Wednesday, 29 February 2012

What say you?

An 'interesting' Gull (all are interesting!) photographed on Seaton Common earlier on this year all photographs are copyright of Mark Newsome. Comments on identification more than welcome; Caspian, argentatus, or hybrid?

 (© Mark Newsome)

 (© Mark Newsome)

(© Mark Newsome)

Glaucous-winged Gull (larus glaucescens) - Winter 2008/2009 - Memories

Sadly for me this was a bad memory, I dipped the bird. I won't go into it as it still hurts now! However for thoose who were fortunate enough to see this stunning larus here are some images to help you reminisce.

 (Glaucous-winged Gull - © Ian Forrest)

 (Glaucous-winged Gull - © Ian Forrest)

 (Glaucous-winged Gull - © Ian Forrest)

(Glaucous-winged Gull - © Ian Forrest)

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

March in Gulls-what to look out for

Here's the premise- a brief guides into some of the wonders of the gulling world March will bring. Enjoy!!

Gull Migration
I happen to live near a great sea-watching spot on the South Coast, where on good days in March flocks of the gorgeous Mediterranean Gull stream by. The beginnings of Little Gull migration are also apparent during the month. Other  more common gulls may be noted migrating, including Common and Black-headed. Last year on spring migration, an Iceland Gull was tracked along the Sussex coast. And with our fantastic year of white-wingers I believe that by the end of the month there will be a smaller, secondary peak in the north of the UK, as Glaucous, Iceland and Kumlien's Gulls from further south return north to their breeding grounds.
Sea-watching can be a great opportunity to watch gull migration in action. Mediterranean Gulls are mainly a southern speciality (they occur further north but in nothing like the same numbers) but in the south it's definitely worth looking out for a few among flocks of Black-headed Gulls on reservoirs, landfills and anywhere else a migrating gull would be tempted to stop and feed. The same applies for Little Gulls, though their numbers are greater later in the spring in my experience.
(Mediterranean Gull- © John Bridges)

Gull Moult
By the end of the month adult Black-headed, Little and Mediterranean Gulls will mostly have acquired their full hoods, and adult Common Gull and large white-headed gull species (LWHG) will mostly have lost their winter streaking. The moult of all the juvenile ages of gulls is too bewildering for me to detail fully in this post alone, but for a example lets take Herring Gull;

first winter into second-winter: generally from April-Oct, head first, body second, then mantle, scapulars, coverts and finally primaries
second-winter to second-summer; partially takes place from January to April, including head, most body feathers and scapulars. Coverts begin to moult from mid-may
second into third-winter; generally from April-Oct, as for first into second winter moult

info from 'Gulls of Europe, Asia and North America' by Klaus Malling Olsen and Hans Larsson

I included the two Apr-October moults as, last time I went 'gulling' I saw several first-winter Herring Gulls that had began the moult of their head-feathers, proving not every gull goes by the book and some can moult early. Ageing some gulls can be a challenge at this time of year (though a fun one if you're me!).

Gulls courting
At Rye Harbour, a well-known colony of Mediterranean and Black-headed Gulls, the birds are already starting to arrive, and by the end of March nest-building will be complete (per Barry Yates, warden of Rye Harbour, posting on the Sussex Ornithological Website).
If you live up North, the gulls in your seabird colony are probably the most boring creatures there. But aside from Fulmars, Rock Pipits and the odd pair of Peregrine and Raven, the seabird colonies in SE England consist almost entirely of gulls. Black-legged Kittiwakes have one of their most southerly colonies at Splash Point, right on my doorstep, and it's always great to see them arriving and beginning their courtship, mainly from March onwards.
And finally, though they're almost universally hated, the Herring and Lesser Black-backed Gulls that seemingly nest in almost every city in the country are a seabird colony on a lot of people's doorsteps!

