Miami December 2018

Another Work trip, this time 10 days in Miami Florida, staying right on Miami Beach itself. Allowing myself to fully submerge into things that have fascinated me about America all my life. Despite obvious things to be critical of, its an amazing place and I cant believe I don’t go more often.

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We arrived late afternoon and my first sightings of Magnificent Frigatebirds, and Brown pelicans were from the airport taxi as we crossed Biscayne Bay.

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Turkey Vultures were all over the place as we approached the hotel and I immediately got onto the beach with a loaf of Hovis (smuggled from home in my suitcase) and began lobbing it for the mass of Laughing Gulls. A completely new bird for me and the first winters were incredibly elegant, think i’ve found a new favourite small gull.

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Adults were equally as lovely and defiantly the most common larid along the shores and waterways. Next up were the RingBilled Gulls, I’ve only seen adults and 2nd winter birds in the UK and Ireland and always wondered what i’d make of a first winter in the flesh. Heres a few shots showing the variability, none of them struck me as particularly similar to common gulls of the same age.

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Adult Ringbilleds always dominated the bread feeding flocks on the beaches. In term of Large Gulls I saw one adult and one 1cy American Herring Gull, all others were Graellsii Lesser Black Backs. I was surprised to see these every day, perhaps 10-20 birds throughout the trip of all ages. Most birds were mid wing moult, this of course if different to our Graellsii birds at home currently, Id be interested to know if this is a post migration wintering grounds moult rather than a delayed moult due to northerly breeding grounds, which seem to be Greenland from what I can tell.

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Fly by Ospreys were an every day occurrence and were seen all over the city including fishing a small pond on a golf course and sitting on the putting green!

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Another feature of the urban coastline were the Royal terns. This large flock were congregated on a quieter beach in Key Biscayne but smaller flocks and many flyby birds were present on south beach its self. incredible expression when you get up close.

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It took one or two mornings to figure out where the best place to look for Warblers was, these are the birds I was most excited about seeing and of which 15 species were recorded.

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I had seen Palm, Parula and Cape may Warblers around the city and had about 2 hours of light before work every morning during which I eventually found a spot in a small green space with a mix of trees to look at Warblers.  The tree below and surrounding area was where i saw most. All except Yellow Rumped, and Northern Waterthrush were ticks and totally thrilling to see.

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Parulas below…

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Prairie Warblers below…

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Black and White Warblers below…

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Below, Cape May Warblers…

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Pine Warbler

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Black throated Blue Warblers

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1st yr fem American Redstart…

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next, a real highlight – Yellow-Throated Warbler…

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Elsewhere around the city and over the bridges into Bill Baggs national park in Key Biscayne Dense mangroves and sub tropical woodland held pockets of warblers and other passerines, there were more of the same but I added a few more species of Warbler to the list. 

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Common Yellowthroats were vocal but shy except this individual…

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as were Orange Crowned, with mostly glimpses of grey headed birds.

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I also had Magnolia warbler, YellowRumped Wabler, Northern waterthrush and Ovenbird but these were un photographed

I was hoping to see Summer Tanager during the trip and when a Tanager sized silhouette moved in the canopy at my ‘pre work’ patch I focused in with baited breath and was shocked to see a familiar bird in front of me, Western Tanager!, a species I’d seen in Colorado 5 years before, I was sure this wasn’t supposed to be on the radar in the south east and was right, there are only one or two wintering records in Florida per year and it has a less than 1% frequency rating on ebird for the area, so pretty scarce I guess.

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Other Passerines were things like Common and BoatTailed Grackles, Northern Mocking birds, Gray Catbird and Loggerhead Shrike and seen everyday. I saw A single Western Kingbird and one or two Greatcrested Flycatchers, Belted Kingfishers, Northern Flickers and Yellow Bellied Sapsuckers were a daily occurrence and I saw a few Eastern Pheobes which I particularly liked. Mourning doves were spread around the city and Common ground doves were common out in Key Biscayne.

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Blueheaded and White-Eyed Vireos.

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I had a whole day and a morning off during the trip and both were spent out in Key Biscayne where I saw a lot of the previous species of warbler as well as some Wading birds. Pretty much all of the waders on the trip were very approachable and I spent a good amount of time lying down waiting for them to get close.  Sanderling were everywhere and joined in a few spots by Semi Palmated, Black Bellied and Piping Plovers

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ShortBilled Dowitchers, Least and Spotted Sandpipers and a single Kildeer

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This habitat was of course also good for Herons and Egrets, with Flocks of American White Ibis, many Cattle the occasional Great, Reddish and Snowy Egrets, Tricoloured, Great BlueGreen, and Yellow-Crowned Night Herons

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It was around these water bodies that I saw one or two American Crocodiles. There were sign posts detailing their presence and advising for visitors to be aware! I also Saw a Manatee just close offshore in the shallows.

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Introduced Mexican Iguanas were all over the place.

