Sunday, 17 September 2017

Yes You Guessed It - More Caspian Gull Stuff

It's been a great couple of months for enjoying the young Caspian Gulls at Shawell. These are the vanguard of a major range expansion of this species. Herring Gulls need to watch out or they will find themselves pushed out.

A juvenile Caspian Gull was a major prize a few years ago, but now you could reasonably expect to see one anywhere gulls gather in large numbers in England. Of course you need to have done your work to understand how to identify them.

The window of opportunity is quite tight, as they begin moulting almost as soon as they have made it here. In fact most have replaced a few scapulars by the first or second week of August. By mid-September some are in almost complete first-winter plumage. This is one of the ways of helping to distinguish Caspian and Yellow-legged Gulls from Herring and Lesser Black-backed Gulls in their first few months. However, by mid-September quite a few of them are moulting too although they still look fresher. Caspian and Yellow-legged Gulls are born about a month earlier than the other two.

A Juvenile Caspian Gull's plumage is quite dull. The one below is typical of what to look for: very little patterning on the greater coverts (GC from now on). The inner GC are plain dull brown and the outer GC are a mixture of off white and brown. The darker inner GC often appear similar to the Nike swoosh logo. The median coverts (MC) and the lesser coverts (LC) are plain brown with buffish edges (if you don't know the feather tracts I'm talking about just enjoy the pictures). Of course the small head, long legs and the long winged appearance all help.

Juvenile Caspian Gull, Shawell, August 10th 2017

The one below shares all the feature of the one above and has a real dagger of a bill. Caspian Gulls love to just sit about.

Juvenile Caspian Gull, Shawell, August 12th 2017

The next one was quite distant, but you can still see the general plumage features and the washed out brown colour really shows well in this image. The whiteness of the head is a helpful although only when seen in conjunction with the rest of the features. The hanging rear belly is another feature of Caspian Gull, but it's not always like that and they can lose it two seconds after you see it.

Juvenile Caspian Gull, Shawell, August 24th 2017

By early September some of the scapular feathers have been replaced and a greyness starts to appear. The coverts still show that plain dull brown colouration.

Moulting Juvenile Caspian Gull, Shawell, September 9th 2017

You can clearly see the replaced scapulars on the next one

Moulting Juvenile Caspian Gull, Shawell, September 16th 2017

The next two images are of a German ringed bird X454. This one is a little trickier because it often looks a little short legged and dumpy. Not all the time though and care has to be taken with judging Caspian Gulls jizz, as they are very good at being shape changers. As you can see it has already moulted some of its median and lesser coverts, which is very good Caspian Gull pro feature. Its juvenile coverts are all OK, as are its tertials. I will give it the benefit of the doubt, but with the proviso that we watch it develop - good things these colour rings. Not all Caspian Gulls are sleek with a long straight bill and super long legs.

First-Winter Caspian Gull, Shawell, September 16th (X454)
First-Winter Caspian Gull, Shawell, September 16th (X454)

X739 is a smart looking bird although my photo hardly does it justice. As you can see this one has moulted its scapulars, but none of its coverts yet.

First-Winter Caspian Gull, Shawell, September 14th (X739)

The next one a first-winter has moulted its mantle and scapular feathers plus a few median coverts and is the most advance one I've seen so far.

First-Winter Caspian Gull, Shawell, September 16th

The last one X735 is a stinker. If you look closely its greater coverts are chequered and its jizz is more like that of a Herring Gull. Also the size of the markings on its scapulars are a little too bold. I might be doing it an injustice, but I think its a hybrid HG X CG. Its colour ring is not visible but it is the one with its head up.

First-Winter Hybrid, Shawell, September 16th (X735)

Saturday, 16 September 2017

A Barrow Load More Caspian Gulls

I had a great day at Shawell today - 32 colour-rings read and six or seven more Caspian Gulls found.

The highlight amongst the colour-rings was a crop of juvenile Lesser Black-backed Gulls: two from Norway, and singles from the Channel Islands, Denmark, Germany and The Netherlands.

An obvious Caspian Gull hybrid from Germany was also interesting.

Here's my favourite Caspian Gull of the day:

First-Calendar Year Caspian Gull, Shawell 16/09/17

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Moulting Juvenile Caspian Gull

I had an hour after work at Shawell yesterday and three of the Caspian Gulls that I saw last Saturday were still there. This beast is a real smart creature - and a real bully.