Target Gull Species
MEDITERRANEAN GULL- arrives on breeding grounds, and migrants often appear in good numbers in some areas. The only gulls regularly occurring resident gull species with white primaries, and it's dark black hood, plaintive expression and Eider-like-voice make it a particularly endearing species.
ICELAND GULL- expect a return migration with birds once again concentrated in Northern areas, before their final push towards Greenland.
KUMLIEN'S GULL- the same applies, though they'll be heading for Baffin Island. This is perhaps a chance to connect with one if you haven't already (like me!)
GLAUCOUS GULL- the same as the two above, though they haven't been as numerous as Iceland Gulls this winter
LITTLE GULL-by the end of the month migration of this attractive little species should be beginning, with some in summer plumage. Based on my experience, often seen from sea-watching sites or reservoirs, but can turn up almost anywhere
(Kittiwake-© John Bridges)
KITTIWAKE- look out for this gorgeous gull returning to it's nesting grounds or migrating past sea-watching points

also, keep an eye out for some ridiculous vagrant. warm Southerly winds and high pressure might waft an Audouin's or Slender-billed Gull up if we're really lucky!

Sunday, 26 February 2012

gulling at Newhaven

among the gazillions of wires, adaptors and things on my floor at the moment, I can't find the one I need to download photos from my camera, so our dear readers will have to make do with me using one of our other photographers far better images (what a shame I hear you say!)

The bird myself and my Dad went to look for was an adult Iceland Gull, a new age for both of us in the UK. In the end we saw the adult fairly well, if distantly. However, my attention was more drawn to the swathes of Herring Gulls (I'm considering a labotomy for these unhealthy obsessions).

Among the first-winter gulls, there were at least five or six that were noticeably darker and larger- I'm thinking Argentatus for all of them. There was also one pretty hefty third-winter which I got some OK photos of; it had a big, hooked bill and mean, brutish look, and on jizz I'd call it Argentatus. Considering this species is description-worthy I wouldn't submit them.

Spring is also definitely approaching, most Black-headed Gulls seem to be well into their moult, and among the first-winter Herring Gulls were two that have started moulting their head-feathers and nothing else, giving them a marked smithsonianus look. The adult Herrings with pure white heads might have already moulted, but in Seaford I see a good number of birds that never acquire any head-streaking all through the winter, especially among birds that remain on their rooftop nests year-round.

(Herring Gull-© John Bridges)

A first-winter Herring Gull, but not one I'd personally want to try and identify. The presence of intergrades between Argenteus and Argentatus can make identifying some especially complicated, especially from a photo. On Johns website he does have a few that to me look like quite nice Argentatus adults though (including one used by Andrew in a post further down). 

Saturday, 25 February 2012

Kumlien's Gull (larus glaucoides kumlieni) - Hartlepool Headland - February 2012

The following images were taken by Ian Forrest of the 3rd winter Kumlien's Gull that is wintering at Hartlepool Headland in Durham (Cleveland). Some small side notes have been added under some of the images with some comments, a real learning curve for me and a fantastically interesting and educational bird.

(Kumlien's Gull - © Ian Forrest)
Dark shadowing can be seen on the outer webs of P9, P8, and P7 of the outer primaries. 

 (Kumlien's Gull - © Ian Forrest)
Again the dark shadowing can be seen on the outer webs of P9, P8, and P7 of the outer primaries which contrast with the inner primaries. The backwards 'J' shape effect of the dark markings bleeding along the tip of  P9, P8, and P7 onto the inner web of these primaries can be seen here. However it is perhaps easier to see on the next image. Also the darker and more contrasting secondaries can be seen here on this bird,

(Kumlien's Gull - © Ian Forrest)
The dark shadowing on the primaries mentioned above can obviously be seen here. Outer primaries mentioned look particularly dark and contrasting in this image. The dark contrasting secondaries are again obvious here as is the remnants of what looks like a once broad tail band.

Sabine's Gull (larus sabini) - South Shields - 2010

The following photos are of a juvenile Sabine's Gull taken at South Shields in Durham, the bird wandered during its stay going from North Shields Fish Quay in Northumberland to South Shields in Durham. All photos are copyright of Stephen Egglestone and as always are grateful for allowing the blog to use his superb images of this Sabine's Gull.

 (Sabine's Gull - © Stephen Egglestone)
(Sabine's Gull - © Stephen Egglestone)

Friday, 24 February 2012

Iceland Gull (larus glaucoides) - Sunderland - February 2012

All photos taken by Mark Newsome of an adult Iceland Gull at Roker Pier in County Durham. Many birds noted over here in recent weeks but today only the adult Iceland Gull was noted and it is thought other lingering birds have now moved on.

