Tuesday, 28 February 2023

2023 - February Birding - still about the Gulls

Caspian Gull - as well as the fun in identifying individuals, more fun can be had when one wears a colour-ring. The photos below are of 2nd calendar year with yellow colour-ring P:YA9 present on the Thames shore near Rainham Marshes RSPB, London on Saturday 11 February 2023. The origins of a ringed bird can point to its identity in terms of potential hybridisation when mixed species colonies are found.

From local feedback received, and from a look on the internet, all pointed to it being ringed in Poland. With thanks for the help in tracing its origins and also for a quick turnaround from submitting the colour-ring details to receiving its life history. It was ringed in a Caspian Gull Colony (Pullus) at Jeziórko, Grębów, Poland in June 2022. Between ringing and the sighting reported above it was seen in Belgium (Ostend, November 2022), and then in the UK (Cambridgeshire, December 2022 and at Abberton Reservoir, Essex in January 2023).

As well as this Caspian Gull sporting a yellow colour-ring, it was distinctive as the left-hand side of the face appeared to be stained or showing an injury. This can be seen in some of the above photos and also in the video footage taken - please click here.

At low tide the Thames shore can hold many gulls in terms of numbers and variety as they move between the river and the landfill. This visit saw the numbers dominated by Black-headed Gulls leading to several colour-ringed adults being picked out. Locally ringed (Pitsea, Essex) birds with their yellow rings included 2HA2, 2TLB and 2SRT, and life histories reveal over the years they winter on or around this area and further east along the Thames Estuary. White EA2A has origins in the Netherlands. With thanks to all for feeding back on their life histories.

A sleeping adult Mediterranean Gull tried to hide amongst the Black-headed Gulls but its black head, as opposed to the chocolate-brown of the misnamed Black-headed Gulls, gave it away. 

Not all about the gulls, this scalloped marked winter Ruff gave good views probing the muddy shore.

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Sunday, 12 February 2023

2023 - January Birding

The new year opened on a similar theme to the end of the old, Caspian Gulls, but down in London. The superb returning adult Caspian Gull that winters at Eagle Pond, Snaresbrook eventually flew in mid morning on a cold Sunday (15th). It showed well dominating other gulls which comprised mainly of Black-headed Gulls and Common Gulls. A very smart gull.

The following Saturday a 1st Winter Caspian Gull joined other gulls resting on the Thames shore below the landfill near Rainham Marshes RSPB and allowed brief views.

Nearby Rainham Marshes RSPB held Marsh Harriers, a selection of wintering Ducks and Avocets. A small group of overwintering Black-tailed Godwits (20) along the Thames shore held the colour-ringed bird on the 21st. It was present in the same area back in October 2022. With thanks to all for feedback on its life history - it was ringed in October 2020 on The Swale, Kent and has been seen wintering around The Thames Estuary and noted at The Wash as well as in Iceland.

Later in the month twitched the drake Lesser Scaup at Staines Reservoir near Heathrow Airport. Whilst it was distant in the south-west corner of the South Basin, the light and general conditions were good for viewing and it was quite active for the first hour or so. Then it and its Pochard friends all went to sleep, as if a switch had been thrown. The 'record' photos are not great.

Up to 6 Black-necked Grebes were on show at Staines Reservoir, singles on both the North and South Basin, with a group of 4 on the North Basin that eventually came close to the causeway. A nice variety of ducks including Goldeneye plus 2 or 3 Red Kites in the area added to the mix.

The month ended with a visit to Erith Pier on the Thames (more or less opposite Rainham Marshes) on a Sunday afternoon rising tide, disappointing for large gulls but an adult Mediterranean Gull gaining its summer hood was nice to see.

Also, it has been good to see and report colour-ringed gulls on the Thames shore over the years, and the Black-headed Gull with yellow ring shown below is indicative of a locally ringed bird (Rainham/Pitsea landfills), looking forward to receiving its life history.

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Saturday, 14 January 2023

Xmas birding - a good time to 'cach.' up

Headed back home for the Christmas period via Norfolk where the Hume's Yellow-browed Warbler (one day I'll get used to calling it Hume's Warbler) showed well after a patient way as it circuited the pool near to Brancaster's Beach Road. The characteristic green-grey plumage stood out on midwinter's day. Nice to hear it's Wagtail-like call, not too dissimilar to that of Yellow-browed but more disyllabic. A glance on the marshes where a Great White Egret patrolled a ditch, ok so Great Egret is now the naming convention, but Egret or Heron, that's for another day. Along the coast the sky was covered with skeins of Pink-footed Geese, a sign of approaching and driving past Holkham on the way to Warham Greens where Brent Geese were the common goose.

