Sunday, 29 January 2017

Just a Common Gull?

28th January 2017 - Topsham


Well this one stuck out like the proverbial. A distinctly dark Common Gull and thoughts naturally turn to heinei*. But there's more to it than a dark mantle of course; first, here's the bird in question.

Common Gulls (and a BH Gull) - 28/1/2017 Topsham

Common Gulls (and a BH Gull) - 28/1/2017 Topsham

Common Gulls (and BH Gulls) - 28/1/2017 Topsham

Common Gull - 28/1/2017 Topsham

Common Gull - 28/1/2017 Topsham

Common Gull - 28/1/2017 Topsham

Common Gull - 28/1/2017 Topsham
I'm handicapped by not having a copy of the recent Dutch Birding paper by Peter Adriaens and Chris Gibbins (it's now on order) but I did get some information from Gull-Research.org  and this fascinating video presentation by Peter Adriaens.

Differences between heinei and canus (my interpretation of the bird in question in italics):

- heinei averages larger and longer winged, though with much overlap,
    impossible to tell though it didn't look significantly larger
- heinei has darker upperparts (some approaching pale graellsii?), though some overlap with canus
    certainly darker than nearby 'normal' canus
- winter heinei white-headed with only fine dark spots/streaks concentrated on hind neck,
    head and neck no different to 'normal' canus
- pale iris in many heinei,
    appeared to be dark
- bill and legs of heinei tend to be brighter yellow.
    legs did appear a little brighter yellow, bill apparently identical to nearby 'normal' canus.

The important features of the wing are:

- heinei has a deep black subterminal band on P5; canus only thin or broken band,
    broad black band on P5 on the left wing, a little narrower and almost broken on the right wing
- heinei has black all the way to PC on P8; canus only 50-75% of length,
    black on P8 almost reaches PC on outer web, on inner web about 85% of length
- heinei has black on P7 outer web more than 80% of length; canus less than 50%,
    black on P7 outer web hard to judge but I estimate about 75%
- heinei has long black 'bayonet' on P6 for approx. 65% of length; on canus mostly 20-40% of length,
    black 'bayonet' for just under 50% of length.

There's clearly too much wrong with this bird to claim it as heinei but equally it seems to show features at odds with a 'normal' canus. Perhaps the best that can be said is that the darkness of the mantle and some features of the primaries indicate a possible canus-heinei intergrade. Once I've had a chance to read the DB paper I'll come back to this.

Thanks to Mike Langman and others who've already commented on photos posted on the twitter. More opinions welcome as ever.

 * Larus canus heinei breeds in Russia from Moscow area east to Lena River in central Siberia; it winters in SE Europe, Black and Caspian Seas, also China and Japan.

Monday, 16 January 2017

Waxwings

15th January 2017 - Topsham


Just got back from an arduous couple of hours at Topsham Rec checking the gulls for colour rings when the phone rings: herself is walking back into Topsham and has found a small flock of Waxwings (I specifically asked her to look out for them). After a call to Martin Elcoate and a quick look to see that Dave Stone's car (and presumably also he) is not home and I'm off on my bike. Five minutes later (wife's directions, like her map reading, not so good) and I've got the Waxwings; feeding on the remnants of the hawthorn crop between Clyst Bridge and Darts Farm. In bad light I managed a few useable (I use the term in its loosest sense) photos. I counted nine, which matches the number seen in Alphington Sainsburys earlier that day. I looked for the Topsham birds the following day/this morning and they'd gone. It appears the Sainsburys 9 are still on the run.

Waxwing - 15/1/2017 Topsham

Waxwings - 15/1/2017 Topsham

Waxwings - 15/1/2017 Topsham

Waxwings - 15/1/2017 Topsham

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

My kind of birding or, the blog still lives

January 2nd 2017 - Topsham


OK, it's been a while. Several reasons come to mind but mostly it's just idleness and bloody-mindedness. Early in the autumn I decided the theme for the season was going to be 'patch loyalty'. I'd turn my nose up at all the fancy vagrating exotica turning up elsewhere and spend my time in and around Topsham; yeah, I know I twitched the LG Shrike in September but that was only 40 miles away and it was a shrike, plus my plan hadn't fully developed by then. So I daily scanned The Rec for rare gulls, stood by suitable bushes at BGM and Highfield Farm listening for the calls of lost Siberian passerines, and checked the pools for transatlantic waders. The result - zero. Nothing to trouble the BBRC (or even the DBRC for that matter). I could have become discouraged; maybe it was the patch, maybe it was me. But The Rec has had some great birds in the past and I've even found some of them myself. This is where bloody-mindedness comes in to its own, persistence in the absence of encouragement or, no birds yet - keep plugging away. At this point I should be able to report a major rarity find but as you'll know that hasn't happened just yet. Still, a new year and all that; January and February to come and still the chance of a decent gull, we've turned the corner on winter and spring's now in sight. I decided to refresh my birding batteries, join the crowd for a day and spend a few hours just pottering around Topsham on my bike for some New Year's Day birding - I know it was the 2nd but the 1st was a shocker so I postponed. Maybe it was the weather, sunny though not warm, maybe it was bumping in to old birding mates, but more than anything it was the birds - nothing rare, just variety, a bit of spectacle and some real quality. I had a really great day; I also took a few photos.

