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