Friday, 30 May 2014

Birds on St. Lucia

It's not the type of place I usually go, but once in a while I suppose it's nice to relax. So it was that I've got a week in St. Lucia; a lovely island full of nice beaches, tropical seas and lush vegetation. And a few birds too - in fact, the endemic and near endemic species are all relatively straightforward to see - St. Lucia Parrot, St. Lucia Black Finch, St. Lucia Warbler, St. Lucia Oriole, St. Lucia Pewee and White-breasted Thrasher. Here are a few photos to keep things going on this blog.
St. Lucia Warbler Gran Anse May 2014

St. Lucia Oriole Gran Anse May 2014

Magnificent Frigatebird Soufriere May 2014

Zenaida Dove Pigeon Island May 2014
American Kestrel Cap Estate May 2014

St. Lucia Parrots Des Cartiers Trail, May 2014


Sunday, 18 May 2014

Sunshine birding

I much prefer it to be overcast with rain. Apart from the fact you avoid getting burnt in this nice weather, there are generally more birds. That said, walking around is far more pleasant. And after a hectic week, I decided to pay an evening visit to Crossness on Friday and it paid off - a couple of Black-tailed Godwits distantly in Barking Bay were located an hour or so later off the outfall, and with better views, confirmed my earlier suspicions that they were nominate, 'Continental Black-tailed Godwits'. A pair, extremely leggy with a peach/beige hue to their breasts and then pale underparts with extensively long, orange-based bills. I had one in spring a couple of years ago, but these are under-recorded as overshoot potential from the Low Countries is pretty high.

And so to yesterday, and it was a dawn session at Crossness where all was quiet and then I checked a few places out in southeast London. The Common Terns were back on Surrey Water, and during my rounds a really forlorn looking 1st-summer Black Redstart was singing away. Not too sure how this species is doing this spring, as I've not received too many records (in my role as Inner London recorder) from the sites in The City.
Black Redstart 17th May 2014
Today, I headed out east with news of the reappearance of Black-winged Stilts at Cliffe RSPB. People who know me will realise I don't really have a soft spot for this species - raucous and common everywhere you go outside of the UK, as well as being so territorial that they'd drive a Pterodactyl away if it landed near them. But I succumbed and saw four of the heinous beasts distantly in the sunshine at Cliffe RSPB this morning; three together (including a male) on the flood near the coastguards and then another roosting on Flamingo Pool. An adult Mediterranean Gull and a couple of Cuckoos provided more pleasant diversions while back at Crossness, a juvenile Stonechat (not sure where that's come from?) and a Sand Martin were the highlights as what feels like the summer doldrums are about to set in.

Sunday, 11 May 2014

Red-rumped Swallow in Thamesmead

Thank goodness for a fish and Sunday opening hours, that's all I'll say.

John A gave me a lovely trout that he'd caught (that'll I'll be eating shortly), but with no dill or fresh lemon to cook it with, I had half an hour to kill between finishing off our unproductive river walk (just a Dunlin and 6 Ringed Plovers) and the nearby Morrison's to open. So with inclement weather and knowing the only place where swifts and hirundines gather on the patch would be Southmere, I headed there. It's a proper grim place at the best of times, nestled between tower blocks and roundabouts where gypsies graze their horses. But on a grey day like today, it was at its aesthetic worst - that is, until I realised there were loads of hirundines and swifts patrolling over it...

Five minutes of scanning, thoroughly enjoying the numbers of birds - including Swallows and Sand Martins that don't breed in the area - while either hopefully or intuitively (??) waiting for something better what with the numbers of birds about. And then after about ten minutes, a bloody Red-rumped Swallow flew through my bins view... and then that adrenalin pumping feeling took hold. John A got called within a few seconds, and then having only really seen the bird for 20 or 30 seconds, all the usual calls/texts were made. But not being a great multi-tasker in this instance, I'd lost the bird...
Red-rumped Swallow Southmere Lake, Thamesmead 11th May 2014
However, as the 15 minutes it'd taken John A to return approached, I picked it up again and the rest is history. A fair few people came to see it, and it was good to see the likes of James L, Barry W, John T, Keith H and Mick S on the patch again. From finding it at 9.50am, the bird was aparrently last seen at 12.50pm.

Red-rumped Swallow Southmere Lake, Thamesmead 11th May 2014. Note the slight streaking confined to the upper breast, indicating the European subspecies rufula. 
It'd only been this morning that John A and I were discussing how regularly the Crossness area drew in crowds. It'll probably be a while til it happens again.

