Monday, 28 February 2011

Cornish Listing

Friday 18th February
I was due back down in Cornwall to make a start with decorating the cottage and the plan was that I would go down on the Friday to get on with it and then the rest of the family would come down at the start of next week which was half-term. This arrangement of my travelling down on my own suited me fine as it meant that, now that I was busily engaged in getting my Cornish list off the ground, I would be able to get in some birding en route at the "top end" of the county. I had been thinking of exploring the Fowey valley for some of the woodland species but I was also keen to stop off at Walmsley Sanctuary by Wadebridge as there were a few species there that I needed to catch up with. In the end I decided to stop off very briefly by the Fowey for a lunch break before heading on the Walmsley for a more prolonged birding session. I also wanted to nip in at St. Gothian to see if the ring-necked duck was around there though it had not been reported for a couple of days now and I was not overly optimistic.

The journey down from Oxford was uneventful and it was at around lunch-time that I turned off at Bolventor for the River Fowey. This turned out to be a beautiful small, shallow and clear river running down the valley, often tree-lined for part of the way. I could imagine just how stunning it must look in spring and summer but even now in the depths of winter it had a great charm to it. The river looked spot-on for dipper and sure enough I soon spotted one as I drove along beside the river though it sped off before I could get off a record shot. I stopped off in a layby for lunch which I ate with the windows open so I could listen out for birds. I was soon rewarded with the sound of a male reed bunting singing away and I quickly spotted him on the telegraph wires. Why so excited about a reed bunting? Well, since I've been compiling my Cornish list I've had to think carefully about certain species as to whether I've actually seen them in the county. Reed bunting was one bird in particular that I kept saying "I must have seen one somewhere" but I couldn't actually think of an incident when I had so it was nice to get a confirmed sighting. I didn't spend much time in the valley as I wanted to make sure that I had enough daylight for my other en route visits so I soon headed back to the A30.

Next stop was Walmsley where there were supposed to be some spoonbills, a variety of over-wintering geese and a "tundra" peregrine: a northern sub-species of peregrine that had been around for a while. I'd not visited this site before so it was also a chance to get acquainted with it and to suss out things like parking etc. As I was walking across the field to the site I met a birder who was just leaving. We got chatting and it turned out that he used to live in Oxford. He was most excited to meet someone from his old home town and we chatted for some time about his old haunts. When I arrived at the Tower Hide (made famous or rather infamous by the recent American bittern twitch) I found that my key wouldn't work in the lock. After some five minutes of trying every conceivable trick to coax it open in the end I admitted defeat and resorted to peering around the side of the platform by the door. I could make out the three spoonbill asleep on an island and in the distance was the goose flock and I soon picked out the bean goose and the three pink-footed geese though there was no sign of the barnacle geese. Down at the bottom of the steps there was a gap in the fence and from here I did some more scanning spotting a number of duck including tufted duck, pochard, shoveler, pintail and there were also some curlew and snipe dotted about the place. At the back of the area near where the geese were there was a large earth mound and on top of this I spotted the tundra peregrine: it's amazing how raptors like sitting on earth mounds. It was large and had very distinctive pale head markings so it looked quite different from our normal peregrine. I was taking some distant record video footage when two other visitors turned up so I was finally able to get into the hide itself. I took the opportunity to compare keys and it was clear that my key was missing an extended middle prong which was why it wasn't working. I took some video footage of the geese and chatted for a brief while with the visitors before I had to head back to car as time was marching on.

Three sleeping spoonbills

A resting curlew

Some record video footage of the distant bean goose

The "tundra" peregrine on the earth mound

My third and final stop of the day was St. Gothian LNR at which I arrived at around 4pm. It was threatening to rain as I got out of the car and by the time I'd got half way around the pool the heavens opened. I gave all the ducks a thorough grilling but the best I could come up with was the adult female scaup which I'd seen last time I was down and there was no sign of the drake ring-necked duck. In the downpour I didn't linger but instead headed off to Penzance to get some provisions and then to head over to the cottage to see what sort of state the builders had left it in. Fortunately they'd done a good job of clearing it out and I was pleasantly surprised at how comparably habitable it looked.

