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The main aim of this blog is to allow me to share my wildlife and adventure photographs with like minded individuals. As well as birding and wildlife photography,I also enjoy mountain walking especially in winter, so expect some ramblings.
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    White-wingers (Iceland and Glaucous Gulls) are the highlight of the cold winter months for any gull watcher prepared to suffer the cold. Below is an account of all the denizens of the frozen Arctic wastes that have graced Shawell since 2012. I have been lucky enough to have seen all of them apart from a juvenile Glaucous Gull seen by Neil Hagley on January 4th 2012. No Glaucous Gulls had been recorded at Shawell prior to 2012 as far as I know. In comparison six Iceland Gulls had been recorded at the site between 2009 and 2012. 

    The finder is the first name or initials. I have used my initials (CDB) and everyone else is named.

    Glaucous Gull

    Glaucous Gulls are a scarce but regular winter visitor to the Shawell area of Leicestershire.  2013 was the best year so far with seven different ones: six in the first winter period and one in the second. 18 in total.


    • Juvenile, Cotesbach Landfill site on December 28th (CDB). At the time it was raining very heavily and it was very windy, so I didn’t risk damaging my camera.


    • Fourth-winter at both Cotesbach Landfill site and the A5 Lagoons on Fer(CDB, Andy Forryan and  Garsham Roberts). 

    • Juvenile at the A5 Lagoons on February 22nd (CDB). 

    • Second-winter at both Cotesbach Landfill site and the A5 Lagoons (Steve Lister, CDB). 

    • Juvenile at the A5 Lagoons on March 16th (CDB). It spent all afternoon on the lagoons.

    • Juvenile at Shawell A5 Lagoons on March 27th (CDB).  I consider it to be a different individual to the one on March 16th due to its small size and plumage differences.

    • Adult at Cotesbach Landfill site on March 28th (CDB). 

    • Second-winter or pale juvenile at the A5 Lagoons on December 14th (CDB, Steve Nichols). 


    • Second-winter at Cotesbach landfill site and the A5 Lagoons on January 18th (CDB). 


    • Second-winter at the A5 Lagoons and Cotesbach Landfill site on January 20th to 24th (CDB, Steve Nichols, Dave Scott and Andy Forryan). 

    • Third-winter at Cotesbach Landfill site on January 25th (CDB). I


    • Juvenile at Cotesbach Landfill site on January 9th (CDB). 

    • Juvenile on January 16th & 21st and February 18th (CDB, Steve Nichols). I

    • Second-winter, January 21st at the A5 Lagoons (CDB, Steve Nichols). It had an injured leg.

    • Fourth-winter at both Cotesbach landfill site and the A5 Lagoons on February 18th (CDB). 


    • Juvenile at the A5 Lagoons on January 11th (CDB). 

    • Juvenile at the sand quarry on January 21st (CDB). 

    • Juvenile at the sand quarry on January 27th & 28th (CDB).

    Iceland Gull

    They appear at the same time as the other large white-winger although they can turn up later than the Glaucous Gull. Sightings have been made as late as April. 2012 is the best year so far with five individuals. I have seen 15 so far at Shawell since 2012.


    • Third-winter at the A5 Lagoons between January 9th and 28th (CDB, Neil Hagley et al). 

    • Second-winter at the A5 Lagoons on February 29th (CDB). This one was probably a male and it had a distinctive bill pattern. Not photographed due to camera failure.

    • Second-winter at the A5 Lagoons on March 3rd (CDB, Steve Lister, Garsham Roberts).

    • Adult at the A5 Lagoons on March 1oth and 17th. (Neil Hagley, CDB and Steve Lister). Seen by Neil on the 10th and re-found by CDB on the 17th. Not photographed.
    • Second-winter at the A5 Lagoons on March 23rd (Dave Gray, CDB).


    • a biscuit coloured Juvenile at the landfill site on February 9th (CDB). Not photographed.
    • a pale juvenile at the A5 Lagoons on March 9th, 27th and 28th plus April 6th (CDB, Steve Lister).

    • second-winter at both the landfill site and the A5 Lagoons on January 18th (CDB, Steve Nichols, Dave Gray).

    • Adult at the A5 lagoons on march 15th (CDB).

    • Third-winter at the A5 Lagoons on December 17th and 20th (CDB, Steve Nichols)

    • Juvenile at the A5 Lagoons briefly on March 14th (CDB).


    • Juvenile at the A5 Lagoons on February 12th (CDB). 

    •  Faded juvenile at the A5 Lagoons regularly from March 16th (CDB, Steve Nichols). Sadly it broke its wing and had to be taken into care and put to sleep as the injury was too severe. 

    • third-winter at both the landfill site and the A5 Lagoons on April 9th (CDB).

    • juvenile at the sand quarry on January 21st (CDB, Steve Nichols).

