Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Caspian Gull and Spotted Crake

Won't have much birding time from now til the end of the month, so am making the most of any time I do find...

Yesterday with all that rain, and a middayish low tide, I thought the Estuary would be worth a quick look early afternoon - in the end it wasn't a 'quick' look at all!  The moment I drove over the bridge at the bottom end of the Estuary things looked promising as I could see lots of black...

Great Black-backed Gulls galore

Lots of Black-backed Gulls (whether they're Great or Lesser) is always a good sign, and is usually the case when there's strong wind and rain. They're birds that have come in from offshore to shelter from the weather, and there's always the possibility they've bought something else in with them. I thought a Yellow-legged was on the cards, but I really wasn't expecting to net Devon's first September Caspian Gull!

When the weather is as foul as it was yesterday, I tend to just go through the gulls with my bins from the car until I reach Coronation Corner, when the scope's needed to check birds to the north. It was whilst checking the second flock of gulls I'd come to when this made me jump out of the car and grab my scope...

The bird asleep behind the female Mallard

I didn't really know why this bird got me so excited so quickly with just this view, but looking at this pics it's the white head, neck and breast, with neat streaking around the rear of the neck, and the mostly dark greater coverts that contrasted with the rest of the coverts, scapulars and mantle feathers.

So the scope came out, but I didn't learn much more about the identity of this bird. I did learn a bit about its age though, and was starting to think it was probably a first-summer/second-winter bird as it just didn't look young and fresh enough to be a first-winter, and those broad white tips to the tertials weren't right for a 1cy bird.  I had to wait about five minutes before a male Mallard (the one pictured behind the bird in the above photo) walked past it and woke it up, and out popped exactly what I wanted to see...

Notice the typical Caspian-stance with a bulge at the top of the neck

Looking very cheesed off in the heavy rain!

Gav soon arrived and after some discussions (and seeing the bill well, which had lots of pale on it) we decided it was indeed a second calender year bird, still mostly in first-summer plumage.  In my mid I expected a second-calender year Casp in mid Sept to be more like a second-winter bird showing far more pale grey in the scaps and mantle, but apparently this is fine. To be honest I usually do my best to avoid first-summer large gulls. All other ages I will happily have a go at - but there is just so much variation in this age group of all the large gull species it's a nightmare. So I'm pleased this bird screamed Caspian first and foremost regardless of its age!

Other pro-Caspian features included the long tibia (which you can make out on the above photo), and the general size of the bird. It wasn't the biggest Casp I've seen, being clearly smaller than the Great Black-backed Gulls, but it was still significantly larger and heavier in the body than all the surrounding Herring Gulls. We had a brief view of its upperwing which looked spot on for Casp, as was a glimpse of a very white underwing and a very white tail with no black spots just a neat black tail bar. This is all depicted on Gav's blog as he managed a shot of it as it flew off, see HERE.

If all this gull talk is making you sleepy, hopefully this will wake you up...

Oh yes....

Half way through writing this post, I got a call from Dad saying someones got a Spotted Crake in front of the Field Studies Base on Stafford Marsh. I sent the texts out (I thought to everyone - sorry again Gav) and headed straight down there. It was Ian Hunt (a member of the Axe Estuary Ringing Group) who'd seen it, he saw it well at about midday. Thankfully at about 12:50 it did the decent thing and showed for five minutes in exactly the spot Ian had seen it. What a superb patch year tick - two in two days! And what a superb bird too - nothing like that drab almost spot-less dark blob last year, a really charismatic little thing poking around the juncus looking rare...



Craketastic!


Isn't it funny how quickly an autumn can go from being average to good....

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