Monday, 29 December 2014

Catch up, autumn 2014

Catch up time after a laridly-quiet but baby-busy autumn...
As the numbers of michs around Eastoft began to dwindle, more moved into the fields at Goole, and accompanying them was an adult Caspian Gull on 23rd Sept, 9th and 20th Oct, and a 3cy on 29th. The latter looked familiar, and was quite likely the same as that near Crowle on 22nd August.

Closer to home, visits to the tip have been few and far between, but a few hours on 15th Oct produced an adult Casp and 13 michs (7 ads, 4cy, 3cy, 2 2cy & 2 1cy) on Priorslee Lake, and a week later a late afternoon visit on 22nd revealed a spanking 2cy Caspian and 10 michs (6 ads, 3 2cy & 2 1cy) amongst 800+ LBBs. On 7th Nov Priorslee was deserted but Candles was busy for a change, with 7 michs (5 ads, 3cy, 1cy) and 3 hybrids.

More work in the northeast began in earnest in November, allowing regular checks of the mighty Teesside tips, and an adult mich at Cowpen Bewley on 2nd Dec was a big surprise. More expected but still pleasant was a count of 36 Med Gulls at Newbiggin on 3rd and a nice juv Iceland Gull in the roost off Blyth harbour on 4th.

Sunday, 24 August 2014

Eastoft and Priorslee, 22nd Aug 2014

In a re-run of earlier in the week, whilst attempting to get most of my work done for the month ahead of our impending arrival, I found myself back around Eastoft early morning, on the way to work instead of on the way home, for a change. Possibly as a result of the different timings, there seemed to be more gulls about, and in the field near the chicken sheds north of Crowle, I was pleased to see c300 LBBs and 15 michs (13 ad-types and 2 2cys). But even better was a big chunky 3cy Caspian Gull, always nice to see! The heavy shawl and stubby rear end (dropped outer primaries) gave it a distinctive appearance, and the mantle tone was discernibly paler than the surrounding michs in the nice flat light.

I moved on a couple of miles through Eastoft to Boltgate where another c200 LBBs were loafing across a couple of fields. Views weren't as good, but another 15 michs were counted (including a juv), as well as another Caspian Gull! An adult this time, it was unfortunately roosting just over a slight rise but the protruding P10 showed a long white tip and tongue, and the bill was nice and long, and insipid yellow in colour. The small dark eye and small rounded head gave it a classic jizz, and a brief wing-stretch as I was interrupted by a curious farmer showed it to be missing P9 as suspected, and nice whitish tongues on the other outer primaries. A great result, better than could have been expected, and with another 3 michs just over the Yorkshire border, a total of 33 was pretty good too.
An afternoon at work near Roos was enlivened by a flooded field full of waders which included an ad Pec Sand and a juv Little Stint, but all the gull flocks were made up of smalls as usual, despite the proliferation of Casps just up the road at Flamborough recently!

Finally, I called in at Priorslee Lake again on the way home, where 6 michs (3 ads, 2 2cys and the fabulous big juv) were amongst c300 LBBs, and I later learned that the pink-billed juv Casp was up the road at Belvide at the same time...

Eastoft and Priorslee, 19th Aug 2014

Following 10 michs over Goole Fields the previous evening, I had time for another check of the flocks just over the Lincolnshire border on my way home, and this time accumulated a total of 30 michs, as usual virtually all adult-types. The number of gulls in general was don however, leading to some curious flock proportions: one flock by the radio mast contained 12 michs, 20 LBBs, 10 GBBs and 2 Herrings - that's more than 25% michs!

A quick look at Priorslee Lake last thing produced a nice pre-roost gathering of 380 LBBs, amongst which were 5 michs (2 ads, a 2cy and 2 juvs) and the first 2cy GBB of the autumn.

Candles, 15th Aug 2014

A few free hours saw me back at the tip after failure at the crematorium, and amongst fewer gulls I managed only 4 michs (2 ads, a 3cy and a juv). A lanky juvenile gull with long spindly legs and a long narrow bill caught my eye, but the overall dirtiness and darkness put it in the LBB folder for now...

