Wednesday, 9 December 2020

Lusitanius Yellow-legged Gull at Shawell?

 I was at Shawell today and winter is definitely upon us judging by the large number of gulls using the site. There were some smart looking adult and near adult Caspian Gulls, but it was a Yellow-legged Gull that caught my eye. Having travelled to Iberia on many occasions, I am familiar with the subspecies L. m. lusitanius. This subspecies frequents the Atlantic coast of the Iberian Peninsula. In The Basque Country the Yellow-legged Gulls are quite distinctive and are sometimes thought to be closer related to Herring Gull than Yellow-legged Gull. Today an adult Yellow-legged Gull in the sandpit off Gibbet Lane really reminded me of this form. Without a colour-ring it is perhaps not possible to prove, but the head shape, fine head streaking and general body shape fit well. The Yellow-legged Gulls from the Basque Country are generally sedentary, but one ringed bird has been seen in England and I have seen a colour-ringed bird from there in the Algarve.

There are many difficult gulls to be seen at Shawell with yellow legs, but these don't fit Yellow-legged Gull (michahellis). Their primary patterns tend to give the game away, but this bird had the typical very black (dipped in ink) pattern of a Yellow-legged Gull. Herring Gulls with yellow legs are seen fairly regular at Shawell, but they are easily separated from today's bird. 

Putative lusitanius Yellow-legged Gull, Shawell

lusitanius Yellow-legged Gull, The Basque Country, November 2019

lusitanius Yellow-legged Gull, The Basque Country, November 2019

Another view of the bird at Shawell today.

I will finish off by saying anyone visiting Shawell should know that parking is even more limited now than before and even the viewing point can be blocked by plant vehicles. Please take care. If it gets too bad in the New Year news may have to be withheld.

Oh and here is a Caspian Gull from today...

Caspian Gull, Shawell December 9th 2020

Tuesday, 29 September 2020

Back at Shawell it was Quite Baltic

 I have only visited Shawell a few times since lockdown, as there has been no weekend tipping and I've been at work in the week. Today I was away from work and so I spent the morning there. The first thing of note was a record breaking count/estimate of the number of Lesser Black-backed Gull. There was a minimum of 8000 probably 10,000. The water levels had dropped and so I was also able to read colour-rings once again. The highlight of the colour-ring birds was a first calendar-year Caspian Gull from Germany - XJNJ.

Whilst scanning through the hordes I spotted a real belter of a gull. Although it is not safe to identify an adult Baltic Gull without a colour ring, this one for me was spot on. It was initially standing sideways on and it was long-winged and elegant. Unfortunately when I attached my camera the bugger turned its back on the camera.

Pro Baltic Gull features include: jet-black upperparts with no contrast between primaries and the rest of the upperparts, long-wings and only replaced two inner primaries. However, no colour-ring no cigar.

As well as the putative Baltic Gull there were five Caspian Gulls and at least 11 Yellow-legged Gulls plus a Ruff and two Dunlin.

Monday, 29 June 2020

Catch Up

It been a while since I posted anything on my Blog. I have been off work due to the dreaded Covid-19. However, I have used my time wisely writing as much as possible for the book I'm working on with Adey Baker - 'Birds of Hinckley & Surrounding Areas'. It is really beginning to take shape, with around 200 pages done so far and I have some fabulous illustrations and photographs to brighten it up  - more later...

It has been quite an exciting time. The BBRC have accepted a number of colour-ringed Baltic Gulls from Horsvaer, Norway including two of mine from Shawell. This is an excellent outcome for all the effort Morten, Mars and I put in producing the paper for BB.

Another recent highlight was finding a Roseate Tern at Shawell Sand Quarry. This was quite a surprise as I'm sure you can imagine. I noticed a tern sitting on a small sandy island at about 150 metres distance. Picking it up in my scope I though that's not quite right for a Common Tern. It was facing head on and the first thing I noticed was its black bill although not totally black as the base was red. Its head was nicely rounded and the black cap seemed to be a shade blacker than that of a Common Tern. I placed my video camera on, as I fetched my little Sony compact camera from my car boot. I couldn't believe it was gone after only about 20 seconds. A Black-headed Gull had chased it from its island and it didn't look back. The video showed two important characters, the long tail streamers and the pale upperparts. The upperparts were paler than that of a Black-headed Gull and so also paler than Common Tern. I also picked out a contrast between the paler inner primaries and the darker outer ones. It is with the records committee, but hopefully everyone will agree and it will be the fifth record for Leicestershire & Rutland if they do.

