Wednesday, 30 January 2019

25th Anniversary of an OBP

I don't usually dig into the archives on here, but after seeing a tweet from @birdingprof about a bird I saw 25 years ago it had me reminiscing - the bird in question was an Olive-backed Pipit at Wat Tyler Country Park, Essex.

Wat Tyler CP was my original patch and I spent many hours as a teenager and into my early twenties birding the marshes, creeks and scrub in this part of Essex. There were 3 or 4 of us that regularly covered the area, and for a lot of the time for little reward except for the usual breeding birds and occasional passage migrants - but this all changed on the 13th January 1994.

It was a Thursday and I 'd received a call on my landline (these were the days before mobile phones) from Sam Woods who had seen an odd Pipit at the back of the car park near the Motor Boat Museum (as it was then) and his description sounded good for Olive-backed Pipit but being mid-January and not mid-October he was rightly a little hesitant to put any news out until he or one the patch regulars could confirm his suspicions. At the time I was working only a short drive from Wat Tyler and decided to bird the patch during my lunch hour on the Friday. I checked the scrub at the back of the car park but couldn't find any Pipits but continued through the scrub following the path to an area near two small ponds, and it was here I found a Pipit on the ground working its way through the thick scrub, and having obtained good views of a plain, tinged green, unmarked mantle I was confident it was indeed an Olive-backed Pipit and not just an odd Meadow Pipit or even an over-wintering Tree Pipit.

I contacted Sam to confirm I had found the bird again and the location where I had seen it and we convened (with one or two others) on Saturday morning to try and find it, and sure enough it was still in the area of scrub near the ponds. We were all happy with the ID and the news was put out to one of the bird news services.

The bird stayed loyal to the scrub near the ponds for the rest of the winter, although it could be elusive at times I was fortunate enough to see it on several occasions. In the end it stayed for a total of 79 days and was last seen on the 2nd April, and although Olive-backed Pipit is a regular autumn vagrant to the UK, over-wintering birds remain extremely rare.

I still can't believe it's been 25 years...

Shetland, 2013
Unfortunately the Olive-backed Pipit at Wat Tyler CP was in the days before I carried a camera with a decent size lens, so here's a photo of an OBP from Shetland 2013.

Tuesday, 22 January 2019

Estonian Colour-ringed Common Gulls

Last Friday I popped into Rainham in search of the juvenile Glaucous Gull that had been seen on the Tip and around the Stone Barges on the Wednesday, my initial search drew a blank in both areas, so I went and viewed the reserve from Wennington (Serin Mound) and picked up a distant gull roost on the adjacent marsh as you look towards the old silt lagoons. Although distant I picked out the distinctive biscuit coloured tones and pale bill (dark tipped) of a juvenile Glaucous Gull amongst the gull flock. I hadn't been watching the bird for long before a Marsh Harrier spooked the roost and I lost sight of the bird in the confusion, most of the gulls regathered and landed partially behind a reedbed on the marsh, but the Glaucous Gull had either flown off or was disappointingly out of view.

Earlier, whilst searching for the Glaucous Gull I picked out two colour-ringed Common Gulls stood on the metal gantry which juts into the Thames from the Stone Barges car park.

Colour-ringed, Darvic
Estonian Common Gulls - P4V6 and P9U0
After emailing the ring information to the relevant coordinator, I've now received the life histories of both birds and remarkably they were both ringed as chicks in May 2008 in the same colony at Kakrarahu on the Matsalu Nature Reserve in Estonia. Common Gull P9U0 was recorded in Sweden at Vambasa (east of Romneby) in November 2012 but apart from that single sighting neither bird has ever been recorded away from the nature reserve in Estonia.

Both Common Gulls are males and have been observed nesting amongst the colony of Gulls at Kakrarahu every year since 2012.

Colour-ringed, Darvic
Estonia (Matsalu Nature Reserve) to UK (Rainham Marshes) - 1039miles/1672km
The birds have travelled over a 1000 miles to spend the winter in the UK and were stood just a few feet away from each other at Rainham - what are the odds on that?

Sunday, 20 January 2019

Two more Caspian Gulls!

Back on the patch Saturday morning with the aim of mopping up a few of the commoner birds missing from the year list and I soon pick up Skylark, Linnet and Kestrel as I cross the Flats, arriving at Jubilee Pond and the terribly sad sight of two dead Mute Swans greet me! Both birds look as if they've been caught up in the wire fencing on the east side of the Pond. I believe this fencing was meant to protect the vegetation on the edge of the pond, however it's clear this fencing is a hazard to the wildfowl that frequent the pond and clearly needs to be removed - I reported the dead Swans to the City of London Corporation who confirmed a Forest Keeper team would remove the birds, lets hope they also remove the unnecessary fencing?

Completing my walk around the patch and the only other bird I managed to add to the year list was a wintering Chiffchaff near the allotments in the Old Sewage Works, back at Alexandra Lake for another scan through the gulls and and I pick up not one but two 1st-winter Caspian Gulls on the lake. We've only ever had single Caspian Gulls on the patch at any one time, so to find two birds is a first for Wanstead and my run of finding Casps this winter shows no sign of abating as this is now my 4th and 5th birds since the 10th November, all of which have been 1st-winters.

One of the Caspian Gulls was of the clean white-headed variety and stood out immediately, the other bird was a little less obvious, being more heavily streaked around the head, hind-neck, breast and flanks. Both birds showed a set of nicely uniformed wing coverts with a reddish hue and a good set of tertials - the more I see of these birds, the more I'm enjoying the subtle difference of each and every bird, here's hoping I catch up with one or two more of these eastern beauties before the winters out.

1st-winter, Cachinnans, London
The more heavily streaked individual
1st-winter, Cachinnans, London
1st-winter, Cachinnans, London
The cleaner, white-headed bird of the two.

Monday, 14 January 2019

Urban Cattle Egrets

With two Cattle Egrets in Cheshunt, just ten minutes down the road from my office - I couldn't resist a bit of lunch hour twitching, and sure enough having parked in the estate and walked the short distance to the park at Penton Fields, both birds were on show straight away.

This was a true bit of urban birding with the park being overlooked on four sides by a housing estate and a kids playground at one end - I suppose seeing these birds in this slightly odd environment was a glimpse into the near future, as they continue to increase in numbers and colonise more of the UK.

I'm still yet to patch tick Cattle Egret at Wanstead but I'm sure I won't have to wait too long, especially as there's a kids playground opposite Jubilee Pond!

Cheshunt, Hertfordshire

Cheshunt, Hertfordshire

Cheshunt, Hertfordshire
Just a Cattle Egret flying past a set of kids swings in a playground!

Saturday, 5 January 2019

Opening the Account

After writing off my New Years Day birding plans due to the late night celebrations and a sore head that lasted most of the day - hangovers seem to last longer these days! Today was my first outing on the patch. Having met up with Jono just after first light and in little under 4 hours and a big circuit of the Flats and Park we amassed a reasonable 54 Species - which is about par for the course.

There were quite a few omissions from the list (Kestrel, Stonechat, Song ThrushSkylark, TreecreeperPochard etc, etc) so lots to keep me occupied in the coming weeks, highlights on the walk round were few and far between but catching up with Firecrest in Bush Wood was nice and yet another 1st-winter Caspian Gull (this time on Jubilee Pond) was also an unexpected bonus.

I'll do well to match the heady heights and the quality of birds we had in 2018 on the patch but I'm happy to plug away and let's see what turns up...

1st-Winter, Wanstead, London

1st-Winter, Wanstead, London