 (Iceland Gull - © Mark Newsome)

 (Iceland Gull - © Mark Newsome)

(Iceland Gull - © Mark Newsome)

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Slaty-backed Gull (larus schistisagus)

In 2011 the UK had its first ever record of Slaty-backed Gull, this record was also only the 2nd for the Western Palearctic. Gary Crowder has kindly granted me permission to use his superb images of the species taken in Japan. This is a taster of things to come!

(Slaty-backed Gull - © Gary Crowder)

adult Ring-billed Gull

(Ring-billed Gull- © Michael Booker)

(Ring-billed Gull- © Michael Booker)

(Ring-billed Gull- © Michael Booker)

(Ring-billed Gull- © Michael Booker)

(Ring-billed Gull- © Michael Booker)
some brilliant photos of the regular Gosport adult, thanks to Michael Booker for them. Ring-billed Gulls tend to be given little attention among gulls despite their rarity, but an adult like this is pretty gorgeous in my opinion. The yellow eye and thick bill, with a 'scowling' expression, tend to give them the jizz of a larger gull- when I first got into birds I had no idea this species is actually closely related to Common Gull! 

The bill is a good way of picking Ring-bills out, but should you find a bird not showing it's bill with Common Gulls, they appear longer winged and legged, have a paler mantle, and appear more square-headed with a peak behind the eye. Compared to argenteus Herring Gull they appear smaller but with a similar mantle colour, their yellow legs stand out, and when settled have a more delicate shape, similar to Common Gull

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Great Black-backed Gull (larus marinus)

Just a mixture of shots of adult Great Black-backed Gulls, all images taken by John Bridges. Images show a fairly typical mantle shade and primary pattern of the largest gull in the world.

 (Great Black-backed Gull - © John Bridges)

 (Great Black-backed Gull - © John Bridges)

(Great Black-backed Gull - © John Bridges)

Sunday, 19 February 2012

the early moults of Black-headed Gulls (again!)

to run a blog on gulls, you do have to be  a bit obsessional. And it's probably fair to say I have been a bit obsessional over seeing summer-plumaged Black-headed Gulls in February! Wellm you'll all be excessively pleases to know I saw another in Stratford-upon Avon over school half-term! Basically, between 1-5% of Black-headed have full summer plumage before the end of February, making them regular but still unusual, and when you're stuck away from a landfill, sewage farm, reservoir or coast and in the middle of some horrible corner of suburbia, they can be one of the few reminders of the wonderful world of gulls, which is why I love them dearly!

(Black-headed Gull, © Michael Booker)

I thought my first date of 13 February was impressive, but then I found this photo on a friend's blog, and discovered I'd been beaten by two weeks! Michael Booker took this photo on 28 January in Hampshire. To see more of his photos and his blog click on his name above or go to the 'photographers' page on the right-hand side. 

In other BREAKING NEWS, I've just heard of a potential first Caspian Gull for Wales. The main surprise is that it's the first Caspian Gull for Wales! On a quick google search I found one other report from 13 Oct 2011, though as no photo was taken the finder did not, I believe, submit a description. I find it bizarre that Caspian Gull should be so rare in Wales, but then again many areas are underwatched and birds must surely be overlooked. I'll be interested to hear the fate of this bird...

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Caspian Gull (larus cachinnans) - Seaton Common - January 2012

All photographs on this post unless otherwise stated are copyright of Mark Newsome and may not be reused unless permission is granted. The photos show a first-winter Caspian Gull at Seaton Common, Durham (Cleveland).

(Caspian Gull - © Mark Newsome)
The white head and underbody with barely any visible markings it obvious here, also note the shawl effect on the nape of this bird which then bleeds partly onto the birds mantle. The small beady eye is evident and a small dark mask is also present encircling they eye. The grey mantle feathers with dark centres are obvious in this photo and this feature is particularly useful to look out for when trying to pick out a first-winter Caspian Gull. Finally the long and obvious parallel sided bill is evident in this image; compare this to the bill on the (presumed 2nd winter?) Herring Gull behind the Caspian.

