Sunday 29 December 2013

Interesting gull seen today

This very interesting gull was photographed at Marine Lake this afternoon by Avon birder Paul Bowyer. In every aspect, it seems to resemble a 2nd or 3rd winter NORTH AMERICAN HERRING GULL, with its heavy blotching on the underparts, extensively streaked head and tail pattern. 

Dear Lee/All,
While I don't doubt that we could find a few Smiths that look essentially like this bird, I feel that it would be tough to call it one from a vagrant European standpoint.  The first step is to attempt to age it.  I say attempt, as ringing/banding recoveries in the UK (at least) have shown that 3C birds can look virtually identical to 2C and 4C (a well-known case from UK where 3 ringed siblings in their 4CY appeared like 3 different ages!)
However all we can do is look at the features and come up with our best evaluation.  The adult-like inner primaries (incl. P5 with strong white tip) and most of the secondaries, and obvious mirror of P10 strongly suggest that this is a 3CY.

Reading the text on this page: - Lonergan & Mullarney's Smith's ID article at the GRO website

- I find almost no features indicative of smith over argen(tatus/teus)... The only one would be the heavy dark markings on the head, chest, and neck.  But other features are more indicative of argen, such as:
- no sign of dark marks in the adult-like secondaries
- dark markings in the tail rather diffuse and/or vermiculated
- underside of outer Ps do not seem to show any pale tongues

There are dark marks in the tertials, but from these two images it is not possible to assess the degree to which they are black and/or sharp - and anyway I am not convinced that argen cannot show blackish and quite sharp marks in the tertials on 3CY birds.

So unless the ID features have been refined since the publication of Lonergan and Mullarney 2004, I don't see how this bird could be called a Smithsonian's  from these images.

Regards, Martin Reid, San Antonio,

Friday 27 December 2013

BRUNNICH'S GUILLEMOT in Dorset - first twitchable Mainland ever

About a week ago, Portland resident Charles Richards stumbled upon an 'odd-looking Guillemot' in Portland Harbour but thought little of it. He saw it a few times but was mainly concentrating on locating the first-winter Black Guillemot that had recently been discovered. He forget about the auk very quickly but his interest was rekindled when Pete & Debby Saunders from Southwell photographed the same bird on Boxing Day. Debby posted her pix on the Portland Bill twitterfeed and on her own time line causing consternation and panic as it was immediately realised that the 'odd alcid' was in fact a first-winter BRUNNICH'S GUILLEMOT - an exceptional record and the first-ever for Dorset. RBA and I broadcast the news to the Nation immediately, setting in motion an unplanned festive twitch. With the bird seemingly in peak condition and diving continuously, around 140 observers came and went before the bird swam into the sheltered harbour enclaves to roost at dusk. An absolute mega and the first ever twitchable mainland record in Britain.

Despite a second deep Atlantic low arriving in a under a week, the bird was quickly relocated this morning and spent the entire day commuting between its 'roosting' bay just east of the hotel and castle walls and its feeding site in front of the Academy at the Marina, showing exceptionally well throughout. At least 400 observers passed through the site during the day. Here is my account in images.........

Initially, the bird anchored offshore at quite some distance, latching up with a Common Guillemot for a couple of hours...

This rainstorm passed quickly through on the gale force winds leaving behind a lovely rainbow. As the afternoon wore on, the alcids eventually got more and more restless and slowly headed for shore..

....culminating in views down to 3 yards !!

On the other side of Weymouth, this juvenile GLOSSY IBIS was showing well in the recreational field just north of the tennis courts on Radipole Park Drive. The recent storms had left the field heavily sodden.

Thursday 19 December 2013

The very tragic death of a Next Generation Birder - CAMERON BESPOLKA

I am afraid there is again sad news that I know that some of you are just hearing with disbelief. The news services are reporting the tragic death on Tuesday of our Hoslist friend, 16 year-old Cameron Bespolka.

He was skiing with his family in Austria when both he and his father were swept 500 feet by an avalanche. His father is badly injured, but Cameron did not survive. The story is in many of the morning papers.

You may not have met Cameron, but I am sure you will have seen his posts on here. What a tragic loss. Cameron was a great birder and photographer, and although you may find it upsetting I do encourage you to take a look at his work – his blog is full of great photos.

For those of you who knew Cameron well, we share your loss.

With best wishes

Keith Betton

Monday 16 December 2013

The Unprecedented influx of IVORY GULLS continues

On par with a mammoth influx of juvenile Snowy Owls in North America (involving at least 750 so far), the UK has experienced its largest-ever influx of first-year IVORY GULLS from the Arctic ice-shelf.

Following the first off Seaburn (County Durham) on 30th November, an unprecedented five more have been discovered since......

A first-winter showed well by the coastal car park on Baleshare, North Uist (Outer Hebrides) on 4th December, whilst Dave Pullan watched a first-winter fly southeast past Tarbat Ness (Highland) the following day. The first of two birds was then located at Seahouses Golf Course (Northumberland) on 7th December, the two birds commuting between there and the beach throughout the rest of the day. That very same day, one visited Boddam Fish Factory (Aberdeenshire), before the first long-staying bird pitched up on a dead male Sperm Whale on Orkney at Evie on 12th December. This individual lingered for three days before disappearing.

And then, the inevitable happened, a first-winter was seen by a fishermen on the north Humber on 12th, being relocated by birders on 15th - and visiting two well rotting fish next to the Winestead Outstrays Pumping Station at Patrington Haven (East Yorkshire) and showing at just feet range. This was the litmus for an all-out twitch, with some 25 local birders connecting by dusk and some 150 more by dusk today. I was one of this lucky contingent........

The story goes like this.......

Adam Hutt, Martin Garner and a number of other Yorkshire birders got down to the end of Outstrays Lane by dawn and very sensibly (and helpfully), placed just over half a dozen fresh fish with the two badly rotting fish already there by the pumping station. Within a very short time of first light, the first-winter IVORY GULL arrived and spent some 45 minutes feasting at close range. Once full, it then flew out on to the Humber, and joined a large flock of wild Mallard and wintering Wigeon on the receding shoreline as the tide ebbed. It remained out here for most of the day before getting increasingly active as the Humber tide started to rise again from 1300 hours. With waves lapping over its feet, it flew closer a couple of times, following one of the borrow dykes, until it eventually flew strongly towards the gathering crowd and landed just over 200 yards away on some rocks at the end of the point. Then, as predicted, and after a good brush up and preen, it flew over everybody's heads and investigated the fish remains by the pumping station. Initially nervous because of the noise and excitement from birders, it took a few fly-arounds before it plucked up the courage to land and feed. It then delighted the 100-strong crowd by feasting on the Mackerel for the next half-hour........

The story in images......

The original fish remains on the left and the 8 fresh fish on the right

The Winestead Outstrays Pumping Station

The crowd growing in number as the afternoon progressed and waiting for the tide to come in

....and once it did, the Ivory Gull flew and landed on the rocks 220 yards in front of us

...and after a good preen and brush-up, took flight and came towards us...

Came in overhead..

...and landed by the fish

A close up of those primary tips

...and a close-up of the head

...and it was brilliant meeting these guys - the NEXT GENERATION BIRDERS, as they have become affectionately known - with the youngest - at just 17 - Chris Bromley on the far left

David Carr did the business when it came to action shots - a selection of his here

And then Morris Rendall's fabulous shots from ORKNEY of the Evie bird....

The influx was presumably as a result of an excellent breeding season coupled with the terrible Winter Storm that travelled from Greenland and produced an enormous tidal surge, the largest in 60 years.