Saturday 19th February
Although I was on my own until Monday evening when the rest of the family were to come down this didn't mean that I could spend all my time birding: I needed to have some good decorating progress to show for my time down there. Nevertheless it would have been churlish not to do at least some birding and as I needed to head over to Penzance for some random DIY items on Saturday morning I thought that I would pop in at Drift reservoir to see if I could finally connect with the Greenland white-fronted goose that I'd been trying to see for some time now. In addition there was the small matter of a rose-coloured starling in Penzance to which I ought to pay my respects.

At Drift reservoir there were actually loads of geese visible, which was more than could be said for my previous visits though despite my carefully scouring of every last goose there was no sign of the white-front. A flock of six geese, with the greylag goose in amongst them, flew over honking loudly and landed somewhere out of sight, so there were clearly some goose parties out and about elsewhere and my target goose was in all probability somewhere close by. I gave the gulls a good grilling but there was nothing out of the ordinary there either.

There were plenty of these about at Drift

On to the Penalverne estate in Penzance for the starling. I was a bit reluctant about this as residents can sometimes understandably object to having birders staring in at their gardens. However it turned out that the bird was visiting the back garden of one of the houses and the best viewing spot was down a back alley where one wasn't overlooking any house. There were three birders at the appropriate spot and sure enough within ten minutes the bird appeared in a tree where it was on view preening for a few minutes before it flew off again. I hadn't bothered to bring my full digiscoping gear so I didn't take a photo but it was nice at least to see the bird.

I didn't hang around as I wanted to get a full day's decorating in so got my shopping and hurried back to the cottage. My niece was coming over at lunch-time from Truro where she's now working to help out with the decorating so there weren't going to be any further birding opportunities for the rest of the day anyway. The only other thing to report was that during my lunch break I was staring out over the moorland when I spotted a ring-tailed hen harrier quartering over the gorse, a lovely bird to have as a garden tick!

Sunday 20th February
My niece left reasonably early in the morning so, after applying another coat of paint to some walls, I decided to head out for a quick bit of birding whilst it dried. My destinations were the same as yesterday, namely to Drift reservoir for another stab at the goose and then to the Penalverne estate, this time with digiscoping gear to have a go at photographing the starling.

This time when I arrived at Drift there were some geese on the field on the other side of the reservoir directly opposite the car park and I could immediately see that both the grey lag and the Greenland white-fronted goose were in amongst them. I took some record shot video of the goose that had managed to avoid me for so long and then had a look through the gulls. A little gull had been reported yesterday afternoon and sure enough I soon found it bobbing up and down in amongst the black-headed gulls.

At last, the elusive goose is on display

A videograb of the 2nd winter little gull

Next it was back to the Penalverne estate where this time I found myself on my own. An inquisitive local was asking about the bird and I explained what it was to him. The bird itself turned up within 10 minutes again and this time I was ready for it with my digiscoping gear and managed to rattle off a few shots before it flew off again.

The rose-coloured starling

Having got some photos of all my target birds it was back off to the cottage for a hard day's decorating. After spending most of the day with flecks of paint in my hair and the smell of paint fumes in my nostrils, come late afternoon I was thinking of calling it a day and getting out for some fresh air. Fortunately there was a CBWPS field outing to Men-an-Tol to help with the hen harrier roost count happening so I decided to nip over there just to get outdoors if nothing else. There I met up with Dave Parker (who was running the outing) and John Swann (who was helping out and who had been helping me with my county list) as well as a dozen or so other hardy birders who had decided to brave the drizzle and mist. We walked for about twenty minutes to the watch point and then stood around peering into the mist. Fortunately one harrier was soon spotted, probably hunting rather than coming into roost but the weather conditions gradually worsened and the mist closed in until nothing could be seen at all and we called it a day, with just the one bird seen. Still, I'd not been walking on the moors at all so far and it was great to get acquainted with such wonderfully wild countryside.

The hardy few staring out into the gloom for harriers

Monday 21st February
I was due to pick up the rest of the family this evening as they were coming down on the train. With the weather misty and rainy, I spent most of the day decorating flat out though come about 4pm it suddenly brightened up and I'd had enough for the day anyway so I decided to head out for a spot of birding, especially as my birding options would be severely curtailed once the family arrived.

