Tuesday 30 August 2016

Juvenile Caspian Gull at Shawell Sand Quarry

I'm sure this is beginning to look like its easy, but I'm really pleased that I can spot these beasts amongst the thousands of gulls amassing at the site at present. These and other sightings of juvenile Caspian Gulls in England are the result of a great deal of effort over the years by the observers.

With practice the features shown by juvenile gulls can broken down and most times an identification can be made. Its a bit like cracking a code. The image below shows some of the important features when looking for a juvenile Caspian Gull: very white underwings, a full black tail band with the black reaching the outer edge of its tail and a clean white upper tail. The white head lacks the eye mask of a typical juvenile Yellow-legged Gull. Not all Caspian Gulls have such white underwings, but most juveniles and first-winters encountered at Shawell do have nice white underwings. Beware, juvenile Yellow-legged Gulls can have quite pale underwings, but it would be unlikely to encounter one with such clean white underwings as this one.

I found this one after work this evening and for once it stayed around.

Juvenile Caspian Gull, Shawell Sand Quarry, August 30th 2016

Please enjoy watching the video.
Remember, it's best viewed by watching in 720p HD.

Monday 29 August 2016

Colour Ring reading Extravaganza

A slight repeat of my last post but I am pleased with these latest images. 

Last week saw unprecedented numbers of Lesser Black-backed Gulls in the Shawell area. At least 5000 were present many of which were intermedius from Norway. I read over 80 colour rings in total including many from Norway.

As well as the LBBGs I also saw a couple of Caspian Gulls with colour-rings - one from Germany and another from Poland.

PDXS put in another visit yesterday and I managed to get some better images. She was ringed as a chick in 2012 in southern Poland. 

Female Caspian Gull PKXS From Poland
German Ringed LBBG HXJ60

Yesterday, because there was no one around I managed to sneak up quite close to the gulls. I am not usually spoiled like this and have to accept that photography is very difficult at the site.

As well as the gulls I enjoyed good views of a Marsh Harrier. Unlike the Buzzards the gulls were not frightened and they gave it a real beating. No photograph but Chris Wiltshier was there to witness the sighting.

Saturday 27 August 2016

Croft Hill and Shawell

I started off this morning with a walk on Croft Hill. I was hoping to find a few migrants. The light was poor, but a few birds were moving about. A pipit flew out of the trees landing briefly n the hawthorn hedge. It looked like a Tree Pipit. Hastily captured pictures, though blurred, showed very fine streaking on its flanks, a white belly and a nicely marked supercilium. This is not the first Tree Pipit I've seen in this part of the wooded area. It reappeared on the flycatcher tree a little while later. Chiffchaffs were flitting about everywhere and at least four Spotted Flycatchers sat low in the hedge. Alas no Redstart - maybe tomorrow?

Spotted Flycatcher, Croft Hill, August 27th 2016
Soon Shawell beckoned. My early evening visits this week had been really successful. I had already read over fifty colour rings this week, so the omens were good for today. At least 4500 Lesser Black-backed Gulls were there - my best count since I started visiting regularly in 2012. Amongst them are many intermedius types. I have read 17 Norwegian colour-rings this week. Two of them were juvenile intermedius.

I read 25 colour rings today giving a total for the week of 77.

The Polish ringed Caspian Gull PKXS was amongst the hordes of gulls and the second-summer I saw on the 17th & 18th August was still about today.

PKXS was ringed as a chick in southern Poland on 25th May 2012. There have been previous sightings of this gull in Norfolk, Didcot and at Albion landfill site. The sighting at Albion landfill site was made by Steve Lister. PKXS is a small female Caspian Gull.

Polish Ringed Caspian Gull, PKXS, Shawell A5 Lagoons, August 27th 2016
Second-Summer Caspian Gull, August 27th 2016
The second-summer looks short legged in the photo, but I think some of that is a photographic illusion, as they looked OK through my scope.  It is replacing its longest primaries so it looks short winged.

Thursday 25 August 2016

Colour Ringed Caspian Gulls at Shawell

I was over at Shawell last night and thousands of gulls were sheltering in the quarry from the strong wind that had built up. The viewing conditions are very good at present and I have read 53 colour rings in two early evening visits this week. Many intermedius Lesser Black-backed Gulls are there at present. I have read 10 Norwegian colour-rings so far this week.

Last night I spotted the regular third-summer Caspian Gull green colour-ring XNDJ and a new Polish one yellow PKXS (awaiting details).

The new Caspian Gull pitched down on the very end of the gull flock which made things easy. However, I didn't have long to view it, as one of the dumper truck drivers on overtime drove straight through the flock!

The photos below are poor quality screen grabs from the videos I made.

Adult or near-Adult Caspian Gull (PKXS), Shawell Quarry, (no general access) August 24th 2016

Third-Summer Caspian Gull (XNDJ), Shawell Quarry, (no general access) August 24th 2016

Tuesday 23 August 2016

Gannet at Thornton Reservoir

It was too late to go for the Gannet at Thornton Reservoir when I noticed the bird news on Sunday night. It then appeared to be on its last legs last night, but tonight it was reported to be flying about.

After tea Dawn, Georgina and I took a leisurely drive over to Thornton. The ladies walked away from the car park and then rushed back to tell me they had seen it and it was flying. I had visions of it flying away high to the west and me not getting to see it. No fear it was soon back down on the water. Hopefully it will regain its strength and get away although it may need to feed first. It flew around several times whilst we were there.