And then minutes before I had to leave to collect the girls, a familiar little white head appeared on the ridge at the back of the flock - the 2cy Baltic Gull again! Unfortunately it didn't do much, and I really had to go.

Friday, 22 August 2014

Eastoft and Candles, 12th Aug 2014

After a busy few days at work, I woke up in Doncaster with a free day ahead, so started with the gull flocks betwen Crowle and Eastoft. The first flock of 330 LBBs by the chicken sheds held 8 ad-type michs, then a flock of 70 LBBs by the radio mast contained 14 michs (13 ad-types and a 2cy). Further on, at least 500 LBBs were spread over a few fairly distant fields opposite Sand House Farm, and I managed another 16 michs. Finally, as I headed south, I came across another 4 michs by the A18 just into South Yorkshire, making 42 in total.
Back on home turf, the crematorium drew a blank as everything was out of sight behind a hedge, so I headed for Candles. Heat-haze was a bit of an issue, but a decent number of gulls yielded 7 michs (3 ads, a 3cy, 2 2cys and a juv), and then I picked up an amazing set of coverts on a juvenile gull on the top of the tip. A fantastic wedge across the greater coverts was highlighted by double wingbars of pale covert tips, and every feather was neatly fringed in white. The head was slightly paler than the body, although the belly and vent were pure white, and the bill leapt out at me, being pink-based already! It soon flew, revealing a broad black tailband on a bright white tail, pale underwings and a fairly pale inner primary window - a juv Caspian Gull! It landed closer and went straight to sleep, but those perfectly neat coverts were replicated on the scaps, the lower ones being classically long and leaf-like with no internal markings. A few of the inner greater coverts were lightly marbled, the tertials were dark brown with neat thumbnail tips, and the wings were long and attenuated. A beauty, despite that odd bill!

Meanwhile, elsewhere in the flock, a 2cy with a dazzling white head and body caught the eye, with a distinctly Caspian jizz. The eye was small and dark with that tell-tale shadow in front, the head nicely rounded with a good snout, the bill narrow and pinky-based, and the long legs almost whitish. The mantle tone was slightly confusing though, being somewhat darker than ideal, but unmarked unlike the nearby 2cy LBBs. Coverts and tertials looked ok too, making it the second Caspian Gull of the day!

Friday, 15 August 2014

Eastoft and Granville, 6th Aug 2014

At dawn on 5th I was on Thorne Moors NNR following a late Nightjar survey, enjoying the unexpected sight of 300 LBBs waking up from their roost on one of the floods. As they trickled out to feed, I counted out 17 michs - very nice.

The following day I had some time to kill after work so I decided to go the long way round to the motorway, and check any flocks following ploughs on the way. Turned out to be a great decision, with the first flock appearing just as I crossed the border into Lincs: 10 michs amongst c250 LBBs. A few yards further on, a flock of c600 LBBs held a whopping 33 michs, and then before entering Crowle I added another 22 michs (bringing the total to 65!) and a smart ad Caspian Gull! Result.

P10 - speaks for itself!
My last stop was Telford crematorium for a look at the gulls behind Granville landfill again, and a delightful field full of gulls contained 12 michs (6 ad-types, 3 2cy and 3 juvs) but not a sniff of the fuscus. A striking 3cy gull caught the eye though, with a mantle slightly paler in tone than the surrounding graellsii LBBs, and a distinctive jizz almost reminiscent of a Casp. The small eye was dark and the long bill had a spot of redon the gonys and a long sloped tip. The greater coverts looked very worn, but primary moult was nothing special, P1-6 already replaced and P7 growing. Despite never being provable, there was a distinct whiff of heuglini about it...

Priorslee and Granville, 4th Aug 2014

En route to work for the evening, I swung off the M54 on a hunch, and amongst a handful of gulls on Priorslee Lake was a big juv mich with a couple of newly moulted scaps. This got me to wondering, and I nipped up the road to the crematorium, where I was delighted to find a field full of gulls, including a fine total of 11 michs (6 ads, a 4cy, 3 2cys and another juv).