I first nipped over to St. Gothian: there had been no further reports of the ring-necked duck but I was hoping at least to catch up with the water pipit there. However, despite carefully scanning everywhere, there was no sign of it and the best I could manage was a Med. gull which flew low over, the black markings on its wingtips marking it out as a 2nd winter bird. I had a quick look around the settling tanks near the first layby there and a bit of "pishing" soon drew a couple of chiffchaffs closer though there was nothing rarer.

This jackdaw was close enough for me to attempt a point & shoot shot
of it though the strong, low light means that its front is rather in shadow.

Next it was over to Marazion where I still needed to catch up with a bittern for the county list. There had been several over-wintering on the marsh but for some reason I'd always manage to miss them. I arrived to find Dave Parker there and he told me that a bittern had been showing very well along the front of the reedbed not half an hour earlier. Fortunately after a reasonably short period of time it chose to make a reappearance and I was soon enjoying cracking views of a bittern hunting along the edge of the reeds. I stayed until dark at the viewing point hoping to get a glimpse of a cetti's darting between the reed clumps though in the end had to be content with just hearing several birds singing. There was also a "squealing" water rail (again heard only) and a chiffy flitting about in the reeds which kept getting me excited, thinking that it was a cetti's.

Fortunately the light was really good so these digiscoped
bittern shots haven't come out too badly

Eventually it got too dark to see so I went off to buy some provisions for the family and then picked them up from the station.

Tuesday 22nd to Friday 25th February
With the family now down with me my birding opportunities were much more limited. However, I tend to get up before the rest of them and would often choose to nip down to Pendeen watch to see what was about. On Tuesday I chose to wander along the coastal path and down to the sea a few hundred yards west of the lighthouse itself and from here I spotted loads of auks, kittiwakes and gannets sitting on the water and I managed to pick out a single manx shearwater in amongst them. I wondered whether the birds were roosting there overnight or if they were being drawn in by some close-in bait fish in a similar manner to Carbis bay. This was nevertheless enough encouragement for me to resolve to do a proper sea watch down at the lighthouse the next day.

Tuesday afternoon we went for a walk en famille along the beach at Marazion into Marazion itself where we had a nice cream tea at the Godolphin Hotel. On the way back I spotted a black redstart on one of the buildings near the end of the causeway.

A herring gull at Marazion

Wednesday was fog bound and I didn't bother to go to the lighthouse at all. Later in the day I sneaked in 10 minutes at Jubilee Pool where I all I could manage was one diver though I didn't get good enough views to identify it.

Thursday morning was mercifully fog free so I went down for an hour and a half's session at the lighthouse. Once again there was a wide variety of birds on the water though as I watched they gradually dispersed. I adopted my usual tactic of setting my scope just beyond the left-hand most of the Wra which meant that birds were reasonably close and I wasn't straining to identify things as they were passing in the distance. During my session I spotted 8 manx shearwaters, 4 balearic shearwaters, 2 puffins, a diver species (probably red-throated though I've yet to get to grips fully with flying divers in winter plumage) and huge numbers of auks, kittiwaks and gannets. In addition a raven was working it's way along the cliffs. As I walked back to the cottage I heard the plaintive cry of a plover. Whilst it was probably a golden plover one can't help but wonder given that one is right on the west coast whether it might be some American plover vagrant calling out with joy at finally making landfall. As I never saw it I'll never know but that's one of the great things about Cornish birding: all these rarities are a real possibility.

Later that day most of the family went to the cinema so after dropping them off I elected to go and stare at the sea instead. At Jubilee Pool the usual purple sandpipers and turnstone were about and looking across towards Long Rock I managed to spot the Pacific diver and a great northern diver together. I was lucky enough to get both birds in the scope at the same time which gave a great opportunity to compare and contrast the two species.