The camera trap has yielded some interesting results although the number of ringed birds is low. I have left it working all night and a Fox family have been quite entertaining.

Another fun highlight of the last few days was paddling in a pond getting up close and personal with Red-eyed Damselflies, Small Red-eyed Damselflies and female Emperor Dragonflies.

Red-eyed Damselfly

Small Red-eyed Damselfly

Emperor Dragonfly

Sunday, 31 May 2020

Camera Trap Update

Since lockdown was relaxed slightly I have managed to work with my camera trap some more. I have now managed to read four colour-rings. The camera has been moved to the feeding zone and as a result the camera is amongst the hordes now. Reading the rings from the photographs has been difficult, but I am slowly getting the camera closer to their legs. So far I have had birds from the Channel Islands, The Netherlands and Wales. CK from The Netherlands was at Shawell last September as a juvenile.

The camera resolution does not compete with a good DSLR, so as you zoom in the detail becomes pixilated. The bright sunshine has also caused problems with shadows etc, but I'm up and running so that's good.

I now need to take care of the battery situation as they are only lasting four days with the amount of action. A solar charger should be available for the camera in July.

Can you spot two Yellow-legged Gulls?

A Fox tried his luck, but the gulls escaped his jaws.

F:581 ringed on Flat Holm Island, Wales

Sunday, 17 May 2020

Its Been a While!

Well I haven't had much to say for a while, but I'm still here. A week and a half into lockdown and I managed to sprain my ankle, which left me immobile for nearly three weeks. However, I am now walking about in a fashion, as it's not right yet. Nevertheless I have managed to record 70 species around my garden or within a short distance on foot from home. I was quite surprised at how many common warbler species can be found on the outskirts of Earl Shilton. I have found over 20 Whitethroat territories, seven Lesser Whitethroat, many Blackcaps and also Reed and Sedge Warblers. Willow warblers are in short supply though - just one pair found.

Today I collected the memory card from my trail camera. I left it at the farm on March 21st, so it was going to be interesting to see how long the batteries had lasted. Checking the card I could see the battery failed on April 16th, which means it lasted 26 days on a cheap set of AA batteries and the camera took over 46,000 photos. Most of the photos were of corvids, but it did capture some gulls. Nearly all the gulls are young Herring Gulls, but it was interesting to see that sightings tapered off in early April. However, today at least 50 Lesser Black-backed Gulls were there and that gives me more hope of recording colour-rings. I also moved the camera today, so fingers crossed.

Saturday, 14 March 2020

The Algarve

A bit of winter sunshine was what the Doctor ordered, but that wasn't what we got every day. Luckily there was still plenty of birds and some sunshine. The wind was quite chilly and I had to put my jumper on a few times 😊

A second-winter Ring-billed Gull had been resident at Salgados Lagoons for a while, so I made this one of my first targets. Luckily it was still present and a Common Gull was hanging out with it. Common Gulls are found only in small numbers during winter in the Algarve.

Ring-billed Gull

Ring-billed Gull

Ring-billed Gull

Common Gull

At Portimão fish port up to 100 Glossy Ibis were in residence, which was a first sighting there for me. During the trip I noticed that many were attaining their summer plumage like the one below. At one time I had five Glossy Ibises, two White Storks and a Caspian Tern standing amongst the gulls on a piece of waste ground close to the harbour.

Glossy Ibis

One of my favourite places is the mountain Fóia near Monchique. A small area on the north side always produces birds and this time Iberian Chiffchaffs were the stars. I saw a bird that at first glance looked more like a Willow Warbler than a Chiffchaff, but once it started singing I realised it was of course an Iberian Chiffchaff. Note the pale bill and the yellowish wash to the upperparts. Also the supercilium is yellow in front of the eyes.