    To be continued...

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  • 02/17/17--14:05: The Vikings Have Arrived
  • Over the last week I have seen not one but two Glaucous x Herring Gull hybrids - aka Viking Gulls. Both in the Shawell area.

    Both were structurally very similar to Glaucous Gulls - large size, shortish primary projection and large bi-coloured bills. The first one, a first-winter, was a large gull with pale buff upperparts and greyish brown primaries. It had a full greyey brown tail band, which is not that common, but certainly not unprecedented for this hybrid type. The other was a second-winter. When I spotted it it was facing head on and I thought it was a Glaucous, but as it turned sideways on I could see its primaries were not right - too dark.

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  • 02/18/17--11:16: Today's News From Shawell
  • I was looking forward to today's session as Steve Nichols had seen two adult Glaucous Gulls yesterday on the tip. He had managed to distantly view the landfill area from the small lane on the north side.

    The weather was against me at first with fog making viewing difficult. As it began to clear I spotted a juvenile Glaucous Gull distantly, but soon lost it as the gulls took to flight. I re-spotted it several times before it came close enough for a record shot. It appears to be another new one, as last week's Glauc was really dark whereas this one was a typical biscuit brown.

    Juvenile Glaucous Gull

    At the same time as the juvenile Glaucous came close so did the regular juvenile Iceland Gull.

    Juvenile Iceland Gull

    After taking record shots of the two gulls above I began to scan through the gulls on a raised plateau situated about another 100 metres behind the main flock. Amongst them was an adult Glaucous Gull. It may have been last week's colour-ringed one, but its legs were hidden in a rut. It was too distant to photograph well, so I didn't bother trying

    Four Caspian Gulls were around too. Three first-winters and a second-winter.

    First-Winter Caspian Gull
    First-Winter Caspian Gull

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  • 02/19/17--12:04: The Easiest Twitch Ever
  • I am a bit slow off the blocks these days when collecting new British Ticks. I had seen a sickly Blue Rock Thrush at Hemel Hempstead many years ago and I missed a good one on the Scilly Isles by a day, so when one turned up in Stow on the Wold I was not really that tempted - that much! I was a bit fed up last Sunday due to the weather, so I decided to have a ride down to the Cotswold's in search of a bird that was confusing the yellowy coloured Cotswold stone for a rock face in the Med.

    It took just over an hour to get there. I walked into the Maugersbury Close and soon spotted my target perched on a roof top. No wait for hours to see this bird. After a couple of minutes it flew off and didn't reappear. I was back home almost before anyone knew I gone.

    The light was terrible, so I videoed it.


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  • 03/22/17--12:31: Birding The Algarve
  • I'm a bit late posting this, as I've been busy with other jobs since returning home.

    At the end of February Dawn and I made another journey to the sunny Algarve. I have now been to The Algarve six times including autumn, spring and winter trips. One of the tasks I have been doing before writing this was to work out my Portuguese bird list. My total is 208 species, with an average of around 125 per trip.

    I managed to get some new ticks on this trip, which included Dunnock! Also Arctic Skua, Common Scoter, Great Black-backed Gull, Razorbill, Purple Sandpiper, Song Thrush and Sora.

    A storm at the end of the trip proved excellent for sea watching. I was able to watch Great Skuas passing along the coast right from my hotel balcony. At Cape St Vincent Cory's Shearwaters were passing by continually and amongst them I counted 20 Great Skuas in an hour.

    Cape St Vincent

    The following morning after an even stronger blow I picked up 11 Common Scoters passing westwards just offshore at Praia da Rocha. At the eastern end of Praia da Rocha the Arade River empties into the sea. At this point there are two breakwaters and along one of these I found a single Purple Sandpiper. These are quite scarce down in The Algarve, so a good bird to find for a visitor.

    Purple Sandpiper

    Before I set off on my trip I knew that a Sora Rail was wintering near Silves. This is only about 20 minutes from Praia da Rocha where we stay, so as soon as we picked up our hire car we headed to Silves. It was high tide when we got there, so we had plenty of time to kill. Dawn had a look around Silves, which is a splendid old town with a fortified town wall and castle. I spent some time photographing some metal ringed Black-headed Gulls. One had been ringed in Poland and the other at Silves. Eventually the water level dropped as the tide fell and as soon as the mud was exposed out came the Sora. The viewing position is much higher than the riverbed, so it was difficult to photograph well.


    We visited the usual spots in the course of the holiday. Salgados Lagoons had been drained of much of its water and so fewer birds were there than normal. In contrast we had a great day near Faro at Ludo Farm and Ria Formosa West. Here we recorded 73 species in the day. The highlights were a couple of showy Glossy Ibis and a female Little Bittern.

