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The main aim of this blog is to allow me to share my wildlife and adventure photographs with like minded individuals. As well as birding and wildlife photography,I also enjoy mountain walking especially in winter, so expect some ramblings.

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  • 09/19/14--10:58: Norfolk Trip
  • Last weekend I was in Norfolk with Dawn, but it was one of those times when nothing quite goes to plan. There was a couple of Caspian Gulls posing all week on the beach at Cromer, but at the weekend they became really difficult to locate. The adult put in appearance only to be flushed by an over excited young lad - not his fault. I spent far to much time there without any photographic results to show for my efforts. Dawn went off to check out the shops, but there's only so many times you can look around the same shops - apparently.

    Titchwell Beach - Away From the Madding Crowd

    On Sunday we visited the dunes at Burnham Overy. Instead of making our way to the Barred Warbler that had been there for a few days, Dawn and I wandered off in the opposite direction. I spotted a large warbler in some low bramble bushes, but it was quite distant so I set up my scope. I managed to get a brief view of it, but it was in silhouette because of the position of the sun. Nevertheless I was pretty sure it was a Barred Warbler. It dropped down into brambles and so I moved to a better place with the sun behind me. It eventually climbed back up, but it was very obscured by branches. Sadly it flew from there to some very thick bushes and I never saw it again. I'm pretty certain it was a Barred Warbler, but I failed to get conclusive views.

    Sadly Norfolk no longer does it for me the way it used to. The carpark at Titchwell was rammed solid on Friday afternoon with mostly retired birders. The person in the shop kindly asked if I knew my way around. I cheerfully said 'I did thanks'. I'm sure she didn't want to know that my first visits were made in the late 1970's and I knew the place very well thank-you very much. I wonder whether the folks who struggle to to identify the array of common waders on show are in someways getting more of a buzz out of the site than folks with more experience. Back in the day it always seemed like Titchwell was for the 'dudes' and Cley was for more serious birders and perhaps it still is, although I think Cley is about the same these days. Maybe I just don't like crowds anymore.

    Spotted Redshank

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  • 09/19/14--11:16: More Gulls
  • I was greatly relieved to find myself back in the hedge at Shawell A5 Lagoons again on Wednesday evening - no noisy bird club outings at this site.

    Shortly after my arrival I found a first year Mediterranean Gull, which was happily knocking around with about 100 Black-headed Gulls on the far shore. This is the the third this year at the site and only the fifth one I've seen at the site since my regular visits began in 2012.

    First-winter Mediterranean Gull

    After the Med Gull, I noticed a pale headed first calendar year gull hiding amongst the lesser Black-backed Gulls. Much of the time it was facing away from me, so it was difficult to work it out structurally. Eventually it spun around and gave me a side view. As well as its pale head, I could see that it had replaced most of its scapular and mantle feathers. Its saddle was obviously greyish and small anchor markings could be seen on many of the feathers. It was noticeably long winged and its general profile looked good for Caspian Gull. Many of these features are very subtle and not as obvious as a first-winter Caspian Gull will be in a month or two.

    1CY Caspian Gull (note the elongated appearance)

    The greater coverts have obvious 'notches', which posed me a few questions. However, many of the Caspian Gulls found HERE show similar 'notches' - these were photographed in the core breeding areas for this species. Note the long low profile typical of Caspian Gull. I watched it for quite a while before it raised it wings and when it did I could see that it underwings were very pale and that its tail had a thick black band which contrasted with a white rump.

    1CY Caspian Gull (the black tail band is just visible under the wings)
    1CY Caspian Gull
    1CY Caspian Gull
    1CY Caspian Gull (note the slopping forehead)

    Identification of gulls like this one is never straightforward, as it is important to discount similar species. Structurally it is distinct from Lesser Black-backed and Herring Gulls. That said there is a great deal of variation and so a careful approach is required. Unfortunately the gulls at Shawell are generally a bit distant for photography - these are all screen grabs from video. 

    As always I'll be happy to hear any opinions on its ID.

