Monday, 5 March 2018

Little Gulls, Cobb, Lyme Regis, 5th and 6th March 2018

On the 5th, a 1st winter Little Gull was feeding with Black-headed Gulls off the Cobb, Lyme Regis:

The Little Gull is roughly 2/3rds the size of a Black-headed Gull:

Here's a flight shot showing dark patterning to upperwing and tail bar:

Here are some more photos taken on 6th March when 2 birds were showing really well.

...and lastly a "Little" video clip taken 6th March:

Tuesday, 27 February 2018

Bonaparte's Gull - Teignmouth, 27th February 2018

Continuing with the Gull theme - here are a few pics of the Bonaparte's Gull seen today at Teignmouth, Devon. A beautiful adult winter bird, slightly smaller than the accompanying Black-headed Gulls, paler under the wing making it seem sharper and brighter and surprisingly easier to pick out "in the field" than I was expecting from the written description. A rare vagrant from North America. Be very nice if one of these turned up locally at Monmouth Beach, Lyme Regis. Very Smart.

Monday, 26 February 2018

Ross's Gull - Radipole, Weymouth, 26th February 2018

For the last few days an adult Ross's Gull has been seen visiting both Radipole and Lodmoor nature reserves in Weymouth, Dorset. Today was my first opportunity to drive over to see whether I could hook up with this stunning small gull - a rare visitor from Eastern Siberia and Arctic North America.
The "Beast from the East" has begun to affect eastern areas of the country and the first few snow showers were arriving in East Anglia, London and the South East of England. Temperatures in Dorset  were once again at or slightly below zero minus a few degrees of windchill. A leisurely drive along the coast road with Justin T started well as a flock of Plover overflew the car. But unfortunately we only had a brief glimpse and we couldn't say with certainty whether they were Lapwing or Golden Plover.
Making a brief stopover at Abbotsbury Swannery we scoped the Fleet hoping to pick out a distant Scaup. We dipped Scaup however but the overflying Red Kite (heading West) as we arrived more than made up for this. And suddenly and even better about 12 Golden Plover flew over the road from the direction of the Swannery and landed in a nearby field along with c100 Lapwing, c50 mixed flock of Corvids (mainly Rooks and Crows) and c50 Starlings. A fantastic start on a freezing cold day.
Fast forward to RSPB Radipole, we chatted with some of the many patient observers and it was soon confirmed that the Ross's Gull had been briefly seen early that morning at Lodmoor (good news!) and had departed high westwards before 8am but had not been seen at Radipole (not so good news!). At our 2nd Radipole visit we determined to sit it out, fairly confident that the bird was still in the area and that there was every chance that it might return at some point in the afternoon. But you never know! Luckily and after a tense wait, we were not to be disappointed. And at around 2:45 a shout went up - to those (me included) on the small bridge by the visitors Centre unsighted as we were by tall reeds - that the bird had just dropped onto the water a few hundred yards to the north. A quick dash and I got the scope onto a beautiful, dainty Ross's Gull having a wash with some Black-headed Gulls and near a Teal. And a couple of minutes later it was all over. My photos are not great as the bird was distant and it only stayed for a few minutes before flying off over the eastern reedbed. But they are a record for me that give an indication of the general structure and appearance of this superb little gull and show the comparison in size with the nearby Black-headed Gulls and Teal

Size comparison with Black-headed Gull

I didn't manage a flight shot of its diagnostic tail shape with longer central tail feathers (seen clearly in the binoculars) but I did manage a ropey shot of its long pointed uniformly grey wing with paler rear margin.

Tuesday, 6 February 2018

Glaucous Gull - Lyme Regis Pre-Roost gathering - 6th Feb 2018

Here are a few record photos of this very pale bird with only small amount of shading on its mantle.

My first view of the bird hunkered down

Light getting pretty bad by now
And a little bit of video:

Saturday, 3 February 2018

Large Gulls on the River Axe - Back to basics

3rd February 2018

In the last week, I've been spending a few hours each day trying to improve my ID of the common larger Gulls. Below is a small selection of the hundreds of photos I've taken between 29th January and 2nd February 2018.

Herring Gulls
By far the most numerous large Gull in the Axe valley have been Herring Gulls. Common. Dead common I hear. Some might say "Well they're JUST Seagulls aren't they? They're everywhere. On the beach. On our seaside roofs. Even in Tesco car park! Why bother."

Why spend your precious birdwatching moments paying close attention to Herring Gulls? So before you switch off I'll try to explain why, this week, I've been taking so many photos of our commonest large Gull.