    Glossy Ibis

    Little Bittern

    I always search the harbour at Portimao for colour-ringed gulls. Since my first trip in 2013 I have been on the lookout for colour-ringed Yellow-legged Gulls from further north in Portugal - the supposed heartland of the sub-species lusitanius. Since 2013 I have actually realised that the breeding Yellow-legged Gulls along much of The Algarve's rocky coast are also of the sub-species lusitanius. On this trip I was pleased to find two first-winter Yellow-legged gulls that had been ringed on Berlengas Island near Peniche.

    Yellow-legged Gull (L. m .lusitanius)

    These lusitanius Yellow-legged Gulls are slower to moult their tertials and coverts compared to their michahellis cousins.

    Another challenge I had set myself was to find a colour-ringed gull there that I'd also seen at Shawell. Well there was something familiar about the code DLDA. When I checked I realised I'd seen this one at Shawell during June 2016. It is a Lesser Black-backed Gull and was ringed as a chick in 2012 in Suffolk.

    I'm also always on the look out for one of the Severn Estuary Gull Groups colour ringed Lesser Black-backs. I had only seen one during my previous trips, so I was pleased to find another this time.

    Lesser Black-backed Gull

    The two hour drive to Castro Verde was once again worthwhile. We arrived at the LPN centre just after the sun had started to peak above the distant horizon. Approaching the reserve we spotted Crested Larks frozen to the spot, as they were caught in the beam from our headlights. As we parked up a Lesser kestrel landed in the tree right by our car. It sensed our presence and disappeared as quick as it had arrived. I was surprised to hear many Quail singing, as it was still February.

    We set off on the circular walk and found it difficult to avoid standing on the thousands of slugs and caterpillars that covered the path.

    I missed out on seeing a Great Spotted Cuckoo last May, so I was delighted when I saw one flying towards us on this trip. It alighted on a fence not too far away and stayed there for at least five minutes. The caterpillars that were everywhere proved attractive to the cuckoo and in the video below you can see it enjoying eating a few.

    Little Bustards avoided us this time, but we did enjoy watching a male Great Bustard displaying.

    The video below shows the Great Spotted Cuckoo, displaying Great Bustards and a Lesser Kestrel. Don't forget to set it to HD quality.

    I had always wanted to visit Sines on the west coast of Portugal, because of its strategically placed fishing harbour. I did this time, but I was very disappointed. There were few gulls there and the fishing fleet didn't arrive with a good catch to bring the gulls in. I'm sure another time it would be much better. I did enjoy seeing the surfing waves rolling in on one of the beaches near to Sines.

    The harbour at Sagres proved better, although the rare gull I hoped to find was avoiding me. I did enjoy photographing a couple of Great Black-backed Gulls there, which was a new bird for Portugal for me.

    Great Black-backed Gull

    It felt like spring in the Algarve with Swallows and House Martins already nest building. The White Storks were also on their nests, but they are always on their nest in The Algarve.

    House Martins
    White Stork

    The Algarve is a great place for birding and as you can see it has quite a lot of diversity.

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  • 04/01/17--09:52: Iceland Gull
  • It has been a difficult month at Shawell - plenty of gulls, but difficult to pin down. Today Steve Nichols and I were scanning through a group of gulls when Steve spotted a a second calendar-year Iceland Gull.  It's hard to tell whether it is the same juvenile that I saw in both January and February with faded plumage, or is it a new bird?

    Iceland Gull, Shawell, 01/04/2017

    Iceland Gull, February 11th 2017

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    I have been spending some time at Stanford Reservoir recently, but I still can't drag myself away from Shawell for long.

    You would have thought we were still in the grips of winter with the amount of gulls at Shawell yesterday. I spotted the pale juvenile Iceland Gull that Steve Nichols and I first saw on April 1st. It was a quite mobile initially, but showed well later in the afternoon at the lagoons. I also saw a couple of first-winter Caspian Gulls as well.

    The weekend before another German ringed Caspian Gull  (yellow X312) was at the lagoons. X312 was a slightly odd looking, so it might have a bit of Herring Gull in it.

    Juvenile Iceland Gull, Shawell A5 Lagoons, 15/04/17

    First-winter Caspian Gull, Shawell A5 Lagoons, 15/04/17

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  • 04/20/17--12:52: Black-winged Stilts
  • Before work this morning I went to Brascote Pits. It was fairly quiet there but I did see my first Lesser Whitethroat of the year. Unusually for a spring bird it showed well on the outside of one of the hawthorns.

    Just as I was about to leave a text came in from Chris Hubbard saying three Black-winged Stilts had been seen early morning at Stanford Res. They were a county tick for me, so I rushed over and luckily they were still there. A male and two females as far as I can see. One of the females was still quite immature.

