Monday, 25 March 2013

Staffordshire Gull Watching!

Staffordshire is generally one of the best counties within the WMBC region for Gulls, primarily because of the large Gull roosts that appear at the counties larger reservoirs  and for an avid Gull watched like me, Little can beat the Gull roost at Chasewater. So we decided to spend the day Cannock area of the county, taking in the Chase, kingswood and Chasewater.

The day didnt start very promisingly, as untill about 11 am thick fog covered the landscape, meaning we didnt leave untill it had started to burn off. Following this we slogged it around the chase for a few hours, with very little reward, with the only birds seen being a Yellowhammer in the car park and 2 Raven cronking overhead. 10 Roe deer were showing in the valleys, including a single stunning stag!

With half the day gone already, we decided to head to my new found favorite gulling spot of Kingswood lakeside following our sucessful visit back in January. Immidiatly upon driving up the road it was apparent there were hundreds of Gulls on the main pool, and there was around a thousand or so circling over the tip. We had a brief stop around the back of the first factory to have a look through the circling Gulls before moving back to find somewhere to park back near the main pool because some numpty had blocked the entire parking space with a single car!
We found somewhere to park and found a viewpoint of the lake, looking into the sun to have a quick scan through before we move to a better position. It was only a few seconds in before i was rewarded when the darkest juvenile GLAUCOUS GULL was sat on the water among the commoner Gulls! I could see there was a few dog walkers approaching the lakeside, so quickly continued scanning, and only another 20 or so Gulls to the right of the dark juvenile Glauc i picked out an absolutely stunning smack in the face 1st winter CASPIAN GULL! But i again continued scanning without stopping for photos as i knew the birds would fly very soon, and with only 100c Gulls out of the 700+ gone through, i had a few to go. I continued scanning further and further into the reflected sunlight, as far as i dared infact, and on nearing the end of the flock i was struck by a completely white Gull. And i mean WHITE! Back on its huge size was apparent, and when it turned its head showing its massive bi-coloured bill confirmed it to be a 2nd GLAUCOUS GULL!

As the dark Glauc and the Caspian were the closest out of the trio, i aimed the scope back at them, grabbed for my camera and took some record shots into the sun. The dark Glauc was easy to pick out again, because it really was a beast! Easilly one of the larger examples of Glauc you can get, and a very dark one at that, being one of the darkest possible biscuit colours you can get!

I also got some quick video footage of the bird as it swam around. The back-lit image actually emphasizes the pale transparent quality to the birds primary's. Its clear from the birds structure how much of a beast the bird is, with a huge chewing gum pink and black bi-coloured bill, chunky head, and very short primary projection all adding to this image. What a bird!

Scanning back to the right again, i picked up the CASPIAN again, and got a few photos before, as expected, almost 2/3rds of the flock were flushed as the owner of the dog then proceeded to let it then jump into the water.
In my quick picture, you can see the Caspian-esque structure so reminiscent of Caspian, with its long Bill, pale head, fairly dark 'shawl', completely dark eye placed well forward, fairly small, pear shaped head and pale back base colour combined with its large size. All this becomes very distinctive after some studying, all of these amounting to a fairly standard stunning 1st winter CASPIAN GULL.

With a fair chunk of the flock now gone, we now changed our position to view the lake, so that more of the flock was out of direct back light.
And i was overjoyed when scanning through the flock that this absolute stunner shone back at me!

Is there anything other to say that Wow? Again, an absolute BEAST of a GLAUCOUS GULL, it completely dwarthed the LBBG adjacent to it, in every single way.

So, 2 GLAUCOUS GULL, both at completely opposite ends of the spectrum of plumage at 1st winter, and both absolute brutes!
This bird is obviously very very faded, being almost an entirely white bird, but there are a few small clues to the birds true age. Its fully black eye being the most prominent. It is also apparent that the bird had many juvenile type feathers, with darker edges, revealing that the bird is infact a faded 1w rather than an older bird.

I went back to scanning the flock again, and i was amazed when the CASPIAN GULL again jumped out at me, with slightly better light this time.

Additionally to the points mentioned earlier, Caspian Gull also have fairly pale white underwings, which contrasts to most other 1st winter Gulls, and if only to further secure the identification, the bird then decided to have a quick stretch for a video!

CASPIAN GULL is one of those really birder's birds, and probably one that not many of the readers of this blog will be interested in (Well done if your still reading). Gulls are one of those very specialist subjects that a fair few birders shy away from, but even non-gullers have to admit the potential prizes that could become apparent in the thousands of Gulls that arrive here each winter. The sheer complexity of the subject only helping to heighten my enjoyment from these greatly overlooked species.
It does make you wonder just how under recorded birds like Caspian Gull are (Less so for the more obvious white wingers), but recent trends shows the midlands as being one of the best places to catch up with them, so get checking those flocks people!

