8 November 2018

Ticking 'German muck'

Nick's strike rate recently at finding good birds has been extraordinary, so I should have trusted his instincts a little more when he called me over to look at a gull on Alexandra lake.

My first reaction was positive. Long narrow bill and sleek head-shape looked good for 1cy Caspian Gull. But things started going downhill from there. The bird appeared small and not upright enough for a Casp, its head was darker looking than I would like, and there wasn't really a distinct dark nape around the neck. The tertials were ok-ish, but the greater coverts were all wrong - lots of white and appeared heavily notched. I took a few pics but gave my opinion that I thought it was a Herring Gull. There wasn't much push back from the others, so we left it.

It was only when I got home and looked at my pictures, that I started to doubt my judgement. The main thing I seemed to have completely overlooked in the field was the advanced moult on the scapular feathers. Perhaps my photos were a bit over-exposed but the head also seemed cleaner white than I remembered, so I put it out to others as a possible cachinnans/argentatus hybrid.

There was some agreement, and the words 'German muck' were used - referring to the area where there seems to be most interbreeding for these species. Luckily, Rich Bonser and Jamie Partridge gave more positive affirmations. Rich sent me a hugely instructive email setting out his view including the following summary:

"So, yes, I would say it is a 'western' Caspian Gull and as the boundaries blur over the years, more and more of these birds do exist. But for me, it is fine for a '21st century Caspian Gull'. If you had asked me whether birds like this were Caspian Gulls back in 2006-2008, I would have said 'no' purely on the basis of the one feature not fitting. But with so much mixed genes, there is a one hell of a hefty amount of Caspian Gull in this bird."

The fact that it was a full Patch tick for me should have been cause for celebration. Unfortunately, this was dampened by my guilt at not properly alerting others to the possibility that we were dealing with a Caspian. Looking at the photos afterwards seemed so much clearer than when I was fixated on a few unclear features in the field. Oh well! We live and learn. I am just hoping the bird sticks around long enough for all of my patch-colleagues to see it.

The photo which made me wake up - the bill looks very long and the scaps clearly showing advanced moult

Same bird photographed the following day

Showing quite a bit of white under the wing

And just to illustrate how confusing it is (for me anyway), this is a Herring Gull exhibiting many similar features

27 October 2018

(Flooky) Finders in the field

There are days when you think its going to be good, and if it is then you say you knew it was going to be good. Today it felt like it was going to be good, took its bloody time though didn't it?

Grey and drizzly, love it!

Rob Sheldon joined me by the viz mig briefly before setting off on his own to check the brick pit, he had been expecting more than a few mipit enjoying the plowed area south of Long Wood. Sometime latter I see him wandering back along the edge of the wood.  He had disappeared when the Short-eared Owl appeared from the east and began circling high over the brooms.  He wasn't answering his phone either.  Luckily the owl lingered, avoiding the interest of the local corvids, and when Rob finally appeared I signaled wildly at him to look up.  He finally gathered I hadn't succumbed to madness and got his first SEO on patch.  He was happy.  I introduced him to Gregg's too, and he was happy at that too!

He tells me he still needs Wigeon, no worries there are some in the park.  He heads off for the shameless tick. I choose the Alex for a bit more vizzi mig.  Things are still moving and so I am just happy standing there. A Yellow-browed calls or was it the guys squeaky bike that passes me. Over an hour later the warbler goes a bit mental for few seconds.  Kerching!  Takes me another hour or so before I get a quick glimpse of it in the drowned willows.  Job done.

Its getting a bit late now and I am getting a bit knackered, and thinking that it would be it for today I am ready for home. Back by Coronation Copse there's a few wagtails feeding on the footy pitches. some looking good for White. A few snaps will confirm this later, or would have done if a doggy hadn't flushed then before I was set. On their way off the pitch one takes a dip at a bird I hadn't noticed on the grass.  Mipit natch!  It lands a bit further off and pops its head up to have a gander, showing off a rather pronounced white super.  With hands on my camera rather than on my bins I get a few shots in before it heads for a hawthorn south of the enclosure. I am about to head off there, when I get distracted by a quite call behind me, rather like a Reed Bunting–so a second bird then.  But try as I might I can't find it in the burnt out broom. The call is virtuously continuous, but I still can't see anything, but a Mistle Thrush a few feet away.  I have to check through the bins to actually see its beak opening slightly. That mystery sorted I am back on track, but the "bird" has flown.  I give it a few minutes, luckily only a Reedy B.

I check the back of the camera. Ah!

I need to see the bird again or at least go home and check my pics on the PC. Its getting late now and I am thinking "f*cked up again!".  I check the camera against the Collins app, there's a creeping feeling going up my neck, "double feck!". So I plump for the twittersphere to have its say...

... turned out well I think!

With thanks to Magnus Andersson

20 October 2018

Tony's Tyto

It was a cold, still morning with low mist over the Flats and it felt rare, a Woodlark fly-over sort of day. Some Woodpigeon moving through, a few Redwing, a Fieldfare chuckled. A phone call from Jono "Barn Owl towards the SSSI being chased by crows!!" My reply was four letters begining with an f (no, it wasn't fine). Tony had spied it up near Long Wood flying over quite low being chased by crows.

I "calmly" scanned the skies from the southern brooms, no crows. I scanned some more, nothing in the sky but crows in a tree by Centre Road....excited crows in a tree! Obviously worth investigating and as I got quite close out flew THE OWL. Tony and Jono were close behind, but THE OWL had disappeared, apparently just over the road. James appeared but Nick was still at home. No sign of THE OWL though, as we searched the area.

Half-an-hour later Nick had made it onto the patch and was walking up through the brooms when he turned and shouted "Bob"

An absolutely magical few moments, patch birding at its finest, all I had to do was be there and push a button. The first patch Barn Owl for 25 years!

Congratulations to Tony, another great find.

28 August 2018


Every Christmas all the little children ask Santa that next year, if they are good, a Red-backed Shrike will present itself for our adoration.  This year good boy was Marco, shame he wasn't there to see it!

Nearly fucked it up though, didn't I?

A small bird behind one of the hawthorn in the pub scrub caught my attention.  Whitethroat natch! But even to my miopic-jump-to-any-conclusion like mind it were a wrong-un!  Something about the eye.  Too far for the bins I circled closer.  Still looked strange and kinda shrike like.  Preposterous.
I rounded my last bit of cover, camera ready.  Of course the bird flew before the clunky focusing could get a fix. An hour full of expletives later wandering around the pub scrub it pops up on a dead tree in Alex scrub.  Well I never...

... and if a Whitethroat had popped up in that time, well I never would have!

25 August 2018

Yellow-legged Gulls come like buses

We had to wait until the 32nd week of the year to get our first Yellow-legged Gull on the Patch. This 4cy bird stayed for about a week on Alex and the adjacent pitches.

Today, just a few days after that bird was last seen, I found another, this time a juvenile and also on the pitches next to Alex.