    I couldn't stay long, so I had to make do with some distant images from the Leicestershire side. The birds were feeding while I was there in the channel showing the course of the River Avon. The water levels are low enough to show the channel that marks the county boundary. They were mostly mid-channel, but they did come on to the Leicestershire side at times. The agreement between Northamptonshire and Leicestershire for recording purposes is birds on the water are counted for both counties. Birds on the banks are of course counted for the single county they are in.

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  • 04/30/17--13:21: Stanford Reservoir
  • Having obtained a permit for Stanford Res I have been taking advantage of the great conditions there. The water level is low and the exposed mud has been attracting lots of birds.

    Highlights today included eight Bar-tailed Godwits and single Little and Black Terns.

    The terns were on the Northamptonshire side all the time, which was a shame as I need Little Tern for my Leicestershire list.

    The short video below is of the godwits and the terns.

    The long staying immature Long-tailed Duck was still present on today, however, it has not been seen since.

    Long-tailed Duck, Stanford Reservoir, 29/04/17

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    The weekend started well when I found a Whimbrel in a field in the west of Leicestershire. I then made my way over to Stanford Reservoir where a nice gathering of waders was present although most of them were in Northants. My phone rang as I was scanning for new birds: it was Dave Gray calling to let me know that a Great Reed Warbler was at Albert Village Lake. The only record of this species in Leicestershire & Rutland was way back in 1963.

    I made my way back along the Northamptonshire side of the reservoir stopping to admire a subtle looking second-summer Caspian Gull. Stanford Res. is not the best place to be when heading for Albert Village Lake, but it didn't take too long to get there with the help of the M1.

    The Great Reed Warbler was very vocal, but elusive wasn't the word. After about three hours I managed to get one brief view of it. I don't think anyone else did much better than a brief view.

    Well done to Rhys Dandy, Dave Gray, Ben Croxtall & Marc Lansdowne for breaking the highest day total for Leicestershire & Rutland with 121 species and finding the Great Reed Warbler in the process.

    On Sunday morning I announced to Dawn that I was going out to find a Grey Plover for my 'South-West Leicestershire List'. I missed one last year at Brascote Pits when I was on holiday in Portugal, so I needed to make amends  Things didn't go quite to plan, as it was actually Adey Baker who saw the it first. Adey called Grey Plover and I was on it about a second later. We had been grumbling about the lack of good birds at Brascote these days, but we shouldn't lack faith! I was really chuffed to see another good wader species in the area some describe as the desert of Leicestershire.

    Here's a short video showing the beautiful summer-plumaged Grey Plover...

    Grey Plover, Brascote Pits, May 7th 2017

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    Steve Nichols sent me a text this afternoon to say a Whooper Swan was at Shawell A5 lagoons. I rang Dawn and told her to cook tea on a low light, as I would be late home from work. The swan was tucked up in the corner of the furthest lagoon, but I got reasonable views through the hedge along the side of the A5. This is a local area tick for me.

    Whooper Swan, Shawell A5 Lagoons, May 9th 2017

    A few gulls had gathered on the bank between the lagoons and amongst them was a second-summer Yellow-legged Gull. I scanned the shore hoping that a wader had dropped in, but nothing was doing. I walked the short distance between the viewings points and thought about packing up. I had just one last scan as always and this time I was in luck! A smart Wood Sandpiper had appeared.

    I walked along the footpath which runs along the side of the lagoon and managed to get close enough to get some good quality video.

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  • 05/21/17--09:06: Swan Lake
  • It's been an odd spring. At times the local birding has been first rate, but at other times a bit poor. I'm not on my own in thinking that the recent unsettled weather might have grounded a few more migrants. It's not too late though and I can't complain too much really as I've seen two Wood Sandpipers, two Bar-tailed Godwits and two Whimbrels locally plus the splendid Grey Plover at Brascote Pits. It's more of a case of trying to work out the optimum weather conditions.

    The Whooper Swan was still at Shawell A5 Lagoons yesterday, so I took the opportunity to photograph it with my DSLR. It was a good job I did because it looks as though it has moved on today.

    At Stanford Res yesterday it was generally quiet apart from an immature White-fronted Goose and a very showy Hobby that was hunting insects above the reed bed on the Leicestershire side. It was difficult to get a good photographic opportunity, but I did grab a record shot of it.

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  • 06/02/17--13:57: Solitude
  • It had been a while since my last trip to Scotland and I was itching for a bit of peace and quiet and excitement.

    The weather forecast for the latter part of last week looked good for an overnight adventure in the Cairngorm Mountains. I hastily arranged a few days off work, found my kit and jumped in the car and headed north.

    I set up base camp at Glenmore near Aviemore. Once that was done I headed to the ski car park and into the hills, but not before filling out a form in the Mountain Rangers hut just in case something drastic happened to me. My rucksack was a little heavy with tripod, camera, food and drink plus tent stowed inside. I had only just left the car park when I spotted a very pale warbler. It's bill was quite orangey and it looked a little larger than a typical Willow Warbler. I spoke to another birder later in the day and he said that it was most likely a Northern Willow Warbler.

