Saturday, 31 July 2010

My July

White-tailed Lapwing at Rainham: one-day wonder on the patch.
In a flash, July is over. I last posted on 5th, the night before an operation which has temporarily but significantly restricted me physically and will do so for some weeks, possibly months, to come. Thanks to Yoav and others for the good wishes here and elsewhere, and to my family and friends (you know who you are) for such generosity in transporting me about and helping in many ways. As I can’t drive for several more weeks, I hope to see more of you all shortly.

As a birder, it’s been tough. Toughest of all was cutting off the hospital tags and trying to dress myself one-handed to be driven to Rainham in a hurry for the White-tailed Lapwing (thanks for the concern, anonymous commenter, but I managed to get there after all!). Still spaced out on the after-effects of general anaesthetic and heavy duty painkillers, it all felt like a weird dream – except that I have the blurry digiscoped images to prove I was there. (I won’t be able to manage my long telephoto lens for the foreseeable future, so it’s been mothballed).

Butterfly highlights included this Purple Emperor at Broxbourne, seen here feasting on the sweaty residue of Roy's trousers. Time to put them in the wash, mate.
Other highlights in an otherwise largely sedentary month: adding two fly-over Common Crossbills to the garden list; several butterfly excursions (including Purple Emperors and White Admirals in the London area and my first Silver-spotted Skippers and Chalkhill Blues in the Chilterns); making theoretical progress on a long-standing book project (more anon); and, of course, seeing more of my wife and children. Low points: being stuck indoors for days on end; daytime TV; being unable to type; and the World Cup (remember that?).

It may be less glamorous and lacking a white tail, but this plover was also noteworthy on the Thames at Grays: the first July European Golden in London for some years, and also an early juvenile.
One of two new butterflies this month, this male Chalkhill Blue posed at Aston Rowant, in the Chilterns, on the last day of the month. Even more numerous there were Silver-spotted Skippers ...
 The few outings that I have been able to undertake have resulted in several more London year-list additions, with White-tailed Lapwing, Common Crossbill, Avocet and Cattle Egret taking the total up to a round 190 species so far. I have also mastered the logistical challenge of birding my Rainham Marshes patch by public transport, even if it takes two bus rides, four train journeys and a 10-km walk to do a round trip. Here’s to August and all that that promises.

... while Red Kite sightings in the area included this unusual encounter with a bird blocking the road north of the M40.

Monday, 5 July 2010

Normal service will be resumed shortly ...

 © MarksmanUK (

After a frenetic first half of 2010, there will now be a brief interlude while I undergo surgery to remedy an old birding war-wound sustained in the Azores. As a result I'm unlikely to be getting out much in the near future, so the next post, when it comes, will be something from the archives or an update on garden moths. Yes, it's that bad ... back after the break.

Saturday, 3 July 2010

More gulls on the river

Time for a couple of hours' gulling this morning on the Thames at Rainham, where numbers are building up nicely. The tip makes all the difference as a focal point for feeding, and today there were probably 2,000-3,000 birds between the two locations. Among them were at least 25 Yellow-legged Gulls, my highest count of the year so far.

Herring, Yellow-legged and Lesser Black-backed Gulls of various ages drifting downstream on the ebbing tide.

The first good bird of the day was a second-summer Mediterranean Gull in amongst the fray of birds on the tip. An hour and a half later I found this individual, either the same bird or a second one, on the foreshore. Note in the shot below how much more extensive the black is on the spread outer primaries than appears to be the case when perched, and also the extent of primary moult (P1 and P2 are regrowing and it has just dropped P3). This is surely the most attractive Med plumage.

Friday, 2 July 2010

Finch country

Excellent habitat for the wrong kind of finch ...

There have been a number of reports in the last couple of weeks of Common Crossbills on the move. Sightings of small groups have come mainly from coastal locations, but yesterday a flock was seen in London heading west over Wimbledon Common. Midsummer is the classic period for arrivals from the Continent of this irruptive early breeder, and even if this isn't a classic irruption year, there are certainly some on the move.

Having missed a small party earlier in the year at Broxbourne Woods, I resolved to try and make my own luck today and headed out to the western edge of the London Area in search of Loxias. The venue I selected was Black Park, on the Buckinghamshire fringe of the recording area, and the same place where I saw my first Common Crossbills in the capital many years ago. In fact, it is probably the most consistent site locally for this irregular species.

Well, I made my own good fortune, but not in the way intended. I searched the area extensively for a number of hours, listened, waited, played recordings and examined fallen pine cones. Not a sniff of anything with overlapping mandible tips, but I unexpectedly made another finch discovery: Siskin. I was amazed to hear distant Siskin calls coming from an area of tall pines with a few birches, and when I got up close almost immediately I found a male in full song perched up high in the canopy.

I watched the area for about an hour, and during that time had about 10 encounters with what I reckon were probably five or six individuals. The most visible at any one time were three, including a male and a juvenile, so breeding has surely taken place locally. The Birds of Buckinghamshire (1993) states that Siskin "may breed occasionally", and perhaps that has been confirmed since then, but in the London Area it seems the species still hadn't bred with certainty by the time of the last London Bird Report (2006). Enquiries are ongoing.

Either way, the discovery livened up an otherwise quiet day, which included numerous Nuthatches, Coal Tits and Great Spotted Woodpeckers, six Mandarin Ducks on the lake, and two Red Kites in the M40 corridor afterwards (with Muntjac the best mammal and Ringlet almost the only butterfly).

London speciality: Mandarin Duck.


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