Lockdown spring – part 2

The Second half of April has been an improvement on what was a slow and fairly quiet first half ,  Im still walking over the marsh every morning and have put in some hours at the reservoirs on weekends.

Yellow Wagtails were consistent throughout the first half of April and that carried on up until now with birds seen on almost every day and a modest count of 30 individuals over the month which is a high count for me, this bright male and the below (slightly greyish headed) female were especially showy.

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I had the below bird on the 23rd, I think female Blue-headed Wagtail is probably the best fit but I’m in the camp of only being sure if the birds a spring male or classic representation of a known form, so id go with ‘probable’. A 2cy ‘Channel type ‘ was also mooted.  Nice bird though and cool to think some non Flavissima birds are coming through.

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Ive included the below photo as it makes humble old Walthamstow marsh look like a proper reserve with real habitat! Truth is Ive been eyeing this puddle up for a Citrine wag the past couple of weeks but was reasonably glad to watch this male Yellow wagtail feeding in it briefly before it was flushed by the crows.

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Another well represented migrant recently have been Whinchats;  David C and I had a first summer male on the 22nd in the bomb crater field, which was apparently joined by another that evening.

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Fast forward 5 days and some unsettled weather both during the day and over night led to at least 2 males and a female present over the 29th/30th including the below male singing(!) the evening after Niall Keogh (Irish sea watcher stranded in London) picked another male up earlier in the day (He also had a cuckoo on the 19th.)

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The lush meadow that is the bomb crater field and its fenced lined edge is especially good for these birds on passage. Other birds recently have been a skylark briefly in song flight and then west, A male Wheatear for an afternoon and the odd Meadow pipit is using it as a staging post plus a snipe flushed earlier in the month.

Garden warblers have been fairly entertaining with 2 birds back on territory in the Waterworks and a singing bird on the north marsh the past 2 days.

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Next is an inland reservoir stalwart’s spring staple and a much looked forward to event for me – Arctic terns on passage in London, 10 birds were present during the rain on the 28th.

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The Swifts are back and in decent numbers over the reses especially and Ive got some breeders back near home too it seems.

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I also had another 4 Bar-tailed godwits over NE on a fine sunny morning , thats 6 birds for me this spring and I think the total recorded over the reservoirs and marshes is 19 which is pretty exceptional locally.

Theres still some holes in my list of things I’d like to see (Little gull, Black tern… Hobby actually!) this spring and hopefully I can connect with those bits and bobs as may advances.

Lockdown Spring so far

Almost 4 weeks into Lockdown and another 3 at least ahead and my world has become rather small; The house, the shops and Walthamstow Marshes have basically been my map. Ive been spending my daily exercise quota less than 10mins away on the Marshes from 6.30 am – 09.00 am and apart from a few nice migrants its has been fairly quiet as Aprils go. Clear nights, a super moon and a large high pressure over most of the uk haven’t been conducive for bringing down migrants in London really but theres been a small trickle.

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Wheatears were slow to start after an early bird at the end of March but have been present on and off in the paddocks the past few days.

Willow Warblers have been very thin on the ground, I had a day with 6/7 birds singing and another day seeing one bird around the 6th April. Their much looked forward to song has been missed most mornings.

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A good spring for Rooks locally with 4 birds seen by myself and more reported by others.

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Same goes for numbers of Red Kite locally, I think Ive had about a dozen sightings between my skylight at home and the Marsh. I think its reflective of something that goes on generally with Red Kites in the south east at this time of year rather than these being continental birds.

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Yellow Wagtails have been observed in fairly decent numbers with birds seen almost every day on the paddocks in ones and twos. Ive also seen 2 smart white Wagtails during april.

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Local breeders such as Common and Lesser Whitethroats are in good numbers respectively and are both vocal around the marsh, as are many Sedge and a few Reed warblers.

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Im now up to date with all three Hirundines and had my first local Swift on the 13th (!) moments after a Pair of Bar-tailed Godwits flew low and north over the reservoirs. Another 4 Barwits flew NE on the morning of the 20th, having only seen a couple of flyovers before this has been a good spring for this species –  northerly breeders that I very much like seeing in London along with Arctic terns and Whimbrel which are hopefully yet to come. On the subject of waders I had a Green sandpiper fly over calling on the 11th.

