Sunday, 19 February 2017

All five divers

Cotham Landfill produced a juv Glauc on Friday (the big oatmeal coloured bird), plus three different 1st W Caspian Gulls

Casp 1
Casp 2
Casp 3
 In addition, there was a somewhat Viking-esque Gull (i.e. Herring x Glaucous Gull, with pale primaries and with a pink, black-tipped bill), plus the odd 'white-winged' gull that's been around for a while now.

Viking(?) Gull
Viking(?) Gull
'White-winged' gull

A quick look at Collingham on Saturday afternoon produced a Black-wit on Mons Pool plus 4 redhead Smew on Ferry Lane Lake, but no sign of the Slavonian Grebe, However, the Grebe was there again this morning (as were the 4 redhead Smew). Two Oystercatchers on the Trent were new for PWC2017. 

Prior to that, I'd been to Hoveringham to see the Black-throated Diver; partly because it was a Notts tick, but mainly to bag all five Diver species in the space of 3 weeks! Also present was the Black-necked Grebe and a very sickly looking Glaucous Gull, which apparently hadn't moved off the island for a couple of days (although it did at least stand up whilst I was watching it). 

Awful pic of the BTD
And not much better of the BNG
Black Swan

Thursday, 16 February 2017

Ticking (and dipping) around the North

The last time I had a birding expedition with Dave Craven (fellow Suffolk exile and my Best Man) was back in 2007, when we had a quick-stop tour of Cornwall, picking up Gyr Falcon, White-billed Diver, Dusky Warbler and Spotted Sandpiper, amongst other things. So almost exactly 10 years later, we decided that another roadtrip was long overdue. Having originally been thinking about doing Cornwall again (for Pacific Diver, Hudsonian Whimbrel, Eastern Black Redstart), news that the Hudbrel was going to be lumped from 2018, and with the two other birds also available in the NE, plus some other quality stuff, we had a change of plan...

Beginning on Thursday morning, I picked DC up from York Station and we were soon on site at Dunnington for the Pine Bunting. Unfortunately, the bird wasn't playing ball, and whilst DC managed a 2 second view of it in a hedge, I did not; the Yellowhammer flock then took up and splintered, and we couldn't track the bird down again. Whilst it was nice to see farmland birds in numbers, with plenty of Tree Sparrows and a party of Corn Buntings on show, some of the birding skills on display were less impressive. A shout of Pine Bunting proved to be a female Yellowhammer ('But it's not got any yellow on it?'), and an announcement of 'Oh, there's a Tree Sparrow in the hedge. And another. Oh, and another!' made us wonder what the observer in question had been doing since his arrival an hour earlier - clearly not looking at any of the birds. So after more than 4 hours, we decided to cut our losses. Fortunately the ticker and dipper were the right way around, as I had seen a male Pine Bunt previously (Wadborough in Worcs in 2005) so wasn't too despondent. 

No Pine Bunting here

Onwards, we gently defrosted on our drive over the North York Moors to Skinningrove. We soon had the Eastern Black Redstart in our sights on the far side of the jetty, where it showed well on the rocks with the local  Robins. Very murky conditions made photography difficult, but it was a little gem of a bird, and it co-operated by landing in front of me on the beach at one point. 

The path to the Eastern Black Redstart
Eastern Black Redstart
Eastern Black Redstart
Eastern Black Redstart
Eastern Black Redstart
Eastern Black Redstart
DC digiscoping the EBR
The EBR's hang-out
The EBR landing on the beach in front of me

By now it was mid-afternoon, and our birding options were limited. We pressed on north, taking a brief detour on the way through Newcastle to the fish quay in North Shields. Despite only having about 20 minutes of light, we picked out 3 juv Glaucs and 2 1st W Iceland Gulls (one dark, one pale). We also noted a small, dark Lesser Black-backed Gull but failed to look at it properly (my excuse is it was virtually dark by then) - see here for an image of this weird looking bird. 

The darker 1st W Iceland Gull
The paler 1st W Iceland Gull
Two of the three Glaucs
The fish quay at North Shields

Friday morning, and having spent the night in Warkworth, we were on site at East Chevington early doors, soon locating the Pacific Diver from the hide half way up the eastern side of the 'north pool'. The bird showed well, swimming through the narrow channel between the island and the shore, before becoming more distant. A good selection of other bits were also present, including 5 Scaup and a Slavonian Grebe, displaying Red-breasted Merganser, and a flock of Twite on the beach (although the Shorelark were unfortunately absent).

Pacific Diver
Pacific Diver
The view from the hide
DC in action
Slavonian Grebe
Two drake Scaup
DC celebrating his second tick on two days
Wintry conditions at East Chevington
DC posing with a dead seal, for some reason. No Ivory Gull today!

Having had our fill of the diver, we continued north through increasingly wintry conditions, arriving at Goswick Sands - despite Google maps best efforts to mislead us. We soon picked up some scoter on the sea to the south, but they were distant and the sea itself had a big swell, making viewing very tricky. Having picked our way through the Long-tailed Ducks, Great Northern and Red-throated Divers and a few auks, we were about to give up when we noted a larger scoter flock the north, which hadn't been present a short while earlier. Yomping through the dunes, we got ourselves in position, only for the weather to close in, with snow making visibility very poor. About to give up again, the weather suddenly cleared, the flock came closer into shore, and there was the Black Scoter. Sea conditions made photographing it impossible, but we enjoyed half decent views, including in flight. 