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    Whilst having a mooch about at Shawell yesterday I spotted a small grebe sp. It looked like a Black-necked Grebe, but I only had my bins at the time. I fetched my scope, but the grebe had gone missing. Some parts of the lagoons are impossible to view without trespassing and the grebe had obviously chosen to hide in one of those areas. After a long wait it reappeared and I was able to confirm that it was a juvenile Black-necked Grebe. It soon disappeared again into the corner of the first lagoon where it is not possible to view without a chainsaw.

    I did manage to get a record shot, which isn't bad considering the distance and the very bad light.

    I didn't see it again once the gull numbers had built up and I failed to find it this morning despite trying hard. I chose not to spread the news of its presence yesterday because of the difficulty in viewing it and the fact that this species often turns up at sites where access and viewing conditions are easier. The clearing in the hedge is aimed at viewing the bits that the gulls congregate in.

    Anyone visiting the site should view only from the cleared area in the hedge at the side of the A5. This is found by walking uphill about 100 metres from the Newton Lane junction. Park only in Newton Lane, as the A5 is a clearway and you could get fined even if you park off the road.

    Juvenile Black-necked Grebe

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  • 09/23/14--11:08: Stonechats at Brascote Pits
  • I had just enough time to do a circuit of Brascote Pits this morning before work. As I neared the area that is described as the moon scape or the desert, I thought how good it would be for a shrike to be sitting on the distant gorse bushes. I raised my bins based solely on that thought and I was surprised to see a bird actually sitting on top of the bushes. It was a bit too distant, but I thought it looked like a Stonechat. I moved closer and could see that it was a Stonechat. In fact there were three Stonechats, which is an excellent record for Leicestershire these days. Since the cold winters 0f 10/11 and 12/13 the wintering numbers in Leicestershire have fallen dramatically. Hopefully last winter's mild weather and this year's good breeding season have helped their numbers to increase nationally.

    They are still there this evening and have been seen by at least two other birders.

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    This is probably my last trip to Shawell on a Wednesday evening until next year, as the sun sets too early now to give me much time. I did manage to get a site tick in the form of a couple of un-spectacular Red-crested Pochards, but the highlight was seeing the same 1CY Caspian Gull that I saw last Wednesday.

    It looked much greyer this week but this was most likely down to the light. The notching on the outer greater coverts was the same which lead me to the conclusion that it is the same gull.

    1CY Caspian Gull - Well Snouty!

    1CY Caspian Gull

    1CY Caspian Gull

    1CY Caspian Gull - Nice Long Legs
    1CY Caspian Gull
    Compare the Caspian Gull above with the first-winter Herring Gull below.

    First-winter Herring Gull

    I almost missed the two strange looking ducks below whilst I was searching through the gulls. Just like the Black-necked Grebe at the weekend they liked to hide in the corner out of view. Steve Nichols arrived and luckily they eventually came out and gave him a view. It's interesting to compare the two drakes.

    Drake Red-crested Pochards

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  • 10/08/14--13:10: Portugal 2014
  • Dawn and I decided that a second trip to Portugal would give us the chance to visit the sites we missed last year. We once again headed to the Algarve for the last days of September and early October.

    The stand out highlight of the trip was seeing an Iberian Wolf. I spotted it near to the LPN Bustard Reserve at Guerreiro. This site is close to Castro Verde a drive of just over 90 km from our base at Praia da Rocha on the Algarve coast. I stopped to scan for bustards and was very surprised to see what looked like a wolf running away from us. It was distant, but I told Dawn to get out of the car and look for what I thought was a wolf running away from us up the hill. I set up my scope just in time to get a brief view at a higher magnification before it disappeared over the brow of the hill. With this view I was convinced it was a wolf and luckily Dawn had found it and agreed. It was mostly grey in colour with a few brown areas. It ran as though each pair of legs operated together (loping). It ears were obviously quite big even at the distance, as were its feet. I was able to compare its size with some sheep that were at a similar distance and I could see that it was taller, but not by that much. Iberian Wolves are smaller than other European Wolves. Its style of running was different to a Red Fox in that they tend to run with a much quicker leg action. I considered the possibility of it being a dog, but I discounted that because I don't know of a dog that matches what I saw. This sighting was made outside of what I believe is the stronghold of Iberian Wolf in Portugal, however, their numbers are increasing in both Portugal and Spain. After the wolf had disappeared we continued to search for bustards and we were rewarded with good views of three Great Bustards. During the day we saw at least forty more.