The purple sandpipers were around and as delightful as ever

Friday morning I was back at Pendeen again and once more there were large numbers of birds on the water. Today I counted 2 manx shearwater, 1 balearic shearwater, and another probable red-throated diver. In addition I spotted an interesting large gull on the water that caught my attention: it had a strongly streaked head though the streaks were very confined so that it effectively had a hooded appearance. The wing and mantle colour was rather pale, far too pale for a great black-backed and even looked too pale for a lesser black-backed though definitely darker than the argenteus gulls that were also about. Given that I was in Cornwall where several had already been spotted this immediately got me thinking of Azorean yellow-legged gull, a species with which fortunately I was familiar having seen the bird a couple of years ago at Appleford in Oxon. Unfortunately the bird flew off as I was reaching for my digiscoping camera and I wasn't able to do things like age it properly. This was important because, according to Martin Elliot with whom I spoke later that day, fully adult birds would have lost their head streaks by now. It would have to remain a "possible/probable" though nevertheless a most interesting sighting.

After a final bout of painting it was time to head for home. It had been a great week in my favourite part of the country and a wonderful opportunity to add to my Cornish list.

Monday, 14 February 2011

Oriental Turtle Dove!!

I was in our kitchen just finishing off a cup of coffee with my VLW when a text came through from Ian Lewington, our esteemed county recorder, saying that the oriental turtle dove that had been seen in someone's garden in Chipping Norton in December had turned up again in another garden in the same town. The address was given and it was £5 "entry fee" towards a bird charity. I needed no further encouragement and immediately set about getting my gear in the car. My VLW had been wanting to go to Chipping Norton to look at an antiques centre there anyway so she decided to come along and it was a little under half an hour later that she dropped me off by the road in question before she drove back to park in town and to look at her antiques.

There were road works at the top of the road but as I hurried down the road I soon spied Ian standing out in the road, checking to see whether the bird would be viewable from outside the house at all (which it wouldn't). He was helping the house owner plan the forthcoming tidal wave of twitchers that would be unleashed once the news was out. Ian ushered me into the kitchen were there were already assembled the usual hardcore county birders. I noted that for once I'd actually managed to arrive at a county twitch before Badger who is usually one of the first off the mark though he turned up a matter of minutes later. It was a very genial atmosphere in the kitchen and the bird was showing so well that everyone was very relaxed and chilled.

The bird was initially preening in an apple tree in the middle of the garden and so I took some video footage to be getting on with.

Having a preen in the tree

After a short while it flew down to the bottom of the bird feeders not more than 5 yards from where we were watching and proceeded to hunt for feeder spill on the ground. It wandered around in a very unconcerned manner on the lawn, quite oblivious to how cripplingly rare it was and looking contented and much smarter than in the fuzzy photo's I'd seen of it in December. The main problem was it was far too close for me to indulge in my usual digiscoping photographic efforts! I managed one half decent shot and then gave up and used my point and shoot camera instead. The "proper" photographers were loading up on wonderful frame-filling mega porn but here are my dodgy efforts for what they're worth.

A couple of point and shoot shots of it under the feeders

It was just too close for digiscoping but I managed to get this one shot to come out OK.

OK, here comes the science bit: what makes an oriental turtle dove as opposed to a European one is as follows:
  • The primary projection to tail projection ratio is 1 to 1. European TD has a longer primaries relative to the tail projection
  • The dark grey/purple hues of the chest and breast: European TD has more pink colouring
  • The head is more uniform in colouring; ETD has more contrast in the head
  • The primary coverts are dark with very narrow tips; ETD has broaded buff tips
  • Darker feather centres than ETD
  • Narrow pale wing bars formed from pale tips to coverts
  • Uniform dark grey back and rump; ETD usually has some brown in there
The bird is an orientalis OTD rather than a meena. The key points that distinguish this are:
  • the grey outer tail colouring of orientalis as opposed to white for meena
  • the grey undertail coverts which would be white in meena
This actually makes it easier to distinguish from ETD which is also white in these areas

Photo showing the grey outer tail feather and UTC's that make it orientalis as opposed to meena

It's flukey finds such as this which make birding so interesting and it was wonderful to see such a crippling mega at such close quarters and so conveniently close to home!

