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. 

All quiet out on the Fleet...

I was right about this mornings weather and I did indeed have a lie-in but the wind seemed to drop a little after sunrise so trotted out to Clouds Hill in case something had happened over night. By something I mean an arrival of birds...

Well that certainly wasn’t the case! Not a single grounded migrant in sight or heard except for a single Ring Ouzel which was calling from some scrub near the access track. Saying that I really should include Song Thrush as a grounded migrant though. There seemed to be several around and I managed to count 7 at least and caught two in the few nets that I got open, the rest were closed due to the wind. This one was obviously a messy eater going my the bits of berry on its face! It had a lot more on the other side. 

This particular bird was aged as a 3, which means it was hatched this year. Note the four outermost greater coverts which contrast the inners. Nice and obvious unlike some species.

Overhead there wasn't much moving except for Skylark, which in the two hours 150+ went over. All were moving west. A pleasant surprise was amongst them was a single Woodlark which went over about 9:30ish calling as it went. Managed to get it in the bins as well. Only other birds of note were two Marsh Harrier and three Brent Geese which aren't that regular that far up the Fleet. Three Clouded Yellows were also notable, two of which came in off the fleet.

The wind seems to be a big issue from now on. Can’t see much ringing happening over the next week or so. Will be interesting to see what these southerly winds do. Hopefully a few nice moths but not sure what it will bring in terms of birds.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Getting to know the locals...

I've finally got round to clearing the rides and getting some nets up at my ringing site down on the fleet. I've not ringed much at all this year at Clouds Hill but fingers crossed the next few weeks produce some numbers. Yesterday evening whilst putting up the last few nets I stuck all the installed nets up to see what was about. Having not ringed there since the spring there were plenty of locals who wouldn't have encountered the nets before. Lots came to have a look and ended up with a lovely shiny new ring on their legs.
Wrens were plentiful!

As were the local Blue Tits

Both species ‘loved’ by ringers for their abilities to get nicely caught in the nets and the latter’s shear determination to rip your fingers off!
Usually as the season goes on the locals learn exactly where the nets are leaving all the oblivious migrant birds to bump into a net.
Hoping to go out in the morning but the wind at the moment suggest I might be having a lie in... Hope not as on yesterdays visit there was a rather interesting tacking call coming from the brambles. Not a tack call I’ve heard before so I’m intrigued to find out what it possible was. I got an idea in my mind but that’s all it is, an idea, at the moment. Might pop down for a few hours regardless tomorrow to see what I can find even if I don’t get the nets open.

To finish, here’s a shot of one of my favourite net rides. Usually my last net of a net round and a nice chance to look out onto the fleet!

Sunday, 6 October 2013

The Dorset Moth Fair??!

Spent the day working at the Dorset Bird Fair over at Durlston Country Park. Birds were certainly in evidence but I must admit that the moths really made the day for me! Asides from a brief snatch of Richard’s Pipits call, a Hobby leaving Dorset was probably the best avian event. Yesterdays mothing efforts produced a couple of Crimson Speckled, a species which has been popping up at several spots over the last week or so. This has made me really want to see one so imagine my disappointment when there were none in the traps this morning! However, a rather excited BTO staff member came back from a stroll saying he’d seen a Crimson Speckled just a hundred or so yards away! Would it stay put though....

Well, that picture suggests strongly that it did... They are a pretty rare sight in this country with most probably originating from southern Europe or even north Africa! These southerly winds over the last few days certainly would have been responsible for this pretty stunning moth to make it to Dorset.

It was enjoyed by lots of visitors to the fair as was this beast. Another scare visitor to our shores.

A Convolvulus Hawk-moth, which is a fairly scarce immigrant moth though much more regular in the UK than the Crimson Speckled.

It was a great weekend and thanks to all over at Durlston for running such a good event!

Also, just a quick message to everyone who's moaned, had a go, or just politely asked about the water levels at Radipole. They are now nice and low and there's loads of mud. Just a Black-tailed Godwit enjoying it this evening but at least it's a start!

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

A bit more Skokholm stuff

Last nights slightly rushed blog didn't quite contain all the highlights from the recent trip to Skokholm. The island is particularly famous for its sea bird populations. This time of year most of them have gone off back out to sea but a few species linger well into the autumn. This was good news for us as we had the chance to ring a few of these.

And also process (it was already ringed) one of these!

If I had a list of cutest chicks this would have certainly gone on it. It’s a Storm Petrel which as I type might well be thinking about leaving the island to embark on a pretty epic life travelling the seas! The first bird pictured is a Manx Shearwater which has an equally amazing life. In a few months it will be feeding in the South Atlantic somewhere off South America. There is something like 45,000 pairs of Manx on Skokholm, the offspring of which are now making their journeys off the island into the sea to start their travels.

