1st winter Yellow-Legged Gulls, Venice

Another work trip, this time fiddling with some Art at Venice Biennale. I had the odd hour during lunch or before work to spend some time photographing local larids. This post, inspired by one of my favourite of Chris Gibbins blog posts from a few years back, will hopefully be just as helpful as a reference point and display of variation within Yellow Legged Gulls as post in the link was for me with Caspian Gulls. Dont give a shit about gulls??? Fear not you can scroll right down to the bottom and there are some Black Redstarts and Black-Necked Grebes thrown in too!


Just a load of images really, showing variation throughout the plumage tracts and structures of these first winter birds. You’ll notice some birds with no replaced wing coverts, showing that it really can be 0-100% of coverts included in the post juvenile moult.



The next bird showing a ‘softer focus’ scapular pattern – closer to that of Caspian.


Folowed by a really grainy contrasty 2nd generation scapular and covert pattern.





The below birds 2nd generation coverts are taking on the adult grey.










The bird behind the first winter here looks quite Caspian like in this shot, the following image shows 2nd winter Yellow Leg, bit of a Caspy looking one in my opinion.


The following pale bird had me thinking I’d found a Herring gull there for a moment, Ive never seen a YLG with such a soft/delicate scapular pattern. The covert moult and tail pattern rule out Herring for me but certainly not how I like my Yellow legs! I think fading and wear are at play here. Note the funny pattern on the replaced central tail feather.




This spread wing and tail shot nicely segways into some tail pattern variation.






Another little anomaly that I noticed were 2(!) 2nd winter Yelow Legs with a faint p10 mirror. The holy texts say this is extremely rare and really only a Caspian / sometimes argentatus feature. Just goes to show- its never one feature alone with gulls!.



Not a yellow-Legged gull i know but a second winter Med Gull with a particularly lovely primary pattern.


I couldn’t not post this. A great looking adult, pretty much all of the adults I was seeing had this slightly larger white tips to the primaries than i’ve traditionally expected. Looks amazing though! Some with complete white tip to p10.



Thats probably going to be more of less it from me regarding Yellow-Legged Gulls untill the 2nd winter birds begin getting saturated bills and eye rings around March…Love that!

There was abit of waiting around during the day so just outside where i was working I could see multiple Black Redstarts feeding on the berries of a huge Virginia Creeper growing in a little courtyard. There were up to 11 birds at one point, all different ages/sexes, almost like a tit flock they would come and go during the day.





The following bird seems to be a first winter Male, note the moult contrast across the greater coverts, the new black shiny inner feathers contrasting with the browner juvenile outer feathers,also all median coverts are new. The face pattern is coming in and more of the wing is second generation. It seems more advanced than they often are at this age in the uk. Probably (similar to gulls) as they’re born earlier than birds from northern/central Europe. therefore have longer to develop.


One last thing. Venice is full of Black-necked grebes, must have seen 100’s from boat trips to and from the airport





Abu Dhabi Nov ’17

I was debating on whether or not to organise the birds in this post taxonomically or not . However if I were to do so the first 20 or so photos would depict a load of scruffy eastern Gulls, so to keep peoples attention I thought id just write in whatever order they pop into my head.

12 Days away with work and a lot of spare time in the mornings and late afternoons. Birds were concentrated into any ‘green’ space, with a racecourse and a golf course being the best areas in the city.


Most birding was done on Abu Dhabi island itself however a day trip out with Abu Dhabi resident Oscar Campbell into much more remote and spectacular habitat was a better reflection of the regions avi fauna.


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Wheatears were abundant and performative. Six species seen during the trip the most abundant were Isabelline and Desert…





Isabelline Wheatears (above) and Desert Wheatears (below)






In refernce to Desert Wheatears, I remembered reading that Asian Desert Warblers have a habit of ‘tailing’ Desert Wheatears and funnily enough I found one of these handsome sylvids doing exactly that!


