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...

Candles, 27th August 2013

A trip to the tip on 27th was full of anticipation, but on arrival numbers seemed to be down - the result of the bank holiday weekend maybe? However after half an hour or so the juv Caspian Gull flew in again, but then immediately went after a juv LBB with a large piece of rubbish, successfully stole it, and flew off! And that was that. Good to see it's still around, but disappointingly brief.

The feeding birds were showing well though, with at least 8 michs (3 ads, a 2cy and 4+ juvs including one with an almost entirely moulted mantle). Just makes you wonder how many individuals there have been during the month. I also managed to read a white ring on a 2cy LBB: 3JF, but a yellow-ringed juv remained unread due to the heat haze.
But the main feature of the day was hybrids, with the 3cy hybrid first glimpsed on 22nd showing well today - surely a HGxLB? Also on show was an awesome looking bird with a heavily streaked head, neck and upper breast, and a very pronounced brow ridge. There was a bit of an atlantis jizz to it, which made me think it maybe had yellow-legged genes, but it probably can't be proved not to be the more likely HGxLB...

Friday, 23 August 2013

Candles, 22nd-23rd August 2013

A quick visit to the local landfill in the heat on 8th August produced a pleasing total of 8 michs including a remarkable 4 juvs. One bird had a distinctly different jizz, but the views (and pics) weren't great... I made the decision to renew my efforts and get down a bit more freqently.

Work and holidays followed, and it was suddenly a fortnight since that visit. But on 22nd the heat-haze was more bearable, and numbers were up: c1,500 LBBs (and c10 Herrings, mostly juvs), and a conservative count of 9 michs (2 ads, 2 3cy, 2 2cy, 3+ juvs). Around midday, a bird flew through my field of view that made the subconscious kick in, and I panned after it - whitish head, long neck, long languid wings with distinct pale inner primary window, and a stunning tail. A belting juv Caspian Gull! In Shropshire in August! Never have I wished I'd had an SLR more!

After a few circuits it was off over the trees, still not having landed, and I went after it. No sign in the field or on the lake, so I returned to the tip and there it was on the slope. I reached for my camera and it walked behind a container! It soon reappeared though, strutting around on lurid pink legs, before taking flight and vanishing again. I ended the session with the 5th species of juvenile large gull - a surprise GBB!
The following day I got back out for a few hours under a pleasantly grey sky, and on arrival there was the Casp on the slope again. It immediately flew, and apart from another brief appearance later, I didn't see it. Michs were showing well though under the flat light, and with prolonged views and reasonable photographs, it started to become obvious that I was seeing more individuals than I first realised. The final total was probably 13 (3 ads, 4cy, 2 3cy, 2 2cy, 5 juvs!). Some of the juvs in particular were very similar on first impressions, but could be proved different by examination of their replaced scaps. And that beaky one was there again, and seen equally briefly...

Baltic update

As the initial excitement died down, photos were circulated to a variety of knowing souls, and it started to become clear that the simple idea of identifying a 2cy fuscus solely on advanced primary moult as suggested in the Jonsson paper might not always hold true. Bird 1 still seems to fit the bill, being at the ideal state of primary moult, all primaries replaced during last winter and now P1-2 dropped again, and importantly also showing blackish 3rd-gen scaps and coverts, and a very white head and body. The full "suite of characters" that has started to appear to be crucial.
Bird 1 - compare wings and body to the bird to the left

Birds 2 and 3 fit the bill in terms of moult, but at opposite ends of the scale. On closer inspection of videograbs, bird 2 had in fact replaced P1-8 but P9 was missing and P10 juvenile. This is a little too advanced for the other forms, but the ideal fuscus candidate shouldn't show any active moult, and so it stumbles at this hurdle. Add to that the rather-too-pale grey scaps and coverts, and messy head, and it starts to unravel a little. Bird 3 on the other hand had a fully moulted set of primaries, and had even replaced P1-2 with 3rd-gen primaries, making it way out of the range of the other forms. Surely a Baltic then? Again, the grey tones were paler than you'd like, and whilst this might be permissible in Finland, it falls short of that suite of characters needed for a provable British record.
So what are they if they're not Baltic Gulls? That's the bit that was missing from the various experts replies: they were happy to tell me they weren't fuscus, but glossed over the alternatives. Research and discussion followed, and the most likely(?) explanation is the rapidly increasing pool of hybrids that is forming on the Norwegian coast where graellsii and intermedius are moving into the gaps left as fuscus declines. Fuscoides?!
Still, one out of three ain't bad...

Friday, 2 August 2013

Elsham, 30th-31st July 2013

fuscus number 2
With a bit more time on my hands this week, I was able to spend a few hours at the gull field on 30th, with high hopes of getting some better views and photos of last week's fuscus. Gull numbers were lower than last time, but only 40 minutes in, a distinctive set of jet black primaries caught my eye, although the rest of the bird was less familiar. It was small, and a bit messier around the head and breast, whilst the mantle was plainer and the coverts at a very similar state of moult. Closer examination revealed a pale, pointed juvenile P10, but when it flew there didn't seem to be any active primary moult, and the tail looked very fresh, complete with narrow white fringe - another 2cy Baltic Gull!
Having only been on view for 10 minutes, I was keen to see it again, so after a bit of dusk and dawn work, I was back at the field for 7am with good numbers of gulls on the go. Good light and good views meant the totals soon mounted up - at least 13 michs including the same 2 juvs as last week, a handful of Meds including a couple of ringed birds, and then after a couple of hours the Baltic made an appearance, distant again.The distinctive flat, sloping crown and weak bill gave it an odd expression, and in the flat light, a few blacker (3rd-gen?) lower scaps and median coverts stood out. Nice bird.
Whilst watching the Baltic, I suddenly became aware of a distinctive set of scaps and a gleaming white head, and a belting 2cy Caspian Gull stuck its head up for a few seconds. I grabbed a couple of shots, and it was gone, not to be seen again.

2cy cach - never saw more on it than this
Around 11.45 the Baltic Gull made another appearance, slightly closer this time, then disappeared again, and whilst trying to relocate it I picked out the familiar flat crown and bicoloured bill. But then it walked out into the open revealing a few brown marks amongst the otherwise plain mantle, a cleaner white head and a yellowish cast to the bill base. Primaries looked black though, and when it flew closer, the wing could be seen to be entirely 2nd-generation, no juv P10! It landed relatively close, for once, and was seen to be a larger bird with feintly yellow-tinged legs too. The 2nd-gen scaps were a paler grey than might be expected, but a couple of new median coverts and a distinctive new greater covert were much blacker... 2cy Baltic number 3!

fuscus number 3!
It all begs the question - what is going on?! Three excellent candidates in the same field in the space of a week, during which time another turned up not too far away in Lincoln, and a couple of less provable birds in Norfolk too. And under similar climatic conditions as a similar arrival in July 2006...
Coincidentally, the following day (when neither of this week's birds could be found), a large flock of small gulls in a harvested pea field up the road had attracted a handful of LBBs, and this tiny, blackish bird caught the eye. Can't do anything with it, but with such a supporting cast, makes you wonder...

unprovable coincidence...