Friday 31 March 2023

Elmley NNR

A nice day at Elmley yesterday with Sue, testing out the new camera. Ebird list here, 72 species including some nice little bits including a second-calender year White-tailed Eagle (IOW bird), Short-eared Owl, singing Firecrest, Garganey, migrating Med Gulls and hirundines and a summer plumage Water Pipit.

An evening visit to Capel Fleet with Haddock and chips from Wooly's in Leysdown added Hen Harrier and nice flock of 35 Corn Buntings plus another 100 or so Med Gulls gathering on the fleet.   

Lapwing- worth clicking on this image and zooming in to see a higher res to get some idea of the R7 detail (Canon EOS R7, 420mm, f /5.6, 1/250 sec ISO 200). Still using the old lenses with an adaptor so presumably even more quality when I get the new lens. 
2nd calendar-year White-tailed Eagle - not bad for about a kilometer away 
Migrating Med Gulls - as most commentators have mentioned, the R7 performs really well for flight shots, locking onto and tracking the subject
Male Garganey 
Spot the Short-eared Owl 

Monday 27 March 2023

Otmoor RSPB

Took the R7 out to Otmoor today to give it a spin (photo and video results below- seems like it's a much better camera than the 7D mark 2 even when using my old battered up lenses). Ebird list here. Highlights included Sand Martin, displaying waders and what I presume was a Grass Snake mating frenzy. 

Tufted Ducks 
Reed Bunting 

Western Grass Snakes (Comment from Anton: Yes, that is exactly mating behavior. The big one you see is a female. Could've also been simply a group of males sunning together for optimized sunlight intake, however if that were the case most would've been stationary. In this case it is quite the opposite, they're all moving around in a deliberate manner while intently smelling each other to identify the female. Really cool observation!) 

Sunday 26 March 2023

Back at the Old Vic

Been home for over a week now playing catch up. Top homestead news is that we have a breeding pair of Rook in the Ash tree (a new breeding garden species). Otherwise pretty quiet on the garden bird front, a singing Chiffchaff is the only other thing of note. 

The moth action has picked up a bit but most of my efforts have been scuppered with wind and rain. 

Not much to report on the mini-farm or garden habitats front because we will be moving soon but at some point we will need to tidy up the garden for sale viewings. The property will go on the market in 4 weeks time. 

In the mini-zoo we are now at 95 species (give or take a few things that have disappeared) and will make sure we hit the 100 species target this Easter holiday. 

In other news, there has been a couple of technological advances- the campervan now has its own mobile wifi and I've finally taken the plunge and bought a new Canon R7 mirrorless camera although have still not been brave enough to spend another £2500 on the new 100-500mm lens yet so currently using the old lenses with an adaptor. 

The beginning of an Old Vic Rookery

Testing out the new R7 on the garden birds . First time I've had a camera where I can bluetooth the images to my phone and edit them on lightroom on the phone- so no need for a laptop 
Lead-coloured Drab has been the best moth recently, although Oak Nycteoline (below) is quite a scarcity in the garden too 

Not sure what this Orthosia is- presumably one of the pale Clouded Drabs or maybe an aberrant Quaker.  290323 update- see comments, it's another Lead-coloured Drab (thanks Stewart) 
A nice haul of Spring moths- March moth, Clouded Drab, Hebrew Character, Twin-spot Quaker, Chestnut, Lead-coloured Drab and Small and Common Quaker
The mini-farm in March- even though we won't be here to reap the rewards will plant this up for the house viewings 
It has not stopped raining and the flood waters are rising round here. One of the hens has got completely drenched - a job for later is water proofing the hen coop more
The Giant Atlas Moths emerged in the Paludarium although the male died after a few days and the female mysteriously completely disappeared- presumably either escaped or got eaten (!?) by the Chameleon 
A bit of drama in the reef tank (below) when the Scarlet Skunk Cleaner Shrimp and 3 Hermit crabs attacked one of the Orange Marbled Snails which they killed ate and then one of the Hermit crabs moved into the new larger shell 
The soft corals are coming along well in the reef tank. 