Great Livermere, 1st Aug 2014

Thanks solely to an insomniac toddler, I had a few early hours to kill whilst staying with friends in north Cambs, so couldn't resist a quick look at the recently productive pigfields. Numbers were way down on what they are later in the day, but as well as a handful of michs, this tiny 2cy jumped out at me. Views were brief and incomplete, but it certainly had the feel of a fuscus. They say 30% of 2cys return in spring without having replaced their juvenile primaries, and this portion are the unprovables as they'll be moulting at a similar time to graellsii and intermedius. Maybe...

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Candles, 29th July 2014

There had been a total absence of gulls at the tip over the last couple of months, and fears of it all being over were getting serious. But the incinerator hadn't opened yet, so surely there would be some late summer gulls looking for a warm meal hereabouts?
It was a warmer afternoon than I'd have liked, but as I scrambled up the nettle-covered (under-used!) bank, I could hear gulls! There were at least 500 over the top of the tip, and they were feeding in sight - bloody marvellous. Settling down to scan through them, thoughts turned to juvenile michs: July was almost over and I hadn't seen one yet! There were plenty of juv LBBs already, and even a couple of juv Herring Gulls, and I soon picked out a couple of adult-type michs.
My mind was wandering to other potential finds, and I started to wonder when the first Casp of the autumn might turn up (assuming the tip stays open that long!), before musing that my targets tend to be different depending on where I'm gulling. It makes no sense, but in the fields at work in Lincs and East Yorkshire, I feel much more on the look out for eastern taxa, despite the fact that Telford is only c75 miles further west!

But then a bird appeared in my scope that stopped my wandering mind in its tracks. Dazzling clean white head and body, and a gleaming white underwing too, but dark upperparts ruling out any brief thoughts of a 2cy cach. As it lowered its wings, the greater coverts stood out as a moderately worn, brownish band, whilst similar lesser and especially median coverts were interspersed with newer, blacker feathers. A handful of blackish scaps stood out amongst the paler, worn mantle too, but most importantly on the closed wing, the exposed primaries looked tar black, contrasting with every other 2cy gull on the tip, which had varying numbers of worn juvenile outer primaries. The fact that this bird possessed black 2nd-generation primaries meant it had already moulted its juvenile remiges - a sure-fire feature of 2cy Baltic Gull!

There was good news and bad news when it raised its wings again, as the expected whole set of primaries, lacking any moult gaps, wasn't to be seen. Instead, it was missing P4 and growing P3, having already replaced P1-2. This superficially put it behind the local 2cys which were already replacing somewhere between P6-8, but whilst they were replacing juvenile primaries (faded, brown, and pointed) with 2nd-generation feathers (blacker and round-tipped), my bird's existing primaries were all black and rounded, and the new P1-2 were 3rd-generation, blackish feathers with narrow white tips! So it was almost a year ahead of similar-aged birds alongside it, with regards to primary moult, putting it way out of range of even the most extreme intermedius.

The spread wing also revealed a full set of new, white-tipped secondaries (whereas the locals possessed large moult gaps in the secondaries, almost without exception), and a complete moulted tail. The greater coverts of the numerous 2cy graellsii present tended either to show gaps like in the secondaries, or were formed of a solid dark blackish band of brand-new, replaced feathers. The more worn greater coverts of the Baltic Gull were replaced over the winter along with the primaries, and so had seen more action.
So if so much of the plumage is so far advanced, why isn't it a 3cy graellsii or intermedius? The dark iris and dull bare parts suggest a 2cy, and the fact that the 2nd-generation primaries don't look too worn helps rule out the possibility too (the feathers would be a year old in a 3cy, rather than perhaps four to six months old in a 2cy fuscus).

It had been a year and a week since I was lucky enough to find a 2cy Baltic Gull in Lincolnshire, and some of the similarities were striking, as can be seen in the above pic, the Lincs bird on the left (also note the difference in appearance of the exposed primaries between the two birds of the same age in the righthand image). The Lincs bird was slightly behind this one in primary moult, but had dropped P1-2 by 23rd July.

