Sunday, 31 January 2010

Shark Attack?

A walk over the dunes and along the beach at Winterton today produced a few good birds, including Peregrine, Common Buzzard (still scarce in east Norfolk), Hen Harrier, Crane, White-fronted Goose, Egyptian Goose, Woodcock in off the sea, 2 Little Egrets, a few Red-throated Divers and a couple of distant auk sp. A more gruesome find was a dead Harbour Porpoise that looked as if it had been the subject of an attack of some sort, possibly by a shark. The wound in the abdomen appeared to have some teeth marks and it is quite likely that a small shark would have taken a chunk out of the body, probably after its death. There are several small sharks living in the north sea, for example the Porbeagle or Mako shark, so it is distinctly possible. Of course, if certain elements of the British media saw this photograph, they would claim that a Great White Shark is on the loose..!

Nearby, a Herring Gull battled to swallow a starfish it had found on the tideline. Due to the attentions of other gulls, it eventually managed to swallow it whole!

Photos: Dead Harbour Porpoise; and a starfish that looks as if it is standing up to confront its attacker, a local Herring Gull.

Saturday, 30 January 2010

Mediterranean Medley

A work visit to the UK enabled me to add on a couple of days at my parents in Norfolk. Today (Saturday) I met up with Caister birder John Harris to do some local birding. After seeing the Black-throated Diver at Lake Lothing and the Rough-legged Buzzard at Chedgrave Marshes we visited the beach at Great Yarmouth. No, not for sunbathing or an ice cream but to see the regular wintering collection of Mediterranean Gulls. This beach is one of the best places in the UK to see Mediterranean Gull and today did not disappoint. There were at least 40 birds present, including a mixture of 1st winter, 2nd winter and adult birds. Luckily I still had a sandwich left at this point and, with a bit of strategic bread throwing I was able to get some photos of these beautiful gulls in the gorgeous light of the mid-afternoon. Some bore colour rings - both green and white were on show. Initial research suggests these are from Germany and France but I'll report them and hopefully find out some information about the origin and history of these birds.

Photos: Mediterranean Gull 1st winter (first two); 2nd winter (third and fourth); and adult (fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth).

Wednesday, 27 January 2010


An email received from Russia today confirmed that the Herring Gull with the colour ring "KV71" (see previous post) was ringed as a pullus (nestling) on 8 July 2006 in Murmansk, Russia. This means that the bird is in its 4th winter. My sighting was the first report of this bird since it was ringed and the distance from the initial ringing site is 1661 kilometres!

Monday, 25 January 2010

Even colder...

Last night was very very cold.. about -10 in places and the sea has frozen again. The reason it was so cold was that it was clear last night and that weather continued through most of the day to create a fantastic winters day with amazing light. I used my lunch hour to visit the local gulls and they were looking very forlorn.. The usual gang of Black-headed Gulls was in attendance along with 15+ Herring Gulls. One of the new residents was "KV71" a colour-ringed Herring Gull. Initial research suggests that this bird was ringed in Russia. I have reported it and hopefully I will find out soon where it was originally ringed and where it has been since... The other highlight was another yellow-legged Herring Gull which I thought initially might be a michahellis Yellow-legged Gull. It had an elongated appearance with an apparently relatively dark mantle and, a clean white head and, of course, yellow legs. However, the orbital ring around the eye is yellowish (it should be red on a Yellow-legged Gull) and the wing pattern is wrong (it has quite a large 'mirror' on P9 and a broken black sub-terminal band on P5) and the legs are not long enough. So this is another yellow-legged Herring Gull (reasonably frequent in the Baltic).

Photos: KV71 from Russia; and the yellow-legged Herring Gull

Sunday, 24 January 2010

Shore Larks

I cycled down to Sydvestpynten today to try my luck with the two Shore Larks that were reported yesterday. The journey began well with a Rough-legged Buzzard hunting near Ørestad and 6 Waxwings (my first of the winter) along Kanalvej on Vestamager. On reaching Sydvestpynten I walked east along the path to Kofoeds Enge and almost immediately I flushed two larks. They called once and then settled just a few metres away - Shore Lark! I set up my telescope and watched these beautiful birds for around 15-20 minutes as they fed in an area of short vegetation. Despite having fairly bright facial markings these birds have excellent camouflage and, a couple of times when I took my eye off them for a few seconds, it was only their movement that gave them away when I looked back. These birds were in winter plumage, so did not sport the 'horns' of their spring/summer dress and the origin of their alternative name - "Horned Lark". However, they are still very smart birds. And the first time I have seen them in Denmark, too, taking the number of species I have seen since my arrival to 231.

Photos: Shore Larks

Saturday, 23 January 2010

Brambling Invasion

In recent days, huge flocks of Brambling have invaded the northern part of the Danish island of Sjaelland (the island on which Copenhagen lies). It is estimated that several of the flocks number in excess of 50,000 birds. You can see some photos and listen to a sound recording of a flock recorded in the last few days by clicking here. An impressive spectacle!