Both Red-tailed and a female Variable Wheatear were on a private site with no photogrpahy, which is a shame as they were all fantastic and very unfamiliar.  Perhaps the rarest for the region Was a Northern Wheatear (below) that i ran into on the Sadyaat Beech golf course (apparently only one or two get recorded on passage each autumn on Abu Dhabi island.)


My personal Favourite of the trip, however were Hume’s Wheatear, with a couple of birds seen in the more remote areas visited, those glossy black upper parts head and wings looked amazing in the bright light.



Shrikes were fairly widespread with Durian (Below) being the most common, Turkestan Shikes usually come through earlier than my dates but one or two were noted at the Dairy farm by the Omani Border, another place with no photography. Fair enough! the following are all Durian








Steppe (above) and Southern (below) Grey Shrikes were also seen and heard in most places


five species of Lark were noted with Crested the most populous.


A Hoopoe Lark was a notable record for the island itself in Autumn and looked incredible on the Golf course, giving an idea of what one would look like if it turned up on a British south coast Golf course. This was actually one of the most amazing birds I’ve ever seen, didn’t expect to go so bonkers over it before seeing it but it blew my mind.




Saw a couple of Short-toed larks (below) between the racecourse and the Golf course as well as hearing mostly the odd flighty Skylark .




Desert Larks were seen high up in the Wadi’s (dry mountain riover beds) in groups of up to 15 birds. excellently camouflaged with their subtle ‘Chup’ or ‘Chilp’ (as i noted) calls giving them away


On this Occasion The Desert Larks were sharing the dry mountain habitat with a singing Southern Grey shrikePlain Leaf Warbler and Scrub warbler as well as a handful of Striolated Buntings


Another abundant group of birds were pipits. With Tawny and (Coutelli) water pipits the most abundant although there were large numbers of Red throated Pipits on the golf course rough areas, they shared this habitat with about 6/7 Richard’s Pipits which remained difficult to photograph on the deck!



Richard’s Pipit and Tawny Pipits (Below)




Red Throated Pipits (below)



White Wagtails were predictably the most common Wagtails, most were stunningly crisp, with totally white flanks and more extensively white tipped Greater Coverts, I half arsedly assumed these birds to be eastern Alba, with reference to geography too i should add.



also in small numbers (perhaps 4 seen over the trip) were the subspecies Masked wagtail (below) Moticilla Alba personata, 



Both Yellow (above) and Citrine (below) Wagtails were present on the Golf Course, often calling one after another which was useful. In terms of yellow apparently Thunbergi are the most common on spring passage but good Beema and Feldegg also fairly regular


Laughing Doves were everywhere…


Little Green Bee eaters were perched around most half built buildings…



As were Pale Crag Martins…


Lawns and roadside turfed areas usually had a Hoopoe or two about…


This Lesser Kestrel was apparently late for the region and shows much more grey/blue in the coverts than the western-most populations. as well as being perhaps a shade darker about the head and underparts. Certainly not to the extent of ‘Pekinsis’ but surely from somewhere more easterly. Interesting bird




Mushrif Palace Gardens are a well known wintering site for Oriental Honey Buzzard, 2 birds were seen around the site including a bird i accidentally flushed off the deck. The below adult female gave close views.




I also wanted to include a shot of it higher up to reference more regular views of large birds of prey. Quite distinctive, but still ‘Honey-ish’ although noticeable more eagle-like in active flight


Other Raptors included many Marsh Harriers seen almost anywhere, Ospreys similar, Common Kestrels and a both an adult and a Juv Greater-Spotted Eagle, seen in poor light although fairly close, circling with Marsh Harriers pre roost at a mangrove site near Dubai…


…This last site held a great number of herons etc fishing in an outfall. Grey, Purple, aswell as Great, western Reef  (below) and Little were abundant. Glossy Ibis too in a 30+ strong flock.



I didn’t spend lots of time looking for waders as the better sites for them were harder to get to and to tidally dependant for my time but a quick trip with Oscar to so e habitat one evening produced things like Black winged stilts, Lesser Sand and Kentish Plover (both pictured below) of interest.