Very similar bird by Hannu Koskinen in Finland in early July 2007

Whilst this bird could be considered almost too advanced, even for fuscus, at least three out of a sample of 50 birds examined by Visa Rauste in Finland had replaced P1-2 by the first week of August.
Oh, and as I tried to relocate it after a big flush of the flock, I came across the juv mich I'd been hoping for! (under the Baltic in the flight shot above).

The word from the experts was generally inconclusive, as the quality of the images (all taken on my iPhone) didn't allow the primaries to be aged with 100% confidence. But nobody said no...

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Halsham, 28th July 2014

Due to a combination of being very busy with work all summer and my local tip being devoid of gulls for months for some mysterious reason (the incinerator hasn't kicked in yet), I was beginning to feel distinct gull withdrawal. Checks of old haunts kept drawing blanks, and I was resorting more and more to orchids and insects to keep me entertained, but it's just not the same...
A detour on the way home from Scotland on 24th took me via Ellesmere, and through the heat-haze I was pleased to see c100 large gulls panting on the tip at Colemere, with 3 michs amongst them: 2 adults and a 2cy. It was a start.
A few days later, after news from Flamborough of a juv Casp and a 2cy Baltic type, I was full of hope for the newly harvested fields near work at Roos. First stop was some newly landscaped fishing pools near Halsham where c200 small gulls were loafing, and amongst a handful of bigger heads I noticed a very distinctive face. I grabbed my scope and the bird stood up to preen, and the 144-day cachinnans drought was broken - a big male 2cy Caspian Gull!

It looked like it had had a hard summer, the old outer primaries extremely worn, and the head bleached white and slightly moth-eaten looking. Great bird though, and a real pleasure.

Thursday, 29 May 2014

Goole Fields, 26th May 2104

I never intend to stop gulling in the spring. I still think it's full of larid potential, but work and life and lawn-mowing start to fill the days, and suddenly it's June and I've not been to the tip since March. Maybe it'll be a bit different this year...
An overnight (obviously) Nightjar survey on 25/26th May resulted in a few pleasant nocturnal surprises, and not long after dawn on a beautiful sunny morning I got another - my first mich of the summer. I didn't see it arrive, but suddenly there was a super-smart 3cy Yellow-legged Gull in the field next to me, accompanied by a 2cy LBB. I was looking into the rising sun, and it flew off at 4.55am, but it was great to see - a seasonal milestone in the life of a guller.

iPhone5S struggling into the dawn

Friday, 2 May 2014

Solway Moss, 30th April 2014

NE-bound imm Iceland
After a spectacular 29th April that started with a self-found Marsh Sand in East Yorkshire and ended with some awesome Barnacle Goose passage in Cumbria at dusk, 30th dawned dull and grey. Not long in however, a surprise imm Iceland Gull flew through alone, and later in the morning 2 Little Gulls appeared hawking for insects over the local Black-head colony!

ad & 2cy inland Little Gulls

Machrihanish, 24th April 2014

juv Iceland Machrihanish Dunes
Another post-work jaunt down the Mull of Kintyre in search of passage gulls and maybe a spring migrant or two this time produced a couple of juv Icelands, always nice to see. Phonescoping was the order of the day.

juv Iceland Bellochantuy

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Candles, 27th March 2014

Another flock of gulls, another Iceland! After a three week absence, stuck my head in at Candles on the way home from another busy week, and an ad Iceland flew past. Everything (all 300 large gulls!) landed out of sight, but a shrieking northbound Cockatiel(?!) soon got them up again and I managed a quick phonescoped shot. Iceland number 5 here this winter?

Campbeltown, 18th March 2014

3 wingers in one pic
Another month, another long drive down the Mull of Kintyre after getting rained off site. No smiths this time, and still no Glaucs, but a haul of 2 Kumlien's (same 4cy and juv as last time) and 5 Icelands (ad, 2 3cy and 2 juvs) wasn't to be sniffed at. Happy days.

ad Iceland - crisp

4cy Kumlien's showing off (note the LBBGs in the background - signs of spring)

Friday, 14 March 2014

Arglam and South Cave, 12-13th March 2014

A couple of days at work in early spring sunshine produced a couple of larid highlights: a big white juv Glauc flew SE over my head at Arglam amongst the throng of Herrings bound for roost on the Humber in the evening of 12th; and a 3cy Iceland stood out a mile amongst Black-heads following a plough by the A63 as I shot past at 80mph on 13th!

