Monday, 30 December 2013

Elsham, 30th Dec 2013

It's been a long time since I enjoyed the sight of throngs of gulls following a familiar tractor on the North Lincs Wolds, and I was beginning to wonder what was happening to all the sh*t. But at dusk yesterday, from my vantage point down in the Ancholme Valley, an unusually large number of gulls headed north along the wolds to roost on the Humber. Dawn saw a vast column of birds streaming south into the wind over the villages of Bonby and Worlaby, and once I was finished I followed them up to a familiar spot - Newland Hill, Elsham. The sight of c5,000 gulls feeding voraciously within yards of the road was a delight to behold, just a shame the rain had arrived.

Within minutes of parking up, a soggy juv Iceland Gull materialised on the front edge of the flock, followed shortly afterwards by a smart 2cy Caspian Gull, the first of two present as a brief 1cy popped up later. The majority of the flock consisted of Herring Gulls, with a high proportion of big, dark argentatus, many stained with mud down their fronts.

The main interest of the day, however, stood out even from these ugly brutes as it hunkered down into the wind and rain at the back of the flock. Thoughts immediately turned to smithsonianus, due to the overall smooth darkness with constrasting pale head, dark mask and heavy pink-based bill. The relative immaturity of the upperparts for a 2cy, with just a handful of grey mantle feathers below the smooth dark shawl, made it look younger than nearby 2cy Herrings. But the greater coverts leapt out at me - a solid block of dark brown feathers with just a little marbling on the inners - wow. Tertials looked ok, with dark muddy bases, and the smooth brown body feathering extended well down onto the belly. But the tail... impossible to see at rest, and when it flew it gave me no notice, so the only photo is as good as useless. Another brief view on the deck and then the flock went up and I lost it into the rain - the tail looked dark, but then they can on 2w Herrings, and I couldn't say whether there was any pale in the outer edge.

Alas I won't be able to look again for a while now, but with a bit of luck the tractor will get back to work in January, and there will be plenty to look at for a month or two into 2014...

Saturday, 21 December 2013

Candles, 19-20th Dec 2013

Brief ad Casp in the twilight
An unexpected time window meant I could stop at the tip on the way home from work, but I arrived at the same time as the rain, and within the hour it was sleeting and almost dark! Still, partly as a result of the weather, the gulls were feeding like mad and amongst the melee I soon picked out a gleaming white head with a beady eye. A few wing-stretches and aggressive interactions revealed the tell-tale details, but the bill however was brighter than the recent couple of adult Caspians, suggesting it must be another new individual - that's 4 this month including Jim's bird from 10th.

The next day I had our smallest with me so restricted myself to a short lunchtime vigil by Horsehay Pool with a bag of chips to keep her busy. No Casps this time, but the juv Iceland Gull dropped in for a quick scrub up, despite having been missing from Salop and Belvide for a week. A few interesting grey mantles dropped in too, including a hulking bruiser of a 3w mich, a presumed hybrid HGxLB, and finally a mystery gull with a hint of 3w cach about it...
Big 3w mich

Hybrid type

3w mich? cach? hybrid?

Gallymoor, 18th Dec 2013

Left and right
A jam-packed work schedule in the run up to Christmas meant I could barely afford the bimonthly look at Gallymoor landfill en route between sites, but with a field full of gulls, it would have been rude not to stop. And before I'd even turned off the engine, I'd seen the creamy form of a 2cy Glauc on the edge of the flock - just what I was hoping for. Whilst similar in patchiness to last week's bird just across the Humber, it felt a bit more svelte - a female this time?

It's always worth one more scan though, and after a bit of a flush of birds off the tip, a slinky little 2cy Caspian Gull suddenly appeared. What a cracker!

Candles, 13th Dec 2013

An Iceland, but a big one
With a 4th birthday party to prepare for, my time was limited, but the juv Iceland Gull that had been roosting nightly at Belvide must be feeding on Candles, surely? Priorslee was crap, but the tip was buzzing, and after only 20 minutes or so a smooth creamy white form appeared - the Belvide Iceland. Result.
A trio of michs (ad, nr-ad and 1w) was a decent haul for such a brief visit.

The day before, the briefest of checks of Bagmoor in Lincs produced a mere 200 large gulls (compared to 2,000+ recently!) with a huge 2cy Glauc on the close edge (into the sun unfortunately).

Friday, 6 December 2013

Candles, 6th Dec 2013

It's beginning to feel a lot like winter...
cach 1
A couple of hours late afternoon under a bright but grey sky saw me back on the bank, enthralled by a feeding frenzy like it should be. Around 3,000 birds present, roughly 2:1 LBB:HG along with an impressive total of 80+ GBBs, and after the first near-ad mich appeared, the total soon escalated to 8 (3 ads, 2 near-ads, 3w, 2w, 1w). But the main excitement came from 2 stunning ad Caspian Gulls: a slinky thing that was only ever seen stood on a mound behind all the action, and a huge male in the thick of it that was later seen to be green-ringed, suggesting a German/Polish border origin...

green ring
what's darker, a mich or a tatus?!
 Hybrid interest stretched beyond the usual LBxHGs today in the form of a smooth, pale Viking-type that surely has some northern genes in it. Whilst Glauc is supposed to be the pasty parent in these things, it had more than a little Icelandiness to it...

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Candles, 15th Nov 2013

R:R8N - my first colour-ringed mich
It's been a while, but things have been quiet on the gulling front, with just a sprinkling of michs locally, despite the sudden appearance of a few Casps and wingers at other Midlands spots. The highlight was a smart 1w mich with white ring R:R8N on the tip on 15th which I have just heard was ringed as a pullus on 5th June at Le Roc, Les Portes-en-Re, Charente Maritime. That's 450 miles due south of Telford.