Deep Freeze

I don't think the temperature has risen above freezing for weeks and, in the last few days, it's been a consistent -2 to -4 with a bitter easterly wind. Today I cycled around the east coast of Amager. The sea remains frozen in places and, off southern Amager, the ice reaches over 100 metres from the shore. There are huge numbers of Fieldfares with smaller numbers of Redwing feeding on the berry-laden bushes (there are still a huge amount of berries left from last autumn's bumper crop) and, offshore, good numbers of winter wildfowl including Goldeneye, Whooper Swans and lots of duck you would normally expect to see on freshwater such as Tufted Duck, Coot, Wigeon and Mallard.

Off the east coast today there was a flock of 8 Smew, including 7 stunning drakes, diving just offshore and a little further along, near the airport, two Hen Harriers (an immature male and an adult female) were quartering the area of rough ground near the DSB train maintenance terminal. I searched the harbour at Dragør but, with the exception of 2 Rock Pipits, a few Black-headed Gulls, 4 Goosander and a Little Grebe, there was very little about.

Two Shorelarks (a potential new Danish bird for me) were seen today at Sydvestpynten so I hope to get out tomorrow to try my luck.. these northern larks are one of my favourite winter birds.

Photos: the iced up harbour at Dragør; and the slushy sea just offshore (which sounds just like pouring a slush puppie as the waves break!)

Thursday, 21 January 2010

South African Gulls

A few shots of the two most frequently encountered gulls in the Western Cape - Hartlaub's Gull (endemic to South-western Africa) and Cape Gull (the Southern African subspecies of Kelp Gull). Both are very common in the Cape Town area. We also saw Grey-headed Gull inland near Paarl.

Hartlaub's Gull (Larus hartlaubii) is endemic to south-west Africa and is common around the coast. It reminded me of short-billed Slender-billed Gull (Larus genei) with 'mirrors'.

Cape Gull (Larus dominicanus vetula) is superficially similar to Lesser Black-backed Gull but is bulkier with a prominent white trailing edge to the wing, a much heavier bill and with more olive-coloured (not bright yellow) legs. It is very similar to the nominate form of Kelp Gull (Larus dominicanus), seen further north, but is apparently slightly larger, the iris appears dark (from mottled brown to pale yellow) and normally shows a white 'mirror' on p10 only.

So now you know....

Photos: Hartlaub's Gull (first two); and Cape Gull (three and four).

Monday, 18 January 2010


I love the reflected light that snow brings and so after the overnight snowfall I used my lunch hour to visit the local gulls. Lots of Tufted Duck and Coot on the sea reflecting the frozen freshwater lakes and higher numbers than usual of Black-headed Gulls, including a couple with a lovely pink flush to the breast. One or two are beginning to develop the black (or, more correctly, dark brown) hoods in readiness for the breeding season. Nearby, the harsh weather has brought in winter duck with over 200 Smew now reported at the regular wintering site on the sea off Amager. I am looking forward to heading out that way at the weekend...

Photos: Black-headed Gull developing its hood; a young Herring Gull bored with the cold weather; and Black-headed Gull footprints

Sunday, 17 January 2010

Back in the cold

Copenhagen has been cold while we were away with temperatures below minus 10 at times. The sea is now frozen in places, especially where it is shallow (eg off southern Amager) and Nyhavn has frozen over (see photo below), the first time this has happened since we arrived in 2007. The cold is a bit of a shock to the system after enjoying temperatures of 35 degs C in South Africa (with one day hitting 42 degs!). Nevertheless, I braved it out at lunchtime to visit the local gulls. The one-legged Black-headed Gull is surviving ok and the young colour-ringed Herring Gull (blue ring V478) is still hanging around. Nothing unusual was seen but it was notable that there were several Little Grebes and a single Great-crested Grebe feeding offshore along Langelinie - a sight I don't usually see and clearly a result of their usual inland feeding areas being frozen. The freeze is predicted to continue for some time yet so hopefully it will bring in an unusual arctic visitor or two... in Sweden, just across the bridge there is a female Steller's Eider near Falsterbo and a very unseasonal Red-flanked Bluetail at Osby.

Photos: frozen Nyhavn; and a 1st winter Black-headed Gull at Langelinie.

