Sunday, 22 December 2013

Ho ho ho... Merry Christmas!

Just thought I’d wish anyone who has time to read my blog a Happy Christmas! This was my only excuse to blog up until this morning. The last few weeks have been quiet and a bit samey as in more Med Gull ring sightings and other gulls etc. The was a brief Ring-billed Gull at Radipole (found by Dave Chown) a couple of weeks ago and had my camera been to hand it would have made a nice post but the camera was safely in the house whilst I was watching the bird. However, this morning I heard back about DNA results of a possible Siberian Chiffchaff that Steve Hales and myself trapped and ringed at Abbotsbury Swannery back last month. There was never much doubt about this bird as it was a cracker but always good to air on the side of caution hence we stuck with the possible or probably theory. Now the results are back we can call it a definite Siberian Chiffchaff cos that’s what it is.

So there we go, another year gone. Next year should be fun as I’m planning on doing a patch year list with the patch being Radipole Lake! Makes sense as I can see the site from my house... So if anyone see’s anything at Radipole which is vaguely interesting at the site please get in touch! I’ll even twitch a Treecreeper or Coal Tit.

Merry Christmas all! I’ll leave you with a pic of a Bearded Tit I took last week. Happy new year as well!

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

A Penguin plus more gulls...

RSPB and RSPCA are often confused with each other. One does conservation and the other rescues animals but this confusion can often lead to some interesting things being brought into the Radipole visitor centre. In the past we’ve had Peregrine, Red-throated Diver, Shag, Buzzard plus an assortment of little birds and tons of pigeons! Thankfully there’s a local lady who’s willing to take on injured wildlife otherwise we’d be really stuck! Today’s surprise was a rather smart Guillemot which was picked up on Weymouth beach. We had one brought in a while ago but that one was identified as a Penguin before we obviously explained the difference! This one felt really skinny so is probably doomed but the RSPCA came along and took it off to their seabird centre up in Somerset. Best of luck mate!!

Gulls weren’t particularly numerous today at Radipole and the morning Med Gull flock was flushed by a Peregrine and didn’t come back. Got a load of ring number yesterday including a different Serbian bird to the one a few weeks ago plus two German birds amongst the usual French birds. Last week got one from Hungary which wasn’t my first from that country but a nice record none-the-less.

Herring Gulls were moving through in numbers today though and included a colour ringed bird from Norfolk.

Also picked up this interesting bird. Noticed this bird had plenty of white in the tip even when the wing was closed. Waited to while to get an open wing shot but got it in the end.

 Certainly not a south coast argenteus. I didn’t think the mantle was particularly darker than the rest of the Herring Gulls around but that wing tip pattern certainly suggests a more northern origin. Nice big white tip to the last primary plus a good size white spot on P9. Also fairly narrow back band on P6 where the back stops. Can I call this one an argentatus??

A good few years ago I went through a weird phase of photographing wing tips of adult Herring Gulls. This was during my gull discovery days when I knew a lot less about gull than what I do now. Got some really interesting wing tips though including this bird.

 Interestingly this bird didn’t have a noticeably darker mantle either but that wing tip is undoubtedly that of an argentatus. Wonder if I’ve been a bit caught up with the whole mantle thing? Might end up going through another phase of wing tip studying... Look out readers!! Hope something more interesting happens soon to stop me!

Saturday, 23 November 2013

They've all come at once!

Mature Yellow-legged Gulls are getting a bit like buses. In four years of gull gauping at Radipole I’ve only ever seen a couple of ‘mature’ birds, as in ones which are older than juv/1st winter. This week, Radipole has had a 3rd winter, 2 sub adults and an adult! Seen three of these birds and Joe Stockwell from up at Portland Obs ventured down and found the adult bird. My last post was going on about the 3rd winter bird so here’s some shots of two sub adult. Talking to Brett Spencer yesterday it could be that this first bird is an advanced 3rd winter judging by the amount of black in the primary coverts. If that’s right then today’s bird is likely to be the same age. These things confuse me easily!

First a bird from Thursday.

Slightly different light. 