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In terms of Raptors I had Sharp-shinned Hawks and Kestrels in the Parks,

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as I mentioned before Ospreys and Turkey Vutures were very common and out in Key Biscayne were a number of Black Vultures, as well as RedShouldered Hawks and a single Male Northern Harrier

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Ive forgotten to mention Wildfowl etc and besides a couple of Piedbilled grebes, RedBreasted Mergansers and Common Loons that was it really. 

Im sure I’ve missed things off as I often do with these big posts but thats the general feel of the trip. I will probably be going back next year and Will do my best to get to the everglades, theres still plenty to see!

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Settling back into the London gulling season

The past few months Ive been concentrating on birding out of London, in an attempt to get the most of the autumn season. Today however was a return to the normal kind of London birding that gets me through the winter. RB DS and I had a look at Creekmouth where we had a nice 1st winter Caspian Gull (below) that Dante had seen the week previous. one or two Yellow Legged gulls were also present. 

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I decided to check the Eagle Pond near Snaresbrook for a regular returning Caspian Gull that hadn’t been seen so far this year. The bird turned up in 2015 as a first winter, was seen again on the Eagle pond by Stuart fisher as a second winter and I saw it last year as a third winter. Now its a 4th calander year bird and a real nice bird. It has stuck around all winter each year so theres opportunity for people to see it. 

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After wards i Bumped into this big 1st winter Caspian at Leyton Tip, first I’ve seen here in a couple of years.

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Also present was an adult YLG and a good number of Argentatus type Herring Gulls, below is a 1cy (and an adult behind the post). The tip here is always good for these northerners and ive often wondered why,  as i do see remarkably more here than on the Thames.

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YES KENT YOU OLD S.O.B!

An excellent day in Kent with Rich and Dante. We made moves to catch up with the adult Summer plumaged White Billed Diver that had been sitting on the sea around the Margate Area the previous day or two.  Whilst looking (with no luck) from Botany Bay the Swift sp that had reportedly gone to roost the night before was suddenly in front of Dante and I. It was a challenge at times but I could see that this (juvenile) bird had pale median coverts fading gradually into the greater coverts without a sharp contrast with the secondaries from below and photos showed that the paler upper greater coverts contrasted with the darker secondaries from above. The face and head pattern was one of smooth transitions between tones too, with pale lores and suited Pallid Swift. photos made it easier to see other crucial features that support this ID shown in the photos below.

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t5 and t6 being the same length as apposed to the longer t6 in Common Swift.

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I’d read the article in BB over the summer and between us we remembered most of the features but not recently enough for full confidence, despite this I tweeted out that the features suited Pallid which got a mixed reaction with many nay sayers. I’m happy with it as an experience and was glad to have the chance to look at it as a ‘Swift sp’ rather than coming to a conclusion based on a certain preconception.

News broke quickly after of the Whereabouts of the Diver and we made it over there in no time. I should add it was a tick for me.

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BIRD

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This picture of course does it no justice but it was amazing. AMAZING.

We checked our Dover patch at Langdon Hole with no luck and headed to Dungeness for the Gulls and to look at a juvenile Lesser Yellow Legs that had turned up on the Midrips pools on the firing ranges just over the border in East Sussex.

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A beautiful place to look at a brilliant bird and just the three of us too.

Next a perfect end to the day and nothing makes us happier than chucking hovis at large gulls by the fishing boats, there were 2 Caspian Gulls present, a first and a second winter which we watched along side Richard Smith and Martin Casemore.

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A Great Day and a really great mix of birds. well done everyone

Richard’s Pipit Beachy Head

A day spent birding Beachy Head with Laurence P started off nicely with a fly over Richard’s pipit that I picked up on call above our heads moments after getting out the car, we both quickly got onto the bird which called another 3 or so times and flew beyond belle tout. It seemed to go down near the set aside fields towards the track that leads to Cornish farm. nb: this bird was accepted by the Sussex rarities committee. dec.18

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There’s a vast amount of habitat for a bird like this on Beachy head (above) and despite a good bit of time looking the bird wasn’t seen again. A satisfying record nonetheless and nice to share with a pal. 

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Birding was abit ‘audio only’ after that, with a Ring Ouzel alarming, fly over Bramblingssiskins and Redpoll and then a Yellow Browed Warbler up Birling lane that was heard to call several times whilst we watched one or two Firecrests in the pines there.

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A long day and a large percentage of the area covered on foot, other highlights were a ShortEared Owl flushed from the cliff near Cow Gap, a small raft of Common Scoter on the sea and a single Golden Plover over.

 

Bilbao

Another short work trip, this time to Bilbao. Id never been to the Basque country and was surprised how familiar the climate felt at this time of year, It was damp and windy and some of the near coast line resembled parts of Cornwall and the South West. The first morning I had off was spent at the coast near Sopela, 35 mins from Bilbao via Metro. initally Low cloud, a light northerly wind and lots of birds moving. Rough estimates of 10k Chaffinch, 1k+ of Song Thrush and Skylark, few hundred Redwing, similar numbers of meadow pipit, a Ring Ouzel, a few tree pipits and a surprise Richards Pipit! This bird flushed from grass 10 metres away on the headland, called a good few times and flew, quite far inland, I didn’t see where it landed and despite searching suitable habitat for 2 hours after the bird wasn’t seen again. I intially assumed that would be a good bird for the area but after doing abit of asking around I received this info from Daniel Lopez Velasco “Richard’s Pipit is a regular passage migrant and wintering bird in Northern Spain, about 100 birds or so each year.” Still was a nice satisfying event.

