A return to winter with the Gulls and recent patch highlights.

Dante, Rich and I had one of our best days at Crayford today. Despite a brief interlude to dip a rare hirundine in north London. The weather was spot on for staring at Larids with icey winds and what felt like freezing temperatures for late April


Above and below are 2 of 3 second calendar year Caspian Gulls present between Viridor and Jolly Framers at Crayford.


There were 2 Iceland Gulls present, this 2cy and the following 3 cy. Both have beem seen elsewhere in London I’m pretty sure.



Next up was a beautiful juv Glaucous Gull, very special birds.


There were one or two 2cy Yellow-Legged Gulls.


Back to normal spring birding now and before too long I wanted to highlight a few species that arn’t always easy to see on the patch from the past week or so. Before the excitement around the Black Kite(s) last week I was planning to write a blog pointing out a couple of valuable moments.  The Ring Ousel that was present for a few days was a real highlight for me.



A small flock of 8 or so Brambling featured in morning walks, feeding on insects and towards the end of their stay included one or two singing males.


Yellow Wagails are much more common but rarely let you get close and I’ve had a handful of them on the deck. This bird was present with two White Wagtails during a rainy morning on the 27th.


Graham H found this Black Redstart on the paddocks. I took the silvery fringes to the innermost tertial to be an indicator that this was a 2cy male, although I see no moult contrast in the wing so im not sure really that its not an adult female… maybe the real question is – Who cares?


.. I do abit so let me know if you can age and sex it.

Black Kite Walthamstow Reservoirs!

Amazingly (after finding last weekend’s bird with LP on Beachy Head) I had a Black Kite! Fly west over Walthamstow Reservoirs on the morning of the 24th April.   The ‘In Profile’ and active flight views of a Kite sp left a nagging feeling as to ID, and the shorter looking tail appeared to lack any Reddish tones. As the bird disappeared west, I was left concluding the ID from Photos, which showed; 6 long primaries  (rather than 5 shown by Red Kite) the slight fork to the tail, the broad secondaries (longer than tail length and most obvious in third and fourth shots below), darker more diffuse primary window and mask can all just about be seen in this morning’s shots. I put the news out “Black Kite heading West…” this was followed by another 4 records of (surely the same) black Kite over a few sites in London. 





Its the first record for the site and nicely won back after a bird I had over my old house in Hackney 2014 that went unrecorded due to lack of photos. 




Black Kite, Beachy Head 21/04/18

A short trip down to stay with Laurence P was headlined by a Black Kite that flew East along the headland. LP picked it up initially and sounded it out as looking like a Black Kite. Our first views were probably the closest but involved me running like mad to get some diagnostic shots of the disappearing bird then some (legal) formula one style driving in an attempt to intercept the bird further down the coast. We parked up at Beachy head pub at the apex of the headland and sure enough the bird gave us more distant but in my opinion better views – Circling as well as some direct flight.


Nice bird and a really fun 30 mins or so. We also had a female Ring Ousel but very few other migrants. I drove home that evening and missed out on an excellent following day which can be read about here



Hong Kong 2018

Another 10 day trip away with work and with a full day and a few afternoons off I managed to see abit more outside the city compared to last years trip.  The birding is brilliant out there, with such variation and abundance of birds. I tend to seek out birds with more of a relevance to western palearctic birding but also enjoyed alot of the resident and migatory sub tropical type stuff but apologise for the lack of shots thereof.


My time birding was separated into three habitat types really. These were:  The open grasslands and fish ponds surrounding the Mai Po nature reserve,(above)  The Estrine tidal mudflats viewed from the hides within Mai Po nature reserve (Below)…


 …and the densely wooded hillsides of Hong Kong Island itself (below) This was the hardest and least rewarding habitat, with with many things heard only or seen badly was abit of a pain. Not exactly coastal stunted sycamore, October elm on scillies or bare ancient oaks in early spring for seeing birds well.  Still, an incredible environment.


One thing that even the non birding visitors notice daily is the presence of Black-Eared Kites all over the city and surrounding landscape.








Other Birds of prey included: Japanese Sparrow Hawk, Osprey (below), Bonelli’s Eagle and Oriental Honey Buzzard, this last species are apparently uncommon migrants in the area.