We started to leave for the Chasewater roost, walking past a few large Gulls sat fairly close of the water. I knew the Caspian had been fairly close into the bank at times, and i was glad to see that one of the closest birds was infact the CASPIAN GULL!
I grabbed the camera and fired of a series before taking some video!

Moving onto Chasewater i was fairly dissapointed to see the Gull flock had again pitched up at the north end, but a section of the flock was within scopable distance. I scanned the entirety of the Reservoir  picking up 19 Goldeneye. We stayed until dark, and the birds did eventually come slightly closer, allowing me to pick up the familiar 2nd winter GLAUCOUS GULL that i saw in January. A distinctively different bird to the other 2 birds, with fairly tatty plumage, which is very 'blodgy', with alternating white and grubby brown patches. A few Yellow-legged gulls were also in, but my biggest prize was the one that completed the 'set', when i picked out the dinky ICELAND GULL, a very small and petite bird, small, cute looking head  and long primary tips. Still a decent biscuit colour on the bird too, just a shame it was too far away and came in too late for any photos.

But as i have said, that completed my 'set' of rare winter Gulls for the day. 3 GLAUCOUS GULL, 1 ICELAND GULL and 1 CASPIAN GULL, as well as all the usuals. It was about as good a winters day gulling as your going to get!

Monday, 18 March 2013

Slimbridge birding

With the winter drawing to and end now, and with a few winter specialties having turned up, we decided a trip down to Slimbridge was in order. It was straight to the Holden Tower and i was soon scanning the Goose flock. And it didnt take to long to spot this.

A adult Gypo (Egyptian) Goose feeding out on the dumbles with the White Fronts and Barnacles. Infact, it is the first Egyptian Goose i have seen 'in the wild'. It held my attention for around 10 seconds before i started to look for some of the other Geese. A small pan to the left got me onto a large orange legged Goose within the flock. And i was soon watching the 1st winter BEAN GOOSE. There are 4 species in the picture below, can you pick them all out and name them? (I could have quite easily got 6 had i raised the camera earlier)

I continued scanning, and i picked up the other 2 BEAN GEESE, both adults, and we were treated to decent views of the birds within the 221 strong White-Fronted Goose flock.

The usual array of species was present from here, including Bewick Swan, Pintail, Wigeon representing the majority of the ducks. Waders also were well represented with OYC, 400c Golden Plover (including a few in almost summer plumage). 1500c Lapwing, 700c Dunlin, 30c Redshank, a few Black-tailed Godwit and Ruff, and a load of Curlew out on the estuary. A single Little Egret was showing in the channels.

We then headed over to the Zeiss hide, via both the Rushy Pen and the South lake. A nice flock of Redshank were showing in the Rushy, including a couple which approached the hide fairly closely.

The small flock of Teal was also showing well in the sun.

Similarly, so were a few BlackWits on South lake.

Also on south lake was this stunning flock of 9 Ruff

While walking past one of the 'plastic' exhibits. i spotted a BHG with a leg ring, and upon reading it through my scope i realised i was watching an old friend. BHG 2P33. It turns out i have seen this bird twice before, at Upton Warren in the roost, and most recently, also at Slimbridge back in January 2012.

We had hoped the Bittern would show from the Zeiss hide, but for about the 8th time we drew a blank. We were however greeted by the sight of 4 Common Crane from the GCP reintroduction program  It would be great if these birds were able to colonise the area, as they looked so 'right' in the habitat. One day.

2 Cetti's Warbler were showing in the reeds adjacent to the hide, and we were treated to great if ever so brief views of a rung male as it perched on a reed stem on the edge. A Little Egret was seen distanly from here, and also the Kingfisher hide.
As we walked back, this Grey Heron was showing very well in the stream, despite the hundereds of screaming children only metres away!

We then decided to head down to the 'Severn Beach' area, in the hope of seeing some Owls. We first dropped into Aust Warth in the hope of picking up an early flyer, but non were out, so we quickly headed to New Passage in the hope of a few waders, but other than a few Redshank and a small flock of Dunlin there was little about.
We moved back to Aust, and stayed until dark looking for the Owls, with absolutly no sign of any, despite there being both Barn and Short Eared being seen on both days before and after the 18th.

I was even more annoyed when news emerged late evening of 4 Twite whcih had been present at the top end of the road we were on looking for the Owls, and not a single birder mentioned them being present there.

