Tuesday 24 February 2015

Penduline Tits

I've tried a few times for these birds without success. I wasn't too worried about seeing them but the more times I missed them the more I became determined to see them! After two cold mornings waiting, I resolved to only try for them if I was passing, but I had a little window of opportunity this afternoon, after work and decided to chance it. Martin Wolinski was there on my arrival. He'd been watching the birds just minutes before, but it still took us a while to locate them. They are remarkably difficult to see, particularly on the 'wrong' side of the bulrush. Two birds were present and they showed really well in the late afternoon sun. They were hard to photograph though, as the reeds swayed in the wind. I was thrilled that Nick managed to connect with them and just before we left, both birds perched on top of the reeds, a good few feet apart, and called to each other. This is the first time I've heard the call - a lovely drawn out, descending 'seeeuuu'. I like the way the Collins Guide describes the call as having a dream-like quality.

Just the tail is visible in this shot. For much of the time the birds were completely hidden from view behind the seed. It's a well known fact, but so true, that the best way to locate them is to look for the seed flying off the bulrush.

On one of my failed attempts to see the penduline tits, this black swan flew past.

The two egyptian geese that are knocking around the Dart's Farm area.

Friday 20 February 2015

Numbers Up

A look off Maer Rocks with Nick at dawn produced the 2 long-tailed duck, 6 common scoter, 3 red-throated diver and 2 great crested grebe.
We then had a look off the seafront from the Grove Pub. There was a noticeable increase in red-breasted mergansers with 54 in the estuary, and there were good numbers of waders on Warren Point, displaced by the higher than usual tide. The flocks included 25+ bar-tailed godwit, 20+ sanderling, 40+ grey plover and good numbers of dunlin. There were at least 4 great crested grebes offshore.
Finally, a look off the Imperial produced 9 goldeneye, 100+ common gull, 14+ great crested grebes (all notable increases) and a greenshank among the usual stuff.
Note - several more photos added to the gallery page today, mostly old stuff.

Thursday 19 February 2015

More American Herring Gull

Following my earlier post, Chris Townend very kindly forwarded me a couple of his photos of the american herring gull on the river Otter. They were taken on 16th March 2009, the last day that the bird was seen. Great shots and many thanks to Chris for letting me use them.

Tuesday 17 February 2015

Mystery Bird

This gull was photographed on the river Otter back in June 2006. I personally think that it has the look and feel of a first-summer caspian gull but with 'all wrong' wing coverts that could perhaps be explained by extreme wear and abrasion, but it's hard to be sure from this single image. The photograph is taken from my original glossy print, and is obviously poor quality, but you can see the following:
  • Sloping forehead, smoothly contoured nape and tiny eye set high in head to give friendly expression and subtle jizz that characterises caspian gull. Compare head shape and heavy brow on adjacent herring gull.
  • Tapered bill, lacking pronounced gonydeal angle. This is lost somewhat in the above photo but easier to see on my original. The bill is blackish with a paler base and tiny yellow tip, just visible in the photo. The gape is long and pronounced.
  • The breast is high and smoothly contoured in this relaxed posture. Look closely and you can see a distinct bulge behind the legs - the oft quoted 'hanging belly'.
  • The nape is lightly marked to give the necklace effect that you'd expect to see, although it is faded, presumably due to wear.
  • The grey mantle is lightly marked with small dark 'diamonds', lacking the heavy anchor marks/barring more typical of herring gull.
  • The tertials, though heavily worn, appear to show brown centres and neat cream fringes, though again, heavy wear means you probably can't read too much in to this.
  • You can't get much from the tail but it does look very blackish, arguably more so than you might expect on a herring gull at this time of year.
Now to the real problem feature - the wing coverts. These look all wrong for caspian gull and all right for herring gull, but they are extremely worn, faded and abraded, with just the shafts of most of the greater coverts and inner median coverts remaining. The outer greater coverts are partially obscured by the overlying flank feathers. These wing covert feathers will be almost a year old and were the reason the identification was dismissed back in 2006, and why it should probably be dismissed now. Of course, as with any bird you ideally need to see all the features well, so without underwing detail and tail detail the identification wouldn't be concrete anyway.
As always, thoughts appreciated.

Can you ID this?

A ropey photo but can you identify this mystery bird?

Sunday 15 February 2015

Long-tailed Ducks


Two long-tailed ducks close inshore between Maer Rocks and Orcombe Point early this morning.
Also, on Maer Rocks there were at least 4 purple sandpipers as well as a fair few turnstones and dark-bellied brent geese.
Late afternoon there were 2 adult mediterranean gulls on Bull Hill, viewed from near the sailing club, and a kingfisher off there too.


