Alan Dalton post's birding diaries and original artwork from Sweden. Established in 2006, this now long running blog is now a complete overview of my birding experiences. As an artist I greatly enjoy sketching birds in the field and you will find a wide selection of that work here, from fieldwork to finished paintings. I am very passionate about my artwork and try to depict birds in their natural habitat, as I see them in the wild. My artwork is for sale and can be viewed at http://www.alandalton.net/
As regards to my photography, since 2008 I have used a Nikon D90 DSLR camera coupled with a Sigma 150-500mm OS lens for since March 2012 for bird photography, all previous images being digiscoped. Regarding sound recording, I have been usung a Telinga Stereo Dat Mic and parabol to record birds in the field, coupled to a Marrantz 661 digital recorder, a superb piece of kit. Interest in butterflies, dragonflies and damselflies has recently seen the accquisition of a Sigma 150mm macro lens. I hope you enjoy the blog and please feel free to leave comments or contact me at alandltn@gmail.com

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Hällögern; 23rd August 2014

A female Velvet Scoter with a late brood of twelve Young. One of three females offshore this morning with young...


 Black-throated Divers around 700m ofshore at first light...


White Wagtail


After an absolute washout yesterday I was relieved to awake to no rain today. The weather has been nothing short of appalling this week and this was the first dawn in five Days I could spend watching visible migration. The wind has now shifted to northeast, a cold affair which has killed the hirundine passage, a feature of the first few days. However, there was an amazing increase in one species today, Brambling. Todays total would come to 611, the vast majority in the few hours after dawn and also juvenile birds, often in flocks averaging twenty or thirty birds. Whether this was local movement or more extensive migration(it seems to early for that), there was a marked movement of these birds today. Tree Pipit were again moving with 58 noted, over 60 Yellow Wagtails also. Three migrating Ospreys were all juvenile, as were 6 Common Buzzard. New to the trip list were 14 Linnet and a Calling Jay, this now stands at 76 species. A single 3rd calender White -tailed eagle was seen as well as 7 Common Crossbill, 32 White Wagtail, 2 Curlew, 7 Chiffchaff, 5 Spotted Flycatcher, 3 Black-throated Diver, 16 Red-throated Diver. Several unidentified flocks of waders at extreme range in heat haze was frustrating.The afternoon was spent watching for raptors with little success. apart from a few Hobby, though as Always, northern species like Crane, Velvet Scoter, Divers and Brambling were Always present for interest.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Hällögern; 21st August 2014

 Velvet Scoter female with Young...

After rain at dawn I managed 80 minutes from 06.20am Before the cursed rain began again. Curlew was added to the trip list early on, whilst 102 Yellow Wagtail, 34 Tree Pipit, 168 Swallow, 25 House Martin, 61 Cormorant, 1 Cuckoo, 5 Brambling, 1 Whooper Swan and a handful of Swift were noted. A thrilling highlight was watching two Hobby hunting for Swallows cooperatively, eventually making a kill after a few thrilling chases. A quite remarkable sight and simply an awesome aerial display.
Again I was rained off, but got back early afternoon when raptors were on the move. A Honey Buzzard juvenile was followed by 4 Common Buzzard and a female Marsh Harrier, Before an Osprey put in an appearance. Later a third calender White Tailed Eagle drifted south. The two best records of the day were an adult Caspian Tern and 6 Temmink's Stint which flew past me Calling, making a trip list total of 71 species after a late Redshank flew in. It will be tough going to add to this in the coming days as expected species are, by and large, already on the list...

 Images below; Marsh Harrier, a second calender female or older, this one well over a kilometre away in the lower picture, whilst in the upper shot a pair of Common Buzzard  at even greater range.


Hällögern; 20th August 2014

Sand Martin at rest; digiscoped at around 400m. For this trip I decided to digiscope and save myself lugging around a lot of camera gear in order to be able to sketch, little did I know it would rain constantly...

Again, I awoke to pounding rain and heavy grey skies. Eager to get out as I was there was no Point in going out in such bad weather as nothing was passing over at all and it was 08.20am Before it stopped. On arrival at the tip of the Island I picked up a few bedraggled Chiffchaff and a single Willow Warbler in the alders, reminding me this place must have potential in autumn proper. Three Teal and a couple of Ringed Plover were soon added to the trip list. After just twenty minutes the heavens reopened and I was forced to quit. I remained housebound until the evening when it cleared nicely and I could get out and enjoy some visible migration. Soon, Yellow Wagtails really started to pile over, as did hirundines. Acouple of adult Spotted Redshank floated by in stunning black dress, whilst 2 Pintail were more unexpected, my first ever on the island. Then a juvenile Marsh Harrier floated southwards. Final migrant totals for a few hours were excellent as the birds took advantage of a brief window of decent weather. 566 Swallow, 48 Swift, 323 Yellow Wagtail, 8 Common Crane and 15 Common Crossbill among the birds recorded. Then a real treat as a pair of Hobby hunted Swallow overhead, Before a big juvenile Goshawk appeared from nowhere and took a juvenile Black-headed Gull over the water in front, making this an evening to remember. Wonderful stuff..
Trip list now at 64 species after day 2...

