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...