 (Caspian Gull - © Mark Newsome)
You can see that in flight it shows a white head with small dark eye, the shawl effect on the nape can be seen quite well in this high quality image. The axillaries look greyish/white, but this feature is very variable in Caspian Gull and some can show brownish axillaries. 

(Caspian Gull - © Mark Newsome)
Compare to the above image and it can be seen how a birds axillaries can change in the field depending upon lighting conditions. But note the very white head, with black beady eye set far forward in the head and the shawl like pattern on the birds neck extending down onto top of mantle.

(Caspian Gull - © Mark Newsome)
You can clearly see the broad and solidly black terminal band on the tail contrasting with the fairly sparsely marked rump/uppertail coverts. Nice contrast between the secondaries and the much paler coverts which creates clear cut black and brown areas on the birds upperwing.  Also you can see the grey mantle and scapular feathers with dark centres creating a fairly distinctive appearance. Overall first-winter Caspian Gulls are usually four coloured; white, brown, black, and grey. This is particularly evident when a bird is on the deck, compare this to Herring Gulls which can often look less well defined and don't usually show such a sharp contrast throughout the whole plumage at this age.

more Herring Gulls

Andrew's below post shows one of the most gorgeous, textbook Larus Argentatus Argentatus you will ever see! and it reminded me of some old photos I took on the local patch. Back then my interest in gulls was fairly minimal but I still thought this looked good for Scandinavian Herring Gull. I never submitted a description (which is required in Sussex) but kept the photos. All photos taken on 30 December 2010 at Cuckmere Haven.

(Argentatus Herring Gull - © Liam Curson)

Note the heavy bill, 'evil'- looking eye and robust, bulky structure. It's not as obvious an Argentatus as Andrew's bird, appearing slightly smaller in build, and is perhaps a female. The mirrors are also smaller than you'd want on a really classic bird. The extensive black on the wing-tip is an off-putting feature in saying this is a definite Scandinavian bird, the black reaching slightly further up the wing than on Andrew's fairly classic Argentatus. I'd call the black reaching up the wingtip intermediate between an Argentatus and an Argenteus, but it has the jizz of an Argentatus, and certainly rather brutish and Glaucous Gull-like in the field. I'd therefore call this bird a small Scandinavian Herring Gull.

(Argenteus Herring Gull - © Liam Curson)
The light is bad, but if you compare the mantle colour of this Argenteus with the bird above it is noticeably paler. The primaries can't be seen here to compare them both sadly, but although this bird also has a sharp eye and heavy bill, it isn't quite as brutish or 'evil' looking. This is also partly enhanced by a pale head, which quite a lot of resident Argenteus seem to retain through the winter in my area. Perhaps it's because they stay on their rooftop nesting sites year-round? 

Herring Gull (larus argentatus/argenteus) - Rainton Meadows DWT - February 2012

The photo of the below bird really did make it stand out from the crowd when I observed it in the field around about a week ago, what struck me immediately when I picked the bird up was the very bulky size and almost raised forehead. So is it argenteus or argentatus?

(Herring Gull - © John Bridges)

Looking at this bird standing on the ice its clearly fairly large and bulky, a very deep chested appearance, a lot of white in still visible in the primaries even at rest, the mantle is fairly dark (compare to larus argenteus to the right), I therefore conclude this bird to be an argentatus. Overall the bulk and jizz of the bird are reminiscent to me of a mini Glaucous Gull. What does strike me as a bit odd is the inner greater coverts look like they have a dark shade to them, I have images of the same bird as I was there the time the photograph was taken and this dark shade is still present. Perhaps the bird has been a little oiled in that section of the wing? 

I think Herring Gull is a very overlooked bird and I believe are deeply interesting birds and great to study the variation in the field when not many other 'interesting' Gulls are around.

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Valentine's Day

Valentine's Day, traditionally a day of love, and is there really any greater gull-love than this! It reminds me of the Kittiwake colony at Splash Point, Seaford only 100x more awesome!!

Happy VD everyone, from UKGulls!