Iberian Chiffchaff

The day on the plains near Castro Verde is always a highlight and we weren't let down this time. A cold north-westerly wind greeted us and caused the long grass to sway dramatically and paint every changing patterns. By the LPN headquarters a Quail was just audible over the sound of the wind and the whispering grass. Lesser Kestrels hunted the steppe and Calandra Larks displayed above us. A distant ring-tail Hen Harrier was good to see, as were ten Black-bellied Sandgrouse, but the much hoped for Great Spotted Cuckoo eluded us.

As we approached the area where a few trees grow a bird flew up and landed on the fence. I new instantly what is was - a Great Spotted Cuckoo. It was quite tame and was allowing me to creep closer. However, a couple of birders approached very quickly as they were driving a car and oblivious to the cuckoo, which they drove past and flushed. This was frustrating as it was a footpath and certainly not designed for driving a car on.

Great Spotted Cuckoo

Great Spotted Cuckoo

Moving on from the LPN centre we headed for Guerreiro where in the past we have enjoyed good views of Great Bustard. We weren't disappointed as about 30 of these heavyweights were quite close to the track.

Great Bustard

A little further along a large raptor flew low over the grassland flushing birds as it went. It was a second calendar-year Iberian Imperial Eagle and amongst the panicking birds were three Little Bustards that flew right past us. Checking the photos I could see that at least two of them had data loggers fitted to their backs.

Little Bustard
Lunch was taken at the church on the hill near Monte Salto. The church overlooks much of the area and is a good place for searching the skies for raptors. Whilst enjoying a sandwich Dawn spotted three large birds drifting past and these turned out to be Black Vultures. Three was the same total of Black Vultures I've seen in Portugal ever, but more where to come. I noticed some distant Griffon Vultures and watched them land amongst a gathering of vultures that were feasting on an unidentified corpse. Once satisfied the vultures began to leave and many flew directly past us. Amongst the Griffons were another six Black Vultures.

Black and Griffon Vultures

Coastal wetlands and saltpans are very good in the Algarve. On this trip we checked out a few new areas around Vilamoura. The highlight was three Black-winged Kites - all hunting - plus several Marsh Harriers, a Booted Eagle and an Osprey.

Black-winged Kite

Marsh Harrier

Booted Eagle
Good numbers of Avocet were seen at several of the saltpans with 126 at Olháo being the most impressive group.

At the fishing harbours the gulls were far from numerous, but I was pleased to see some colour-ringed lusitanius Yellow-legged Gulls from the Berlengas Islands. This adult was especially welcomed as normally it is first-winter birds that are seen with rings from this location.

Sunday, 23 February 2020

A Bit of Perfecting the New Trail Camera.

After looking at the first batch of photos from my new camera trap I decided to do a bit of a re-jig.

I have altered the angle to catch more of the foreground and rearranged the tyres a bit.

I swapped the memory card over and checking the images I was surprised to see a Raven perched on the big tyre. Not the rarity it once was but still a good catch in the first week.

Raven Caught on Stealth Camera.

New Layout

Friday, 21 February 2020

Camera Trap

Having spotted up to 800 gulls loafing about near a farm, I decided to take a closer look. The gulls appeared to be feeding near to the farmer's barns, so I contacted him and asked him if I could place a stealth camera in his farmyard. He was a decent chap and he said yes.

I did some research and decided on purchasing the Browning Recon Force Edge from the Nature Spy Shop. This offered all the settings I needed including the ability to set the time period the camera works for. This saves on battery life.

Once the camera arrived I set about making a secure box to house it in. An old metal electric box was perfect after some modifications. I am really pleased to say the camera was bone dry despite the horrible weather we have had over the last few days.

Anyway I retrieved the camera first thing this morning after three days. The batteries were still doing well at 75% and it had recorded something.

I swapped the memory card and secured the camera back in its box and left it to do its work.

Once downloaded I was pleased with the results although perhaps for reading rings the camera needs to be closer to the big tyre. I did move the tyre slightly, so we'll see next time.

The hope is that I will be able to read some colour-rings, but that will take time I think.

Here are some of the results: