Iceland, Feburary 2020

Work has got in the way of me editing images and writing up this post but I’d like to say this was a very special (non work) trip, I was totally blown away by Iceland. Amy and I landed in near white out condition at Keflavik airport near Reykavik and drove a big ol’ 4×4 in said weather all the way to Stykkisholmur, on the Snaefellness peninsula – 3 hours to the north west (staying with our friends Tim and Sara). It wasn’t until we drove home 3 days later on a clear day that we realised the incredible landscape we had driven through; The mountains, coastal roads and lava fields all dusted with snow, dry surface snow being blown across the road and the sounds of the howling winds were very evocative. A Stunning place to be and especially to bird.


Obviously my focus was on Gulls and with White winged Gulls a little thin on the ground this winter in the UK I thought I’d indulge massively here. The high number present across the peninsular were a welcome sight and very few herrings and Great black-backs were seen in comparison. The first morning I took some expensive bread down to the harbour where there were plenty to look at.






Juv Glaucous Gulls


3cy Glaucous Gull




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5cy Glaucous Gull (+ ad iceland)


ad Glaucous Gull



Juv Iceland Gulls

Whilst trying to balance seeing friends and all spending time together with such exciting birding I made do with this for the first day.

The next morning was calm and still and alot more gulls turned up to the bread throwing at Stykkisholmur harbour including a bird i’d half wished Id find given the weather this past month or two – a 1st winter American Herring Gull!!  It almost got away as i was lazily focusing on the wingers but i caught a glimpse of this dark looking bird’s greater and median wing covert pattern, paling bill base and undertail coverts in the heart of the melee and started to get excited…


In flight the bird showed an almost all dark tail, albeit it with some white mostly in the basal portion of the outer 3 retrices, the conspicious heavily barred upper tail coverts & rump, large dark centers to the 2nd gen upper scaps (with juv lower scaps)  Also dark brown smudgey nape and underparts with solid brown belly also its large size.


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The heavily barred undertail coverts were obvious in flight with photographs revealing the pattern of the longest being mostly dark with white notches out of them, dark underparts and solid dark belly.  Its not a totally classic bird but I’m confident of the ID as are a few of my gull friend nerds. (as well as Killian Mullarney, whom I emailed during a brief panic over the id after id put the news out…) he agreed with the id which was a nice reassurance, although Rich, Josh and Dante had already done the same earlier in the day.  Its important to be aware of the Icelandic herring x glauc hybrids that can resemble a 1w smiths but this bird doesn’t show any of those traits in my opinion.

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With this unexpected find under my belt for the trip I was happy to drive us all around looking at tourist stuff as well as just taking in the incredible scenery and cool parts of the Snaefellness peninsula. This mostly happened on the coast road which meant I encountered a few flocks of gulls. Flocks of wingers were my highlight really, very exciting for a visiting British birder so I stopped the car a lot. Thanks for being patient guys x









I was expecting to see more Kumlien’s gulls, from reading other peoples trip reports but since I’ve learnt that the peninsular in general isn’t such a good place for them (nor herring gulls for that matter) and many more are seen closer to Reykjavik. Here are 3 of the 4/5 I saw, a 3cy and 2 different adults, all fairly subtle.




I saw many Glaucous x Herring Hybrids during the trip, especially older birds which resembled adult Glaucs only with some black in the outer primaries. I was keen to see some 1st winter birds to learn about how they can resemble American Herring Gulls, this bird below is much closer to the herring end of the scale but shows a bi-couloured bill, barred upper and undertail coverts (not really resembling smiths in their exact patterning) but gave the game away with the large notches in the greater coverts, the inner primaries showed a very glauc-like almost oil slick like pattern to the very tips and dry blotchy rather than smooth darkness to the underparts and nape.




Some birds were closer to just being a straight up Glaucous gulls, the below bird actually showed a couple of moulted scapulars and brownish primaries, notched greater coverts and tertials plus overall shape suggested some herring I thought. Its weird because I believe some northern herrings with a similar primary pattern to be just that –  Northern argies rather than viking gulls although some of these particular birds gave me the viking impression.



whereas some others seemed less herring like with hoary coverts and tertials, probably pure glauc with darker primaries.


There were plenty of pure birds with differing amounts of dark and light in the primaries and I saw only one or two very pale juv birds.