Iceland Gull (larus glaucoides) - South Sheilds - February 2012

The following photos (unless otherwise stated) are all taken and kindly supplied by Stephen Egglestone.  The following photos were taken at Marine Park in South Shields on Monday (13th) and are of an 4th winter Iceland Gull. The bird appears largely in adult like plumage, however Mark Newsome pointed out that I had failed to realise the dark subterminal band on the bill. This feature puts the bird as a 4th winter rather than an adult. South Shields lies in the recording area of Durham and was made famous in birding terms recently by the occurrence of the UK's first Eastern Crowned Warbler.

(Iceland Gull - © Stephen Egglestone) 
A bird like this can usually leave little doubt on identity, typical size for Iceland Gull; being relatively the same size as surrounding Herring Gulls. All white plumage very evident in a bird like this from both above and below.

 (Iceland Gull - © Stephen Egglestone) 
Mind your step! Showing the translucent effect of secondaries and both inner and outer primaries, clear lack of any grey shading eliminates the possibility of 'standard' Kumlien's Gull

(Iceland Gull - © Stephen Egglestone) 
Bit of a stunner or what? Pure white primaries, greenish tinge to bill, small eye creating a 'cute' look rather than 'rough and ready' which is usually more typical of Glaucous Gull. This bird is a classic Iceland Gull in every way. 

Stephen Egglestone's (Steve) personal blog can be found HERE.

Iceland Gulls - Ageing two birds

My thanks to Les Bird for kindly supplying these images, you can see more of them at  These two birds are present at Newhaven Harbour, East Sussex, the photos were taken on 23 January 2012.

(Iceland Gull - © Les Bird 2012)
(Iceland Gull - © Les Bird 2012)
(Iceland Gull - © Les Bird 2012)
This bird was aged as a second-winter, but is a pale individual. The light eye and pale bill, with an approximately 30-40% black tip, are good pointers to rule out first winter. The lack of strong patterning also rules out most first-winters, but some very pale ones can also look this bleached, and as mentioned above this bird is paler than the average second-winter. Second-winter birds also typically look slightly more brutish than first-winters, the pale eye giving them an expression more similar to Herring Gull, I find first-winters can have more of a cute, Common Gull-like expression. However, the rounder head and fairly slender, long-winged shape, plus their smaller size by comparison, means a second-winter glauciodes is still a lot less brutish than hyberboreus in any plumage.

(Iceland Gull - © Les Bird 2012)
(Iceland Gull - © Les Bird 2012)
This bird is an easy first-winter. The ratio of black:pale on the bill is greater than the second-winter above, and the dark eye gives it that cute, docile look reminiscent of Common Gull. The brownish patterning on the mantle, coverts and tertials is typical of first-winter Iceland Gull and, rather than being at the pale end of the glauciodes spectrum, this is a fairly average bird.

Separation from Glaucous is fairly straightforward. The wings look longer, extending beyond the tail, and the bill is shorter, weaker and less hooked than Glaucous. Iceland has a rounder head and larger eyes, with a deep breast and short legs when standing. In flight Iceland is more elegant, handling strong winds as well as a Kittiwake, and is proportionately longer-winged than Glaucous. Seen side-by side, or with other gulls, Iceland is normally slightly smaller than Herring Gull, while Glaucous is larger than Herring, almost approaching the size of a Great Black-back Gull.

And if you want to separate these two from Kumlien's, the flight shots of the second-winter bird show no grey colouring in the primaries, and the first-winter bird has both a bi-coloured bill and very pale primaries. This should probably rule out about 99% of the hybrid swarm, but please don't ask me to write about the 1% that are inseparable from Ice Gull, I still enjoy gulls at the moment!

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Black-headed Gull - (Chroicocephalus ridibundus) - summer-plumaged

I saw my first full summer-plumaged Black-headed Gull of the year over Seaford, East Sussex today. I have seen quite a few in the past month or so beginning to get their chocolatey hood but this was the first to have fully acquired plumes.

Click to view full size image
(Black-headed Gull- © John Bridges)
Black-headed Gulls with a partially developed hood such as this are quite common in winter (e.g out of 200 or so Black-headed Gulls at Arlington Reservoir, East Sussex yesterday I saw at least 10 looking similar to this.

