Ecuador 2. Around Mindo.

Whilst in the Mindo area we stayed at the Septimo Paraiso Lodge, one of several lodges in the wider vicinity all of which have been built since my original visit to cater for the growing number of visiting birders and other tourists. Like most lodges Septimo Paraiso has some excellent hummingbird feeders in the garden which allow superb viewing opportunities for a wide range of species including the spectacular Booted Racket-Tail and the Choco endemic Violet-tailed Sylph. Those two were easy enough to see in the old days but others such as the super smart Purple-bibbed Witetip and Velvet Purple Coronet (both endemic to the Choco region) were considerably harder to find. The total number of hummingbird species that can be expected on a trip now far exceeds that achievable previously, when searching for flowering shrubs around villages or blooms in the forest interior were the only options. Dawn and dusk walks along the entrance road yielded a lot of frustratingly close encounters with several owls which resolutely refused to budge from concealed perches, just too far in to the impenetrable forest for us to locate them. Notable among these was a Colombian Screech-Owl, the earliest local records of which by Paul Greenfield, Bret Whitney and Colin Bushell were first detailed in the 1996 review paper referred to in my previous post. We did however encounter my first Kinkajou and Central American Wooly Oppossum. Another new species for me was Wattled Guan which cross the roadway in the evenings on their way to a roosting area. To hear the bizarre whirring screech given by this species is almost as much fun as seeing one, with its distinctive yellow and red wattle and pale legs. Whilst searching for these we picked up a nice bonus in the form of a Barred Forest Falcon which gave excellent views.

A very early start was required one morning in order to search for a very localised Choco endemic en-route to Bellavista, another lodge located in the Tandayapa Valley. Tanager Finch is known from one locality on the road side but has become difficult in recent years, perhaps due to the amount of attention it receives as it appears to have become unresponsive to playback. Birds are generally only seen during a short time window in the early morning and Jonás ensured we resisted the temptation to dally and arrived on time. This was as well because after a half hour or so one of the group, Herman, noticed a movement under some large leaves at the roadside and peering in to the gloom discovered that it was a pair of Tanager Finches feeding unobtrusively a few metres away.

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Tanager Finch, Bellavista. Photo by Jonás Oláh, Birdquest.

It was hot by the time we arrived at the lodge, having walked in along the final approach and the birding was rather slow in the forest. After lunch though things picked up nicely and most notably with views of Plate-billed Mountain Toucan, Spillman’s Tapaculo and Plushcap. Stopping off at another new feeding station to add Black-chinned Mountain Tanager to the list we moved on to Milpe for a couple of hours. This area is now heavily deforested but we saw a few nice birds including Ruddy Pigeon, Snowy-throated Kingbird, Spotted Nightingale-Thrush and Metallic Green Tanager. Towards evening I got to see Mindo briefly! A peculiarity of the changes that have taken place is that none of the birding done by visitors these days is undertaken on the slopes immediately around the village. Driving through the village was quite an odd feeling after all that time and we passed the now derelict hosteria where Guy and I, and one of the other tour participants Rob had once stayed. Whilst the village has grown it has not done so immensely but there are many more shops and a far busier atmosphere, though it was never sleepy. Most of the forest cover appeared as I remember it and I would be fascinated to know how the birding compared. Whilst these slopes were difficult to access they held some great birds, they remain for example the only place I have seen Black Solitaire. We were on our way to see a species I missed previously and now I know why. Lyre-tailed Nightjar favours cliffs and the best known site near Mindo is along the side of a road I suspect may not have existed when I was last there. Not only did we see it but we had excellent views of a male with full tail streamers, a genuine spectacle. Somewhat further afield we visited a site for another absolutely unique and truly weird caprimulgid also new to me. Oilbird is frugivorous and generally day roosts in caves but in NW Ecuador is known from a couple of gullies at Chontal which have the advantage of letting in some natural light.

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Oilbird, Chontal. Photo by Jonás Oláh, Birdquest.

It was historically suggested that as Oilbirds regurgitated seeds in the roosting caves where they failed to germinate the species was not an effective dispersal agent. Recent radio telemetry studies have shown that individuals will forage on extended trips travelling up to 120km or more from the breeding caves and that when they do they roost overnight in the forest. Calculations have suggested that Oilbirds may well be one of the most important long range seed dispersal vectors in Neotropical forests and a critical link in the ecological chain. Again local people are able to make some income from eco-tourism by charging a small fee to visit, protecting the birds and perhaps playing a far greater role than might be imagined in preserving the integrity of surrounding forests and those further afield.

Ecuador 1. Mindo

Over Christmas and New Year 1991/92 I spent two months travelling around Ecuador on public transport with Steve Smith and Guy Kirwan. I have wanted to return ever since and finally got round to it when I joined the Birdquest ‘Ultimate Ecuador’ tour in October 2016.

On my first trip I spent a lot of time at Mindo and Guy and I became friends with several people who had set up a foundation devoted to improving the local economy whilst preserving the character of the village and the forests surrounding it. We were asked to contribute data and determined that on our return we would publish a review of avifaunal records from Mindo. It was a well known birding locality but up to that point no systematic list for the area had been compiled. Another project which stemmed from discussions on that trip was the establishment of the Neotropical Bird Club and we eventually published in the club’s journal Cotinga in 1996. Though the review was only possible with the generous co-operation of notable Neotropical ornithologists I did have the idea of collating the information on threatened species and endemics to highlight the conservation significance of Mindo and the wider area. Species not known from the immediate environs of the village but which could plausibly occur at lower elevations were also discussed. In 1997 the wider Mindo area was declared the first Important Bird Area in the Neotropical region by Bird Life International. Since then ecotourism, driven by birding, has mushroomed to the degree that it is a significant, if not the principal factor supporting the local economy. Mindo is now popularly known as the ‘bird capital of Ecuador’ and I was fascinated to see the changes that had taken place in the 24 years since I was last there.

A species re-discovered in the area after my first visit was Giant Antpitta. Once the vocalisations were known it became apparent they were distributed sparingly but quite widely in the forests around the village. It remained however an extremely difficult bird to see, even when armed with recordings. All this changed when local resident Angel La Paz had the staggering idea of trying to habituate one to come to mealworms (it having been established that the birds diet included large worms and that they would even occasionally break cover to forage for them at the edges of pasture adjacent to forest edge). Angel succeeded and the first habituated bird Maria became what must be one of the most famous and well appreciated individual wild birds in history. I finally got to see Giant Antpitta on the second day of our trip and it lived up to expectation.

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Giant Antpitta, Refugio pas de las Aves.

The species truly deserves its common name and I thought it may have been even larger than Giant Pitta but it appears to measure a few centimetres smaller. Whilst hylodroma, the race occurring in NW Ecuador has darker underparts than the nominate and lehmanni (which is restricted to Colombia) those of this individual are particularly rich, the bird being just six months old. As I understand it they have distinct micro-habitat preferences, favouring damp gullies and generally sing for a limited period. Though chance encounters occur it would remain a very challenging bird were it not for Angels extraordinary work. The image below, taken by tour leader Jonás Oláh gives some idea how difficult they might be considering that the bird was just a couple of metres away.

