Friday, 30 May 2014

Ups and downs

A day of contrasting fortunes today. I resolved not to get up early for another crack at the Great White Egret which has been summering in Poole Harbour. An enigmatic bird this, it gets seen only by early birds or night owls, either flying up, or sometimes down the River Frome. Or sometimes the River Piddle. Or sometimes both. But never when I'm watching, it seems.

First summer Ross's Gull, Bowling Green Marsh RSPB, Devon
Having promised myself a lie in, however, no 2 son had other ideas and woke me up at 0400 shuffling into bed between his mum and I. Waking up is the hard bit, so thus stirred, I thought I might as well go and have a look for the Egret. No joy.
As well as the white head with a hint of a neck-ring, the Ross's Gull was slightly larger, longer-winged and longer-tailed than the Little Gulls I've been watching at Swineham recently
I went back to bed and fell into a sufficiently deep sleep to miss several texts informing me that a Bee-eater was at Durslton, less than 20 minutes away. Getting dressed for the second time today, I scooted off for another dose of disappointment. Mitchells Senior and Junior, dipping on Bee-eater for the second time this week, were also there. Just after they headed home, vowing to jack in birding and have their tripods/scopes etc melted down for scrap, things started to look up, for me at least: a flyover Serin jangled north overhead.
Here in flight with Med Gull (above right) and Black-headed Gull for comparison
Just as I was about to give up on the Bee-eater, Steve Smith called with the offer of a lift to Bowling Green Marsh in Devon to twitch a first summer Ross's Gull present for 9 days (!) but identified only this morning. I saw an adult years ago but the chance of seeing this High Arctic vagrant close to home and in a new plumage was not to be missed. I thought my luck might have turned for the day after the Serin but on arrival the Ross's Gull had just flown, leaving a breathless and satiated group of photographers looking visibly stunned at the close views they had enjoyed minutes before. Another dip in morale threatened, but legging it to the nearby estuary I relocated the Gull distantly on the mud and took what can only be described as an insult to record shots - my 400mm lens was woefully inadequate even with 2x converter.
Another view of the diamond-shaped tail and wing pattern
With the pressure to see the bird now off, we figured waiting for high tide to bring it back in would be a good plan, and this gave us a few hours to relocate the Gull again off Exton Station further down the Exe, and check out the facilities at nearby Darts Farm (Cotswold Camping, RSPB shop, posh loos, basically retail heaven for dudes just getting kitted out for a new career in birdspotting).

Also at Bowling Green Marsh, but not attracting quite so much attention...
It was then time to sit and wait. We did so until 1800 when the Ross's Gull flew in from the north east and landed in front of the robust, breeze block hide at Bowling Green Marsh. We were glad of this as the rain set in, and we discussed our longing for a similar structure at Swineham. The Gull gave a few brief fly-arounds, allowing the photos above to be taken showing the diagnostic diamond-shaped tail. It was said to have been 'masquerading as a Little Gull' the previous day when views were partially obscured, but with clear views today it was less a masquerade, more of a wholly unconvincing impersonation of a Little Gull. Honestly, these birders who need their tricky rarities re-identified for them...
Barnacle Goose

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