Saturday, 24 February 2018

Swanfest ... Bewick's and Whoopers ... sights and sounds ...

On my third visit to Slimbridge this winter the Bewick's Swans gave nice views as they lingered on the Rushy Pools ... calling gently all the while before flying off onto the more distant and mist enshrouded fields by the Severn Estuary ...



... some left singly and others in twos and small groups from where they had been by the pools ...




... it was interesting to notice the structure of the calls and how they differed from Whooper calls ... the Bewick's having a higher pitched and gentler call with a distinctly musical quality ... each note rising then falling in pitch in a way that reminded me of Eider or Mediterranean Gull calls ...



Bewick's Swan was not recognised by science until 1830, some two years after Thomas Bewick's death ... a number of prominent ornithologists of the day had a hand in establishing the distinction from Whooper Swan and answered the question as to why some 'Wild Swans' were so much smaller than others ... Richard Wingate, a Newcastle taxidermist described the species in 1829 and in 1830 P.J.Selby named it Cygnus Bewickii of Wingate although William Yarrell is credited with being the original describer ...


Woodcut by Thomas Bewick's son.

But the story goes back further ... Bewick's Swan is now recognised as a subspecies of Trumpeter Swan Cygnus columbianus , described by Ord in 1815 but now renamed Cygnus buccinator ... giving credit to the Trumpet concept ( the buccinator muscle in our cheek being used famously by trumpet players ) ...

Interestingly, such nineteenth century commentators such as Saunders and Morris tell us that Bewick's Swan was rare in England but present in Scotland and Ireland in flocks of several hundred ... a striking contrast with today's predominantly south eastern distribution ...

So, with the sights and sounds of Bewick's fresh in the memory, some Whooper Swan experiences were on the cards ... and what better place than Caerlaverock ...




... the birds were in good voice ... and none of the musicality of the Bewick's ... the notes were deep, harsh and lacked the changing pitch ...






The sonograms show the grouping of notes into threes and fours, the constant pitch and low frequency of the Whoopers ...



... and the mainly two note calls of the Bewick's with their charmingly rising and falling notes of a higher pitch ...








Tuesday, 6 February 2018

Iceland Gull 1st / 2nd winter near Hallbankgate this afternoon ...

A surprise turn up this afternoon as I checked Common Gulls just along the road towards Talkin from my house ... an Iceland Gull ...


... it was around 300m away when I picked it up as it flew over a snowy field along with several Common Gulls ...


... in the field just below the wood ...

... difficult to confirm ID and rule out a leucistic bird at that range but the size in comparison with the Common Gulls looked right ... 

... luckily it kept landing in the same place and then flying around, now alone as the Common Gulls had departed ...

... so, over a couple of gates and across a muddy field and a few rather low quality bridge camera shots confirmed the ID ...



... it showed some conflicting features as regards age ... the eye looked pale suggesting 2ndW but the bill had a rather diffusely demarkated dark tip suggesting 1stW ...



... the tail looked too dark for 2ndW as did the scapulars ...




... after about 30 minutes it departed, presumably heading for roost ...

... a search of the fields to the west and Talkin Tarn failed to relocate it ...



Saturday, 3 February 2018

Drake American Wigeon at Grindon Lough, the returning bird ... Common Crossbills in the Cumbrian Border Forest ...

An eclipse plumage American Wigeon turned up at Grindon Lough in September 2015 and remained until March 2016.  It returned in November 2016 and acquired the epithet of a 'returning' bird.  In recent weeks it has been quite faithful to the east end of the lough where I watched it yesterday ...


... the slightly longer bill as compared with (Eurasian) Wigeon is apparent here ...

In the 19th century the Leadenhall Market in London was a favourite place to search for vagrant waterfowl and the first British record is from there in the winter of 1837-38 ... since then 200-odd birds have occurred in England ...

... the bird was showing as well as possible with the range of c. 250m being 'close' for this site where high water levels can often mean that birds are very distant ...

... as it swam along with Wigeon the slightly reduced white on the forewing was visible ...


... with the rather longer tail showing here ...


... some shepherding activity caused the flock to fly ...


... but they soon drifted back ...



... and some preening showed the open wing ...


... as it fed the subtly longer neck showed ...




... then quietly mingling with the Wigeon flock ...




With benign weather conditions ... a light breeze and a hint of brightness, Crossbills were feeding on the good crop of cones in the nearby spruce forest ...

... they were always easier to pick up on call than sometimes, with few fly-overs ...

... the calls seemed typical of 'British' Crossbill ...





... and the sonogram confirmed the trace expected of this form ...









Thursday, 1 February 2018

Over the border to Northumberland ... with the principle of 'limited expectations' in operation ... bringing the rewards of two Glaucous Gulls, Red-breasted Goose, Long-tailed Duck ...

In the hope of finding some 'white-winged gulls' we headed for the Northumberland coast.  A juvenile Glaucous Gull had been seen at a number of locations around Blyth and the Alcan loading facility was its regular spot.  The number of gulls when we arrived could be counted on one hand and as we scanned the horizons of this highly urbanised area the prospects seemed poor.  So, cutting our losses we thought again but with little expectation of success in the larid group of birds ...

