Saturday, 20 December 2014

Iceland Gull Again

Herring Gull numbers are building up and just as in late December 2013 there are at least two thousand visiting Shawell at present. The throng of gulls at the tipping area is a wonder to see, but it is not a great place to practice your identification skills, as the gulls are constantly on the move. A first year gull with a soft brown overall colour and brownish tertials and primaries grabbed my attention for about two seconds before it was sucked up into the mass of gulls. Anyway whatever my first impressions were I never saw that gull again. On the periphery of the tip I did see a smart first-winter Yellow-legged Gull that had solid brown coverts and tertials that contrasted nicely with its grey saddle. I had not seen a first-winter for a while, so it was good to see another.

There was no sign of the Iceland Gull that I found on Wednesday at the tip, so it was time to move to the A5 Lagoons and hope for better luck. It didn't take long to find a smart fourth-winter Caspian Gull - a new one.

Fourth-winter Caspian Gull

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

An Iceland Gull Finds its Way to Shawell

I had my usual Wednesday lunch break today at Shawell and I spotted what looked like a 'white-winger' resting amongst some gulls near the tip. It was facing me, so I couldn't see its primaries. Before I had the chance to confirm its identification, something spooked the gulls and they all took to the wing. Many were heading towards the A5 Lagoons, so I followed.

Hundreds if not thousands of gulls were at the lagoons, but initially I couldn't see any sign of the really pale bird. Working through the gulls I came across a second-winter Yellow-legged Gull and what may well have been a new hybrid Caspian x Herring Gull, but I didn't spend much time looking at it as I wanted the Arctic Wanderer.

It didn't appear to be at the lagoons but suddenly, as if by magic, it appeared on the far shore - it was an Iceland Gull - a result of last week's 'Weather Bomb'? Hopefully the first of many.

I have aged it as a third-winter, because of the bills lack of yellow and the patchiness of the coverts.

Third-winter Iceland Gull

Saturday, 13 December 2014

Another look at the advanced Third-winter Caspian Gull and a Puzzle

It was bloody freezing today at Shawell, but I felt it was my duty to keep the gulls company. Its not that often that you have to scrape the ice of your car windows during an afternoon, but that's what I had to do after finishing 'sea gulling'.

I managed to read the colour rings on five species of gull today, which may be a record for me at Shawell. The much hoped for white-winger didn't appear, so perhaps the 'weather bomb' has not fully exploded yet. The weather map earlier in the week looked great for pushing a few towards us but we'll have to be patient.

Since mid-October I have seen at least one Caspian Gull on each of my visits to Shawell, but today it looked as though I would be unsuccessful. Many gulls were out of site from my position, but after a bit of argy bargy amongst the gulls on the top of the bank I spotted the interesting regular third-winter lying down. It is interesting because it looks more like a fourth-winter: its tail still has most of the dark band, instead of a long white tip to its longest primary it has a large white mirror with a black tip to the feather and on the outstretched wing the black extends as far as the Alula. It could be a fourth-winter, but the extent of the black in the tail makes me feel more comfortable with third-winter.

Third-winter Caspian Gull

Saturday, 6 December 2014

Caspian Gull Extravaganza

Four maybe five Caspian Gulls were at Shawell today. The first was difficult to clinch as the sun was hampering viewing at the landfill site. The gull did, however, appear ok, but I couldn't photograph it amongst the melee on the tip face, so I'm not happy to claim it for certain.

I joined Steve Lister at the lagoons and soon found a gull to flag up as 'an interesting one', this is the code Steve and I use when we find a Caspian Gull - long story. Its head and bill were spot on, but its legs looked a little short. Whilst it preened we got an extended view of P10 and this matched the correct pattern for Caspian Gull. Steve commented that its legs were pink, but I judged the legs to be pasty pink rather than bubble gum pink. In the paper on Identification of Caspian Gulls, Part 1 Typical Birds, Gibbins et al it states: 'There is complete overlap in leg colour between cachinnans and the Herring Gulls of the eastern Baltic (from pure pink to lemon yellow) so this feature is of limited value'

I have done a quick trait score on the bird and it scores within the range of pure Caspian Gull. The legs are unusually short, but there is great variation in leg length amongst the other large gulls, so there is likely to be variation amongst Caspian Gulls also.

Adult Caspian Gull

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Possible 'Baltic yellow legged Argentatus'

I spotted another interesting gull at Shawell recently. It was amongst hundreds resting on the bank between the two lagoons. It looked like a Herring Gull, but it had obvious yellow legs. Unlike the recent probable hybrid Yellow-legged x Herring Gull, I could see no reason to suspect it was a hybrid. It is only a few days ago when talking about the probable Yellow-legged x Herring Gull that I said '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'. Well this gull has no obvious head streaking, but I believe it is a Herring Gull. The only thing that niggles me is the squarish head, which is more like a Yellow-legged Gull L.michahellis, but overall this gull feels much more like a Herring Gull.

Putative 'Baltic Yellow Legged Herring Gull'