Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Taimyr Gulls: a couple of 1CY birds

I was late off the mark gulling this year thanks to Wood Warbler and Black Bittern earlier in the month (no complaints on that score) but I was still hopeful of finding juvenile Taimyr Gull either near the mouth of the Yamatogawa in Osaka or on the beach in Tsu.

I tend to drive to Tsu nowadays because although it takes an hour longer it's still preferable to the the five different trains I'd have to take (each way), topped off by a 30-minute walk from the last station, to a good spot on the river. Carrying a load of gear on packed commuter trains has never been in my top one hundred fun things to do on a day off. Another big advantage Tsu has over the Yamatogawa is that the gulls are reasonably approachable on the beach whereas the gulls on the river are on mid-stream shoals, I say mid-stream but, as you'd expect, they always seem to settle closer to the far bank.

I spent the last two or three hours of daylight on the beach north of Tsu city on the 18th, after first spending the earlier part of the day birding further south. The only 1CY gulls I saw all had second generation mantle and some scapulars in place. My visit to Mie on the 26th was more gull orientated, after a far more cursory check of some estuaries and areas of fields I got to the beach by early afternoon and managed to find one bird still in juvenile plumage.

One of the birds on the 18th was a really big brute of a Taimyr. I come across a few huge adults and used to wonder at the enormous size difference (and structure, the big birds tend to look proportionately shorter-winged) between the largest and smallest of them. But when I see  such a large individual amongst a group of first winter (1CY / 2CY) Taimyr I feel reassured they really are just as variable as any other large gull taxon. Below are a few images of the big bird...

Mantle and most scapulars are now second generation, just a few lower scaps still juvenile. 

Perhaps size illusion coming into play here, nevertheless it is very much at the larger end of the Taimyr scale.

A clearer view of retained lower row scapulars. Apart from size this is an bog-standard Taimyr right down to the 'Dusky Thrush' breast-side and flank spots.

Strikingly dark outer greater coverts, neatly marked axilliaries (and underwing coverts) are typical. Likewise the white ground to vent, undertail and uppertail coverts with strongly contrasting spots. Some birds seem to have more continuously marked, rather barred and Vega-like upper- and undertail coverts.

The coverts bar is often more apparent with distance. This bird has darker inner primaries than most.

Typical tail pattern, Vega tends to have more extensive black in the outer feathers.

The primary window is usually more conspicuous than this.

Depending on light conditions these immatures can look browner or greyer but in fact this isn't merely light-related, there clearly are browner and greyer types. The following gull (26th) is a nice example of a greyer bird, though they do come even more strikingly 'black and white' than this.

The juvenile plumage juxtaposed with the bright pink (and extensive) base to the lower mandible, equally bright spot in the gape of the upper and more diffuse loop extending from the base around the nostril is eye-catching.

This gull has a strong fuscus feel to it. It's not only the upperparts that lean that way, the lightly marked centre of the breast and belly, almost clean white on the lower belly extending through the undertail coverts which highlights the strongly marked side feathers. Vega tends to be duller and less contrasting frequently barred across the full width of the undertail coverts.

From behind this is a very uniformly dark gull, quite blackish even though the strong light usually brings out the brown tints in these birds.

The rear flank feathers are noticeably dark and form a terminal flank crescent behind each leg and emphasise the clear white lower belly (not visible here).

When the wings are slightly spread the visible inner primaries show a clear contrast between the darker grey of most of the feather length and the very pale sub-terminal area on the inner web just behind the black 'diamond tip'; effectively a short white trailing edge on this kind of view. Vega would show less contrast between tips and bases, thus the 'diamond tip' would look more isolated. 

The primary window looks typical on this gull, more conspicuous than on the previous large gull but nevertheless far duller than that of Vega.

Monday, 28 November 2016

Bits 'n' bobs from Mie

I was in Mie this weekend, mainly to check through the gull gatherings on the beach north of Tsu-shi, and so didn't visit all my regular locations from south of Matsusaka north to Tsu. The stand-out bird, or birds I should say, were divers. It's always seemed odd to me that I've never seen a diver offshore in this area; yesterday I saw 19. There were 15 Pacific and four Red-throated visible from the beach, dotted through the huge rafts of ducks and grebes that were even more obvious than usual on a sea as flat as it ever gets. None were close enough to attempt a photograph but scoping through them a couple of Pacific still had chequered upperparts and one of the Red-throated even had remnants of a throat patch. Apart from the divers (and gulls) there weren't so many birds to comment on.

This is as good a time as any to mention a roadkill sighting in October that I'd meant to write about at the time. Quite amazing really.

I have a reasonably good Japan mammal list but I've never seen Japanese badger despite spending plenty of time in forest areas which look suitable. So it was unfortunate for me, and far worse for the badger of course, that the closest I came to one was spotting a freshly dead animal on the road while driving to Mie. The amazement factor kicks in when on the return drive there was another dead badger, in the same forest but lower on the mountain, this had plainly been hit during the afternoon in daylight. Was this an astonishing coincidence or was something else have created the situation where two animals would be on the road and hit by vehicles within about 14 hours? Since then things have been back to normal with no sign they even exist in this forest.