First the Yellow-browed Warbler found by The Rec's other regular 'patcher' Martin Elcoate. Always a pleasure to spend time with one of these, I just wish they'd sit still a bit more often.

Yellow-browed Warbler - Topsham Rec 2/1/2017
 Tracking the bird and focusing through the branches was a little difficult at times.

Yellow-browed Warbler - Topsham Rec 2/1/2017

Yellow-browed Warbler - Topsham Rec 2/1/2017
 Showing the faint pale crown stripe.

Yellow-browed Warbler - Topsham Rec 2/1/2017
The tail feathers appear to be worn and pointed indicating, not surprisingly, a 1st winter bird.

Yellow-browed Warbler - Topsham Rec 2/1/2017
Constantly searching for, and finding, food - overwintering caterpillars presumably.

Bowling Green Marsh and the VP were, as expected, heaving with people, Avocets and ducks so after an hour scanning the estuary for a few year ticks I went on to Goosemoor. The long-staying Spotted Redshank gave its usual close views as it swam and probed for worms (ragworm?) as soon as the falling tide allowed.

Spotted Redshank - Topsham Goosemoor 2/1/2017

Spotted Redshank - Topsham Goosemoor 2/1/2017

Spotted Redshank - Topsham Goosemoor 2/1/2017

Spotted Redshank - Topsham Goosemoor 2/1/2017
  And possibly even more elegant, a fine Greenshank.

 Greenshank - Topsham Goosemoor 2/1/2017

Greenshank - Topsham Goosemoor 2/1/2017

Greenshank - Topsham Goosemoor 2/1/2017
I dropped back in on The Rec later for the low tide gulls and another seesion with the Yellow-browed Warbler. The gulls failed to deliver but the YBW continued to perform and our wintering Goldeneye and Long-tailed Duck looked good enough to photograph, so I did.

Goldeneye - Topsham Rec 2/1/2017

Long-tailed Duck - Topsham Rec 2/1/2017

Long-tailed Duck - Topsham Rec 2/1/2017

Long-tailed Duck - Topsham Rec 2/1/2017
A few final thoughts: is Topsham really the best place in the world? Why does birding these days feel like an episode of  'Last of the Summer Wine', and why is every other birder I know called Dave?

Friday, 23 September 2016

Lesser Grey Shrike

23rd September 2016 - Jennycliff, Plymouth

 

I do like a nice shrike so a bit of off-patch twitching was in order to see the rather nice Lesser Grey Shrike at Jennycliff. Norbert Lefranc and I have a revised edition of 'Shrikes of the World' in progress - can't believe it's been 20 years since we finished the 1st - so I thought I'd do a little field research.


Easy to find and relatively unperturbed by people, it was a bit mobile and had a habit of perching just half in sight and half obscured by bushes. The solution was to find a spot with a reasonable view and wait as it moved around. After a couple of hours and a few hundred 'record shots' it circled around, moved up the cliff and perched for a minute or two on a hawthorn only a few metres away.

Lesser Grey Shrike - 23/9/2016 Jennycliff, Plymouth

Lesser Grey Shrike - 23/9/2016 Jennycliff, Plymouth

Lesser Grey Shrike - 23/9/2016 Jennycliff, Plymouth

Lesser Grey Shrike - 23/9/2016 Jennycliff, Plymouth

Lesser Grey Shrike - 23/9/2016 Jennycliff, Plymouth

Lesser Grey Shrike - 23/9/2016 Jennycliff, Plymouth

So, no prizes for saying it's an adult - a juvenile or 1st winter would not have that blackish forehead and would still have obviously pale-fringed wing coverts even if a little worn by now. It's moulting, or may have interrupted moult during migration. Like most shrikes, Lesser Greys have a partial post-breeding moult involving head and body and often, as in this bird, a tertial or two; the grey feathers on the forehead are new non-breeding plumage. It seems to be also missing a central tail feather, possibly moult, possibly accidental loss.

