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...

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