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Gulling with local birder's

Local Redditch birder Neil Duggan had kindly offered an evening out at the biggest Gull roost in the region, at Chasewater, and Matt G the Ealswood Birder and i tagged along in the hope of jamming in on some of that White winger action, and checking a few of the nearby Gulling sites in the hope of picking something up.

We were meeting at Upton Warren, and i got there early to have a check of the Flashes. A Lapwing flock was commuting between the fields and the 2nd flash, making it awkward to get a decent view from the feeder hide. Upon exiting the hide i was watching 2 Goldcrest in a trackside bush when Matt walked down the path towards me that he'd just had a Golden Plover in the Lapwing flock! We moved back into the feeder hide and started scanning the Lapwings at the back of the flash, and there it was, a Golden Plover sitting among them! We watched it walking around in the flock before taking flight and giving us some nice views. Cue a digi-scoped record shot.

Heading north, we first dropped into the West Midlands gull hotspot of Stubbers Green which was practically devoid... A few Great Black Backs and Lessers. Errr, not the best of starts.

It was still some time until the roost, so we then headed over to my new found Gulling spot, at Kingswood lakeside. At least we had Gulls this time! But again it seemed out luck wasn't there, as in the flock were only the expected Herring, LBBG and BHG. Scanning the Gulls flying up above the tip i got exited when i saw a Gull with white wing tips circling with about 10 other Gulls. Sadly however, it didn't seem to be one of the true white wingers. Despite having obvious white wingtips, the had a fairly dark grey 'saddle' on its back, obviously wrong for either of the hoped for species. The bird was at some distance however, but in good light we agreed to call it as an abbarent gull sp.
A lot of the birds were staring to fly over to Chasewater so we decided to follow in the hope we would have more luck there, and then it just got worse. The birds had obviously decided to pitch up at the furthest reaches of the Reservoir, right at the north end, making viewing from the south end almost impossible.

2 Goldeneye were showing fairly well

As was this Common Gull

A adult MEDITERRANEAN GULL was picked out of the closest large flock of BHG at the end of the dam. A stunning 90 % summer plumaged bird, with bright white primary's and an almost fully black hood. If you ask me, one of the most stunning of the small Gulls, and probably one of my favorites!

As the light got worse, i picked up another adult MED Gull, this time a winter plumaged bird, which i believe Neil got onto, but quickly disappeared within the flock (A very common occurrence at Gull roosts). These two alone made my day as it was the one Gull that i had missed on previous roosts this year, so it was nice to have caught up with two of them!

Going back onto the large Gulls they had still failed to move any closer. A adult Yellow legged Gull was showing in the birds in front of the sailing club but that's as good as it got. Many birder's didn't even bother to stay around as they knew the task was almost impossible. But the three of us soldiered on until dark, with absolutely no reward. The day got even worse later that night when news emerged on what the gullers had seen from the west shore.

So yeah, not the most 'to plan' day you could have had, and it is a real shame that we didn't pick up any white wingers, as at the time any would have been lifers for my companions. Sorry i couldn't get you them, i'll just have to owe you a repeat visit so we can get them!


Tuesday, 12 March 2013

More Gull failing

Saturday afternoon is one of the worst days for Gull watching, but just on the off chance we decided to have a drop into Wildmoor Landfill in the hope that the Iceland Gull may be around. To cut a long story short it wasnt. A few Pied Wagtail were on the tip faces but there was not a single Gull at all. I was however greeted by this beautiful sight:

Moving on to Upton Warren in the hope of seeing a Jack Snipe we moved to the East hide, where only 5 Snipe were showing. 2 Oystercatcher were on the Islands, which were my first inland birds this year. A single Water Rail was showing to the left of the hide still and a Curlew was also showing on the waters edge.

We moved onward to the West hide in the hope of picking up a Bittern, We waited around for some time, but the bird failed to show. But that was more than compensated for when a ghostly BARN OWL drifted across the reeds at the north end of the pool. We were treated to decent views as the bird hunted the reedbeds around the causeway. We were treated to decent views as it gently flapped it's way around the north moors before after about 10 or so minutes fly off north to the fields, a stunning way to end the day.

GullWatch Failing

An Iceland Gull had been found near Bromsgrove, so biting the bullet i decided to hit the roost at Bartley. And it turned out to be the correct decision, as the bird turned up in the roost just prior to our arrival. Once getting to the Scotland lane viewpoint however i was told that after a few minutes the bird had flown and hadn't been relocated, and that was how it remained throughout the evening vigil, and the bird wasn't seen again.

Sheepwash has Ducks!

