Monday, 29 April 2013

White Wagtail rump shots, Scoughall, East Lothian

I nipped along the coast on Sunday morning hoping to catch some of the recent White Wagtail passage, and I was not disappointed. At least 20 birds were feeding on the uppershore. Not all were confirmed White Wags and there were a few definite black-backed Pied Wagtails in there, but this White Wagtail in particular cooperated for some definitive rump shots. The pale grey rump only has black tips on the longest feathers. If only all were this straightforward. Of course, even without seeing the rump on this this individual it is a pretty unmistakeable continental alba White rather than british yarrellii Pied. Other nice migrants on the beach were Whimbrel, Wheatear and half a dozen Willow Warblers working along the edge of the sea buckthorn.

Migrant Wheatear (left) and Whimbrel (right) on beach at Scoughall

Saturday, 27 April 2013

2 hybrid Herring x Lesser Black-backed Gulls at Seafield, Edinburgh

Both Herring x Lesser Black-backed Gull hybrids* were in among the gulls at Seafield today. Though it took quite a number of hours before the sub-adult (above) appeared on one of the factory roofs. This bird has a particularly broad band on P5, which would be a pro-YLG characteristic. As a sub-adult though we might expect a little more black on the wing of the hybrid as well. Through the scope the dark eye and dark marks on the primary coverts were clear - the latter are obscured in these shots, although the third (blurry) iphone-scope pic shows the width of the band.

*I am assuming that these two birds are both hybrids, rather than Yellow-legged Gulls...

Here are some shots of the adult bird from today. Seen on rooftops and in flight.

Monday, 22 April 2013

Introducing Isabel - a dilution mutation Herring Gull at Seafield

Herring Gull (centre) with dilution mutation (isabel) showing much reduced eumelanin across plumage
Seeing a white-winged gull is usually the highlight of any day's birding for me. Sunday was no exception and this time the bird was a Herring Gull, albeit one with a dilution mutation (as defined by van Grouw in the January edition of British Birds). This mutation results in a quantitative reduction of melanin - and since gulls only have one form of melanin (eumelanin) it is impossible to say whether this mutation is "pastel" (the reduction in both forms of melanin) or "isabel" (the reduction of eumelanin only).

At rest most of the plumage appeared to be snow white. Bare part colouration appeared to be normal.
This gull - let's call her Isabel, perhaps - has been reported at Seafield already this winter, but this is the first time I have seen her. Why her? Well, many of these conditions are sex-linked in birds, and since in birds the heterogametic sex is females rather than males (unlike mammals, where males only have one copy of the X chromosome), so I am guessing that it might be more likely that this bird is a female.
Massive crop, but gives a good idea of the bird in the field
I'm looking forward to closer views of Isabel at some point in the future... Here are some more flight shots - the normal grey upperparts are white and the black wingtip a nice faded grey.
The dark smudge on the underwing in this shot is a shadow of another gull.
Again, a shadow is unhelpful but the white plumage with grey on P8-10

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Adult Herring x LBBG hybrid* at Seafield again

Adult presumed hybrid Herring x LBBG. Same bird as seen 16 Feb, still present at Seafield today 21 April.

*All references to hybrid status are presumed based on phenotypic characters

Seafield again - grilling the gulls. I was hoping to get another look at yesterday's sub-adult Herring x LBBG hybrid but instead connected with the adult bird seen at the same site on 16 February. Interesting to see that this bird is still around. I managed four sightings in flight and on factory roofs. Each time it landed it was obscured. Each time it flew it was possible to track it given its mantle shade in between LBBG and Herring but given the number of gulls around at the recycling centre it was easy to lose in the throng.

Compared with yesterday's bird it has a longer grey tongue on the inner web of P10 and a band of uneven width on P5 - narrower on the inner web.
Once again, very fortunate to get any shots of it at all.

Check out those grey flight feathers...

Saturday, 20 April 2013

Another yellow-legged gull type at Seafield: Sub-adult Herring x LBBG?

Hybrid Herring x LBBG? The bird in question is at the centre of the shot, sandwiched between two paler mantled Herring Gulls and with a darker mantled Lesser Black-backed Gull in front.
Rather than check east along the coast for migrants I decided to make my now customary trip to Duddingston, Figgate and Seafield. Highlights at the first two sites were the songs of recently arrived Phylloscopus warblers Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler as well as the unexpected bonus of a Nuthatch at Figgate Park. The latter is quite possibly the first record for the site, but it did not hang around for long but instead headed North like a migrant. Wonder how far it got before changing its mind - after all the Firth of Forth would not be its preferred habitat...

