Saturday, 22 November 2014

Just Find the One With the White Head

I've heard it said that to find both Caspian and Yellow-legged Gulls at this time of year just look for the ones with the white heads - well it ain't that easy.

At Shawell, at the moment, there are some handsome looking adult Yellow-legged Gulls that are feather perfect, but there are also a few traps for the unwary (whoever the unwary are). Today I spotted an adult gull with yellow legs but something was not right about it, as far as YLG is concerned. Its legs and bill were not the right shade of yellow for me, its grey colouration was slightly too pale and its jizz was not quite right either. I considered 'yellow-legged' Herring Gull, but I would have liked to have seen a few dark streaks on its head at this time of year. I saw what appears to be the same gull in the afternoon and I could see that it had a few unusual dull dark markings - see the third photo down.

It is difficult to be sure but my gut feeling is that it could be one of the Dutch Yellow-legged x Herring Gulls. In the afternoon I saw a fourth-winter gull, which was similar, but it had much more white than black in its primary wing feathers. A couple of years ago Steve Lister and I saw a colour-ringed Dutch hybrid YLG at Shawell.

I'd be interested to get any opinions on this gull, as it is great to share thoughts on gulls like this. One thing for sure is that gulls keep things interesting and are always setting us challenges.

Possible Yellow-legged x Herring Gull
Possible Yellow-legged x Herring Gull
Note the Odd Markings Under the Tertials

Shortly after seeing the first odd looking gull I spotted the second-winter Casp x Herring Gull that I wrote about on 15/11/14. I saw it better this time and it was clearly a mixture of the two species, so I had been right to be suspicious of it in the first place.

At last, at about 11:00 a pure looking Caspian Gull appeared, but it didn't hang around for long. From what I could see it was a fourth-winter that I had seen previously.

Later on at the lagoons I spotted a clean white headed adult gull. Strangely enough it turned out to be another odd gull. Its bill was sort of Caspian like, but mainly in colour as it was quite short. Its eyes were pale, but not as pale as most adult Herring Gulls. Its wings were short and there was too much black on the longest primary (P10) for a Caspian Gull. It obviously isn't a pure Casp, so it's most likely a Casp hybrid or a very advanced Herring Gull - I favour a hybrid   Caspian x Herring Gull. 

So far this year I have seen 30 Caspian Gulls at Shawell that I consider to be OK, but I've also seen eight gulls that I consider to be hybrid Caspians. This is probably an accurate reflection of what we should expect in the UK, as the nearest breeding colonies are reported to have a similar percentage of pure compared to hybrid Caspian Gulls. Of course some of these hybrid type gulls are  impossible to be 100 % certain of their true parentage.

So if your looking for Caspian or Yellow-legged Gulls at the moment beware there are a few pitfalls to work through.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

A Mongrel Gull

I had a few hours off work today, and surprisingly I was back at Shawell. I soon spotted the very distinctive third-winter Caspian Gull that I saw yesterday, but it was a bit too foggy to get any decent images. 

Yellow-legged Gulls seem to have moved back north with at least 11, of various ages, seen at the lagoons today. Whilst trying to count the YLG's I came across a gull with yellowish legs, but something about it made me discount it and make a mental note to go back to it once I'd finished my sweep. 

Its bill was perfect in colour for a Caspian Gull, but maybe it was a little short. Its body shape was more Herring Gull like and its legs were also short, but maybe not so short as to rule out Caspian Gull. Its eyes were quite pale and its wing length appeared a tad short. Its longest primary feather (P10) has a long white tip, which is a pro-Caspian feature, but the black on the feather didn't look quite right. In one of the photos P10 looks reasonable, but in others not quite right.

Its jizz was generally more Herring Gull like than Caspian Gull.

Gulls like this are a challenge to in-experienced observers, especially those who think that all you need to do is look for a gull with a clean white head at this time of year.

Presumed Hybrid Caspian Gull

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Shawell Keeps On Attracting Caspian Gulls

Two Caspian Gulls were on show this lunchtime at Shawell A5 Lagoons. A new third-winter and what was probably the same fourth winter that I saw on November 8th. They were amongst the gulls on the bank between the two lagoons. 

Third-winter Caspian Gull

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Rugby Instead of Gulls

On Saturday I swapped the gulls for a day amongst the hordes of expectant English Rugby fans at Twickenham. 

England took on the might of South Africa and despite a valiant effort the English boys came up just short once again. The final score was South Africa 31 England 28. I'm sure if the three-quarter line can develop some confidence we will do well, but the English forwards fronted up and took the game to the South Africans. It was a great game and a great day out.

From my seat high up in the stand the players looked a little like ants, but the atmosphere was great especially when the English fans sang "swing low sweet chariot". The volume was deafening.

Wetting the Vocal Chords Before the game

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Is This The Real Deal?

I saw the probable hybrid second-year Caspian Gull, that I mentioned in my previous post, again on Wednesday, but this time at the A5 Lagoons.

When I first saw it at the landfill site I initially thought it looked OK, but there was something about it that made me question whether it was pure. It is not unusual for Caspian Gulls to look different from one minute to the next and this was the case with this bird. It wasn't by any means a classic and its coverts especially the greater coverts where not typical. Hybrids can be difficult, especially if they show mostly Caspian Gull like features. It could so easily be OK, but its pale eyes, larger than normal head and the pattern across the coverts left me feeling uneasy. 

It was difficult to photograph as it was always face on to me.

Probable Caspian x Herring Gull Hybrid