Friday, 11 February 2011

Good Winter for Garden Birds

It's been a good winter for birds in my garden. I've been posting my garden sightings on my Port Meadow Birding blog since I increased the area which the blog covers but apart from that I'd not really given it much thought. However various people started asking about whether I'd had any more good birds in the garden recently and that got my thinking about it and I realised that I've had all of the winter visitors that one might possibly expect with one exception. Below is a summary of what I've seen over the winter so far. I apologise in advance for the poor quality of the photos but they are all shot through my home office window which looks out onto the garden and as the window is locked shut I can't easily clean the outside which is rather grubby.

I have a number of feeders up in the garden: nyger for the goldfinches, sunflower hearts for the finches and tits, peanuts for the tits, fat balls which the starlings enjoy and half apples impaled on spikes for the thrushes. All the feeders now have squirrel cages on as otherwise a pesky local comes and empties them pretty quickly. Goldfinches are daily visitors and in fact I often get a flock of about twenty of them roosting in the tall evergreen tree that we have in the middle of the garden. We regularly get redwings in the garden, especially at the start of the season when there are lots of holly berries still on our tree though the wood pigeons soon demolish these. During the cold spell we've had fieldfares come in as well and up to four blackbirds all fighting over the apples. One of the biggest surprises during the prolonged snowy period was a poor meadow pipit on the ground at the back of the garden briefly. A male blackcap came into the garden a while ago, took a liking to the apples in particular and has never left. He's even become quite aggressive, chasing other birds off the feeders (though not the greenfinches which are too big). Now that there's at least a hint of spring in the air he's started singing and it's been wonderful to hear his warblings so early in the year.

A rather blurry shot of my resident blackcap

The jackdaw "showing characteristics of the Nordic race", whom I have christened Norbert is still visiting the garden fairly regularly. I got an e-mail from someone local saying that his father had seen a jackdaw with a collar a couple of years ago in a nearby street. This and the fact that I think I saw Norbert about a year ago in the garden all points to the fact that he's not a vagrant from Scandinavia, forced over by the harsh December weather but either he came over some time ago and decided to settle or his collar is some genetic throw-back to past Nordic influences. Anyway it's always nice to see him when he turns up with his fellow jackdaw chums to raid the bird table.

Norbert at the fat balls

One of the birds that I got most excited about was a brambling which turned up for a couple of days. I find brambling a remarkably hard bird to see in the county: there isn't an obvious site for them and it's usually just occasional reports from random gardens or fields so when I spotted one hanging around the feeders I was very pleased. Unfortunately he didn't stick around.

my brambling visitor

I've had a couple of visits by siskins this winter, including a flock of three on the nyger seed recently. It's generally much easier to see siskins "on demand" in the county and there are sites where they can be more or less guaranteed but it's always a pleasure to see these dainty little finches.

The siskins at the nyger

The ultimate winter garden tick has to be waxwing. There have been a few waxwings kicking around my local area and I'd even had a flock of five fly over the garden trilling so they were on my garden list but the other day I spotted one actually sitting in our pear tree not 10 yards from my home office window. He was obviously feeding somewhere close by and then coming to rest in the garden and I saw him three times that day for reasonably extended periods of time though sadly he didn't return.

A couple of waxwing shots.

And the one winter visitor that I haven't had? The answer is redpoll. I'm still hoping for one on my nyger: I have had them in previous years and there's still time. With my new-found interest in redpolls I might even be able to spot a subtle mealy in amongst the lessers should one turn up and I've been reliably told that there's a good chance of a last gasp redpoll invasion in the county in March.

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Mealy Mahem

I thought that I knew redpolls: the brown ones are lessers, the frosty ones with a whitish rump are mealies and the really white ones with a very white rump are arctics. Turns out, that's far too simplistic. My knowledge of and confusion about redpolls has increased in leaps and bounds since yesterday. Here's how it happened....

