Thursday, 16 April 2015

Mary's, Mary's quite contrary

I have visited St Mary's three times this week which is an absolute bonus but the star birds, a Glauc and an Iceland have evaded me completely. It hasn't helped that I have slept through my alarm on a morning preventing pre-work sojourns and ridiculously low-tides seemed to have coincided with my evening visits.

Monday saw my first migrants in the form of Sandwich Tern, Chiffchaff and Sand Martin which was nice but expected. Plenty of sarnies offshore and the Chiff has stayed put all week. Wednesday added Willow Warbler and Sedge Warbler while tonight was very quiet except for a drake Goosander north bang on sunset. It's too calm and sunny with light SW to put anything down at the mo although a Purple Sandpiper annoying the seals was nice on the island.

Sunday, 12 April 2015

New York, New York

My wife recently turned a significant number and as such she decided we were to head to the States and specifically Manhattan for her birthday treat over Easter. The kids were duly dispatched to friends and relatives for the duration and we were away. I had been looking forward to my initiation in American birding in Central Park for ages and could barely contain my excitement (sort of. I contained it but did manage to smuggle my bins and a copy of Sibley in my hand luggage).

Interest of a birdy bent was limited as we caught our early morning flight from Manchester to Heathrow but a long delay at Heathrow did allow one of the local Peregrines to snatch a Starling near the gate. We eventually got to Newark in New Jersey late afternoon and got the train into Manhattan across some huge areas of marsh where the first few lifers appeared. Red-winged Blackbird seemed ubiquitous and whilst Feral Pigeon, Mallard and House Sparrow were added quickly more interest stemmed from the Double-crested Cormorants, Great Egrets and American Herring Gulls cruising over New Jersey. A fire on the New York subway meant that it was a slow journey but we got into our Hotel and collapsed. I was awake at 5.30am and that meant one thing - birding.

The sounds of an American dawn were foreign to me and I had few handles on what was singing but the Jay-like screams? Well they were Blue Jays naturally. White-throated Sparrows came in white and tan morphs and all states inbetween. Spring was late and it was chilly so piled snow was no surprise. Hundreds of American Robins moved north through the park joined by endless Northern Flickers. A simple song gave away the first of the parks many Dark-eyed Juncos in the early gloom. My first warblers soon flitted about as the light started to rise as a pair of Pine Warblers were on the south shore of the lake as was a Raccoon which was a pleasant surprise.

Out on the lake I spied my first proper Canada Geese and a Shoveler plus a female Black Duck and its hybrid hubby. I was soon in the Ramble - the holy grail of Central Park birding and ticks were raining down with Fox Sparrow, Eastern Towhee, Song Sparrow, Northern Mockingbird, Lincoln's Sparrow, Downy, Hairy and Red-bellied Woodpeckers, White-breasted Nuthatch, Red-tailed Hawk, American Goldfinch, Common Grackle, Hermit Thrush, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Mourning Dove, Chipping Sparrow, American Crow, Tufted Titmouse and Black-crowned Chickadee fell to my tick cannon.

A trip up to the Belvedere Castle revealed Eastern Phoebe and Pied-billed Grebe on Turtle Pond. I started to run short on time but a trip up to the reservoir gave up Wood Duck, Hooded Merganser, Bufflehead, Ring-billed Gull, Red-breasted Merganser and a summer plumage Common Loon. Which was nice.

A trip to Staton Island turned up Laughing Gull on the Saturday but a sprained foot put me off much more walking. On the Sunday I was back in action with up to 10 Black-crowned Night Herons in two locations in the park. In the ramble I managed to turn up Brown Thrasher, Swamp Sparrow and Rusty Blackbird before bumping into 'Birding Bob' aka Robert DeCandido who runs regular birding walks of the park. I decided my $10 would benefit him more than me and the local knowledge would help me find a few more bits and pieces. Straight away on the walk Bob had a big group of Juncos feeding on the deck with four Pine Warblers, 2 Golden-crowned Kinglets and three Palm Warblers. Smart! A diverse group was then treated to a Towhee, some Night Herons and I managed to weedle out a few bits for them including a Field Sparrow.

A Cooper's Hawk was found roosting whilst pale male paid us a visit. A slightly frosty Brown Creeper gave thoughts of Northern Treecreepers in Europe. As the walk ended a Turkey Vulture soared overhead.

A further walk on the Monday before we flew yielded nothing new but some excellent views of Ruby-crowned Kinglet and an arrival of Fox Sparrows. The only new addition was a pair of Mute Swans seen as we crossed to Jersey late afternoon. Central Park is magic and I fully recommend going. Queue photo dump.

