Monday, 30 April 2012

Just in...

News broke early afternoon of a Red-rumped Swallow at Bowesfield Marsh NR, the reserve falls within the historical recording area of Cleveland and just say sits North of the Durham border. If the bird had flown some 500 yards it would be out of county. Thankfully it didn't; on arrival it was sitting on a semi distant bridge but I had brilliant views though the scope. It then took flight and had some time to enjoy the bird in flight, it then decided it would fly over the heads of the crowd and up the path before coming around and landing on a bridge; at which point it did show amazingly!

(Red-rumped Swallow - © Andrew Kinghorn)

 (Red-rumped Swallow - © Andrew Kinghorn)

(Red-rumped Swallow - © Andrew Kinghorn)

Superb bird and a great county tick after missing the Far Pasture NR bird a few years ago, thought I was going to have to wait years for the next. So a nice surprise.

Until next time, Foghorn out!

Saturday, 28 April 2012

1 dip 2 British Ticks

Been busy at University all week and not had a chance to update much. On Thursday gone I had the Black Tern at Crookfoot Reservoir in Durham. A nice stunning summer plumaged bird which showed well, always a pleasure to see. Friday was quiet until news of a Bufflehead broke in Lincolnshire, seemed like the real deal so I was up early and on my way this morning. For those who are aware it was not there today at all. Hoping it would be re-found later on in the day I headed down to Frampton Marsh RSPB in Lincolnshire. I visited here last year where I saw my first Red-necked Phalarope (what a tart) and I did like the reserve; always feels like something extremely rare could turn up at any minute. The drive down to the reserve produced my first Swifts of the year and my target bird was easy to pick out and then enjoy; Black-winged Stilt. I had missed three of these stunning birds 2 days ago when I left Norfolk from a birding trip and they turned up at Titchwell RSPB. The bird showed really well and a pleasure to watch; bigger than I was expecting and this bird was easily flushed by anything. The bird was much closer most of the time and in better lighting and weather conditions, just not when I had my phone with me to take the video! :

(Black-winged Stilt - © Andrew Kinghorn)

Sitting waiting for the rain to ease off when news of a Red-rumped Swallow came through! Far Ings in Lincolnshire; next to the Humber Bridge so en-route home. A dash up there and I was quickly watching my first British Red-rumped Swallow. I had seen them well in Israel last year but was pleasure to see one in the UK, I missed a bird in Durham 2 years ago so I was more than keen to see one. A great twitch as I was not expecting to see a Red-rumped Swallow anytime soon. Surprise twitching is the best kind of twitching. Special thanks to Mandy West for allowing me to use her images of the Red-rumped Swallow from today.

 (Red-rumped Swallow - © Mandy West)

 (Red-rumped Swallow - © Mandy West)

Until next time, Foghorn out!

Saturday, 21 April 2012

R.I.P Stuart Ayre - Good friend and true legend

On Monday 16th I was returning from the dales of Durham and called in for the second time recently to a friends house; Stuart Ayre. I approached the gate and noted it was open, the lock was not in place and I found this most odd. The garden bird feeders had gone and the house was empty. I left a note to say ‘Foghorn was here’, it was a small note asking how Stuart was getting on as he had recently received an operation to remove pancreatic cancer. As I walked back down the path and out of the gate I uttered the words that were going through my mind; my suspicions were confirmed yesterday evening when my Mum received a phone call from Stuarts fairly long time partner to inform me of the sad news that on the morning of the 01 April Stuart died in his home. My Mum informed me of the news and told me what Stuart’s partner had told her, she said she did not want to speak to me in case I got upset about it. I am/was upset as Stuart was a good friend to me the few years that I knew him.

I met Stuart on the 20th of May 2009, I remember the day as I was out on Waldridge Fell looking for Cuckoo. I met Stuart on the reserve and found he was also a member of the DBC (Durham Bird Club), the next day I went with Stuart up to Langdon Beck to see my first ever Black Grouse (that is how I remember the date). I shared many good times with Stuart, a memorable trip to Norfolk with Stuart, Andrew, and Derek C (The Finch) where I had numerous lifers and enjoyed seeing the Trumpeter Finch at Blakeney Point, male Red-backed Shrike at Cley, and most of the breckland specialities. I enjoyed a superb evening down on the North Tees Marshes with Stuart; adding Whiskered Tern and White-rumped Sandpiper to my British List within 5 minutes of arrival. I enjoyed just general days out birding with Stuart and assisted him with his BTO tetrad squares. However perhaps the most memorable experience I shared with Stuart was the Eastern Crowned Warbler at Trow Quarry, without Stuart I would not have seen the bird. I could not drive at the time and so I went with Stuart after college on that tense Friday afternoon and enjoyed superb views of the bird in both the bins and scope. That was a great day and I shared the experience with many birdwatchers, the rarity magnitude of the species is what stood out for me.  