I have now seen 49 different Caspian Gulls (give or take a few, as some duplication is inevitable especially as the juveniles age and alter their appearance).

Sunday, 10 September 2017


Whilst I was in Scotland a couple of weeks ago I took a visit to Burghead and I was pleasantly surprised to find about 90 Kittiwakes roosting on the seaward side of the Harbour wall.

Amongst them was a juvenile with a series of uncoded colour-rings. After a bit of detective work I managed to find out that it had been ringed at Finistère, Brittany, France on July 5th 2017. This is quite an impressive northward dispersal from its natal colony. I also learnt that it's mother has reached the ripe old age of 22. 

The Kittiwakes proved to be very photogenic especially the juveniles.

Saturday, 9 September 2017

Caspian Gull Extravaganza at Shawell

It has been another busy two weeks. I was in Scotland on holiday last week so no time for blogging and this week has been all about catching up and becoming a Grandad!

My son's partner Trina gave birth to a wonderful baby boy called Riley.

I managed to steel a few hours at Shawell today and what a session I had. Three colour-ringed Caspian Gulls were the highlight, but in total I had ten Caspian Gulls. Seven juveniles that were all moulting into first-winter plumage, but still very juvenile like and also three second-summers/winter.

The first Caspian Gull in the video is the one with the bi-coloured bill (black tip pink base) the other two are fairly obvious: the one with the yellow colour-ring and the one on it's own.

Two of the colour-ring Caspian Gulls were from near Bad Duben and the other one from Grabendorfer See - Germany.

First Calendar-Year Caspian Gull, Shawell September 9th 2017

Sunday, 20 August 2017

Norwegian Gulling Trip

Last year I found a colour-ringed gull at Shawell that had been ringed in a Baltic Gull colony in Norway. The Horsvaer archipelago is the home to about 400 pairs of Baltic Gulls Larus fuscus fuscus. However, Norwegian gull colonies are tainted with a reputation of containing both pale and dark backed gulls. The adult gull I saw at Shawell (J727) looked the part - small and elegant, long-winged and very black. However, another gull from Horsvaer had been recorded in Britain and that one looked a little too pale.

I had been chatting with Morten Helberg in Norway who had been studying the gulls on Horsvaer and he invited me to come see for myself. It took a while but on August 1st 2017 I flew to Oslo and met up with Morten.

Morten knows how to show a visiting birder a good time. He whisked me off to the local tip where we were soon enjoying close up views of colour-ringed intermedius Lesser Black-backed Gulls and Herring Gulls.

Lesser Black-backed Gull L. f. intermedius

Next he had set up an impromptu ringing session. We went to another tip and set up a portable trapping rig. Loads of bread and dog biscuits attracted a group of gulls almost instantly. Once that trap was full we rushed over a threw a blanket over the trap. The main prize was an adult Great Black-backed Gull. The GBBG was ringed by Jon Evenrud and it managed to take some chunks out of his arm. Morten showed me how to ring the gulls and then set me loose. I ended up ringing two juvenile Herring Gulls although Morten fitted the colour-rings as they required a bit of practice.

And then it was off to the beach where Morten lassoed gulls to order.

Second Calendar-Year Herring Gull

I stayed the night at Morten's place where he has a lake on his doorstep as well as a forest. Before bed we enjoyed close views of a couple of Eurasian Beaver and a Nightjar.

The next morning we re-visited the tip and read lots of colour-rings. The highlight for Morten was reading the metal ring on an adult Great Black-backed Gull from Finland. Afterwards we caught a couple of flights north and ended up in a lovely town called Brønnøysund, which is in Nordland. We were to spend a couple of days checking the gull colonies on a series of islands collectively named Horsvaer. Our boat man, Runar,  collected us from the airport and within minutes we were on board his boat and making ready to set sail.

Runar's Boat is Called Teist, Which is Norwegian for Black guillemot

The sea was flat and in no time we had reached the islands. The skipper steered us to a sheltered mooring just as it was getting dark. Not far away on the nearest island a White-tailed Eagle was roosting on a wooden pole and Black Guillemots were splashing about near the boat. 

I woke early and the scene that awaited me as looked out of the port hole took my breath away.

I spotted my first Baltic Gull of the day before the rest of the crew were up. It was perched on the pier behind the fishing boat in the picture above.

Once we had eaten breakfast we put to work ringing the Baltic Gull chicks.

Adult Baltic Gulls with Two Chicks Bottom Left
Baltic Gull, Horvaer, August 2017
Baltic Gull, Horvaer, August 2017
Baltic Gull, Horvaer, August 2017
Presumed Baltic Gull Chicks
Presumed Baltic Gull Chick

Over the two days we ringed just over 60 presumed Baltic Gull chicks and one Great Black-backed Gull chick. This is represents a good breeding season for the Baltic Gulls, as often they struggle to fledge any. It was surprising to see that some pairs were still incubating eggs whereas some pairs had young that were on the wing. The overall situation was that the Baltic Gulls looked the part small, elegant, long winged and very dark looking. We did, however, find a couple of pale backed Lesser black-backed Gulls although we couldn't be certain if they were breeding in a mixed pairing. They weren't paired as they were about 45 km apart.

The islands they nest on are a far cry from the roof of the Braunstone Industrial estate in Leicester where their closely related cousins breed.

Abandoned Houses at the Location of the Last Colony on the First Day
The Sun Setting at the End of My First Day on Horsvaer

Brønnøysund is famous for Torghatten mountain - a rock with a hole through it.
Legend tells of a warrior who shot an arrow through the rock - or something like that. We came across the mountain when it was almost dark, but you can get the idea from the photo.

Torghatten mountain

A fantastic trip - thanks Morten.

Saturday, 12 August 2017

Juvenile Caspian Gull

The large male juvenile Caspian Gull was still at Shawell today and a new smaller presumed juvenile female was there too. On top of that one maybe two first-summer Caspian Gulls and a colour-ringed juvenile Yellow-legged Gull (subject to agreement by ringer). It had a German colour-ring, but that doesn't mean it was ringed in Germany. Colour-ringed Yellow-legged Gulls are rare in the UK, so this was an exciting find.

Juvenile Caspian Gull, Shawell 12/08/17

Juvenile Yellow-legged Gull HD430, Shawell, 12/08/17

Friday, 11 August 2017

Shawell Offers Up a Summertime Prize

I was away in Norway last week, which generated lots of office work, so apologies for my silence. I will write a post about Norway shortly, but here's an update of a successful evening at Shawell.

Loads of gulls present and the prey for the visit fell nicely in to my lap. I was hoping for a juvenile Caspian Gull and a great beast of a bird was holding court.

Photography is difficult due to the distance but all the features are there to see on this one. Milky brown upperparts, plain brown coverts with the Nike swoosh on the greater coverts, long legs and small headed etc.

Juvenile Caspian Gull, Shawell, August 10th 2017

Sunday, 30 July 2017

Pied Flycatcher

My highlight this weekend has to be the Pied Flycatcher at Croft Hill. I had been over to Brascote early morning and just before I set off back home I checked my phone and noticed I'd missed a message from Adey Baker. I hadn't realised he was back from his holiday, so I texted him to say I had gone to Brascote. Shortly after he texted back saying he was on Croft Hill and he'd had a brief view of what looked like a Pied Flycatcher. Soon he messaged me again and this time he said he'd got a photo and it was a Pied Flycatcher.

My plans for the morning had altered and I headed to Croft. It took us quite a while to relocate it, but the time was well spent as we also found a family of Spotted Flycatchers.

'Female Type' Pied Flycatcher Croft Hill

Juvenile Spotted Flycatcher, Croft Hill

Croft Hill is one of the best sites to find Pied Flycatchers in Leicestershire. Pied Flickers are scarce migrants in the county. Below are the most recent records from the site:

2004: a male on April 24th (CDB, ABa). 
2008: a male on April 18th (DT), plus two females/immatures during September: one from 8th to 10th (NWH et al) and another on the 27th (ABa, CDB).
2012: a female/immature on September 2nd (ABa).
2015: single females/immatures on August 7th (CDB, ABa, RBa) and August 16th (CDB, ABa).
2016: a single female/immature on August 21st (CDB, ABa, DT).
2017: a single female/immature on July 30th (ABa, CDB)

Monday, 24 July 2017

Weekend Report

Saturday was a good day. It started with me finding a pair of Barn Owls in a barn that I have been checking for about 30 years. I've seen pellets occasionally but it was great to see a couple of owls in there. At Shawell the Red Kite invasion had increased to 17 birds.

Red Kite

As well as the tricky gull in the previous post I saw a couple of Caspian Gulls and many Yellow-legged Gulls. Amongst the Yellow-legged Gulls were five smart juveniles.

