Saturday, 26 August 2017

Short-toed Treecreeper

I deliberately left myself a long transfer at Schipol Airport in order to have time to go into town and look for Short-toed Treecreeper Certhia brachydactyla. I had read that these were pretty easy to find at Vondelpark in Amsterdam, but had not banked on just how packed this place would get on a weekend (reminiscent of parks in Taipei). After about an hour or so of searching I had come across none, with the only birds in evidence being the many Ring-necked Parakeets Psittacula krameri which really were quite abundant there.

A short while after photographing the parrots, I heard a Short-toed Treecreeper calling and managed to locate one bird way up in the canopy. After a bit of waiting around, the obligatory 'one chance at it' did come round when one came much lower down. What I wouldn't have given for a bit of forewarning so that I could have snapped off that bloody branch!

I returned to Schipol in ample time for my plane, once more wary of potential delays there as this had been one of the airports affected by new EU passport regulations over the summer. Just as in Spain, I was through passport control in minutes and there really had been nothing to worry about. My very last birds in Europe were all the House Sparrows Passer domesticus that were flitting around outside Schipol Airport, another one I had 'forgotten' to photograph whilst in the UK!

The quick trip to Vondelpark had been both straightforward and inexpensive (5 each way) using public transport. For Vondelpark, take the 197 bus (every ten minutes throughout the day) from stands B9-13 right outside the airport. Get off the bus at Rijksmuseum and continue walking in the direction the bus was heading in for about 100 metres or so. The entrance to the park is through the gates on the left. Above photos taken at Vondelpark, Amsterdam 26/8/17.

Friday, 25 August 2017

Spotted Flycatcher

You would have to be a bit soul-less not to appreciate the irony and absurdity that comes along with birding sometimes. After spending three days along the Yorkshire coast hoping for some kind of regular/common migrant (of which chief among these was probably Spotted Flycatcher Muscicapa striata) and getting nothing, it was certainly quite ironic to find one in the copse in the dog-walking field right behind my mum's house this morning!

I was actually quite desperate to photograph Spotted Flycatcher with what remained of my time in the UK, as this would have made a nice 'pair' with the Mediterranean Flycatchers Muscicapa tyrrhenica I had photographed on Mallorca. All things come to those who wait, I suppose, but as this was my last day in the UK and in a rather unorthodox place, it really was cutting things fine! Above photos taken in Wyke, West Yorkshire 25/8/17.

Thursday, 24 August 2017

Mediterranean Gulls

I suppose I chose to end my trip to the UK pretty much where I had started it, back on the Yorkshire coast at Bridlington, only this time taking in both Flamborough and Scarborough along the way. I once more stayed in a bed and breakfast which I once more rather enjoyed, this time ‘Winston House’ which was altogether fine and much like the one I had stayed in the month before. It had been a bit of a toss up between Flamborough and Spurn at the outset, but as the latter was just so awkward to reach by public transport and lacked much in the way of places to eat, the former easily won out. Despite being a week or so too early for every one of the hoped-for east coast rarities, I was still hoping that this time I might connect with one or two migrants along the coast, and that was precisely what happened: I connected with one migrant! Nothing special, unfortunately, just yet another Northern Wheatear Oenanthe oenanthe, only this time one that at least proved more confiding than any of the previous individuals had done.

I traipsed on to the headland from South Landing on Tuesday, and from Flamborough village on Wednesday. It was obviously always unlikely that I would pick anything out from the head absent a scope, and in the end I contented myself with snapping away at whatever was passing by close inshore. This meant gulls, mostly big ones, and I was surprisingly quite happy with that. My favourites were probably the three juvenile Lesser Black-backed Gulls Larus fuscus that headed south just below the cliff top. These were wonderfully dark compared to everything else passing by (due to very blackish-looking greater coverts and 'hands'), with contrastingly white rumps and uppertails. A seemingly now obligatory Little Egret Egretta garzetta also put in an appearance.

Rather strangely, I ended up with very few juvenile European Herring Gulls Larus argentatus on my camera from Flamborough Head, despite the fact that plenty had been passing. This hardly mattered as there were very many more to play with in Bridlington Harbour, although most were far too close to do much with (even within touching distance) or to get any pictures of spread wings. This is another gull with a decidedly attractive plumage as juvenile, with those beautifully patterned and subtly rusty-toned greater coverts and big pale panels in the 'hands'. I seemed to recall European Herring Gulls looking greyish at this age, but all the birds in Bridlington Harbour were the same kind of warm brownish, with basically no variation apparent whatsoever.

Great Black-backed Gulls Larus marinus were around, too, though juveniles seemed to be a bit on the scarce side, with one or two passing the head and others to be had in the harbour. These were by far the palest and most intricately patterned of the big gulls, and also much the largest!

Other age classes of European Herring Gull were also around, both at the head and in the harbour. The most puzzling age class for me was first-summer to second-winter, i.e. juvenile-like birds in primary moult (hence at least one year old). As I’m these days much more familiar with taimyrensis gull than with any of the other big ones, I was left scratching my head for a bit over these birds as this plumage stage is effectively skipped by taimyrensis (which resembles more a third-winter big gull by its second-winter). With so many adults present in the harbour, there were also plenty of opportunities for some nice portrait shots.

Other gulls snapped off on Tuesday and Wednesday included both Black-legged Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla and Common Gull Larus canus, though the latter were always a bit distant.

I did get a few other things from Flamborough Head, including two very distant Manx Shearwaters Puffinus puffinus and at least five Arctic Skuas Stercorarius parasiticus. As all of these were at range, and the prospects of anything new showing up Thursday virtually nil, I decided to head up to Scarborough to try for the resident Mediterranean Gulls Ichthyaetus melanocephalus at Holbeck Car Park. There were no gulls in or around the car park when I arrived, but it was easy to pick out one or two adults sitting on the rocks below the car park, so down I went to try and entice them in with a cheese sandwich! This now very familiar and much touted ploy worked a treat, as all you have to do is attract the attention of just a single passing gull and all the others come streaming in. The Mediterranean Gulls are well used to this now, and the second bird in was a moulting adult (quickly followed by at least five more individuals).

One of the birds was a younger individual, most likely an advanced-looking first-summer to second-winter, as it had large amounts of black still in its bill and legs, together with some evident in P8-9 (I assume P10 to not have started growing yet on this bird).

These birds really did make short work of the sandwich I had prepared for them, so much so that in the end to get them in again I also had to give them mine, leaving me hungry but happy as I had photos on my camera for a very pleasant change.

Once the sandwiches were done, that was it and the birds returned to the rocks. Some of them proved more approachable out on the rocks and the stroll out to get better shots of them also allowed me to add Sandwich Tern Thalasseus sandvicensis to my photographed list for this trip.

At least three individual Mediterranean Gulls were ringed, normally something I shun as I feel all that bling ruins the aesthetic of the photograph. However, I don’t believe that Mediterranean Gulls are ringed locally at Scarborough, and are only done so much further afield (i.e. in Eastern Europe). The ringed individuals were 3LAN, PNN5, and the unfortunately-numbered H1N4.

After playing with these for a while I decided it was time to head for home. My final jaunt away from ‘home’ had in the end proven been a very worthwhile one, even if I had nothing especially rare on my camera, and this trip out to the Yorkshire coast by far the most enjoyable excursion I had made I the UK all summer! Above photos taken at Flamborough, Bridlington, and Scarborough, East and North Yorkshire 22-24/8/17.