The past winter has been very good for arctic gulls, with larger than usual numbers of white winged Glaucous and Iceland's all over the country. We have tried one or two regular sites on our trips and checked out the occasional gull flock that we have encountered without any success. Mid March is getting a bit late for winter gulls, particularly as it's been so mild but some are still around so we thought worth trying for a few.
Among the Iceland's have been a lot of grey winged Kumlien's from Canada and the Littlehampton bird has been on my mind for some time as it is a form I have not knowingly seen before, particularly as a Glaucous has been around in the area. We decided not to try for the Glaucous, as it had apparently moved to Worthing and it was not exactly clear where it was being seen, so decided to start at Littlehampton.
We arrived shortly after 0800, after a pleasant drive in the spring sunshine and parked by the Lifeboat station. While Colin was sorting out the car I walked the few yards to the river Arun and checked the loafing gulls on the bank. A quick scan located a pale elongated upright bird that ticked the Iceland box, so returned to get the rest of the gear and get Colin on it. Standing on the mud with the 1w Herrings it really stood out and in the scope the pale greyish primaries were very different to the white of a normal Iceland. Someone decide to throw bread on the slip way for the Swans and this put all the gulls up and we lost it for a bit, but it proved easy to pick up in flight as the gulls wheeled around overhead and I got a nice backlit shot which shows black tips to the outer primaries. It eventually settled on the jetty in front of us where we attracted some attention from locals, so we tried with some success to explain the significance of the bird.
We left after about an hour and travelled the short distance to Pagham Lagoon-not a site we have visited before, as in the past we have always been to the western side of the harbour. A 1w Iceland Gull has been here for a while and made a nice contrast to the Kumlien's. It did not show quite as well but the digiscoped image came out well. Had hoped perhaps for a summer migrant here, maybe Wheatear, Sand Martin or maybe a Black Redstart but apart from a few other gulls, grebes and ducks there wasnt much happening.
The drive west to Gosport took some time as traffic was a bit heavy. The Ring Billed Gull that we have seen in recent years is still around and it was not hard to locate when we got to the car park-it was the only gull apart from Black Headed.
One Brent on the pool was a bit different-apparently a small flock had been present for a while.
Two Barred Crossbills are another species that has caused us some frustration this winter, having failed to locate any. The Forest of Dean birds are still being reported, up to 14 still and odd birds elsewhere. One at RSPB Farnham Heath seemed worth trying for as it was on our way back from the south coast. It has caused some discussion, as the wing bars are not as prominent as expected, and it lacks white tertial tips-the assumption being that it is a juvenile male bird.
Its a reserve that is new to us, part of the Surrey Heath restoration project and finding it was a bit of a challenge. It was rather nice in the very warm sunshine, and the walk from the car to the pond where it had been seen shortly before we arrived did not take long. However after an hour, with not much to see apart from Goldfinches, Linnets and a couple of Siskin most wandered of. Singing Woodlarks were nice as were a pair of Stonecaht. Three Crossbills eventually dropped in-two males and a female but soon left.
Colin and I were the last left at the pond and we decided on a change of scenery and joined a group on a track at the base of the hillside. They had not had anything and were starting to make a move when I noticed a couple getting rather agitated under a pine. Running over to them I saw a female Crossbilll and rather obscured a raspberry red bird with prominent wing bars. Everyone rushed over and most, but not all got onto the birds before they flew south. Expecting them to be by the pond we all made our way down, and the male bird was located feeding in a birch. Distant, I got a few poor digiscoped images before it flew over our heads. The flight call sounded very good and similar to Scandinavian recordings that I listened to when I got home.