Wednesday 28 December 2011

Glaucous Gull in Leicestershire

Albert Village Lake,  Leicestershire.

As it is still 'the season to be jolly', you know Christmas and that, it was time to celebrate the occasion by hunting down a 'white-winged angel' or two.  The first trip of the day was a sojourn just over the border into Leicestershire to search through the Laridae at Albert Village Lake.  On my stroll down to view the lake, good numbers of Redwing and Fieldfare were logged along with the odd Bullfinch and Lesser Redpoll.

Initially it was not looking to good at all as the nearby landfill site did not seem to be fully operational.  As a result there were not many larger gulls knocking about.  There were however plenty of Black-headed Gulls loafing around along with around 40 Common Gull.  After further scrutiny an adult Yellow-legged Gull popped into view amongst a small group of Lesser Black-backed Gull.  Following a bit of disturbance at the tip a small influx of Herring Gulls occurred but there was still no sign of anything more interesting.  I was about to call it a day when at last I picked up a near adult Glaucous Gull taking part in a bit of a wash and brush up.  The northern brute showed well for just ten minutes before it took flight and disappeared towards the old landfill area.     

Iceland Gull in Staffordshire

The gull roost at Chasewater, Staffordshire.

With an earlier Glaucous Gull under my belt I was hoping to add a further trio of gull species to my day's tally including another 'white-winger'.  Upon arriving at the bitterly cold moonscape of Chasewater it was not too long before a third winter Iceland Gull was picked up bobbing around amongst the numerous Herring Gulls and Lesser Black-backed Gulls and the odd numbers of Great Black-backed Gulls.  It was at this point I was joined by some familiar local faces - Snapper Richards, Phil Locker and Dan Pointon all appeared in order to help sift throughs the steadily increasing raft of avian scavengers.  Despite their help though all we managed between us was an adult Yellow-legged Gull. There was no sign of either the adult Caspian Gull that Snapper had found earlier in the afternoon nor the regular adult Mediterranean Gull that sometimes appears in the roost.

Other species of interest included an immature Peregrine harassing the Lapwing flock and a small group of 6 Goosander

Sunday 11 December 2011

Alvecote Pools SSSI

At a cold, wet and miserable Alvecote this afternoon a drake Mandarin lifted my spirits slightly. It was only my second ever sighting of this exotic, oriental species down at the patch.  The bird has been in the area for a few weeks now but is quite elusive and mobile. I finally stumbled upon it around the willow island on Upper Pool displaying to a female Mallard.

Over on Mill Pool there were 11 Shelduck, 18 Goosander, a single Little Egret and a single Common Gull.

Sunday 4 December 2011


After deliberating for over a week we finally decided to brave the elements and head over to Shropshire to see if we could track down a female DESERT WHEATEAR.  The bird had been present in the area since last Friday when it was initially thought to be a PIED WHEATEAR until the identification was clinched the following day.

We arrived on site at a blustery Titterstone Clee Hill during early afternoon to find up to seven Raven tumbling around the summit in the powerful and bitterly cold north-westerly wind.  I could have quite easily sat in the car and admired these wonderful birds all day but a rarity was beckoning just a short distance away amongst the old quarry buildings.  

Desert Wheatear habitat - the abandoned quarry at Titterstone Clee Hill

At 533 metres above sea level this particular hill is said to provide one of the best all round views in the whole of England.  Despite the murky conditions we could easily make out the Malvern Hills to the south however on a clear day it is also possible to see Snowdonia to the west, the Peak District to the north east, the Cotswolds to the south east and the Brecon Beacons to the south west.  The scenery is quite stunning and the area is well worth a visit whether you see any birds or not.

An impressive view south towards the Malvern Hills

There were a few other birders milling around when we arrived but unfortunately there was no sign of the bird after it had flown up towards the summit earlier on in the afternoon.  Almost immediately though Nadia picked up a small, pale passerine flying towards us before disappearing out of sight.  After a careful, quiet stalk towards the general area Nadia then picked the DESERT WHEATEAR feeding happily just a few metres away.  Despite it being very mobile the bird showed extremely well at times.  We managed to get a few other visitors onto the rarity but no other birders tended to hang around for long due to the Arctic wind chill factor.  Braving the elements I hung around until the bird once again flew off high towards the summit.  I headed back to the car before hypothermia had chance to kick in enjoying the sky-dancing Ravens as I went.

DESERT WHEATEAR (female) - Titterstone Clee Hill, Shropshire
Photo kindly provided by Dave Hutton

A total of three different subspecies of DESERT WHEATEAR have made it to Great Britain however assigning a bird in the field to a specific race is not really safe.  Out of circa 120 individuals that have occurred here just seven of those that have either been shot, found dead or trapped have been pinned down properly.  The Central Asian Desert Wheatear deserti has been proven twice whilst the North African Desert Wheatear homochroa has been recorded on four occasions.  In addition there has been a single example of Kazakhstan Desert Wheatear atrogularis.  It is open to debate but I would suggest that all birds which have appeared during this autumn's influx are more than likely to originate from the Central Asia bearing in mind the recent conditions that have brought us our first acceptable Eastern Black Redstarts in a while.

DESERT WHEATEAR (female) - Titterstone Clee Hill, Shropshire
Photo kindly provided by Dave Hutton


As touched on above this species breeds widely yet discontinuously across the arid and desert regions of North Africa from Morocco to the Middle East, north to the south Caucasus and across central Asia from central Iran and northern Pakistan to Mongolia and northern China. Some African birds are resident but many winter in the Sahara and Sahel region from Mauritania east to Ethiopia and Somalia. Asian breeders winter from the Arabian peninsula to north-west India.

The first records drilled down to subspecies level in Britain are as follows:

  • Central Asian Desert Wheatear - male (shot) - Fair Isle, Shetland - 6 October 1928
  • North African Desert Wheatear - female (shot) - Spurn, Yorkshire - 17 October 1885
  • Kazakhstan Desert Wheatear - male (killed) - Pentland Skerries, Orkney - 2 June 1906  

Saturday 3 December 2011

Alvecote Pools SSSI

Life amongst the sterile winter wheat fields at Bramcote
Photo by Adam Archer

It was a pretty enjoyable birding session down at the patch today. What looked like the smaller, sub-adult Azorean Yellow-legged Gull or hybrid from the Chasewater roost made a brief appearance on Gilman's Pool. Unfortunately it flew off south-east before I could grill it with my scope properly.  Also on the same pool was a flock of 9 Little Egrets, a site record, as well as 49 Goosander and a Kingfisher.

Over the road at Mill Pool there were 13 Shelduck, a female Pintail, 8 Shoveler, 12 Gadwall, 26 Common Teal and just 2 Eurasian Wigeon.  Around the margins a Water Rail and 4 Common Snipe were present.