Tuesday, 6 February 2018

Glaucous Gull - Lyme Regis Pre-Roost gathering - 6th Feb 2018

Here are a few record photos of this very pale bird with only small amount of shading on its mantle.

My first view of the bird hunkered down

Light getting pretty bad by now
And a little bit of video:

Saturday, 3 February 2018

Large Gulls on the River Axe - Back to basics

3rd February 2018

In the last week, I've been spending a few hours each day trying to improve my ID of the common larger Gulls. Below is a small selection of the hundreds of photos I've taken between 29th January and 2nd February 2018.

Herring Gulls
By far the most numerous large Gull in the Axe valley have been Herring Gulls. Common. Dead common I hear. Some might say "Well they're JUST Seagulls aren't they? They're everywhere. On the beach. On our seaside roofs. Even in Tesco car park! Why bother."

Why spend your precious birdwatching moments paying close attention to Herring Gulls? So before you switch off I'll try to explain why, this week, I've been taking so many photos of our commonest large Gull.

I did subtitle this blog "Back to basics". So bear with me! Personally I don't think Gulls are "easy" and I've decided it's time I got better at their identification. I've been reading Gavin's and Steve's recent, inspirational blogs (and Tim W. too has got in on the act) about finding and confidently IDing the rarer large Gulls and in particular their recent brilliant records of Caspian Gull.

I noticed that one of the clues to the rarity was the often subtle divergence from a common Gull such as the Herring Gull.  It' seemed to me that a good place to start is to take the time to look ... to get-out-your-Collins-Bird-guide-and-reeeeaally-look ... at Herring Gulls because I thought that this might hold a key to me being able to make more sense of Gulls. Who knows with practice I may even  be able to start finding the odd rare large Gull for myself. So duly inspired and starting with Herring Gulls, my plan has been to get to grips with different plumage variations, moulting patterns and crucially ageing of the birds I see every day.

On 2 of my visits, the wind was in the north which meant that I could get good flight shots from my position at Coronation Corner; Some as the birds flew passed me up-river and some (even better) as they stall-landed further upstream pointing into the wind and showing their wing and tail plumage brilliantly well in the bright sunlight.

So how did I get on? Well as you might expect I found plenty of these 1st Winters:

And here's a selection of some more 1st Winter birds in flight ...

1st Winter HG with a few adults

2 x 1st winters playing drop-and-catch the stick

Flying upriver into the headwind

There were also a few 2nd Winter birds:

Adult colours beginning to develop

Surrounded by 1st winter birds

I even found a couple of these beauties - pretty sure it's a 3rd Winter Herring Gull - flew in low along the river from the south and dropped into shallow water - quite smart pale grey above but showing marked black on the wingtip contrasting with paler grey inner primaries and quite nice dark tail band. Getting there plumage wise, smart but still some way to go before they reach full adult:

3rd Winter - Landing upstream

 And a another 3rd winter bird; this one with a less distinct tail band (bird in flight):

The same bird just landed, showing open wing and plumage

And finally here are a few shots of full adults 'flythroughs' or with wings outstretched showing the amount of black and white to wing tips. Feel free to comment on whether these are  argenteus or argentatus, I think they're probably all argenteus but wouldn't like to say for definite. (Could be a possible topic for a future blog though).

P.S. Hopefully I haven't made any school boy errors with these photos but feel free to comment / correct as necessary. As I said, the real reason for spending time doing this was to learn more about Gull ID and so if there are any inaccuracies it would be good to know. And with a bit of luck, in the future, I'll be more confident in picking out the oddities and unusual as and when they drop in.

Wednesday, 24 January 2018

Charmouth - 24 Jan 18 - IDing Winter Gulls, Kittiwake and Common Gulls

Regular readers of this blog will know that Charmouth River is small, very small, hardly bigger than a large stream in the summer months. But after rain when the river is in spate and particularly when onshore winds break through the shingle bank at the beach allowing high tide waves to surge up towards the footbridge, the river becomes slightly bigger than normal ... becoming an ever-so-slightly larger stream! We are not talking River Exe or Axe estuary here. At the footbridge the river is no more than 20metres wide and yet in rough weather, like this morning, it does provide some shelter which is enough to provide a short respite from the full force of the gale. Also the water is brackish and gulls will drop in to wash and preen their feathers.
The wind was gusting 50mph this morning and in the heavy rain and the squally conditions I thought it might be worth having a quick shuftie. I noticed that there was only 1 other car as I pulled up in the car park which was another good sign as this meant that only a few people were braving the storm conditions. So using the car as a shelter and hide, today I got great views of the gulls.

The regular Black-headed Gulls are still in their winter plumage but 1 or 2 individuals were starting to show their darker hood patterns:

With the Black-headed Gulls were three 1st winter Common Gulls:

Another squall came through with strong winds and very heavy rain and this gorgeous Kittiwake suddenly appeared on the river, sat on the water, bathed and then flew round the picnic area before settling on the far bank with the local Black-headed Gulls. Superb to see this Adult winter plumage Kittiwake at such close quarters, down to 20 metres,  I had to check the diagnostic features as below:

Quite long winged

Dark grey upperparts shading to lighter grey

Bill yellowish

Unusual view as the bird bathes

Plain white tail, yellowish bill


Slightly larger than BHG, greyer on back, long winged

Small black triangle on wing tip, long slender wings

Small black triangle on wing tip
Shortish legs, dark in colour

Note: thanks to Steve W @axebirder for help with ID and ageing

Tuesday, 23 January 2018

Do you remember the "Hawfinch" Winter of 2017 / 2018?