Stuart was a true legend; he didn’t act his age, he always had time for me, he helped me grow in my passion for birding, and so much more. An all round great guy! I will really miss Stuart and knowing that I will never see him or bird with him again really does give me a lump in my throat, although we did not go out birding during 2011 we were still good friends and kept in touch.

Stuart certainly enjoyed life and lived it to the very full, so I will finish with some lyrics from one of my favourite old time classics, these particular lyrics fit in very well I feel:

Well it's all right, riding around in the breeze
Well it's all right, if you live the life you please
Well it's all right, doing the best you can
Well it's all right, as long as you lend a hand

Thanks for lending a hand in my birding so far Stuart. So this blog post is dedicated to you Stuart, many happy memories of birding time spent together will ALWAYS be remembered.

Me and Stuart
A one from the early days when I had my brace on. Taken at Cow Green Reservoir, Durham.

R.I.P Stuart.

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Hooded Crow and Common Sand

First of all I have made a royal mix up, I seem to be unable to correctly assign people their correct names; on the Thayer’s Gull twitch I apparently twitched it with Richard Taylor and Chris Bell. This was not true; I twitched it with Richard Stephenson and Chris Bell. So that’s that corrected….

Anyway I’ve had quite a good weekend and yesterday I ventured down to Teesside to see the Hooded Crow that had been found on Friday, as has been typical the past few years it has been elusive. Anyway I sat in the lay-by scanning the tip bored and was about to give up when it appeared over the tip with the local Carrion Crows. Thankfully everyone got onto it and news was put out of its presence. It disappeared again and showed up about 20 minutes later and this time performed really well and landed on the deck where it showed well. Far better view of this bird than I did of the one last year where I had literally a 1 minute view before it vanished into thin air.

(Hooded Crow - © Ian Forrest)

(Hooded Crow - © Ian Forrest)

(Hooded Crow - © Ian Forrest)

With this under belt I headed back home and checked Rainton Meadows DWT, 2 Swallow were nearly a surprise but the single Sand Martin not so. A Common Sandpiper graced the far bank and this was a bit of a surprise, 2 Green Sandpipers there the day previous but no sign of those. On the Gull front nothing much was happening apart from a rather stunning Lesser black-backed Gull in perfect nick. Houghton Gate didn’t produce anything out of the ordinary but was pretty busy for the site itself; 85c Herring Gull, 2 Lesser Black-backed Gull, 2 Little Ringed Plover, 2 Redshank, 2 Oystercatcher, 65+ Golden Plover, and 6-8 Lapwing. I fancy a Red-rumped Swallow there this year; I can dream! A flyover Hobby would be more than welcome.

Got some nice shots of Goshawk to share, buts that’s another topic for another post.

Until next time, Foghorn out!

Local cet

Last week an Avocet was found at Houghton Gate, if you draw a straight line from my house it is only about a mile away, a cracking birds locally and a one very close to home. No doubt Rainton Meadows DWT will soon be getting their first Avocet, anyway here is my fairly shaky video of the bird:

(Avocet - © Andrew Kinghorn)
Until next time, Foghorn out!

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Slender-billed Mix Up

The BBRC this morning announced there had been a mix up and as of yet no decision has been made despite the Excel Spreadsheet on the BBRC website stating otherwise!

It remains, for now...

Until next time, Foghorn out!

Friday, 13 April 2012

Slender-billed Curlew - No longer accepted by BBRC

Druridge Bay Curlew
4th to 7th May 1998
Considered to be 'Not Proven' in most recent BBRC report.

There will be lots of happy and unhappy people, I didn't see the bird but firmly believe it to be one. Very much so a shame.

Until next time, Foghorn out!