Friday 13 February 2015

Devon Flashback 9 - American Herring Gull

Exactly six years ago today I clapped eyes on this bird, on a cold and dreary afternoon on the river Otter. I'd been searching for this species for well over a decade, so to say I was chuffed to find it is an understatement. You've really got to be in to your gulls to appreciate this bird. To many it's dull, uninteresting and not worth the effort, but to me, and many others, it's a real beauty. It was seen on and off for over a month, but it was unpredictable and difficult to catch up with. I've included some photos that were unpublished at the time, with the kind permission of Brian Heasman. I've also included some shots taken by Perry Smale. I hope he doesn't mind me using them. Perry took his photos on the 16th March - the last day that the bird was seen. Brian's were taken on February 13th, the first day that it was seen. It was, and still remains, only the second record for Devon but the first was seen by just one observer, on the River Plym back in 1998.

An important feature to look for when faced with a potential American Herring Gull, is the mixture of old and new feathers in the mantle/scapular area. This individual has old juvenile, wholly brown rear scapulars, and new greyish first-winter mantle and remaining scapular feathers. The pattern of those newer feathers on this bird is interesting - they have large brown centres with broad greyish fringes which creates a spotted appearance, as opposed the more barred pattern on a typical European bird. Note however that American Herring Gull can sport a barred, more European pattern too. As with all large gull species they're tremendously variable.

Brian did a tremendous job obtaining these images. They were essential to getting this record accepted. The light levels were awful and it was late in the day. I'm still not quite sure how he managed it! Note in this shot how the smooth brown of the underparts continues around the neck sides and on to the nape. The tertials are almost entirely dark brown with narrow cream tips, lacking the patterning so typical of its European counterpart.

Brian and I relocated the bird on the rocks off the mouth of the Otter, after it had flushed off the river. We were now much closer to it and I was thrilled to take in the subtleties of its plumage, which possessed a smoothness and uniformity that you never see in European Herring Gulls. Note the smooth velvety-textured underparts and uniformly dark greater coverts. After a while it left the rocks and flew along the shore to the fishing boats on Budleigh Beach. It was here that a few more birders caught up with it, and where Brian got his best photos.

I used this shot in my BBRC submission - it was taken by Perry Smale, and shows the all-important all dark tail and heavily patterned uppertail covert/rump area, with brown predominating as opposed to white in herring gulls. In flight this area appeared all brown and was most distinctive.

By March 16th the bird had acquired a whiter looking head contrasting with the dark nape and underparts, giving it a more classic look. Note how dark the undertail/ventral area looks. The bird was big and robust - note the bulk compared to the European herring gulls either side of it.

Photo - Perry Smale.
Brian took this shot soon after he'd arrived. It was stood downriver from us in the same position as where I'd originally picked it up. At this point the bird hadn't been conclusively identified because we hadn't seen it in flight. All the visible features pointed to it being 'smithsonianus' but it wasn't quite clinched. I stared at it through the scope, whilst it stood in the river, for about an hour, desperate to see it in flight, but of course It flew when I'd taken my eye off it. Happily it was easy to pick up in the air as its rump, uppertail coverts and tail appeared all dark.
The following photos are photos of prints I took of Brian's shots, hence the reduced quality.

Neat copy of field notes.

Thursday 12 February 2015

Purple Sands

At least 7 purple sandpipers on Maer Rocks yesterday evening, at least 1 this evening. An adult mediterranean gull on Warren View football pitch sporting a white darvic ring on its right tarsus yesterday morning.

Sunday 8 February 2015

Budleigh - Exmouth

Dawn on East Budleigh Common.
Another look at the Otter today and then the long walk back to Exmouth. The Otter produced 3 gadwall, 1 shoveler, c20+ teal, c50+ wigeon, 5 little grebe, 2 cetti's warbler, 2 stonechat, 1 mediterranean gull and a female goosander.
The walk home produced the Sandy Bay black redstart, at least 4 purple sandpipers on Maer Rocks and a long-tailed duck off the seafront.

Little Grebes - River Otter - these birds were quite vocal.

A different adult Mediterranean Gull to yesterday's bird.


Blackbird - Sandy Bay

Black Redstart on red sandstone cliff - Sandy Bay.

Several pairs of Kittiwake are back on nests at Sandy Bay.