Sunday 31 December 2017


Despite the Hawfinches at Burbage Common Extension being right on my doorstep, I had not really got any photos worth showing. That hasn't really changed, but I did manage to get a reasonable record shot this morning.

Hopefully one will stay until tomorrow and we can welcome everyone back for a 2018 year tick.


Friday 29 December 2017

Another Glaucous Gull Makes it a Record Year

I was quite surprised to find a snowed in Cotesbach landfill site yesterday morning.

I had a bit of fun trying to get down the lane to where I watch the gulls on the landfill. I had to wade through deep flood water, breaking the ice as I went. Eventually I was in place and many thousands of gulls were feasting on our Christmas waste.

Viewing proved a little difficult due to the bright sunlight in my face, but the white wings of an adult Glaucous Gull were unmistakable. This is the ninth Glaucous Gull at Shawell this year, which is a new record for the site.

Adult Glaucous Gull

A Red Kite drifted past and luckily I had the right tense connected to my camera.

Red Kite

My 2017 Caspian Gull tally passed the 100 mark with new 2nd and 3rd winter birds. 

Saturday 16 December 2017

Iceland Gull Again

Learning about and identifying gulls takes a great deal of time and patience. Ideally you need to travel to where the gulls are common. I've done that with quite a few species, but not yet for Iceland Gull. The latest white-winger at Shawell looks darker in the field than other juvenile Icelands I've seen. It shows quite distinct markings across the primaries on its folded wing and has quite dark underparts and well marked upperparts. The primaries are a darker buff colour compared to the usual white primaries I've seen on other juveniles..

My thoughts turned to Kumlien's Gull, but to clinch that I would need to photograph the spread upperwing. I didn't manage that on Tuesday, but with the help of a young Herring Gull today I managed to see get a glimpse (see the video). Initially it looked as though it had dark outer webs on the outer primaries, but further review of the video showed that it doesn't have the right pattern for a Kumlien's, so an interesting Iceland Gull it is in my opinion.

Juvenile Iceland Gull, Shawell, December 16th 2017

Juvenile Iceland Gull, Shawell, December 16th 2017

The Video is Best Watched at HD Quality.

Juvenile Iceland Gull, Shawell, December 16th 2017

Tuesday 12 December 2017

Iceland Gull

This morning I spotted a juvenile Iceland Gull on the southernmost lagoon at Shawell A5 Lagoons. The video below shows the bird, but as you can see the bright sunlight has bleached it. It was darker in real life and it had marking on its primaries that had me considering Kumlien's Gull. To clinch that ID I would really need to photograph it with its wings open. There is a hint on the longest primary that the outer web is darker, but this might be shadow. For now I will call it an Iceland Gull.

Best watch the video at full screen to see the pattern on the primaries although it is no where near as obvious as in the field. The bleaching is obvious when compared with the adult Herring Gull.

I had deliberately took a couple of hours off work this morning knowing there was most likely to be ice on the A5 Lagoons near Shawell. I have had a good track recorded of turning up good gulls when the ice comes.

Not surprisingly the lagoons were frozen. There was lots of gulls on the larger lagoon and the highlight was a Herring Gull ringed near Troms, Norway. J3613 was also at in 2013 and 2105. Its life-history also shows a visit to Vardo near the very top of Norway.

Three Caspian Gull were on the ice as well: 2 adults and a second-winter.

Sunday 10 December 2017

Germany to Shawell and on to Spain

During September I picked up a very obvious moulting juvenile Caspian Gull. It was obvious because it had a yellow ring on its leg with the code X477 and also because it had a bi-coloured bill. X477 was ringed on 03/06/17 at Bad Duben, Germany. It then appeared at Shawell in early September and stayed until late October.

Well it's now sunning itself down in Malaga. I'm pretty sure it would have followed the Lesser Black-backed Gulls down there.

X477 at Shawell in September 2017

Saturday 9 December 2017

Juvenile Glaucous Gull

The cold snap delivered its goods today at Cotesbach Landfill site.