The saltmarsh at Warham Greens near Stiffkey played host, and not for the first time, to a wintering Pallid Harrier. Mid-afternoon and this immature could be found quartering the marsh almost in constant view with a ringtail Hen Harrier, joined on occasion by another and a cream crown Marsh Harrier. Viewing it alongside a Hen Harrier, although at distance, was a cracking experience for comparison of these two ringtails as both the structure and the distinctive markings of this rare visitor to these shores could be seen. The Pallid was slender and the orange underparts glowed despite the overcast conditions. Camera on the wrong settings but managed a brief video of it as it came closer. Peregrine flew over the shoreline, Kestrel, Sparrowhawk and a couple of Red Kites noted in the area. A couple of Great White Egrets present here as well as Little Egrets dotted about the marsh which hosted wintering ducks and the Brent Geese. No Barn Owl towards dusk but one against the setting sun near Fakenham was nice.

Warham Greens, Norfolk

The South Yorkshire moorlands were either draped in low cloud or fog, battered with wind and rain or on the rare calmest of days the low winter sun made birding difficult. Nevertheless, the magic was still there and spring is just around the corner. Crossbill flew over one site where they had been noticeably absent over the last couple of years.

Winter birding back home used to have the promise of Glaucous and Iceland Gulls dropping into roost at one of the local hot spots or gliding over a tip. The loss of tipping is good in some respects but less so for gull watchers. White-winged Gulls becoming almost mythical, perhaps later into winter now better, and also Caspian Gulls are a fair bet at an inland roost or daytime feeding location. One such location being the factory rooftops and the River Don along Effingham Street near the centre of Sheffield, with nearby weirs for bathing. This site hosted this large Caspian Gull between Christmas and New Year, presumably roosting at Orgreave.

Caspian Gull

The site also attracted a colour ringed Herring Gull on one visit, rung as an adult near York in 2017 (Y:H54) - with thanks to the ringing group for feedback online.

Herring Gull (Y:H54)

Old Moor RSPB, Barnsley looked good, the opening up of 'Green Lane' has promise and hopefully birds on the Mere will not be spooked. Goosander and Goldeneye present with a Marsh Harrier and Buzzard noted late in the year. One late afternoon visit saw a small-ish Caspian Gull join the roost on the Wader Scrape then Mere.

Soon be time for Ring Ouzels and Wheatears on the Moorland edge with potential for a northbound Great Grey Shrike passing through the area, and dreams of a Rough-legged Buzzard doing likewise. But has the latter gone the way of inland 'Glaucs' to near mythical status?

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Saturday, 22 October 2022

Early Autumn Yorkshire Birding plus a trip to Wantage

Fishing with Talons

I cannot grumble with Osprey sightings this year, found one moving north in spring and twitched birds stopping off at Welbeck, Nottinghamshire on their return south. The chance to see one when last back home at the end of September, and only a short drive away at Ecclesfield Ponds on the edge of Sheffield, was too good to miss. It didn't disappoint!

Peak Birding, more than a wild goose chase

The end of September brings acceleration to the changing of the birding seasons, back home this can be seen on the moorland edge as skeins of Pink-footed Geese encouraged by a NW wind pass high over a feeding flock of House Martins and Swallows, to the backdrop of a singing Chiffchaff on a relatively mild morning. 2022 was no exception, with 9 skeins totalling close to 1000 'wink wink' Geese noted passing east over South Yorkshire moorland over several days late in the month. Not the first of the autumn, indeed a similar number of skeins and 'Pink-feet' moved through on this Lancashire to Norfolk trajectory on one single day mid-month.

The moorland still produced its magic and other birds moving included a few Meadow Pipits, Skylarks, Chaffinches and the first 'seeping' Redwings. Siskin numbers building up in trees cloaking a moorland reservoir, from where my first Crossbill at this site in well over a year, perhaps closer to two years, flew over announcing its presence. Hopefully, the start of a come back.

It's a Puppet...is it?

Birding the moorlands was interrupted on Monday 26 September 2022 with the fantastic discovery of a Nighthawk roosting on a garden fence at Wantage, Oxfordshire. The journey was ok, no delays and the skies full of Red Kites indicated I was not too far away heading towards Oxford. I joined the small crowd of patient and well behaved birders studying a garden fence, wing mirrors and makes of car being used as signposts, not really needed, it was there just roosting on a fence. I didn't see it do much, it gave several shuffles, but allowed for nice views of its cryptic plumage.  Never thought I'd get chance of seeing this visitor from across the pond on these shores. 