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Giant Antpitta, Refugio pas de las Aves. Photo by Jonás Oláh , Birdquest.

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Giant Antpitta, Refugio pas de las Aves. Photo by Jonás Oláh , Birdquest.

The operation is a slick one and begins with a visit to a lek of the spectacular Andean Cock-of-the-Rock. A short descent takes you to a hide directly overlooking the display area, the bizarre ‘strangled cat’ vocalizations heightening the anticipation as you approach. No matter how many times you have seen them they remain an astonishing spectacle.

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Andean Cock-of-the-Rock, Refugio pas de las Aves. Photo by Jonás Oláh , Birdquest.

Meanwhile Angel and his staff have been busy tracking down antpittas and various other species ready for your subsequent viewing pleasure. On our visit the second skulker on the menu was Rufous-breasted Antthrush. I did see this species at Mindo my first time there but it was hard work and the views were nowhere near as good or as protracted as those afforded by a habituated bird.

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Rufous-breasted Antthrush, Refugio pas de las Aves.

The Choco endemic Yellow-breasted Antpitta followed, another species that would be extremely difficult to connect with using the usual methods. Indeed one of Angel’s birds refused to co-operate on our visit but we had outstanding views of two at a second territory.

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Yellow-breasted Antpitta, Refugio pas de las Aves. Photo by Jonás Oláh , Birdquest.

Even as we snacked on empanadas at the visitor centre good birds were lured in to view at bird tables and feeders including another Choco endemic, the spectacular Toucan Barbet.

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Toucan Barbet, Refugio pas de las Aves.

An amazing thing is that the morning described here was a slow one. Dark-backed Wood-Quail and Ochre-breasted Antpitta are usually seen and Moustached Antpitta is regular though the least reliable of the habituated birds. Additional species such as Ocellated Tapaculo occasionally come to food temporarily and for short periods. A truly encouraging thing is that this tract of forest is now safe and testifies to the economic benefits that can result from preserving habitats and developing innovative eco-tourism initiatives.

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A view across the Cloud Forest at Refugio pas de las Aves, Mindo.

A case of undiagnosable headaches

Whilst surveying a HLS farm at Honington on 22/02/17 I discovered two Short-eared Owls at a day roost. This is a species I used to see regularly in the Upper Leam Valley as they wintered at Toft Farm but the foraging habitat there has now been removed. The changes to the HLS scheme reduced the payments for the rough grassland option which funded it and the landowners left the scheme. Short-eared Owls do winter regularly at Honington and there have been as many as 12 there but most winters there are just one or two and they are very difficult to find as the roost location varies. Also present on the farm were four Common Stonechat. On the 28/02/17 Dan Watson came to help me with surveys at Long Compton and set a site record for Red Kite with a count of seven.

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Red Kite, Long Compton.

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Red Kite, Long Compton.

We moved on to Honington to have a look at the Stonechats and discovered there were six birds present including a male which Dan noticed had a white rump. This is not unusual for worn hibernans in spring and that is what I judged the bird to be as it lacked the extensive white and restricted pale orange on the underparts often exhibited by continental rubicola. It appears however that these two forms do show almost complete overlap of plumage features and some authors have called the taxonomic validity of the treatment in to question, arguing that they should be lumped. The BBRC sub-committee which deals with races has yet to accept a British record of rubicola though breeding birds on the South and East coasts suggest that the range of rubicola extends to the UK.

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Common Stonechat, Honington. Note the extensive neck patch and white rump.

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Common Stonechat, Honington. Note the extensive neck patch and white rump.

Useful references can be found here https://www.britishbirds.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/V104_N05_P236%E2%80%93254_A.pdf and here https://www.britishbirds.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/article_files/V102/V102_N03/V102_N3_29_30.pdf .

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Common Stonechat, Honington.

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Common Stonechat, Honington.

The other undiagnosable referred to in the title of this post was perhaps a far more interesting candidate, though for a form which again requires taxonomic review. Whilst birding the Draycote Water roost on 25/02 I noticed a Lesser Black-backed Gull which had no appreciable contrast between the primaries and the rest of the upperparts, the basic prerequisite (in all but its most immature of plumages) when considering the possibility of nominate L.f.fuscus, often referred to as Baltic Gull. No apical spots were discernible which would suggest they were tiny or had worn away, the primary projection beyond the tail was markedly long and the primaries were narrow giving the rear end of the bird a very slender, attenuated appearance, all of which are features consistent with L.f.fuscus. The bird was small with a rather rounded head and a short narrow bill but I place no great weight on these structural features, the variation in Lesser Black-backed Gull being so great. I once saw a L.f.graellsii which Bob Hazell found at Draycote that was not much bigger than a Common Gull and proportionately slight looking. The uniform colouration of the upperparts combined with the long primary projection were what really gave the bird an appearance which I think the other three observers present (John Judge, Paul Hyde and Adam Archer) agreed was striking. I have seen just two birds which matched it. One was found by Richard Harbird at Westwood Pools in Worcestshire. I don’t have the date but it was in November and I was there to see a Surf Scoter found by Steve Whitehouse. I didn’t know the criteria at the time so I just posed the question, ‘in what way does it differ from the birds around it?’. When I got home I discovered we had seen just about all the L.f.fuscus features we could have on a bird on the water. As with the Draycote individual there was no appreciable contrast between the primaries and the rest of the upperparts except that the primaries had a brownish cast caused by wear. Those primaries which could be seen on the folded wing were all old and worn, to the degree that the central shafts could be seen projecting beyond the ends of some of the feathers. Apical spots were unsurprisingly, entirely lacking. The primary projection beyond the tail was still long and the primaries narrow whilst the bird was small with a short narrow bill and a clean rounded head.

As usual the web site of the Gull Research Organisation (GRO) is the best source of information on this subject. Jonnsson, quoted there, states that ‘the mere fact that a Lesser Black-backed Gull looks darker than a typical intermedius and may even appear black-looking is not enough for a sub-specific identification’ and asserts that fuscus and intermedius can overlap in every regard. Whilst there is some variation in moult timing among the three taxa, primary moult in Ad. L.f.fuscus is much later than that of the other two and the GRO site states that intermedius ‘strongly contrasts with fuscus which show delayed moult: at most the two inner primaries dropped’ in August/September. Primary moult is then suspended during migration. Malling Olsen gives primary moult in L.f.graellsii and L.f.intermedius as reaching pp. 7-9 by mid to late October and p.10 between mid-October and early January.