Goswick Sands
Tracking down the scoter flock in the snow
Black Scoter - it was out there!

Continuing north through more snow, we had a brief detour off the A1 for a Great Grey Shrike, which we saw well (despite my protestations that it was going to be a waste of time), sat in a tree on a narrow strip of land between the A1 and the east coast railway line. We were assisted by a chap who had spotted the bird from the A1, and had come round to view it from the parallel road we were on.

Great Grey Shrike

With time against us, we bypassed Surf Scoter and American Wigeon, arriving at Strathclyde Country Park in Motherwell late afternoon. Carpark 4 was duly found, and the search for a Ring-billed Gull began. Unfortunately there were thousands of gulls all along the loch (which they presumably use for roosting), and no sign of the RBG, so we cut our losses.

Having over-nighted just south of Lochwinnoch, we began Saturday on the shores of Loch Barr, in search on the long-staying Hooded Merganser. After a couple of hours without seeing it, I became convinced it must be tucked under the far shore, where there were a lot of duck. When they all flushed, and maybe 100 birds (mainly Teal) flew out onto the loch, I knew this was going to be our moment. So we scanned... and scanned... and scanned some more. But no sign of the Hoodie. And so, after a total of eight and a half hours of scanning, with checks of Kilbirnie Loch and a brief break for lunch, we couldn't find hide nor hair (nor indeed feather) it. It had been seen the previous evening, which spurred on thoughts about whether we shouldn't have bothered with the RBG... And even more frustratingly, it was then seen the following day! Sometimes I hate birding. Still, we had lovely views of Goosander

Lochwinnoch - lovely!
I think I've had enough of Lochwinnoch
What an awful place

All of this made the 3 hour journey down to Lancaster drag even more than it might of done, but it did mean that we were out an about looking for geese on the Lancashire mosses nice an early. They were streaming in from the west, and we duly noted where most of them were landing, finding a huge flock of Pink-footed Geese (thousands and thousands) at Braides. Part of the flock was obscured, but amongst the birds that we could see, we eventually picked out the Todd's Canada Goose, slightly larger than the Pinks but it would be dwarfed by our normal Canadas. Also present were up to 7 Eurasian White-fronts, and a single Barnacle Goose. The former was one of our main targets, but the Red-breasted Goose, our other main target, couldn't be found, despite scrutinising more geese around Skronkey - of course, it was seen later in the morning after we'd departed.

Todd's Canada Goose
Two Euro WFG
Pinks in flight

Our final stop of the trip was a rather unprepossessing place on the south side of Southport, where a very average looking grass field held 6 Cattle Egrets, and similar numbers of Littles. I then dropped DC off with his family, and headed for home. 

Two of the 6 Cattle Egrets
Cattle and Little Egrets

All in all, it was a good trip, with highlights being Pine Bunting (DC only), Eastern Black Redstart, Glaucous and Iceland Gulls, Pacific Diver, Great Grey Shrike, Todd's Canada Goose and Cattle Egret - although our luck (or lack thereof) with the Hooded Merg is particularly galling (and Ring-billed Gull and Red-breasted Goose can also be counted as dips). Perhaps we were looking down the wrong end of our scopes for the Hoodie, or perhaps it had gone on a day trip somewhere else. But I suppose you can't win 'em all.

Sunday, 5 February 2017

Gull ID day

Friday saw me join 10 other members of Notts Birders for a gull ID session at Cotham Landfill with Richard Lowe from Derbyshire. We had a good day, although there were long periods when the gulls weren't co-operating, roosting out of sight or wheeling overhead; however, they still spent plenty of time on the tip. 

As well as 2 juv/1st W Glaucous Gulls, we had another interesting 'white-winged' gull, which others have seen here, and at Hoveringham, and Richard had seen in Derbyshire. Structurally, to me, it looked like a Herring Gull, but whilst I have seen plenty of 'pale-tipped' birds (including the one pictured, also present), this bird's wings were striking, and it was also intricately marked. Unfortunately I failed to get any spread-wing shots.

Glauc 1
Glauc 2
'White-winged' Herring Gull
'White-winged' Herring Gull
'White-winged' Herring Gull
'White-winged' Herring Gull
Pale-tipped Herring Gull
The same pale-tipped Herring Gull on 28 Jan

A lot of our time was spent on the two Caspian Gulls present - or perhaps I should say 'Caspian-types'. Richard raised a couple of issues with both birds which threw some doubt on them being pure birds, and which I need to read up on... this rather threw the cat amongst the pigeons for me, but did flag up that I need to more aware of the spectre of hybrids, and make the effort to score birds that I see.

Casp 1
Casp 2 - but too much spotting on the UTCs?

Anyway, it was a good day, and I picked up some useful pointers, and Red Kite was a bonus.

Yesterday, and a couple of hours at Collingham produced the Slavonian Grebe and one of the Smew still present on Ferry Lane Lake, 3 Whooper Swans (2 adults and a juv) between Mons Pool and Meering, and a Marsh Harrier over Meering - my one PWC addition of the weekend.