Friday, 7 March 2014

Candles, 6th March 2014

A couple of days away, and another Iceland roosted at Belvide, meaning another Iceland was feeding in Telford. Fortunately the days are getting longer, so work gets finished quicker, giving more time at the tip on the way home. Unfortunately I arrived around 1pm to see only about 300 big gulls present, but within minutes there it was - a creamy little juv Iceland.
Shortly afterwards though I was distracted by an awesome tail and upperwing, but as it rolled over it became obvious it was a familiar face - the grubby 2cy Casp from the other day. Didn't half look distinctive in dull light and at range though...

Monday, 3 March 2014

Candles and Horsehay, 3rd March 2014

Sunny days are never the best for gulling - harsh light and soaring flocks make life very difficult. But I'll take what chances I can get these days, and a free morning was not to be missed. 500+ large gulls were on the tip on arrival, but all landing out of sight, frustratingly. A few big flushes by machinery revealed the presence of the 3cy Iceland again, and it even landed on top of a bank briefly, allowing a better view than last week.

I eventually tired of watching a fraction of the flock, and followed a pack of gulls down to the comforts of Horsehay Pool where a couple of hundred showed very well in the sunshine. The light was still  bit harsh for photos, but when an interesting 2cy swam into view, digiscoping was the only option. It had all the jizz and feel of a Casp, but the head was finely streaked all over, and the nape streaking was broad and extended down onto the breast sides more heavily than you might like. The coverts and tertials were nice and plain, and very worn, but the scaps were distractingly marked with large black diamonds and bars. Determined to see it fly, I watched it for over an hour but it refused to budge. However I did get a look at a few wing stretches, and the solidness of the greater coverts, the indistinct pale inner primary window, and the perfect tail all suggested the initial feel was right. I left it until I could examine the photos at home, and with the help of the scoring system from the BB article, I came up with a score of 19 or 20, within range of pure Caspian Gull.

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Candles, 26th & 28th Feb 2014

Ice Ice Caspo...
After weeks away from the local gulls, decided to take a detour on the way to a family lunch, giving me a mere 40 minutes at the tip. Fortunately a big flock was loafing in a viewable field, unfortunately they weren't close. But none of that mattered when the first scan picked up a snoozing 3cy Iceland and nearby a preening ad Iceland! The former turned out to be the bird seen recently in Worcester and then briefly at Belvide, the latter has been around for a week or so, seen at the crematorium and roosting at Belvide. A third white winger in the flock was a more familiar face - the leucistic LBB.

3cy and adult Icelands
But the fun wasn't just restricted to wingers, with a remarkable 3 Casps present: a sleeping adult that on a brief wakening looked like the crematorium bird from 3rd Feb; the poorly marked 2cy from 27th Jan; and a smart new 3cy that I'd like to see better...

3cy Caspian
Another quick look on 28th turned up 1,000+ big gulls on the tip itself, including both Icelands seen in flight, but nothing stood still for long.

Saturday, 1 March 2014

Campbeltown and Machrihanish, 18th-21st Feb 2014

Mid Feb I was offered a bit of work in Argyll, and with the influx of gulls along the country's western fringe still going on, I thought it would be rude to turn it down. Unfortunately however, work on Scottish uplands in winter can be fraught with weather problems...

3cy Iceland Kilmichael
Day 1 and the visibility was less than ideal on the tops, so we were off down the Mull of Kintyre at a rate of knots! A few days before had seen the discovery by local man Eddie Maguire of a belting 2cy smiths in the harbour at Campbeltown, and we were keen to see it. The Tayinloan Lesser Snows passed by in a blue and white blur, and after checking a few beaches we were at the extensive Kilmichael floods. First scan: 3cy Iceland Gull amongst a handful of Herrings - good start. Then it was down to the harbour to grip ourselves off with views of the pier the smiths had been photographed on, young Herrings showing down to a few yards...

