Mar 192018

A few visits over the weekend and 1 today to my local Patch in South Derbyshire. It was really bitterly cold this morning, with a strong easterly wind and snow & ice still on the ground but not as bad as Sunday 18th March, when conditions were dreadful. I managed to find just a single Black-necked Grebe close in-shore and so took advantage and spent a good hour with the bird in very cold conditions, managing a few decent shots. I hope the bird lingers on long enough to see it in full summer plumage. Despite a great deal of searching, I couldn’t find the other bird. Over the past few days I’ve managed to find a few good birds including – a female Merlin (16th); several Raven, 2 Black-necked Grebe on 16th; adult Kittiwake (16th); 4 Shoveler (16th) Chiffchaff (16th) 2 Skylark (16th) 4 Meadow Pipit (18th); male Goldeneye (16th); 1st winter Caspian Gull (16th).

Black-necked Grebe – above 6 images – Tony Davison©

Robin – above 2 images – Tony Davison©

Yellowhammer – above 3 images – A cool looking bird in snow – Tony Davison©



 Posted by at 7:56 pm
Mar 092018

On Sunday afternoon, 4th March 2018, I decided to pay my patch a visit, as I had not been for a few days and wasn’t able to get Sunday morning. I parked my car in the dam car park and began to scan the water. At first glance, noticing only the usual suspects – Cormorant, Coot, Great Crested Grebe, Mallard and Tufted Duck. Keep scanning I said to myself, something will surely turn up. It did, I picked up on a small wader that flew into my field of view. Tracking it across the water, I noticed it was a Dunlin. A good bird for Staunton Harold Reservoir and the first since 2012.

I decide to scope the dam wall to see if I could re-locate it and as I scanned the dam edge and through the large flock of Great Crested Grebes, much to my delight, I discovered a smaller greyish grebe that was asleep. I immediately knew it was either a Black-necked or a Slavonian Grebe, both of which are rare birds for Derbyshire, let alone Staunton Harold. Eventually it woke up and sure enough it was a Black-necked Grebe in winter plumage. A “Red Letter” afternoon. Two good birds within 20 minutes.

I wasn’t able to get back to the reservoir until Wednesday morning 7th March and decided to call in on my way to work. After checking the dam wall area I started scanning the far side of the reservoir and picked up 2 small grebes that were diving. As they were distant I needed my scope and quickly got on them to find they were both Black-necked Grebes. The first record of this species at Staunton Harold since 2002.

The birds were still present on Friday 9th March and I was able to get a selection of photographs. With careful approach and sitting down quietly by the waters edge, the birds began to display right in front of me – quiet a fantastic few minutes.

Black-necked Grebe – Staunton Harold Reservoir, Derbyshire – March 9th 2018 – Tony Davison©


 Posted by at 5:55 pm
Mar 012018

I spent several hours at Willington Gravel Pits on Sunday morning (25th February 2018), in the hope of seeing the regular Great White Egret. After some time, the bird appeared briefly on and off but never close. There was also a good flock of Curlew (16) and Wigeon (67), a single Little Egret, several Shelduck  and the usual water birds I would expect to see at this time of year, what I call “The Usual Suspects”. Shortly after arriving in the hide I watched a female Pintail drop in, along with a pair of Gadwall. Then a small flock of large gulls arrived and dropped in on one of the islands in front of the Hide. I began to give then a closer inspection and one of the birds stood out and I suggested to others in the hide that they should take a look at this bird. I remarked that I felt it looked like a 3rd winter Caspian Gull and I began to take a sequence of photographs. Shortly after bathing, the flock took off and I got on to another bird in flight, initially thinking this was the bird I had been looking at. Upon showing people the photos, nobody queried the ID and we all thought that the bird we had been watching was a Caspian Gull. The following photographs show the two birds  I am referring to.

Once I had the pictures on the computer, I could look at both birds in more detail. I immediately began to have some nagging doubts and immediately noticed that the bird in flight was a different gull, but what was it?

I have spent the past few days looking at many images of Caspian, Yellow-legged and Argentatus Herring Gull. In my humble opinion this group of gulls are by no means easy to identify, unless of course you have a classic bird at close quarters. There were anomalies on both gulls and the initial bird I thought to be a Caspian, had an adult head and bill but with a distinctive pale eye. I was clearly confused and I began to get suspicious about this bird in particular. I have also discussed both birds at length with one of our local “Gull Watchers” and someone who I have a good deal of respect for his gull identification and also a friend in Bulgaria and I am grateful for their constructive comments.

The bird below and in flight is in fact a 3rd winter argentatus Herring Gull. Note the large obvious pale grey “window panel” in the wing. There are only two distinct grey tongues at P6 & P5. The grey tongues in Caspian are more extensive into the primaries and show what is called a “Venetian Blind” effect. A pale grey saddle (wrong colour grey for Caspian Gull), clean white rump and a slight tail band. The slightly dark eye is apparently not an issue for argentatus Herring Gull. The secondary bar is also very pale and is usually much darker and contrasting in Caspian Gull.

Herring Gull – race argentatus – 3rd winter – Willington Gravel Pits, Derbyshire – Tony Davison©


The following images show the bird I initially thought was a 3rd winter Caspian Gull. I now believe this bird is most probably a 3rd winter argentius Herring Gull. Any potential 3rd winter Caspian Gull showing such a pale eye needs treating with caution and is likely to be a Herring Gull. The tertial pattern is wrong for Caspian, as are the markings on the wing coverts and secondaries. The bird shows very short pink legs, Caspian is much longer in the leg. The bottom picture shows both the birds in discussion side by side. What really did throw me was the clean white under-wing of this bird. I have always been advised that this is a feature of any immature Caspian Gull? Just to throw a further spanner in the works – I’m sure I can see grey tongues in the bird’s left wing at P6 – P9 ( a feature of Caspian Gull) There is a complete black band on P5 and a small black patch on P4, which I think is a feature of 3rd winter Caspian Gull? However, I cannot see a white mirror on P10. The overall general appearance of the bird, along with proportions, shape and colours of head, bill  and eye, were what lead me to believe this to be a Caspian, but there are other features that don’t seem to fit. Could this bird therefore be a hybrid? Any constructive comments would be gratefully received.

Left – 3rd winter argentatus Herring Gull – 

Right – 3rd winter argentius Herring Gull 



 Posted by at 10:44 am
Feb 252018

Managed to catch up on a couple of local rare birds over the weekend. For several weeks now 2 Cattle Egret have been faithful to a sheep field adjacent to the main road into Newton Solney and the River Trent. The Birds of Derbyshire states Cattle Egret as a rare vagrant to our county with only 6 records to 2009. The last one I saw in Derbyshire was in 1996, at Swarkestone. 

Another local rarity, a juvenile Black-throated Diver has taken up residence at Albert Village Lake, Leicestershire, near Swadlincote. Not far away from the Derbyshire border.cAlbert Village Lake is also very good for gulls, as they come off the local tip and on to the lake to bath and clean themselves. I managed a juvenile Iceland Gull and a 2nd winter Caspian Gull. There was also a good number of Little Grebe, offering great photo opportunities. My year list has moved on to 141.

Cattle Egret – Newton Solney, Derbyshire – Above 3 images – One of the 2 birds present. Note the new breeding plumage feathers appearing. All yellow bill and greyish legs help to tell apart from Little Egret – Tony Davison©

Black-throated Diver – Juvenile – Above 2 images – Albert Village Lake – Note the large white flank patch, a diagnostic feature of this species of diver. – Tony Davison©

 Posted by at 8:57 pm
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