Thursday, 8 March 2018

Ross's Gull, Ferrybridge, Dorset - 6th March

On 21st February I was birding at Pennington Marsh when news broke, mid-morning, of an adult Ross's Gull that had been seen at Ferrybridge flying up the Fleet. I toyed with abandoning Pennington and driving straight to the bird but as the bird appeared to have disappeared I abstained. Later that afternoon the bird was relocated at Lodmoor RSPB and stunning photographs then emerged on the various social media outlets. I was well and truly gripped, I am a great fan of gulls and consider the smaller gulls (Ross's Gull, Little Gull and Sabine's Gull) as some of our most beautiful and enigmatic species. So, I checked my diary and with dismay realised I had no availability to go for this bird, a mere one hour 15 minutes from home, for at least a week due to work and family commitments. The bird lingered and my diary stayed packed until a slot, the 2nd March, became available in my diary. But, on 1st March the 'Beast from the East' struck a low pressure system, Storm Emma, that approached from the south and southern England was gripped by heavy snow and the roads were gridlocked so I had to cancel my plans - unsurprisingly the bird was not seen that day. I then reviewed my diary and the next slot that I could create was on the 6th March and so that was the plan.

I checked the weather and the bird news on the 5th and all was looking positive. The bird was rather unpredictable in occurrence moving between Ferrybridge, Radipole RSPB, Lodmoor RSPB and occasionally disappearing, presumably to sea for extended periods.  But I headed to bed early, set my alarm for 04:00 and was on the road by 05:00 arriving at Ferrybridge at 06:30. Setting up my scope by the Chesil Beach Cafe I scanned The Fleet but there were few gulls, but I picked up a small gull in flight and which I could see had a wedged shaped tail and broad white trailing edge to the secondaries and inner primaries - that was it, the Ross's Gull but it was distant and the bird soon headed inland, seemingly towards Radipole Lake RSPB. My views were brief, distant and quite unsatisfactory. It was then a waiting game, I scanned the gulls but there were only a handful of Black-headed Gull and Herring Gull. There were around 300 Brent Goose and I soon picked out a Pale-bellied Brent, waterbirds included a handful of Red-breasted Merganser, Great-crested Grebe and Little Grebe and waders included Dunlin, Oystercatcher and Redshank. By around 08:00 a few more Black-headed Gull arrived and a total of 13 lovely summer plumaged Mediterranean Gull showed well and were calling away. There was quite a traffic queue on the approach to Weymouth and as the Ross's Gull had been showing at Radipole RSPB during the late mornings I decided to hedge my bets and join the traffic to get to Radipole. It took around 30 minutes to get to the reserve car park and there were around 15 birders there so I joined the ranks and began to scan the island and lake in front of the visitor centre. There were a dozen or so Mediterranean Gull, Black-headed Gull, Herring Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Great Black-backed Gull and a few Common Gull but no sign of the Ross's Gull. I decided to stick it out for a couple of hours but other than 45 Snipe and good views of Tufted Duck giving their rather odd wheezing calls there was little to be seen.

At 10:40 news broke of the Ross's Gull back at Ferrybridge but, knowing that the bird was pretty mobile and often didn't stay at one spot for long, the assembled birders stayed put on the assumption that it would probably show at Radipole. At 11:30 news broke again that the bird was still at Ferrybridge and a mad dash through Weymouth ensued with all lights seemingly on red. It took around 25 minutes to get to Ferrybridge and on setting up my scope I soon picked up the Ross's Gull and put other birders onto it. Walking along the pavement adjacent to the A354 we edged nearer and obtained some fairly good views of this stunning little pink-tinged Arctic gull with its silvery primaries and distinctive neck-ring. The Ross's Gull was with a flock of Mediterranean Gull which must have numbered around 500 birds and far out numbered the Black-headed Gull. This was quite an amazing sight in itself. The Ross's Gull flew and headed over Chesil Beach to the sea showing its broad white trailing edge and diamond shaped tail but it soon returned and again settled with the Mediterranean Gull's . At around 13:00 the bird took flight and headed out to sea once more and I decided it was time to head for home having obtained good views of the target bird. My photos are not as good as others online but my views were all at a moderate distance. The bird has shown particularly well especially when it appears at Radipole where it occasionally sits in the car park - still I was very happy with my views and I headed home satisfied.