Jonsson suggests that adult L.f.fuscus are best searched for in Western Europe from late August to September and regards ‘Spring records of L.f.fuscus from the UK as most suspicious’. This is presumably based, in part, on the supposition that the majority of L.f.fuscus winter in East Africa but Swedish ringing records of the taxon show that ‘it is normal for fuscus to winter on the Benin coast as far west as Ghana’. Indeed Swedish ringed birds show an even distribution in Africa with 19 coming from the West and 14 from the East. There is however some suggestion that immature birds may predominate in the West. Apparent L.f.intermermedius have recently been a feature of the Draycote roost as Lesser Black-backed Gulls have just begun moving North East through the Upper Leam Valley in numbers, presumably on their way back from the wintering grounds to the South West.

Historically the three Lesser Black-backed Gull taxa were comparatively isolated but over the last 40-50 years L.f.fuscus has become increasingly rare and its range has contracted whilst the ranges of the other taxa have expanded rapidly. It has been suggested that L.f.fuscus warrants species specific status on the basis of differences in colouration, biometrics, egg laying time and migration pattern. The BOU treat it as a race and the BBRC sub-committee on races ‘Does not consider this taxon safely diagnosable in a vagrant context without tangible proof of origin, most likely a ringing recovery’. The delayed primary moult of the Worcestershire bird make it the stronger candidate of the two records discussed here and it is a shame that no photos were taken of that individual (it was seen by several observers). It pre-dated the development of digital cameras and were something like it to happen now, the presence of a bird like a Surf Scoter on such a small water body would guarantee any number of photographers were on hand to document the ‘odd gull’. Whilst I see apparent intermedius types regularly at Draycote during migration the only other bird I have encountered which resembled these two was the one and only Baltic Gull I saw in Finland and that sadly remains the only one I can be absolutely sure of.

Park Life

News broke on 05/02 that a pair of Whooper Swans were on the park lake at Abbey Fields in Kenilworth. Though the lake has played host to a Grey Phalarope, that species is often tame and the other big rarity recorded there was a Bonaparte’s Gull, a member of another fairly tolerant species group. The idea of two wild winter swans stopping over on the lake struck me as pretty suspect and I couldn’t help but wonder if they were ‘fence jumpers’. I went after work the next day and was somewhat dismayed to see them fly the length of the lake only to gorge on bread being thrown at the birds by park visitors. I had wondered if we might be able to check for them on the data base held by the Wildfowl and Wetland Trust which identifies wild individuals from their bill patterns but they only have records for Bewick’s, the variability in Whoopers being so great as to render individual identification impossible. The bill pattern of both was ‘yellowneb’ in which the black of the bill tip does not extend up the centre all the way to the base.  This is the commonest bill pattern shown by Icelandic birds and John Oates has commented that in Rekyavik Whoopers will come to food, so perhaps they were not quite so plastic as they appeared?  As far as I could see neither was ringed.

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Whooper Swan, Kenilworth

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Whooper Swan, Kenilworth

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Whooper Swans, Kenilworth

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Whooper Swan, Kenilworth

The next local twitch I went on was to another park. This time Swanhurst Park in the Birmingham suburb of Moseley where a Juv. Iceland Gull had taken to spending large amounts of its day. Aside from the photographic opportunities this bird interested me because it had a pale eye, not whitish but not just a slightly paler brown than is usual. John Judge and I went on 15/02, some time after the bird turned up. The light was very poor that day and I had to crop this image heavily.

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Juv. Iceland Gull, Moseley

I noticed that the pale iris was soon ‘lost’ once the bird moved away and though I was not using a scope the distances involved were never great. I began to wonder whether Juvs. might occasionally show pale irides and if the frequency with  which they do might be ‘masked’ by the fact that the true colour is simply not discernible at any kind of distance. I posted the photo on the Western Palearctic Gulls Facebook page asking how unusual the iris colour was and received one reply. Derek Charles commented that ‘it is not rare for Juv. Iceland Gull to show a slightly pale iris when seen at very close range’.

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Juv. Iceland Gull, Moseley

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Juv. Iceland Gull, Moseley

As is often the case when one good bird is found, the resultant twitch yields another. In this instance it was a 1st W large gull which divided opinion between Caspian and Yellow-legged Gull. I discuss the bird here simply because the site offers the opportunity but recognise that most of the points raised have been made by other observers (including Donna Mallon and Dave Hutton who have kindly allowed me to use their images). The bird was a 1st W but had begun its moult in to 1st S, which is essentially the start of the progression to 2nd W plumage. This is evidenced by the replaced inner greater primary coverts which are well illustrated in the photo below. I have reproduced this shot, despite its poor quality, as it is the only one I have available to illustrate the upper tail. The solid black tail band was narrower than that often shown by Caspian Gull, had a neat, clean cut upper border lacking the vermiculations above it that are frequently shown by that species and the white outer web to the outermost tail feather was unbarred which is typical of Yellow-legged Gull. The heavy dark markings in the upper tail coverts may be within the range of variation for Caspian Gull (I am unsure) but would be unusual so late in the season, and were heavier than those exhibited by many Yellow-legged Gulls.

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1st W Yellow-legged Gull, Moseley.

This photo of a Juv. Yellow-legged Gull illustrates the typical tail pattern though the tail band is a little fuller and the outermost tail feather shows even more extensive white than that of the Swanhurst bird whilst the uppertail coverts are more sparsely marked.

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Juv. Yellow-legged Gull, Draycote Water. Photo by Dave Hutton.

The solid, dense, barred markings on the undertail coverts are particularly well illustrated in the next photo. These are again typical for Yellow-legged Gull but would be at the least unusual for Caspian Gull which generally has neat arrowhead markings. The retained greater coverts showed distinct transverse bars which are typical of Yellow-legged Gull and would again be, at the very least unusual, for Caspian Gull. Many of the second generation scapulars had broad dark transverse bars in the centres typical of Yellow-legged Gull. Those of Caspian Gull would generally be grey with narrow dark shaft streaks and sub-terminal spots or narrow anchor markings.

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1st W Yellow-legged Gull, Moseley. Photo by Donna Mallon.

Extensive brown feathering on the head and body is also evident here and would again be unusual in a Caspian Gull so late in the season. Classically, Caspian Gull will show fairly clean head and body plumage with a neat shawl of dark streaks at the base of the neck by this time of year. Though the extent of brown on the underwing coverts was within the range of variation shown by both species it would more likely be shown by Yellow-legged Gull in mid February.

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1st W Yellow-legged Gull, Moseley. Photo by Donna Mallon.

Whilst the bill may or may not have been within the range of variation shown by Caspian Gull (I am unsure) it certainly lacked the classically described profile of being long and parallel sided whereas it was deep and heavy with a distinctly hooked pale tip and a lower mandible which narrowed before the gonys resulting in a fairly sharp gonyedal angle typical of Yellow-legged Gull. This photo of a 2nd W Yellow-legged Gull illustrates the bill profile in question.

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2nd W Yellow-legged Gull, Draycote Water.

The Swanhurst bird did have comparatively long legs but as the previous photo illustrates they are again typical of Yellow-legged Gull.