Friday, 15 January 2010

Sarth Efrika

Libby and I have spent the last 10 days in South Africa, based in the Western Cape. What a country! South Africa has everything: mountains, coast, semi-desert, forest, great food and wine and fantastic weather. We spent 4 days in Cape Town, touring the Cape of Good Hope, visiting Table Mountain, the splendid backdrop to the capital of the Western Cape, losing ourselves in the world-renowned Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, and taking a tour with an inhabitant of Langa, one of the local Townships (a real eye-opener revealing how most of the population of Cape Town lives). Then we visited Fransschoek, a beautiful small town in the wine region dominated by vineyards and dotted with world-class restaurants, before continuing east along the Garden Route and spending a single night near Oudtshoorn to see Meerkats and, finally, three nights at the Hog Hollow Lodge, set in the heart of the Tsitsikamma Forest. With great views of sunbirds and white-eyes feeding on our balcony, this was a mesmerising place to end our stay.

Despite the trip not being dedicated to birds (Libby is not a birder so my birding was done en route), we managed to see a good number of species (122) including many of the Cape's endemics such as Cape Cormorant, Orange-breasted Sunbird, Cape White-eye, Black Oystercatcher, Black (Verreaux's) Eagle, Knysna Turaco, Cape Sugarbird, African Emerald Cuckoo, Pale Chanting Goshawk and many more. Mammals included Bottle-nosed Dolphins, Baboons, Meerkats, Vervet Monkeys, Bushbuck, Rock Dassies, Bontebok and Eland.

We only scratched the surface of this rich and diverse country - in fact we only scratched the surface of the Western Cape - and I very much hope to make it back there very soon. In summer (the southern winter), the bays are inhabited by Southern Right Whales and albatrosses from the Southern Oceans, a great reason to return!

Some photos below.

Photos below: Cape of Good Hope; Karoo Prinia; Blacksmith Plover; Cape Batis; African Penguin; Meerkats; and Greater Double-collared Sunbird

Saturday, 2 January 2010

Happy New Gyr

New Year's Day was cold. Very cold. So my new snow boots with thermal linings were extremely welcome in the -8 temperatures in southern Sweden - the destination of my first birding in 2010. I caught the 0720 train from Copenhagen to Lund which was full of late night revellers on their way back to Sweden after spending New Year's Eve in Copenhagen. I had only managed two hours sleep myself due to a combination of a New Year's Eve party with some friends and then the constant bangs, whizzes and crackles of fireworks on Kongens Nytorv until 4am (incredibly the Danes spend an average of 50Kr each (about 6 GB pounds) on fireworks on NYE), but I knew that a few hours in the fresh Swedish winter would wake me up, hopefully accompanied by some good birds with which to kick off the year.

So my long tired self arrived in Lund to meet with Phil who had driven down from Båstad. Our target species were Steppe Eagle (a young bird has been wintering just outside a small village, very close to the motorway from Malmo to Ystad and Gyrfalcon (an adult was wintering near Phil's patch at Farhult/Ronnen).

Our theory was that, being New Year's Day, there would be lots of people looking for the eagle to get it onto their 'year-lists' and so we would have little trouble finding it. How wrong we were - we didn't see another birder at the site in over 3 hours! Despite doing the circuit of public roads, and walking through the middle of the eagle's preferred territory, we drew a blank with a couple of White-tailed Eagles (the first of many) and a supporting cast of Goshawk, Crossbill, Red Kite (at least 5), Treecreeper, Nuthatch, White-fronted Goose (8), taiga Bean Goose (4+) and lots of common stuff. Frustrating. So we took the decision, bearing in mind that the hours of daylight are severely limited at this time of year (around 0815 to 1545), to cut short the eagle hunt and go for the Gyr. The hour's drive produced Rough-legged Buzzard and a few more common birds and importantly gave us a chance to thaw out! We were soon in the Gyr area (incidentally the same area as wintering eagles - both White-tailed and Golden - you can see a map and suggested circular route here. Here we saw one of the rarer sights of the day - other birders. We were treated to good numbers of White-tailed Eagles bringing our day-count into double figures but the Golden Eagle was more elusive. At the end of our first circuit of the area we caught sight of a bird of prey sitting on a concrete drain just 50 metres or so from the road. A quick check with the bins showed it to be a big falcon - GYR! The bird was pretty confiding, allowing us to get some prolonged and excellent views. It was a beast - like a big, stocky Peregrine with duller facial markings (lacking the pure white cheek of Peregrine) and had an almost 'hunchback'-like posture. I reeled off a few record photos (see below) before the bird flew a short distance further into the field and then sped off powerfully in a long arc towards the coast. What a bird. I had only seen my first Gyr last winter - a 1st-winter brown and streaked bird also in Sweden - so to see an adult was something special and made it a very good day.

We visited a couple of the local coastal sites to look for more year-ticks but the extreme cold (it was colder here than further south - it must have been around -10) and the fact that the sea was frozen for several hundred metres offshore, meant that viewing the sea duck and grebes was difficult. After seeing the odd Slavonian Grebe, Goosander, Goldeneye and other bits and bobs, we headed back to the station for me to get my train. One of the best, and coldest, New Year's Day birding I have had - cheers Phil!

Photos: Gyr