Champions of the Flyway!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Some gulls are older than others

I received the life history recently of this Black-headed Gull I photographed in Regent's Park in December last year. By circling the bird I was able to take enough differently-angled photos to piece together the BTO ring number (DSLR's eh? genius). Initially I was vaguely disappointed to find out the bird was ringed in Regent's Park (distance - 0km, 0m), but then looked at the date - November 1980! This puts the bird over 29 years old; on checking the world longevity record for the species, I found out the oldest on record is 31.....

Aside from local tw*tches for the (very worthwhile) Dusky warbler (see below), little to report locally since getting back from New England a couple of weeks ago, aside from yet another enchanting little hybrid aythya on the local patch yesterday.

Despite it being unarguably the dullest and most lifeforce-draining time of year, the prospect of late winter sun and easy birding beckons. With holiday time needing to be taken before the end of the financial year, and ideas variously flung around over recent weeks, we're all set for a week in Florida from the 22nd March; three Pearsons, of two generations, one hire-car and half a mind to spend most of the trip lolling around in the pool with a variety of cocktails.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Walthamstow Reservoirs, east London - 20th February 2010

Couldn't resist another look at the Dusky, and being out of the house before dawn, I was at the Reservoirs in time to see a beautiful sunrise over the glassy water of Lockwood. More fine views of the Slavonian Grebe and a party of six Goldeneye (with the males displaying) before quickly relocating the very accomodating warbler, calling and feeding along its favoured stretch of the flood relief channel.

Also recorded - at least four Chiffchaffs, Green Sandpiper, three Little Egrets, two Skylarks, a Meadow Pipit and eight Shelduck.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Walthamstow Reservoirs, east London - 16th February 2010

Scheduled to lead a guided walk at the Wetland Centre (cancelled due to torrential rain), the opportunity of a 'long lunch hour' arose; despite the godawful weather, the temptation to head the couple of miles north-east to the north end of Lockwood was too much to resist. A once-in-a-lifetime find by local birder Lol Bodini (congratulations Lol), a Dusky Warbler has somewhat incredibly taken up residence in the scrub along the flood relief channel, and shortly after midday I was through the gate with the rain pummeling down.

Kingfisher, Chiffchaff, Skylark, Green Sandpiper, a pair of Goldeneye and a rather lovely Slavonian Grebe later and I made it to the area the bird was favouring (with thanks to all who provided details); it hadn't been seen for an hour, the rain was worsening, and a steady stream of twitchers began to assemble.

With some of the latter evidently having mastered their fieldcraft techniques from Pingu and their whispering skills from Brian Blessed, it took a while before the coast was clear and I could get some quality time with the bird, when it performed beautifully, calling and feeding happily. Well worth the wait and the soaking - without loudhaler voices, bright red golf umbrellas and masses of clattering tripods, it's amazing how close you can get.

Rain, (lack of) light and the bird's skulking nature equalled zero photo opps, but no matter, a fine bird in a superbly unlikely but familiar setting just a few minutes up the A10. (And fortunately arrived back at work with plenty of dark daylight left - a scan of the East Res and a tiny sliver of mud in the far corner produced a very welcome Jack Snipe).

Monday, February 15, 2010

New England, U.S.A - Jan / Feb 2010 (8)

Days Fourteen and Fifteen - The coast and Providence, RI

The final 48 hours of the trip, based at the apartment in Providence. A last visit to the south Massachusetts coast with Neil and Anya on the morning of the 6th was notable for the same array of coastal species, including more Harlequins at Sakonnet as well as Brant, all three scoters, Long-tailed Ducks, Slavonian Grebes, sawbills and Yellow-rumped Warblers, as well as the now expected arctic conditions and pleasing lack of Homo sapiens.

Back in Providence, we spent the later afternoon out birding along the river, which runs from the centre of the city (where it 'begins', technically in Pawtucket at the bridge accomodating Interstate 95) southbound - as urban as it gets, with the river lined by disused industrial buildings, roads and playgrounds, and viewed from its bank via crappy parking lots and mystery dead-ends.

At a glance easily dismissed as a birdless mid-town hellhole, but far from it. At its source, and with trucks rumbling across the bridge above us, we found the first group of ducks, close to the bank but swimming downstream fast. Looking like Lesser Scaup (welcome, with comparison of e.g. both scaup sp. being one of the 'educational missions' of the trip), I scanned the flock of about eight birds and had the strange sensation of seeing a very familiar face in an unlikely setting - a male Tufted Duck was, despite its best efforts, failing dismally to blend in with its Neartic cousins.