The garden temporary stream is flowing fast at the moment- plenty of water around and lots of flooded fields which is good for spring waterbirds 
Very sad to be moving from here although there may have been a break through on the relocation front with a possibility now we may be able to implement plan A- will see, the best way to describe this whole situation is fluid.  

Friday 24 March 2023

Azerbaijan Gulls

A few gulls pictures from our recent trip below. Full trip report here 

The most interesting observation was a large flock of apparent Steppe Gulls, Larus (fuscus) barabensis. According to Peter Adriaens (author of the Gulls of Europe here, also the reference for the photo comments below), these would be the first fully confirmed and documented records for Azerbaijan.  Will write up a short note for Dutch Birding with more details, in the meantime here's a few introductory photos below. 

2 adult and a first-winter Pallas's Gull - nice and easy to identify! 
Second-winter Common Gull, the extensive black in the wing, lack of mirror on p9, a relatively large dark mark on p4 and dark markings in the tail (there may even be a couple of dark markings in the secondaries) could indicate Russian Common Gull although the head doesn't appear particularly white or shawled (a distinctive boa). The bill also doesn't appear particularly yellow which is indicative of Russian Common Gull. A diagnostic second-winter Russian Common Gull should have a combination of features that includes the white head and boa, yellow bill, black marks on inner and outer webs of p4, a lack of mirror on p9 (or confined to inner web), no white tongue-tip to p7 and a blunt tip to black wedge on outer web of p7. This bird doesn't show all those features so is presumably an intergrade.   
First-winter Common Gull (Vincent Legrand). The bright bill, clean white underparts, white underwing with dark broad primaries and secondaries trailing edge and shawled neck suggests Russian Common Gull . A less marked underwing and a more white head with a distinctive boa would be more typical of Russian Common Gull. 
Adult Caspian Gulls. Ironically the Caspian Gulls in the Caspian Sea are not as distinctive as the western populations of Caspian Gulls (also known as 'Pontic Gulls'). The Western birds have more white in the primaries whereas those in the Caspian Sea have more variable and often more extensive black in the wing-tips
Adult Caspian Gull (Vincent Legrand) 7 marked primaries (usually 6) but characteristically has the long white tongue on p10 and grey tongues with white tongue tips on other primaries too 
Adult Caspian Gull (Vincent Legrand), showing 8 primaries with dark markings . Also the tongues on the outer primaries are not typically long. A bird like this could be considered within variation of Caspian Gulls in this region but there were also suggestions of an intergrade type between Caspian and Steppe Gull. 
An adult Caspian Gull landing in a flock of apparent Steppe Gulls, showing the paler upperparts, extensive pale tongues in the primaries with white tongue tips, pale tip to p10 and the duller coloured legs 
Presumed adult Heuglin's Gull (foreground) within a flock of mainly apparent Steppe Gulls (and some Caspian Gulls). Looks like a few other Heuglin's Gulls in the background and perhaps a 2nd winter Caspian Gull (duller legs and perhaps slightly lighter upperparts) second bird left of foreground Heuglin's.  
Presumed Heuglin's Gull (above and below) by Vincent Legrand. Identification based mainly on location (although graellsii has recently been confirmed in Israel from a ringing record). Also the white tips to the grey tongues on the primaries are indicative of Heuglin's Gull. A more typical wing-tip pattern for Heuglin's Gul is a the p10 mirror separated from the tip by a broad black subterminal band (so the mirror sits far from the wingtip) and no mirror on p9. Also on the underside (below) the tongue to p10 is typically white (it's grey on this bird). 