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Musings on Thayer’s, Kumlien’s, and Iceland Gull

Being a gull fanatic I thought it would be rude not to visit the Thayer’s Gull that is currently in Lincolnshire, it went missing for 3 days but turned up again yesterday in the same general area. It appears to be now showing well for the masses, if fuel prices weren't so expensive I would have gone down to see the bird again. There has been much discussion over the years on what to do with IcelandKumlien's and Thayer’s Gull. I have never really thought much about the later species until the arrival of the bird in Lincolnshire, of course seeing it for myself has sparked off my interest to learn more about the ‘species’. I was quite taken back at how obvious the bird I saw was, I have also sat over the past few years and watched photos of claimed birds come rolling in on BirdGuides and other websites. I can always remember some of the notable birds in Ireland and can remember the Dunbeg bird last year looking particularly striking. The difference between the Dunbeg bird and the Lincolnshire one is that the Lincolnshire bird appears to be far darker than the Dunbeg bird; I am reliably informed that these dark type Thayer’s Gulls form about 20% of the bird’s population. So it’s a mega rare gull in a rare plumage in the UK, what’s not to love?

As is expected the usual conversations started; is Thayer’s Gull a full species? Is Thayer’s Gull tickable? etc. Being a keen twitcher (I hate that word) I guess I would like to think its tickable yes, and I do believe it is a full species. However I only believe it’s a full species based on what I have found out through research. Currently most of the authorities count Thayer’s Gull as a full species, however the BOU do not. The AOU (American Ornithologists Union) do believe the bird is worthy of full species status but there is some discussion as to whether Thayer’s Gull might soon loose its status as a full species. I thought I would look at the topic in question for myself and come to my own conclusions based upon what I find out; so that is what I have done.

Thayer’s Gull has had a chequered history; it was once thought to be closely related to American Herring Gull however this changed to the view that it is now more closely related to Iceland Gull. Thayer’s Gulls breed in Arctic Canada and they typically winter on the Pacific coast of North America, whereas Iceland Gulls breed on Greenland. Between the two populations of breeding Iceland Gulls and breeding Thayer’s Gulls lies Baffin Island which is truly massive and truly a nightmare! Baffin Island is home to breeding Kumlien’s Gulls, some may have been fortunate enough to see the bird that wintered at Hartlepool Headland this year and will have seen the brownish wash to the outer primaries which distinguishes Kumlien’s Gull from Iceland Gull (but not always as some Iceland Gulls do show a brownish wash to the primaries).

Lets simplify things down a little, as far as I am aware Iceland Gull (larus glaucoides) is not know to hybridise anywhere with Thayer’s Gull (larus thayeri). So worry about the two hybridising isn’t that well founded in any evidence; the two species (bias or what!?) don’t breed closely with glaucoides breeding on Greenland and thayeri breeding in Arctic Canada. However it’s not all good news! Enter in Kumlien’s Gull (larus glaucoides kumlieni) which as I have mentioned already breeds in Baffin Island which lies between the breeding populations of glaucoides and thayeri.  Kumlieni is currently considered by most to be a subspecies of glaucoides, some believe it to be a subspecies of thayeri and others think that kumlieni is the result of hybridisation between glaucoides and thayeri. So there are 3 trains of thought, in saying all this the AOU currently treat kumlieni as a subspecies of glaucoides.

Hybrid kumlieni and thayeri gulls are known, however to what degree the two interbreed is not really all that well known; which is where it all starts to get a little bit messy. Questions are raised such as; well how do we know it’s a pure Thayer’s Gull? The Lincolnshire bird based on plumage is indeed spot on for Thayer’s Gull and there hasn’t really been much suggestion to the contrary. However is it a full species?

A lot of the authorities treat it as a full species; I feel this is a very fair assessment considering before kumlieni were even known to exist thayeri were known to exist. Which makes me wonder if kumlieni might be the result of hybridisation between glaucoides and thayeri, rather than being a subspecies of Iceland Gull? If kumlieni is a subspecies of glaucoides then it puts thayeri in an interesting category. It would seem that it would be a massive coincidence that kumlieni would have wing markings more similar to thayeri than to glaucoides if kumlieni were in fact just a subspecies of glaucoides.