Shuddering to recall how many hours spent sifting through Tufted Ducks on local water-bodies in London in the vain hope of an unusual aythya, this is the New England equivalent, and is hopefully a good omen for back at the reservoirs....

Driving around to the eastern bank of the river, we reconnected with the flock at close range as they swam closely by the bank, with the tuftie keeping particularly tight company with a female Lesser Scaup (if it works out between them, that's more hybrid ID adventures at least). Other river-dwellers included Goosander, Buffleheads, Hooded Mergansers, Black Ducks, and the most entertaining Red-throated Diver imaginable. Keeping up a theme of the trip - inherently wild, northern waterbirds acting like domestic waterfowl in pursuit of Mother's Pride - it decided to swim over to us, fighting the current and preening just a few metres away.

Plenty of stops at strategic points, with the added advantage of the heating in the car only ever seconds away, the river held an impressive selection of species, with several pairs of American Wigeon adding to the ever-growing wildfowl list; a short drive over to James V Turner Reservoir (also known as the East Reservoir - how apt) and a park-up on the hard shoulder revealed a almost entirely frozen surface, conveniently with the exception of an area right by the road.

Amongst the requisite Canada Geese and Ring-billed Gulls on the edge of the ice, a few ducks were present - but they included two drake Canvasbacks and a drake Ring-necked Duck (both firsts for the trip, and bringing the duck species tally to an impressive 21). Another circuit of the river-banks the following morning, with much the same on offer, before heading to Boston late morning and then the red-eye back to blighty later that evening.

New England, U.S.A - Jan / Feb 2010 (7)

Day Thirteen - The Coast

male Bufflehead

A later start, a few changes in schedule, and an ultimately ill-fated morning at the base of Cape Cod.... with only a couple of hours before L & P had to head back south, the gods were less kind for the morning session. Sandy Neck beach (a site where I'd previously watched thousands of Scoters and other ducks) was a bird-free zone, except for a pair of Bluebirds along the approach road; an attempted twitch for a wintering Townsend's Solitaire in a well-to-do suburb in Yarmouth port had the writing on the wall when we found a male Merlin relaxing in the bird's favoured group of trees (but thanks anyway Peter); and with time running out, the only option was to indulge in abject gluttony at a local diner.

White-winged Scoters, New Bedford

Fond farewells exchanged and daylight still remaining, Neil and I decided to try New Bedford - a run-down, trashy port town nearby with an attraction to gulls (and probably to fans of poor quality class A's). Not a great deal around the business end of town, but more success along the peculiarly urban beach that runs along the bay in the centre of town. The conditions were great for enjoying seaducks, loons and grebes, with the highlights being yet more ridiculously tame scoters (with White-winged again acting like curious Mallards in a London park), at least 45 Slavonian Grebes in several flocks, and two pairs of always impressive Long-tailed Ducks.

A small group of nearby gulls included the bird pictured below, alongside American Herring and Ring-billed; the jury is (and may have to remain) out on a positive ID, but the most likely answer appears to be a hybrid, perhaps most plausibly Glaucous x American Herring Gull.

With some light left, we returned to Horseneck Beach, and encountered much the same (very welcome) selection as previously - scoters, sawbills, the female Merlin (appearing not to have moved), flocks of Purple Sandpipers and Dunlin, the tame groups of Greater Scaup, loons and grebes, Yellow-rumped Warblers, and two Northern Harriers - one of which apparently came straight in off the sea and over the bay.

Greater Scaup and American Eiders, Horseneck

But once again the highlight on the point were the Ipswich Sparrows, running like mice (often towards us) and giving excellent views as the laight faded.

Slavonian (Horned) Grebe, Horseneck Beach

Our coastal base at Westport produced a few nice species in the garden over the three days; alongside the commoner passerines, Hermit Thrush, Carolina Wrens and Yellow-bellied Sapsucker were all showing well.

Red-bellied Woodpecker and Carolina Wren, Westport

New England, U.S.A - Jan / Feb 2010 (6)

Larus Hyperboleus
White-winged chaos at Gloucester Harbour