The golf course had the odd Little stint and Curlew Sandpiper as well as many Stilts, Greenshank and Redshank , and of course the numerous Red-Wattled Lapwings as well as things like the below Temminck’s Stint, But wasn’t the best or most flattering place to photograph shorebirds. Update! I was reminded today how I didn’t mention Crab Plover in this post, Well we saw a good number of them in one tidal mangrove site, Great birds, how could i have forgotten!


A walk along the edghe of a large mangrove site in Abu Dhabi was poorly timed oin terms of the tide, with hopes of a close Terek/Marsh Sandpiper or similar crushed i made do with this greenshank and Whimbrel.



The waterways and coast line were patrolled by the odd Caspian Tern, heres a terrorfying looking adult.


GullBilled, Saunders and both Lesser and GreaterCrested terns were also seen. The latter two at a site Oscar and I visited together, were 5 arctic Skuas were briefly seen harrasing GreaterCresteds also a small party of Red Necked Phaleropes.


Lesser and Greater Crested Terns


Greater-Crested Terns


This site also revealed a single adult Sooty Gull, a Gull Tick!


This gets us onto the gulls nicely. The go to species in the UAE is Steppe GullLarus Cachinanns Barabensis – totally similar 1st win plumage to Caspian Gull,”best ID’d on structure at this age”. being thicker legged, more horizontal stance , shorter thicker bill etc. Other ages relatively easy due to mantle tone and emerging primary pattern etc heres some examples in ascending order of age.









Heuglins Gulls were probably the next most numerous, 1cy birds being further behind in terms of moult, with the below bird almost complelty Juvenile plumage.





and here’s a second winter Steppe alongside a similary aged Hueglins





With a smaller number of Caspian Gulls present







Theres lots ive missed out through just wanting to get the post over with but I’d love to go again. Many Many thanks to Oscar Campbell.











Dungeness 18/11/17


LP and I thought we would visit Dunge on a mid November day. At a glance around the fish hut and roosts visible from the road Gull numbers seemed low, however once out at the boats themselves the high tide had concentrated a group of loafing birds on the shore and a near by incoming fishing boat was good for turn over.  The first Caspian Gull of the day was this 2cy, pretty much one of the first birds I laid eyes on as we approached.



After much bread throwing and the fact that the fishing boat was now being pulled ashore rather than gutting, numbers on the beach grew, however the next Caspian gull was picked up much further out at sea flying towards the group – another 2cy,



Both birds showing one of my favourite features – P10 mirror on a second winter- just one of a list of things that make Caspian Gulls the best large white headed gull out there!  The below 1cy Yellow-legged Gull was also present on the beach.


Later we sat in the hides on the RSPB reserve and another 2 YLGs were seen aswell as one beautiful and one strange 1cy winter caspian Gulls although too distant for decent photography. The strange bird looked good enough on the deck but in flight had a bang on Herring gull tail pattern – odd.


17 – 22 Oct

With the days only really being birdable from 7.45 onwards my pre work patch visits have been brief, few and far between. however a group of 4 Black-necked Grebes were feeding around the big pipe at the NE of the Lockwood on the 20th. This equals the highest count here with 4 summer plumaged birds last may on the same reservoir. They were fairly close and Paul W and I got nice views. A Wheatear was also present that morning and Pete L had a Ring Ousel on Tottenham Marsh.



Other birding news is more of the same really. I ‘braved’ the 45 mph winds and bright sunlight at Thames Barrier park on saturday 21st and was rewarded with A new German Ringed 1w Caspian Gull at Thames Barrier Park – X574.  Not a bad looker and will look great in a month or so i reckon.




Lesser Black Backed Gull numbers are fluctuating between dates, Saturday saw probably 50+ whereas sunday there were less than half that, This surely reflects the fact that they are passing through.  The presence of one or two small, longer winged 1st years and a dark mantled adult was also noted including this midget (below). Nothing really to build a decent case for Fuscus for but surely continental birds from that direction.