It's hard to say for sure what sex it is but, given the width of black on the forehead and the completely white T5 (just visible on the bottom photo), my money's on it being a male.

Sunday, 18 September 2016

Weekend Patch Birding

16th-18th September 2016 - Topsham

 

I'll start with a couple of dreadful photos of Friday evening's Lesser Yellowlegs, found on Goosemoor by the indefatigable Keith Birchall - pure jam or real talent, take your pick. A nice bird which showed well while the light lasted, sadly iso800 and 1/80 sec didn't really do it justice.

 

Lesser Yellowlegs juv - 16/9/2016 Topsham

Lesser Yellowlegs juv - 16/9/2016 Topsham

  Saturday I worked (apart from and hour or so pottering around to see if the Lesser Legs was still about - it wasn't) so on Sunday I indulged myself with a bike ride down the Exminster side of the estuary. My normal cycling speed of just fast enough to avoid falling over is perfect for birding, not that I found much, just a few Chiffchaffs and Meadow Pipits and one each of Wheatear and Whinchat. Just past the Turf I noticed this Osprey hunting, it eventually caught one - Mullet, I think - and headed off towards Powderham for breakfast.

 

Osprey juv - 18/9/2016 Exe Estuary

Osprey juv - 18/9/2016 Exe Estuary

Osprey juv - 18/9/2016 Exe Estuary

Osprey juv - 18/9/2016 Exe Estuary

 

The outer primaries are a little tatty but, amongst other things, the dark streaks on the crown and the pale fringes/tps to all the upper wing coverts make this a juvenile.

 

Later, back at Topsham Rec the gulls assembled for their daily ablutions. Something over 300 were bathing, preening and loafing (sounds like general idleness but it's vital to keep feathers in usable condition) when a couple of numpties in a canoe sent the lot flying. A few resettled, the rest were gone for good, including this intriguing bird.


Yellow-legged Gull? - 18/9/2016 Topsham

Yellow-legged Gull? - 18/9/2016 Topsham

The grey is obviously darker than argenteus and the legs are sort of yellow - but are they yellow enough? Certainly michahellis often do seem to show duller, less saturated yellow legs after the breeding season and this is probably about as weak as it gets. The fine head streaking, bill shape and the red gonydeal spot bleeding into the upper mandible are supportive but not diagnostic; the orbital colour is just not discernible unfortunately. A look at the primary pattern on the spread wing would have really helped but I missed it as the whole lot took flight when the canoists disturbed them. 

 

I see nothing in this bird to rule out Yellow-legged Gull, on the other hand, I'm not entirely happy about calling it such without seeing a good black band on P5 and the amount of black on P8 and 9.

 

19/9/2016 - Update


More photos of the Yellow-legged Gull - untypically it reappeared for a second chance the next day: 

Yellow-legged Gull adult - 19/9/2016 Topsham

Yellow-legged Gull adult - 19/9/2016 Topsham
There's a nice solid black band on P5, this mark is often weak and broken on apparent hybrids. It didn't fly but I suspect views would not have been helpful, P8 and P9 are growing and still too short to show the extent or pattern of black.

To show just how washed out yellow legs can get post-breeding, here's an adult Lesser Black-backed, same place and time.

Lesser Black-backed Gull adult - 19/9/2016 Topsham
 

Monday, 12 September 2016

Yellow-legged Gull once more

12th September 2016 - Topsham


Just a few dreadful photos of another 1st winter michahellis from Topsham Rec. Definitely different to the previous two this autumn. Quite a large individual, long legs, long primary projection and deep bill; showing almost complete replacement of juvenile scapulars. As with most Yellow-legged Gulls, a lot of more or less subtle structural and plumage characters, none 100% diagnostic, which add up to a pretty distinctive bird.

Yellow-legged Gull 1w - 12/9/2016 Topsham

Yellow-legged Gull 1w - 12/9/2016 Topsham

Yellow-legged Gull 1w - 12/9/2016 Topsham
 That michahellis tail pattern: clean white T6 with neat black band, much more striking than on a Herring or Lesser Black-backed.

Yellow-legged Gull 1w - 12/9/2016 Topsham
 Underparts basically white with fairly discrete dark spots and chevrons particularly on the flanks.

Yellow-legged Gull 1w - 12/9/2016 Topsham
 Standing out a mile with a couple of 1w Herring Gulls.

Yellow-legged Gull 1w - 12/9/2016 Topsham