Interesting shot comparing mantle colour of Yellow-legged Gull, Herring Gull and Lesser Black-backed Gull.

And a wing shot.

And this evenings bird. thought initially it was the same one as the above but quite clearly a different bird!

In case your sick of Gulls here’s a shot of a 1st winter male Marsh Harrier carrying a Snipe away which it had caught in the channel opposite the Radipole visitor centre! Brilliant thing to see happen right in front of you. Way better than a Sparrowhawk catching the friendly garden Robin!

This is a nice sharp shot of my house with a very blurry Marsh Harrier in front of it. 

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Gulls again...

After a brief interlude of passerine ringing, it’s back to gulls. And judging by the success (or lack of it) of my last Clouds Hill session, this blog might resort back to pictures of Med Gulls and ring reading for the foreseeable future. Not trying to put you off or anything....
Springs tides have allowed the water level at Radipole to drop nice and low which always attracts good number of gulls. Constant scanning throughout the day only produced one slight oddity and that was this gorgeous 3rd winter Yellow-legged Gull.

Think back to my deep state of confusion regarding a 3rd winter something or other a few weeks ago which I wrongly settled on Yellow-legged Gull. I said back then that if it was actually a  Yellow legger it would have been a lot more obvious. This bird took about 3 seconds to ID and no problems with this fella. It was bloody massive! Only other option would be a Herring x Great black backed Gull... joke...
However the clinging feature of a Yellow-legged Gull is the width of a full extended gape. This bird obliged and opened it’s gob and it measured an impressive 153mm which is well outside the range of Herring Gull.

Had a very pleasant evening watching 350+ Med Gulls fall out of the sky onto Radipole Lake. This happens most evening between 4 and 4:30 and it’s well worth seeing! I’ve had over 500 in the past do this. Much more impressive than watching them fly up and down the fleet though I wouldn't mind seeing the 1000+ currently wintering down there.

Monday, 18 November 2013

Poxy Pipits...

Yesterday morning I was on hide opening duty at Radipole which is always a pretty pleasant job. It’s nice to be the first person to look out of the hide as plenty of goodies have been found like that in past. Nothing exceptional yesterday. Kingfisher, a few Beardies and the regular ducks. Plenty of pipits were flying around and my ears were tuned into Water Pipit as there’s usually a few birds that winter at Radipole. Didn’t hear any of them but did hear something I didn’t immediately recognise. First impression was that it was similar to Redwing in structure (though wasn’t a Redwing!), a slightly down slurred call though not as drawn out as Redwing. Heard it again and it was clearer this time. It sounded a little raspy. At that point I immediately recalled Red-throated Pipit. Heard it twice more and almost convinced myself. The bird was calling from the North end of the reserve so the next hour saw me wading around the fields armed with the camera on video mode to record to call. However, my efforts drew a blank. If it was one it’s a really late record but not impossible I guess.

It was a nice walk around the reserve though, a Bittern flushed from 5 foot in front of me and I had a slightly heart stopping moment whilst scanning some Reed Mace. A small orange bird with a short tail (as in not a Bearded Tit!) flitted between two seed heads. I instantly assumed Penduline Tit! This wasn’t the case though the bird did have a black mask. It was a bloody Stonechat... A frustrating day! Did get two Water Pipits on my walk though.
So this morning I thought I’d get back out to Clouds Hill. Got up first thing and it was drizzling quite heavily so went back to bed. An hour or so later it had stopped so ventured out. It was a very quiet morning with little in the way of new arrivals. A few Blackbirds were knocking around which were probably migrants. Only caught one though.

I waited around for the Long-tailed Tit flock to come through as there’s often a warbler or two hanging around with them. They came and went and nothing else came through with them. These two had clearly fallen out about something...

Last net round produced this little fella. Not caught many of these this autumn.

Overhead passage was pretty rubbish. Skylarks and Meadow Pipits dribbled through, as did a few Goldfinch, one Redpoll and one Brambling. However this bird livened things up briefly. Can you tell what it is??