As per around 7 or 8 Yellow legs were present, heres a couple of birds showing different levels of wing covert moult with the top bird having moulted c40% and the lower bird only including 3 inner median coverts (on its right wing at least) in its post juvenile moult so far.



Saturday I was joined by Dante. Despite him being very much in the frame of mind for what might turn up during his jaunt to Spurn this coming week he still got on both of the days Casps first.


The above bird was seen in September by Josh Jones over in Fulham. A straight swap as he reported having X574 (the Casp I had the day previous) amounsgt his bread mele on the Sunday.


I’ll leave you with the above bird. A real nice 1st winter Caspian Gull, on the roof at Creekmouth – a site I will be checking more often as my own dear patch becomes another park/running track/coffee hotspot. Thats the 2nd patch in 12 yrs in London that its happened to. (the first being Stoke Newington Reservoirs) I wont go into the horror now…

Back to Reality… 10 – 16 Oct

With the Scillies just behind me, I struggled to motivate myself on the patch, despite the fact that I enjoy vis-migging and there are Hawfinches everywhere, even in London, I just haven’t got it together before work.


I spent from midday Saturday till practically dusk on the River, 7 Yellow Legged Gulls were present at Thames Barrier park.



at around 3pm Dante and Rich arrived after successfully twitching the Rock Thrush in Wales and before too long a 1st winter Caspian Gull appeared right in front of us in the bread mele (as they sometimes just do!)


X841 was ringed in may this year in the same site as previous east German birds we’ve seen here and at Dungeness; X307 , x090 , x309  X319 and is one of the better looking birds especially the greater coverts and Scapulars, perhap the high forecrown lets it down abit but im being picky. see below for info.



Earlier in the week I had a pair of Stones Chats in the bomb-crater field on Walthamstow Marsh, probably here for the winter, a welcome addition to the patch year list and were photogenic in the warm sun of Sunday.



Sunday’s Gulls drew abit of a blank bar a handful of Yellow Legs at the O2, in cluding this fairly subtle bird. The headstreaking resembles Herring at this time of year, but all else points to Yellow-Legged.



The crowds that came to oggle at a sunbathing seal didnt take too well to my throwing bread all over the place.


Scillies 2017

My third Autumn Scillies trip in a row, 2 weeks on st Agnes in beloved Roseveer Cottage with Lee Amery, Graham Gordon and Laurence Pitcher and for me at least, the best trip yet.  2 weeks earlier than last year with the last week of September and the first week of October was, luckily, at great period; a mix of genuine rarities, scarcities, lots of common migrants, met some new nice people,and spent time friends, good food and the best scenery.


 1cy Bee-eater

After mixed weather for our first few days the winds settled in the West and South West with fronts moving through and clearing with rain over night and some very wet days. A blast of south in the wind on our first full day and a Bee-eater and Red-eyed Vireo were found within 20 minutes of each other. The Bee-eater (found by Lee) was seen and heard by most birders on the island eventually but the Vireo proved very elusive.


Red-Eyed Vireo

Next, my personal highlight: The Scillies dream is really finding north American passerines and on the morning of the 29th of September a Rose-Breasted Grosbeak flew out of cover infront of me.  You can read finder’s account here . The moments surrounding the initial find will be with me for ever and the below image gives me the shivers, seeing it there on the granite looking like a real vagrant. Stoked!


1cy f   Rose-Breasted Grosbeak


The bird went from wingletang (where i originally found it, to a a field along Barnaby lane and then ended up opposite the post office where it was seen by most who came and twitched it over the 4 days it was present. By the end of its stay it was seriously tame and would hop around near bags of fertiliser and sit in a low bramble feeding, all under the watchful eye of the local cats….



This was a great ‘warmer upper’ for the following American rarities. Another Red-Eyed Vireo in the parsonage, a Cliff Swallow, found on Tresco on the 2nd of Oct, which eventually gave LP and I great views and shared air space with 2 of the Bee-eaters whilst a Yellow Browed Warbler called behind – very memorable bit of birding.