Other birds around the place; Walking around the village (and from the kitchen window) I encountered a flock of 1500+ Snowbuntings that would settle on the low roofs and then all flush together when a Merlin zipped through, I had 2 or 3 sightings of different White-tailed Eagles, other than that the flocks of Eider, Black guillemots in the harbour, Red throated and  a black throated diver (Ive since learned that BTD is an Iceland rarity, unfortuntaltey I didn’t think enough of it at the time and didnt take any photos as i was just scanning for whales really. oops!) and I bumped into a few distant Harlequins from a volcanic beach in a place called Dritvik.




Like i say with many of my trips “I WILL be going back” but i mean it more for this place,  I cant even imagine it covered in waders and terns and greenery but I’d love to see it.





A very nice 2cy Caspian Gull

Theres been a few new Casps around recently on the Thames and I felt a little gripped after seeing some of Rich’s photos from last weekend whilst I was in Mexico but today I saw this bird at Erith that look away the pain.


Myself and Niall Keogh tried a few spots along the river including Greenhaven drive where we had about 7 or 8 Yellowlegged gulls appear from nowhere aswell as the Casp x Herr hybrid “X09A” loudly honking its way into the bread melee, but no Casps. We swang into Erith Pier to get rid of the last of the loaves and as I raised my bins to scan the birds on the jetty this was the closest bird!! A scenario Ive hoped for many times. Anyway Im making more of a fuss than necessary but its just how I feel about Caspian gulls man.




Its a particularly long necked, long legged long billed, white headed beauty with plain coverts and a little bleaching which I love.


In other news the Dunlin flock were putting on a nice show at Erith pier whilst Niall and I had our lunch.


Mexico City

Another work trip this time to Mexico city, installing art works with the artist Richard Long at a private home and horse stables designed by Mexican architect Luis Barragan.


My first time in Central America and as is the case with these trips I try to make the most of relatively urban birding outside of work hours with the exception of one entire morning just outside the city. The things I was hoping to see were mostly common, all it took was to track down a warbler flock or find the right kind of scrubby habitat and there were no disappointments although id like to spend more time in a wilder environment when/if I return one day and also spend some time at a wetland type habitat as I saw no waders, not a huge surprise at 4,000m above sea level!


I counted 14 species of warbler, 9 of which were new birds for me and I believe I could have seen another 2/3 new species with more time. Below are the birds I photographed, beginning with the more common wintering north American Birds and later the Mexican specialties!



Townsend’s Warblers


Audabon’s Warbler


Wilson’s Warbler


Black Throated Gray Warbler



Hermit Warblers



Macgillivray’s Warblers


Olive Warbler



Rufous-Capped Warblers


Cresent-Chested Warbler


Red Warbler


Slate-Throated Redstart

Nashville and OrangeCrowned warblers remained un photographed on this trip despite being very common, I also saw Hooded Yellowthroat which was new to me.

In the group I loosely think about as ‘other cool things that I’d like to see’ this includes Vireos, Tanagers, Humming birds and sparrows I saw a few new species of each thing like; Bullock’s and Black headed Oriels, Cassin’s and Hutton’s Vireos, Rufous Crowned sparrow and despite there being over 100 species of Humming bird in my Mexican bird guide I saw only three; Berrylline, Broadbilled and White Eared.


Berylline Hummingbird



Broad-Billed Hummingbirds

One of the unexpected birds of the trip for me were Canyon Wrens. These along with Bewicks Wrens broke up the sometimes deserted scrubland nicely with excellent song and characterful posing.


Canyon Wren

Another stand out bird was the Vermillion Flycather I probably saw half a dozen of each males and females, the males looking incredible in flight but the peachy tones of the females stole the show slightly for me.



Vermillion Flycatchers

As is the case with many of these work trip posts Im focusing on my targets and the birds that showed well and because I don’t make trip lists of use ebird I’m omiting lots of stuff that I did see and enjoy for example a few flocks of Vaux’s swifts, small mixed flocks of Blackheaded and Rosebreasted Grosbeaks, a Hook-billed kite, Hammonds, Least, Cordilleran Flycatchers + Western Wood and Greater Peewees but i’ll end this post with a random selection of photographs.


Song Sparrow


Lincoln’s Sparrow


Blue Grosbeak


American Robin


Belted Kingfisher


Green Heron





Gratuitous Beckton Iceland Gull photos.


Back in late December Dante had this Iceland Gull briefly on the Thames at Erith pier. The following day he and I saw it at Beckton Sewerage works where it seems to have taken up residence and is being seen regularly since. Today it came to bread and showed very well. Its the 3rd juv Iceland gull Ive seen at this small site.