There have been 97 accepted British records of Ross's Gull to the end of 2016, with an additional 22 Irish records to the end of 2014. The prime counties being Shetland with 17 records followed by Yorkshire with 13 records. The peak month of occurrence is January with over 40 records and adults make up over 75% of all occurrences. I have previously seen two Ross's Gull in the UK, the first a superb pink adult at Blackstone Meadow on the Plym Estuary in January 2002 and the second a rather tatty looking 1st summer bird that summered at  Bowling Green Marsh RSPB, Exeter in 2014, see here. Britain is the only country in the world that I have seen this species but I would love to visit Barrow in October where a regular passage of thousands of birds occurs, see here.

Ross's Gull - Ferrybridge, Weymouth, Dorset

Ross's Gull - Ferrybridge, Weymouth, Dorset

Ross's Gull with Mediterranean Gull - Ferrybridge, Weymouth, Dorset

Ross's Gull with Mediterranean Gull - Ferrybridge, Weymouth, Dorset

Ross's Gull - Ferrybridge, Weymouth, Dorset

Ross's Gull - Ferrybridge, Weymouth, Dorset

Mediterranean Gull - Ferrybridge, Weymouth, Dorset

Mediterranean Gull - Ferrybridge, Weymouth, Dorset

Mediterranean Gull - Ferrybridge, Weymouth, Dorset

Mediterranean Gull - Ferrybridge, Weymouth, Dorset

Mediterranean Gull - Ferrybridge, Weymouth, Dorset

Mediterranean Gull - Ferrybridge, Weymouth, Dorset

Mediterranean Gull (2nd summer) - Ferrybridge, Weymouth, Dorset

1st winter and adult Mediterranean Gull plus Shoveler and Avocet - Radipole RSPB, 
Weymouth, Dorset

Colour-ringed Lesser Black-backed Gull - Radipole RSPB, Weymouth, Dorset

Juvenile Herring Gull - Radipole RSPB, Weymouth, Dorset

Brent Goose with Mediterranean Gull - Ferrybridge, Weymouth, Dorset

Brent Goose - Ferrybridge, Weymouth, Dorset

Brent Goose - Ferrybridge, Weymouth, Dorset

Pale-bellied Brent Goose and Dark-bellied Brent Goose - Ferrybridge, Weymouth, Dorset

Pale-bellied Brent Goose and Dark-bellied Brent Goose - Ferrybridge, Weymouth, Dorset

Monday, 5 March 2018

Pennington Marsh - 5th and 9th March

I visited Pennington Marsh on 5th and 9th March and on both days saw much the same. Its a pretty static time of year with winter birds steadily but barely noticeably declining and very few migrants appearing. The Lapwing are now in regular display and are busy making nesting scrapes on the marsh while Black-tailed Godwit are coming into plumage and are at varying stages of turning rusty. Up to eight Ruff were present on the marshes off Lower Pennington Lane and there remain good numbers of Wigeon, Pintail, Teal and Brent Goose as well as the usual waders. There were around 400 Golden Plover on Pennington Marsh on both days, an increase in previous numbers perhaps as a result of the recent cold weather movement. On 5th I counted 34 Bar-tailed Godwit off Butts Lagoon, a higher number than usual, all were still in winter plumage. On 5th a single Spoonbill flew high to the east.

Black-tailed Godwit with summer plumage beginning to appear on head, neck and scapulars - Pennington Marsh

Black-tailed Godwit with summer plumage beginning to appear on head, neck, wing coverts, tertials and scapulars - Pennington Marsh

Black-tailed Godwit with summer plumage beginning to appear on tertials - Pennington Marsh

Black-tailed Godwit with summer plumage beginning to appear on head, neck and scapulars - Pennington Marsh

Black-tailed Godwit with very little sign of moult to summer plumage - Pennington Marsh

Ruff - Pennington Marsh

Golden Plover - Pennington Marsh

Rock Pipit - Pennington Marsh

The Mute Swan were very feisty at the marsh today with marsh territorial aggression - Pennington Marsh

Sound recording of displaying Lapwing - Pennington Marsh

Sound recording of flight calls of Oystercatcher - Pennington Marsh

Sound recording of displaying Shoveler (eight males and three females) plus sound of the birds taking flight - Pennington Marsh

