Monthly Archives: January 2011

Slaty-backed Gull in London?

Potential First for Britain!

This WOW factor adult gull was seen and photographed today by Dominic Mitchell. A little frustratingly he didn’t manage to see the wing pattern – but you just feel it will surely show a full white ‘string of pearls’ – it looks very cool on the ground! I think it has that look of a ‘Pacific Rim’  large Gull doesn’t it. The right structure is all there in the head and body, the bill and leg colours look/sound good and that thick white secondary ‘skirt’ ends  in big white-tipped fluffed up tertials. It’s at the paler end of upperparts as Dominic noted. There is, though, variability in the upperparts tone as hotly discussed in the past. It is likely this will be the main discussion point.

Main thing is, let’s get it seen again, and the primary pattern secured!

For full story and photos go straight here: Nice one Dom!

I can’t quite believe this species featured strongly is last nights Gull talk on ‘what next’. Seems I might have been speaking about something which was already in the country…

The First Western Palearctic record of Slaty-backed Gull was in Lithuania and Latvia in 2008/’ 2009. Superb set of photos of that individual by Chris Gibbins here:

Stories of Discovery

about Gulls this Wednesday evening…

“Talks given by Martin are much more than a clear, enjoyable and interesting presentation on a (bird ID) subject. As I witnessed on the Dutch Birding Day in 2008, he has the gift to entertain his audience from the first second in a way that will help you remember the message for years. To everyone who has the opportunity to attend a presentation by Martin I would say: GO!”

Nils van Duivendijk, author: Advanced Bird ID Guide

Kind words from Nils- I will try to live up to them this Wednesday evening. Content includes:

  • ‘Learning the Gulls’
  • Stories of Discovery
  • New frontiers in Gull ID

Should be something for everyone. Hope to see you there.

Adult Russian/ Siberian Common Gull. Chris Gibbins. These reach Britain every winter. They largely go unnoticed.


THIS Wednesday 12th January 2011

Start Time: 7:15 pm (so arrive at 7:00!)

Sheffield University Arts Tower

Lecture Theatre 5

more details :

“One of my most enduring memories of the 2009 International Gulls Meeting is Martin Garner’s talk entitled ‘ What are the next frontiers of large gull identification?’.  Having already read Martin’s ‘Frontiers in Birding’ book I was expecting something good but his relaxed and engaging style made it absolutely inspirational.  The highlight of the weekend’s lectures?  –  undoubtedly!”

Chris Hind, Cumbria, UK

Caspian Gull


Popped down to Orgreave for the last hour of daylight yesterday following tip-off: lots of gulls congregating at dusk. Picked out this Caspian candidate. Unfortunately spent most of its time giving rear-on views only. Head and bill look spot on as do the nice solid dark tertial centres. Hope to see it again (or someone else does and gets better photos). Great end to wonderful birthday weekend. Thanks to all well-wishers.

Candidate is right of centre:

Mealy Redpolls in Sheffield

Happy Birthday to me (to well-known tune!)

Nice dander around top end of Waverley Opencast this morning. At least 3 (probably 4) different Mealy Redpolls found, including adult male which gave me a fright last night for Arctic (v. brief views). Also Woodcock flushed. Andy Deighton gripped off with Jack Snipe after Twiggy and I had already waded through suitable habitat.

Also had lesson from Roy Twigg on digi-binning which I have never succeeded at. With James Smith coaching me from the USA as well, I might get there yet. Then back home for family time, present opening and all-day Pumpkin pie fest!

Not great shots but looked better through the ‘scope. 2 of this mornings Mealies. I think there at least 2 more and further flocks to check…

Garner the Bewick’s Swan

With rare silver -grey iris

The old chart on the wall at Slimbridge, illustrating the unique bill pattern of individual Bewick’s Swans. Each is also given its own personal name.