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1st W Yellow-legged Gull, Moseley. Photo by John Judge.

Arctic gulls at Draycote Water (2008-2017)

Though gulls in the Draycote roost are generally too far away to photograph it is nonetheless possible to identify individuals if attention is paid to detail.  Thus far John Judge and I estimate that 16 or more individual Glaucous Gulls have now occurred at Draycote Water and on nearby landfills in 2017, following NW gales in the New Year period which resulted in a national influx. The influx is unprecedented locally although a similar event involving Iceland Gulls occurred in 2012. Thus far there has been at least one Glaucous Gull found in all but one of the 37 roost visits undertaken between 03/01 and 24/02 and there has generally been more than one, the figures are presented here.

No. of Individuals
0 1 2 3 4 5
No. of nights 1 6 19 6 4 1

Six individuals have been seen at Weston Landfill and at least two of those were not recorded from the Draycote Water roost. The details of individuals which could be identified with confidence (all but two of the birds being found within a 23 day period) are listed here (numerous records of birds which could not be identified individually are omitted):

Individual 1. A very large Ad. A red spot on the gonys separated it from individuals 2 & 3 and clean head and body plumage separated it from subsequent adults (head streaking would only be lost not acquired as the season progressed). Found by John Judge with Tim Marlow in the Draycote roost 03/01 and seen again there 04 & 05/01 by the original observers and Paul Hyde. Length of stay = 3 days.

Individual 2. Ad. A very large, pale billed individual with a well-defined black spot on the gonys and typical build with a short primary projection. Found by Tim Marlow in the Draycote roost 08/01 and seen again there 09, 10 and 11/01 (by John Judge and Paul Hyde on the latter date) and at Bubbenhall Lakes 10/01 by Tim Marlow John Judge & Roland Hopkins.  Individually identified at Bubbenhall and seen simultaneously with individual 3 at Draycote. Length of stay = 4 days.

Individual 3. Ad. Another pale billed individual but with a very weak black spot on the gonys, and a very small bird with a long primary projection differentiating it from individual 2. Found by Tim Marlow with John Judge and Roland Hopkins off Watery Lane 10/01 and also seen in the Draycote roost 10/01 & 11/01 (by John Judge and Paul Hyde on the latter date) and last seen there on 30/01 by John Judge and Paul Hyde.  Individually identified at Bubbenhall and seen simultaneously with individual 2 at Draycote. Length of stay = 21 days.

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Individual 4. Ad. A large bird with very light head streaking and a ‘shawl’ of remnant streaks at the base of the neck differentiating it from individual 1 which had clean head and body plumage and had not been recorded since 05/01. Found by John Judge with Tim Marlow at Bubbenhall Lakes 17/01 and seen in the Draycote roost that evening by Tim Marlow and there again 20/01 by Tim Marlow and Paul Hyde and 22/01 by Tim Marlow. Length of stay = 6 days.

Individual 5. Ad. A smaller bird than individual 1 which unlike this bird was clean headed, with heavier streaking on the head than individual 4 and a crescent of streaks across the lower breast differentiating it from all earlier adults.   Found in the Draycote roost 25/01 by Tim Marlow with John Judge and John Sirret and seen there again 26/01 by John Judge with Tim Marlow, 27/01 by Tim Marlow and Paul Hyde and 28/01 by John Judge, Tim Marlow and Nick Barlow.  Last seen 11/02. Length of stay = 17 days.

Individual 6. Ad. A large bird with darker, denser and more extensive head streaking than any of the earlier adults. Found by John Judge 11/02/17 with Tim Marlow and last seen 18/02 by Tim Marlow. Length of stay = 8 days.

Second winters

Individual 7. A very worn, off-white individual with an uneven scatter of faded remnant brown markings in the scapulars and coverts, the palest immature bird seen and the only certain 2nd W involved. Found by John Judge in the Draycote Water roost with Tim Marlow and Steve Valentine 05/02/17 and seen again 16-22/02 by Paul Hyde, Richard Knightbridge and Tim Marlow. Occurred within 19 days of the three birds included in pale Juvs. for which the possibility of 2nd W could not be excluded with certainty.  Length of stay = 17 days.

Dark Juveniles

Individual 8. Juv. A very large, very fresh, dark bird with very well-marked upperparts and brown primaries. Found by John Judge with Tim Marlow in the Draycote roost 03/01 and also seen again there 04 & 05/01 by the original observers and Paul Hyde. Seen at Watery Lane 04/01 by Tim Marlow and Dennis Woodward and Bubbenhall Lakes 05/01 by John Judge. A similar bird found by John Judge in the Draycote roost 14/01 seems likely to have been a different individual but could not be separated on plumage or structure and is thus included here.   It is unlikely any of the subsequent Juvs. would have faded to the degree necessary for them to refer to this individual in the 23 days which elapsed between the finding of it and the last Juv. involved. Length of stay = 3 days.

Individual 9. Juv. Another dark individual but much smaller than individual 8 and paler (with 8 days separating the sightings).  Found in the Draycote roost by John Judge with Tim Marlow 22/01 and seen again there 24/01 by John Judge with Tim Marlow. A similar bird found by John Judge with Tim Marlow in the Draycote roost 28/01 and last seen 05/02 is thought to have been a different individual but could not be separated on plumage or structure with absolute certainty and is thus included here. Length of stay = 3 days.

Typical Juveniles

Individual 10. Juv. A ‘typical’ biscuit coloured bird found by Paul Hyde at Bubbenhall Lakes and then seen by John Judge and Paul Hyde in the Draycote roost 11/01. The date spans for the darker individuals overlap with the single date for this bird. Length of stay = 1 day.

Individual 11. Juv. A ‘typical’ biscuit coloured bird but larger and paler than individual 10 found by John Judge (who also saw individual 8) with Gus Ariss at Bubbenhall Lakes 13/01. The date spans for the darker individuals overlap with the single date for this bird. Length of stay = 1 day.

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Individual 12. Juv. A fairly ‘typical’ biscuit coloured individual with some substantial paler areas in the scapulars differentiating it from individuals 9 and 10 which will not have undergone significant wear in the intervening 4 daysThe date span is separated by just 1 day from individual 8 and 7 days from individual 9 which are unlikely to have undergone significant fading in such a short time. Found by John Judge with Tim Marlow in the Draycote roost 15/01 and seen again there 17/01. Length of stay = 3 days.

Pale Juveniles

Individual 13. Juv./2nd W An extremely large pale individual with dense streaking on the head and breast contrasting markedly with the uniformly pale upperparts distinguishing it from subsequent pale Juvs. which occurred within 4-5 days. Found by Tim Marlow 17/01 in the Draycote roost.  Pale birds were seen at Bubbenhall on 17 & 18/01 but it is not known if they refer to the same individual. This individual had a dark eye and no pale tip was discernible to the bill but the plumage contrast may suggest a 2nd W rather than a Juv. The date overlaps with the last of the typically plumaged Juvs. and is separated by 7 days from the earliest of the rest. Length of stay = Length of stay = 1 day.