    White Stork

    The weather was really good with temperatures up to 29ºC daily. I don't know if it was this that had encouraged White Storks to return to their nests and start displaying but it was great to see. One day we came across a group of at least a 100 White Storks soaring high above us.

    White Storks

    Another highlight was seeing a large flock of Alpine Swifts and House Martins in the hills just inland of the coast. Most were lower than us, so their colours were really easy to see. A falcon dashed through the flock and there was a great whoosh as the swifts rushed to avoid the predator. 

    At Pera Marsh a Bluethroat delighted us when we finally got good views of it. I was hoping to get to see a Black-shouldered Kite and in the end we found two and enjoyed good views un-like the only other one I have seen which was very distant and heat haze conspired to make the views rubbish. Dawn spotted three Booted Eagles roosting near to one of the kites, which was a bonus and several Purple Swamphens posed on the reed fringed pool in front of us.

    Booted Eagle
    Purple Swamphen

    I once again took part in a mini-pelagic on board a powerful rigid inflatable boat, but Dawn decided to stay on dry land this time. This was a good decision as many on board were sea sick. The boat took us about ten miles out from Sagres in the south-west corner of Portugal. A bit of chum soon encouraged seabirds to arrive and at least half-a-dozen Great Shearwaters were soon showing down to a few metres. I missed out on Wilson's Storm Petrel last year, but this time at least two joined the British Storm Petrels feeding on our slick. Photography once again proved difficult due to the south-easterly wind, which caused quite a bit of sea swell.

    Great Shearwater

    We encountered quite a few Greater Flamingos and Spoonbills with colour-rings, during the trip, as well as many gulls.

    Greater Flamingo in the Early morning Mist

    We saw at least five Caspian Terns including the one below, which flew straight past us. 

    Caspian Tern

    At this time of year many common migrants are present along the coast in southern Portugal. Loads of Pied Flycatchers were catching insects even in the built up resorts. Redstarts and Spotted Flycatchers were also enjoying the abundant insect life alongside many Willow Warblers and smaller numbers of Subalpine Warblers.

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  • 10/09/14--05:17: Red-veined Darters
  • Ever since Adey Baker and I found some Red-veined Darters at Huncote, I have been fascinated by them. I have seen them in large numbers in Spain before, but nothing had prepared me for the numbers I was to see in the south-west of Portugal last week. Dawn commented that it's a good job they don't bite. There must have been millions of them. What's really interesting is how they survive in such massive numbers in an area that is so dry and lacking in open water? At one cliff top location there was some very shallow surface water and swarms of RVD's were there and most of the males and females were coupled up.

    Male Red-veined Darter
    Female Red-veined Darter
    Male Red-veined Darter
    Male Red-veined Darter
    Female Red-veined Darter

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  • 10/12/14--02:00: The Mystery Unravels
  • During my trip to Portugal in 2013 I visited the Portimao Fishing Harbour where I found a juvenile Lesser Black-backed Gull with a yellow colour ring and the code M+C. Initially I thought it might be a young Herring Gull due to the pattern of the greater coverts and the notched tertials. It appeared more like a small Herring Gull as well when compared with other obvious juvenile Lesser Black-backed Gulls at the time.

    M+C, September 2013

    I reported it to the Peter Rock, who fitted the ring, and he told me that the measurements at the time of ringing suggested Lesser Black-backed Gull as the most likely species. However, he said that it could either be a HG or possibly a hybrid.

    M+C continued to winter at Portimao and was present right through until at least mid-February 2014. Nelson Fonseca wrote about it in his blog Gulls of Algarve and he too wondered if it was either a Herring Gull or a hybrid HG x LBBG. Eventually he commented that he thought it was just a pale LBB Gull.