Also saw some pretty good birds either side of our week on the island. Whilst waiting for the boat, Fred and I went for a wander and bumped into this smart male Ring Ouzel.

Steve and Tina who were watching the luggage at the ‘jetty’ also had another two fly through after our original male, so likely to have been three around.

On arriving back at Martin’s Haven we stumbled into a twitch. It was for a great bird, an Isabelline Wheatear! We had to wait around for it to show, and the draw of a full English breakfast after eating rubbish all week nearly caused us to miss the bird. but we stuck with it and I got these very poor shots then left very quickly for our breakfast. It was bloody nice!

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Easterlies promised and delivered!

Desperately trying to squeeze in a blog this evening, been on a remote island for a week and I’m catching up on very important things such as the Great British bake off which starts worryingly soon on the TV. But, I’m determined to get a post out into the blogger world...

So, I’ve been at this place for a week and very nice it was too.

The Island is owned and managed by the South & West Wales Wildlife Trust and this year has been going through the motions of re-establishing its former status as a bird observatory. It was the UK’s first bird observatory but lost the status some time ago, so when Fred and myself heard that ringers were needed to help with the ringing efforts on the Island we opted to try Skokholm instead of the usual autumn Lundy trip which for the past two years has been my island of choice. It turned out to be a pretty good choice!

If we were able to order weather for a birding/ringing trip in late September, easterly winds would be what we’d go for. The inability to order weather often makes autumn trips somewhat varied but imagine our surprise when the forecast had easterly winds all week!

The first morning, on our first trip round the heligoland traps we discovered a Wryneck who somehow evaded capture until our third push of the traps! They can really skulk when they want to! But this is what it looked like when if finally made its way up the trap.

We also found a second bird whilst walking towards the trap. I assumed it was the Wryneck which had previously been in the trap but that theory was soon thrown out when the original bird was still next to its favourite bush! The first bird stuck round all week and was re-trapped a few days into the trip which allowed us to weigh it again. It wasn’t in the best of health first time round but it had put on a couple of grams second time around, so hopefully it will be able to carry on on its journey south soon.

After the Wrynecks on the first morning, expectations were high for the afternoon but by dark nothing else had really happened. We had to wait until the following days for something to emerge. It was this rather smart (or just plain drab if your not a birdy person) Booted Warbler.

Steve, another visiting ringer watched the bird fly into the mist net so our first views of it were in the hand but luckily this fella showed well several times after release.

The next day the weather turned a bit damp and miserable so reading books in the ringing hut was our chosen past time though we did occasionally look up to watch this Red-breasted Flycatcher zipping about in front of us.

Lost track of which days I’m now writing about but this one was a good one. At the start of the week, a sweep stake of the rarest bird of the week was started. Fred had put in Red-breasted Flycatcher, as did Rich, one of the wardens. Before getting to the island I got Fred looking up on his fancy Ipad thing, the ins and outs of Blyth’s Reed Warblers. I kept on a little about this species and it was an obvious choice for the sweep stake. Fred and I briefly stopped ringing for some lunch which was Steve's cue to walk into the kitchen saying he’d just caught an un-streaked acro in one of the traps. Obviously, Blyth’s Reed came straight to mind and this was confirmed when Rich took this beast out of a bag!

This again is a bit of a birders bird as it’s another brown thing. The next few photos get really nerdy but bear with me.
The open wing shows a clear emargination on the 4th primary and even a slight emergination on the 5th. A very good feature for Blyth’s Reed. Also the first primary falls short of the longest primary covert.

The closed wing shows the short primary projection and the emargination on the third primary falls short of the tips of the tertials. All good features of Blyth’s Reed. Lots of the other measurements were taken by Rich, all fitting in nicely with this species.

The legs show a greyishness about them, and that combined with a stonking bill all pretty conclusively make this bird a Blyth’s Reed Warbler. Only the 2nd Welsh record! Unlike the Booted Warbler, this didn’t make an appearance after release but hey, you can’t have everything.

Must add a quick reference to Martin Cade’s Portland Obs website which we were looking at prior to getting to the island picking out some Blyth’s Reed features ready for one to show up...

We didn’t just catch brown rare birds on our trip. Some really smart birds were also caught amongst lots of common migrants which was all great stuff for the islands records.  I’ll finish up with these beauties.

Redstart (male)

Another Redstart (female)

Whinchat. What a stunner!

And finally, the sharp minds amongst you might notice that the Great British bake off has now actually finished making the start of this blog defunct. I had written most of this and then the program started so have waited until now to publish the post. Thought I’d better mention it in case anyone was wondering...