Sunday, 29 May 2011

Male Grey-headed Wagtail at Whitesands

A sprinkling of goodies from the Northern Isles to Northumberland yesterday had me itching to get to the coast so I set my alarm and was up and out early. Whitesands Bay was my first stop and after checking the triangle and bushes down towards Vaults without success I decided to head towards Barns Ness. I hadn't got very far when on a whim I decided to pull over and check the Bay. As I got out of the car a neon bird caught my eye close by on the close cropped turf path running through the marram grass - a cracking male Grey-headed Wagtail (thunbergi) only 10 metres away. We both froze and I slowly tried to extricate my camera from my shoulder bag. That was enough for it and it flew towards the parking area giving the typical flava-like call.

Before I could relocate the bird it was in flight again and moving towards the beach. It fed along the upper shore for 20 minutes or so before being disturbed by a dog walker and heading for the golf course. Hopefully it will hang around longer for someone to get some better pictures than I managed! Its active feeding behaviour made phonescoping difficult and after the initial sighting its range was a little to great for the SLR. Through the scope the grey cap, darker ear coverts, lack of pale supercilium and bright yellow extending from chin to vent made this a very smart looking bird - features sadly not abundantly clear here...

Also in the bay this flock of 43 Canada Geese - could they be on their way north to moult already?

Northern Marsh Orchid

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Injured gulls at Alnwickhill

As I was passing I peered over the wall at Alnwickhill today to see my first colour-ringed gull at the site since the probable Norwegian Common Gull in January. Ring reading is not easy at this site due to the distance to the birds, but with a scope today's orange-ringed Herring Gull would have been straightforward. Unfortunately the scope was at home as this wasn't really a birding trip. I did have the SLR with me so managed a couple of record shots. As I was doing this I could see that the bird was limping and it looked as though the colour ring might be linked to the limp. Looking at the photos now I see that the colour ring has slipped down around the foot and was compressing the toes and preventing them from being splayed open in a normal standing position. Of course, without a closer examination it is not possible to tell whether the ring is causing the problem or whether some underlying anatomical problem has allowed the ring to move into this position.

Either way, and in order to salvage some benefit from this unpleasant observation, I was keen to read the ring combination I dashed home for the scope. Alas, although all other birds appeared to be loafing in the same positions, my quarry had moved. Any hope of relocating it was removed by a kerbside recycling vehicle taking a nearby speed bump at some velocity. The combined crescendo of several tonnes of broken glass and metal being shaken and stirred was enough to cause the entire flock of 200 gulls to flee. Last to move was the Great Black-backed Gull which has been loafing at the site for the last week. As it flew I was given a clue as to why it is hanging around here rather than down at the coast - most of the primaries on its left wingtip have been reduced to broken stumps. (How I hadn't noticed this before is a mystery - maybe it was previously only showing its good side?) Hopefully it will be able to regrow them rapidly, though I am wondering how effective its foraging will be as its flight seemed a little laboured. Certainly it was the first gull to return after the disturbance, which is not what I would expect from a healthy GBBG.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Spring gale: Beware of flying cows

Had the pleasure of Richard B's company for the first time in many years on Monday. He was up in Edinburgh and stayed over, so we had arranged a late afternoon and early evening jaunt - we could catch up, and the plan was that he could catch up on a few species that are difficult to see in Fen country. Oak woodland and mountain/moorland specialists seemed a good target, along with whatever goodies might be sprinkled along the coast. Of course, we hadn't factored in an 80-100 mile per hour south-westerly!

With such a gale blowing, the oak woodland was best avoided. There were enough leaves, branches and and even whole trees crashing into the roadsides to warn us that the chances of picking up singing Redstart, Pied Flycatcher or Wood Warbler were less than zero. An attempt to kick off with a yankee duck at Portobello and Musselburgh failed miserably. The sea was being whipped into a hissing surf and the scoter flock, with its male Surf Scoter, was nowhere to be seen. A red Red Knot and a Sanderling on the lagoons were nice compensation though, and after an hour of birdless involuntary sandblasting we were simply glad to be watching anything as we cowered in the bunkers.

We decided to head for the hills after all - a gale wouldn't have any effect on the mountain avifauna after all, would it?... We drove on past Gifford up on to the tops of the Lammermuirs. When trying to locate Ring Ouzel, having to move by walking at an angle of 30 degrees to the ground when facing into the wind or by taking Neil Armstrong-like bounds when travelling in the opposite direction is not ideal. Despite the extreme conditions we did manage Dipper, Red Grouse and Snipe.

With a feeling that we had seen everything that was foolish enough to show itself in the conditions we headed back to Edinburgh only to be stopped in our tracks by this warning.

Either Banksy or a Banksy-a-like had attempted to warn us of the terrible conditions up on the moors, but it certainly was windy enough for a cow to have to deploy its emergency chute.

We were a little confused by this one though...