Owt at Spurn?

During the week the good weather held and the wind was mainly from a north-west direction but the Thursday saw a change to a north-east. A few new migrant birds came in with a few lingering scarcities that showed fairly well. A quick look early afternoon at the trees behind the tables at the Crown and Anchor car park and one bird flew in, it was a silent Yellow-browed Warbler, which showed nicely for a few minutes and then melted into the background. Up at the Listening Dish hedge patience needed for the Barred Warbler before it fed on top of its favourite bramble bush. Of brambles a couple of 'dweezy' Bramblings flew over nearby with arriving Redwings. A Wryneck showed well on the rocks as did a Wheatear near the Kilnsea Triangle. Many thanks for access to the Wryneck site. Patrolling Kilnsea Sparrowhawks brought back memories of watching 'Sharpies' do likewise over in Cape May, NJ, USA.

In time for seconds

Sadly, over the last few years, not been back to my old patch The Wath Area many times on returning home. Time to make up. A wet Friday, a good chance to visit Old Moor RSPB and Wath Ings was looking good. Perhaps not the greatest numbers of waders but such diverse birding, today's visitors reaping the rewards of the effort gone in to developing this wonderful site right from the start many decades ago, standing on the shoulders of giants when birding this site.

A 2nd calendar year Yellow-legged Gull looked all alone on Wath Ings as Ruff wandered by, whereas a more confident Water Rail dared to venture into the open across the main marsh 'slaloming' past Moorhens. A few scope's widths to the left saw an early returning bobbing Jack Snipe give a brief view before wandering back into cover as the rain took hold. Moved on to the Wader Scrape as news came through of an Osprey in the valley, and there it soon was hanging over the Willow Pool before disappearing over the top of the Wath Ings hide. A couple of hours later it moved back low to the west hardly spooking anything on site. This being my second Osprey for The Wath Area, will never forget the first as it visited and fished Broomhill Flash for about 15 minutes one sunny August afternoon in 1991, quite literally a takeaway. I remember watching it until it was a dot in the scope as it carried the fish up into the sky on its migration south.

September 2022 - Old Moor RSPB

August 1991 - Broomhill Flash

A Great White Egret flew down the river and a couple of cream crown Marsh Harriers were seen moving between the reedbeds and nearby Bolton Ings. With the front moving through from the west in late September something scarce or rare must be on the cards for the area, and next day as September moved over to October a cracking Pectoral Sandpiper was found on Wath Ings. My second visit in as many days. You may classify 'Pecs' as either a scarce or just a minor rare visitor to these shores from both Siberia and North America but they are belters. Golden spangled with its distinctive breast band and the classic attenuated closed wings cloaking gleaming white underparts, both features that to me characterise a scarce wader to these shores.

Having been lucky to see  a few 'Pec Sands' in The Wath Area over the years, I must admit I was more interested in the Rock Pipit present. Only my second for the area of this annual or near annual autumn passage migrant, very nice views compared to one over Wath Ings way back one October morning in the late 80s or early 90s.

Caspian delight

Ventured a few miles north up to Edderthorpe Flash on Saturday 01 October 2022, a site that is also looking good with water levels attracting passage waders. A few Golden Plovers were amongst tbe Lapwings with several Ruff and Dunlin dotted about as viewed looking across from the bench. I checked the Gulls, about 100 large ones, Lesser Black-backed and Herring, and on the right hand side an immature (1st winter) stood out even with its back to me as it faced into the light wind. What got my attention were the dark tertiary block on the closed wing, smallish white head with hardly any streaking to which a needle like black bill adjoined. Let's get the other features.

Alerted another birder on site that it looked potentially Caspian Gull, time for a detailed look. Saw the Caspian Gull standing, swimming and flying off, nailed it with the underwing.

Standing in the water

  • Small white head, mainly un-streaked, neighbouring immature Herring Gulls pale-headed with diffuse streaking. Dark eye.
  • Long thin black bill, black across the full length, needle like, essentially parallel and curved at the tip on the upper mandible.
  • Black primaries, dark brown tertiary block white lined near the primary join.
  • Greater coverts extensively barred across the length of the closed wing creating a distinctive bar at distance.
  • Tail preened showing black tail band separated from white upper-tail.
  • Leg length not visible as standing in water.