Juvenile Yellow-legged Gull

Can You Spot the Caspian Gull?

On Sunday I was at Brascote Pits in the morning and three juvenile Common Terns were there and when they landed on the shore I checked for colour rings and surprisingly they were all ringed. Each one had a yellow colour ring - U24, U25 and U26. These 3 juvs were rung on the same raft on Meadow lake at Watermead Country Park on 27/6/17.

Juvenile Common Tern
The Shelduck brood were doing well, as were the three young Oystercatchers.

Adult and Young Ostercatcher

Sunday, 23 July 2017

Possible Heughlin's Gull

On Saturday I found a gull at Cotesbach tip that ticked all the boxes in part one of the Altenburg Criteria (identification of first-summer Baltic Gull) but it possibly falls down because of the second part of the criteria. However, if it isn't a Baltic Gull then what is it. Structurally it seems to fit Baltic Gull. However, it seems to be a strong Heughlin's Gull candidate. Or, maybe it is a very interesting gull just outside of our current knowledge range and so should remain un-identified? One regular contributor on Facebook's WP Gull Group said if he had to chose he would go for Heughlin's Gull. I was concerned about the complete set of fresh primaries, but check this out from the core range of Heughlin's in Russia 

Since 2014, during the summer months, I have been searching through the first-summer  Lesser Black-backed Gulls at Shawell looking for fresh looking black primary feathers. I struck lucky in July 2015 when I spotted a very good contender for a first-summer Baltic Gull at the landfill site. It is still residing with the BBRC and it may well be there for a while, as it would be the first or one of the first non-ringed Baltic Gulls accepted for Britain as far as I know.

The other LBBG sub-species moult their primaries in late autumn and there have been no proven records of either L. f. graellsii or L. f.intermedius that have moulted all their primaries, especially the longest ones, during the summer months. Studies using colour rings have failed to find any second calendar-year graellsii or intermedius having moulted all their primaries by July. Whereas L. f. fuscus generally moult their primaries whilst they are on their wintering grounds and so reappear in northern Europe with a set of new primaries in many cases. 

The criteria for separating first-summer L. f. fuscus (Baltic Gull) from the other sub-species during June, July and possibly August is as follows: (1) all retrices (tail feathers), secondaries and at least eight primaries are second generation (2) the upperparts are plain dark brown, mixed with dark grey to blackish-grey adult-like feathers. In some birds, the dark brown scapulars may have acquired paler fringes due to wear, while in others a faint pat- tern on the (greater) coverts may be visible. Birds that show scapulars and/or wing-coverts with ob- vious markings (cf plate 389) or unusually pale grey adult-type feathers (cf plate 390), however, should not be considered. Full paper HERE.

Heughlin's Gull doesn't yet have a full criteria to help identify extralimital examples.

I am awaiting on comments from Western Palearctic Gulls Group on Facebook. I have discussed it Mars Muusse one of the others of 'Field identification criteria for second calendar-year Baltic Gull' and he was impressed by this gull, but felt that the upperparts were a problem. Mars felt it wise to put it on hold until such time that more is understood about heughlini. There is a possibility that it could be a hybrid between Baltic and Lesser Black-backed Gull, but if so would the hybrid moult in line with Baltic Gull/advanced Heughlin's?

Second Generation Tail Feathers (Retrices)

Open Wing Showing Second Generation Secondaries
Another View of The Second Generation Secondaries (note neat unworn white tips and edges to the secondaries)

Saturday, 15 July 2017

Gulls at Last

I have only just started to get good views of the gulls again at Shawell. The tip face had been moved too far away to view and the disturbance from the dog walker has been bad at the lagoons. He is still causing problems, as management haven't caught him yet.

Anyway the last few weeks have been better since the tip area is now closer to the road, but still a little too far away. At least I'm reading some colour-rings again. The bulk of these ringed gulls are intermedius Lesser Black-backed Gulls, which may be a surprise as at one time we thought of these dark mantled gulls as winter visitors.

Amongst the horde of LBBG are a few Yellow-legged Gulls including some juveniles and I've had a couple of first-summer Caspian Gulls this week as well - one today and one on Thursday.

First-Summer Caspian Gull

The highlight at present, however, is the gathering of Red Kites. Fifteen were there today including two pristine juveniles.

Juvenile Red Kite