Saturday, 22 September 2012

Americans on the Wirral! - 20/21st September 2012

When news broke on Wednesday about a Semipalmated Sandpiper on the Wirral, I was quite excited as this is a species I should really have caught up with by now, however they are very very rare in the north west, and I believe Lancashire has only had 1 prior record (Brockholes LWT). When photos were uploaded to Surfbirds, things weren't as simple as you might first think as the bird seemed to look very much like a Western Sandpiper due to a long curved bill and rufous fringed scapulars. The bird was put out as possible Western Sandpiper.
After the Western Sandpiper at Cley in Winter 11/12 I put quite a lot of research into the splitting of these two similar species so I used all my past references to make my mind up about this bird. I kept going back and forth between ID's as in some photos it looked very Western and in others looked very Semipalmated. I know from past experience that photos can be very misleading and show a bird in a completely different light to what it actually looked like in the flesh which can make you believe a bird is something else. As a result, I decided that I would go for this bird on Thursday to try and make my own mind up on what this bird is.
I arrived to a crowd of about 40 people watching a flock of Sanderling, Dunlin and Ringed Plover. They had seen the bird, but the group had lifted just before I arrived and then settled, so the bird had been lost.
I then joined Chris Batty, Stu Piner, Chris Galvin and Steve Young on the next road along called Curzon Road, and after about 15 minutes of scanning through the flock, Chris Batty picked the bird up at the front of the group. I managed to get onto it almost straight away and was amazed at how much it looked like a miniature Sanderling. The bird was quite distant at c75 meters and in reasonably poor light so I wasn't able to view the finer details of the plumage like the scapulars etc, so I focussed more on jizz of the bird and structure.
The bird has next to no legs for the majority of the time and certainly didn't look leggy like I would generally expect Western to do so. The bill was quite long with a slight curve at the tip. Subsequent reading has taught me that East Coast female Semipalmated Sands can have a long bill with a curve and even a thin tip, instead of a blob tip, so unless a bird shows a very short bill or a very long bill, this feature isn't a sensible feature to use to help with ID. The bird fed by pointing its bill downwards at '7 o'clock' with a bull neck and a concise structure as though the bird was a little ball. It never pointed its bill forwards or stuck its neck out. In terms of position of its legs, they did appear quite far back on the bird with quite a lot of the bird in front of the legs. This is quite often a good indicator of species as Western's legs are really far back. I don't feel that in this particular case, legs position is useful as the bird was facing into strong wind so this could have just been the bird trying to stay stood up! At the distance I was viewing, I couldn't get a feel for the shape of the birds head, but I did note it seemed reasonably large. The face was again a little too 'small in my scope' to get any great detail, but I certainly saw dark ear coverts and what appeared to be a faint supercillium presumably meaning the crown was quite dark.
After 5 minutes of intense viewing, the whole flock lifted and the bird was never located again. I went home with the impression that if I had found the bird, I would sent it out as a probable Semipalmated Sandpiper as I just couldn't turn it into a Western despite trying based on the picutres I saw.
Further reading on Thursday night and observing Steve Youngs photos made the bird look like a Western Sandpiper and the American birders that were asked for their opinions seemed to all think it was a Western. I just couldn't get this impression in the field, so I really wasn't happy and if it turned out to be a Western, I wouldn't be happy with ticking it. I also personally thought that on a lot of photos, it looked like a Semi-p and of the videos of Western and Semip's I watched on Youtube, the Hoylake bird matched Semi-P. I wasn't happy, so talking to Alex Jones, I arranged to go the following day with him to hopefully get better views with better knowledge to hand.
Western/Semipalmated Sandpiper - photo Alex Jones
I met with Alex at Rhyl station for 10.40 and we headed off to Hoylake with a quick detour to Burton Mere Wetland to catch up with a Juvenile Sabine's Gull that appeared the day before. We got really good views of it and it was nice to compare it in structure to the Black-headed Gulls and also see a Sabine's Gull as well as in flight. I have only ever seen one sat before and that was back in 2001 at Seal Sands (I hardly remember the finer details I was 9!)
We made our way to Meols at the base of Roman Road and were pleased when a flock of Dunlin landed about 50 meters away and within 10 minutes, the bird was picked up in brilliant light and we were able to watch the bird for half and hour before it started flying around. It then landed slightly closer and then walked even closer on the rising tide. The views were really pleasing and I was able to pick out the colour of the scapulars which I would suggest was a rich ginger colour that I would certainly say fell within the colour variation of Semipalmated Sandpipers. I was keen to observe the nape as I had read that Western show a very little contrast in colour between the nape and the cap whereas SemiP do. The bird showed a clear dark cap and a pale nape so there was an obvious contrast. The supercillium also seemed pretty obvious compared to the cap and the similarly dark ear coverts. When the bird walked towards us, I (along with Alex Jones) was sure that the breast showed a very faint buff tinge instead of clean white which would be a feature of SemiP. The flock then took flight.
White Rumped Sandpiper - Photo Phil Woolen
Moving down to Hoylake, We found the flock again and within about half an hour, there was a rumour going around that someone had found a White-rumped Sandpiper. Another species that I should have seen by now, but hadn't! It turns out that this wasn't a rumour and someone had found out. The wind was picking up and the flock took flight! I was gutted! However, they landed again and about about 10 minutes scanning, I managed to refind the bird in the flock! I was so happy! This was a fantastic adult White-rumped which was 75% of it's way through the moult into Winter Plumage so appeared quite grey in appearance. The bird was surprisingly smaller than the Dunlin it was with with a really thin body. The primary projection was obvious and it was nice to see the crossed primaries. The main feature that allowed us to pick the bird up was the really obvious supercillium behind the eye. A fantastic bird!