    Role the clock forward to September 2014 and I re-found it in almost the same place. It is now looking more like an immature LBB Gull and rather less like a Herring Gull.

    M+C, September 2014
    M+C, September 2014

    Hopefully M+C will continue to pose for the camera until it is fully mature. Perhaps it never leaves the Portimao Fishing Harbour?

    It is great to be able to see an individual gull as it matures.

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    Back to reality - no more wandering amongst the gulls reading colour rings with the naked eye, as I did in Portugal. It was back to extreme 'sea gulling' at Shawell A5 lagoons.

    The day was going well, as I'd read quite a few colour rings including a couple from Guernsey. Most Guernsey LBB Gulls know better than to hang around in Britain during the colder months, but 7T8 and 4CK6 hadn't read the memo.

    Anyway I spotted what looked like a second-winter Caspian Gull lying down on the bank between the lagoons. It spent most of its time fast asleep, but all of a sudden it jumped up and revealed a green colour ring. It must have been a 'doggy dream' as it was back down and fast asleep in seconds. It started to rain heavily, but still it lay there asleep. A commotion amongst the nearby gulls ended up with one of them falling on to my subject, which got it back on its feet very quickly! 

    Steve Nichols arrived at this point and helped me read the colour ring. We both agreed on D and I knew the starting letter was X, but there were two other characters to read. I fitted my camera and zoomed up to 10x. I got a quick look at the last letter, which was a J. We now had X_DJ, but what was the last letter? I thought it was a V at first, but the haze cleared for a second and I was sure it was a N. We didn't get any longer to ponder, as a Common Buzzard scared the gulls and the Caspian Gull flew towards the tip. I was not over confident, but it looked like the green colour ring had the code XNDJ. I was able to take a few seconds of video in the pouring rain and below is a screen grab from that video just for the record.

    Caspian Gull XNDJ

    So were we right?

    This evening I sent an email to Dr Ronald Klien, as he is in the know about these East German ringed Caspians. 

    In the time it took me to have my Sunday night bath he had replied:

    Hi Carl,
    Hiddensee EA-183821 + green XNDJ
    nfl. 7. June 2013 Gräbendorfer See /Brandenburg GER   51.42 N  14.06 E
    No other sightings yet. Hiddensee-Centre was informed, official report will come to you from there.
    Many thanks and good gulling.

    I am really chuffed by this result - thanks Ronald

    I was allowed to sneak back to Shawell A5 Lagoons today, as the ladies of the house were out shopping in Leicester. I hoped to get a better view of XNDJ, which was asking a lot as the nearby tip is closed on Sundays and so fewer gulls congregate in the area.

    Almost as soon as I arrived I spotted what looked like an adult Caspian Gull. It was re-growing its longest primaries, so it looked short winged. It will look longer winged in a few weeks. I did get to see the new longest primary (P10) as it preened and although short the pattern was spot on for Caspian Gull. Its eyes were slightly paler than I would like, but their eyes are variable just like in other gull species. Its eyes weren't as pale as the adult Herring Gulls that were present.

    Adult Caspian Gull (active primary moult)   
    Adult Caspian Gull
    Adult Caspian Gull

    All the standard features are there to see: long parallel sided washed out bill, small head, beady eyes and a low profile as it rests on the water. Its legs were a sickly flesh colour. 

    I didn't get to see the lower half of its legs which was a shame, as it some what reminds me of the colour ringed adult I had in August - PADZ

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  • 10/17/14--13:24: A Dragonfly Tick
  • Whilst I was away in Portugal the weather was extremely warm compared to the same time in 2013. As well as the massive numbers of Red-veined Darters that I have already mentioned, there was also large numbers of Lesser Emperors although they proved impossible to photograph. 

    I stopped along a gravel track one day and noticed a small dragonfly perched on the ground next to a small stream. At the time I hadn't a clue what it was, but I managed to get some photographs. Checking my field guide at home I have tentatively identified it as a mature male Epaulet Skimmer. The main feature is the waisted abdomen.