Sound recording of singing Siskin - Romsey

 Sound recording of alarm calling Blue Tit (following pass by Sparrowhawk) followed by song - Romsey

Wednesday, 28 February 2018

Rarities in February 2018

This is my summary of records of rare birds from the UK in February 2018, this is not aimed at being a comprehensive account of all the rare species in the UK in this month, for such accounts see the Birdguides review of the week or the Rare Bird Alert weekly round-up. I am largely writing this as a personal record of rarity records to aid my knowledge and feed my interest in UK birds. The dates provided under each species are only the date of the finding of that bird, 'megas' are shown in red and a full date range for these species is shown. I have only included confirmed records and, generally, have not included possibles or probables. The photographs that I used have been gleaned from the internet, I aim to provide the photographer with full credit and a link to their website or blog, if you see that one of yours has been used and you object to this then please email me and I will remove it immediately, alternatively if you would like to supply a better image or additional information or links then I will add. Contact me at


Pacific Diver
Crookhaven, County Cork - Bird found on 18th January was present until 18th February. An account of the finding of this bird can be found on Birdguides here.
Marazion, Cornwall - The returning bird was present off Marazion, Penzance and Moushole from the beginning of the month until at least 19th February. On 16th it was with a White-billed Diver.

Pacific Diver - Crookham, County Cork. Fantastic image by Sam Northwood. The chin strap and lack of white flank patch are noticeable here. More of Sam's fantastic images can be viewed on his Rare Bird Alert gallery here.

Pied-billed Grebe
Loch of Spiggie, Mainland / Shetland - Found on 4th November 2017 and present until at least 27th February.

Semipalmated Plover
Keel, Achill Island, County Mayo - The bird first found on 19th September 2017 was present until at least the 24th February.

Long-billed Dowitcher
Lady's Island Lake, County Wexford - 27th February.

Bonaparte's Gull
Killybeg. County Donegal - 2nd-winter 13th February.

Thayer's Gull
Blashford Lake and Tidpit, Hampshire - A juvenile first found at the gull roost on Ibsley Water, Blashford Lake on 28th Januray continued to commute between this roost and the pigfields at Tidpit all month.

American Herring Gull
Cashen Estuary, County Kerry - 15th February.

(Taiga) Merlin
Burnside, Highland - A first winter male between 3rd and 18th February. A bird of the subspecies columbarius which occurs from Alaska east through southern and central Canada to Newfoundland and south to the northern USA. The subspecies has been suggested to be a separate species from Merlin. There are previous records from Ireland, Iceland and the Azores.

American Horned Lark
Staines, Surrey - The female of the one of the subspecies alpestris, praticola or hoyti showed well throughout the month.


Red-breasted Goose
Sedbergh, Cumbria - One on 10th February.

King Eider
Blacksod, County Mayo - 1st winter male on 20th February. 

Ross's Gull
Weymouth, Dorset - An adult winter was recorded from 21st February until the months end moving between Ferrybridge, Radipole Lake, Lodmoor and Overcombe.

This stunning adult Ross's Gull graced the Weymouth birding sites from 21st February until the months end but disapeared with the onset of blasting easterly winds and heavy snow associated with the 'Beast from the East'. This image by Peter Moore was one of the best flight shots that I saw, many more of Peter's images can be seen on his blog here.

Gyr Falcon
Bunowen Pier, County Galway - White morph on 13th February.
Termoncarragh Lough, County Mayo - White morph on 20th February.
Tongue, Highland - White morph on 25th February.

Italian Sparrow
East Budleigh, Devon - The probable first found on 11th November 20117 was present throughout February.

Parrot Crossbill
Horsford, Norfolk - Up to 12 on 23rd February.
Sutton Common, Suffolk - 3 on 15th February.

Pine Bunting
Holt. Norfolk - A bird seen in an area with no access on 4th February was seen on a second occasion on 22nd February.
Chambers Wall, Kent - A male was seen briefly on both 17th and 18th February.

