Sunday, 14 August 2016

Yellow-legged Gull - what took you so long?

13th August 2016 - Topsham


Less than satisfactory photos. I'm afraid, but here's my first juvenile michahellis of 2016. A fairly typical bird and not one of the monsters that occasionally turn up. It can be difficult to convey just how straightforward these things can be; you can describe finer points of structure, of tertial edges and tail patterns or degrees of wear and moult and yet sometimes it just comes down to an immediate impression: it just looks like one. (I should also admit that they can sometimes be very tricky, variation within LWHG taxa can be astonishing and that's not even starting on hybrids!)

Yellow-legged Gull juv/1w - Topsham Rec 13/8/2016
 Pretty much my first view and really all you need to id it.

Yellow-legged Gull juv/1w - Topsham Rec 13/8/2016
 Long wings, long legs, deepish bill and square head.

Yellow-legged Gull juv/1w - Topsham Rec 13/8/2016
 White head with dark eye patch, quite well-marked flanks.

Yellow-legged Gull juv/1w - Topsham Rec 13/8/2016
 Simple fringes to tertials (only tips) wing coverts and scapulars - not much barring or notching. Much more worn than juv HG or LBBG with obvious moult in scaps.

Yellow-legged Gull juv/1w - Topsham Rec 13/8/2016
 It spent most of it's time doing this, shuffling a few metres when the tide rose.

Yellow-legged Gull juv/1w - Topsham Rec 13/8/2016
 Whitish tail base with a few large blackish spots and a neat black tail band.

Yellow-legged Gull juv/1w - Topsham Rec 13/8/2016

Yellow-legged Gull juv/1w - Topsham Rec 13/8/2016
 Square head and deep hatchet bill.

Yellow-legged Gull juv/1w - Topsham Rec 13/8/2016
 Dark inner PP and largely dark based GC.

Yellow-legged Gull juv/1w - Topsham Rec 13/8/2016
White upper TC and tail very white at sides (a little over exposed I admit).

Friday, 5 August 2016

Least Sandpiper - well, one of them...

Black Hole Marsh, Seaton - 4th August 2016


Posts getting few and far between I'm afraid. Still, having a blog at least means I can post as many photos as I like of this superb Least Sandpiper at Black Hole Marsh, Seaton - a fantastic site, really must get over more often. Apparently a real team effort by the good folks at BHM in its finding and identification - cheers guys.

Least Sandpiper 4/8/2016 Seaton, Devon

Least Sandpiper 4/8/2016 Seaton, Devon

Least Sandpiper 4/8/2016 Seaton, Devon

Least Sandpiper 4/8/2016 Seaton, Devon

Least Sandpiper 4/8/2016 Seaton, Devon

Least Sandpiper 4/8/2016 Seaton, Devon

Least Sandpiper 4/8/2016 Seaton, Devon

Least Sandpiper 4/8/2016 Seaton, Devon

Least Sandpiper 4/8/2016 Seaton, Devon

Least Sandpiper 4/8/2016 Seaton, Devon

Least Sandpiper 4/8/2016 Seaton, Devon
It's an adult of course, still mostly in breeding plumage with obviously worn scapulars, wing coverts and tertials, many of the longer scaps have been dropped and at least one new upper is visible on the right side.

Incredibly a second Least Sandpiper was found on the 4th (after I'd left) and for a brief time the two were apparently in view concurrently, though not apparently together. Had there always been two? The many fine photos of this bird (it showed down to less than 3m) see here, and here for e.g. all show the same individual: the same dropped scaps, the same new upper scap on the right side and the same degree of wear to greater coverts. The second bird was only on view for a short time and was distant but Tim White's photos clearly show a (different) adult Least Sand; different dropped scaps and degree of wear to greater coverts on left side, and of course the two were in view at the same time.

The chances of two turning up independently at the same time and place are tiny so I presume they travelled together. As adults they'll have already made at least one successful return journey to their wintering grounds in the Caribbean or South America. If they can do it right once, what happened this year?

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Holland - mostly...

13th - 19th June 2014 - Netherlands


Just back from our (getting to be annual) bike trip - a week cycling around (some of) the Netherlands (North and South Holland, Flevoland and Utrecht). A leisurely 300 miles in 6 days plus a 'day off' doing the tourist thing in Amsterdam; not at all a birding trip but inevitably some birds were seen and a few photographed.

Nightingale - 13/6/2016 dune scrub near Katwijk; ludicrously common in bushes all along dunes, rarely seen but easily heard.

Marsh Harrier male - 15/6/2016 near Edam

Marsh Harrier female - 15/6/2016 near Edam; many smallish patches of reeds seemed to hold a pair, plenty of harrier food around.
Great White Egret - 15/6/2016 near Edam

Great White Egret - 17/6/2016 Lepelaarplassen nr. Almere; one or two seen everyday, but not a single Little Egret.
Spoonbill - 17/6/2016 Oostvardersplassen; a handful seen but only this one came close enough to photograph.
White Stork - 19/6/2016 nr. Schoonhoven.
Common Tern 19/6/2016 Maassluis

Common Tern 19/6/2016 Maassluis

Common Tern 19/6/2016 Maassluis; common everywhere there's water it seems, even in the centre of Amsterdam.
Hare - 15/6/2016 near Edam, just as I was thinking it was good Hare country - a tick for Carolyn, a photo-tick for me.