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Individual 14. Juv. A large bird with pale ground colouration but with fairly dark, well defined brown markings in the scapulars and coverts and neat sub-terminal arrowheads in the primaries distinguishing it from the other pale individuals all of which had very faded, uniform looking scapulars, coverts and primaries and occurred within three days of it. Found in the Draycote roost 21/01 by Tim Marlow with John Judge and Cliff Smith.  The date is separated by 10 days from the earliest of the typically plumaged birds. Length of stay = 1 day.

Individual 15. Juv./2nd W A very large, uniformly very pale, faded brown bird with no discernible markings in the scapulars, coverts or primaries and lacking contrasting head and breast streaking found in the Draycote roost 21/01 by John Judge with Tim Marlow and Cliff Smith and seen there again 24/01 by Tim Marlow and John Judge, 25/01 by John Judge, Tim Marlow and John Sirret, 27/01 by Tim Marlow, Paul Hyde and Dan Watson and 28 & 29/01 by John Judge and Tim Marlow and 30/01 by John Judge and Paul Hyde.  Last seen 04/02 by John Judge, Tim Marlow and Gus Ariss. A much larger bird than individual 16 which had pretty much identical plumage and was seen in the same field of view on 24/01 and simultaneously with it on 28/01.  The date is separated by 11 days later from the earliest of the typically plumaged birds. Length of stay = 15 days.

Glaucous_5765 edit 2

Individual 16.  Juv./2nd W A uniformly very pale, faded brown bird with no discernible markings in the scapulars, coverts or primaries and lacking head and breast streaking which differed from Individual 15 in being much smaller and was seen in the same field of view at one point.  Found in the Draycote roost 24/01 by Tim Marlow with John Judge and last seen 28/01.  Seen in the same field of view as individual 15 on 24/01 & simultaneously with it on 28/01. The date is separated by 14 days from the earliest of the typically plumaged birds. Length of stay = 4 days.

On average there is a tendency for Glaucous Gull to occur a little earlier in the season than Iceland Gull the majority of which are found between February and April. The Iceland Gull records for 2017 are as follows:

Individual 1. Juv. A very fresh, dark individual with boldly patterned scapulars and brown primaries with pale fringes found by Dan Watson with Tim Marlow at Bubbenhall Lakes 14/01. Length of stay = 1 day.

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Individual 2. Juv. A paler bird than, more worn bird than individual 1. Found by Tim Marlow in the Draycote roost 22/01 and seen again there by John Judge with Tim Marlow and Gus Ariss 04/02. Length of stay = 14 days.

Individual 3. Ad. The first adult of the season. Found by Tim Marlow in the Draycote roost 24/02. Length of stay = 1 day.

It is interesting to look back and compare the figures with previous years. Some historical data are unreliable prior to 2010 but I have gone back to 2008 in order to cover a ten year period and exercised some judgement with regard to reliability. Totals for all ‘white-winged’gulls over this period are as follows:

TOTALS
Glaucous Gull Iceland Gull Kumlien’s Gull Glaucous Gull x Herring Gull hybrid
YEAR
2017 16 3 0 1
2016 7 8 0 1
2015 4 9 1 2
2014 4 4 0 1
2013 2 2 0 0
2012 5 14 0 0
2011 3 3 0 0
2010 3 2 0 0
2009 2 6 1 0
2008 4 3 1 0
50  

54

 

3  5

As discussed in previous posts many landfill sites have closed down in recent years and there has been a reduction in the volume of food waste processed.  Gull numbers at many formerly outstanding localities in the West Midlands region and elsewhere have plummeted.  It seems likely that gull watching at the Draycote Water roost has benefited from these developments as there are still three operational landfill sites within c.10 km or so of the site.  The increase in Glaucous Gull numbers appears to support this hypothesis.  The situation with Iceland Gull is a little more complicated as many occur in the late winter/early spring period suggesting some of the later records involve birds which wintered to the SW moving back N, possibly having followed movements of other species such as Lesser Black-backed Gull.  Draycote may be in a privileged position in this regard as massive numbers of gulls move through the Leam Valley from SW to NE between the Severn and the Wash, a phenomenon first documented by Eric Simms in his book Bird Migrants and discussed in the Leam Valley pages on this site.  The occurrence of the species may thus be less tied to the presence of operational landfills than that of Glaucous Gull. The figures presented above do however suggest a recent increase in numbers, notwithstanding the exceptional tally for 2012 which was part of a national influx.

Whilst there is usually at least one record in the early winter period the overwhelming percentage of ‘arctic gulls’ are found between January and April. Aside from returning birds found later in this period most are discovered in the wake of NW gales. Numbers typically build up over the course of the working week and there is often a ‘turnaround’ at weekends when landfill sites close.  Figures for the average length of stay, taken from my own notes (including details of birds seen by John Judge) for the years 2017-2013 are presented below.

SPECIES
Glaucous Gull Iceland Gull
  Av. length of stay (days) Av. length of stay (days)
YEAR
2017 6.7 5.3
2016 4.7 1.6
2015 4.5 1.8
2014 5.5 6.5
2013 1.5 3

It can be seen that the average length of stay for Glaucous Gull is longer in two of the five years and this may support the view that the species presence is more closely linked to the availability of working landfill sites than that of Iceland Gull (the Iceland Gull figures for this year are likely to change as the season continues and more birds are found). Alternatively Iceland Gull, often occurring later in the season, may be less inclined to linger as spring approaches.  Though we are fortunate in that our area does still have working landfills they are coming to the end of their working lives and the average length of stay may perhaps be expected to change, decreasing if less food waste is available due to changes in working procedures or even increasing if fewer feeding sites are available elsewhere.  It seems peculiar that arctic gulls come inland to forage on tips and yet, having found them, move on so quickly.  It appears however that birds range across the UK, lingering for periods of varying duration.

Few birds are so distinctive as to facilitate the tracing of their movements between counties but there are several examples:

An Ad. Glaucous Gull ringed in Essex.  This bird was ringed at Pitsea in Essex in March 2015 and subsequntly found at Stanwick in Northamptonshire later that month.  A full account can be found here https://northantsbirds.com/2015/03/30/from-pitsea-to-stanwick-a-glaucous-gull-with-a-chequered-history/ In 2016 a Glaucous Gull with a plastic ring was seen at Weston Landfill but the observer was unable to read the code.  It seems highly unlikely that it was not this same individual (G1NT) which was subsequently recorded at Sandbach Flashes in Cheshire.

A Juv. Kumlien’s Gull which roosted at Draycote Water and fed at Weston Landfill in 2015.  The day after it was last seen at Bubbenhall on 24/01 this bird was found in Worcestershire and was subsequently recorded at Rufforth, York.