I personally agree (hang out the flags egh?) with the AOU that Thayer’s Gull should indeed be a full species, but personally I am leaning toward the argument that Kumlien’s Gull is the result of hybridisation with Thayer’s and Iceland Gull. I feel that the plumage similarities between Kumlien’s Gull and Thayer’s Gull seem too close together to be just down to coincidence (assuming Thayer’s Gull is not a form of Iceland Gull). When I consider that Thayer’s Gull was known before Kumlien’s Gull even came on the scene it would seem to me that the expansion of Thayer’s Gull eastwards and Iceland Gulls westwards resulted in the disaster(?) on Baffin Island (Kumlien’s Gull). Maybe that is a bit harsh, I mean I really like Kumlien’s Gulls but to me they would seem to be the result of hybridisation in the past between Iceland and Thayer’s Gull.

But what if Thayer’s Gull isn’t a full species? Well it has been suggested that this is what will happen; no authorities will consider Thayer’s Gull to be a species and instead will consider it to be a form of Iceland Gull. However if this is the case then how do you explain the rather large ‘empty space’ between the breeding colonies of Thayer’s Gull and the colonies of Iceland Gull, then on top of this why did all of a sudden a grey winged form of Iceland Gull appear between the breeding areas of Iceland and Thayer’s Gull? Clearly the area was acceptable for breeding as Kumlien’s Gulls have found it most to their liking.

I am looking forward in the future to seeing what authorities do with Thayer’s, Kumlien’s, and Iceland Gull. I have a feeling they will be all be lumped together as ‘Iceland Gull of different forms’. But still very interesting whatever the outcome.

What does everyone else think?

Meanwhile on BirdForum there was some discussion over the length of the birds bill, some of the photos show the bird as having a fairly long but fairly fine bill. In the field I did notice this however it didn’t really concern me all that much, however others did flag up the concern that the Lincolnshire Thayer’s Gull may not be as good as hoped but the only thing that was really concerning people was the length of the bill. I started to look at this myself and fairly quickly I was looking at pictures from the USA of fairly long billed Thayer’s Gulls that looked almost like the Lincolnshire bird. As mentioned above the fact this bird is nice and dark coupled with the rest of the plumage features places this bird as a Thayer’s Gull, but the bill still bothered a few (me a little bit if I am honest). However some detective work by a few BirdForum members soon turned up some images of quite a few fairly long billed Thayer’s Gulls that really didn’t look any different from the Lincolnshire bird. A few examples were given and here are some of the best ones (in my opinion):

Fascinating bird this one and I have learnt loads already! This won’t be my last post about Thayer’s Gull.

 (Thayer's Gull - © Sam Viles)
Nice chocolate brown colour with dark centred tertials with white fringes. Upper scapulars perfect for juvenile/1st winter Thayer's Gull.

 (Thayer's Gull - © Sam Viles)
Good comparison with Herring Gull, a more delicately built bird which looks more like an Iceland Gull than a Herring Gull (in terms of build).

 (Thayer's Gull - © Sam Viles)
The large bill that was concerning some people (including myself a little bit), however Gulls are typically very variable anyway and there is nothing else about this bird that suggests anything other than a pure Thayer's Gull

(Thayer's Gull - © Sam Viles)
Long! Again this is unlike Herring Gull or any shots I have looked at of American Herring Gull, matches perfectly the stances I have seen pictures of American Thayer's Gulls adopt.

Until next time, Foghorn out!

Saturday, 7 April 2012

Thayer's Gull in Lincolnshire

Yesterday I went down to Lincolnshire to twitch the Thayer's Gull with Richard Stephenson and Chris Bell, I was the only one who had not seen the species before and so was keen to see it. News broke about this bird midweek and since then some photos have emerged and have shown it to be a generally handsome bird that exhibits all the features that should be shown by a Thayer's Gull. Kumlien's Gull are thought to be either closely related to Iceland Gull or Thayer's Gull. Genetic sequencing and further research would need to be done before assigning Kumlien's to be a subspecies of either Iceland Gull or Thayer's Gull.

We arrived around about 11.15ish and made our way for the location where the bird had last been seen some 5 minutes before our arrival. The bird had been showing well but on our arrival we were informed it had flown and had not been seen in the field since. We were not too concerned as we knew it would be nearby somewhere as it had been communing between a few fields in the general area. We then headed back to a location where the bird had apparently flown to, it took a short while but I eventually picked the bird out flying up out of a ploughed field, I managed to get most of the crowd on it as it gained height and floated it away. A few minutes later it returned and then the gulls moved on over toward the country park. We checked the country park next but there was no sign at all, a Caspian Gull was claimed but many present could not see the bird being claimed amongst the 100 or so present. It was then time for some lunch and a few rather good jokes, was good to meet up with Alan Whitehead again and Tom Middleton put in a brief appearance, before moving off strongly West back to Sheffield.