    It was very hot and I soon began to feel the effects of carrying my heavy pack. My route took me past the magnificent Corrie an Lochan. I always feel the urge to get out my camera and take a few images at this point. It was around here that I encountered the first Ptarmigan.

    Corrie Lochan

    After a quick drink I continued upwards towards the plateau. Near the plateau I felt a searing pain in my right thigh. It wasn't cramp as the pain wasn't right for that. I decided to try and walk it off and luckily the pain began to subside. I had an idea where I was going to camp, so I limped off across what I call the 1083 plateau. I chose a campsite close to the edge of the Larig Ghru: a chasm, which cuts through the Cairngorm massif. The area was one of the few locations where the ground is flat enough to be comfortable to sleep on. It was warm, so I had only brought my outer tent and a sleeping bag.

    I left all of my heavy kit in the tent and started searching the plateau for birds. A pair of Ptarmigan were feeding quietly close to my campsite. I stopped to photograph the female, as females are often harder to find during summer.

    Female Ptarmigan

    Just south of Cairn Lochan I found a pair of Dotterel. The male was keen to defend his female and always made sure he put himself between me and his mate. Another female was close by and in total I saw five individuals - three males and two females.

    Male Dotterel

    Dotterel are having a hard time in the Cairngorms especially in the more accessible places.

    By know it was almost 9.00 pm and I had the plateau all to myself. I planned to be back at my tent to enjoy sunrise and a miniature bottle of Glenfiddich 12 Yr. Off in the direction of my tent I could hear a Snow Bunting singing. It was perched on top off a small cairn. It was a friendly chap and remained there singing whilst I sneaked up on it.

    Snow Bunting

    Back at my tent I watched the sunset and drank my whisky. As the sun was setting I noticed some cloud oozing across Breariach and down into the Larig Ghru. As it did the wind started to pick up.

    I retired to the comfort of my tent, but the wind speed was increasing all the time. The tent was being buffeted quite severely and despite using anything I could to block the gaps it soon became quite cold. My sleep came in fits and starts, but by 3.00 am I'd had enough of being woken up by the wind and decided to head towards the summit of Ben Macdui. If I moved quick enough I would enjoy the sunrise although I'd run out of whisky.

    Just a singing Snow Bunting and I were in place to watch the sun come up above the summit cairn of Britain's second highest point.

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    Whilst I was up in Scotland I took an early morning stroll into the forest. I was pleased to see a Crested Tit and half-a-dozen crossbills. Through the trees I could see a lochan (small lake). A path snaked its way through the trees to the waters edge, so I followed it. I disturbed a small wader, which flew to the other end of the lochan. Through my binoculars my first thought was Wood Sandpiper. Apart from Common Sandpiper this was the obvious choice, as they do breed in the Highlands in small numbers and the forest habitat seemed right for this species. I decided to walk back to my car and get my scope, as I felt I needed a closer look.

    It was a good job I did, as it turned out to be a Green Sandpiper. I took some video to confirm the sighting.

    The Highland Bird Recorder described it as an exceptional record as they only get one or two in the Highlands on passage each year (sometimes none) and this one was recorded during the breeding season. He initially questioned my record before I sent him the photo below.

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  • 06/04/17--07:22: Orchids at Brascote
  • Brascote Pits is once again festooned with orchids.

    Many of them are hybrids (I think) between Southern Marsh and Common Spotted Orchids. These seem to favour the shaded areas amongst the young trees. Bee Orchids are much in evidence in the more open areas. The Southern Marsh Orchids have increased in number, but there are fewer Common Spotted Orchids.

    I remember visiting Ketton Quarry many years ago to see my first Bee Orchid, but Brascote Pits to the west of Leicester puts Ketton into the shade with the numbers of orchids present.

    Southern Marsh Orchid

    Southern Marsh Orchid

    Hybrid Southern Marsh x Common Spotted Orchid

    Hybrid Southern Marsh x Common Spotted Orchids

    Bee Orchid

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    All those listed below are considered to be different individuals, however, some duplication is inevitable:

    1. second-winter, January 4th (also seen December 2016)
    2. adult, January 4th
    3. adult, January 4th & 6th
    4. second-winter, January 6th
    5. adult, January 11th
    6. sub-adult, January 18th
    7. adult, January 27th
    8. first-winter, January 27th & 28th and February 7th
    9. third-winter, February 3rd & 4th
    10. first-winter, February 3rd
    11. first-winter, February 4th & 7th
    12. first-winter, February 4th
    13. first-winter, February 6th
    14. first-winter, February 7th
    15. first-winter, February 7th
    16. second-winter, February 7th
    17. first-winter, February 18th
    18. first-winter, February 18th
    19. first-winter, February 18th
    20. second-winter, February 18th
    21. first-winter, March 25th
    22. first-winter, March 25th and April 1st
    23. first-winter, April 8th (German colour-ring X312)
    24. first-winter, April 15th
    25. first-winter, April 15th
    26. first-winter, April 29th
    27. first-summer, May 13th
    28. first-summer, May 13th