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The Headland and surrounding area was teaming with things like Dartford, Sardinian and Fantailed Warblers

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An area of pine forest held Crested tits, Shorttoed treecreeper, whilst the suburban streets and unfinished building sites were good for Serins, many Black redstart of course and Cirl Buntings which I really enjoyed. I wasnt able to get any gen for anything in particular so just looked on google earth for suitable looking areas. I often end up birding in these kind of quiet half finshed places when im abroad, quite like them.

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Back on the metro and on to the next town: Plentzia. A quiet, affluent ,coastal town where I could see a harbour and was hoping to look at Gulls. Its apparent that most if not all the gulls here were ‘LusitaniusYellow Legged Gulls. They’re supposed to be smaller, Paler and behind in terms of moult.  Varying degrees of delayed moult was present in pretty much all the birds I saw, take this completly juvenile bird in October! If im honest It was a real eye opener.

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The first winter birds are paler and much warmer toned, resembling some Herring Gulls. Overall I’d say more buff/grey/brown/dark brown than white/grey/brown/black

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A failry standard looking first winter below, but with a noticeably delicate scapular pattern that these birds seem to be prone to.

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A second winter without any adult grey toned Scapulars.

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Paler toned adult Grey scapulars, this bird could easily go down as a Herring gull with brief views in the UK, the structure and head was spot on for YLG however.

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A more standard 2nd winter in terms of moult advance, was ringed on a small island off the coast NW of Bilbao. I ‘ve written to the scheme asking for info about birds travelling north in late summer and waiting for a reply.

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Not a bad trip really.

Scillies 2018

 

 

My fourth consecutive autumn Scillies, with the Roseveer gang: Laurence Pitcher, Lee Amery, Graham Gordon and ex-pat Paul Cook. A real comparison to the high of last year but thats Scillies for ya! The Scillonian crossing wasnt too bad at all with one or two Great Shearwater (completely new bird for me and calling a nice close bird out was a satisfying way of ticking it), a few Sooty Shearwaters, Pomarine Skua and a Grey Phalerope the highlights. LP and I had a look at the tame and beautiful Ortolan Bunting around Penninis head on st Mary’s before missing the last boat (second year in a row we’ve done this…) to St Agnes and having to pay through the nose with a private trip. Stylish.

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A couple of days in and we joined Joe Pender and a boat full of Mary’s birders on a Pelagic, I’m not much of a sea watcher but have always wanted to do a pelagic and with the numbers of Great Shearwaters being seen I was hopeful of some close views. It was basically incredible, with over 100 greats seen as well as many Sooty, manxies a Balearic or two , Bonxies following the boat and amazing Common Dolphin and Minke whale action.

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On the way back the boat was followed by this first winter YellowLegged Gull, the only Scillies rarity bird I found,  The lack of interest from the locals goes to show this species are surely under recorded, but each to their own , do what you like you lucky buggers (I also had a sub adult on st agnes the following day.)

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We had a long spell of NW winds and no new birds, however during my stay there was one exciting day for arrivals, LP found a Greenish Warbler (pic below)and then a RedThroated Pipit in the space of a hour, solid bit of birding that well done mate. Paul Cook picked up a Bluethroat on my last morning, i should add also.

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My own finds were limited to a Rosefinch,in the garden of the house on Gugh on the 8th of Oct, the same day as the Greenish and Red-Throated pipit and a Wryneck on the morning of GKG’s Glossy Ibis and Neil wright’s Red-backed Shrike (5th Oct)

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My last day held some arrivals also, things like Black Redstarts turned up on cue as well as a Little Bunting, found on Castella by Neil Wright.

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I had to cut my trip short by a couple of days due to the weather. at the time this was very disappointing but I’m over it now and looking forward to next year, Gotta take the rough with the smooth etc etc.  Still love ya st Agnes.

As i write this I just received news from LP and GKG who are still there , they just found a GreyCheeked Thrush, well done friends, well deserved.

 

 

 

So Long September

Its been a pretty poor September so far for me. Highlights at Walthamstow were 4 Wood Sandpipers (v rare here!) that flew over David Bradshaw, myself and n0 5 on the 6th.  A trip down to Beachy over the second weekend of the month was pretty quiet except small numbers of things like Redstart and Whinchat etc, altough I did find a 1cy Caspian Gull above birling gap, which is only the second record for the headland.

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Since then i’ve had a few yellow-legged gulls on the river and things like Spotted Flycatchers and yellow wagtails at Walthamstow, not much to get you really going but what do you expect with this glorious weather!

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Who gives a shit anyway? Because on Friday at midnight I get the train to penzance and then the Scillonian for another 2 weeks with the gang, bashing about the scillies looking for who knows what? Not much by the look of the weather with the Azores high firmly in place… I’m an optimist though so hopefully the following blog post will be memorable.