Sheepwash has been doing fairly well for ducks recently, and that only continued today! The Goosander flock was up to its 'normal' winter heights, with a stunning 34 birds on both the Pumphouse and Johns lane fishing pools. In the flock was 15 stunning drakes. I cant say for others, but Goosanders must be some of the most stunning Ducks we have in the country, and to see large numbers on what can only be described as an urban pond is just amazing.
Here is just a small number of the flock: (Note the Shoveler's photo-bombing the flock)

Additionally, the Shoveler flock was still present, and today i counted 7 birds, most of which were still feeding in the NW corner. A flock of 44 Pochard was plastered around the 'Dunlin' Island and were giving awesome views. On both the Fishing Pool and Pumphouse pool a total of 15 Tufted Duck were showing, which is a slight increase to late.
Moving onto the opposite side of the canel, a flock of 30c Chaffinch was showing in trees adjacent to the mound, however there weren't any Bramblings among them. Actually atop the mound, the flock of 40c Linnet was still showing, but once again i failed to locate any Twite or Snow Buntings among them.
One day

Monday, 11 March 2013

A little bit of Wyre birding

A trip into the Wyre was needed as so far this year i had not bothered looking for the Hawfinch's. But today that would be rectified.

The walk out to Lodge Hill was extremely quiet, such is the way that birding in the Wyre goes. Some days your surrounded by a hive of activity, others nada.
While just heading up the track i raised my bins to see a female HAWFINCH sitting on the bottom edge of a hawthorn bush, before dropping down a few seconds after not to be seen again. While waiting for the bird to fly up again (which it did not), one of the residents of the farm walked past, and upon entering the garden flushed a LESSER SPOTTED WOODPECKER off the feeders, another hoped for year tick! The bird flew directly over our heads and flew into the tree's to the north of the orchard, and sadly disappeared  While looking for it again, we had many Nuthatch. A Marsh Tit  made its way through the bushes in  the orchard before quickly moving on. 3 Finches landed upon one of the taller trees in the area, and a look at them revealed them to be 3 BRAMBLING (2 Male).
Moving back alone the railway line, we were treated to stunning views of a female Goldcrest (1 of a pair) down to about 6 feet!

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Local surprises

I headed to Sheepwash Urban park following my lesson, and it turned out to be a fairly productive visit.
Upon my first view of the lake i quickly counted a small flock of 7 Goosander on the far side. It was while scanning the Pochard and Tufted Ducks that i heard a loud 'Wheooooo' call from my right. The superb evocative sound of a calling male WIGEON!

The bird was resting on the rocks for some time (cue digi-binned picture), before swimming off into the middle, calling almost incessantly, probably trying to say 'How the f**k did i end up here?!'.
I have only ever seen one previous Wigeon at Sheepwash, so i was well chuffed to see it!

The Pochard flock was at a low 24 birds, and similarly, Tufted Duck only counted 8! I was also glad to see that the 2 TEAL dabbling on the muddy shoreline.

Moving away from Pumphouse pool, i found a flock of 30c Chaffinch adjacent to the 'mound' along the Canel.

For any locals interested, the 'mound' atm is looking amazing for any passage Chats or Wheatears due to its open barron-ness, if your in the area, have a look!

Monday, 4 March 2013

A bit of Woodland watching- A few year ticks!


A walk in a local woodland was fairly rewarding, however my true target species failed to appear, but they are fairly elusive at this site, but with spare time every Wednesday, i've been making regular visits to this woodland.
At one of the most famous locations withing the woodland, i was treated to awesome views of this Robin, as it decided to perch on a tree a mere 5 foot away! At one point, the bird even tried to walk over my boots it was that confiding!

Why is the site famous i hear you say? Well the tree above where i was standing is often frequented by a roosting TAWNEY OWL. This bird often just sits on one of the broken tree trunks in the wood, giving close intimate views of this usually elusive resident.

After a few hours searching likely spots for the resident pair of LesserPeckers drew a blank, i headed towards the feeding area, and i soon picked up a female BRAMBLING perched on the edge of the adjacent hawthorn, quickly followed by a stunning male!
I sat down on the bench adjacent to the feeders, and after some time, i witnessed 4 BRAMBLING (3 males) perched in the tree next to me at the same time.
I was hoping the birds would join the flock of Chaffinch and 2 Reed Bunting, but the birds didn't.

However, one of the male birds perched on a close Hawthorn bush not far away, and i was able to take some digi-binned pictures of it as it perched there.

A stunning Scandinavian finch, and one that i don't see enough of, so it was great to get a small flock at a local site, and being able to get decent views of them!