    Mature Male Epaulet Skimmer

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    Yellow-legged Gulls turn up in Southern England on a regular basis and are readily identified in all their guises by experienced gull watchers. I have made it my mission to learn the complexities of this species and trips to the Algarve last year and again recently have really helped. Possibly the most difficult age for birders to identify is juvenile and first-winter. With this in mind, I attempted to take lots of images of first-year birds during my trips.

    The text book features of a first-winter Yellow-legged Gull are: large and brutish looking, a whitish head with a dark eye mask, greyish mantle and scapulars feathers with dark anchor markings, contrasting brown wing coverts and dark brown pale-edged tertials. The bill is usually black or mostly black and the shape is distinctive, being relatively short and appearing heavier towards the tip due to the steep gonys angle. Lesser Black-backed Gulls are often found with Yellow-legged Gulls and this is the species that is most likely to cause confusion at this age. 

    The first four gulls below are classic first-winter Yellow-legged Gulls and identification should prove fairly straightforward:

    First-winter Yellow-legged Gull - Early October 2014

    First-winter Yellow-legged Gull - Late September 2014
    First-winter Yellow-legged Gull - Early October 2014
    First-winter Yellow-legged Gull - late September 2014

    The next batch of images show first-winter Yellow-legged Gulls with slightly darker heads. The advanced state of moult helps to identify them as Yellow-legged Gulls, but by the end of September some Lesser Black-backed Gulls, in their first-year, will have second generation scapulars. Care must be taken to avoid making assumptions based on moult during late autumn. Size and structure helps, as does the distinct shape of the bill. 

    First-winter Yellow-legged Gull - Early October 2014
     First-winter Yellow-legged Gull - Late September 2014
    First-winter Yellow-legged Gull - Late September 2014
    First-winter Yellow-legged Gull - Early October 2014
    First-winter Yellow-legged Gull - Late September 2014
    First-winter Yellow-legged Gull - Late September 2013
    First-winter Yellow-legged Gull
    First-winter Yellow-legged Gull - Early October 2014

    The individual above is small, so presumably a female. The bill shape is typical for Yellow-legged Gull, as are the dark pale edged tertials and the dark anchor markings on the scapulars. It is quite long winged, but I feel it is most likely to be a Yellow-legged Gull.

    First-winter Yellow-legged Gull - same as above

    During early October I saw a few first year Yellow-legged Gulls that were still in juvenile plumage. By late August first-year Yellow-legged Gulls are usually further advanced in their moult into first-winter plumage. However, not all of them are born earlier than Herring and Lesser Black-backed Gulls. I watched two juvenile Yellow-legged Gulls food begging from an adult at the Portimao Fishing Harbour on October 4th this year. It is, however, usual for Yellow-legged Gulls to be born earlier than the other two species.

    Juvenile Yellow-legged Gull - Late September 2014
    Juvenile Yellow-legged Gull - Early October 2013
    Juvenile Yellow-legged Gull - Late September 2014

    First-year Lesser Black-backed Gulls are similar to Yellow-legged Gulls when both are in juvenile plumage and again when Lesser Black-backed Gulls start moulting into first-winter plumage. That said, most first-year Lesser Black-backed Gulls are easily identifiable based on structure when compared to first-year Yellow-legged Gulls. The selection of juvenile/first-winter Lesser Black-backed Gull photos provide interesting comparisons with the Yellow-legged Gulls images above.

    First-year Lesser Black-backed Gull - Late September 2014
    First-year Lesser Black-backed Gull - Late September 2014
    First-year Lesser Black-backed Gull - Late September 2014
    First-year Lesser Black-backed Gull - Late September 2014

    The juvenile/first-winter Lesser Black-backed Gulls above are all fresh looking, small and not at all brutish looking. The one below does look a bit more brutish looking but is still a Lesser Black-backed Gull.

    First-year Lesser black-backed Gull - Late September 2014

    The gulls below proved difficult to identify. 

    The first one is quite advanced in its moult having replaced most of its mantle and scapular feathers. It has a pale head, which points towards Yellow-legged Gull, but its wings are long and its size and shape is more Lesser Black-backed Gull like. My gut feeling is that it is a Lesser Black-backed Gull, but I'd be interested to hear any other opinions.