A Juv. Kumlien’s Gull which roosted at Draycote Water in 2009.  Found late on the afternoon of 06/02 at Draycote, just a couple of hours after it was last seen at Throckmorton in Worcs.

A 2nd W Kumlien’s Gull which roosted at Draycote Water in 2008.   First found at Telford this bird visited Belvide, Bartley, Wildmoor Sand quarry and Throckmorton before leaving the West Midlands and turning up at Shawell in Leicestershire (being seen in the Draycote roost during its stay there) and was last seen at Stewartby in Bedfordshire.  A full account of these movements can be found here http://www.birdingtoday.co.uk/birdwatching_articles_18.html.

Thanks to John Judge for data and use of photographs and also to Dan Watson for additional data. 

Arrivals and departures

By the time I joined John Judge at the Draycote roost on 15/01 he had already found a Juv. Glaucous Gull, a fairly ‘typical’ individual. It was slow going from then on until I picked up an Ad. type at extreme range in the last of the workable light. John beat me to it again when I joined him after work on 17/01 at Bubbenhall Lakes, finding an Ad. Glaucous Gull just before I arrived. This one hung around for half an hour or more, the first ‘white-winger’ to spend more than a few minutes there.

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Glaucous Gull Ad. Bubbenhall Lakes, photo by John Judge.

Three Yellow-legged Gulls were also present and I found a monstrously large 2nd W Caspian Gull. John could not make the roost and I ended up doing it alone. After half an hour or so I found an extremely large and very pale Glaucous Gull. It was a new individual but descriptions suggest it may well have been first found at Bubbenhall that morning by Jim Timms and seen again at Bubbenhall the next day. I spent 15 minutes with it and shortly after I resumed scanning I picked up a second Juv., the bird originally found by John on 15/01. A super distant Ad. type followed a while later and shortly after that a close Ad. which I suspect was the one we had seen on Bubbenhall Lakes that afternoon.   I think this is the first time I have managed four Glaucous Gulls in a single roost and wondered if it might be a record but the maximum count at Draycote is of five. The best I could manage the following day was another yellow-legged Herring Gull at Bubbenhall Lakes, a different individual to that seen on 05/01.

Bob Hazell rather messed up my plans for 21/01 by finding a red-necked Grebe at Draycote, the first record there for several years. I shot out and was fortunate in that the bird was pretty close in along the Draycote Wall.

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Red-necked Grebe, Draycote Water.

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Red-necked Grebe, Draycote Water.

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Red-necked Grebe, Draycote Water.

I moved on to Bubbenhall Lakes with John Judge who pulled out the 2nd W Caspian Gull first seen on 17/01 and we were joined by Bob Hazell and Keith Foster.

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2nd W Caspian Gull, Bubbenhall Lakes, photo by Bob Hazell.

An Ad. Glaucous Gull late in the Draycote roost that evening with Paul Hyde was the best I was able to do with the rest of the day.

Saturday was rapidly derailed by news that Tim Fountain had found a flock of Waxwings in Hillmorton. Though it has been an invasion year of some note I had not yet bothered going after any but a group so close to home got the better of me. As did the temptation to squander most of the afternoon on the never ending quest for the ultimate Waxwing shots. Needless to say I failed, but am reasonably pleased with the best of my efforts given the poor light, and cold so extreme it became increasingly difficult to hold the camera steady.

Waxwing 4

Waxwing, Hillmorton.

Waxwing 1

Waxwing, Hillmorton.

Waxwing 3

Waxwing, Hillmorton.

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Waxwing, Hillmorton.

Waxwing 6

Waxwing, Hillmorton.

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Waxwing, Hillmorton.

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Waxwing, Hillmorton.

Finishing the day at Draycote with John we met up with Cliff Smith who had travelled up from Somerset in the hope of seeing his first Glaucous Gull. Luckily I found a new Juv.  which gave good views by Draycote standards and John picked out a second which seems likely to be the extremely large pale individual from 15/01 and the same bird seen at Shawell that afternoon.  I will revise the totals for the next post.

Fresher than your average glaucoides

I was unable to get in to the field on 11/01 when Paul Hyde found what appears to have been a new Juv. Glaucous Gull at Bubbenhall Lakes. That evening John Judge and Paul saw both the Ad./Sub.Ad. birds I found between 08-10/01 and a pale Juv. which may well have been the individual photographed at Shawell the same day. John found another Juv. on 13/01 at Bubbenhall Lakes with Gus Ariss.

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Juv. Glaucous Gull, Bubbenhall Lakes. Photo by John Judge.

I got back out at the first opportunity on 14/01 and met Dan Watson and Mike Doughty-Lee at Bubbenhall Lakes. There were few birds present and it was slow going but eventually I found a 1st W Caspian Gull. We decided to leave for Draycote and just as we turned Dan picked up a white-winger in flight which helpfully landed on the closest pool.   It was a Juv. Iceland Gull and a striking bird. The plumage of white winged gulls wears quickly due to the low levels of dark pigmentation and by the time most reach the UK they are bleached to varying degrees. This bird had comparatively dark head and body plumage, well defined dark centres to the scapulars and coverts and brown primaries with broad pale fringes and tiny brown sub-terminal arrowhead markings. The pattern of the folded primaries was reminiscent of the Kumlien’s Gull which was at Draycote Water 06-09/02/08 whilst the strongly marked scapulars recalled the kumlieni which fed at Weston and roosted at Draycote from 15-24/01/15, as did the dark head and body plumage.   After a couple of minutes bathing it flew off towards Ryton exposing a uniform tail and lack of contrast in the primaries which identified it as a nominate glaucoides.  These shots of mine are of poor quality and underexposed but I have not altered the light levels.

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Juv. Iceland Gull, Bubbenhall Lakes 14/01/17.

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Juv. Iceland Gull, Bubbenhall Lakes 14/01/17.

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Juv. Iceland Gull, Bubbenhall Lakes 14/01/17.

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Juv. Iceland Gull, Bubbenhall Lakes 14/01/17.

This shot was phonescoped by Dan Watson and gives a truer impression though is underexposed.  Dan has some ‘true’ video footage but my web site is currently refusing to transfer the file in to its media library on security grounds!  If I am able to do so once I get some techie assistance I will edit this post or add it to a subsequent one.

Ice 8 edit

Juvenile Iceland Gull, Bubbenhall Lakes. Photo by Dan Watson.

Steve Clifton has recently photographed another dark, fresh looking Juv. Iceland Gull in Yorkshire.

It was almost surprising to see just one white-winger in the Draycote roost that night, a Juv. Glaucous Gull found by John. This was another dark individual taking the tally thus far to 3 Ad./Sub.Ad., two pale and two dark juveniles. The only other bird of note in the roost was the 1st W Caspian Gull seen earlier at Bubbenhall, picked out by Dan.