The darker grey mantle and yellow legs are visible in this shot

Checking the gulls at Seafield, I approached the roost carefully. After about 10 minutes I noticed that a bird had arrived that had an interesting mantle shade - a Yellow-legged or hybrid Herring x Lesser Black-backed Gull shade. Slightly bulkier than the accompanying Herring Gulls its primary projection seemed long and had reduced white tips. At this stage I was convinced that when it moved into shallower water it would show nice yellow legs - and so it did. I assumed that it was one of the same birds that I saw at the site in February, but closer examination shows that today's bird is a sub-adult with some dark marks on the primary coverts and a dark iris. So, the third or fourth of these hybrids (presumably)that I have seen this winter/spring - this one even more like a Yellow-legged Gull than the last in my opinion - just would need a little bit more black on primaries 8, 7 and 6 to convince me. Any comments?

This wing stretch shows grey tongues cutting into the black on the underwing more than would be expected on a YLG. The upperwing pattern is close to YLG with a reasonable black band on primary 5 (note P10/9 are overlapping on this image)
Noise from the nearby recycling centre spooked the gulls unfortunately. In this shot the hybrid is the hindmost bird taking off with its feet still in the water. Note the yellow legs, subterminal mirrors on P10 and P9 (small), grey tongues on primaries and complete band on P5.
This shot shows the mantle shade nicely compared to both Herring and LBBG.
This is the best shot of the upperwing. Note the dark marks on the primary coverts combined with the dark iris indicate that this bird may be a sub-adult. Note the strength of the subterminal band on P5 - this is certainly sufficient for a Yellow-legged Gull - unfortunately the underwing perhaps indicates otherwise...

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Adult Kittiwake at Seafield

Despite the cold weather some breeding migrants are apparently back in Lothian. I haven't seen many yet, but this Kittiwake at Seafield on 8th April could be a breeder recently arrived in the Forth from offshore wintering grounds. It certainly seemed happy to have its feet on solid ground after battling with the wrecking winds of early April.

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Snow Goose at Balranald 31 March 2013

I haven't done any long-distance twitching for a very long time, preferring birding and bird-finding (or more accurately failing-to-find-birding), but news of a Harlequin Duck just a short drive from our holiday home had me considering a trip to North Uist a good month before our planned holiday. Sense prevailed and I crossed my fingers and amazingly it became a long-stayer. So after a long drive, ferry journey and fairly unceremonious dumping of luggage I headed off to Balranald. As the light faded the difficulty of finding a small duck on a complex rocky shoreline hit home and we returned without a sighting - and we had not managed any of the supporting cast either...

The next morning was a different story entirely. Up early and determined not to dip twice, I was glad to see the female Ring-necked Duck (Scottish tick for me) was viewable on the loch south of the road on the way in. From the track to the beach a distant white goose heading north with a small number of Greylags turned for a lovely flypast and landed in amongst more Greylags in a nearby field (another Scottish tick - well its a little better than the definitely feral ones I've seen in among the small isles..).

If that wasn't enough, the Harlequin (life tick) showed briefly though distantly at Traigh Iar. And then on the way back to the car the Kumlien's Gull made its flypast. What a morning - and all before breakfast - suddenly I can see the attraction of twitching...

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Kumlien's Gull at Balranald, North Uist 31 March 2013

I was walking back along the track at Balranald after a brief view of the Harlequin Duck when a white-winged gull caught my eye. A few more shots of Iceland Gull in flight I thought as it approached. Through the viewfinder I did a double-take when the contrast between the outer and inner primaries indicated it was more likely a pale Kumlien's Gull. Switching to bins quickly to confirm this as it flew past before it disappeared south across the machair. Very exciting to see this sort of thing unexpectedly, but just like the Ring-billed Gull in Dublin it turns out that it had been seen in the area previously...

Saturday, 13 April 2013

St Kilda Wren 4 April 2013

This St Kilda Wren sang from a rock right next to me as I scanned the shore of the bay for pipits. What a view - and far better pics than I have of any other form of our Wren!

Thursday, 11 April 2013

Ring-billed Gull, North Bull, Dublin

I was glad that I had tried out phone binning two days ago because I needed to have another go today at North Bull , Dublin. I had been hoping to get shots of godwits or geese with bling, having seen some colour rings briefly the other day. This Ring-billed Gull changed that when it dropped in unexpectedly. It took a while to nail the ID as it was distant and flighty initially but it's broad wings with silver grey above, dark trailing edge on primaries and striking ring on drooping bill were particularly striking when in direct comparison with Common Gulls.