    Probable Lesser Black-backed Gull - Late September 2014

    The next one has replaced many of its scapular and mantle feathers, but it is not an obvious Yellow-legged Gull. However, its black bulbous tipped beak suggests Yellow-legged Gull, as does it large head.   

    Probable First-year Yellow-legged Gull

    The one below is quite a difficult one. It is large and robust, but also quite slender. Its moult is not as advanced as most first-year Yellow-legged Gulls and its bill shape is quite long and slender. Weighing up the odds I feel this one is most likely to be a Lesser Black-backed Gull - probably a male.

    Probable First-year Lesser Black-backed Gull - Late September 2014

    The next one below is a Yellow-legged Gull, but its coverts are non-typical. They are very chequered and paler than normal. This one could prove to be challenging if seen in Britain.

    First-winter Yellow-legged Gull

    Another Yellow-legged Gull, but this one is slender and small headed. Its bill is quite parallel sided but not that long. This one could again cause some difficulties if seen in Britain.

    First-winter Yellow-legged Gull

    The last one is hardly brutish, but it is most likely to be a small Yellow-legged Gull based on the bill shape and the moult status. It could be a Lesser Black-backed Gull, but if so it was much further advanced in its moult than all the other Lesser Black-backs. 

    Probable Yellow-legged Gull

    Some Yellow-legged gulls are much smaller than the typical ones like the adult below:

    I hope you find this informative and not too heavy going.

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    The second-winter Caspian Gull with the green colour-ring was back at Shawell A5 lagoons today and once again it was snoozing on the bank between the lagoons. I suggested to Steve Nichols that it was most probably the same gull that we had seen the previous weekend and when it stood up I was pleased to see the colour-ring. We were able to confirm the ring read XNDJ, so it was the same gull. It has injured its right leg and it walks with a slight limp.

    Second-winter Caspian Gull - Green XNDJ

    Dr. Ronald Klein has confirmed the location of the breeding colony it originates from, which is the same site that XDFV also comes from. The colony is found at an inland lake called Grabendorfer See.

    Location of Caspian Gull Breeding Colony - Yellow Pin

    Just prior to finding XNDJ, an adult Caspian Gull appeared amongst the gulls resting on the water. It was re-growing its primaries, so it was difficult at first to get a positive identification. It looked, as they often do, quite round headed when resting on the water, but once it swam towards the shallows and stood up its appearance altered significantly. When stood up it took on a tall and slender appearance and its head looked more angular. The bill also appeared longer when it was standing up.

    Adult Caspian Gull

    Late in the afternoon the same adult Caspian Gull that was present last Sunday put in another appearance. It was easy to separate it from the adult we had seen earlier due to it having obviously paler eyes.

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    Since arriving back from Portugal, I have been delighted to find a few smart looking (that's perhaps a matter of opinion) first-winter Yellow-legged Gulls at Shawell. The one in the image below shows all the standard features: Large and robust, with fairly short legs; grey mantle and scapulars that contrast with the mainly brown coverts; tertials that are pale edged and darker than the coverts and an all black chunky bill. The anchor markings on the scapulars are slightly paler than some I've seen, but this is still a classic individual.

    First-winter Yellow-legged Gull, Shawell A5 Lagoons, October 2014

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  • 10/20/14--00:30: Caspian Gull Influx?
  • I'm not sure if there's been a noticeable influx of Caspian Gulls at other sites, but I've certainly had my fair share at Shawell A5 Lagoons this weekend.  After seeing three yesterday I popped back this afternoon and found another trying to hide amongst some adult Herring Gulls. I have aged it as a third-winter due to it being too advanced in its journey towards adulthood for it to be a second-winter. That said, it hasn't replaced all of its tertials and coverts with adult like feathers, so it might be a very advanced second-winter.

    Third-winter Caspian Gull

    This one is quite a beast with an impressive bill - probably a male. The gull to its right in the image above is a Great Black-backed Gull. 

