Monday, 28 November 2011

Herring Gull predating Gannet egg

Two of my favourite Herring Gull shots here - both of the same individual predating a Gannet egg on Bass Rock, East Lothian, in July 2007. A photographer who had shown great fieldcraft to get some close-up shots of nesting Gannets moved away from the spot too quickly and accidentally scared one of the nesting birds off its egg. As the photographer retreated embarrassed from the scene I thought I would get a shot of the Gannet returning to its nest. Within seconds however this Herring Gull had checked out the scene and then landed. It scooped the egg up deftly, turned for the portrait and then was off within 20 seconds of landing. Not great shots for a Gannet fan perhaps, but a fantastic demonstration of the opportunistic scavenging habits of this equally stunning, but less loved, species.

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Lammermuirs: Red Grouse and Snow Buntings

Decided to head for the Lammermuir hills in East Lothian this morning on the off chance of bumping into a Rough-legged Buzzard or Great Grey Shrike. Managed neither of course although there were good numbers of Red Grouse in evidence along the roadsides. The above bird looked like a straightforward female and the bird below, which was with it made me wonder whether 1st winter birds are separable at this time of year. Anyone know?

The Lammermuir Hills are highly managed for Red Grouse.
This shot, taken today and which you may not wish to look at too closely, shows a Brown Rat caught in a fenn trap placed on a pole crossing the burn at Johnscleugh. I am not a big fan of this sort of trapping with a low degree of discrimination.

Highlights of the trip for me were more encounters with Snow Buntings. These three shown below were seen feeding along the roadside on the way to and from Faseny Bridge. The shot below illustrates how dark the back, rump and uppertail coverts can be in 1st winter individuals of this species. There is certainly no way these birds would be considered to be nivalis. Instead they are the commoner subspecies insulae. I also saw another larger flock along the road to Garvald. I certainly feel in credit with Snow Buntings this year as I have chanced upon several. Hope that keeps happening...

Friday, 25 November 2011

Olympic Gull: Glaucous-winged x Western Gull

Following on from the Western Gull pictures in the last post, here is a shot of an Olympic Gull taken along 17-mile drive in California. The Olympic Gull is a hybrid between Glaucous-winged and Western Gull, and according to this abstract has greater fitness than either parental form. I suppose F1 hybrids are well-known for their vigor in garden plant varieties. This individual matches those that are assumed to be a second generation hybrid, as the wing tips are only a shade darker than the upperparts but the bill is heavy and quite orange in colour. So, quite possibly, it is a Glaucous-winged x Olympic Gull hybrid...

As for this bird, photographed on Santa Monica beach, take your pick - but it definitely has a fair number of Glaucous-winged Gull genes in it. Whether it is a pure bird or not is beyond me... Any ideas?

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Western Gulls

Flicking through some pictures today of a trip to California in April 2010, this shot of a Western Gull with Northern Elephant Seals basking in the background, caught my eye. Since days are short and work is busy, I thought I would post it up along with a few other Western Gull shots.

The above individual, photographed in Los Angeles, is of the darker-backed occidentalis subspecies. The strong sunlight is reducing the apparent depth of the upperpart colouration.

Big Sir at Big Sur, perhaps...

Not the best shot, admittedly, but this is probably a lighter-mantled wymani from Monterey.

I realise that they get paler further north, but this individual from San Francisco was a tad extreme...

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Med Gull returns to Alnwickhill

One of the mega (for Liberton...) Mediterranean Gulls returned to Alnwickhill for its second day. I was passing at midday and sure enough the first bird found yesterday was back on the left-hand side of the water works. It had not been there earlier in the morning. Once again it indulged in some highly active bathing including some fairly energetic nosedives into the water. A few more record shots below.

Great stuff - easily made up for the lack of White-fronted or Bean Geese while on a family trip out to East Lothian this afternoon.

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Mediterranean Gulls at Alnwickhill: patch tick!

Alnwickhill will soon by drained, and the plans are to turn the area into housing. Someday soon I'll peer over the wall and the filter beds will be dry and my local gull and wildfowl watching will be over. Surely I can't be the only one to think that it would have potential as an urban nature reserve...

Opportunities to keep watch have been limited recently but today I managed a quick visit in the morning and then decided to stop by on my way to the coast in the afternoon. Well, I never made the coast as one of the first birds that I saw was a 1st winter Mediterranean Gull over on the far left of the filter beds. Viewing was distant but the bird obliged with a mixture of loafing, bathing and brief aerial sorties. Excellent patch tick as far as I am concerned - I was beginning to wonder why this species seemed to be so regular along the coast (albeit in small numbers) yet absent here despite a year or so of watching.

After 40 minutes of watching the bird, I decided to quickly check through the remaining gulls and then head for the coast. Turning to the filter bed in front of me I was delighted to find another 1st winter Mediterranean Gull in amongst one of the nearest groups of birds. A quick double check confirmed it was a second bird and the next 40 minutes were suddenly accounted for!

Notice that this second bird has a more extensive subterminal tail band than the first.

After filling my boots with these birds I decided to head for home on the off-chance of a flypast as the birds headed back for the coast for the evening. It turned out that this tactic was as unsuccessful as with the Iceland Gull earlier in the year. Ah well, maybe going for the garden tick was pushing my luck a little...

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Flyover Snow Bunting

A quick trip to the coast at Scoughall failed to produce any of coasting Tundra Bean or White-fronted Geese that have been appearing along the east coast this weekend. The only clear migrant was this immature (?) female Snow Bunting that came in-off. I was pleased to nail its identity on call long before I clapped eyes on it - in fact it was higher than expected and could easily have passed over unseen. Much less distinctive than the males I saw a few weeks ago.

Other interesting birds included a male Blackcap in the Sea Buckthorn - at this time of year a continental bird over here for the winter would be most likely, rather than a drift migrant. Also a nice group of Tree Sparrows around the pools - one of my favourite species. Lots of great calls from them - shame my Remembird seems to be malfunctioning - think I'll have to send it back for them to have a look at.