On Monday evening Ian Lewington (our esteemed County Recorder for non-county readers) posted an entry on the very popular Oxon Birding Log saying that someone had got in touch with some photos of a very pale redpoll (blog entry here). He'd gone to see it and it was a cracking mealy but right at the top (arctic) end of the spectrum. Now I still needed mealy redpoll for my county list but when I read that it was appearing occasionally for a few minutes every few hours I wasn't over enthusiastic despite the potential county tick. I'd also been out birding for most of the previous afternoon and felt that I really needed to do some work so I didn't do anything about it on Tuesday. However on Wednesday after having done a good bout of work the previous day I felt that I probably could afford to waste a few hours staring at an empty nyger feeder in the cold. I had to stop pick up something from my accountant in that direction anyway so it was justification enough to set off. It was a bit of a trek out to Milcombe from Oxford and it was after 11am by the time I'd actually turned up.

The feeders were conveniently located in the corner of a garden which bordered a paddock through which a public footpath ran so it was easy to see them. There were three large and wells-stocked feeders to which a variety of birds were coming and going. I'd only been watching a short while when all the birds went up suddenly into the trees. I looked up expecting to see a sparrowhawk but instead I found the shape of a small fast falcon zooming off: a merlin - very nice! After a short while I was joined by a couple of birders who were also looking for the redpoll though they'd not know exactly where to look and had been touring the entire village. They reported that there were lots of feeders around in the village gardens which I suppose meant that the target bird could be going to some other feeder for hours at a time. Shortly after that I heard a redpoll trilling from behind us and soon after our first redpoll arrived on the feeders. It clearly wasn't the frosty mealy we were looking for but to pass the time I took some photos. Redpolls would come and go from the garden, often seeming to spend some time on the ground out of sight but there was never any sign of the "super-mealy". At one stage there were four redpolls at the feeders and I took a bit of video as a memento. There were some nice other birds around as well: a great spotted woodpecker turned up, and yellowhammer and a tree creeper both put in an appearance.

Some video of four redpolls at the feeder

Because there was always something to look at I found that I actually rather enjoyed the two hours I'd given myself before I packed up and left. With no sign of the bird I'd seen in the photos I'd clearly dipped but I'd been half expecting that anyway. I drove back home and spent the afternoon slaving over a hot computer before posting my video and photo on the Oxon Bird Log and the OOS site respectively, mainly just to add a bit of colour to the blog.

A redpoll photo that I took to pass the time

Later that evening I was browsing Martin Garner's excellent Birding Frontiers web-site: Martin is very hot on redpolls and has done a lot of posts on them recently. His latest posting was on "Brown Mealies" and this started to get me confused: surely that was a contradiction in terms, I thought. Anyway I started to look at my photo and wondered whether I could string what was evidently a pale bird but with no hint of frosting on its back, into a mealy. I decided that even I couldn't do that (especially since I'd posted the photos in public) and left it at that. Later on however it conspired that both Ian Lewington and Nic Hallam (for non-county birders: top birder who runs the Farmoor Birding blog and is a member of the BBRC ) thought that the top right-hand bird in my video was a mealy redpoll and also that the pale bird in my photo was another one! Ian even composed a composite photo comparing my photo bird with a photo he'd dug out of a Finnish mealy redpoll in breeding plumage and the match was pretty good. All this meant that I'd got my county tick after all but that I also needed to re-evaluate my understanding of redpolls.

Composite photo from Ian Lewington showing a Finnish mealy above and my bird below.

So where does this leave my redpoll identification skill? Firstly I have learnt that redpolls are the gulls of the passerine world: they are very tricky and varible and, like gulls, there are some birds that you just have to walk away from. It also seems to be more of a continuum or cline and it is somewhat arbitrary where you draw the line. Nevertheless here's my idiot's guide to redpolls as I understand them:

Lesser redpoll
1. The small brown ones. Basically buffy brown wash to them all over
2. Comparatively short winged and small (smaller than a goldfinch)
3. Rump streaked with buffy brown basal colour
4. When in breeding plumage the breast colour is reddish (not pinkish).