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  • 07/02/17--08:41: News From SW Leics
  • My corner of Leicestershire is often ignored as a birding location. Well things are going quite well this year especially with locally rare breeding birds. At Brascote Pits a pair of Oystercatchers have three chicks and the Shelducks have five well grown ducklings. Neither of these two species breed successfully every year in south-west Leicestershire.

    A respectable number of schedule 1 breeding birds have bred in the area this year including the first pair of Red Kites.

    I had to travel to deepest darkest Wales to see Red Kites when I was a lad and back then no one expected to one day see one in Leicestershire. Well yesterday I stood enthralled as I watched 14 in the air together in south-west Leicestershire. Eight of them alighted in the same dead tree - how things change!

    Red Kite

    Whilst I was out yesterday I bumped into Neil Hagley who told me he'd seen some White-letter Hairstreaks at Croft/Huncote. It had been a few years since I last saw White-letter Hairstreaks there, so it was good to know they had survived. Adey Baker and I went to look for them this morning and luck was on our side. Two were nectaring on bramble flowers. The one that I photographed had its head hidden from my position, but at least I got a record shot. From the Huncote end of Croft Quarry you need to park by the metal gates and turn right as you go through the gate. walk uphill and stop just past the double telegraph poles. There is an obvious bramble bush with pinkish flowers and this was where we saw them.

    White-letter Hairstreak, Croft Quarry

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  • 07/11/17--10:55: Red Kites, Gulls and Dragons
  • At the weekend I did the rounds checking the progress of several breeding birds. The gulls seemed to be doing OK on their new roof at Scudamore Road, Leicester and I am pretty sure that a few pairs of Lesser Black-backed Gulls and one pair of Herring Gulls are nesting at Troon Industrial Estate, Leicester. The young Red Kites I'm keeping an eye on are almost ready to fledge and the young Oystercatchers are growing night and day. Initially the Oystercatchers proved difficult to find, but then all of a sudden one swam out from underneath some vegetation at the side of the lake.

    Oystercatcher Chick

    At Cotesbach it was great to see that there was still ten Red Kites scavenging for any food they could find on the tip.

    Red Kite

    There are a couple of new ponds by the landfill site, which didn't take dragonflies long to discover. At least four Emperors were present including this ovipositing female.

    Emperor Dragonfly

    There were plenty of gulls at the landfill and I managed to read some colour-rings for a change - most were from Norway.

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  • 07/15/17--13:56: Gulls at Last
  • I have only just started to get good views of the gulls again at Shawell. The tip face had been moved too far away to view and the disturbance from the dog walker has been bad at the lagoons. He is still causing problems, as management haven't caught him yet.

    Anyway the last few weeks have been better since the tip area is now closer to the road, but still a little too far away. At least I'm reading some colour-rings again. The bulk of these ringed gulls are intermedius Lesser Black-backed Gulls, which may be a surprise as at one time we thought of these dark mantled gulls as winter visitors.

    Amongst the horde of LBBG are a few Yellow-legged Gulls including some juveniles and I've had a couple of first-summer Caspian Gulls this week as well - one today and one on Thursday.

    First-Summer Caspian Gull

    The highlight at present, however, is the gathering of Red Kites. Fifteen were there today including two pristine juveniles.

    Juvenile Red Kite

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  • 07/23/17--00:27: Possible Heughlin's Gull
  • On Saturday I found a gull at Cotesbach tip that ticked all the boxes in part one of the Altenburg Criteria (identification of first-summer Baltic Gull) but it possibly falls down because of the second part of the criteria. However, if it isn't a Baltic Gull then what is it. Structurally it seems to fit Baltic Gull. However, it seems to be a strong Heughlin's Gull candidate. Or, maybe it is a very interesting gull just outside of our current knowledge range and so should remain un-identified? One regular contributor on Facebook's WP Gull Group said if he had to chose he would go for Heughlin's Gull. I was concerned about the complete set of fresh primaries, but check this out from the core range of Heughlin's in Russia 

    Since 2014, during the summer months, I have been searching through the first-summer  Lesser Black-backed Gulls at Shawell looking for fresh looking black primary feathers. I struck lucky in July 2015 when I spotted a very good contender for a first-summer Baltic Gull at the landfill site. It is still residing with the BBRC and it may well be there for a while, as it would be the first or one of the first non-ringed Baltic Gulls accepted for Britain as far as I know.