Mai Po is ridiculous for waders. The following is a list of what i saw during the trip accompanied by some photos of birds that came within camera range. Its a list with some very exciting birds on it but these are all relatively easy to see over here of course: Rednecked and Temminck’s Stints, Common, Green, Marsh, Wood, Broad-billed, Curlew, Terek and Sharp-tailed Sandpipers, Black Winged Stilts, Little-ringed, Grey, Greater Sand and Pacific Golden Plovers, Great Knot, Spotted Redshank, Redshank, Green and Nordmanns Green Shanks, Both Godwits, Avocets, Whimbrel, Eurasian and Far Eastern Curlew, Painted and common Snipe and Oriental Pratincoles.


Red-Necked Phalerope


Little-ringed Plover and Temminck’s Stint


Temminck’s Stint


Black-Winged Stilt


Painted Snipe


Greater Sand Plover


Marsh Sandpiper


Wood Sandpiper


Oriental Pratincole


Sharp-Tailed Sandpiper (a new bird for me!)

Next up are the birds I came across whilst wandering around the fish ponds and down the gravel tracks along side them. This is my preffered kind of birding. walking around seeing whats about; the pipts, wagtails, shrikes, buntings and stonechats were the most fun for me, and theres a kind of self gratification in identifying these birds from glimpses or on call alone that feels good and moving about in a cool unknown landscape too gets me going.


‘Sinensis’ Richard Pipits (above and below) these mostly rather short/weaked billed and short tailed, so much so that I had one down for a Blythes for a while. Despite the upright stance, tibia legnth and behavoir which was very much Dick’s like.



Below are a couple of Olive-backed Pipit shots. This time of year in Hong Kong all the individuals I saw were going through some moult. They all characteristically flushed into trees and over headwires and made both a tree pipit type call aswell as a high pitched alarm call.




Shame they weren’t abit brighter as their one of my favourite pipits in full effect. The Below Red-throated pipits were mostly smart.



‘Stejnerger’s’ Siberian Stonechats (Below) Common, flighty and all silent in my experience this and last year.





One of the most commonly heard calls around the ponds was that of Eastern Yellow Wagtail, with m.t.taivana (below) the most abundant and also two m.t.macronyx (following image) seen. The calls are really quite different to Flava birds, harsher and more pipit like than Citrine even, although when hearing Citrine in Abu Dhabi fairly frequently last Novemeber I commented on the similarity to Eastern Yellow Wagtail (having heard birds here previously and a bird on st mary’s in 2016). Here are some notes from the field on the call, ignore any nonsense its just a quick note! –

” Short little yikes! rasp… grainy and urgent tree pipit/western yellow wag combo.”




The most common Alba Wagtails are m.a leucopsis (above) with m.a ocularis (below) coming through on passage.




Long tailed shrikes were abundant and characterful. ‘Dusky Shrikes’, The variable melanistic dark morph (below) were pretty impressive too with a couple of individuals seen.


Birds in the reed beds were mainly Plain Prinia and Yellow Bellied Prinias but i did see many ‘personata’ Black-faced Buntings that all gave ticking type calls -something i didnt hear last year. A few Zitting Cisticolas were seen and brief but still incredibly exciting views of a male Siberian Ruby throat




Views were better than the photo describes. The same goes for the many many Dusky and Yellow-browed Warblers that I heard at regular intervals through each of my days birding. For some reason I just couldnt take a picture of hardly any of them! heres my best dusky shot and all my YBW shots were from directly underneath so got binned. I was hoping to see some other Phylloscs but other than hearing something very like Arctic once or twice and a very brief view of what i think was most likely two barred greenish, I saw none.


Mai Po is famous for the variety and numbers of Herons and Egrets I was glad to see the Yellow Bittern, the eastern palearctic version of little bittern a couple of times and one or two Purple Herons flying about as well as all the Little, Intermediate and Great Egrets and Chinese pond herons.




Black-faced spoon bills (below) are a globally threatened speices but occur at Mai Po in decent numbers.


Another bird with low numbers globally is the Saunder’s Gull. Most of the adults had gone north but this and a dozen or so other 2cy birds were feeding around the mudflats at Mai Po. Sadly for me the only gull that came close enough for photography and a very distant flock of large gulls was basically not even worth looking at 😦



The Saunders Gull sat amoung avocets whilst the water was higher along with Caspian and Gull-billed Terns (below)


Here’s a handful of commoner east asian birds from the trip.  


Asian Koel (fem)


White-breasted Water hen


Pied Kingfisher


Spotted Dove


Azure winged Magpie (introduced here i think)


Collared crow. One of the best corvids out there.

Thanks to Matt Kwan for his help and to the Mai Po staff.