After lots of reading, and lots of views of the bird, I am almost 90% sure the stint sp is a Semipalmated Sandpiper and the only reasons why I am not 100% is that fact that I have no field experience with either and the American birders think it's a Western...

Thanks to Alex Jones for the lift and to Alex and Phil Woolen for use of photos.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

The one that got away - Brockholes NR LWT, Lancashire - 11th September 2012

Adult winter Kittiwake on Meadow Lake (Bill Aspin)

It's strange to not get up every day to ring birds and live birds, so its been nice in the last couple of days to do some patch work.
This morning I arrived at Brockholes with the hope of some migrants after the heavy rain of the night before. Checking Meadow Lake for the ever present Garganey produced the above Kittiwake. It was a fantastic winter adult and has to be one of the most pleasing 'common' birds to find in land. It's always a rush, especially when this is only the 2nd record for 2012 down at Brockholes. Bill Aspin and Peter Bainbridge managed to see the bird before it headed NW at c09.30.
Whilst we were watching the Kittiwake, 3 Black-tailed Godwits flew over the site and headed off SE which was a nice record.
Throughout the rest of the morning there was an obvious movement of passerines with Whinchat and Tree Pipit (seen by Bill Aspin) being the highlights along with Meadow Pipit, Linnet and Goldfinch producing an almost constant chorus overhead. (Interestingly, the visit yesterday was mainly dominated by Siskins overhead and I think I only heard 1 today)

The reason this post is called 'The one that got away' is because, whilst stood in the M6 hide overlooking No1, I was scanning the island when a Starling flock took up from the far side of the large island. In this flock was a small wader that I actually initially thought was a Sand Martin because it seemed hirundine size and was a warm olivey brown on its back and pale underneath. It was certainly smaller than a Dunlin which obviously got the alarm bells ringing as it was obviously a stint sp of some sort. It flew around for about 2 minutes until it flew overhead and I managed to hear it call (producing a light buzzing chatter which lead me to believe it may be Temminck's as it sounded very similar to the flock of 9 I heard in Kvismaren. The colour would match too) It seemed to have a very small head and reasonably short bill. As it flew overhead it was in silhouette which made it difficult to make any plumage detail out, but when it was circling the pool at 150 meters range, I could make out an obvious white wing bar, and what seemed to be a lot of white at the rear end. I couldn't say whether the rump was fully white or not as it was distant and the bright sun highlighted the white. The bird flew across the motorway and onto the working over there which are unviewable. I was praying that it would flush and reappear on No1, but sadly, this was not to be and was never seen again........the one that got away.