Saturday, 10 May 2014

Nature's finest creations - American wood-warblers ranked

This was one of the hardest blog posts to put together. Ranking all of the wonderful American wood-warblers. I contemplated just posting a load of photos and saying how fantastic they all were - because they were - but I wanted to challenge my own thought process of what genuinely makes me appreciate a bird. Colour, character, abundance and prior desire to see it all certainly came into play. And given that (nearly) each and every one of the 35 American wood-warblers I saw in Texas last month was a) colourful b) showed well and c) would make a year in a British context, this was going to be a hard call. So I'll give it a try here and I'd be interested to hear what you think...

1. Yellow-throated Warbler - close encounters with a stunning male on breeding territory in riverine vegetation was a complete experience. A handful seen in total, so scarce (as it's one of the earliest migrants on the coast).
2. Blackburnian Warbler - three seen in total, including a showy male on High Island. Lives up to all the hype for once. Just need one in the WP now!
3. Golden-cheeked Warbler - a restricted range species, full of contrast and one male in particular showed well in the dry woods of the hills surrounding San Antonio.
4. Nashville Warbler - diminutive and seriously under-rated. I loved these little chaps - with their eyering, a subtle cinnamon dusting to the crown with a high-pitched metallic call - and despite being relatively common on a couple of days, loved each and every one I saw!
5. Hooded Warbler- an inquisitive dash of yellow in the darkness. A real lover of the dark understorey, and despite being common, always a pleasure... and look forward to the day I see one in one of those ribeiras on Corvo.
6. Kentucky Warbler - bouncing about on woodland floors (so a complete pain to photograph), nice and distinctive with several seen, but not enough to lose their value.
7. Black-throated Green Warbler - regular in small numbers at coastal sites, and the males are smart, contrasting things. Often needed to crane my neck up to see them - just like the one on Corvo last autumn - but worth the effort on every occasion.
8. Blue-winged Warbler - bold and brash, often vocal. Every one I saw brought back memories of that manic day on Cape Clear back in early October 2000.
9. Golden-winged Warbler - having only seen this quality species in Costa Rica a decade ago, it was nice to see a few on migration at High Island. Lovely birds, intricate and showy too.
10. Cerulean Warbler - quite regal really, with not a splash of colours but with intricacy winning over. At least half a dozen seen on the trip, so a good tally for this relatively scarce species.
11. Canada Warbler - one lovely, showy bird seen on High Island. Vivid colours, bubblegum legs and once again, the memories of the only one I'd ever seen before this - on a windswept Irish headland - came flooding back.
12. Colima Warbler - any bird you're going to walk ten or so miles for must be worth it. And it was; not one of the most colourful of the family but the close views that one bird gave meant it has got to be ranked highly.
13. Palm Warbler - much better than you'd imagine given the hard time I've heard this species get. It wasn't the first time either that I've enjoyed this species, following a showy bird in California last year. Continually tail-bobbing too added to the character.
14. Prothonotary Warbler - bold and bright. Seen as a migrant and on breeding territory. The gloss taken off this species by seeing one get hit by a car on breeding grounds, and having to dispose of the body.
15. Northern Parula - common, colourful and always a delight. If it was rare, it'd be much higher up but guess you can have too much of a good thing?
16. Black-and-white Warbler - like the species above, seen virtually daily and in good numbers. A mint humbug clambering up and down trees.
17. Prairie Warbler - seen only on breeding territory just as a thunderstorm passed over. May have ranked higher up if the sun had been shining.
18. Townsend's Warbler - only seen at Big Bend on the Colima Warbler hike, but having seen this species fairly often in California and Washington the last couple of years, perhaps its stunning plumage is something that I now take for granted too much?
19. Wilson's Warbler - just a couple seen in Big Bend, and like the species above, it's a bird I've seen a lot of in recent years. Of course this includes one on Dursey Island, Cork last September :)
20. Worm-eating Warbler - just a couple seen, and both were elusive. Sturdy and distinctive - perhaps if I'd have had one crawling around me then it'd have been ranked higher, but pretty special birds all the same.
21. Yellow-breasted Chat - this pseudo-warbler is admittedly pretty smart, and I feel slightly ashamed to rank it in the bottom half. Perhaps as it's a little bit more sluggish that the true warblers reduces its appearance somewhat.
22. Chestnut-sided Warbler - just a little bit too much going on with the adults. Having seen juveniles in New England over a decade or so, they're much more my cup of tea. The two adults I saw in Texas were still smart though.
23. Blackpoll Warbler - one seen on High Island. A large warbler, and nice to see an adult as opposed to the few transatlantic first-winters I'm more used to seeing.
24. Painted Redstart - perhaps you can overdo it? So gaudy with its black and red plumage, just the one bird seen in Boot Springs, Big Bend.
25. American Redstart - like several of these species, I can't believe that it has to be ranked so low. However, I guess some birds just get you going more than others and having seen a lot of them on past trips to the northeast of the US in summer, perhaps this has an impact.
26. Swainson's Warbler - two birds seen, and both extremely elusive. One singing male at Big Thicket did eventually show nice enough, but with the camera back in the car.
27. Ovenbird - several seen as migrants, skulking in the undergrowth on High Island and Sabine Woods. Characterful, though like a few other species, I've seen a fair few previously including on Scilly and the Azores.
28. Louisiana Waterthrush - enjoyed seeing this species, as particularly in the early part of the trip it was the only waterthrush on migration.
29. Northern Waterthrush - just the one bird seen, by the grandstand on High Island. Having seen several previously, I suppose that's why I ranked it below the above species.
30. Tennessee Warbler - a common sight on most days, flitting about and calling frequently. Nice to see so many.
31. Common Yellowthroat - commonly seen, and certainly being numerous does devalue the males which are a pretty stunning bird.
32. Yellow-rumped Warbler - having visited California the last couple of winters, I had probably had enough of a good thing. Once again, this species (Myrtle on the coast and Audubon's at Big Bend) was numerous.
33. Pine Warbler - encountered only on breeding territory in forests where I'd been targetting other species so essentially a sideshow. And all seen were high up in relatively poor light unfortunately.
34. Orange-crowned Warbler - the closest you get to the warblers we're used to over in Europe. But still, with its harsh call and yellowish undertail, pretty distinctive and seen in decent numbers particularly early in the trip.
35. Lucy's Warbler - after almost giving up in the wind and intense heat, a pair were found by the Rio Grande in Big Bend. Non-descript and being blown about, and not behaving too well for photography.