... so often it is when expectations are running at a low level that it all falls into place ...

... and so it did, culminating in this splendid juvenile Glaucous Gull ...


... but going back to the unfolding of the day ... and East Chevington was where we opted to go next ...
... as we walked the track to the North Pool a flock of Greylags came over our heads and settled on the water ...

... and among them a Red-breasted Goose ...


... distant at first but then the flock swam closer ...


... before flying off with the Greylags ...

... the provenance of these birds is often debatable and there have been occasions where an individual has been dismissed as an escape in one county, only to move to another county where it has been received as a genuine vagrant ...

... so who knows ? but a lovely bird in  any case ...

... then scanning over the more distant parts of the pool and a small group of gulls was on the water between the islands ... Great Black-backed Gull ... Herring Gull ... and Glaucous Gull ! a juvenile ...

... while the other gulls stood relatively motionless the Glauc. bathed furiously ...


... ducking its head repeatedly and wing flapping ...

( ... two male Goldeneyes popped up to the surface ... )

... with Glauc. being well known for feeding on the carcasses of cetaceans and other large animals maybe the gull had good cause to bathe thoroughly ...





... eventually it flew across to land on the west island ...




... and settled into some proper gull loafing ...


... along with the scattered Goldeneyes was a female Long-tailed Duck ...



... as we left a Water Rail dashed across a cut in the reeds ...

... encouraged by the presence of this Glauc. we headed for North Shields Fish Quay ... a long-time favourite place for gull watching ... happily this fish quay has remained active for fishing boats and also importantly is still very open and accessible ... with so many sea ports becoming closed to visitors over recent decades for reasons of security and health & safety ... the openness of North Shields Fish Quay is all the more valued ...

... an initial search of the roof-tops was unproductive save for this presumed adult  argentatus ( Scandinavian ) Herring Gull ...


... but then on the edge of the quay another juvenile Glauc. ... and so close ...


... it only flushed as a fishing boat tied up by that capstan ...

... but then returned just a short distance away ...


... with constant human activity around the quay and harbour, all the birds were confiding ... as were these adult male Eiders ...



... and Turnstones on the harbour wall ...












Saturday, 27 January 2018

A Taste of all Seasons ... Great flocks of Pinkfeet and Golden Plovers ... singing Song Thrush and Dunnock ...

With wall to wall sunshine on the Solway yesterday and with no more than a hint of a breeze it felt positively spring-like ... the big flocks of wintering birds told a different story ... it was good to see around a thousand Golden Plovers inhabiting the wet mudflats on the bend of the River Wampool at Anthorn which has recently been much less of a magnet for birds than it was just a few years ago ...


... never completely settled, they lifted nervously from time to time before returning to the same spot ...


'Golden' seemed a very appropriate epithet as the early afternoon sunshine caught them side-on ...


At Siddick Pond a Song Thrush was singing a slightly strange but powerful and rather halting song that had me pause for a moment and certainly attracted the attention of local dog walkers who wanted to know what bird that was ...


... the song was rather a 'work in progress' typical of this early stage of spring and what The Sound Approach dubbed 'plastic song' as they explored the development of song and brought greater understanding to the process that Nicholson and Koch had discussed in 1936 when  the term 'subsong ' was first used ( The Sound Approach to Birding; Mark Constantine & The Sound Approach 2006 ).


On the main pond a family party of five Whooper Swans fed in among a dozen or so Mute Swans and a group of Goosanders dived repeatedly in a display of co-ordinated fishing ...



The sea at Workington was glassy and unremarkable save for a steady stream of Cormorants coming in from an unusually south westerly direction rather than simply flying north along the coast as they normally do ... were they perhaps returning from the Scottish side ?
By the outfall pipe the regular wintering Mediterranean Gull roosted along with a few Black-headed Gulls, some adults and some first-winter birds in varying degrees of advancement ...

With the tide well out at Allonby Bay, some gulls loafed along the distant shore ... Black-headed, Common and Herring in the main ... and a group of Oystercatchers preened ...


... the two birds on the left were in full summer plumage while the others were second calendar-year birds showing white 'cut throats' and bills of muted colour with darker tips ...

... way out on the sea several flocks of around fifty Wigeon floated languidly ...

Pinkfeet were on the move in the Wedholme Flow area ... always managing to settle in distant and inaccessible rushy fields ...





The Anthorn masts field was host to another three thousand or so Golden Plovers along with a scattering of Lapwings, Starlings and tucked away among a straggly patch of rushes a party of four Ruff picked constantly among the vegetation ...



... raising their heads only occasionally ...


A bank of black cloud loomed out to the west blotting out the sinking sun and casting sudden gloom over the Campfield Scrape where a very fluffed-up Little Egret walked towards the water's edge ...


... and flew over the pool where some Teal lingered and a party of Snipe probed among the emergent sedges ...