Sunday, 22 September 2013

Dungeness day out

Second-calendar-year Herring Gull - still looking very immature, but a year old based on outer primary tip shape.
This may or may not be the same individual - one of a good number of Herring Gulls around the fishing boats.
Walking on water - best view of the underwing and characteristic pale inner primary 'window'.
After an unusually pungent session with gulls at my regular landfill study site on Friday, I needed a change of scene so today headed out of town – for gulls on the coast. Dungeness is well known for Yellow-legged Gulls at this time of year, and recently has also produced Caspian Gulls (see Mick Southcott’s superb photos of the latter here). After checking the ‘patch’ off the power station, where the best larid was a diminutive Little Gull (with two juvenile Yellow-leggeds also briefly seen), I met up with Mick, Richard Smith and Shaun Harvey by the fishing boats for an impromptu photography session.

Arctic Skua off Dungeness today.
This Sandwich Tern did its best to evade the skua in a prolonged chase offshore.
Some fishing trips proved free of hassle from skua raids, with adult Sandwich Terns able to feed their full-grown but still-begging youngsters.
As it turned out, neither Yellow-legged nor Caspian Gulls played ball while I was present, but we had great opportunities for practising on a range of Herring and Great Black-backed Gull plumages, as well as Sandwich Terns and a few other species. We were joined by observatory warden Dave Walker for a while, enjoyed views of two (possibly four) Arctic Skuas offshore, and saw a dark calidrid shoot past that was most likely a Purple Sandpiper (unfortunately too quick for me to get the scope on it).

Great Egret calling in flight at Denge Marsh, an increasingly reliable site for this British scarcity.
Pit-stops - literally - at the Hanson ARC Pits and RSPB reserve followed, adding species such as European Golden Plover (flock of 220), Ruff (two juvs), Greenshank and Sedge Warbler (singles of each), and then I called in at Denge Marsh on the way home to be rewarded with not one but two Great Egrets in the north-west corner. After the Somerset Levels, this is perhaps one of the most regular sites for the species in Britain – potentially the UK’s next breeding location? Also present here were Marsh Harrier, about 25 Yellow Wagtails and a calling Kingfisher, all on top of a day list which also included Arctic Tern (three juveniles on the patch), Black Redstart (male on the power station) and a fine male Clouded Yellow butterfly.

Male Clouded Yellow - unfortunately a slightly blurred shot, but I was glad to get something on a species which habitually sits with its wings closed.

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Spot Red at Rainham

Adult Spotted Redshank at Rainham RSPB today: up to three have been reported recently. 
Spotted Redshank is something of an oddity on migration. At favoured sites it is present in numbers from midsummer annually - obvious examples are the RSPB reserves at Titchwell (Norfolk), Minsmere (Suffolk), Old Hall Marshes (Essex) and Elmley (Kent) - but at other seemingly suitable wetlands nearby it can be relatively rare. My patch at Rainham RSPB is an example of this phenomenon. For the last two winters a single bird has overwintered on the Thames foreshore just across the river at Erith, but it rarely strays to the north side despite plenty of good feeding habitat; perhaps the absence of shopping trolleys, bollards and dirt bike riders is the problem. Passing migrant 'Spot Reds' are also a novelty at Rainham, so I was delighted to see this adult today while leading a walk with Bob Watts for about 20 people celebrating the birthday of upcoming young birder Henry Wyn-Jones. Such is the species' scarcity in London that it was a lifer for Henry, and views like this one are therefore especially welcome. It was one of 65 species I logged during the morning's visit, the other highlights including a Garganey, two or three Hobbies, two Common Buzzards, two juvenile Curlew Sandpipers (even rarer at the site than Spotted Redshank), 12 Greenshank (a very high count), two Black-tailed Godwits and three Yellow-legged Gulls (juvenile, second-winter and adult).

Here's a couple of Spot Reds I prepared earlier, for comparison: a nice dusky juvenile (above, Norfolk, 28 August 2011), and a first-winter, aged by its unmoulted juvenile wing coverts (below, Thailand, 10 February 2011).

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