There was no rubbish tipping going on, so the thousands of gull on site at dawn soon began to disperse. After the tip area become deserted I made my way to the A5 Lagoons. Luckily there were plenty of gulls there and I scored a few colour-rings. Just after lunch the dog walker arrived and you guessed it - he flushed the gulls!

I decided to have one more go at the landfill and luckily the quarry men were still working, so I was able to get back to my viewing spot. A few snow flakes were falling when I arrived and as if by magic a splendid juvenile Glaucous Gull appeared - enjoy the video.

Later in the afternoon it was picked up in the roost at Draycote Water, Warwickshire.

Saturday 11 November 2017


Back at Shawell today searching through the hordes. It was another good day as far as ring reading was concerned and plenty of Caspian Gulls were there again. In total, excluding hybrids, I saw eight Caspian Gulls: 2 adults, 2 second-winters and four first-winters.

Two German ringed gulls reappeared today, X312 which I first saw in April was looking even more hybrid like and I'm not sure about X739 yet, but that one seems a bit chunky.

German Ringed Presumed Hybrid Caspian Gull (X312)

Two adult Caspian Gulls were seen. The first was a real stunner, but that one wouldn't sit still. The other one had pale eyes, however, its primary pattern was spot on for a pure Caspian Gull.

Adult Caspian Gull

First-Winter Caspian Gull

Saturday 4 November 2017

First-Winter Caspian Gulls

By far the most regular age groups of Caspian Gull at Shawell are first and second calendar year. This year juveniles were the most numerous in early autumn and now its mainly first-winters.

Today I saw four first-winters and one second-winter.

As I've probably said before, Caspian and Yellow-legged Gulls are usually born before Herring and Lesser Black-backed Gulls, so they advance quicker. Basically Caspian and Yellow-legged Gulls stand out because they replace their scapulars sooner than the other two species and they have often replaced some coverts before the end of their first calendar-year. The first one below has replaced one of its median coverts on the side visible in the photo. The next two have replaced many coverts including greater coverts.

First-Winter Caspian Gull, Cotesbach Landfill Site, November 4th 2017

First-Winter Caspian Gull, Cotesbach Landfill Site, November 4th 2017

First-Winter Caspian Gull, Cotesbach Landfill Site, November 4th 2017

Sunday 29 October 2017

The Reappearance of HD430

Back in mid-August I read the colour ring on a first calendar-year Yellow-legged Gull at Shawell. I identified it in the field as a Yellow-legged Gull, but noted it was very fresh looking. I saw it again yesterday at Shawell and it has now moulted into classic first-winter plumage.

HD430 on August 12th 2017

HD430 October 28th 2017
There is up to 12 Caspian Gulls in the area including colour-ringed bird X477, which has been seen regularly since 9th September.

Very Small Adult Female Caspian Gull
Second Calendar-Year Caspian Gull

I was surprised to find a Common Gull still in juvenile plumage this late in the year. All the other first calendar-year Common Gulls were in first-winter plumage.

Juvenile Common Gull

Typical October First Calendar-Year Common Gull With Adult

Sunday 15 October 2017

Gulls in The Algarve October 2017

Steve asked about the gulls after my trip report to Portugal didn't mention any.

Portimao has a large fish harbour, which of course attracts many gulls throughout the year. The temperature during my trip regularly reached 35 degrees C +, so maybe this was the reason there were fewer gulls around than normal. It appeared that the Lesser Black-backed Gulls had not arrived in big numbers.

That said on my first visit I noticed an 3cy Azorean 'type' Gull peering down on me from the rooftop. This is my Azorean at the portico fish harbour, but so far no decision has been made on the previous two, so I will wait a while before documenting it fully. The light was very bright, so it was difficult to reproduce the correct grey tone of the upperparts.

Many of the Yellow-legged Gulls frequenting the harbour and the beach where we stay at Praia da Rocha are ssp. lusitanius. 1cy michahellis are more advanced in their moult having also moulted some coverts by October. Lusitanius 1cy can be told by the lack of covert moult and usually their small size. It is easier in January/February when the differences are more obvious.

