Sunday 8 March 2020

Early year birding - gulls save the day!

As I draft this blog update a look through the window and it's an almost Spring like Sunday afternoon, a band of showers has moved through and the westerly wind drives the following clouds from which the sun peeks through. A good raptor spotting sky, not enough participants for raptor football but quality outweighed quantity as a local Red Kite patrolled the skies over suburban Hertfordshire. This weather is in contrast to that experienced throughout this early year winter period in which every weekend was, or seemed to have been, dominated by rain and wind. Far from ideal birding conditions and more importantly, upsetting for anyone affected by the floods.

Only a few visits to Rainham Marshes RSPB so far this year due in the main to the weather, but the reserve does look good with the permanent and seasonal pools full of water. However, the weather didn't allow for change in their occupancy. Winter duck remained and of the raptors Marsh Harriers and Buzzards showed well and I managed to connect with sightings of the occasional Peregrine or two. The presence of which was usually characterised with the Lapwings staying airborne a little longer than usual when spooked. The small wintering Avocet flock went AWOL or was I just unlucky? Curlews continued to fly onto the winter flash at high tide and a couple of Oystercatchers had returned to the Thames foreshore as the weeks moved on.

Nearby Wennington Marsh held lots of loafing gulls throughout, but I could not pick out any of the wintering Caspian Gulls. A rather smart adult Yellow-legged Gull could be seen here late February and in early March a 'meowing' adult Mediterranean Gull spent half hour alongside Black-headed Gulls. It showed a white colour ring on stepping out of the water, sadly too distant to read the code but this ring type possibly indicates Belgian origin. The nearby landfill holding the gulls attention throughout and early in the period saw a 1st winter Iceland Gull at 60x zoom from the Shooting Butts hide, not the most comfortable of viewing!

Another chance of looking for Caspian Gulls saw me at Erith Pier across the river from Rainham, Sunday 01 March. Lots of adult Black-headed Gulls and immature Herring Gulls with all 5 of the standard UK gulls present. Out of nowhere a scan on the shoreline north of the pier and this stunning 1st winter Caspian Gull shown below was present. It moved onto the jetty to the west but had moved on by the time I walked round for closer views. Nevertheless the initial sighting on the shore and then about 10 minutes swimming near the pier allowed for a few nice photos and video footage. The elegant structure and features characteristic of this taxon seen in the field are reflected in the footage. En route, a couple of Peregrines along the Thames in central London, one spending time hunting from the Tate Modern, many visitors to the South Bank oblivious to the presence of this iconic raptor.

Elsewhere, a short visit back home was cut short by Storm Ciara. Birding on the South Yorkshire Moors on the Saturday before the wind grew too strong saw Ravens tumbling, a few Kestrels airborne and Buzzards likewise as the air warmed up relatively speaking. A Red Kite was 'inland' of the moorland edge. Continuing the gull theme above and a much sought after 'Wath Area' tick in the South Yorkshire lowlands came in the form of Caspian Gull, 2 birds - an adult and sub-adult (3rd winter?) on the grassy bank separating the Wader Scrape and Mere. Nice views from a windy Warbler Way as Ciara started to wind up.

'Wath Area' List now at 196 - plus Mandarin Duck September 2019, were the group of 4 on the Willow Pool tickable?