A Richard’s Pipit obviously. Picked it up on call first and at the time had the wrong lens on the camera and had a Blue Tit in my hand. The tit went back in the bag and I nearly dropped my camera trying to change lenses. Managed the above shot as it carried on towards the Swannery, calling every 4 or 5 seconds. One day I’ll actually be prepared for something rare to fly past!

Saturday, 16 November 2013

Clouds Hill - A Redpoll no fly zone...

Yesterday whilst ringing with Steve, we decided we’d give this morning a bit of a blitz in the hope of catching a few Redpoll, which in theory would be on the move. I went off to Clouds Hill whilst Steve stuck with the Swannery. My morning started off rather busily with the tit flock which had roosted at the site overnight. This was the first time this autumn I’ve connected with the flock  so good to get rings on all those Long-tailed tits. Here they all are temporarily in their nice colourful bags ready for ringing.

The morning got rapidly quieter after that and there was a distinct lack of any Redpoll! Birds were moving up the fleet including several decent sized flocks of Starling. Meadow Pipit, Skylark, Goldfinch, Chaffinch, Linnet were all on the move but no Redpolls! A few scarcities also went through, both actually showing reasonably well rather than being small dots making noises. A Lapland Bunting came over nice and low plus a Twite went through. Both on their own which made seeing them a lot easier to see!
Back in the nets a few Blackbirds added a little bit of interest. These two 1st winter males had completely different bill patterns!

Song Thrushes were also about in good numbers with a total of 13 counted leaving the scrub a little while after sunrise. Despite there being good numbers around only one went into a net.
Perhaps the biggest surprise in the nets was this Reed Bunting.

I think this is the first I’ve caught at the site but certainly not the first I’ve seen!

Steve down at the Swannery had a slightly more productive morning. I popped in to see how he was getting on mid morning and he had caught and ringed over 40 birds at that point. The feeders certainly helped! For some weird reason, Redpolls were moving over the Swannery but not Clouds Hill. To add insult to injury, Steve caught several. He must have been catching them before they made it too my site! However, something Steve didn't have was large flocks of Pintail flying down the fleet. Had the wrong lens on but this kind of sets the scene... superb birds!

Friday, 15 November 2013

Sibe Chiffy

Spent the afternoon down at the Swannery with Steve for a late afternoon ringing session in the withy bed. He’s had quite a good ringing week down there with a little flurry of Redpoll, four Bearded Tits and a Siskin which is an odd capture for the site. This afternoon was exceptionally quiet with just a Common Chiffchaff ringed up until sunset but just as we were going to shut down the nets, a small tit flock appeared in the withy nets. With them was a very different Chiffchaff and before extracting it I could see it was an ‘interesting’ Chiff. A few seconds later once out of the net it was clearly a Siberian Chiffchaff type thing. Did all the necessaries and as the light was starting to go and temperatures dropping we let it go on its way pretty quickly  to go find somewhere to settle for the night. Got a few photo’s in the fading light.

As you can see, the green tones are restricted pretty much to the wings, also the rump and tail which you can’t see from that photo. The head lacks any yellow and green. The underparts are completely pale and buff with no yellow. Legs were very dark, as was the bill, though the lower mandible has some paleness but I don’t think that matters too much. Annoyingly the bird didn’t call at all, even on release but Steve Groves (of ) has heard a Siberian Chiffchaff at the Swannery over the last week or so. I’d guess this bird was the culprit!

Friday, 8 November 2013

Up, up, though not quite away...

Radipole Lake as most birders know, is and always has been a good place to look for Bearded Tits. Working on the site I see them most days though birders seem to, on a daily basis, have real trouble in finding this species. So just to grip people off, here are a few Bearded Tits from yesterday taken just a few yards from the visitor centre...

Ok, that was mean. Sorry. But here’s something interesting about the two birds. Take a lot at the eye colour of the two males. Ones got an orange tinge to it and the other is much greyer. Unlike lots of other passerines, Bearded Tits go through a full post juvenile moult so trying to age them in the autumn is impossible on plumage. But I think looking at these two images it may still be possible in the autumn. The greyer bird most likely being a bird hatched this year and the other being an adult. Only just noticed this and not sure it’s something that’s 100% right every time but interesting none the less.