Let's hope there's a bit more variety around the corner...

Monday, 4 November 2013

Longnor, 4th Nov 2013

roadside cachinnans
After finding Venus Pool disturbed and deserted, tried for the Longnor Dippers but failed there too. However, on reaching the A49, c20 LBs flew from a potato field and landed in front of me, along with a cracking 1w Caspian Gull! Easy. Just a shame I didn't have a camera other than my phone with me...

Saturday, 2 November 2013

Candles, 31st Oct 2013

An overdue trip to the tip paid off in style when I was offered access to some much better views of the feeding gulls. Amongst c700 LBBs I was surprised to see barely any Herring Gulls, and of those that were present, many had a certain Scandinavian air to them. A monstrous ad GBBG stood out from the crowd, and I eventually racked up a total of 8 michs: 4 adults, a cachy near-adult, and single 3cy 2cy and 1cy.

The undoubted highlight though, despite brief views, was a lovely 2cy Caspian Gull with a heavy shawl and tiny bullet-hole eye. Could this age group be a feature of late autumn before the 1w birds get here?
Unusually hybrids appeared thin on the ground this time, but one adult with yellowy-flesh legs certainly felt a bit mixed-up.

Friday, 4 October 2013

Candles, 4th Oct 2013

Tried for a more thorough visit today in superb light, but on arrival c1,200 gulls, virtually all LBBs, took to the air and only a fraction landed in view. A desperate hour resulted in a big 1w mich and a remarkable 4 adult hybrids, all Herring x LBB types, a scarily dark juv LBB and an intriguing dinky fuscish thing...


Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Candles, 2nd Oct 2013

Autumn does tend to get in the way of the gulling. A week in Co.Clare for a big NW blow mid Sept was great, and a couple of visits to the east coast have coincided with a few bits of drift too. So it's suddenly been three weeks since I visited the tip - anything could have happened!

Super smart, shame it was so misty
Unfortunately an opportunity to have a quick look coincided with low cloud, the cloudbase sitting just below the level of the tip (Candles sits at 220m above sea level!). A glance from the bank produced a mere 40 LBBs loafing on the top, but with them was the 1cy Caspian Gull, looking smarter than ever! Awesome. Just a shame the visibility was so poor...

Check out that underwing (horribly tweaked for contrast!)
Probably c300 large gulls in total, and a 2cy mich but impossible to check them properly.

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Candles, 12th Sept 2013

standing out from the juvenile crowd

Despite there being only c400 gulls at the tip this morning during the 45 mins I was there, there was only one that mattered - the second of the juv Caspian Gulls, last seen on 29th August. A beauty.

compare heads and bills...
...lovely white underwing, pale primary window
what a belter

Also at least 4 juv michs still about, but didn't see any older birds this time.

Friday, 6 September 2013

Candles, 5th Sept 2013

Another homeward-bound visit was frustrating in the heat-haze, and the tipping area is less easily viewable now. However a satisfactory total of 9 michs (3 ads, 3cy, 2 2cy, 3 juvs) was attained, and the original big juv Caspian Gull made an appearance.

Goole Fields, 3rd-4th Sept 2013

It's that time of year again when the fields are alive with the sounds of harvest, and the gulls are spoilt for choice as to where to dine. The Lincolnshire Wolds flocks have been quiet for a few weeks, but a sudden flurry of combining and ploughing on my site on the northern edge of Thorne Moors has seen the arrival of upto 1,000 LBBs. A dusting of michs during the summer suddenly swelled to 14 in a flock of 380 LBBs on 3rd, and even from a distance I noticed a strikingly sepia juvenile. Closer inspection confirmed my initial thoughts -another juv Caspian Gull! Just a shame it was so late in the day when I found it, and then it was off to roost on the moors.

The next day the gulls were slow to gather, but eventually 450 LBBs had amassed in a ploughed field with 15 michs, and later on some friends had another 9 michs amongst 360 LBBs at the other end of the site - 24 michs in total! An elegant clean-headed adult caught the eye, and its washed out bare parts and slightly paler mantle pointed towards an obvious conclusion. However the retained outer primary looked wrong - a neat white mirror isn't what you'd expect on an ad Caspian Gull, but then examination of the photos revealed a worn P10 with a big white tip nestled behind the mirrored P9 - spot on.

Thursday, 29 August 2013

Candles, 29th August 2013

After a day at work, an opportunity arose to have another quick look at the gulls, daughter number two in tow. A cloud of birds erupted from the tip as we approached and all landed in the field. A couple of adult michs stood out as well as a very dark-backed LBB. It wasn't only blackish, it had brown tones too, which is a feature of fuscus, and as it preened it revealed an almost full set of primaries, only P1/2 were missing. Again, such late moult would be unusual for intermedius, but as it was not a particularly small bird or very elongated, it just can't be proved one way or the other.

As I watched the field, a very white-bellied juv gull flew off towards the tip, and it was enough to tempt me after it. Minutes after parking up, there it was on the tip itself - a spanking juv Caspian Gull! Its pallid tones and smaller size proved it to be a new bird, and when it flew, the underwing was almost pure white! Bonkers.

A little while later it appeared on the slope briefly and was noticeably whiter below than the previous bird, with a neater greater covert bar and warmer toned mantle.

A handful of michs were about as well, mainly juvs today, including a large dark bird with one or two new scaps and an already paler-based bill. A couple of the juvs were familiar faces, but I suspect there have been at least 8 or 9 individuals over the last week or two.

The final piece of interest came just before I had to leave, when some disturbance from workers caused all the loafing juvs to gather on the slope, making a superb comparison situation. At least 5 juv michs were amongst the throng, and a tiny juv LBB with a white throat and belly, very small grey head and very black and white mantle. It certainly felt rare...