Monday, 3 September 2012

Kvismare fågelstation, Sweden - Day 53

Today I fly home, so I thought I would sum up the trip by listing the totals for the observatory over the past 53 days. Over 3000 birds have been ringed and processed during my stay and some incredible species have added to that total.

Teal - 2
Sparrowhawk - 1
Little Ringed Plover - 1
Ringed Plover - 4
Lapwing - 3
Knot - 1
Curlew Sandpiper - 1
Ruff - 4
Snipe - 4
Wood Sandpiper - 19
Common Sandpiper - 6
Black-headed Gull - 1
Common Tern - 3
Great Spotted Woodpecker - 2
Lesser Spotted Woodpecker - 4
Sand Martin - 20
Swallow - 850*
House Martin - 1
Tree Pipit - 54*
Yellow Wagtail - 4
Grey Wagtail - 1*
White Wagtail - 61
Wren - 4
Dunnock - 3
Robin - 123
Thrush Nightingale - 14
Bluethroat - 1
Common Redstart - 3
Whinchat - 1
Blackbird - 22
Fieldfare - 4
Song Thrush - 7
Savi's Warbler - 1
Sedge Warbler - 199
Marsh Warbler - 18
Reed Warbler - 609
Great Reed Warbler - 36
Icterine Warbler - 3
Barred Warbler - 1
Lesser Whitethroat - 10
Common Whitethroat - 28
Garden Warbler - 68
Blackcap - 53
Wood Warbler - 2
Willow Warbler - 469
Goldcrest - 6
Spotted Flycatcher - 16
Pied Flycatcher - 22
Bearded Tit - 47
Marsh Tit - 12
Willow Tit - 1
Coal Tit - 1
Blue Tit - 144
Great Tit - 107
Nuthatch - 8
Treecreeper - 3
Penduline Tit - 10
Red-backed Shrike -4
Starling - 5
Tree Sparrow - 9
Chaffinch - 65
Greenfinch - 21
Goldfinch - 2
Common Rosefinch - 1
Yellowhammer - 13
Ortolan Bunting - 1
Reed Bunting - 169

*The Swallow and Tree Pipit totals are in fact the highest ever annual totals for the observatory, which is really great to be part of, as well as Grey Wagtail being the first ever to be ringed since the observatory opened in 1961! They aren't common here at all!

In terms of lifers for the trip, Thrush Nightingale, Savi's Warbler, Marsh Warbler and Penduline Tit were lifers that I ringed as well as seeing Red-throated Pipit for the first time yesterday. I also managed to see a few new races of birds including Coal Tit and Nuthatch.

These past 7 and a half weeks have been just incredible! I've have never had such an intensive period of 24/7 birding! Although on paper, the past 7 weeks appear as what you see above, but to me, it will be remembered forever as a pure learning experience picking up techniques and practise that you can only 'learn by doing'. I can't thank Craig Brookes enough for his help over the past 53 days as he's taught me some ringing techniques that should hopefully push me that tiny bit closer to reaching the goal of a 'C' permit in England. Also, thanks must go to Heather McGinty for making for a thoroughly entertaining and enjoyable break from the reality of the UK. Finally, thank you to all the past members of the team that visited Kvismaren during my stay.

A trip I will remember forever!

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Kvismare fågelstation, Sweden - Day 52

Below are the top three species I have ringed whilst in Kvismaren in terms of enjoyment ringing, and surprise of how much I actually enjoyed ringing them due to learning about their ID etc. The Bluethroat of course didn't surprise in terms of how much enjoyment it gave me, because they are one of my favourite birds and I knew that if I were to ring one, I would be over the moon...I was just over the moon and it went straight to No.1!
Number 1 - Bluethroat / Blåhake
Number 2 - Barred Warbler - Höksångare
Number 3 - Marsh Warbler / Kärrsångare
Number 4 - Thrush Nightingale / Näktergal

This morning we went to Banvallen, but had to take the nets down after a short period of time due to rain. We were only able to catch 7 birds comprising of 3 Robin (1 retrap), 2 Blackbird (1 retrap), a Song Thrush and a Dunnock.