    The other LBBG sub-species moult their primaries in late autumn and there have been no proven records of either L. f. graellsii or L. f.intermedius that have moulted all their primaries, especially the longest ones, during the summer months. Studies using colour rings have failed to find any second calendar-year graellsii or intermedius having moulted all their primaries by July. Whereas L. f. fuscus generally moult their primaries whilst they are on their wintering grounds and so reappear in northern Europe with a set of new primaries in many cases. 

    The criteria for separating first-summer L. f. fuscus (Baltic Gull) from the other sub-species during June, July and possibly August is as follows: (1) all retrices (tail feathers), secondaries and at least eight primaries are second generation (2) the upperparts are plain dark brown, mixed with dark grey to blackish-grey adult-like feathers. In some birds, the dark brown scapulars may have acquired paler fringes due to wear, while in others a faint pat- tern on the (greater) coverts may be visible. Birds that show scapulars and/or wing-coverts with ob- vious markings (cf plate 389) or unusually pale grey adult-type feathers (cf plate 390), however, should not be considered. Full paper HERE.

    Heughlin's Gull doesn't yet have a full criteria to help identify extralimital examples.

    I am awaiting on comments from Western Palearctic Gulls Group on Facebook. I have discussed it Mars Muusse one of the others of 'Field identification criteria for second calendar-year Baltic Gull' and he was impressed by this gull, but felt that the upperparts were a problem. Mars felt it wise to put it on hold until such time that more is understood about heughlini. There is a possibility that it could be a hybrid between Baltic and Lesser Black-backed Gull, but is so would the hybrid moult in line with Baltic Gull?

    Second Generation Tail Feathers (Retrices)

    Open Wing Showing Second Generation Secondaries
    Another View of The Second Generation Secondaries (note neat unworn white tips and edges to the secondaries)

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  • 07/24/17--12:46: Weekend Report
  • Saturday was a good day. It started with me finding a pair of Barn Owls in a barn that I have been checking for about 30 years. I've seen pellets occasionally but it was great to see a couple of owls in there. At Shawell the Red Kite invasion had increased to 17 birds.

    Red Kite

    As well as the tricky gull in the previous post I saw a couple of Caspian Gulls and many Yellow-legged Gulls. Amongst the Yellow-legged Gulls were five smart juveniles.

    Juvenile Yellow-legged Gull

    Can You Spot the Caspian Gull?

    On Sunday I was at Brascote Pits in the morning and three juvenile Common Terns were there and when they landed on the shore I checked for colour rings and surprisingly they were all ringed. Each one had a yellow colour ring - U24, U25 and U26. These 3 juvs were rung on the same raft on Meadow lake at Watermead Country Park on 27/6/17.

    Juvenile Common Tern
    The Shelduck brood were doing well, as were the three young Oystercatchers.

    Adult and Young Ostercatcher

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  • 07/30/17--10:12: Pied Flycatcher
  • My highlight this weekend has to be the Pied Flycatcher at Croft Hill. I had been over to Brascote early morning and just before I set off back home I checked my phone and noticed I'd missed a message from Adey Baker. I hadn't realised he was back from his holiday, so I texted him to say I had gone to Brascote. Shortly after he texted back saying he was on Croft Hill and he'd had a brief view of what looked like a Pied Flycatcher. Soon he messaged me again and this time he said he'd got a photo and it was a Pied Flycatcher.

    My plans for the morning had altered and I headed to Croft. It took us quite a while to relocate it, but the time was well spent as we also found a family of Spotted Flycatchers.

    'Female Type' Pied Flycatcher Croft Hill

    Juvenile Spotted Flycatcher, Croft Hill

    Croft Hill is one of the best sites to find Pied Flycatchers in Leicestershire. Pied Flickers are scarce migrants in the county. Below are the most recent records from the site:

    2004: a male on April 24th (CDB, ABa). 

    2008: a male on April 18th (DT), plus two females/immatures during September: one from 8th to 10th (NWH et al) and another on the 27th (ABa, CDB).

    2012: a female/immature on September 2nd (ABa).

    2015: single females/immatures on August 7th (CDB, ABa, RBa) and August 16th (CDB, ABa).

    2016: a single female/immature on August 21st (CDB, ABa, DT).

    2017: a single female/immature on July 30th (ABa, CDB)

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    I was away in Norway last week, which generated lots of office work, so apologies for my silence. I will write a post about Norway shortly, but here's an update of a successful evening at Shawell.

    Loads of gulls present and the prey for the visit fell nicely in to my lap. I was hoping for a juvenile Caspian Gull and a great beast of a bird was holding court.

    Photography is difficult due to the distance but all the features are there to see on this one. Milky brown upperparts, plain brown coverts with the Nike swoosh on the greater coverts, long legs and small headed etc.

