and apparently a licence application has been sent to Natural England. Even if that turns out to be successful the Nature Conservation Officer now dealing with the case will recommend that no more demolition of the remaining roof is done until the young gulls fledge.

This has given the young gulls time to mature and tonight I saw that the first ones had fledged. Six juveniles were enjoying the freedom their wings have given them. Many more will hopefully fledge this week. I have a suspicion that some gulls abandoned their breeding attempt and moved to another roof and started again. Some nests may have been destroyed during the initial phase of the demolition, but I can't prove it.

Not everyones favourite bird group but I am chuffed to have helped a few young gulls start their adventures.

Juvenile Lesser Black-backed Gull, Scudamore Road, Braunstone Frith, Leicester, July 13th 2016

Thursday 7 July 2016

Gulls Can Read!

Last night I said that the first juvenile large gulls excluding ones at local breeding sites should be Yellow-legged Gulls. Obviously a young Lesser Black-backed Gull managed to read my blog and decide to prove me wrong. Tonight that young LBBG was at Shawell A5 Lagoons enjoying what must be his first swim. This is early for a juvenile LBBG at Shawell. So juvenile large gulls in early July are not necessarily Yellow-legged ones then!

I wonder where this one came from? The young gulls in Aylesbury, Hinckley, Leicester and Northampton that I have seen this week all need at least another week before they'll fledge.

Juvenile Lesser Black-backed Gull, Shawell A5 Lagoons, July 7th 2016

Wednesday 6 July 2016

Juvenile Yellow-legged Gulls

July is the Yellow-legged Gull invasion month and the real prize is to find some smart looking juveniles. Already the adults and immatures are moving north. Several adults and second-calendar year birds are gracing the shores of Shawell A5 Lagoons at the moment and hopefully the first juvenile will arrive in the next few days.

The first juvenile gulls to fledge are the Yellow-legged Gulls. Away from known breeding sites of Lesser Black-backed and Herring Gulls, the first juveniles to be encountered locally should be Yellow-legged Gulls.

So if you spot a young gull whilst out birding during the next few weeks there's a good chance it may be a Yellow-legged Gull. First check that its wings are in good condition if you can. Any missing, worn or damaged primaries would most times rule out it being a juvenile. The plumage of any of the juvenile large gulls is smart, but Yellow-legged Gulls really are quite smart. There's a slight reddish tint to the plumage, which is usually quite distinctive. Just like the other age groups, their heads are large and squarish looking; pale coloured and an eye mask is usually obvious.

If trying to separate a young YLG from a LBBG look at the scapulars. They are almost always obviously much larger than those of a juvenile LBBG.

The tertials are most often brown with a pale edge, but beware some have notching on the feather edge like young Herring Gulls.

The photos below should hopefully help.

Juvenile Yellow-legged Gull

Juvenile Yellow-legged Gull

Juvenile Yellow-legged Gull
Some more stuff on juvenile gull ID HERE

Sunday 3 July 2016

Small Red-eyed Damselfly at Brascote Pits

I have been after a Small Red-eyed Damselfly since the first Leicestershire & Rutland records back in 2006. I refused to twitch one instead I have waited expectantly. Last Thursday evening I went over to Brascote Pits to have another look at the orchid extravaganza. It was quite sunny, so I thought I'd check the roadside lake just in case there were any interesting dragonflies or damselflies. In one of the corners there are some small lillypads and it was here that I could see several damselflies. A pair were in 'cop' and straight away they looked interesting. I am very familiar with Red-eyed Damselfly having looked at lots trying to find a SRED.

Something was slightly different about these two. Slightly more blue was apparent on the male and its eyes were a different shade of red compared to Red-eyed Damselfly. Also they were small and dainty. I only had my small compact camera with me with just a 3.6 x zoom lens. I was able to take an image and by zooming it up in the camera I could see the salient features. The best way to re-produce the image was to take a photo of the back of the camera, as there were too few pixels left when cropping the image.

Pair of Small Red-eyed damselflies at Brascote Pits June 30th 2016
The blue on the underneath and sides of the male's segments 2 and 8 are diagnostic as well as the x mark on segment 10. The x is just about visible with a bit of imagination. Also the female has a lot of blue on her thorax. The female Red-eyed Damselfly does not turn blue apparently.

I submitted the sighting to naturespot and one of the experts gave it the thumbs up.

Below is a photo of a Red-eyed Damselfly taken at the same location yesterday.Its a shame I couldn't relocate the Small Red-eyed Damselflies, but hopefully there is still time to see them again.

Red-eyed Damselfly, Brascote Pits July 2nd 2016