There are plenty at Radipole at the moment, lots of which are still thinking about leaving the site.

This group of 8 left the site completely but over an hour later a flock of 8 fell out of the sky back into the reedbed. I can only assume that it was the same flock who’d been for a tour of Dorset before popping back to Radipole again. Not long after the 8 went for their trip a pair also left. Half hour after the 8 arrived back presumably the same pair also dropped back into the reeds. Fascinating behaviour!

Just a quick mention for the Med Gulls. They continue to pile in and lots of ringed birds are now showing up. Got 11 ring number yesterday including the Italian bird from a few days ago. Here’s a rubbish shot of the fella.

This thought came to me after chatting to Dave Chown this morning. The Italian bird showed up at the same time as the Serbian bird. I wonder if they travelled up together given that they both come from the same part of the world?? Thanks Dave for mentioning that earlier!

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Some bloody good Med Gull recoveries!

A fairly quiet day at work resulted in more Med Gull ring reading today and what a day it turned into! First bird was something of an old friend. I had the first sighting of this bird after it was ringed back in autumn 2011. It was at Radipole in pretty much the same place as I saw it today. It wasn’t until I got the details back that I realised that this bird was one from Serbia! Radipole Lake’s an impressive 1708kms from Palic Lake in Northern Serbia which was where it was ringed as a chick. Here’s a Google map to illustrate...

Though the wobbly line is the suggested route by road (for a car...) rather than the exact route the gull took...

Next bird was more significant. I noticed a blue ring on a first year bird and I couldn’t remember ever seeing a blue ring on a Med Gull before. A few emails later revealed the bird was ringed at Venice Lagoon in Italy! Possibly the first Italian ringed Med Gull to be seen at Radipole?? After that the sightings involved more routine countries such as France and Belgium but still all good data!

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Med Gulls are back in town!

The last week or two has seen Med Gull numbers soar with lots of the regulars starting to show up. A scan through a flock of Med Gull will always reveal several colour rings which allows individuals to be indentified. Radipole is a great place to read rings as you can just sit in your car, scan the car park and read away. The only downside is the occasion pratt who decides to walk straight through the flock...

It was nice to see this fella back yesterday. I saw this gull as a juv when I started working at Radipole Lake and I’ve caught up with it every year since.

Plenty of others around but for some reason a lot of birds were starring at the car park?!

It goes without saying that all the rings are reported into their respective owners.

Gulls are pretty much the main attraction at Radipole at the moment except for this drake Garganey which Dave Chown found on Monday. It was still about yesterday afternoon when I eventually decided to trawl through the Teal. It doesn’t come very close and when I did it soon few off again!

Sunday, 20 October 2013

I'm sure this one's right?!

Depending who you speak too, ‘Street Cred’ apparently means a lot to a birder so I’d better try to redeem myself and put on a photo of an actual Yellow-legged Gull which was a feeble reward for a days worth of gull watching. I would actually describe this bird as stunning!

It’s a cracker isn’t it! Found this one on my first scan of the morning which lead to think that it might not be the first of the day but it was. Given that I’ve not got a picture of another Yellow-legged Gull I’d better post another of the same bird. This time flaunting it’s wing pattern and sexy arm pit. Gotta love those underwing coverts!

Just so this blog doesn’t get samey, here’s a shot of a different gull species. It still has yellowish legs though...

Friday, 18 October 2013

After all that...

So after all that deliberation on last nights gull I got it wrong. I’d really thought several times about a hybrid and even mentioned it last night in the comments section when replying to another comment but for someone reason I got lumbered with the Yellow-legged Gull theory and I couldn’t really shift it! A case of trying to convince myself I suspect. It’s actually very rare that I look at the gull so closely and I guess the sheer amount of deliberation should have told me that this probably wasn’t a Yellow-legged Gull. Especially when comparing it to the other bird I featured. It really would have been more obvious if that was the case.

So many thanks to Brett Spencer who put me out my misery and told me it’s probably a Herring x Lesser black-backed Gull hybrid.