Many years ago – actually February 1964 (1 month after I was born and  its my birthday tomorrow!); so many many years ago, Peter Scott realised that, like the proverbial Snow Flake, the pattern of black and yellow on every Bewick’s Swan is unique. Since then the exact pattern of every new Bewick’s Swan appearing recorded at Slimbridge has been carefully illustrated. Each year returning birds are noted and studied.

I saw “Winterling”, a female Bewick’s, first recorded in 1981. Now having returned for 28 years she is the oldest known Bewick’s at Slimbridge. If she comes back next year she will be a Guinness- style record breaker; the longest lived Bewick’s Swan known to humankind.

Slimbridges’ current ‘Swan-lady’ is Julia Newth. Here she is pointing out ‘Winterling’.

So may I introduce you to the Bewick’s Swan named ‘Garner’. Julia picked out this new and undocumented yearling (2nd winter bird). It has been given its own personal name. ‘Garner’!

It is possible to age 2nd winter Bewick’s Swans by grey flecking over the head and neck  as on ‘Garner Swan’!

There are 3 categories of Bewick’s Swan  recorded at Slimbridge:

Black neb

Yellow neb

and Penny face.

I will let you work out why each one is so-named. ‘Garner’ is a yellow neb. It also has an unusual feature. It has a silver-grey iris, much paler than the normal darker, brown iris of most adult Bewick’s Swans. Only about 5% of adults have a silver iris.

When I get Garner Swan’s proper drawings I will put them up.  Maybe you will see it somewhere! I prophecy a long and prosperous life for ‘Garner’ with many returns to winter at Slimbridge-I hope! Let me know if you see it.

Coues’s Arctic Redpoll

But How Many?

Having burned up the Lesser Scaup and scanned though the 100 plus other aythyas (Pochard and Tufted Duck, as well as 30+ Wigeon and a field full of geese (200 + Pink-feet, also Greylags and Canada Geese, I headed off redpoll hunting. Elusive flocks and wet weather don’t make east birding. However I jammed some lovely, if brief views of a very obvious cracking Coues’s Arctic ‘roll (see photo below) and very  likely at least one other. With 200-300 Redpoll in the areas- including maybe 50 (and more) Mealy Redpolls they may well be more Arctics to be found (my best guess, wouldn’t be surprised if there were 3-5 birds in the area. Bumped into  Justin Carr who gave me an enthusiastic tour of this ‘wild site.

Wondering what to do at the weekend. Come Redpoll hunting here and bag a Lesser Scaup as you may never see one again.

Check out the Hatfield Moors blog for more info (great job Chris Robinson):

I think it likely I saw the same bird this morning. Photos by Justin Carr in same area 3 days ago:

They should all look like this one!

Lesser and Greater Scaup at Slimbridge

A Good day just got better...

Early morning at end December saw me watching Slimbridges’ famous Rushy Pen with James Lees and Simon Mackie. A couple of first winter male Greater Scaup gave great views. While watching these I picked out a good-looking Lesser Scaup candidate. Martin McGill , senior Warden had seen a very likely Lesser Scaup 2 days previously but all too brief. I locked onto this bird which immediately looked good for 1st winter female- smaller size, head shape, plumage tones all suggested Lesser Scaup. Surely Martin’s bird.  Got James Lees onto it straight away. Just as he picked it up on the water it took off! Dang!! Double dang!! All happened so fast that Simon Mackie didn’t even have time to get on it. Thankfully after being reported again over last couple of days, James got it tonight on Rushy Pen. Sweet! Seems to look the business.

1st winter female Lesser Scaup, Slimbridge, 2 January 2011. James Lees. The dull iris colour ages it as first winter.

Now check out the Greaters…

Interesting to see how different they appeared. Check out differences in: bill tip pattern, iris colour, head pattern amount of grey vermiculations on upperparts and flanks. The duller male was quite easy to overlook, also with more juvenile bill pattern but brighter iris. Have a look. Photos below by me and James Lees. All taken, Slimbridge, 30 December 2010.