    Third-winter Caspian Gull 


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    I have seen the occasional Yellow-legged Gull (Larus michahellis) in Britain that appeared to have dark eyes, but the views were often distant, so I may have been mistaken. In Gulls of Europe, Asia and North America it states that in adults the eyes are rarely dark brown or darker. The gull below, that I saw in Portugal, is not quite fully adult, but it clearly has very dark eyes that are not likely to alter significantly as it reaches full adulthood.

    Dark Eyed Yellow-legged Gull

    It is useful to know that the eyes of 'large white-headed gulls' are variable. It is normal for adult and near-adult Herring and Yellow-legged Gulls to have pale yellowish eyes and Caspian Gulls to have dark brown eyes, but it it worth knowing that there is variation and eye colour is not a feature to rely on when identifying these gulls. 

    Dark Eyed Yellow-legged Gull
    Yellow-legged Gull of a Similar Age with Typical Pale Eyes

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    I was happy with three in a day at the weekend, but three in my lunch break today is even more impressive (Paul I did ask them to fly south towards Guernsey, but I'm not sure if they were listening).

    The first one was none other than Polish colour ringed PADZ, last seen back in August. Another adult, which I'm fairly sure is one of the ones present last weekend, was preening on the same bit of shoreline. If that wasn't enough I spotted what is most likely a fourth-winter on the water. All too soon I had to continue on my journey to Northampton, but it had been a good dinner break. I was hoping to read two new colour rings, as I'm just two short of 400 different colour ringed gulls at the site, but alas you'll have to wait for that gripping story for a little while.

    Adult Caspian Gull

    The adult above was very obliging as it lifted its wings and showed off its new P10 (longest primary feather). This nicely demonstrates one of the important features your looking for when trying to get a positive ID on an adult.

    Fourth-winter or Adult Caspian Gull

    The one above was the third of the day and is possibly not a full adult. The dark markings on the bill are heavier than on typical adults, which suggests it is a fourth-winter. 

    It might be a bit repetitive talking about all these Caspian Gulls, but as well as writing these reports for anyone interested in gulls, I also find it a great way to keep a personal diary. 

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  • 10/29/14--14:53: More Caspian Gull Stuff
  • I had to work all last weekend, but fortunately I was off yesterday, as I needed a change of scenery. I spent the morning holding my car's hand whilst it was serviced and then took it for a test drive up the A5 to Shawell A5 Lagoons.

    Winter now appears to be here judging by the masses of gulls that were present around Shawell. Hopefully the first white-winger will arrive soon.

    Many gulls were congregated around the lagoons including three Caspian Gulls. A new third-winter and two that I've seen previously.

    Third-winter Caspian Gull

    The third-winter was a smallish gull and its eyes were quite pale, but other than that it was an obvious Caspian. On the water it had the typical profile: long bodied and winged plus it sat low on the water. On land it had nice long thin spindly legs.

    The others were an adult I had already seen a couple of times and the sub-adult that I saw on the 22nd.

    Sub-adult Caspian Gull (Probably Fourth-winter)

    The Caspian Gull above looks like a full adult, but the dark markings on the bill are signs of immaturity, so it is likely that it is a fourth-winter.

    Adult Caspian Gull

    The adult was the last to appear, but it showed very well. I saw it both on the 18th and 22nd and both the previous times I failed to see the pattern on P5, but this time I saw it well and it had a dark marking across the feather. This gull scores very well on the trait scoring scheme and is without doubt a pure Caspian Gull. The wings look a little short in the photo below, but that is the angle of the bird and also the longest primary feather is still growing.

    Adult Caspian Gull

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  • 11/01/14--13:57: Hybrid Caspian Gull
  • Today was all about searching for my 400th colour-ringed gull at Shawell A5 Lagoons, but my run of finding Caspian Gulls continued. A small female was on the bank between some Great Black-backed Gulls that dwarfed her. 

    Adult Female Caspian Gull

    A Common Buzzard flushed the gulls from the bank and I lost the female Caspian Gull. Many of the gulls headed for the safety of the water and I turned my attention to them. I quickly came across another Caspian Gull candidate. It looked good, but when it started to preen, instead of seeing the typical pattern of the underside of the longest primary (P10), I saw a mostly black feather.