The ‘Gull roostin Blues’ 2017 remix

Landfill sites are closing down and those still in operation are moving towards a complete cessation of food waste processing in compliance with European directives. It seems the excellent gull watching opportunities afforded by the Midlands region are living on borrowed time. Though a number of sites have reported massive declines in numbers, for the time being  the Rugby/Coventry area is still doing OK with tips still producing the goods at Weston and Shawell and many of the birds from these sites roosting at Draycote.

I hardly did any birding towards the end of 2016 but did see the first Iceland Gull of the winter, a Sub.Ad. found by John Judge in the Draycote roost on 04/12. Sub.Ad.’s were at Chasewater on 24/12/16 and Bartley from 30-31/12/16 so these records may refer to the same individual.  Following the period of NW winds over the New Year period John found a Juv. Glaucous Gull on 03/01. Very soon after that he picked up an Ad. and almost immediately another apparent ‘white-winger’ which caused some head scratching for a while and remains difficult to resolve with absolute confidence. The primary projection of this bird looked too long for Glaucous Gull but the bird was the size of the largest Herring Gull and had a bill which appeared too long and deep for Iceland Gull. I checked the grey tone and thought it a little dark but was never able to get it in the same field of view as the Ad. Glaucous Gull. I considered a Herring Gull with white primaries but they are partial albinos and usually have upperpart colouration identical to Herring Gulls or other extensive areas of white plumage. This bird looked a lot like a Glaucous Gull save the long primary projection and the fact that the upperparts were perhaps a shade dark. In the end I ‘phoned a friend’ and the one possibility he raised which we had not really considered was a hybrid. John soon found photos of a bird in Essex which was not dissimilar, they can be viewed here by scrolling down to the second set of images of a putative back cross taken in January 2010 http://www.birdersplayground.co.uk/Hybrid%20Gulls%20-%20adults%20UK.html .  Though there was no dark pigmentation visible in the primaries of our bird it would have been difficult to discern any as pale as that shown by the bird in the link at the ranges involved.

The following day I went to work on my HLS study farm at Kenilworth so I could check Weston Landfill on the way home. There were few birds visible anywhere except one of the favoured loafing fields and I found the Juv. Glaucous Gull there. It was a dark individual and very fresh looking, quite smart when seen in decent light at a sensible range. The following day John saw it on the lagoons off Paget’s Lane where he took this photo which neatly illustrates the challenges of local gull watching.

glauc

Juv. Glaucous Gull, (centre, rear) BubbenhallPhoto by John Judge.

The Juv. was seen at Draycote again the same evening but the Ad. could not be found. Another Glaucous Gull was in the Draycote roost from 08-09/01. This bird had a pale bill with a dark spot on the gonys suggesting it may have been a 4th W and whilst no remnant brown markings were visible on the coverts it was, as ever, seen at long range.  Whilst birding the Paget’s Lane lagoons on 10/01 with John Judge and Roland Hopkins this bird dropped in and flew out again so quickly little light was shed on it’s age.  Trying to relocate it I discovered a different bird in the favoured loafing field off Watery Lane.  This gave, comparatively, good views and whilst no remnant brown markings were visible on the wing coverts, the bill was so pale it again suggested immaturity.

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Ad./Sub.Ad. Glaucous Gull, Weston Landfill. Photo by John Judge.

This bird was smaller than the one which visited the lagoons earlier and had a longer primary projection, features we were able to double check when both were located (and viewed simultaneously) in the Draycote roost that evening.

Caspian Gulls were close enough to pull out of the Draycote roost on 06/12/16 (Ad.), 03/01/17 and 04/01/17 (two different 1st W, the first of which was thought to be the same bird reorded on the lagoons off Paget’s Lane on 10/01). Another adult was in the same field as the Glaucous Gull pictured above. An adult Mediterranean Gull was present in the Draycote roost from 03-04/01.  An Ad. Herring Gull with yellow legs was at Weston Landfill on 05/01.  A large rangy bird with dark grey upperparts, a complete white tip and extensive white tounge visible on the underside of p10 it seems likely to have come the NE of the species range.  The web site of the gull research organisation is the best reference for those interested in these birds http://www.gull-research.org/hg/HG4CY02.htm  and states that ‘yellow-legged individuals are present throughout Scandanavia’.  The leg colour may simply be related to the level of carotenoids in the diet and occurs at high frequencies among populations breeding around fresh and brackish water.  It is the first yellow-legged Herring Gull I have seen locally but of course they will not be discernable at a reservoir gull roost.  It is interesting to note that an Ad. sporting a long, close fitting red ring of the type commonly used in Finland and Russia  was seen at the same locality on 21/02/13.  A Finnish ringed bird with yellow legs was also recorded recently at Shawell in nearby Leicestershire.

The putative hybrid notwithstanding, freaks have been mercifully few in number so far this season with just two leucistic birds. A very pale Herring Gull and another almost entirely white bird with extremely pale brown washed primaries.

My only non-larid sightings of note since I returned from Ecuador at the beginning of November were a Short-eared Owl at Honington on 14/12/16 and the red-head Smew at Draycote Water on 08/01.

A work/birding trip to the SW.

I have been working this summer on surveys of Common Shellduck in Bridgewater Bay, mapping distributions and monitoring disturbance levels as part of the discharge of conditions for construction work at Hinkley Point. The final round of surveys took place in early September and coincided with the presence of a Eurasian Wryneck and a Grey Phalarope at Steart. I managed to see both after work on the afternoon of 05/09 along with Curlew Sandpiper and Little Stint.

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Eurasian Wryneck, Steart Point.

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Grey Phalarope, Steart Gate.

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Grey Phalarope, Steart Gate.

Once the surveys were finished I drove on from Somerset to Cornwall to spend a couple of days birding with Martin Elliott, picking him up from north Devon on the way. It was a long drive to Penzance and we stopped off at Marazion to have a look at the Buff-breasted Sandpiper on the beach before heading for the flat. It was a good job we did as it left the next day, the relentless disturbance from free running dogs presumably getting too much for it in the end.

The following morning we birded Land’s End and had scarcely arrived when Mark Wallace called having found a Eurasian Dotterel at Porthgwarra. I was very keen to see it as I had not seen a juvenile for years but didn’t want to derail the birding so we continued with our original plan. The sallows below Swingates appeared quiet but the wind was so strong that you’d never really have stood much chance finding anything in there anyway. Moving on we discovered several Wheatear and Stonechat a long way off on ‘Bunker Hill’ with a single Whinchat mixed in. I had seen something else in flight a couple of times and was tempted to have a closer look, principally because this was the first collection of migrants we had encountered. Out in the middle of the moor Martin found a Wryneck perched in a low bush next to the Whinchat. We lost it pretty quickly and were on our way back out half an hour or so later when I picked it back up on a boulder, distant as ever.

wryneck-5

Eurasian Wryneck, Land’s End.

Martin thought it may be the same bird reported from the Trinity Loop that morning but when we passed there that individual was still present and had been for some time. A couple of days later there were five on Land’s End, part of a large influx in to the UK.