Wednesday, 21 February 2018

Pennington Marsh - 21st February

On a bright sunny morning I had a few hours to spend at Pennington Marsh. It is sometime since I had been down to the marsh and so I was looking forward to my time here. I walked a pretty standard route taking in Butt's Lagoon, Fishtail Lagoon, Jetty Lagoon and out to Oxey Lagoon. As expected there were excellent numbers of waders and wildfowl to be seen on the falling tide with highlights being 250 Golden Plover off Pennington Lane, four Ruff, Peregrine, Marsh Harrier, the long staying Purple Sandpiper on the mudflats just east of the jetty, two Slavonian Grebe off Oxey Lagoon and also a Red-necked Grebe off Oxey Lagoon. Also just off Oxey was a seal, I didn't see it very well but I think it was a Common Seal, and a little more surprising was a recently dead Common Dolphin, see here.

After a couple of hours on the marshes I headed into the New Forest and spent an hour at Denny Wood seeing little but for the standard resident woodland species many of which were in full territorial song. A Red Kite soared overhead, still a relatively uncommon species in the forest.

Purple Sandpiper - By the jetty at Pennington Marsh

Roe Deer sporting fine fresh velvety antlers - Pennington Marsh

The Lapwing are just starting to display on the marshes - Pennington Marsh

A fine male Pintail - Pennington Marsh

Red-breasted Merganser - Oxey Lagoon

Red-breasted Merganser - Oxey Lagoon

Red-breasted Merganser - Oxey Lagoon

Red-breasted Merganser - Oxey Lagoon

Red-breasted Merganser, male displaying to the female - Oxey Lagoon

Red-necked Grebe - Off Oxey Lagoon

Slavonian Grebe - Off Oxey Lagoon

Brent Goose - Pennington Marsh

Red Kite - Over Denny Wood

Treecreeper - Denny Wood

Coal Tit - Denny Wood

Mistle Thrush - Pig Bush

Thursday, 15 February 2018

Morocco 10th - 16th February - Oualida

After a very relaxing time at Kasbah Tamadot we were somewhat reluctant to leave and head for the coast but leave we must. The drive from Asni to Oualidia took around five hours including a 30 minute stop for a camel ride for Tobias. The route passed through a flat landscape dominated by cereal production and the birdlife seemed relatively sparse but for good numbers of Crested Lark and the occasional White Stork, Spanish Sparrow, Marsh Harrier and Calandra Lark. We passed, distantly, the Ramsar site of Sebkha Zima just outside of the town of Chemaia, and in the distance from a moving car I could see many Greater Flamingo and other waterbirds but there was no time to stop - in hindsight I wish I had noted that this site was en-route and generated time to stop. As we drove north from Safi the landscape changed dramatically and we were driving through  beautiful countryside with rugged cliffs and the Atlantic Ocean to the west and flower rich limestone pavement over rolling hills to our right.

On arrival at the hotel La Sultana Oualidia we had a tour of the hotel and its facilities and then chilled in our room for a while. The view from the conservatory attached to our room was fantastic extending over fields, scrub and a lagoon and I quickly clocked up Audouin's Gull, Slender-billed Gull, Yellow-legged Gull, Golden Plover, Osprey, Sardinian Warbler, Spoonbill, Serin and House Bunting. We then headed to the hotel's private beach and sat with a champagne or two watching over the lagoon where there were many waders including Ringed Plover, Kentish Plover, Grey Plover, Dunlin, Curlew Sandpiper, Little Stint, Whimbrel, Curlew and along the coastline we recorded at least 75 Audouin's Gull flying north along with many Yellow-legged Gull and Lesser Black-backed Gull.

The following morning I was up at 07:00 and ready for my boat across the lagoon to the sandspit, dunes and coastline opposite the hotel. My main aim was to see and photograph Audouin's Gull. I have never photographed this species and only seen the species previously in Morocco (a single 1st winter bird) and on Corsica (two flyby birds). The boat crossing lasted only five minutes and I added Mediterranean Gull to the trip list. Wandering across the sand the tide was very low and it took a while before I saw any gulls but then I came across a flock of several hundred Lesser Black-backed Gull and amongst them around 15 Audouin's Gull, the sand was extremely soft and I frequently sank up to my ankles but I eventually got to within a reasonable distance of the birds and got my first shots. An adult Slender-billed Gull flew past and I rattled off a few shots of this as it passed close by. Latterly, on study of my photograph's, I found that this bird was ringed. After the sun came up and the gulls disappeared into poor light I headed over the dunes to the coast getting decent views of Great Grey Shrike, Sardinian Warbler and Spotless Starling. Waiting on the cliff top there was a steady stream of gulls over the very rough seas and I photographed Lesser Black-backed Gull, Yellow-legged Gull and Audouin's Gull as they skimmed over the wave surface. Out to sea I saw several adult Gannet, a pale phase Arctic Skua and a Great Skua. I then headed back to the sand bars to see what the gulls were up to, there were no around 50 Audouin's Gull and as I arrived around 15 of them took flight and headed north passing close by and giving great views. I returned to the hotel for around 09:30 and after breakfast and a swim Sarah, Tobias and I headed back out to the sandbar. As we landed there were 12 Audouin's Gull on the beach and I got good views albeit in fairly poor light. Latterly, on study of my photograph's, I found that one of the birds was ringed. We saw little else but for a few Kentish Plover, Sanderling and a fly-by Greater Flamingo.