Mealy redpoll
1. The larger whiter ones. A whiter basal colouring, your classic one being "frosted" though they can be remarkably brown as my birds are
2. Comparatively long winged and larger (comparable to a goldfinch in size)
3. Streaked rump with white basal colour
4. When in breeding plumage the breast colour is pinkish (not reddish)

Arctic redpoll
1. Large and very white.
2. The bill is very small: it looks like it's been punched in the face
3. Pure white rump

The rump seems to be a pretty important part of the ID and a good rump can trump some otherwise slightly dodgy other criteria. Note that this is over-simplified: there are actually two types of common redpoll: mealy and Greenland and two types of arctic: Hornmanns & Coues. For now this is my level of understanding though I dare say I'll have to look into it further in due course. All I can say is that I now want to go back and spend more time looking at redpolls in all their great variety. I could get as addicted to them as I am to gulls!

Another photo of one of my mealies: note the pink on the breast (not red) the white basal colour for the head and neck and pale streaking (perhaps a hint of frosting) on what is still a rather brown back.

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

January Gulls

I realise that I've not posted anything on the blog for a while now and my one reader of this blog was complaining that he'd had to read the previous posting three times so desperate was he for something new so I thought I'd better write something. It's just that apart from my very enjoyable trip to Cornwall I've not gone on any major trips. I check my patch each day but that's written up on the Port Meadow Birding blog but apart from that I've only made a few excursions even within the county. Nevertheless I feel that I probably have enough collectively from the month to warrant another posting.

What shall I write about? Why gulls of course! Recently I confessed to being somewhat of a gull addict but it turns out that Badger (who only last year was trying to talk me out of my blossoming addiction) has got it far worse than I have. He now looks forward during the week to Saturday which he can spend at Appleford GP staring at the brown gulls on the rubbish tip. He even confessed to me that he takes his "Gulls fo Europe, Asia and North America" with him in the car so that he can look up the finer points on the spot! I've been mostly confining my efforts to the Port Meadow roost where at the start of the month I was rewarded with a fine adult Caspian gull.

Normally I try to get a videograb of the underside of the P10 primary but I didn't managed it on this occasion though it did give me a brief flash which looked spot on to me. The same bird (presumably) appeared at Farmoor in the roost the next day where it was photographed in detail by Nic Hallam, showing a perfect underwing.

With finding and adult cachinnans under my belt so early on in the year I was starting to feel much more confident about my gull ID. I even managed to avoid the classic hooded-common-gull-is-a-Franklin's trap when this beasty turned up on the Meadow a few nights later:

Fortunately I was close enough to see this gull for the common gull that it was!

However, I know from experience, whenever I start to feel too cocky, it always means that I'm about to be pulled up short. Usually it's something like making a real howler of a string in front of the county recorder but fortunately I managed to spot for myself that something wasn't right with this one.

A nice cachinnans look to this bird that I found on the meadow....

However the P10 underwing appears to be almost entirely black on one side!

Badger said that he learnt a valuable lesson from Nic Hallam (the "Gull Whisperer") who'd said that "there are some gulls that you've just got to back away from!" and this would appear to be one of them. Some hideous hybrid or an aberrant gull (but which one?). The advice is "Leave it! It's not worth it!".

By way of restoring one's sanity after that quasi Caspian mind f*ck here's a nice straight-forward yellow-legged gull to drool over:

Can't argue about the colour of those legs!

The "Cassaworry" (Badger's joke) came back haunt me some more and I was able to get some better photos

as well as some video footage

Still just as weird even in good light!

I have ventured away from the patch on a few occasions this last month. When my trip to Cornwall was postponed by a day because of work, I had to wait until America woke up before I could do what I needed to do. With a free morning naturally I chose to go gulling and went to Appleford to look for the two white-winged gulls that are currently there. I managed to see the glaucous gull though not the iceland.

A couple of videograbs of the juvenile glaucous gull at Appleford.

By way of light relief for those readers who aren't gull addicts I did also venture to Witney Lake (my first visit) for the Slavonian grebe which has taken up residence there.

Not a gull, but still a nice bird!

To round of the month I spent yesterday evening in the freezing cold with Badger at Radley to try and see the iceland gull which I've still not caught up with. They don't get a very large roost at Radley but there were so few birds that I was reduced to counting every one of them: 21 was the total though admittedly by dusk it had gone up to nearer 100 before some duck shooting on a neighbouring pit scared them all off. Needless to say, there was no sign of the iceland.