Wednesday, 28 September 2016

First-winter Caspian Gull at Shawell

I popped over to Shawell A5 Lagoons after work and there was a good gathering of gulls there. A new 'wave' of gulls arrived from the lagoons at the same time as something upset the ones already there. They all swirled around in front of me for quite a while.


Eventually they all settled back down on the water. Amongst them was a splendid first-winter Caspian Gull. What's more the gulls were fairly close, so I was able to get some decent record shots of it.

First-Winter Caspian Gull, Shawell A5 Lagoons
First-Winter Caspian Gull, Shawell A5 Lagoons

Monday, 26 September 2016

Weekly Report From Shawell

The number of Lesser Black-backed Gulls present at Shawell has fallen from the record breaking highs of earlier in the month. About 1200 were still present. Most of the intermedius LBBGs appear to have moved on although I still recorded three new colour ringed intermedius juveniles.

Adult Caspian Gulls were the feature of the week. The colour-ringed Polish bird first seen on August 20th was still around, plus another one that looked similar but lacked the colour ring and two less than perfect specimens.

Polish Ringed 5CY Caspian Gull, Yellow PKXS
Adult Caspian Gull

The next one is OK from a plumage point of view, but its not a perfect specimen.

Adult Caspian Gull

The last one is the oddest Caspian Gull type that I have seen so far. It is a sub-adult bird with an old 3 or 4cy type longest primary. Other than that it is quite mature. It was wearing a German colour ring and so it comes from a mixed colony. I think it best to add the caveat parentage unknown.





On Saturday afternoon a small influx of Great black-backed Gulls happened. In the morning there was just a single 2CY GBBG, but in the afternoon 20 adults arrived. There was also a noticeable arrival of Black-headed Gulls.

Adult Great Black-backed Gull

There are still plenty of Yellow-legged Gulls around with a best day count of 11 on Saturday.

Second-Winter Yellow-legged Gull

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

American Wigeon Plus a Tricky Stint

I missed out on seeing the American Wigeon at Cossington Meadows on my first visit, as it did a bunk for the full day. Luckily it was still there when I returned at the weekend. I had to drop off family members in Leicester city centre, so it was only a short drive to Cossington. The weather had been better on my first visit, but despite the dull light I soon picked it up. Its grey head with the dark flash was very easy to pick out amongst the Eurasian Wigeon.

Eclipse Drake American Wigeon, Cossington Meadows

After I had had my fill at Cossington I headed south to Shawell. The gull numbers had dropped from the peak earlier in the month. There were still quite a few colour-ringed Lesser Black-backed Gulls to look at plus a tricky juvenile gull that was probably a LBBG, but not a typical one.

Steve Nichols arrived in the afternoon and after a while something disturbed the assembled gulls and Lapwings. Whilst I was searching for the cause of their upset I noticed four small waders coming in from our left. We could see that one was a Ruff and another was a Ringed Plover. They headed to the shore and I kept my eye on the two unidentified waders. I quickly aimed my scope at them and gave directions to Steve. One was an obvious Dunlin and the other was significantly smaller and it was plain grey with a distinct breast band (pec band). Its legs were hidden, as it was crouching down the way waders do when a bird of prey is nearby. I noticed a slight pale supercilium in front of the eye and some faint dark marks on the feather centres of its upperparts. It was obviously a stint and Steve and I thought it was most likely a Temminck's Stint due to its plain grey upperparts and its full breast band. In less than a minute the four waders panicked and flew off very fast northwards.

Thinking about it later that evening I was concerned that the grey lacked any brown hues. I started to research whether a Little Stint could have a full breast band and discovered that some do. Very few photos show this feature on Little Stint, so I would say it is quite rare. It was an adult and adult Little Stints are not that common in Britain during autumn, but neither are Temminck's Stints. It would have helped if we could have seen the colour of its legs, but the cold grey colouration points more towards Little Stint and the fact that some can have a full breast band made us change our minds and conclude that it was actually a Little Stint. The paper by Peter Grant Identification of stints and peeps says that Little Stint can have a full breast band, but that the other similar waders don't share this feature apart from Temminck's Stint. For Temminck's it states plain grey-brown upperparts and this bird lacked any hint of brown, so I believe we ended up coming to the correct identification - it was a Little Stint.

It would have been better if it had stayed around, but that's birding!

Sunday, 11 September 2016

Good Times at Shawell

I'm sure it looks very simple, but getting good enough views of the gulls to read colour-rings can be quite a challenge. At the moment 'it's fill your boots time' because the gulls are loafing about in the sand quarry close enough to see their legs clearly. It still needs 70x magnification to read the colour rings but trust me they are close. The gulls are viewable from the footpath that runs along Gibbett Lane.

Can You See the Caspian Gull?

Sundays are generally quiet, as the tip is closed, but a sizeable flock was present today. This made up for missing out yesterday due to the torrential rain. I read 31 colour-rings this morning, which is very good.

The highlight was a Norwegian Lesser Black-backed Gull (J61E) that was ringed at Heimlaukøya, Lemmingsvær, Tranøy, Troms, Norway on June 26th 2010. Its first migration was quite an epic as it travelled all the way to Tanji Bird Reserve, Western Division, The Gambia - a distance of 6625 km from its birthplace. I believe this is the furthest south a LBBG seen in Leicestershire has migrated.

First Migration of Lesser Black-backed Gull J61E

The Polish ringed Caspian Gull (PKXS) that I first saw on August 24th was amongst the flock of gulls in the quarry. It looks quite odd at present as it has dropped its longest primaries.


Polish Ringed Caspian Gull PKXS

Careful scrutiny of the gulls revealed a few young Yellow-legged Gulls. It only seems five minutes since the juveniles arrived, but many of them have moulted most of their scapular feathers.


First-Calendar Year Yellow-legged Gull

At the lagoons a few gulls had gathered including a Dutch ringed juvenile Lesser Black-backed Gull and a first-winter Mediterranean Gull. The highlight, however, was a juvenile Hobby that put on quite a display as it flew low over the lagoon.


Dutch Ringed Lesser Black-backed Gull (1 || 4) and Juvenile great Black-backed Gull
First-Winter Mediterranean Gull

Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Juvenile Caspian Gull at Shawell Sand Quarry

I'm sure this is beginning to look like its easy, but I'm really pleased that I can spot these beasts amongst the thousands of gulls amassing at the site at present. These and other sightings of juvenile Caspian Gulls in England are the result of a great deal of effort over the years by the observers.

With practice the features shown by juvenile gulls can broken down and most times an identification can be made. Its a bit like cracking a code. The image below shows some of the important features when looking for a juvenile Caspian Gull: very white underwings, a full black tail band with the black reaching the outer edge of its tail and a clean white upper tail. The white head lacks the eye mask of a typical juvenile Yellow-legged Gull. Not all Caspian Gulls have such white underwings, but most juveniles and first-winters encountered at Shawell do have nice white underwings. Beware, juvenile Yellow-legged Gulls can have quite pale underwings, but it would be unlikely to encounter one with such clean white underwings as this one.

I found this one after work this evening and for once it stayed around.

Juvenile Caspian Gull, Shawell Sand Quarry, August 30th 2016


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