2cy Kumlien's Drumlemble
With half the peninsula covered in floods and slurried fields, gulls were everywhere, so we headed west towards Machrihanish, and were soon savouring a bulky but subtly marked juv Kumlien's Gull in a field at Drumlemble - last month's bird after a three week absence?! Our attention was briefly diverted from the gulls by an impressive flock of 1,320 Greenland Whitefronts at East Chiscan that were accompanied by 500 Greylags, 19 Barnies, 2 Pinks and a surprise Todd's Canada. Talk about underwatched.

3cy Iceland East Backs
The gulls led us back through the lanes towards the airport, and at East Backs Farm we came across the 3cy Iceland Gull again, but on closer inspection the darker coverts and more bicoloured bill revealed it to be a different bird. And in a year when Icelands have been relatively scarce. A shuffle in the flock, and another winger appeared in front of us - a bulky but demure 4cy Kumlien's Gull! Tricky to be sure on the deck, but in flight Dan managed to capture the spread wing, with nice dark markings on the outer 3 or 4 primaries. Nice.

4cy Kumlien's East Backs
4cy Kumlien's East Backs (Dan Brown)
From there it was back along the Machrihanish road, just in case, and another flock of gulls drew us down the track at Bruntholme. We both immediately picked up a remarkable looking bird which rang all the bells of a 4cy American Herring Gull! Big and bulky, it had an amazing smooth brown shawl that extended onto the breast sides, and the rest of the underparts were sullied brown too. The mantle shade looked pale in comparison to the surrounding argenteus, and the wings were relatively immature for a bird of this age, plenty of young-looking brown coverts and a few lower tertials showing fairly solid brown internal markings. The tail still had a lot of black in it, and when the bird flew, irregular dark markings could be seen in the secondaries as well as a broad black band on P5 - all good features. But does it as usual remain unprovable? The ideal candidate might show darker greater coverts and even more (blacker) markings in the secondaries and tertials, but where do you draw the line on smithsonianus?! And this year, in this place...

possible 4cy AHG Bruntholme
possible 4cy AHG Bruntholme (Dan Brown)
The 19th was workable up on the hill, and the 20th started off that way too, so I was forced to sit and watch Golden Eagles mating before taking a walk where a flock of 5 Blackcocks flew over my head. But we made our way back past the roadside Lesser Snow Geese after lunch, and were back in the land of floods and gulls by 3.30pm. The magic didn't happen this time, and we failed in our primary aim of getting better views and images of the swarthy 4cy. The Machrihanish juv Kumlien's came to bread in the bay, and the original 3cy Iceland put in an appearance in a field just outside Campbeltown before roosting in the harbour. A final hour email from Eddie to say the smiths had been back was a real gutter, and despite grilling everything under the floodlights, we left empty-handed again.

2cy Kumlien's Machrihanish
The 21st was our last day, and would you believe it, at dawn the mountains were shrouded in cloud yet again! We hit Campbeltown harbout early, but gull numbers seemed low, and we were soon off to the floods. First field after the 30 limit roadsign, c20 gulls in it, probably worth a scan... First bird, almost naked eye, 2cy AMERICAN HERRING GULL! And what a bird:

2cy AHG Campbeltown
2cy AHG Campbeltown
2cy AHG Campbeltown
2cy AHG Campbeltown
2cy AHG and 3cy Iceland Kilmichael
Job done. Still felt we should check everything one more time though, but no new gulls could be located. The floods at Kilmichael were even bigger, and late morning held 300+ large gulls, so had to be worth a look. The pale 3cy Iceland was present, and for a little while loafed alongside the sleeping smiths! But time was ticking, and the 405 mile drive home wasn't getting any shorter, so we made a move.
How many birds get overlooked down there in what is clearly a superb piece of habitat is anyone's guess, and it's very tempting to get back down there a bit more often. But what really amazed me was that there had apparently been 2 (maybe 3?) American Herring Gulls there in the space of a fortnight whilst there were none (at the time) anywhere else. I'd tried to match Eddie's bird with Dan's from earlier in the month but they looked quite different... until the most recent photo from the harbour came out, and it all fell into place:

2cy AHG Campbeltown (Eddie Maguire; insets Dan Brown)