Sunday 14 August 2016

Immature 'Large' Gull - Rainham Marshes RSPB, London (13 August 2016)

This large gull was present on Aveley Pools at Rainham Marshes RSPB mid pm on Saturday 13 August 2016.

Help please, can it be identified to species? How old is it? Is it correct to say 2nd calendar year as opposed to advanced juvenile (1st calendar year)?
  • Does profile suggest 'Yellow-legged' as opposed to 'Caspian'?
  • Do the pale grey mantle feathers point away from 'Yellow-legged'?
  • Can 'Herring' be ruled out?

Sunday 7 August 2016

Hen Harrier Day - The Cup Final came to Rainham

I go birding at Rainham most Saturday's meeting up with friends on site either after doing the long walk from Rainham station via the Stone Barges or the quicker route from Purfleet station to the RSPB centre. We would either head out onto the reserve or do a walk along the riverwall down into Aveley Bay and on to the 'Serin' mound, taking in the reseve after a much deserved mug of tea.

Saturday 06 August 2016 was slightly different. I set off an hour earlier than usual, taking in the two train journeys into and out of London respectively connected by a walk from Farrindon to Fenchurch Street not forgetting the obligatory McDonalds breakfast en route. It felt different today the analogy being that it felt like 'the morning of Cup Final day', or from a personal (birding) perspective it reminded me of the feeling of anticipation at 23:55 five minutes before the start of the World Series of Birding - offset by praying for the Sora and Virginia Rails to continue singing at kick off! The Cup Final was coming to Rainham!

Arrived on site about 08:15 and the centre was in full swing. Staff, volunteers and visitors were buzzing round the centre, and soon a near full complement of 'Motleys' were ready to bird Aveley Bay and Serin Mound. The sun was blazing down and the birding was slow. Whimbrel, Curlew and Oystercatchers of note from Aveley Bay as were a couple of blogging Yellow Wagtails, whereas a glance across the river soon revealed some Yellow-legged Gulls either in flight or shimmering in the heat haze on the mud on the south side of the Thames. They were also being carefully scrutinized by DM (Birdwatch) whom we congratulated on the acceptance of the Slaty-backed Gull, now it's time to find a 'Black-tailed' example on site. Serin Mound was quiet birding wise and produced a family party of Kestrels over Wennington Marsh, and we soon returned to the centre. I think I was annoying the gang giving time checks along the riverwall so as not to be rushing for the Hen Harrier Day rally. A look into the field near the MDZ and the event was beginning to take shape. After a nice mug of tea we made our way down to the event, it was literally standing room only.

So what is all this about, "Hen Harrier Day".

(Birders Against Wildlife Crime) BAWC launched Hen Harrier Day in 2014 to raise awareness of the serious persecution suffered by these spectacular birds of prey. Despite full legal protection since the early 1950s, hen harriers remain absent from vast swathes of the UK. They are now almost extinct as a breeding species in England, primarily because of illegal persecution on intensively managed areas of upland grouse moor.

Hen Harrier Day has quickly become an annual fixture, growing from a single rally in the Peak District just two years ago to 12 events this year across the UK, including several events in Scotland and Northern Ireland. Four of the events will take place at RSPB reserves.

The event started at around 11:00 with Dr Mark Avery introducing the day and handed over for speeches from Charlie Moores, Chris Packham and Dr Mike Clarke. I found it to be a wonderful event, well attended, with the speeches at the right tone presented in a passionate yet professional manner.

Much respect to the speakers, the organisers, local staff and volunteers for hosting a special event. No doubt there will be analysis of the day on t'internet in days and weeks to come from both sides of the argument.

A good appraisal of the day can currently be found on the Rainham Marshes RSPB blog by clicking here

Please don't forget to sign the e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting before 20 September 2016

Monday 1 August 2016

Of Owls and Gulls

A flying visit back home at Spring Bank Holiday weekend and despite seeing a Little Owl near South Anston, Worksop on the way home followed by a Tawny Owl flying across the road at Greno Woods, Sheffield and then a silky smooth Barn Owl in flight over the weekend at Blacktoft Sands RSPB, East Yorkshire, it was not to be The Owls weekend. Consolation came in the form of a singing Savi's Warbler from deep within the reedbeds at Blacktoft and the returning female Montagu's Harrier that cut a lonesome figure perched in a reedbed bush. A trip to Spurn proved quiet for migrants apart from the male Red-backed Shrike that showed well in the Kilnsea Triangle. Note to Yorkshire Wildlife Trust - Please respect this migrant rest point. The new Spurn Bird Observatory was looking good, hope to take it in at this year's Spurn Migration Festival.

June quiet, no chance! See the blog postings for Little Bittern and Great Knot.

At Rainham RSPB, London, July brought with it the typical appearance of Yellow-legged Gulls on the Thames shore. Connected with a dozen on several visits, 2nd summers and older. Birds were resting across the river on the mud opposite the RSPB centre - not confident in id'ing younger birds at such distance in mostly hazy conditions. A couple of Mediterranean Gulls were seen on consecutive weekends (2nd summer and adult summer). Marsh Harriers performed well throughout and first real movement of waders included a nice flock of 21 Black-tailed Godwits on the 23rd. Butterfly spotting took over with a wide variety of species across the reserve including at least 100 Gatekeepers along the river wall between the RSPB centre and Aveley Bay car park on the 23rd. Dragonflies scarce, Black-tailed Skimmers present earlier in the season were replaced by Ruddy Darters and the first Emperor Dragonfly of the summer.

Another flying visit back home and birded the moorland edge with my dad at the end of July. Buzzards and Kestrels dominated with a cream crown Marsh Harrier (1st summer male?) and a Hobby at Midhope on 31st. A Little Egret at nearby Ingbirchworth Res. would have made dispatches as would a local Little Owl, but the cracking juv. Caspian-type Gull found there by Mick C on 29th stole the headlines. Arrived at Ingbirchworth Res. just after 09:00 on Sunday 31st and my dad picked up a distinctive flat-headed juv. gull with, but slightly adrift from, 4 immature LBB Gulls about 50 yards off the Dam wall. I 'scoped it and it soon took off, managed to switch to camera to get the flight shots below. It looked like the bird Mick C found, noticed it's yellow bling. Phoned Mick C who was nearby and we soon located it down the road in a ploughed field. The twitch was on, spending the next hour looking at this stunner, which was bearing yellow ring X215 on its left leg. First time I've seen this Caspian Gull plumage and in my limited experience of this species, it looks good to me for Caspian Gull.