Sunday, 26 August 2012

Essex Tiger!

Jersey Tiger Euplagia quadripunctaria in the cordite at Rainham RSPB.  
A real one - at least in the sense that this Jersey Tiger was on the Essex side of Rainham RSPB Reserve, basking in the sunshine as it fed on a Buddleia. Until relatively recently this species' range in Britain was thought to be restricted to coastal south Devon and Dorset (Waring and Townsend 2003), but online searching reveals a number of sightings since then in London (mainly south of the river).

One of three Eurasian Whimbrel on the foreshore in Aveley Bay as the tide retreated.
It was arguably the highlight of today's visit to Rainham, a fair bit of which I spent in company with Martin Jordan and other local birders. Waders were more in evidence than they have been in recent weeks, as were raptors, and the tally included two Marsh Harriers, 4 Hobbies, 4 Little Ringed Plover, 2 Ruff, Dunlin, seven Common and six Green Sandpipers, three Eurasian Whimbrel, Curlew, four Black-tailed Godwit, three Greenshank, 14 Common Snipe, seven Yellow-legged Gulls, three Yellow Wagtails, two Whinchats and three Lesser Whitethroats.

Monday, 13 August 2012

Estuary Polish

This colour-ringed Caspian Gull has been seen previously elsewhere along the Thames when a first-winter.
Note the extent of primary moult by mid-August, and lingering signs of immaturity including bill markings.

After the spectacular natural beauty of Maine, today was a scenic reality check of epic proportions. As much as I love birding on the Thames Estuary, it can't rival the splendour of the New England coastline. In particularly stark contrast was today's visit to my gull study site, where dry and dusty conditions made for even more filthy birding than usual. Compensation came in the form of this Polish-ringed Caspian Gull (above), an individual I haven't seen previously. The combination of posture and head/bill shape initially made me think it could be atypical, and knowing Polish birds are often from mixed colonies I wondered if it might have mixed genes. But early feedback from Polish ringers and photographic evidence of it as a first-winter suggest otherwise. It's now my third Caspian from that country - providing clear evidence of where some (most?) of our birds originate. It was one of two present, the other being an unringed first-summer bird.

One of several first-summer Yellow-legged Gulls today. Birds of this age are often distinctive.
Also noted today were 35 Yellow-legged Gulls (all ages, one metal-ringed bird), large numbers of Herring and Lesser Black-backed Gulls (the latter including a Dutch colour-marked adult and several intermedius types), even more Black-headed Gulls, but fewer than 10 Great Black-backed Gulls and no Common Gulls (though I have been seeing a few of the latter on the river itself since the first birds returned last month).

Adult Yellow-legged Gull. The Thames Estuary is one of the best sites for the species in late summer.

Saturday, 4 August 2012

Adult peep show

No, not that kind - calidrid peeps. One of the many great things about birding in a place like Maine is that it gives you an excellent opportunity to get familiar with species that occur only as rarities in Europe. A good case in point is Semipalmated Sandpiper, by far and away the most numerous peep on this part of the New England coast right now. I see this species annually in the Azores later in the autumn and know it much better in juvenile plumage; here and now, it's adults that are moving through in large numbers. These up-close images give an idea of the kind of intimate and prolonged views that are possible with patience, and the opportunities for studying the plumage and 'jizz' of this distinctive peep (and its vocalisations).


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