Cliff Swallow (above and below)


Whilst we relaxed with a bonkers overpriced coffee moments after viewing the Cliff Swallow LP recived a text “Who found the Waxwing?”… excitement and frustration ensued but we decided not to get on the charter back to Agnes, where the bird had been found, and remained on Tresco to kick about and see what else was lurking there until our boat returned later in the afternoon. nothing really was the answer.  


juv Cedar Waxwing

We got back just before the Cedar Waxwing was re-located and eventually saw it a few times away from the crowds and even in our little garden. (below)


Other highlights were a day trip to st Mary’s to see the Isabelline Wheatear, which was a success with the bird showing down to 10 meters or so and although both distant the American Golden Plover and Pectoral Sandpiper were present around Porth Hellick.


1cy Isabeline Wheatear


Besides the Bee-eaters, Scarcities and less common migrants were reasonably well  represented however there were a few obvious things missing but between a couple of Wrynecks on Gugh, a Marsh Warbler that GG picked up, a migrant Hawfinch, couple of Lapland Buntings, Yellow –Browed Warblers (which were only really apparent towards the end of the trip) there were plenty of Pied and Spotted Flycatchers, a Turtle dove and whinchats etc to keep us entertained.   




ad  m Hawfinch


Lapland Buntings


Yellow Browed Warbler


Pied Fly-catcher


1cy Mediterranean Gull


The original site of the Grosbeak find, a granite formation I’ve always loved aesthetically 


Looking West from Perigilis beach st Agnes

The return crossing on the Scillonian wasnt bad either and thanks to the help of a group of young(er) birders who were doing a count the following numbers were recorded. 100+ Balerics, 10+ Sooties, 1 Pomerine, 5 Arctic, and 10 Great Skua. thanks to Jake G/Micheal M for figures.

Added bonus – a finders report in the back of the 2016 Scillies Bird Report for the Caspian Gull last year, 1st for Scillies (hence the fuss!) 



28 Aug – 10 Sept

Last Weekend was spent doing mainly other things but Rich, Dante and myself spent a few hours at Thames Barrier Park where Rich picked out this first Calendar Year Caspian Gull, the first ‘new’ bird of the season! Also present was a first summer bird that last winter we reffered to as ‘Mucky’ and a handful of Yellow-Legged Gulls.



With the Lockwood Levels still dropping I’ve been up there after work eveyday. The Spotted Redshanks are unbelivably still around, a number of Common Sandpipers are also present joined by a couple of juvenile  Dunlin but nothing else of interest… still time! My first 1cy Yellow Leg of the year was with other large larids on the 4th (below) If you look carefully you can see about 3 replaced inner median wing coverts, the first bit of wing moult I’ve seen this year



Willow Warblers are drying up as Chiff-Chaff numbers build. a few Common and a Lesser White throat have been present. An Adult Spotted- Flycatcher was in willows between number 1 and 2 on the 31st Aug. I’m still seeing one or two first winter Wheatears on the Lockwood and one or two Yellow wagtails over and now a small trickle of Meadow Pipits has begun.





Swifts were present in ones and twos untill at least the 4th House Martins have been coming through early monrings and flocks of 2-300 have been feeding high over the southern reses. Hobbys have been present on a couple of mornings in conjunction with this.


The marsh has been quiet on my visits, but the local male Kestrel has switched his preferred morning hunting spot from the cow field to horse paddocks.


Saturday 3.00 am and I’m on my way to pick up young Dante in a hire car. The final round of the Matin Garner young Birder of the Year was being held at ‘Migfest’ , Spurn. No suprises he won! well done lad.  450 miles driven and 23 hours awake were worth it.


There were some good birds turn up on the peninsular, which mainly we didn’t go and see except a tired Wryneck first thing. We had more of a ‘finding’ agenda…so birded away from the crowds but the finding only extended to a few Whinchats down the point and an ad male Redstart up by the Easington Gas terminal-I had ear marked a small group of trees here as a perfect Red-breasted Fly spot Shame it wasn’t something more fitting to the date .  Great place though and good vibes.