    Presumed Hybrid Caspian Gull (note the extent of the black on the underside of the primaries)

    I was not happy with this gull, so I continued to search and found another candidate. This third individual had paler eyes than the hybrid, but otherwise it looked good. Eventually the two gulls met each other and gave me an opportunity to compare them side by side. The good one showed the typical pattern on the underside of P10 - photo of a typical P10 HERE - but the other had too much black on the primaries. The hybrid's bill was the correct colour, but it was perhaps a little short. Without being familiar with the main features I could have easily identified it as a Caspian Gull. The reason it looked like a Caspian Gull structurally may have been because one of its parents was a pure Caspian and the other a hybrid that was closer in looks to Caspian Gull than Herring Gull?

    Presumed Hybrid Caspian Gull
    The Caspian Gull and the hybrid were actually very similar apart from the amount of black on the longest primaries and the eye colour. Another slight difference was that the hybrid had fine streaks on its head whereas the apparent pure bird had fine streaking on its lower neck. The streaking is not really visible in the photos I took, so it is difficult to actual work out which one it is in some of the photos. The surprising thing was how similar the bills were in colour and size of the gonys spot. I am glad I actually saw these gulls side by side.

    The image below is of the good one - I worked it out based on the time I took the photo.

    Adult Caspian Gull

    By the way I did manage to read a few new colour rings to pass the 400 mark for different colour-ringed gulls seen by me at the site.

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  • 11/08/14--13:00: A Rough Day for Counting
  • It's the Wetland Bird Survey (WeBS) weekend and my chosen day is Saturday for counting at Shawell. This is the better day to make sure I get the gulls.

    The weather was dreadful today, even the gulls left early today. The wildfowl numbers are never anything to write home about, but it was good to see 13 Shoveler on the small gravel pit near to the entrance to the landfill site.

    The gulls are viewable on the landfill site once again from Gibbet Lane although a little hedge trimming is required to make viewing more comfortable. From the road I spotted seven Yellow-legged Gulls including three first-winters.

    Gulls were in short supply at the A5 Lagoons, but I did see the hybrid Caspian x Herring Gull that I saw last weekend and a fourth-winter Caspian Gull with better credentials.

    Fourth-winter Caspian Gull

    I sort of feel I've seen this Caspian Gull before. It would make sense that some of the Caspian Gulls are returning birds. This of course has been proven by the Polish ringed adult PADZ, which has been seen in Leicestershire two years in a row. This one sort of reminds me of a third-winter I saw last August (HERE). Its longest primary was new and still growing, so this gull will, like many others recently, will look even longer winged soon. 

    Despite the diabolical weather this gull stood out with its clean features. It spent much of the time sandwiched between some adult Herring Gulls. The Herring Gulls were scruffy looking in their winter plumage compared to the Casp's white head and breast. The Caspian Gull sat much lower on the water and its head was noticeably smaller compared to the HG's.

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  • 11/11/14--14:15: A Good Day at the Tip
  • Yesterday afternoon I spent some time at Cotesbach landfill site near to Shawell and I had one of my most successful sessions to date. In all I read 27 colour-rings and had close views of two Caspian Gulls, an adult that I've seen before and a new fourth-winter. I also saw what at first appeared to be a second-winter Caspian Gull, but under close examination it didn't tick all the boxes. It was not quite elegant enough and its coverts didn't look quite right either. I decided it might just have a few Herring Gull genes, so best to add it to the hybrid list.

    One of the Colour-ringed Gulls - Dutch Ringed LBB Gull (FAUK)
    Adult Caspian Gull

    Compared to the adult Herring Gull, to its left, the Caspian Gull has a smaller clean white head; smaller and darker eyes; a thinner and more parallel edged bill; longer wings; greyer legs and is fuller breasted. The long white tip to the longest primary feather (P10) is just visible in the photo above and zoomed up the white tong is also just visible. A small dark mark can be seen on P5. Its leg length was impossible to see due to it standing behind the dirt, but it did appear to me to be longer legged than the other gulls.

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