This winter will long be remembered for the number Hawfinches over-wintering in the UK. But where did they come from and when did they start arriving?
Casting my mind back just a few short months to October/early November during peak visual migration time, I remember how many enjoyable hours I put in on the local cliff headlands making my first unsteady attempts at "vismigging" i.e. counting the migrating birds streaming westwards along the coast here in Charmouth. By he way, I'm a true convert to this form of birding and can't wait to have another go when the conditions are right - some fellow birders say its one of the best if not THE best birding experience. And I'm only just beginning to realise that I'm so lucky living here in Charmouth that it's arguably as good as anywhere else on the south coast to witness this amazing annual spectacle.
Despite being delighted to pick out the migrating parties of finches, skylarks, jackdaws, redpolls and thousand upon thousands of Wood Pigeons try as hard as I could, I failed to find a single Hawfinch on autumn passage.
Looking at my twitter feed at the time, it was tantalising to see so many UK birders reporting the first influxes of Hawfinches from Central and Eastern Europe. Reports from inland sites of regular flocks of 5, 6, 7 or even double-digit counts were so common that each day I would head out to my observation point high above my village here on the SW Coast path sure in the knowledge that today would be the day that the Hawfinches would obligingly fly through! How wrong could I be? Not a sniff. Nil Point. Nothing. No Hawfinches at all. Was it me? As I said earlier vis-migging is pretty new to me and something which with more practice I am keen to get more proficient at. Perhaps I was in the wrong spot for good vismigging? Perhaps I was mis-IDing flight calls or silhouettes? My doubts were allayed however because luckily I also knew that I wasn't the only Birder here in the SW who was similarly disappointed and couldn't buy a single Hawfinch on their respective patches! So perhaps I wasn't missing something after all! The Hawfinch passage seemed to be at more inland sights particularly to the East of the country.
The nearest local sighting was a flock of 14 found on 31st October by James McCarthy @tentims flying NE 5 miles inland from Charmouth at nearby Lambert's Castle plus a few overflying West Bay, Bridport. For my first sighting, I had to wait until 13th November when a call from James M alerted me to the Hawfinches he had located in Shute churchyard, Devon, some 10 miles to the west of Charmouth. These Hawfinches were not migrating birds though, but a group which had settled and was now centred on the village churchyard happily feeding on Field Maple and Yew. I visited the site regularly during late November and throughout December and with patience they afforded some fantastic views for me. My last sighting was on 1st January 2018 when I saw 2 individuals dive into the cover of the churchyard Yew tree.
I've heard it said that this "Hawfinch winter" is a once-in-a-lifetime phenomena for us here in the SW of England so it's been my every intention of improving my field skills by finding my own group of individuals. So for the last couple of months I've kept a regular eye on some likely habitat locations. I've kept a close watch on various churchyards at the nearby villages of Monkton Wylde, Uplyme, Symondsbury, Whitchurch Canonicorum, Marshwood and Chideock and until this week I had had no luck whatsoever. But this changed last Saturday when I visited Uplyme, Devon in the rain and found a male and a female Hawfinch bombing around the churchyard and adjacent field hedgerows. Brilliant! I was delighted to have superb views of both individuals but sadly I didn't have my camera with me that day. Having got the news out I was equally delighted that 2 days later on 22nd January Sue Murphy @SueMurphy60 relocated the pair in exactly the same area of Uplyme churchyard. So far so very good but these Hawfinches were frustratingly 1/2 mile over the Dorset/Devon border on the Devon side. But could I find a local Dorset bird?
However, things got even better today when I visited Symondsbury - a Dorset village 5 miles to the east of Charmouth. I found 4 more Hawfinches and this time I did have my camera with me. Although fairly distant and in very overcast conditions I was pleased with the results from my Nikon P900.
A very handsome male and in excellent condition by the look of him. Take a look at the size of that monster bill!

Amazingly then, this is my first Dorset Hawfinch. And it's another self-find. As Sue Murphy says, "I'm on a roll!" Perhaps I might even be able to find a Hawfinch on patch before time runs out. Now that really would put the icing on the cake!

Monday, 8 January 2018

Water Pipits and Rock Pipits at Colyford Common, Seaton Wetlands, Devon.

Water Pipits - These superb winter visitors from continental Europe have been showing well on Colyford Common. They appear significantly paler than our ubiquitous Rock Pipits (see below), with prominent eye stripes and wing bars. I only picked out this one individual this morning although there are reports of over 5-7 present on the fresh water Colyford Common marsh near the boardwalk to Colyford hide:

There were a couple of Rock Pipits present on the marsh too which were nice to see as a comparison under the same lighting conditions. Appearing much darker in tone and more heavily streaked beneath than the Water Pipits and having less prominent eye stripes. This individual also showed typical yellow on the bill which was a nice detail to see on my photographs considering the dull overcast conditions.

Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Purple Sandpipers, Dunlin, Turnstones and Rock Pipits at Lyme Regis, Dorset - 12 Dec 17

Today I went looking for the Lyme Regis Purple Sandpipers in the bright early morning sunshine. I counted 8 roosting on the sunny south side and a 9th feeding out of the sunshine in the harbour.

Also on show was this confiding Rock Pipit, perched up on the railings around the boatyard. Taken from Monmouth Beach, this photo also shows the masts of the yachts hauled up into the yard and distant chalets on the slopes behind Lyme Regis Bowls Club.

8 Turnstones were unsurprising but this Dunlin feeding with them, along the frozen road out to the Cobb is, I hear, a good record for Lyme Regis at this time of the year.

Dunlin in a frozen puddle on the Cobb Access Road

4 Turnstones casting long shadows in the early morning sunshine on The Cobb