1cy Yellow-legged Gull (presumed lusitanius)
Amongst the Lesser Black-backed Gulls that had arrived I recorded colour-ringed birds from England, France, The Netherlands, Norway, Scotland and Wales. There were also some that had been ringed in Portugal.

HLP ringed by the Severn Estuary Ringing Group
Dutch ringed N||9 LBBG Enjoying an Early Morning Paddle
As well as the big gulls we did come across nine first-winter Slender-billed Gulls near Faro.

And of course a few Audouin's Gulls and some Med Gulls but these were shy this time around.

Saturday 14 October 2017

Back to Shawell

At Shawell today I dropped straight back into the groove.

Eight Caspian Gulls today plus a German ringed hybrid that I saw last month. 5 1cy and 3 2cy.

Four German ringed gulls from the mixed colonies. Three looked good and the other was the hybrid mentioned above.

One was a new 2cy bird which posed nicely.

In addition I read an impressive 36 colour-rings.

2cy Caspian Gull X072

1cy Caspian Gull

Friday 13 October 2017

Portugal October 2017- A Record Breaking Trip

I have just come back from another trip to The Algarve. This time we decided to make an attempt to see as many species as we could. My previous highest trip total was 135 species.

The first day is always a chilled out affair with a nice walk around Praia da Rocha and Portimao. Five Pied Flycatchers and a single Spotted Flycatcher in a small park were good, but the highlight was a Caspian Tern right by the road bridge over the River Arade.

We picked up our small hire car the next morning and I decided to head to the raptor watchpoint at Cabranosa which is close to Sagres. Just beyond Cabranosa is Cape Vincente, where, during the right conditions, raptors and other migrants are funelled down to the land's end of Europe. Many of these birds are juveniles that haven't learnt the correct route to the short sea crossings from Spain to Africa. Birds were passing overhead. Ten Booted Eagles, a Short-toed Eagle and two Egyptian Vultures were joined by a couple of Black Storks. A Hobby was a first ever in Portugal for Dawn and I and a Mistle Thrush was a good bird to get under our belt.

Egyptian Vulture

Black Stork

Short-toed Eagle

The Ria Formosa area always produces a good count. A full day in the area should produce about 70 species. Arriving before it got light was a good plan as two Tawny Owls were calling by the golf course. A Garden Warbler was another good one and we soon added a male Little Bittern to the tally. At the west end of the Ria Formosa Natural Park we ended up with a total of 70 species. On the other side of Faro is a small reserve in the Natural Park that we last visited during our first trip to Portugal in 2013. The prize here was a Red-necked Nightjar that we accidentally flushed. It flew around us only just off the floor. The sun highlighted its lovely rufous colour. It landed but just behind a hump. It then flew once more before alighting under cover and out of view. At this point we left it, but we were very happy indeed. The day finished on an impressive 80 species and a total of 90 for the trip.

The next day we received a text from Georgina (our daughter) saying Monarch Holidays who we were travelling with had gone bust. Ah well we said that is a problem for another day. The uplands at Monchique beckoned and so we put our worries aside and headed off uphill. Woodland species are on offer here and we picked up some good ones including a Long-tailed Tit. We walked up one of the taller peaks called Picota. The forest shades out the sun for most of the walk but near the summit there is no hiding from the sun and it was very warm. We sat looking down to the forest below when I noticed a large raptor flying below us. It was a big one and as soon as I got my binoculars on it I called juvenile Spanish Imperial Eagle. Watching birds of prey from above is always special. A juvenile Blue Rock Thrush and several Dartford Warblers also helped move the list on. After a pleasant walk downhill it was time to drive up to the highest point called Foia. This hill is over 900 metres tall and is the highest point in The Algarve. Here we enjoyed drinks and an ice cream. A juvenile Rufous-tailed Rock Thrush had been seen a couple of days before and I was hoping it was still around. There was no sign of it around the summit, but I eventually found it on a rocky outcrop slightly downhill. I had lost Dawn by this point to her reading book!

