Saturday 18 May 2013

More Gull Action at Topsham Rec

17th May 2013 - Topsham

The Bonaparte's Gull hasn't been seen since Wednesday and frankly I'm hoping it might have moved on. I have sympathy for the few people still turning up to see it but I admit it'll be nice to have the place to myself again.

Perhaps as consolation, a first summer Little Gull has dropped in a couple of times, surprisingly an addition to my list for the site and the first one I've seen for a few years. The local Black-headed Gulls, delighted to have found something below even them in the gull pecking order, gave it a bit of a hard time and it didn't stay long. I wish they'd gang up and clear out the 'plastic' waterfowl as well - the 'farmyard' ducks and Mute Swans (sorry, I just don't care for them) and there were even a pair of Bar-headed Geese a couple of weeks back...don't get me started.

Meanwhile, some proper birds - further up the river, where the big gulls bathe and preen at low tide, things got interesting. I found this bird with the usual Herring Gulls.

I've become suspicious of apparent Yellow-legged Gulls and here's why.

Out of the water the bird showed a nice pair of pink legs; there was a hint of yellowish I think but nowhere near the bright yellow of a michahellis. So how about an argentatus Herring Gull? Maybe the grey is a little too dark but the wing pattern settles it.

There are two big white mirrors on P9 and P10, a lot of black on P8-10, black bar on P5 and obvious white 'moons' behind the black on P5-7. So, no pale tongues on outer primaries, no solid white tip to P10 and the black on P5 together fairly comprehensively rule out argentatus.  It also doesn't look like a michahellis with abnormally coloured legs since the large mirror on P9 and the white moons are also wrong. Reluctantly, because it's something of a cop-out, I've got to say It's almost certainly a hybrid, presumably with the genes of argenteus Herring and graellsii Lesser Black-backed. Looking closely at the primary pattern I'm pretty sure this bird is one I saw here on the 28th April. This is the second apparent hybrid at this spot this year - and I've only seen two 'safe' Yellow-legged Gulls in that time.

Tuesday 14 May 2013

Roseate Terns and Sanderling

12th May 2013 - Exmouth

It seemed a good idea at the time - an early morning walk - before the crowds - on Exmouth Beach to photograph some terns. But the birds (mostly Common Terns, with a few Little, at least one Arctic and at least a half dozen Roseate Terns) were not really co-operating. They were all feeding in the shallow water over Pole Sand at the mouth of the Exe. As they were not getting any closer than a quarter of a mile off my Tern photography was not entirely successful.

This (much cropped) photo clearly falls into the category of 'record shot' - two Commons and one of the Roseates with Dawlish Warren in the background. The Roseate even looks a bit pinkish at this distance, they must have been gorgeous close up.

 Some compensation was present however, with this confiding Sanderling on the beach. A lot of breeding/summer type feathers among the grey and no sign of any retained juvenile coverts or remiges so presumably an adult on it's way to the High Arctic.

Sunday 5 May 2013

Bonaparte's Gull - again

4th May 2013 - Topsham

Yesterdays views and photographs of the Bonaparte's Gull were somewhat less than satisfactory. I popped down again for next morning's low tide on the off chance it was still around. I wonder if there's a rule with rare birds - be difficult to pin down/confirm at first, but then to give up as if saying 'OK, you got me - anybody else want a look?' A similar thing happened here with the Spotted Sandpiper a couple of years ago. So I wasn't too surprised when the Bonaparte's appeared and showed off when some bread was offered - courtesy of Martin Elcoate, who's even more local than me, he now has it on his garden list.

It was now fairly easy to pick out from the other small gulls in flight, it was just about the only bird in adult type plumage. Still, it wasn't easy to track with the camera and the light wasn't too bright.

The size difference compared to Black-headed was not great but usually obvious. The black hood was also more extensive - covering more of the neck. The grey of the mantle also looks a shade darker next to the Black-head.

Saturday 4 May 2013

Bonaparte's Gull

3rd May 2013 - Topsham

I don't expect much in the way of gull interest in May, plenty of resident Herring Gulls, a few local-breeding Lesser and Greater Black-backed and small numbers of 1st summer Black-headed. Still, it can pay to look, and it helps to be forewarned. Local birder Nick Potter reported a possible Bonaparte's Gull from the Bowling Green hide on Thursday, it was in the back of my mind on Friday morning as I wandered up the path by the Exe at the Recreation Ground. Virtually all the Black-heads are now first summer birds with obviously juvenile type wings and patchy hoods, I picked out the one bird with a complete hood and started wondering. The hood appeared to be blackish, no hint of brown, the bill looked thin and dark, now I really got interested. It stood beside a Black-head but didn't appear to be particularly small - maybe it just picked out the smallest available so as not to stand out? Everything looked good but I really wanted to see the open wings, so I waited for it to fly. Then it went, I got a couple of shots and my camera froze - dead battery. Of course, by the time I'd changed it the bird was gone. It could have been worse, at least I got the shots that clinched it, showing the pale, black-tipped primaries on the underwing. Not sure if I can really call this a 'find' but it's a very good bird for my patch.

A winter plumaged Bonaparte's had been seen occasionally in the area from October (found by Stephen Edwards here) through to January (including nice photo by Chris Townend here). Is it the same bird? Obviously the May bird has a hood as would be expected but the wings hold the answer I believe. That blackish strip on P9 and the tiny dark spots on the outer primary coverts (and possibly the alula, it's hard to be sure) very nicely match Chris's November photo. I think it's almost certainly the same bird. Incidentally, according to Howell & Dunn (2007) and Malling Olsen & Larsson (2004) those characters also strongly suggest that this is a 2nd summer (or 3rd calendar year, or 2nd cycle - take your pick, it's all the same age).


Howell, S.N.G. & Dunn, J.L. 2007. Gulls of the Americas (Peterson Reference Guides). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Olsen, K.M. & Larsson, H. 2004. Gulls of Europe, Asia and North America. A & C Black.