A tale of nature, wildlife and birding from Cheshire, North Wales and across the globe....

A tale of nature, wildlife and birding from Cheshire, North Wales and across the globe....

Monday, 15 December 2014

Mission Casp a success

It’s always tricky when a mega turns up at the beginning of the week and the recent Blyth’s Pipit in Yorkshire was no exception. Found on a Monday, it proved to be a tense few days until the first opportunity arose on the Saturday. With the majority of birds either in the far reaches of the remote Scottish Isles or down at the extreme opposite end of the country in Scilly, it was a great chance to see this rare pipit less than an hour and a half away (and on the mainland!)

Driving up to Pugney’s Country Park near Leeds, we arrived at the flooded field in the nearby industrial estate just before 11am – with the bird being seen throughout the day it was (thankfully) decided that a crack-of-dawn start was not really necessary!

Luckily we had only been stationed watching the bird’s favoured field for around 20 minutes before the word got around that it was out on the bank directly opposite and giving good scope views. We quickly got on the bird, and the difference between the accompanying Meadow Pipits was clear to see – the pale unstreaked breast and slightly thicker bill were apparent – as was the slightly larger size.

Blyth's Pipit - Yorkshire
Bad quality scope shot but you can still note the pale breast and lack of streaking.
The bird being out in the open was extremely lucky, as the overgrown and tangled field made it virtually impossible to pick out the pipits hiding within – once landing they were immediately lost to view in the vegetation. There has also been quite a bit of controversy surrounding this particular individual – with people taking issue over the organised “flushing” that had been taking place every couple of hours before the weekend. On one hand, this prevented the inevitable trampling through the grass throughout the day which would undoubtedly have resulted in the bird being constantly disturbed and quickly moving on, although on the other, Saturday proved that great views are obtainable with a little luck and patience without the need for intentionally flushing the birds (in which case only flight views would be obtainable – something I personally wouldn’t be satisfied with).

Content with our views, although sadly not hearing the bird give its diagnostic call, we headed back over to Pugney’s to check out the wildfowl and gulls on the water. There was no sign of the recently reported drake Smew (high up on my wish list of winter birds to see) but a couple of male Goldeneye and a showy Kingfisher on the main lake were good compensations.

After not being able to connect with the recent Gresford Flash Caspian Gull the previous week, and having my 1w individual unceremoniously stripped from my list by someone who can’t even properly ID a Bean Goose (no names mentioned), me and Alex were keen to catch up with one of the birds that have regularly been roosting on the main lake.

With 3pm approaching, we joined the birders already stationed and began scanning the large gulls present on the lake. However, it soon became apparent that this wasn’t going to be an easy task – with the local boaters intent on ploughing their yachts straight at the flock – causing them to flush and scatter each time.

As it got steadily colder, darker and wetter, all there was to show was a 1w Yellow-legged Gull, displaying the classic checkerboard pattern and large, dark, smudged eye – offering a nice comparison with the nearby Herring Gulls.

After a false alarm with what was decided to be just a very pale headed Herring Gull (the structure just didn’t seem right for a Casp) of the experienced and very knowledgeable locals (co-incidentally the Blyth’s finder) locked on to a cracking 2w Caspian Gull. I uttered a silent cheer and took in the birds notable features – the very dark small eye and slender, parallel sided bill and the heavy presence of grey in the mantle – something you wouldn’t expect to see in a Herring Gull. The clean unstreaked head and breast were also clearly apparent - one of the main features along with the long, extreme black on the primary tips. It was also noticeable that the bird had a certain “banana-like” shape in the water when compared with the accompanying Herring Gulls, something to look out for in the future.

Caspian Gull 2w - Pugney's CP, Yorkshire
Record shot through the scope of the Caspian Gull as the light was fading
Normally hating gulls and having difficulty with Caspian Gulls in particular, it was a very educational bird and proved to be the only one of the night – a great start to get my eye in for finding and successfully identifying my own Caspian Gulls in the future.

Ecstatic and after several years of searching (in Alex’s case), countless trips to freezing winter gull roosts and various false alarms, hybrids and dips, Mission Casp could finally be called a success! 

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