Thursday, 9 June 2016

Just what I needed - a nice 3cy Yellow-legged Gull

9th June 2016 - Topsham


June isn't peak month for gull-watching but today was probably my best so far this year in terms of interest. First a brief morning look in at Bowling Green Marsh for a 2cy Little Gull (thanks to Dave Boult for the call), which was promptly joined by a classy 4cy/3rd summer Mediterranean Gull - you know, like a full adult but with just a small black spot or two on an outer primary. Then with low tide about 16.30 and a cloudy sky forecast it looked like Topsham Rec was the place to be in the afternoon. The alarming lack of small gulls continues but a good turnover of Herring Gulls looked promising. Sure enough, there was a nice pair of yellow legs and not attached to a Lesser Black-backed Gull.

Yellow-legged Gull 3cy - 9/6/2016 Topsham Recreation Ground
It was only a tiny bit darker than nearby Herring Gulls (which is a little odd, I admit) but the really bright yellow legs are a bit of a giveaway. Another good clue is the relatively advanced (for early June) state of moult. P1 and 2 are new 3rd generation adult-type feathers, p3 and 4 growing.

Yellow-legged Gull 3cy - 9/6/2016 Topsham Recreation Ground

Yellow-legged Gull 3cy - 9/6/2016 Topsham Recreation Ground

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Beetles in red and black

11th April 2016 - Topsham

 

I've been photographing insects on and off for about 12 years. I get into it some years more than others but I think I've probably got pictures of most of the obvious species in my garden; always attracted to anything bright and shiny - as long as it's an insect. When something new turns up there's a good chance it's either a new arrival or something fairly rare. Yesterday I found a couple of red and black beetles on my back door.

There are 14 species of tortoise beetles (Chrysomelidae, Cassidinae) on the British list, most are green and rather similar (Cassida spp.). Pilemostoma fastuosa is unmistakeable in red and black. It's not the sort of thing to overlook and does appear to be genuinely uncommon: scarce (Notable A) with only one Devon record (none for South Devon VC 3) according to NBN Gateway. Well it should be unmistakeable in theory, but then I can always find a way to cock it up. It's actually Cassida murraea, the Fleabane Tortoise Beetle. Still a new one for me but nowhere near as rare; found mainly in the south west. What I should have noticed - and it's blindingly obvious now - is that P.fastuosa has black markings also on the pronotum and is a deeper darker red. At least I take some consolation in getting my correction in before anyone else spotted it.

Cassida murraea by back door - 11/4/2016 Topsham

Cassida murraea garden- 11/4/2016 Topsham

My first garden Harlequin Ladybird Harmonia axyridis (Coccinelidae) turned up back in 2007 (first recorded in Britain in 2004) and it's now very common. This is my first of the year; I assume it's just emerged from overwintering and will now set off to feed up and breed.

Harmonia axyridis by back door - 11/4/2016 Topsham. Distinctive 'M' on pronotum and brown legs, antennae etc.

Harmonia axyridis garden - 11/4/2016 Topsham

Wednesday, 6 April 2016

What passes for excitement round here...

6th April 2016 - Topsham


Stare at gulls long enough and you start to see things: maybe you'll find a nice rarity (I wish), maybe you just see more and more problems.

Todays bird ticks a lot of boxes for a Yellow-legged Gull but I like a challenge so let's see if I can talk myself out of it.

Yellow-legged Gull - 6/4/2016 Topsham

Yellow-legged Gull - 6/4/2016 Topsham

Yellow-legged Gull - 6/4/2016 Topsham

Yellow-legged Gull - 6/4/2016 Topsham

First the positives: it's darker grey than adjacent argenteus and in the field looked a drabber, less bluish grey; the primary pattern looks fine with a black band on P5 and and lot of black on P9 and 10; the eye looks darker than on the Herring Gulls alongside and may have a darker red orbital; and of course the legs and feet are yellow.

And the negatives? Mainly its small size and its apparently short legs, rather like a Lesser Black-backed in fact.

So, a small, weedy michahellis or another hybrid? I can see no definite signs of mixed parentage in the plumage or bare part colours so I'll put this one down as a Yellow-legged. Other opinions are of course available, I'd love to hear them.

Monday, 7 March 2016

Herring x Lesser Black-backed?

6th March 2016 - Topsham


Almost a Yellow-legged but not quite the real deal, here's some photos of hybrid gull from yesterday's session at Topsham Rec. This bird has been around at least since last November. Is it just me or does anyone else see these and, probably very sensibly, ignore them?

Hybrid Gull - 6/3/2016 Topsham.
 Fairly dark grey above and, while it never stood next to any other adult LWHG for comprison, it was clearly darker than argenteus and paler than graellsii; in fact I'd guess probably close to michahellis in shade or maybe a little darker. The main problem apparent here is the colour of the legs and feet, the tarsi appeared slightly yellowish or a sort of orange- or salmon-pink (it varied with angle and light levels) but at times the toes looked definitely pinkish. After checking photos of this bird taken last November the legs do look possibly a little more yellow now but a real 'mick' should be in full breeding condition in March with bright, deep yellow legs.

Hybrid Gull - 6/3/2016 Topsham

Hybrid Gull - 6/3/2016 Topsham

Hybrid Gull - 6/3/2016 Topsham

Hybrid Gull - 6/3/2016 Topsham

Hybrid Gull - 6/3/2016 Topsham

Hybrid Gull - 6/3/2016 Topsham
Leg colour aside, I'd still have serious doubts given the wing pattern which shows several differences from a classic michahellis. Very large mirror on P10 and large mirror on P9 are possible in michahellis (more so in Eastern birds?) but not common; thin (almost broken) W-shaped band on P5, obvious white 'moons' separating the black and grey on P5 - P7, both atypical and suggestive of HG genes.