Thursday, 8 October 2015

Another Azores Gull

After finding what I considered to be an adult Azores Gull (Larus michahellis atlantis) at the fish harbour in Portimao, Portugal I have been very keen to find another. In 2014 I drew a blank, but during my latest trip to Portimao I scored again.

These are very distinctive gulls, so much so I picked both out with the naked eye. 

Third-winter Azores Gull
Third-winter Azores Gull

The tone of grey is very distinctive on its own, but add the dark hooded effect created by the dense head streaking and you have a very unique looking gull. In addition the short legs and the robust body help to distinguish these gulls from other species. Though I'm not qualified to suggest that Azores Gulls should be treated as a separate species, I do think that from an identification point of view that they have a good claim to be treated as a full species.

The Algarve is a 'melting pot' for Yellow-legged Gulls and a mine field for anyone delving into the subject. Most of the Yellow-legged Gulls around Portimao are of the type we associate with the Mediterranean: large brutes with squarish heads and the typical tone of grey. Amongst them are some that you think hold on a minute that one doesn't look quite right. However, go as far south and west as you can go on the European mainland and things get more difficult. On the harbour wall at Sagres was a whole gang of adult Yellow-legged Gulls that were smaller, less brutish and probably paler than the typical Yellow-legged Gull most of us are familiar with. This for me is an on going challenge.

Below is one of the less typical gulls Yellow-legged Gulls that can be found amongst the ordinary ones. It has a hood that catches the eye, but the grey tone is too pale for an L.m. atlantis

Yellow-legged Gull
Third-winter Azores Gull
Third-winter Azores Gull
Third-winter Azores Gull
Third-winter Azores Gull
For images of the previous Azores Gull click HERE

Autumn in the Algarve

I have been away on my annual pilgrimage to the Algarve. The weather was fantastic, so was the local beverage - Sagres larger. Oh and the birding was excellent too.

It will take me a while to catch up due to loads of photographs to review and 104 gull colour-rings to process. As normal the harbour at Portimao was excellent for gulls as was the beach at Praia da Rocha. Elsewhere the birding was great and I managed to add some new birds to my Portuguese list. These included two Spanish Imperial Eagles, a Black Vulture and a smart Lesser Yellowlegs.

Below are some of the photos I've edited so far:

Black Vulture


Audouin's Gull

Juvenile Audouin's Gull

Balearic Shearwater

Cory's Shearwater

Sooty Shearwater

Great Shearwater

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

First year Caspian Gull

The timing of my arrival at Shawell mid-week was spot on. I always enjoy it if I get the opportunity to time my lunch break to co-incide with me being near Shawell. This week a massive wave of gulls came rolling in from the nearby landfill site just as I arrived. At least 18 Yellow-legged Gulls pitched down amongst the 1000+ gulls. However, the icing on the cake was a first year Caspian Gull - I never tire of seeing these beauties.

The main stand out features are its very long and flat backed profile and its white head. It has already replaced its mantle and scapulars feathers with pale grey ones with faint dark markings. The black marks on the same feathers on the young YLGs are much more distinctive. Its coverts are brown with very little else apart from pale edges. Its tertials are typical for this species showing the white 'finger nail' pattern at the tips.

Its bill is not exceptionally long or thin, but this is typical of this age. Once the feathers near the bill start to wear the bill should take on a longer appearance.

Sunday, 20 September 2015

Another good day at Shawell

A clear blue sky greeted me yesterday morning as I set off to Shawell, but mist soon hampered my progress. By the time I arrived at Shawell the morning mist had thickened considerably leaving me no option but to have a snooze in my car. The gulls had somehow managed to navigate from their night time roost site, as once the mist began to clear I could see thousands of them on the bank opposite me. At first the visibility was too poor to identify the species, but as it improved I managed to spot the second-winter Caspian Gull I first saw on Wednesday.

Second-winter Caspian Gull

As you can see the stand out feature is a small white head and a longish thin parallel sided bill. The plumage is typical of a second-winter: a grey mantle and a mostly grey median covert bar on the closed wing. The greater coverts are mainly dark greyey brown and the lesser coverts are brown and dirty white with a slight chequered pattern. The tertials generally stand out as being blacker than other similar species at this age and the white tips show a finger nail type pattern. As you can see this gull shows the typical tertial pattern. The tail had a lovely black band across its complete base. Its legs don't look exceptionally long in the photo above, but in other poses they look thin and long. It can be difficult to assess leg length and shape from photographs, as they can alter from one photograph to the next. The thinness is often only obvious when the gull is facing you, as their legs are not round. Its 'Persil' white head stood out a mile amongst all the other gulls.

I had a great day searching for colour rings, as several thousand Lesser Black-backed Gulls were present. In the end I read 26 colour-rings including some for the first time. Many of them were intermedius LBB Gulls from Norway.

The colour ring on the one below was a challenge to read, as the ring was obviously quite old and starting to wear. It looked like KLAS. This is from the Netherlands.

LBB Gull Green KLAS

There are still plenty of Yellow-legged Gulls at the site although fewer first year birds than last weekend. They are not quite so easy to identify now as the juvenile Herring and Lesser Black-backed Gulls are moulting their scapulars and mirroring some of the features that helped separate the young YLGs only a few days ago. Generally the YLG have whiter heads and shorter, thicker and blacker bills, but it can be fun.

A large third or fourth winter YLG caught my eye at the lagoons and stayed around for a while.

Yellow-legged Gull

Yellow-legged Gull

Yellow-legged Gull - note the adult like P10 that is just growing

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Caspian Gull

I spent a short while at Shawell at lunchtime today and amongst several thousand gulls was a nice second-winter Caspian Gull. As normal the falconer was there so the gulls were quite distant. Taking photos of gulls at this range with a strong breeze blowing is quite a mission, but I was able to get a few record shots.

The 70 x magnification, or power as the Americans seem to say, of my scope makes it possible for me to read colour-rings at distances of up to 400 metres if the codes are clear. One of my old (less of the old) favourites was there today - third calendar year Lesser Black-backed Gull C+F.  I have now seen C+F on 14 separate occasions. C+F is almost in adult plumage now, which is quite a transformation  from what he looked like back in January - see HERE