Buff-bellied Pipit in slanting light of the rising sun.

Another early bird in the same strong light.

This Little Grebe was just below the Kingfisher, in deep shadow.

The setting sun was much kinder to this Greater Scaup in a small fishing harbour.

Sanderling, while gulling on the beach.

Shorebirds and industry are a frequent mix, it's the lone tree that strikes the unexpected note for me.

Common Sandpiper

Female Daurian Redstart

Male Daurian Redstart

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Rotten weather at Biwako

I had a good day out in Mie last Friday and had planned on staying the night to get a bit more gulling in the following day, however that evening the forecast promised an unremitting 80% - 90% chance of rain throughout Saturday so I decided to give up and head home. In the event there wasn't a drop of rain all day in Kyoto which had been due exactly the same weather as Mie according to my 'friends' at the Met Office. Thanks guys. So Saturday night I went up to the northern end of Lake Biwa, after all with only a 10% chance of rain limited to late afternoon the weather would be fine to check out the wildfowl situation. A ten percent chance; maybe the their forecasting ability is fine, it's just their math that's off.

I began the day in the mountains north of the lake and at 6:30 the clouds overhead weren't yet heavy but with fog lower down and ominous clouds approaching from the north things didn't look too good for the rest of the day. The mountains were fairly quite, reasonable numbers of the commoner finches and buntings, a good few Red-flanked Bluetails but surprisingly little evidence of woodpeckers, only the odd Jay, and definitely no Copper Pheasants. A stiff-winged Peregrine soaring high above was the only unexpected sighting. By 7:30 the opening spots of rain were signaling what was to come and I made my way down into the deepening fog below, and then on to the lake.

"And here's one I made earlier", which ought to strike a chord with Brits, I took this shot of Bluetail a week earlier on Mt Ibuki.
 It proved difficult to check the more distant ducks through the grey filter draining the lowlands of colour so I spent most of my time driving slowly round the fields and managed to track down two flocks of Tundra Swans (bewickii) by following birds flying 'inland' away from the lake.

A flock of Tundra Swans feeding on the fields.

Those Swans were close to the lake but another flock was two or three kilometres away and included a presumed columbianus. Going for the second flock really paid dividends as I came across two Common Starlings for the second time this weekend. I think I'd only previously seen one Common Starling in Kansai, so four in three days is good going.

A presumed Whistling Swan with the Bewick's.

Bewick's Swans.

Common Starlings with White-cheeked.

Another bird that caught my eye while slowly checking the fields was a strikingly large heron that flew up from a ditch and settled in a field. It 'felt' too large for the local modesta Great Egret the moment I saw it and sure enough, when I caught up with it, it had telltale yellow on the tibiae. There was a second modesta on the lake in front of the wild bird center at Kohoku, this seems a favourite spot for them, but the views are never great even when the weather is.

'Western' Great Egret on the fields.

Another with more obviously yellow legs.

Surprises through the murk weren't quite over; two Whiskered Terns hawking over a roadside pond stopped me in my tracks. I seem to be seeing more of this species nowadays, that's at least 10 this autumn, I don't know if that's down to luck or whether more are turning up here. Unsurprisingly however, it wasn't possible to get an even half decent shot of them.

Grey on grey: Whiskered Terns.

Now you'd be forgiven for thinking images of birds can't get much worse than those... but they can. As proof I'd offer the following image of four Eastern Marsh Harriers coming in to roost.

Four a group of five Eastern Marsh Harriers high over their roost site as the last of the poor light was giving up.

Sunday, 20 November 2016

Hybrid wigeon and other ducks

I recently post on a hybrid duck and feedback I've received suggested I need look no further than Northern Pintail x American Wigeon for an explanation. This sounds good to me. I revisited the site a couple of days ago and found two American Wigeon x Eurasian Wigeon hybrids in just five minutes scanning the closest ducks.

The first bird is an obvious intermediate-type hybrid but the other is very close to American.

Two shots of the clear hybrid.

The next bird looks like an American Wigeon at first glance, second glance even, but the longest scapulars are pale grey on the inner webs which must rule this out as 100% American. I wonder whether F1 hybrids can show the dramatic difference in appearance of these two birds or must backcrossing be responsible for the following bird.

Warm outer webs and grey inner webs to the tertials would have been a disappointment if I'd been looking for American Wigeon. As it is, this bird is interesting enough.

I was focused on the bird in question but looking at the greater coverts of the bird in the background it must be either an American or another hybrid.

So coming to the 'other ducks' of the title. The day started with Smew, three redheads on the largest body of water behind the seawall, these birds flew out to sea before the sun rose.

Smew are fairly uncommon at this site so these birds were welcome even if they did leave before light was broad enough to bring a little colour to the scene.

Gadwall are very common in the area.

Not so much a duck as a duck lover. I posted shots of this Northern Goshawk sitting by the pond watching the ducks recently and there it was again. This time it it launched sorties from the long grass on the bank rather than the concrete wall at the pond side; perfecting its technique.