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)