I spent the rest of my time at the hotel relaxing, swimming and birding from the conservatory of our room or from the veranda overlooking the lagoon with a glass of wine in hand - very relaxing. We headed home on 16th February after a great holiday of relaxing and family time with a bit of birding and some great birds thrown in.

Audouin's Gull were fairly abundant around the sandbars opposite the hotel. Interestingly all the birds that I saw were adult and I didn't record any immature birds with the exception of the 3rd winter bird in the fifth image down. The dark primary coverts age this bird. In the final image, the perched bird can be seen to be ringed (white P596). I tracked down this bird and found that the bird was ringed as a pullus on 28th June 2012 at Ilha da Barreta, Faro, Portugal (36°5810N, 007°5332W) by the Portuguese Bird Ringing Centre. This was the first sighting of this individual since it was ringed.

I only saw a couple of adult Slender-billed Gull on my morning of proper birding but this adult showed reasonably well albeit in rather dodgy light - its pinkish underparts still evident. I find the long neck and the hawking nature of its foraging flight fairly distinctive. This bird was patrolling the channels between the sandbars and plunge diving after its prey. After reviewing my images I noticed that this bird was wearing a white ring with black code 62M and while I have not yet received details of this bird I have found that it was ringed at Donana in south-west Spain.

Lesser Black-backed Gull was by far the most numerous gull species with many hundreds present. The subspecies here is graellsii as we see in the UK.

1st winter

1st winter

2nd winter

Adult winter

Adult winter almost into summer plumage

From left to right, 1st winter, adult, adult, adult, 1st winter, 2nd winter

Lesser Black-backed Gulls with Yellow-legged Gull to right

Lesser black-backed Gull (upper two birds) with Yellow-legged Gull (lower two birds)

Lesser black-backed Gull (upper two birds) with Yellow-legged Gull (lower two birds)

This adult Yellow-legged Gull did a couple of close passes to my cliff top location, these birds are almost as dark in tone as Lesser Black-backed Gull.

I saw a single adult and a single 1st winter Mediteranean Gull at the site fairly close to the hotel.

A typically gawky Greater Flamingo as it flew north along the coastline.

A flock of 20 Oystercatcher flew north well offshore,

There were a good number of waders around the lagoons including (in sequence below) Grey Plover, Ringed Plover (three images), Kentish Plover, Sanderling and Ringed Plover, Sanderling and, finally, Curlew.

During this short trip I didn't record any White Wagtail of the endemic subspecies subpersonata (Moroccan Wagtail),  only the migrant nominate alba subspecies (White Wagtail) such as the bird shown below.

In Morocco the subspecies of Great Grey Shrike that breeds is the rather dark algeriensis. This is a common bird in the lowland areas even within intensively farmed areas outside of Marrakech. 

All of the Starling that I had any kind of a view of were Spotless Starling and I did not identify a definite Common Starling.

House Bunting are perhaps one of the least exciting of the Buntings, they are closely associated with human habitations and were common in the centre of Marrakech.

This is the view from the conservatory attached to our room at our hotel La Sultana Oualidia.

The coast beyond the haven of the lagoon was dominated by the monstrous waves of the Atlantic Ocean.

Yellow Broomrape Cistanche phelypaea is found mainly in Spain, Portugal and Morocco and was common in the dunes opposite our hotel.

We enjoyed the views from the hotel veranda where the sunsets were spectacular.

Links to Other Days of the Trip (Click to View)
Kasbah Tamadot - 10th - 14th February
Oukaimeden - 13th February