Distant Rufous-tailed Rock Thrush, Foia

The total had now reached 118 species.

Tuesday is traditionally Castro Verde plains day and so why change. It was very hot inland and that reflected in the lack of birds. At Guerreiro a couple of juvenile Bonelli's Eagles were roosting: one on a rock and the other on a fence post. A few Calandra Larks were song-flighting and 20 Black-bellied Sandgrouse flew over. No bustards were visible. Most of the day was spent searching for bustards and eventually we found nine Great Bustards. A Tawny Pipit was a good find and six Griffon Vultures passed over in a line.

The total was now 132 and close to our previous best.

A trip to Salgados Lagoons was sure to get us some new birds. This site is the best place to find Yellow Wagtails (presumably Iberian) and it didn't disappoint. A female Ferruginous Duck was an excellent find and that one drew us level with our previous best trip total.

By the end of the day we had reached 140 species and we were only half way through the trip.

The Sagres Bird Festival had begun and I had booked on a Pelagic Boat Trip. Fewer seabirds were around than in previous years but still those onboard enjoyed close views of Cory's Shearwater and European Storm Petrel. We also saw Great and Balearic Shearwater.

European Storm Petrel

After the boat trip I dragged Dawn from the Cafe at the harbour (she doesn't like small boats) and we headed to the raptor watchpoint at Cabranosa. Before venturing up to the viewpoint we enjoyed our sandwiches and I noticed a group of large birds of prey. I could see 20 or more Griffon Vultures and amongst them were two slightly smaller vultures. These two lacked the contrast across the wing that Griffon Vultures show and they were immature Ruppell's Vultures a new bird for me.

Ruppell's Vulture with Griffon Vultures and Black Kites (Ruppell's is third from left)

There is a large pine forest at Cabranosa, so after the birds of prey passage had quietened down we went for a walk. In the forest small migrant birds were trying to find shade. Our first Redstarts of the trip made themselves obvious as did lots of Iberian Chiffchaff contenders. A juvenile Ring Ouzel looked slightly out of place in the forest.


Presumed Iberian Chiffchaff

At the end of the day the total had reached 147 species.

The lure of Cabranosa's raptor passage was too much and so we returned the next day. A Lesser Spotted Eagle (Clanga pomarina) had been seen the previous week, so when it or another reappeared all those present were very very happy. Amazingly we also picked up a second year Pallid Harrier.

Lesser Spotted Eagle

153 species so far.

Next day we birded the Ria Formosa area near Faro in the morning and then went up in to the hills above Faro. A couple of Wood Pigeons was a major find near Ludo Farm. In seven trips to The Algarve this was our first record of Wood Pigeon.

Our total was now 157.

It was back to the Monchique area on Sunday to look for some of the species we had missed on our first visit. An adult Hobby whizzed over us as we were sorting ourselves out ready to set off walking. We had missed Iberian Green Woodpecker the first time, but managed to catch up with one this time. A Grey Wagtail was a good one feeding on the road on the wooded slopes of Picota. Large butterflies always fly around the bushes on the top of Picota. The Two-tailed Pashas are my favourites.

Two-tailed Pasha

In the afternoon we tried our luck again on Mount Foia. Loads of large dragonflies were hunting, but none allowed close approach. I decided it would be worth walking downhill to a small reservoir, but we didn't find the identity of the dragonflies. However, we did see a Hobby catching dragonflies and later on another two or three. About 20 Ring Ouzels were also seen

We were now on 159 species.

For our last full day of the trip I couldn't resist dragging Dawn back to Cabranosa for one last raptor festival. We weren't disappointed as the Lesser Spotted Eagle reappeared and showed well. We even saw a late Bee-eater and a couple of Turtle Doves.

Honey Buzzard

Lesser Spotted and Booted Eagle

This gave us a grand total of 163 species for the trip. We had missed a few that we usually see but I am really happy with the total. The Algarve is a superb birding destination - well worth a visit.