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This female Common Redstart was present on the Marsh on the 16th, strangely its been the only reported in London this spring so far. An enjoyable bird!

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I missed a Cuckoo on the 19th and the reservoir has had a few Little Gulls through, something I will have to miss out on mid week as work hours stop me getting up there.

Expectations are fairly low with the high pressure set to continue for the next week but I will be out every morning either way.

 

 

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.

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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.

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Juv Glaucous Gulls

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3cy Glaucous Gull

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ad Iceland Gulls

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5cy Glaucous Gull (+ ad iceland)

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ad Glaucous Gull

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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…

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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

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Mexico City

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

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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 2,500m above sea level!

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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!

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Townsend’s Warblers

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Audabon’s Warbler

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Wilson’s Warbler

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Black Throated Gray Warbler

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Hermit Warblers

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Macgillivray’s Warblers

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Olive Warbler

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Rufous-Capped Warblers

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Cresent-Chested Warbler

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Red Warbler

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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.

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Berylline Hummingbird

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Broad-Billed Hummingbirds

One of the unexpected ‘favourite’ 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.

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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.

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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.

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Song Sparrow

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Lincoln’s Sparrow

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Blue Grosbeak

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American Robin

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Belted Kingfisher

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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September’s Short-toed Treecreeper notes.

 

N.B this bird has been accepted by the BBRC in 2020 and is the 30th record for this species in Britain.

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.

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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.

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

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

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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.

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Miami Dec ’19

Back to Miami for work at what I now think is the perfect time to get out of the uk for 2 weeks. Similar birds and in some cases the exact same individuals but a few differences and more of one thing, less of another for example I saw no swallows last year but this year I saw a flock of 200 Northern Rough-winged and perhaps 150 Tree Swallows. Its such a great place to watch incredible birds all before work in the morning or on the occasional half days off from hard graft.

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Unsurprisingly my focus was on Warblers and again it was relatively easy to see the common wintering species in the parks and green spaces. I beat my total of 15 last year with 16 species this year.

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Black-and-white warbler

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Northern Parulas

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American Redstarts

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Fem Black-throated Blue

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Ovenbird

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Prairie Warblers

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Yellow-Throated Warblers

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Myrtle Warbler

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Pine Warblers

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Common Yellowthroat

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Orange-crowned Warblers

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Nashville Warbler

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 (Western) Palm Warbler

Cape may, Magnolia, Black throated Green were also seen a few times but no photography thereof.

I enjoyed the following Hermit Thrush for about 20 minutes, the only one ive seen in Miami, Its crazy to think at that moment there was Graham’s bird on st Marys making the same movements, lovely bird.

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The below Summer Tanager was a tick for me, I saw it in the spot where I found a Western Tanager last year – a Florida Rarity.

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I recognized a buzzy little call from spring in Ontario – Indigo buntings, a small flock not exactly in their finery but still nice (below)

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An Inqusitive White-eyed Vireo came in to some pishing.

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The only sparrow Ive seen in Miami itself, a Chipping Sparrow was present in my ‘warbler spot’ one morning

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Broad-winged (Below), Red-tailed, Short-tailed and Red-shouldered (following pic) Hawks were seen as well as Coopers and Sharp shinned.

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Osprey

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TV’s

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(Above) The same Yellow-crowned Night heron that I saw every day last year on my walks into work, along with an Eastern Phoebe along the same fence line as last year and a Ringed Royal Tern. Its mad to think these are the same individuals, especially the phoebe which will no doubt migrate north for the summer and return next winter to the same spot, abit like me!

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Tricolored Heron

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Some nice 1st winter Ring-billed Gulls for good measure.

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The waders are special, mostly very tame and in good numbers.

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Short-billed Dowitchers

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Semi-palmated plover (showing off its 2 best close up id features in this pic: the white in the throat coming above the gape line aswell as the palmations, just about)

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Least Sandpipers

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Willet

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Piping Plover

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Spotted Sandpipers

Again I didnt make it to the everglades but lazily wandering around bumping into warbler flocks is exactly what I had the energy for this trip.