So basically scrap all that rubbish I waffled on about yesterday but all good experience and I’ve got to admit that I rather enjoy ploughing through gull photo’s deliberating ID’s. Nerdy as it is...

This is probably a really good time to mention a gull watching event at Radipole next year! Yep, I’ve persuaded the RSPB to let me do a Gull morning. As the above suggests, it won’t be anything in depth and detailed but  should be an enlightening look at gulls and what they get up to. It will be on Thursday 6th February starting at 10am at the Radipole visitor centre. I promise it won’t be boring!!

Here's one last shot of the beast!

Thursday, 17 October 2013

A fun evening in... sorry it's about Gulls!

This gull has been giving me a little bit of a headache this evening. Took the pictures last week and haven’t really looked at them since. Thought the bird was initially a Yellow-legged Gull, the darker mantle, slight yellow tinge to the legs but something was telling me it wasn’t quite right or at least there were a few small issues with some of the birds features. If your interested in Gulls read on but if your not then give up now and go watch TV or something.

Firstly, just look at the age of this bird. When I saw it in flight I put it down as a 3rd winter bird due to the dark primary coverts and the head streaking and dark patch on the bill. However, a few things didn’t add up. I realised it should have more black in the wing if it was a 3rd winter plus it’s got a pure white tail. So am I’m dealing with a 4th winter bird?? If this is the case I’m now in uncharted territory, that’s not an age I’ve looked at the before. Things that strike me if this is a 4th winter is that it should probably have a whiter head. Even a 3rd winter has a fairly white head in my experience. Also, the legs are very washed out though this is a variable feature anyway but on average should be a lot yellower at this age.  Yellow-legged Gulls are often more advanced in their plumage and moult when compared to Herring Gulls. This poses the question ‘is this just an advanced 3rd winter bird?

Assuming that then, take a look at this wing shot.

But compare is to this 3rd winter bird taken a few years ago around this time of year. Quite different!

 Had no doubt what so ever when I saw this bird first! Worth comparing that last shot with the first photo of the bird in question.

This evening is the first time I’ve gone through these photo’s so I’m typing this as I’m going through the details. This photo left me rather confused. There should be a small mirror (a white blob) on P10. Can’t see one there plus P5 is unmarked. Surely not a good thing for a Yellow-legged Gull. Then of course I realised the possibility that P10 could be hidden and this photo reveals all!

Top bird by the way and for comparison, the bird on the rail is a 3rd winter Herring Gull.

Small mirror on P10 and now P5 is strongly marked. Both things fit in with Yellow-legged Gull I think. Interestingly this feather still seems to be growing which has now put a little doubt in mind as to the species. Having already said that Yellow-legged Gull moults earlier than Herring Gull (and other species obviously) this strikes me a being late. I use the moult thing often with 1st years but perhaps with other ages it's not such a good thing to dwell on? There are a few adult and near adult Herring Gulls about just finishing off their moult at the moment but I think most have now finished. Not sure how relevant all that is but interesting none the less.

One of the biggest worries with this bird was its shape, structure and size. It wasn’t a particularly large bird, wasn’t  long legged, its bill didn’t seem particularly impressive and it didn’t really look long wings. The last feature I’ve obviously explained as P10 is still growing. This next shot shows it next to an adult Herring Gull. Structure can be slightly different between sexes, so going by my experience again, this is probably a female as they are smaller than males. 

 I suppose actually its fairly chunky, large headed and the bill I guess is fairly thick set. I was initially looking at the first picture rather than one comparing it to a Herring Gull. Structure can be slightly different between sexes, so going by my experience again, this is probably a female as they are smaller than males. 

So, I better wrap this up as if you've made it this far through the post you’ll sure be getting really bored by now!

It’s a bloody Yellow-legged Gull for gods sake. Experienced gull watchers would be probably just go with that straight away but I for some reason enjoy going through every little detail, doubting myself, then eventually go back to my initial though. Anyway, that was an little insight to how I sometimes spend an evening! I think there’s something wrong with me.... I'm off to the pub.