Monday, 5 May 2014

Patchwork highs and lows over the Bank Holiday

I've felt a bit stifled this weekend. Having to go into school on Saturday (due to imminent exams) didn't help, but an evening visit to Crossness on Saturday was really poor if not pleasant in the spring sunshine. I don't think I saw a bird that didn't breed there, so highlighting in a couple of Little Ringed Plovers. A 2nd-summer Yellow-legged Gull on the barges on the Thames at Rotherhithe was the first one I'd seen for a while.

Yesterday, I wanted to mix things up a little and get out of London for a bit. These days, there are rarely birds that really get me wanting to drive copious miles, and with the Great Spotted Cuckoo in Cornwall just too far (I've only ever seen one in Britain), I settled on a leisurely afternoon and evening at Dungeness with Karen. The birding was standard with an adult Little Gull, an Arctic Skua, eight Arctic Terns and the odd Whimbrel and Bar-tailed Godwit past The Patch mid early afternoon while a walk round the RSPB reserve produced the odd Hobby and a load of summer songsters included a Cuckoo. Nice enough, and Dengemarsh was looking pretty rare, though the highlight of the day was a 'fisherman's roll' from the Dungeness Fish Hut. Enough said.
Bar-tailed Godwits, Crossness 5th May 2014
Today though, there'd been a bit of a pick up in the breeze and yesterday's southerly had banked round to give a bit more easterly in it. Though it was clear and sunny once again, a couple of Bar-tailed Godwits on the foreshore at Crossness were enough for me to go home with, given the state of play over the last couple of weekends. One in full summer kit, the other in full winter attire. A Black Tern that had gone through Gallion's Reach never reached me, and except 2 Dunlin and 5 Ringed Plovers, it was just the local birds that were chilling out on the river.

Back in Rotherhithe, having walked through Russia Dock Woodland and along The Thames, I was stood at the end of Rope Street late afternoon just checking on the local gulls near Greenland Pier. I'd been looking skyward for most of the day, and then scanning over towards Canary Wharf I clapped eyes on something. It was one of those quick identifications - a Honey Buzzard - standard plumage (dark underwing coverts and a line across the secondaries), long tail, long wings held flat and that was that. No indecision or thoughts of Common Buzzard; it gradually started to rise over the south end of the Isle of Dogs, spreading its long tail and showing a kinked inner wing with bulging secondaries in the process, before heading off northeast. I believe this is the first in London this year, and the first one I've seen/found for over a decade in the UK!