We came across this very interesting flock of gulls (above and below) near Baku on the way back from the Caucasus. The upperpart colour was pretty dark, seemingly darker than expected for Caspian Gull with a dark bluish-grey upperpart (more pale grey in Caspian) but not as dark as the presumed Heuglin's Gulls in the flock (of which there were several). The bright yellow legs were also not right for Caspian Gull (Caspians have dull yellow legs even in summer plumage) and are more indicative of Steppe Gull. 
Some interesting immature plumages in there too. First-winter Steppe and Caspian Gulls are virtually identical. 
One Heuglin's Gull  (centre right) and apparent Steppe Gulls- the amount of black in the wing on the apparent Steppe Gulls is too extensive for typical Caspian and the tongue on p10 on some birds in short and wide (a feature of Steppe Gull). 7 primaries have dark markings on most of these birds and the p10 mirror is separated from the tip by a broad black band. The black on the outer webs of the outer most primaries also typically reaches further to primary coverts with short grey bases (unlike Caspian). 
Heuglin's Gull (centre right) and apparent Steppe Gulls 
More shots of the same group, apparent Steppe Gulls and a few Heuglin's Gulls 

Presumably a first-winter Steppe Gull (left centre), although some of these first-winter birds in this flock could also be Caspian or even Heuglin's Gull which are also similar. Unfortunately we couldn't get many better photos of these birds because we were moved on by security as these gulls were resting in a police controlled area (a prison or military area). 

Thursday 23 March 2023

A few sounds from Azerbaijan

A few sounds from our recent trip.  Full trip report here

Calandra Larks, a flock of birds taking off and flying over, mainly contact calls 
Turkestan Short-toed Lark (formerly known as Lesser Short-toed Lark which has now been split into Turkestan and Mediterranean Short-toed Lark). Flight call, flying low
Moustached Warbler. The distinctive long drawn out notes at the beginning of the song is something to listen out for (above). A longer section (below) might go un-noticed in a UK context amongst singing Reed and Sedge Warblers? Those long notes (almost Nightingale like) are something to listen out for of any odd sounding acro. Also seems to be a bit of mimicry in there (I can here Great Reed Warbler)
A pair of Ruddy Shelducks 'migrating' over Shirvan, these two were high up and going north but not sure if they were actually migrating as there were over 700 birds in the area coming into roost every evening . Presumably male and female calls. Also Skylark calling. 
The huge flocks of Starlings on the Shirvan Steppe were characteristic of the area. They move through the Steppe like locust- here's a group passing by infront of the recorder leaving behind the background noise of Calandra Larks and Skylarks  

Tuesday 21 March 2023

Gobustan, Azerbaijan

On the way back from the Caucasus we stopped off at Gobustan. Ebird list here, Full trip report here

This is basically an area of desert where we recorded some localised species such as Finsch's Wheatear, Lanner, Long-legged Buzzard and Western Rock Nuthatch. 

Long-legged Buzzard carrying nesting material 
Finsch's Wheatear
Turkestan Short-toed Lark, Flight call below 
Black Vulture
Red-billed Chough
Hoopoe- seemed to be an influx of them

Monday 20 March 2023

The Caucasus, Azerbaijan

In order to break up the monotony of waiting for Omid for nearly two weeks our group split on occasions (leaving behind a constant stake out at Shirvan i.e Darryl). On one day Vincent, Renee and I headed north to the Caucasus mountains which is a stark and stunning contrast to the flat steppe and arid environments in the south. 

Ebird list for the day here. Trip report here, Nice to see some mountain birds that I haven't seen in years (last time I was in the Caucasus was 20 years ago on a recee with Sunbird which help to open up birding in Georgia) here

Male and female Guldenstadt's Redstart- we had a group of 18 which are presumably wintering birds near Cek 
Lammergeier- haven't seen one of these in years. 
'Caucasian Dunnock'. More on these from last year here
'Caucasian Twite', brevirostris. A less warm coloured bird than nominate lacking the rich rusty-tinged throat and face
Red-fronted Serins 
Another photo of the stunning local White Wagtails ' dukhunensis'
Plenty of Ring Ouzels presumably of the local race 'amicorum' which is darker on underparts (no white edging to feathers) than nominate with a striking pale wing panel. The striking white wings and dark underparts seem to be shown well in the image below of a bird in flight at Shirvan which is also presumably 'amicorum'. 

Not sure yet. This was in a mountain pool. Last year we had Hircanian Wood Frogs in the Talesh mountains  here. 210323 update- these were Caucasian Frogs, Nana macrocnemis . (Thanks Pierre!)