As a result I thought, as today is my last full day, I should post my personal totals for the trip, followed by the stations totals tomorrow.

I have ringed 1217 birds of 56 species with 28 new species experienced in the hand (in bold below)

Species I've ringed since I started work on July 14th:
Ringed Plover - 1
Ruff - 2
Snipe - 2
Wood Sandpiper - 9

Common Sandpiper - 3
Black-headed Gull - 1
Common Tern - 1

Great Spotted Woodpecker - 1
Lesser Spotted Woodpecker - 1

Sand Martin - 7
Swallow - 281
Tree Pipit - 16
Yellow Wagtail - 3
Grey Wagtail - 1 - 1st to be ringed at Kvismaren ever!
White Wagtail - 27
Wren - 2
Dunnock - 3
Robin - 49
Thrush Nightingale - 6
Bluethroat - 1
Redstart - 1
Whinchat - 1
Blackbird - 8
Fieldfare - 1
Song Thrush - 5

Savi's Warbler - 1
Sedge Warbler - 68
Marsh Warbler - 6
Reed Warbler - - 221
Great Reed Warbler - 7
Icterine Warbler - 1
Barred Warbler - 1
Lesser Whitethroat - 2
Common Whitethroat- 14
Garden Warbler - 19
Blackcap - 26
Willow Warbler - 169
Goldcrest - 3
Spotted Flycatcher - 6

Pied Flycatcher - 9
Bearded Tit - 14
Marsh Tit - 6
Coal Tit - 1
Blue Tit - 57
Great Tit - 45
Nuthatch - 2
Treecreeper - 1
Penduline Tit - 1
Red-backed Shrike - 1
Starling - 5
Tree Sparrow - 9
Chaffinch - 25
Greenfinch - 8
Common Rosefinch - 1
Yellowhammer - 2
Reed Bunting- 53

Saturday, 1 September 2012

Kvismare fågelstation, Sweden - Day 51

1cy male Bluethroat (Blåhake)
wing and tail of the Bluethroat (Blåhake)
Stunning throat of Bluethroat (Blåhake)
1cy male (Continental) Coal Tit Periparus ater ater (Svartmes)
Wing of Coal Tit - Note 'extensive' black to the bases of the Lesser Coverts sexing this as male and outer two juvenile Greater Coverts ageing this as a 1cy.
The almost Navy Blue mantle of the Continental race of Coal Tit makes this race look incredibly different to 'ours'

Hectar and I went to Öby Kulle this morning whilst Craig, Heather, Tage and 3 newly arrived Austrian and German girls went to Vallen
Hectar and I only managed to catch 15 birds including 3 recaptures, but there was some quality in our catch.
We managed to catch 2 Robins to help with Hectar's project, as well as 2 Tree Pipit and a Goldcrest which were nice, but the best bird from Öby Kulle was a fantastic 1cy male Coal Tit. I have never seen the continental race before, so it was really nice to see in the hand and note the obvious differences between the British race and the Continental. The mantle and tail colour seen almost navy in some lights and there appears to be much more extensive black on the head and breast.

I got a phone call from Craig to tell me that they'd caught a Bluethroat at Vallen and I should head down! I essentially sprinted there with Hectar in tow, and was amazed when I arrived that they had left the bird unringed so that I could ring it! I was overwhelmed as I have wanted to see one of these in the hand since I started ringing, and the fact that I was able to ring and process it was just amazing!
Without a doubt one of the top 5 birds I have ever ringed and one of my favourite birds of all time.

I can't thank Craig enough for getting in contact with me and letting me ring it.

Not sure I'm going to beat that between now and Monday when I fly home! If I can beat it, then I will be more than happy to blog about it!