I was less than hopeful when most of the Gulls disappeared mid afternoon, I started to be rather happy about seeing the bird late morning as it was looking like it had done a runner. However at around 3 it was found close to the field I first saw it in and it performed very well in both flight and on the deck, it allowed for some study. I had never seen Thayer's Gull before and had no previous experience with the species but it was apparent it was a fairly obvious bird. Most Thayer's Gulls do tend to be a lighter shade of brown than this individual and I learnt that apparently the darker birds comprise something like 20% of the population and so are rare, so in other words its a mega rare gull in a rare plumage. Everyone is a winner. The bird was quite striking and here are some things to consider about the birds plumage:
- The head was small and fairly pear shaped.
- The bill was long and all dark and made up quite a lot of the general head size of the bird.
- Overall a very dark chocolate brown bird.
- Inner primaries a nice silver colour which formed a window on the inner primaries.
- Scapulars solidly dark with white fairly broad white fringes.
- Solidly dark tail band.
- Secondaries dark and contrast with the rest of the birds upperwing being nearly uniform with the tail band.
- Fairly heavy and dense barring on both the upper and undertail.
- At rest the primaries were easily the darkest part of the birds plumage, in flight this forms part of the outer primaries and this is particularly obvious in flight as well as on deck.
- Upper rump contrasts well with tail and the rest of the upper body, much paler than the rest of the birds plumage.

Overall a very nice bird and well worth the visit, glad I went and a nice bird. Learnt a lot and look forward to hearing what the committees are going to do with it. Will they split it and follow suit to what other committees do? Let's wait and see.

(Thayer's Gull - © Andrew Kinghorn)

Until next time, Foghorn out!

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Spring Woodland Walk

It was a lovely afternoon with not a cloud in the sky, I decided I would make the most of the weather and visit a nearby woodland with a river running through it. Its only about 5 minutes drive from my house and its a little gem.

First birds of the day were 2 Kingfishers which have again nested in the same place. This is 3 years in a row they have nested in this location. A female Sparrowhawk shot through much to the disliking of the local birds, a Grey Wagtail flew up river and a male Blackcap sand his heart out and Chiffchaffs now seem to be all over.  A short way from this location and the male and female Dipper were quite happy in their nest box and clearly sitting on eggs. A quick check at a sight known for Lesser Spotted Woodpecker provided nothing, I was not surprised but still thought it best to try. Visit was not totally in vain as had some views of the regular woodland species with Nuthatch being the highlight.

Near home a Long-eared Owl was sitting out sunning itself, always a treat to see.

Happy Easter to all if I do not post beforehand.

Until next time, Foghorn out!

Monday, 2 April 2012

Fresh in from the tropics of West Yorkshire

A quick dash up to Lamesley Water Meadows this afternoon; at first it looked like I had missed the White Stork. But I went down to the hide just to make sure, however it became obvious on the way toward the hide the bird was still present in the closest field. It was standing in a pool of water, however it then walked out into the field and showed its ‘jewellery’, can’t say I was surprised. Still a superb bird to see and I enjoyed watching it for 30 mins or so before going home to get some grub. 

You can see on the video clearly the metal ring on the birds left leg, the ring is just above the foot. These birds are from Harewood House in West Yorkshire (unless someone can inform me otherwise) and are part of a free flying group or birds. 

(White Stork - © Andrew Kinghorn)

Best viewed in HD and full screen on YouTube if you want to see the ring:
(White Stork  - © Andrew Kinghorn)

Until next time, Foghorn out!

Club Trip over the Dales

Yesterday was the Durham Bird Club trip over the Dales, overall an enjoyable day out with my personal highlight being a Hen Harrier which appeared out of nowhere and disappeared just as quickly as it had arrived. At one site the Ring Ouzels put on a good show and a Merlin showed briefly, a Black Grouse was a welcome surprise. As is expected Wheatear and Meadow Pipits were plentiful; the same with Mistle Thrush

Sadly no Goshawks put on any show for me, first time I have visited the site and not seen them this year. However with this warm weather they might be settling right down. Sparrowhawks were of course plentiful and put on a show for those who had turned up. Overall a good day with great company.

Until next time, Foghorn out!