Got my wood on!

After returning from a brief trip to the States where I visited New York over easter weekend I managed a morning birding yesterday. Initially at Barmston where I added four to the PWC list with early migrants in the form of Sand Martin and a couple of Sandwich Terns offshore whilst a few Lesser Black-backed Gulls were readying for a summer of chips in Brid. A posse of Mallard flew past and I realised they hadnt graduated to my PWC list yet so they were duly notched up. Then rain set in and I drank coffee and watched the sea. A twitter message alerted me to a Wood Duck at Thornwick Pools up the road so I abandoned the patch thinking it was a good time of year for one of these to roll up on the east coast a la Baikal Teal. Having notched my first wild ones in Central Park I soon connected with this odd looking thing with plenty of tan areas where it should be black...its not getting on any lists I dont think!

As I was leaving to go home I saw Craig Thomas shouting out of his car window "Alpine Swift north past the foghorn 2 minutes ago".

I raced to the car and met Craig in the North Landing car park a couple of minutes later and he was scanning to no avail. I decided to look west in case it had already passed and was met with a giant swift tacking into the wind and making steady progress along the cliff top. I managed to get Craig onto it and watched for maybe a minute before it disappeared beyond Thornwick Bay.

Friday, 20 March 2015


So yeah everyone is bored of the eclipse cos all they saw was cloud. I didn't! I was out on patch early and whilst birdless it did throw up good views of the partial eclipse. Here are my best efforts:

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Snow Goose. Ahem.

I was back working on Teesside a mere stones throw from Saltholme where I have been grabbing my lunch. As such it would have been rude not to have cast an eye over this GENUINE ARCTIC VAGRANT. I hadnt seen Snow Goose until now and whilst not the best credentials I dont really give a monkeys about this species and it was with an obvious carrier species. Well if your in the states that is.

I am wild. Fuming.

I also found the Surf Scoter photos from Filey. They were not good.

From the back

From the side. But mostly from the brigg.
I also found a Black Redstart at South Landing whilst rock pooling with the kids. Wicked!

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

An Interesting Skylark

Yesterday whilst working in Somerset on the River Parrett near Pawlett, I noticed two larks routing around in the tideline debris after a series of high tides. One of these birds was a 'normal' Skylark whilst the other bird was extremely pale. I was about 15 yards away and saw the birds naked eye and my first thought was Short-toed Lark as it appeared to be so sandy. Upon getting the scope on the bird it soon became apparent that the bird was an Alauda lark but markedly paler than a standard Skylark. At the time I knew nothing about other forms of Skylark but had a hunch this would perhaps be a middle eastern or Russian bird and managed to grab a couple of iphone scoped photos which are included below.

There were no brown tones in the fringes to the feathers giving it a much paler look and the primary projection appears very short. I posted these images on twitter and Martin Garner came back with:

So I quickly headed off to look at the relevant Lees and Ball (2011) paper in BB which describes a grey Skylark from Lincolnshire in 1988 which seemingly didnt fit dulcivox. I had a look at this and the Shirihai (1986) Oriental Skylark Paper. The latter was of interest due to the very short primary projection of the bird in question and this being a feature of Oriental Skylark.

Upon reading the RIACT statement and the Lees and Ball paper it became apparent that the primary difference between the various subspecies is the concentration of melanin in the feathers and thus a bird with paler feathers could be an aberrant bird rather than a vagrant from further east. Without trapping the bird and getting some DNA or isotope based fun it would seem it cant really be progressed anywhere.

Then Peter Stronach forwarded me his picture of the Whalsay bird from 2007 which was put forward as a potential dulcivox. The picture reminds me of how I initially saw the bird with the normal Skylark. I kicked myself for not getting both in the frame.

Whalsay Skylark, 5th October 2007 (Peter Stronach).
So what to make of it? In old money it seems to fit Alauda arvensis dulcivox for plumage but it could in theory be a pale standard Skylark with a deficiency of melanin. My gut feeling is it is from further east than Bridgwater. I didnt hear anything other than standard Skylark calls which would seem to point against it being Oriental Skylark Alauda gulgula but I cant really work out why it had such a short primary projection. Overall a very interesting bird and one I have learnt plenty from without really resolving much. Any thoughts on its possible identity or point of origin would be gladly received. 

Saturday, 21 February 2015

Lunchtime diversion

So I was working on Teesside yesterday and seeing precisely FA when I heard the GW Teal had relocated to Dorman's Pool. A 9 minute twitch was fully successful as it swam across the back of the pool with a trio of standard flavour birds. Then back to work...

Ornithological Idiocy

How brains and birds become mutually exclusive