Gannet, Thornton Reservoir, August 23rd 2016

Sunday 21 August 2016

Up on the Hill

Adey Baker and I were hoping that the rough weather might have forced a few birds to take shelter on Croft Hill.

The small woodland area on the hill can attract migrants and a singing Willow Warbler raised our spirits as we climbed the entrance stile. We walked uphill following the edge of the wood and then descended the hill on the other side. A handy viewpoint gave us views of the heart of the wood and we could see that a few birds were sheltering from the wind. A couple of Spotted Flycatchers perched on some exposed branches, but wait a minute isn't that one a Pied Flycatcher? A female/first-winter Pied shared the shelter with three Spotted Flycatchers. Chiffchaffs chased each other around and a smart Lesser Whitethroat vied for our attention. A large warbler refused to show itself well enough to be identified, but that just added to the excitement.

Overhead a group of Swifts were heading for their winter quarters, but they paused to feed over the hill. House Martins were travelling with them, but their arrival hadn't gone un-noticed. An adult Hobby seared the air as it tried hard to catch one of the hirundines. The Hobby was only in view for precious seconds but Adey and I had had our breathe taken away by it - what a bird!

Adult Hobby, Croft Hill, August 21st 2016

Saturday 20 August 2016

A Blustery Day at Shawell

On arrival this morning I noticed that something was missing - the gulls. The wind was howling and gulls love to fly when its windy. Eventually a swarm was visible above the distant tip.

On Thursday evening there was around 4000 Lesser Black-backed Gulls in the area, but the wind had obviously dispersed many of them today.

In the end I saw some good gulls, but the wind kept them moving about.

At the lagoons the gulls just couldn't settle, but it wasn't the fox family today it was the gusting wind. An adult female Caspian Gull came in with one of the flocks, but only stayed a short while. When she took off I noticed she was wearing a yellow colour-ring. Was this the small female Caspian Gull I saw last July? That one had a yellow colour-ring as well. I will get to read the inscription on the ring one of these days!

Adult Female Caspian Gull, Shawell A5 Lagoons, August 20th 2016

A second-summer Mediterranean Gull arrived at the lagoons and promptly flew off two minutes later. This is only my 16th sighting of this species at the site since I started my regular visits in 2012. It was almost adult like, but black marking were just visible on the growing primaries. It could be a first-summer moulting into second-winter plumage, but the black markings were very restricted on the almost all white primaries.

Mediterranean Gull, Shawell A5 Lagoons, August 20th 2106

Possibly eight different  juvenile/first-winter Yellow-legged Gulls put in appearances at the lagoons today, which is a good number. I'm sure I recognised some of them from Draycote Water.

Juvenile Yellow-legged Gull, Shawell A5 Lagoons, August 20th 2016

Wednesday 17 August 2016

Another Juvenile Caspian Gull at Shawell

I had a great session at Shawell this evening. The highlights were three Caspian Gulls: a third-summer (the German colour-ringed bird XNDJ), a second-summer and a new juvenile.

The juvenile Caspian Gull had a pinkish tint to its bill rather than the all black bill of last week's bird and its greater covert pattern differed also. The early evening sun made dig-scoping challenging, but at least I managed to get some record shots.

Juvenile Caspian Gull 17th & 18th August 2016

The upperparts of juvenile Caspian Gulls look very washed out in comparison to the juvenile YLG, LBBG and HG, The head was much paler than the juveniles of all the comparison species. The eye mask of juvenile YLG is missing. The lesser and median coverts are plain brown centered with just plain buff fine edges. The greater coverts show some patterning. The patterning on the greater coverts is variable amongst all four species. The tertials are very fresh, but differ from YLG in having a distinct pale fringe rather than the typical straight white edge mainly on the lower part of the tertial. HG usually have notches on the edge of the tertials. There is of course plenty of overlap between the species, but the small head and long low profile as it rests on the water are typical features of this species. Its underwings were very pale and it had a nice dark tail band contrasting with very white (in the bright light) upper tail.

Juvenile Caspian Gull Underwing

Second-Summer Caspian Gull, Shawell 17th & 18th August 2016

Wednesday 10 August 2016

Juvenile Caspian Gull, Shawell A5 Lagoons

I managed to get back to having my lunch break at Shawell A5 Lagoons today and one of the first gulls I saw was a smasher.

A juvenile Caspian Gull is a real prize for any British gull watcher and I had a belter today. So far I have found four juvenile Caspian Gulls over the years at Shawell (including this one),  plus a slightly controversial one last year. They don't stay juveniles for long, so get in quick. By September they are molting into first-winter plumage.

This one ticked all the boxes. The most striking thing about juvenile Caspian Gulls is just how plain they look. Compared to juvenile Yellow-legged Gulls they look washed out. The pale edge to the scapulars is very restricted and the coverts are much plainer than the other similar large juvenile gulls. There was a couple of juvenile Yellow-legged Gulls there as well, which allowed me to compare the different body shape of the two species. The long slender flat backed profile of the Caspian Gull was very obvious much of the time, especially when it was on the water. This one had lovely long slender legs.

The light had quite an effect on its appearance, in dull light it looked very washed out.

Juvenile Caspian Gull (L. cachinnans), Shawell A5 Lagoons, 10th August 2016
Juvenile Caspian Gull (L. cachinnans), Shawell A5 Lagoons, 10th August 2016