Sunday, 17 February 2019

Japanese Cormorant and Nordmann's Greenshank

It's proving to be quite a struggle to find anything different/new at the moment. Gulls are one group of birds that ought to be moving in this part of the world in February, but they are remarkably scarce this spring (and the diversity thus far has been pitiful). A single adult Slaty-backed Gull did fly past offshore Qi Gu on Tuesday; my only one so far this year (domestically, that is).

I've fared no better in Chiayi (the best county for gulls), either. I did run into a Japanese Cormorant on Friday, though; a bird well worth a second (or perhaps third as it may be now) look.

There remain a surprising number of LWHGs ('large white-headed gulls') at Au Gu (ca. 30). Almost all are adult Taimyr Gulls (some still growing P9/10), with the odd first-winter thrown in. 

The only exception Friday was an immature Mongolian Gull; a fascinating individual which is tough to age (a third-summer, I think). Few clues to its identity are provided by plumage, but big clues are offered by wear and moult. It has just started a new moult cycle (P1) (Vega and Taimyr have just finished theirs) and its inner primaries and outer secondaries are worn (Vega and Taimyr right now are not worn). Only Mongolian shows this much wear in the inner primaries/outer secondaries at this time as it moults earlier than the other two (hence these feathers are older). Primary moult is new for me, though, as this is the first time I have seen Mongolian Gull in active moult in Taiwan!

Struggling for options, I even went inland (to Tseng Wen Reservoir) on Saturday and succeeded only in getting sunburnt (though did come across a Swinhoe's Pheasant). On Sunday, after finding nothing in Qi Gu, I went back up to Jiang Jun for another look at the Nordmann's Greenshank. This was fortunately relatively close for a change; a nice way to end the weekend.

The year-listing has now hit a brick wall, though, with some unexpected and most unsightly gaps in the list thus far. It looks like this might not be the best year to attempt another 'big year', but only time will tell on that score. Above photos taken in Tainan and Chiayi Counties, 12-17/2/19.

Wednesday, 13 February 2019

Choshi (4): How many Thayer's Gulls?

The first Thayer's Gull I ticked at Choshi this year was an adult in exactly the same spot as my only adult last year. This was not only in the same spot as last year's bird, but was flying around mewing just above my head in exactly the same manner and even favouring the same telegraph pole! Last year's individual (here) had a distinctive 'wavy' mirror on P9, as does this one; hence I'm convinced that my first Thayer's Gull at Choshi this year was in fact the same bird I saw last year!

The second adult Thayer's Gull I found was an even more distinctive one thanks to a small tuft of feathers growing out of its forehead. I've read (I think somewhere here) that a bird like this one has been returning to Choshi for many years, hence I assume this to be quite a well-known individual!

The same stretch of wall that held this also held a beautiful dark-eyed adult Thayer's Gull; easily the most attractive of the birds this time round. Unfortunately, I never got a flight shot of this one.

In a group of gulls just fifty metres from these two, there was yet another (pale-eyed) individual; neither 'tufty' nor my first Thayer's Gull (as this one had no black in its gonys spot). On size and upperpart colouration it looked spot on for Thayer's Gull, but it didn't open its wings whilst I was looking at it. It's rare that I lose track of what birds I've photographed (though at this location that can be forgiven), but I can't rule out the possibility that this slightly bulkier individual may have been one I photographed on the water later; a bird with a 'blackish' look to the underside of P10 and white extending onto the outer webs on P9, both of which may be problems for Thayer's Gull.

The last bird of interest in the 'adult' category was an 'unknown'. Although this had the shortish legs, pale saddle, and wing pattern (including no white extending onto the outer webs of P9) for Thayer's, it looked structurally different (rather 'rounded-looking' in places) to other 'known' birds.

So three adult Thayer's Gulls for sure this time with a probable fourth and a less likely fifth. Although I did not see any first-winters this trip, there were other ages of Thayer's Gull around for me to play with which, if not Thayer's Gulls, were very good lookalikes. The first of these was a fourth-winter bird, a bulky-looking individual but sufficiently pale above and with the right wing pattern. The only thing that bothered me about this individual was its head streaks, which looked blobby and Vega Gull-like (with no solid patches of brown). Everything else looked right, though.

A third-winter was a more obvious bird, having the look of Thayer's Gull in most poses, with perfect head markings and wing pattern (even if it was on the large side and surprisingly aggressive).

A striking second-winter looked essentially like a younger version of the third-winter, with a dark tail band, lots of brownish feathers in the wing, and a Thayer's wing pattern 'ghosted' at the tip.

So, by my reckoning, I have five good Thayer's Gulls above and perhaps as many as seven. As I have insufficient experience of these northern gulls, I'm not sure just how similar certain categories of hybrid might look to Thayer's, so will gladly take five and not lose sleep over the remainder! This is a lot more than I was expecting to see, and I'm pleasantly surprised just how well I fared with this taxon at Choshi this time round! Above photos taken at Choshi, Chiba Prefecture 26-31/1/19.

Sunday, 10 February 2019

Forest Wagtail

It's always nice to return from a trip and have something around to twitch locally. Forest Wagtail is certainly not to be sniffed at and the one at Wu Shan Tou Reservoir was well worth the short drive across there to get this morning. Charismatic little things with their unique plumage and sideways-swinging tails, it's a bit of shame they prefer the darker areas where getting sharp images of them is not always easy, no matter how accustomed they have become to all the photographers!

There was a Red-breasted Flycatcher on site, too, which refused to descend from the canopy. The wings of this drab-looking individual were brown and juvenile-like, so I guess it is a first-winter.

Being mindful of the fact that that I have seen far too few gulls this year (as well as being greedy), I chose to head up into Chiayi once the wagtail disappeared for a while in the hope of increasing the diversity of gulls on my year list. Disappointingly, I was once more only able to connect with Taimyr Gulls, though I was at least happy to find one first-winter which had started to replace its inner greater coverts (some first-winters in previous years have been quite advanced by now). Many of the adults had also finished their complete moults and looked quite dapper in breeding plumage.

Another scarcity makes its way onto the year list, then, and these are always welcome (and the closer to home the better). Above photos taken in Tainan and Chiayi Counties, 10/2/19.