Monday, 27 July 2015

Black-headed Gulls

So the Black-headed Gulls arriving in Leicestershire are not necessarily local breeding birds despite the fact it is still July.

At Shawell there has been a steady build up of Black-headed Gulls. At the beginning of July there was just four, then 32 appeared including a few juveniles, then 200 and by the 25th over 1000 were present. It is easy to think that the first small group had come from a local source. However, amongst the small group seen on 11th was one ringed in Poland and another ringed in Croatia.

So far this month I have recorded five colour-ringed Black-headed Gulls: three from Poland and one each from England and The Netherlands. This is not bad considering I've only successfully read 23 at Shawell since 2012. They are quite distant and the codes are very small. I have treated myself to a new scope with 70x magnification, so hopefully the extra 10x will improve my strike rate.

I have sightings of colour-ringed BHGs from Croatia, Denmark, England, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Scotland and The Netherlands. 

It just goes to show that a species we generally take for granted can turn out to be interesting.

TNCT Originally Ringed in Southern Poland was at Shawell on 25/07/15. Photo Tomascz Iciek

Sunday, 26 July 2015

Hooded Merganser

Just before lunchtime I was sitting down watching the rain falling heavily on my living room window. My phone rang and it was Colin Green and he sounded quite excited. He and Pete Asher had lost their senses and were out birding in the rain at Brascote Pits. They had spotted a small 'merganser' and thought it might be a Hooded Merganser. I looked at the rain on the window and then my wife and said 'hold the dinner I'm off to help Colin and Pete'.

On arrival I could sense something was wrong. True to form it had flown from its original location and they had lost it. 

Luckily Colin re-found it on one of the other pools. It was distant and appeared wary - good sign. It then completely let itself down by swimming directly towards us and came as close as it could. With better views we confirmed the identification.

Lovely duck, but sadly not the 200th genuinely wild bird for SW Leicestershire I'm afraid. 

Female Hooded Merganser

Good Times at Shawell

Gulls are starting to disperse having already bred and as a result more legs are appearing with colour rings. I read 28 colour rings yesterday including another Polish ringed Black-headed Gull. 

One of the colour-ringed gulls was a second calendar year Lesser Black-backed Gull, blue VX5M, ringed in Denmark. Nothing remarkable about the sighting at Shawell, but this morning I had an hour at the breeding site in Leicester and there was VX5M sitting on the roof in Leicester. This definitely links the two sites. The site in Leicester has food on offer at the re-cycle plant, which attracts roaming feeding birds as well as the breeding ones - maybe a Yellow-legged or Caspian Gull will be sitting on the roof sometime soon?

After last weekend's juvenile Caspian Gull/Yellow-legged Gull/hybrid I was hoping for some easier gulls. 

Anyway I spotted a gull on the main A5 Lagoon that immediately looked like a Caspian Gull, but a really small one - most likely a female. The small size was further exaggerated by the fact that its new primaries were still growing. I took some video of it and whilst watching it, I realised that it had a yellow colour ring. I can't read the code, but from what I can see, it may be either a Lithuanian or German ring. It could also be Polish, but I think it has numbers in the code and the Polish ones should have four letters. Of course this colour ring helps prove my identification, or at least that it originated from a good location.

Third-summer Caspian Gull (presumed to be a female), Shawell A5 Lagoons, 25/07/15

Third-summer Caspian Gull, Shawell A5 Lagoons

Although this gulls looks almost adult like, it still had black in the outer primary coverts. The primary pattern was almost adult like. P5 is not visible in the photo below and may well be moulted and not re-grown, or just hidden behind P6. The longest primary has a nice white tip.

Third-summer Caspian Gull, Shawell A5 Lagoons

One thing that is important when working with gulls is to realise that they are extremely variable. Size difference between the sexes can be massive. I saw a large adult male Yellow-legged Gull yesterday that completely dwarfed another adult stood close by.

Monday, 20 July 2015

Marbled White

Whilst I was scratching about at Shawell GP on Sunday trying to get a view of the pits to do my WeBS count, I came across about 20 of these stunners.

They are restricted to only a few locations in the East Midlands as far as I know, so this is a good addition to their local range.

Marbled White Butterfly, Shawell GP, 19/07/2015

Saturday, 18 July 2015

Juvenile Caspian Gull Completes the Full Set or Does It?

I was back at Shawell today searching through hundreds of second year LBB Gulls in the hope of re-finding the Baltic Gull. I didn't manage that but I did see a lot of worn and faded primaries.

So what set have I completed? Juvenile gulls of course. Gulls don't keep their juvenile plumage for long, so it's good to get them early.

By 'A Full Set' I mean juvenile Lesser Black-backed , Herring, Yellow-legged and Caspian Gulls.

Juvenile Yellow-legged Gull, Shawell A5 Lagoons

The first juvenile Yellow-legged Gull arrived on July 4th and up to five have been present since although only one was around today. The first juvenile LBB Gulls turned up on the 8th and at least 20 were there today. Next came Herring Gull with one on the 15th and two today, So that only leaves juvenile Caspian Gull.

I wasn't really expecting a juvenile Casp, because they usually turn up in the UK in August. They are early breeders so one could arrive. Its not far to Poland or east Germany as the gull flies after all.

I spotted a gull this afternoon on the lagoons and said to Steve Nichols that it looked like a juvenile Caspian Gull. 

Juvenile Caspian Gull?, Shawell A5 Lagoons, 18/07/15 - Video Below

It was quite a small one so presumably a female. I was pleased to see that it revealed long gangly legs when it stood up in the shallow water. It is typically high breasted, elegant and has the snouty look about it. The dark centred greater coverts are spot on as well. We watched it fly off and I was relieved to see it had a blackish tail bar and clean white upper tail coverts, plus whitish underwings. I haven't heard of another juvenile Caspian Gull in the country yet, so this maybe the first this year.

That said, a question has been raised over its identification based on the contrast between the upper and lower parts. I have been asked to check as it is difficult to rule out a juvenile YLG.  At present the opinion has swung back around in favour of my original identification. Clearly this is a difficult one, so any opinions will be gratefully received. Gulls can be very complicated and thought provoking and at present my head is beginning to hurt a little!

It was quite distant, so once again it was better to video it.

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