I did subtitle this blog "Back to basics". So bear with me! Personally I don't think Gulls are "easy" and I've decided it's time I got better at their identification. I've been reading Gavin's and Steve's recent, inspirational blogs (and Tim W. too has got in on the act) about finding and confidently IDing the rarer large Gulls and in particular their recent brilliant records of Caspian Gull.

I noticed that one of the clues to the rarity was the often subtle divergence from a common Gull such as the Herring Gull.  It' seemed to me that a good place to start is to take the time to look ... to get-out-your-Collins-Bird-guide-and-reeeeaally-look ... at Herring Gulls because I thought that this might hold a key to me being able to make more sense of Gulls. Who knows with practice I may even  be able to start finding the odd rare large Gull for myself. So duly inspired and starting with Herring Gulls, my plan has been to get to grips with different plumage variations, moulting patterns and crucially ageing of the birds I see every day.

On 2 of my visits, the wind was in the north which meant that I could get good flight shots from my position at Coronation Corner; Some as the birds flew passed me up-river and some (even better) as they stall-landed further upstream pointing into the wind and showing their wing and tail plumage brilliantly well in the bright sunlight.

So how did I get on? Well as you might expect I found plenty of these 1st Winters:

And here's a selection of some more 1st Winter birds in flight ...

1st Winter HG with a few adults

2 x 1st winters playing drop-and-catch the stick

Flying upriver into the headwind

There were also a few 2nd Winter birds:

Adult colours beginning to develop

Surrounded by 1st winter birds

I even found a couple of these beauties - pretty sure it's a 3rd Winter Herring Gull - flew in low along the river from the south and dropped into shallow water - quite smart pale grey above but showing marked black on the wingtip contrasting with paler grey inner primaries and quite nice dark tail band. Getting there plumage wise, smart but still some way to go before they reach full adult:

3rd Winter - Landing upstream

 And a another 3rd winter bird; this one with a less distinct tail band (bird in flight):

The same bird just landed, showing open wing and plumage

And finally here are a few shots of full adults 'flythroughs' or with wings outstretched showing the amount of black and white to wing tips. Feel free to comment on whether these are  argenteus or argentatus, I think they're probably all argenteus but wouldn't like to say for definite. (Could be a possible topic for a future blog though).

P.S. Hopefully I haven't made any school boy errors with these photos but feel free to comment / correct as necessary. As I said, the real reason for spending time doing this was to learn more about Gull ID and so if there are any inaccuracies it would be good to know. And with a bit of luck, in the future, I'll be more confident in picking out the oddities and unusual as and when they drop in.

Wednesday, 24 January 2018

Charmouth - 24 Jan 18 - IDing Winter Gulls, Kittiwake and Common Gulls

Regular readers of this blog will know that Charmouth River is small, very small, hardly bigger than a large stream in the summer months. But after rain when the river is in spate and particularly when onshore winds break through the shingle bank at the beach allowing high tide waves to surge up towards the footbridge, the river becomes slightly bigger than normal ... becoming an ever-so-slightly larger stream! We are not talking River Exe or Axe estuary here. At the footbridge the river is no more than 20metres wide and yet in rough weather, like this morning, it does provide some shelter which is enough to provide a short respite from the full force of the gale. Also the water is brackish and gulls will drop in to wash and preen their feathers.
The wind was gusting 50mph this morning and in the heavy rain and the squally conditions I thought it might be worth having a quick shuftie. I noticed that there was only 1 other car as I pulled up in the car park which was another good sign as this meant that only a few people were braving the storm conditions. So using the car as a shelter and hide, today I got great views of the gulls.

The regular Black-headed Gulls are still in their winter plumage but 1 or 2 individuals were starting to show their darker hood patterns:

With the Black-headed Gulls were three 1st winter Common Gulls:

Another squall came through with strong winds and very heavy rain and this gorgeous Kittiwake suddenly appeared on the river, sat on the water, bathed and then flew round the picnic area before settling on the far bank with the local Black-headed Gulls. Superb to see this Adult winter plumage Kittiwake at such close quarters, down to 20 metres,  I had to check the diagnostic features as below:

Quite long winged

Dark grey upperparts shading to lighter grey

Bill yellowish

Unusual view as the bird bathes

Plain white tail, yellowish bill


Slightly larger than BHG, greyer on back, long winged

Small black triangle on wing tip, long slender wings

Small black triangle on wing tip
Shortish legs, dark in colour

Note: thanks to Steve W @axebirder for help with ID and ageing