Saturday, 28 March 2015

Finishing off another winter at the tip

Not being able to get out much last weekend due to other commitments, it was a joy to be enjoying the sweet smell of landfill sites again this morning. Perhaps the last visit of the winter, what with being away next weekend and then most gulls moving off, it was really nice to have a couple of first-winter Caspian Gulls to round things off: -
1st-winter Caspian Gull Essex 28th March 2015 - ringed here at the tip last weekend as J3NT
1st-winter Caspian Gull Essex 28th March 2015
One of these birds, as you see above, was ringed by the NTGG last weekend - gutted I wasn't there to see it in the hand; they also ringed an adult Glaucous Gull that is now in Northamptonshire so suitably gripped once again. Anyway, back to today, where as well as the Casps there were a couple of Yellow-legged Gulls (an adult and first-winter) as well as a handful of Mediterranean Gulls (three adults and two first-winters). As has often been the case this winter, the hybrid second-winter Iceland Gull imposter (presumably a Herring x Glaucous Gull hybrid) was present again along with a regular leucistic bird.

2nd-winter hybrid gull Essex 28th March 2015; present for the last couple of months on and off; though mimicking an Iceland Gull it does seem to feel as though one parent is a Herring Gull (with the other parent presumably a Glaucous Gull as Iceland Gulls apparently don't interbreed)
leucistic Herring Gull Essex 28th March 2015; a regular bird this winter (with an East Anglia Gull Group ringed 2nd-winter Herring Gull)
Things got more and more blowy as the day went on, with it being difficult to angle the Land Rover to view birds anything other than side on. The tip face was in a bit of an awkward position, but I was able to manoeuvre us to a flat area where we could see the melee as well as an adjacent flat area. A few ringed birds, all local though, as well as one of the freakiest billed gulls I've ever seen: -
1st-winter Herring Gull Essex 28th March 2015
So as mentioned at the start of this post, this could be it for tip visits for me this winter. I'll be away next weekend and then hopefully spring migration will kick in as the gulls disperse. Being honest, it has been an expensive (half a dozen punctures) and frustrating (a couple of headache inducing hybrids lingering on) winter although with a couple of Glaucous Gulls, an Iceland Gull and around 40 Caspian Gulls recorded it was certainly worth it. Having the privilege of viewing gulls close up on a weekly basis is something I don't take for granted either, and with landfill sites as we know them on their way out with a preference for incinerators and recycling these days, every winter from now on up at the tip will be treated as if it's the last one... roll on winter 2015/16!

Saturday, 14 March 2015

Good gull haul on a dusty tip

I wasn't able to get out last weekend, with the only bird of note being a Little Egret in Barnston, Essex. Therefore, despite a hefty cold that has wiped me out most of the week, I was looking forward to today's tip visit. Bright skies and breezy to start off with, clouding over later as the morning progressed. It's not something that happens too often due to the usual rain in the weather, but with 10 or so days with very little water falling from the heavens, the tip was dry. And with the wind, it was blowing dust around like nobody's business.

The easterly wind also presumably had an impact on an increase in Caspian Gulls present today. A couple of weeks ago we drew a blank, and in my absence last week Steve A only had two. So the six present today was the peak count this year, and brings the tally for winter to over 40 individuals (more than 2013/14 despite a reduced number of visits due to 'tyre pressure'). Today's haul included a slick 3rd-winter, a rather solid-looking, bleached 2nd-winter with reduced P10 mirrors and four 1st-winters of differing sizes and darkness.
Bird 1 - 1st-winter Caspian Gull

Bird 2 - 1st-winter Caspian Gull; a small and rather dark individual

Bird 3 - 2nd-winter Caspian Gull; a bleached and solid looking individual with very small mirrors to P10

Bird 4 - 3rd-winter Caspian Gull

Bird 5 - 1st-winter Caspian Gull

Bird 6 - 1st-winter Caspian Gull
As well as the Caspian Gulls, there was once again a white-winged gull headache present. The bird present in late January and documented here looked much paler and Iceland Gull-like today in the warm early morning light. And having learnt something about looking at features and ignoring the 'feel' of the bird from two weeks ago, then is there actually that much wrong with it being a 2nd-winter Iceland Gull?

One thing is for sure, Steve A and I have drawn the short straw in terms of the Iceland Gulls that have turned up this winter. That's if that's what they both are. Slightly older and more straightforward was an adult Great Black-backed Gull that had been ringed as a chick in southwest Norway in July 1994.
20 year old Great Black-backed Gull JH417 - ringed as a chick at Kjellingen, Mandal, Vest-Agder, Norway on 8th July 1994; its colour ring was attached on 3rd June 2011 and it has been seen subsequently at Dungeness, Kent on 4th March 2012, Hirtshals Havn, Søren Nordbysvej, Nordjylland, Denmark on 24th December 2014 and Boulogne-sur-Mer, France 4th January 2015 as well as each summer on its breeding grounds in southwest Norway.
Good pushes of Lesser Black-backed Gulls this time of year is typical, and amongst the decent number of adults, were a couple of NTGG ringed birds and a couple of intermedius types. A dozen or so adult Med Gulls were back too, with several paired up. Looking forward to next weekend!

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Saturday's gull again

A few tweets and facebook messages later, not everyone is agreeing. And that's what is good about gulls as it's not necessarily a precise science. Saturday's gull (see here) continues to polarise views with Glaucous, Iceland and hybrid all still being suggested by individuals who all know something about gulls.

So now I've had a bit of time to sleep on things, look objectively at it as well as take in points made by others. There is actually a different way of looking at things compared to Saturday's subjective, jizz related observation.
2nd-winter Iceland Gull Essex 28th February 2015?
One of Europe's top gullers, who to his credit doesn't sit on the fence, got me to think slightly differently. What are the characteristics of a 2nd-winter Iceland Gull?
- tepid green/yellow bill with black subterminal band
- pale iris
- white plumage with some hoary marking on the coverts
- dark pink legs
- long primary projection
2nd-winter Iceland Gull Essex 28th February 2015?
Does this bird show all of the above features? Yes. Therefore it's a 2nd-winter Iceland Gull. Despite the structure being more stocky, Herring Gull-esque, it should still be within the range of a very large Iceland Gull. There are no plumage traits that suggest otherwise [and of course Iceland Gulls do not interbreed].
2nd-winter Iceland Gull Essex 28th February 2015?
This bird has and is a massive headache, and has been put to one side by one of Britain's best bird finders, identified as a Glaucous Gull in Surrey, an Iceland Gull in Essex (well done Paul H!) and as a suspect, potential Herring Gull hybrid by yours truly most recently.

It takes a bloke with bigger bollocks than most to change their mind, so there you go. And I'm warming to the glaucoides idea. In the grand scheme of things though, few people are interested in gulls anyway...