Friday, 14 November 2008

Tundra Bean Geese and a Caspian Gull

Friday lunch-time I was contemplating a lunch-time trip over to Farmoor to try to connect with some redpolls which, despite being told are abundant this season are proving rather elusive to me still. However a text message from Bird Guides just before lunch saying that a family of four Tundra Bean Geese had turned up at Hillesden in Bucks soon changed my mind and I knocked together a quick packed lunch, threw my gear in the car and headed off north on the 45 minute journey from Oxford up to Hillesden.

Hillesden is a funny little place: its basically some farm land with two pools and a wader scrape that I got to know last winter as there were some over-wintering whooper swans there. Having been there three times already this year I was able to navigate myself straight there and hurried over to the pools. There I met up with well known Bucks birder Lee Evans who was busy looking at the birds which were fortunately still present. I quickly set up my digiscoping gear and spent the next half an hour or so taking some photos of the party which, according to Lee, consisted of a male, a female and two juveniles.

The male, female and two juveniles

The family group
The male and darker female together
A close up of the male

After about half an hour a low-flying helicoper spooked the birds and they flew a few yards to the neighbouring wader scrape where they were partially obscured by some bankside vegtation so I could take no more photos. At this point Lee and I left, with me looking out (unsuccessfully) for redpolls on the walk back to the car.

When I got back home I got a call from the Oxon county recorder saying that someone had reported seeing the American Golden Plover back on Port Meadow again. I said that I'd not been down there that morning but would go to take a look. There was only about three-quarters of an hour of day light left but I took L, our now increasingly long-suffering and somewhat reluctant two year old son, in his all-terrain buggy out onto the Meadow. The extent of the floods meant that presently it was actually easiest to view the birds from across the river as there was only a narrow strip of grass between the much-extended floods and the river. Whilst L sat in his buggy and complained, I scanned the plover flocks but to no avail. I did notice a spectacularly large number of roosting gulls which I estimated must have been in the region of 5000 birds - it was quite a sight.

The next day I was back down there early along with a large number of local birders, all keen to see the birds. Needless to say there was no sign of it but there was a rather nice white-headed gull which I thought, despite being no gull expert, looked like an adult Caspian gull. I was delighted susequently to have the ID confirmed by the county recorder (who is a gull expert) when he turned up. I was really pleased about this as earlier this year I had rather optimistically ticked caspian off after finding what I thought was a likely looking candidate at Dix Pit but I have susequently learnt that there is far more to it than I realised and with hind sight it was a rather dodgy tick.

A record shot of the Port Meadow Caspian gull

A close up of the underside of the P10 primary. I have since learnt to look for the following: note the extensive white tip and pale base to the inner web, which extends well forward; the resulting pattern comprises a black lozenge within a whitish field.

One more tick for the year list and a rather dodgy caspian tick properly confirmed. I was pleased to have connected with a comparatively rare goose (outside a few east coast locations). I am also surprised with just how well I have been doing on the goose front with regards to the year list. I had thought that I would struggle to see many of these birds but the trip to Cornwall recently gave me the brent and the pink foot and now I've managed to see the bean goose as well that, apart from some comparative rarities, only really leaves the white-fronted goose which I hope to see at Slimbridge before the year is out.

2008 Year List

216: Tundra Bean Goose

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