Hällögern; 19th August 2014

 Above and below; Yellow Wagtail, abundant right now on the island...


A trip to the far North to the summer house is always anticipated, we arrived the previous evening in atrocious weather, driving rain and thunder. I got to bed early and awoke at dawn to find the rain still beating down, an absolute deluge. It hammered down until 08.30am, when I quickly made my way to the northeast tip, where I found to my dismay that the water levels were so high that the waders prefered area was underwater. I have never seen the water so high here, though the rain in th past few days has been remarkable and caused flooding over much of Sweden. I settled down to see what might pass overhead. A slow passage of White Wagtails, Yellow Wagtail and the odd Tree Pipit was apparent, whilst other better birds came eventually. A migrating Cuckoo was nice, as were three White-tailed Eagle out at sea. A rarity then went over, a Carrion Crow, in with a small group of Hooded Crow, I had excellent views as it passed, a rare bird this far north, if not the most sought after species. Three juvenile Arctic Skua were most welcome, two of them joining forces to terrorize the local Common Gulls as they passed. Then came two Grey Plover, flying southeast, as did most of the migrating birds. The weather then closed in again and heavy rain soon drenched me and passage stopped.
 Later in the afternoon came a second dry spell and I watched from the west of the island, as it was very obvious that a huge passage of hirundines was taking place. I pulled out a sunbed for comfort and started to count as Swallows streamed by, the odd Swift and Martin in their midst. The final totals would be 1,135 Sawllow, 78 Swift, 31 House Martin and 2 Sand Martin. Wheatear, Spotted Flycatcher, Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler, Willow Tit, Velvet Scoter with Young, Wood Sandpiper, Brambling, Common Crossbill and Common Crane were also noted nad Before the weather once again closed in I had a very good total of 62 species recorded, an excellent day on such a small Island...

Monday, August 11, 2014

Early moulting juvenile Argentatus Herring Gull at Skeppsbron; 11th August 2014

 A large, chunky juvenile gull this, which gained my full attention after I noticed the newly moulted scapulars, which can clearly be seen here. Herring Gull rarely shows moult this early this far north and this can be a good indicator of a Yellow-legged Gull. Tertials seems not as dark centred as I would hope for in YLG, also the greater covert's seem rather piano keyed and a better fit for Herring Gull? Head looks rather pale with a dark mask around the eye, not a bad fit for YLG? Note the slightly worn coverts on this bird...a very interesting individual.


 Could these tertials be within what one might expect on YLG? How about those greater coverts? Both seem perfectly acceptable for Argentatus Herring Gull. Furthermore I would expect a Yellow-legged Gull to show reddish brown tones around the mantle and hindneck, a slightly deeper base to the bill and a whiter head., perhaps a slightly longer primary projection at rest. On this side just a single scapular is moulted.


 Again the other side, which again lacks reddish brown tones on the mantle and hindneck as mentioned. The pale fringes on the tertials are notched and extend in to the greater coverts, supporting Argentatus Herring Gull.


 In flight, the only decent flight shot I got. Note the rather broad tailband, rather white inner tail and rump, not apparently unlike what one would expect in YLG? I was quite struck by the tail pattern and rump as being quite good for YLG. Note however, a small number of Argentatus  do show this rather Mich like tail pattern and the white tips to the tail feathers are a litle thin and irregular for a Yellow-legged Gull.  In flight the greater covert's look ok for YLG, but not the inner primaries. Here the feathers look pale, with light lozenges on outer webs of P1-P3, better for Herring Gull. This for me is the clinching feature and leads me to the conclusion that this is an early fledged Argentatus showing early scapular moult and a tail pattern that is rather Mich like. Note here the flanks are rather finely marked, lacking the large blotched marking usually associated with Yellow-legged Gull.


At rest here, looking too short winged for a Yellow-legged Gull. Again note the classic, notched greater coverts, supporting Argentatus. All things taken into acount this seems fine as a Herring Gull, albeit one that shows some characteristics of YLG. Here in Sweden, the presence of these big northern Argentatus types make identification of Yellow-legged Gull even tougher, due to structural simularities in the first instance, whilst birds showing Mich like tail patterns and darker plumage only serve to further compound the identification on occasion. Careful observation, patience and assessing the full suite of features involved require good views and experience and not a little objectivity. 