    Juvenile Caspian Gull, Shawell, August 10th 2017

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  • 08/12/17--13:34: More From Shawell
  • The large male juvenile Caspian Gull was still at Shawell today and a new smaller presumed juvenile female was there too. On top of that one maybe two first-summer Caspian Gulls and a colour-ringed juvenile Yellow-legged Gull (subject to agreement by ringer). It had a German colour-ring, but that doesn't mean it was ringed in Germany. Colour-ringed Yellow-legged Gulls are rare in the UK, so this was an exciting find.

    Juvenile Caspian Gull, Shawell 12/08/17

    Juvenile Yellow-legged Gull HD430, Shawell, 12/08/17

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  • 08/20/17--00:00: Norwegian Gulling Trip
  • Last year I found a colour-ringed gull at Shawell that had been ringed in a Baltic Gull colony in Norway. The Horsvaer archipelago is the home to about 400 pairs of Baltic Gulls Larus fuscus fuscus. However, Norwegian gull colonies are tainted with a reputation of containing both pale and dark backed gulls. The adult gull I saw at Shawell (J727) looked the part - small and elegant, long-winged and very black. However, another gull from Horsvaer had been recorded in Britain and that one looked a little too pale.

    I had been chatting with Morten Helberg in Norway who had been studying the gulls on Horsvaer and he invited me to come see for myself. It took a while but on August 1st 2017 I flew to Oslo and met up with Morten.

    Morten knows how to show a visiting birder a good time. He whisked me off to the local tip where we were soon enjoying close up views of colour-ringed intermedius Lesser Black-backed Gulls and Herring Gulls.

    Lesser Black-backed Gull L. f. intermedius

    Next he had set up an impromptu ringing session. We went to another tip and set up a portable trapping rig. Loads of bread and dog biscuits attracted a group of gulls almost instantly. Once that trap was full we rushed over a threw a blanket over the trap. The main prize was an adult Great Black-backed Gull. The GBBG was ringed by Jon Evenrud and it managed to take some chunks out of his arm. Morten showed me how to ring the gulls and then set me loose. I ended up ringing two juvenile Herring Gulls although Morten fitted the colour-rings as they required a bit of practice.

    And then it was off to the beach where Morten lassoed gulls to order.

    Second Calendar-Year Herring Gull

    I stayed the night at Morten's place where he has a lake on his doorstep as well as a forest. Before bed we enjoyed close views of a couple of Eurasian Beaver and a Nightjar.

    The next morning we re-visited the tip and read lots of colour-rings. The highlight for Morten was reading the metal ring on an adult Great Black-backed Gull from Finland. Afterwards we caught a couple of flights north and ended up in a lovely town called Brønnøysund, which is in Nordland. We were to spend a couple of days checking the gull colonies on a series of islands collectively named Horsvaer. Our boat man, Runar,  collected us from the airport and within minutes we were on board his boat and making ready to set sail.

    Runar's Boat is Called Teist, Which is Norwegian for Black guillemot

    The sea was flat and in no time we had reached the islands. The skipper steered us to a sheltered mooring just as it was getting dark. Not far away on the nearest island a White-tailed Eagle was roosting on a wooden pole and Black Guillemots were splashing about near the boat. 

    I woke early and the scene that awaited me as looked out of the port hole took my breath away.

    I spotted my first Baltic Gull of the day before the rest of the crew were up. It was perched on the pier behind the fishing boat in the picture above.

    Once we had eaten breakfast we put to work ringing the Baltic Gull chicks.

    Adult Baltic Gulls with Two Chicks Bottom Left
    Baltic Gull, Horvaer, August 2017
    Baltic Gull, Horvaer, August 2017
    Baltic Gull, Horvaer, August 2017
    Presumed Baltic Gull Chicks
    Presumed Baltic Gull Chick

    Over the two days we ringed just over 60 presumed Baltic Gull chicks and one Great Black-backed Gull chick. This is represents a good breeding season for the Baltic Gulls, as often they struggle to fledge any. It was surprising to see that some pairs were still incubating eggs whereas some pairs had young that were on the wing. The overall situation was that the Baltic Gulls looked the part small, elegant, long winged and very dark looking. We did, however, find a couple of pale backed Lesser black-backed Gulls although we couldn't be certain if they were breeding in a mixed pairing. They weren't paired as they were about 45 km apart.

    The islands they nest on are a far cry from the roof of the Braunstone Industrial estate in Leicester where their closely related cousins breed.

    Abandoned Houses at the Location of the Last Colony on the First Day
    The Sun Setting at the End of My First Day on Horsvaer

    Brønnøysund is famous for Torghatten mountain - a rock with a hole through it.
    Legend tells of a warrior who shot an arrow through the rock - or something like that. We came across the mountain when it was almost dark, but you can get the idea from the photo.

    Torghatten mountain

    A fantastic trip - thanks Morten.