By mid-afternoon I felt justified in nipping off to Porthgwarra for the Dotterel. The bird had gone missing and we overshot in our attempt to re-find it on the moor but bumped in to some friends of Martin’s who were watching it as we worked our way back to Coastguards. After an age of us waiting for it to come to us, it took up residence on the edge of the coast path where people were walking right past it. We simply followed the ramblers.

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Eurasian Dotterel, Porthgwarra

Friday was sea watch day and the wind was strong enough but perhaps had too much south in it to deliver on an epic scale. A Pomarine Skua at extreme range and two Grey Phalaropes were the only notable ‘non tube-noses’ seen by the assembled group on the cliff between Porthgwarra and Gwenap Head. Several European Storm Petrels were seen but the day was all about the shearwaters. We arrived at around 07.00 and over 30 Balearic, a number of Sooty, 12 Great and 30+ Cory’s were logged (group totals) before we gave in to extreme cramp late that afternoon. The notable occurrence of the day was a Cory’s which Martin picked up coming right underneath our position a little way off the rocks, I imagine that views like this off the English mainland are truly exceptional.

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Cory’s Shearwater, Porthgwarra, photo by Martin Elliott.

There followed a twitch for the Dalmatian Pelican which had taken up residence on Helston Lake. It was a pain in that we had to walk a long way and the bird was asleep but it was useful to bag it whilst down there rather than making a specific trip for it. On the way back one of my headlights gave out and I was pulled over by the police. I was unable to get the light fixed that night and we determined to go to Pendeen on Saturday morning as the wind was swinging round to the north-west.

The next morning we had to spend a while at the top of the hill, where I had phone reception, whilst I made calls about the dead headlight. Despite the light winds things looked promising in that both Great and Cory’s Shearwater were seen. Dropping down we discovered a small knot of like-minded souls staring intently out to sea. The move was a sound one with more large shearwaters, along with Balearic and Sooty, several Arctic Skuas, a couple of flocks of Sandwich Tern and a passage of Common Scoter. I then picked up two juvenile Sabine’s Gulls but lost them almost immediately. I pointed out the rough area of sea and a minute or so later they were picked up again. Again they were lost and not seen subsequently by the observer. This pattern repeated itself over a period of several minutes and in the end I think most of the people in the group got on to them but never for long. A pale phase juvenile Long-tailed Skua was my other stand out bird of the morning. As we rounded the end of the wall we were told by the few birders on the other side that two adult Sabine’s Gulls had just gone past, but were short of time to try and find them as I agitated about needing to get back and fix the car.   Long-tailed Skua was seen again after we left but I had decided to make the long drive home and get some rest before returning to work on Monday.

 

Late summer/early autumn 2016.

It has been slow going again this season. Whilst I was busy twitching the Western Purple Swamphen in Suffolk Bob Hazell found a Wood Sandpiper at Draycote Water. I dropped in to see it on my way home and it actually stayed for a couple of days despite the near constant disturbance which occurs at the site now. The best of the other waders have unsurprisingly been flyovers with a Whimbrel on 04/08, a Black-tailed Godwit the next day and three more on 29/08. Common and Little Ringed Plover, Dunlin, Common and Green Sandpiper, Greenshank and Ruff have managed to put down.

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Juvenile Ruff, Draycote Water, 27/08/16.

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Adult Common Ringed Plover, Draycote Water, 27/08/16.

A European Marsh Harrier on 05/08 was part of a movement through the Midlands region.  It was picked up circling over the Country Park and remained distant as it glided rapidly to the west and out in to the Leam Valley.  Uniformly brown but for a small amount of pale feathers in the upper wing coverts the bird had a partial gap in the inner primaries of the left wing which would suggest it was not a bird of the year.  European Marsh Harrier begins its first wing moult between May and June of its second calendar year and half of the primaries are replaced before migration when moult is suspended, completion taking place in the wintering quarters.  The combination of dark brown plumage and apparent signs of moult in the primaries should age the bird as a second calendar year.  A rather short tail suggested it was a female and if I am right about the age a male would be expected to have shown some grey in the tail.

I was working away when Bob picked up c.70 Black Tern, the first really large flock that has occurred there for years and I have had to make do with a group of five on 20/08 and two more on the evening of 27/08. I narrowly missed four Little Gulls on 18/08 but Dan Watson and I found two on 28/08 which were still present the following evening.

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Juvenile Little Gull, Draycote Water, 29/08.

Yellow-legged Gulls can still be found around the shoreline in the daytime and numbers in the roost, which is finally building up, have increased to 15+.

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Adult Yellow-legged Gull, Draycote Water, 18/08/16.

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2nd calendar year Yellow-legged Gull, Draycote Water, 18/08/16.

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Juvenile Yellow-legged Gull, Draycote Water, 07/08/16.

On the 20/08 I found two juvenile Caspian Gulls in the roost. They were the first juveniles I had ever seen and whilst they appear to be within the range of variation neither had the palest head, body or underwings and both had quite heavy bills. As I understand it juveniles cannot be trait scored but I begin to think, lacking experience as I do, that it is perhaps best to regard all but the most classic looking individuals as suspect. The following evening John Judge and I found three juveniles and two second calendar year birds. One of the juveniles was colour ringed and Carl Baggot told us it was from a mixed colony at Grabendorfer See in Germany. Whilst it was OK structurally this bird had rather heavily barred greater coverts, extensive pale tips to the tertials and rather dirty head and body plumage. Interestingly we did hear the bird call and it certainly sounded like the one recording of a juvenile Caspian Gull I have been able to find on Xeno Canto. Unfortunately the birds are not ringed as nestlings but if this individual is found and reported later in life some clarification as to signs of hybrid parentage may be forthcoming. In the failing light my efforts to photograph anything were eclipsed by John who secured a few shots of one of the unproblematic juveniles with his bridge camera.

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Juvenile Caspian Gull, Draycote Water, 20/08/16. Photo by John Judge.

Bob Hazell found two Juv. European Shag on 23/08 just after I left for Somerset. They were still present the following day but only one was seen on 25/08 and none at all on 26/08. After a massive thunder storm on 27/08 I wondered if two birds on the buoys by the Yacht Club were new in. Bob was away but we discussed the birds and it sounded as if at least one of them was distinguishable as a new arrival. Subsequent comparison of photos shows however that they do appear to have been the original individuals. They were both there at the end of the month after which just one was reported up to 05/09.

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Juvenile European Shag, Draycote Water, 31/08/16.

Peak counts from Napton-on-the–Hill were of 6 Common Redstart and 13 Spotted Flycatcher on 26/08.

The most unusual record recently was of a Manx Shearwater discovered in a Dunchurch compost heap on 04/09. The finder posted a photo on Twitter and Severn Trent duly contacted John Judge who advised that the best option would be to release the bird at the coast. Steve Haynes took on the task, releasing it in Norfolk on 09/09.

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