Just to let you know that we did see some birds, here is a cracking view of a Red Grouse.

And, Richard, just for you, the Surf Scoter in with the Velvet Scoter flock - what a difference a day makes!

Here is a shot from Monterey, California, to give an idea of what it would have looked like had I remembered my scope...

Monday, 23 May 2011

Second calendar year Herring Gull

This second calendar year Herring Gull caught my eye today at Alnwickhill. Not often I see one of these with such a well-patterned and stripey tail combined with such a strongly bi-coloured bill. It is progressing its wing moult (primaries 1-4 dropped), but there is only a little grey in the mantle or scapulars and the coverts look like first generation feathers.

Saturday, 21 May 2011

Garden tick no. 74: Lesser Whitethroat

Maybe this is too much information, but I got this tick through the bathroom window - a Lesser Whitethroat in song first thing this morning.  

Lesser Whitethroat had been on my list of possible additions to the garden list rather than probable additions. Possible as they can be heard in song within a mile or so of the house, but not the most likely given the habitat. That said, there is a very small patch of mature scrub just behind the garden and this was obviously enough to briefly attract a passing migrant. I will listen out for it again tomorrow, but do not hold too much hope for any prolonged stay.

It is not the first one that I have heard locally this year, having watched and recorded a singing male at the Hermitage on the 8th May. Here is a very poor record shot (can you see it?) but also a sonogram of the rattle which I recorded using a Remembird that morning.

For better views shots see these photos taken on Fair Isle last October.

Friday, 20 May 2011

argentatus Herring Gull at Alnwickhill in May?

Well, that's what it looked like to me. Distinctly darker and duller grey than typical local argenteus Herring Gull, this bird looked like an argentatus from somewhere further North.

This first shot shows the upperpart tones of the 'argentatus' (top left), a Lesser Black-backed Gull (centre) and a typical argenteus Herring Gull (bottom right).

The following shot again shows the difference in the upperpart tone between the two Herring Gulls and a selection of Lesser Black-backed Gulls.

 Under and upperwing shots of this bird:

It is difficult to make out here, but P9 on each wing had a thayeri-type pattern.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Hybrid Carrion x Hooded Crow again

Here is a hybrid Carrion x Hooded Crow photographed in Liberton recently. It is probably one of the two individuals seen over the last couple of years in the area. It appeared to be intent on picking small pieces of blossom from the gutter.

Also, who could resist the fantastic looks of a de-pigmented Carrion Crow for good measure?

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Herring Gull with yellow(ish) legs at Alnwickhill

A very quick visit to Alnwickhill Water Treatment Works this evening unexpectedly produced a Herring Gull with yellow(ish) legs. Clearly not a Yellow-legged Gull based on structure, pale grey upper and black wingtip only extending to P6 rather than P5 or further. Yellow-legged Herring Gulls make up at least 50% of some populations in the Baltic, but they tend to be much less common among local argenteus Herring Gulls. It has been suggested that some dietary component can cause this brighter leg colour. In the first shot, can you guess which one it is?...

Monday, 16 May 2011

Odd herring gull: double thayeri on right wing

These Lesser Black-backed Gulls have never seen a Herring Gull looking like this before - well, at least I haven't! This Herring Gull seen at Alnwickhill during a brief visit today showed an extensive white tongue on the primary 9 reaching all the way to the white mirror at the tip (this is the thayeri pattern as it is the pattern shown typically by Thayer's Gulls). Very unusually, this bird repeats the pattern on P7, on its right wing at least. It also only had one leg, had a fairly pale yellow beak for an adult bird and appeared to have very oddly bulging central primaries (or maybe it has just moulted P1 and P2). Altogether a pretty unique looking bird!...

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Bateleur-a-like tail-less Common Buzzard

What a weird bird today over Mortonhall, Edinburgh - an almost completely tail-less Common Buzzard. Superficially Bateleur like in appearance but not really as exciting to watch... Nevertheless, not something I have seen before. I can only wonder what has caused this loss of tail feathers and hope that it is not a sign of persecution...

Friday, 13 May 2011

Herring Gull with thayeri wing pattern at Alnwickhill

A very brief visit up to the water treatment works at Alnwickhill yesterday produced this Herring Gull with a nice so-called thayeri type wing tip. That referes to the long white tongues running down the inner edges of the primaries and especially P9. This is a common wingtip pattern in Northern argentatus Herring Gulls though this bird appeared to be very much like the other local argenteus in all other respects - other than the iris speckling which gave a dark-eyed appearance to the bird. I photographed a similar bird in Dunbar in August of last year and there is a short thread in Gull-Research about that bird. Essentially I was interested to see whether this wing-tip pattern is found in argenteus Herring Gulls. The answer, based on research in Belguim and the Netherlands, appears to be that it is an uncommon pattern among pure argenteus and more common where intergrades between argenteus and argentatus occur. As for this bird, it could fit any of the above categories...