Friday, 19 June 2015

June 2015

Once again it has been an age since I have updated my blog! Managed to see a fair few good birds since the last update and only really missed out on Paddyfield Warbler and Eastern Black Eared Wheatear, the latter one a bit more concerning than the former.

Anyhow, here are some of my highlights from the past 5 days...


At long last!!...

 Gull-billed Tern at Old Moor RSPB, thanks to staff for staying open late!

Wacko-Squacco at Saltholme RSPB yesterday afternooon..


Thursday, 5 February 2015

Laughing Gull

A rather worrying morning when on arrival at New Brighton just after 8AM on Wednesday, when the birders announced that there had been no sign at all of the Laughing Gull, some two and a half hours passed when I picked it up gliding just above my head and eastwards towards the beach, it landed on the tide line, had a little feed, flew around the fort and then went and landed on the pontoon where it has been found the previous day. Interestingly, when it appeared it was the only gull on the coast flying around, preferring to avoid even the Black-headed Gulls. Apparently they do much the same in the states, preferring their own species company or a solitary lifestyle, presumable this is down to a very different feeding habit and behavior preference to American Herring Gull? Anyone know any more on this? Even on the pontoon it preferred the Redshanks, totally avoiding the Herring Gulls.


Had a dodge to Nosterfield NR on the way home, highlight being the distant drake American Wigeon and a Brent Goose. Last time I visited I was gulling, saw this beauty...

Gotta love a juv Casp!

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Ridgway's Canada Goose

On Saturday I headed out north west in order to see the Ridgway's Canada Goose, thanks to Brian Hendersons superb directions we were swiftly on site and located the Ridgway's Canada. As per, there has been the usual BirdForum and car journey discussions on whether or not it has a potential to reach the UK. The birds only has to get to Greenland and then latch onto a carrier....bit of an ask though!

Mainly spending a lot of its time with the local Canadas, however mixed in with Pinks and Greylags.


At least its not on some lake in the Midlands, would slightly dampen its credentials somewhat!

After the Ridgway's we headed off to another site and managed some more than 'standard' views of a pair of Golden Eagles hunting together some 25m in the air, and at one point were about 40m away, as well as Goshawk. Then a look at the two female Ring-necked Ducks, followed by a cracking 120 or so Red Kites at the feeding station.

All pics of Golden Eagle by Harry Murphy, please don't  email to ask me where I saw these birds ...

I'd never had views like it, and doubt I ever will do again. Crystal clear skies, snowy landscape, and two Golden Eagle hunting together some 40m away. Amazing.

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Amble Caspian Gull Revisited

With all the recent talk of 'mantle shade' variability in Slaty-backed Gulls lately (due to the recent Irish bird) I got thinking again about the Amble Caspian Gull, the bird would represent a 2nd for Northumberland, following the 1st accepted record being a bird in the summer months at Grindon Lough one evening.

During September I tweeted out that I had 'scored' the Amble Caspian Gull against a paper in British Birds. As with most thing to do with Caspian Gull I got interested fairly swiftly, the paper is written by Chris Gibbins, Grzegorz Neubauer and Brian J. Small. It's a very impressively written and thorough paper in the December 2011 issue of British Birds. It was handily written only recently, as our knowledge of the acceptable variability in Caspian Gulls has grown, it was written to deal with the pitfalls of possible hybrids.

If you have time to sit with a highlighter and read the article I can highly recommend it. Some particularly interesting features were listed in the article and the article has a positive conclusion. So if you are interested in gulls make sure you read it!

'Table 1' in the article is what this entire brief blog post is about, it lays out a scoring system for adult Caspian Gulls. I thought I would run the Amble Caspian Gull through the test, trying to be as objective as possible. The reason for this is that although it was from a 'Caspian Gull colony', it was a bit naughty to fail to point out that the colonies in that area are known for having mixed pair.

Lets be clear, this bird was a '4th winter', if you like, so NOT an adult. However it would appear that all the features listed in the table remain unchanged between this age and adult as they are so similar. Seems as though the species is seemingly so rare north of the Tyne I thought it best to be 'cruel' rather than 'kind', to 'edge on the side of caution'. So when scoring the bird I gave a realistic, if not somewhat mean score in order to be 'sure' on the outcome.

When I scored it in September it came out with a score of 7, but I scored it again this month and came out with 8. Even though I was very cruel with the final score of 8, the article comments; "For adult birds, it is clear (fig. 6) that a bird with a score of less than 9 should be pure Caspian, while one with a score of 9 or more is not safely identifiable as a Caspian." Later the same article goes on to say "Frequency statistics indicate that these scores can be used to separate even the most extreme (atypical) first-winter birds and the vast majority (c. 99%) of adults with confidence."

If you have got the article then you can go away and have a look for yourself, but basically the score I allocated for the black band on P10, overall P5, overall P4, the iris peppering, the eye-ring colour, the bill, and the leg length would likely go uncontested! The only feature that I think could be contested was what I scored the overall black to white ratio on P10, I scored this a 2. As 'having more black than white', however I think this may have been quite unfair! Even so, it still passed the test.

However, this was based on me giving the bill a score of 1, which is "slim, slight gonydeal angle (ratio 2.4–2.79)", whereas 2, "intermediate (ratio 2.0–2.39)", may have been a fairer assessment. If we said the bill was 2, and dropped the black to ratio down to 1 ("approximately equal black and white"), the bird would still come out with a score of 8. Which is still pure Caspian Gull, I think that my original score of 7 was being a bit too kind. I do wonder how the Cromer (Norfolk) bird would score.....

I personally fail to see how the Able bird could be a hybrid, it even sounded well and truly the part in the field. Time and research may eradicate all of this data, but at the moment I think it's safe to shimmy the 'Amble Casp' into the 'Casp column'.  Most people who have commented (minus LGRE) have not expressed concern, the bill may appear a little chunky and deep at the base, but a quick Google search can show that this isn't too abnormal for Caspian Gull. I think for now, I'll trust the 99% percentage. So I will say...