  • Attenuated with needle like primaries dominating the back view, substantial cross over of them in the closed wing.
  • Nice 4-toned plumage developing: white head and breast, grey coming through onto the back, brown outer wing coverts and tertiary block followed by black primaries.
  • Posture looked top heavy and head held down when moving, dipping motion.
  • Shocking white breast, good comparison alongside a similar aged Herring Gull who had a darker 'muckier' breast.


  • Banded upper-wing appearance with the greater covers bar obvious and the secondary bar.
  • Underwing extensively white especially along the length of the central area.
  • Black and white tail.
  • White head and contrasting black bill.

With apologies for not the greatest of sketches and notes below as based upon the sighting.

The Caspian Gull flew north not to return in the following 30 minutes but a further scan of the gulls produced a scowling adult Yellow-legged Gull trying to hide alongside adult Lesser Black-backed Gulls.

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Sunday, 11 September 2022

Raptors 10 - 10 Gulls Birding Blog Update

Sounds like a result from a NHL match, but we're not talking Nearctic sports (or birding) today. 

Back home at the end of August and the Peak District vistas glowed in the late summer light. The air was clear and the silence broken by the occasional Meadow Pipit, twittering Swallows, crackling Stonechats and a soon to be off Ring Ouzel.  Another noise shattered the silence later in the period! One watch produced 8 raptor species highlighted by the re-appearance of the presumed female White-tailed Eagle (G318 Isle of Wight scheme) here for it's second summer. Now to be expected passage Marsh Harrier noted and a warm afternoon saw Hobby chasing dragonflies for a prolonged period. A separate watch saw a feisty, tiny male Peregrine have a big disagreement with a Common Buzzard.

Marsh Harrier

White-tailed Eagle

Migrating Ospreys can be seen travelling south along the moorland edge in late August, didn't connect this time so had to twitch to boost the raptor list. The lakes of Welbeck Estate of Honey Buzzard fame in not so far away north Nottinghamshire can hold passing Ospreys and up to three have been seen of late. One, presumed adult, spent a late afternoon hunting the lake out from the Raptor Watchpoint. After success it flew off West but got chased by another that took flight from it's hidden perch. Whilst the second was only in silhouette the clean edges to the wings suggested a juvenile. Back on the ground a Brown Hare had a dust up with a Pheasant.


The star was right at the beginning, namely Redcar's Greater Sand Plover that showed nicely with Ringed Plovers and other waders on the beach, allowing for study of size and structure. Could I argue the place looked like Spiros Beach, Larnaca, Cyprus? Walking west along the beach just imagine the steelworks being replaced by Larnaca International Airport, the absence of an offshore wind farm, and chuckling Black Francolins in the coastal scrub and you could be there.

Greater Sand Plover

After Redcar went down the coast to take in Bempton's Shrike on what turned out to be its last day on site. Now no longer Whetaear-esque, the tail has regrown.

Elsewhere, Spurn, or more specifically the Kilnsea area of the Spurn recording area, came up trumps with lingering Red-necked Phalaropes, Citrine Wagtail and Caspian Gulls.

Watching the semi-resident spinners on Beacon Ponds sweeping up the surface insects was reminiscent on a very much smaller scale of watching hundreds of Red-necked Phalaropes at the Salton Sea, CA, USA ten years ago, without shore side skulking Green-tailed Towhee accompaniment. Lots of waders on show with nice looks at Wood Sandpiper of note and avian highlights included Great White Egret that flew from neighbouring Kilnsea Wetlands. The Wetlands suffering in volume of water but excelling in quantity and quality of it's visitors.

Red-necked Phalarope

Great White Egret

Wood Sandpiper

Now for the Gulls. A visit at the end of August and Caspian Gulls seemed to be always on show.  I was confident in seeing 4 juv/1st winter types, most in between juvenile and full 1st winter plumage, one example below. Others noted up to 7 on this visit. They were joined by flyover juvenile Little Gulls with Black-headed, Mediterranean, Common Gulls resting on the Scrape, and of the bigger varieties, Lesser Black-backed, Herring, Yellow-legged (1× juv) and Great Black-backed Gulls. Kittiwake noted later offshore.

Caspian Gull

The Citrine Wagtail took up residence on the lawn outside the Riverside Hotel, it wandered around with other Wagtails and Meadow Pipits occasionally spooked by a hunting Sparrowhawk. A nice study, on the deck and in flight you could pick out the shorter tail compared to those trailed by 'Alba' Wagtails. I've not heard many Citrine Wagtails call and when it did it was raspy, but to be honest it could be difficult to pick one out on call from a calling flock of Black-headed (Yellow) Wagtails say on Spring passage in Cyprus.

Citrine Wagtail

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