I realised I hadn’t posted pics of any recent Caspian gulls so here a few nice 1st winters that have been on our part of the Thames recently.








Beijing new year 2020

Yet another exhausting work trip, this time Beijing and working right in the middle of the forbidden city. With no planned free/rest days I was hoping to just see a Naumann’s thrush at best in the freezing cold hour of light before the start of work each morning. Truth be told Naumann’s thrushes were common and could be seen and heard anywhere with large trees and I saw many in the grounds of the Forbidden city itself.




After the first couple of days I narrowed down my birding spots and figured out where to make the most of the predictably flighty thrushes. Once I was seeing larger numbers I started noticing a good few Dusky Thrushes amoung them.




I also noted several obvious Dusky x Naumann’s Hybrids like the one below.  the mix of red and black in the Harlequin pattern on the breast sides an flanks is cool.


Both Dusky and Naumann’s  regular call sounded very similar to me however a few times I heard a higher pitched squeakier sounding thrush and picked out both Red throated (on several occasioions) and Back throated thrushes (just twice during the trip) Poor pics below – photo was taken at first light.




Other birds seen around the grounds were the ubiquitous Eurasian Tree sparrows, Azure Winged Magpies, Chinese Blackbirds, Oriental Greenfinches, Large billed crows, Great spotted Woodpeckers, one or two Bohemian waxwings,  parties of Yellow-billed Grosbeaks and the odd Oriental Turtle dove.


We were ahead of Schedule with work in the end and I was able to get one free day out of the City, so a commercial tourist trip to see the Great Wall of China seemed like a decent way to see what ever I could.


On the drive to the wall we had many pit stops and whilst the other people in our party looked at The Ming tombs, a ceremonial tea house and had lunch I snuck off to look at a bit of scrub or check out a stand of trees.  The below Bluetail was nice, although quite a dull individual, a couple were seen along with more thrushes and things like Bramblings and one or two Elegant Buntings.



The Wall itself and surrounding landscape were remarkable, freezing cold and surprisingly devoid of tourists. I saw a small party of Silver throated tits, along with Marsh tits, Chinese Nuthatch, Grey-capped Woodpecker and many Godlewski’s Buntings and my other Target for the trip; Siberian Accentor.





They looked so great in the typical scrubby areas I saw them in, the eyestripe and throat looking golden against the foliage.




September’s Short-toed Treecreeper notes.

I managed to get round to organising my notes on the Short-toed Treecreeper I came across at Langdon hole in september and thought I would share them here.  I wanted the description to be ‘water tight’ as its only field notes, a written description and photos compared to a bird in the hand and audio recordings of the voice. Although I have found each plumage feature to fit well with Short-toed and I believe my description of the voice to be a decent phonetic representation. Below is an excerpt from the description of the voice followed by annotated images ;

“I had been hoping/expecting to hear the Coal tit-like call to confirm my analysis of Short-toed treecreeper from plumage features. A couple of minutes later and I saw the Treecreeper fly back to the eastern end of the fence and begin working its way down towards me again, I knew I needed better photos and was sitting in the grass waiting for it to emerge when – “duii…duei…tduiit” – it called loudly from right in front to me, three Coal tit-like notes with the last sounding fractionally longer. An adrenaline moment! These same notes were heard again moments before the bird flew off down the cliff face towards more suitable cover and not seen again.”

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I also think that the site and structure on which I found the bird should be mentioned; a rusty metal fence right on the cliff face above the port of Dover, not exactly an excellent place to be a treecreeper for any length of time and suggestive that the bird was fairly freshly arrived, feeds into the find and perhaps the ID nicely.

Sttc site

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Back in the Zone with a lovely Casp

Today went to plan; I just wanted to see a nice Caspian Gull in the grey gloom of the Thames estuary after all those colourful Floridian birds in baking hot sunshine. Well we had some sun today but the Thames was grey brown as usual and a very elegant first winter Caspian Gull entertained Myself, Dante and Rich for a while at Erith.


It seems to be a Bird Dante had at Rainham last week so hopefully will stick around.






There were more waders on the exposed mud at Erith than ive ever seen: Perhaps 100+ Dunlin, c75 Black Tailed Godwits and many Redshank.


Dante and I went to check if the Penduline Tit was still at Crossness and after a while waiting was heard to call and in fact came into pishing close to the Hide/screen. Nice light and great to watch, in fact my closest views of this species in the uk.