Click to view full size image
(Black-headed Gull-  © John Bridges)
But birds with a full chocolatey hood are the best of them all! That ridibundus I saw today was my first full-hooded bird since they began moulting at the end of the summer. Moult into winter plumage typically takes place from July-October, with the head feathers among the first be replaced. The return moult typically starts in late January/Early February, but in mild winters (and until a few weeks ago this was a mild winter for most) head moult can begin in late December. The earliest fully developed hoods, according to Malling and Olsen, appear about mid-January, but studies in S Scandinavia have shown only 1-5% of adults have a fully developed hood by the end of February, meaning my bird is still an anomaly this early in the year. 

Glaucous Gull (larus hyperboreus) - Hartlepool Headland - February 2012 - John Bridges

Here are some imaged far better than my own of one of two Glaucous Gulls (larus hyperboreus) present at Hartlepool Headland in Durham (Cleveland) at the present time. I cannot say I have definitely seen both birds as my images seem to indicate I have only seen the same bird on many occasions. I think first-winter Glaucous Gulls like this individual are smart birds and always superbly marked.

(Glaucous Gull - © John Bridges)
A smartly marked bird, size can vary but most approach the size of Great Black-backed Gulls and some may even be larger (or appear to be). The fairly short primary projection is evident and obvious on this perched bird, coupled with the large bill and size this bird should cause little problem for anyone in the field. 

(Glaucous Gull - © John Bridges)
Nice almost translucent wing effect often evident from both above and below, often creates a sharp contrast between primaries/secondaries and rest of upperparts. 

(Glaucous Gull - © John Bridges)
A nice shot showing the creamy brown underparts, bicoloured bill, and fairly densely barred undertail covets. 

Ring-billed Gull - Irregularly seen plumages

1st-year bird, Kenniskis, Canada, 15 August 2010. For a first-winter bird, this individual is relatively unmarked. Given the time of year, it seems likely to be in moult, which would explain the lack of markings. Olsen and Larsson state that moult from juvenile to first-winter plumage takes place from July-September, and from first to second-winter plumage from May (in some extreme cases March)- October.On average, a 1-2nd winter moulting bird would have completed all but it's primary moult by mid-August when this was taken. Without seeing the wings very well in this photo this can be quite difficult to determine, but from what can be seen of the lesser and median coverts they appear to be in first-winter, not second-winter plumage, which would support the idea of a bird undertaking it's first moult. the crescent marks on the sides of the breast are a good sign of a first-winter bird and aren't normally shown on a first-summer/second-winter. Therefore I believe this bird to be a juvenile moulting into first-winter.

An easier bird to age, taken at Niagara, Canada, 31 August 2010. The Mantle has the dirty brown markings of a first-winter bird, and in most respects this bird has 'classic' first winter plumage, the head streaking is lighter than you would get on a juvenile, and it doesn't have the scaly mantle and scapulars you would expect on a juvenile bird. Therefore, personally I would age this as a bird that has almost entirely completed it's moult from juvenile to first-winter plumage, which fits well with the time it was taken. 

Identifying first-winter Ring-billed Gull in UK context
Identifying a first-year Ring-billed Gull in the UK is tricky, but do-able with good views. Despite typically having some brown in the mantle feathers, you can still see (as on the above bird) the paler grey mantle colour than a Common Gull. the grey crescents on the breast-sides and flanks are also a good indicator. In all plumages, Ring-billed is generally larger and bulkier than Common Gull, with a thicker, parallel-edged bill. It's head shape is typically squarer than Common Gull with a distinct peak behind the eye. They are also longer-winged, and have the jizz of a larger gull. Confusion can in fact be caused by second-winter Herring Gulls, but a direct comparison with larus argentatus should show a smaller, longer-winged bird, with a dark eye and more plaintive expression.

It is worth noting that the features of structure are often most obvious on a male first-winter Ring-billed Gull, many females can appear extremely similar to Common Gull, being around the same size, with a rounded head and more delicate expression compared to males. Given the number of adult Ring-billed found compared to the number of first/second winters, many, especially females, are doubtless overlooked for their similarity to Common Gull.

All photos are the copyright of Liam Curson, seek permission before any use, my e-mail can be found on the blogger profile to your left; thank you.