Gulls at Skeppsbron; 11th August 2014

Above and below; Caspian/Herring Gull intergrade, still present it seems. Note again the small, dark notch on P5 in the flight shot below. This gull has already been fully dicussed here a few Days ago, scroll down for more...




1st Calender Baltic Gull, one of at least six birds in it's age Group at the site today..


Nice to finally get some images of this 2nd calender Baltic Gull on the deck and Close to the lens...


Above; A juvenile Herring Gull already showing moulted scapulars? by far the most advanced bird at the site today. Could this a bird born earlier in the year to the south? Very unusual to see moult this early in Herring Gull, though greater covert's seemed off for Yellow legged Gull? The inner primaries seemed rather pale in flight, though the head looked pale, with a darkish mask around the Eye, the uppertail and rump looked rather white...
Below; A trio of loafing juveniles awaiting handouts...




Above and Below; A cracking 'Omissus' type Herring Gull, a full adult this one. Note the limited black in the wingtip and lack of dark markings at the tip of the  newly grown P5.The new P6 is growing out and shows only a smal dark fleck on the outer web, clearly seen in the image below. note the Bright yellow tone of the legs...
 


Above and below; A couple of shots of 3rd Calender Argentatus Herring Gulls, at least 5 birds in this age class present today...note the moult below on the flying bird, with a rather diffuse dark band on P5.


Images and discussion on todays gulls at Skeppsbron, the highlight being the appearance of the Caspian/Herring Gull today, nice to see it still in the area. Gull numbers were good today, and the number of birds at the site is slowly rising. all four age Groups of Baltic Gull were represented with 6 1st calender, 1 2nd calender, 1 3rd calender and good numbers of adults present. A brief adult light mantled Lesser Black-backed Gull was nice and looked like a new bird, it didn't hang around and avoided the camera. Another hihlight was a very nice 'Omissus' Herring Gull, a fine looking adult bird.

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Baltic Gull; Juvenile Plumage; Skeppsbron; 6th August 2014

A tiny individual, This bird was smaller than a Common Gull and perhaps was the runt of it's siblings. These birds have had a fantastic breeding success this year, in other less productive years it is probable the youngest chicks, perhaps such as this, would not survive.


A warmer toned bird here, compare with the colder toned birds below...
  
 
 
A pair of Baltic Gulls ar rest, these two are very simular and are probably siblings.. 
 
Above and below; the same individual which tends towards the darker end of the spectrum. These are very variable birds in plumage appearance..





In flight, showing typical tail pattern here, a rather warmly toned individual this one...


A paler type bird with brown tones through the plumage...


Direct comparison with a Herring Gull...


Images here of some of the first calender Baltic Gulls present a skeppsbron today, at least 9 birds present, this pecies has had an excellent breeding year this year....

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Caspian Gull; 3rd Calender Plumage; Skeppsbron; 6th August 2014

Note here the small head, long parallel sided bill, small dark Eye, high chested appearance. The tibia were noticably long, in direct comparison to Herring Gull, the bird looked noticably longer legged on land. Aged by second generation P7-P10, as well as second generation covert's.


The small dark eye and thin red orbital ring can be seen here, as well as the long, parallel sided bill with rather reduced gonydeal angle. Small, diffuse dark markings near the bill tip help age the bird. Note the long necked appearance here and second generation covert's...


Note here the rather long legged appearance of the bird, a striking bird on the deck.. The legs were pink.


Here the bird looked rather less attentuated at the rear, with perhaps a shorter primary projection than might be expected of Caspian Gull? The long tibia and high chested look are again apparent in this photo..

Again here, the bird looking very long necked. On the water the bird was still striking and stood out from nearby Herring Gulls, though again there is a rather less attentuated rear than might be expected. The small dark eye and profile of the head and bill was rather consistent and allowed the bird to be easily picked out.


 
The open wing here showing P5 has grown out, showing only a small dark wedge, not a complete dark sub terminal band. This is not textbook and suggests this may not be a pure Caspian Gull and may point to some Herring genes. The tail is also atypical for third calender Caspian Gull, if within variation, the dark tail marking are diffuse. Note the second generation P8-P9. It seems P6-P7 have been dropped, whilst P1-P5 are new, third generation feathers.


The bird twisting in flight, allowing a superb view of the tail. The tail band is very diffuse indeed and whilst within the variation of Caspian Gull, it would be considered more typical of Herring Gull and may also lead to doubts as to whether this bird has not got some Herring Gull genes, particularily when the small dark wedge on P5 is considered.