Back to Monarch, we had absolutely no problems and waiting on the runway to bring us home was a Boeing 777-200. The American crew were a pleasure to fly with. My only complaint was the flight was too short to finish watching the complimentary film!

Sunday 17 September 2017

Yes You Guessed It - More Caspian Gull Stuff

It's been a great couple of months for enjoying the young Caspian Gulls at Shawell. These are the vanguard of a major range expansion of this species. Herring Gulls need to watch out or they will find themselves pushed out.

A juvenile Caspian Gull was a major prize a few years ago, but now you could reasonably expect to see one anywhere gulls gather in large numbers in England. Of course you need to have done your work to understand how to identify them.

The window of opportunity is quite tight, as they begin moulting almost as soon as they have made it here. In fact most have replaced a few scapulars by the first or second week of August. By mid-September some are in almost complete first-winter plumage. This is one of the ways of helping to distinguish Caspian and Yellow-legged Gulls from Herring and Lesser Black-backed Gulls in their first few months. However, by mid-September quite a few of them are moulting too although they still look fresher. Caspian and Yellow-legged Gulls are born about a month earlier than the other two.

A Juvenile Caspian Gull's plumage is quite dull. The one below is typical of what to look for: very little patterning on the greater coverts (GC from now on). The inner GC are plain dull brown and the outer GC are a mixture of off white and brown. The darker inner GC often appear similar to the Nike swoosh logo. The median coverts (MC) and the lesser coverts (LC) are plain brown with buffish edges (if you don't know the feather tracts I'm talking about just enjoy the pictures). Of course the small head, long legs and the long winged appearance all help.

Juvenile Caspian Gull, Shawell, August 10th 2017

The one below shares all the feature of the one above and has a real dagger of a bill. Caspian Gulls love to just sit about.

Juvenile Caspian Gull, Shawell, August 12th 2017

The next one was quite distant, but you can still see the general plumage features and the washed out brown colour really shows well in this image. The whiteness of the head is a helpful although only when seen in conjunction with the rest of the features. The hanging rear belly is another feature of Caspian Gull, but it's not always like that and they can lose it two seconds after you see it.

Juvenile Caspian Gull, Shawell, August 24th 2017

By early September some of the scapular feathers have been replaced and a greyness starts to appear. The coverts still show that plain dull brown colouration.

Moulting Juvenile Caspian Gull, Shawell, September 9th 2017

You can clearly see the replaced scapulars on the next one

Moulting Juvenile Caspian Gull, Shawell, September 16th 2017

The next two images are of a German ringed bird X454. This one is a little trickier because it often looks a little short legged and dumpy. Not all the time though and care has to be taken with judging Caspian Gulls jizz, as they are very good at being shape changers. As you can see it has already moulted some of its median and lesser coverts, which is very good Caspian Gull pro feature. Its juvenile coverts are all OK, as are its tertials. I will give it the benefit of the doubt, but with the proviso that we watch it develop - good things these colour rings. Not all Caspian Gulls are sleek with a long straight bill and super long legs.

First-Winter Caspian Gull, Shawell, September 16th (X454)
First-Winter Caspian Gull, Shawell, September 16th (X454)

X739 is a smart looking bird although my photo hardly does it justice. As you can see this one has moulted its scapulars, but none of its coverts yet.

First-Winter Caspian Gull, Shawell, September 14th (X739)

The next one a first-winter has moulted its mantle and scapular feathers plus a few median coverts and is the most advance one I've seen so far.

First-Winter Caspian Gull, Shawell, September 16th

The last one X735 is a stinker. If you look closely its greater coverts are chequered and its jizz is more like that of a Herring Gull. Also the size of the markings on its scapulars are a little too bold. I might be doing it an injustice, but I think its a hybrid HG X CG. Its colour ring is not visible but it is the one with its head up.

First-Winter Hybrid, Shawell, September 16th (X735)