The underwing here show faint brown traces, again not textbook Caspian at this age. Again, the lack of a complete dark subterminal band on P5 is the key feature overall, the small dark wedge present can be seen on the far upperwing here.

My regular daily checks of the gulls at the site continued today. I had been onsite for around 40 minutes and had been feeding bread for around ten minutes when I fisrt noticed this bird after it flew in and landed on the water. The long, parallell sided bill, small dark eye and head shape immediately flagged the bird, which I soon managed to coax onto the dockside with bread. On land the bird was even more striking, displaying a remarkably long legged appearance due to the long tibia. I spent about 40 minutes observing the bird, carefully noting all the features discussed above. The bird ticked a lot of boxes with regard to identification as Caspian Gull, certainly looking the part structurally. The jizz in particular was striking, the birds small headed appearance, combined with high chest, long legs and general carriage. It was slightly smaller than the Herring Gulls present and constantly recalled Common Gull in many ways, due to the appearance of the clean white head, small dark eye and the facial appearance. The small dark wedge on P5 was noted in the field, something which did not bother me at the time as I thought it might be within variation for the species, such was the overall impression of the bird. It was only later on, when the photos were processed and posted that full consideration was given. Comments on the bird were forthcoming from Peter Adriens and Jan Jorgensen in particular, who expressed concerns as to the marking on P5 in particular. The diffuse tail markings were more of a minor concern as they fell within variation for the species. However, when taken into consideration, the absence of a full subterminal band on the fifth primary, combined with diffuse tail band, lead to doubts as to whether this is a pure Caspian Gull.
 Naturally, Stockholm is on the northwestern edge of this birds occurance and as such is close to the more western breeding colonies of Caspian Gull, where hybrids are well documented, particularily in Poland amongst other countries. It is to be expected that some birds of mixed genetic parentage can and do occur, making identification fraught at times. It seems that this bird is likely not to be a pure Caspian Gull, all features taken into account. For me. personally, this remains a stunning gull and the probability of the bird not being a pure Cachinans does not detract from the experience. I think at times, the need for observations to have to fit neatly into a species bracket can stifle birding experience and not every bird is assignable to category. That's fine. Not every bird falls into the bracket of a slam dunk identification, and whilst a textbook, easy individual is always welcome, birds like these help further knowledge. So, Caspian Gull proceeded by a full stop? No it's not. Caspian Gull proceeded by a question mark? Yes, it surely is. Does it really matter?
I would like to thank Peter Adrians and Jan Jörgensen for their invaluable help and expertise with regard to this bird.

Light Mantled Lesser Black-backed Gull; Graellsi/Intermedius; Adult Plumage; Skeppsbron; 6th August 2014

A cracking light mantled adult type Lesser Black-backed Gull onsite today, the first adult I have seen this year at the site.

Note moult in the primaries, P1-P5 are new feathers. P6 is dropped, whilst the outer P7-P10 are older, worn remiges.
 
 
 
Direct comparison with an adult Baltic Gull, showing difference in tone of upperparts, strikingly paler...

Light Mantled Lesser Black-backed Gull?; 3rd Calender Plumage; Skeppsbron; 6th August 2014

Interestingly, it seems this bird has a retained 1st generation P10, the ouermost primary feather. this is probably the result of a retarded moult on the birds second cycle, which happens occasionally. P4-P9 are second cycle feathers, also worn and abraded, though not nearly as abraded and faded as the older outer primary. P1-P2 are growing out, thus this bird displays primaries from three seperate annual moult cycles. P3 has been dropped. Note the small white mirror at the tip of P9 and feint whit primary tip.



Note here new central tail feathers, beginings of moult on the inner primaries. The mantle and scapulars have largely been replaced and are rather light in tone. Also there are a couple of fresh greater covert's on the right wing, easily seen in this shot. The iris is pale.

Photos here of a third calender Lesser Black-backed Gull, this bird showing a very interesting moult pattern...The bird seems light in tone, prompting thoughts of intermedius/graelsii, though the moult is a little less advance than one might ecpect fpr that and could fit with Baltic Gull? I strongly suspect the bird is of light mantled form, due to the tail moult and light tones on the mantle and scapulars.

Baltic Gull; 2nd Calender Plumage; Skeppsbron; 6th August 2014

At rest on the water. Note the tones on the bill, typical streaking on the head and neck, dark Eye, brownish tones on  the rather dark upperparts...




Underwing, rather white on the underwing, with some coffee brown marking on the lesser and greater underwing coverts...





 Note here the two innermost primaries can be seen growing out, the first of the third generation remiges. A nice view of the tail pattern in this shot.

Images here of a second calender year Baltic Gull, this bird has been in the area for some time now, but had managed to avoid the camera lens until today. One of two birds in this age group in the area.