Thursday, 20 January 2022

The Never-ending Challenge of Gulls!

I made the most of my day off of school on Tuesday by going to Beddington Farmlands. I did not expect anything too much but I was looking forward to scanning the gulls as always. It was one of those days where there were plenty of gulls about, but there just seemed to be not many 'interesting' ones within them. A regularly seen Caspian Gull was surprisingly the only one about, with no sign of the usual 2nd winter, and an adult Northern Herring Gull was also present on 100 Acre. Overall, the day was quiet. Not much else was happening: the lakes were frozen and that had dramatically reduced the number of wildfowl, plus there was little activity of smaller birds and no larger raptors. But then rather suddenly, Dave Warren shouted, "Zach, this gull has yellow legs!" Instantly I was revived with some excitement that there was actually something decent out there. I quickly got onto Dave's bird and I was pleased to see that the mantle was darker than the surrounding Herring Gulls, but not as dark as a Lesser Black-backed Gull (LBBG). Did we finally have the first Yellow-legged Gull (Larus michahellis) of the year for the Farmlands? Being an adult made it all the more exciting as they are known to be less frequent at Beddington than younger birds, and I saw it as a perfect opportunity to study its different features. Dave and I started to get several hundred pictures of the bird so that we got every angle necessary. I was cautious to call it as a definite adult michahellis at first. I was aware of the potential of a hybrid and also the occurrence of yellow-legged omissus Herring Gulls. However, I was not aware of the frequency of omissus Herring Gulls in the UK but I did presume they were scarcer than michahellis, which I now know is the case. Multiple pics of the bird in question here:

Dark mantle, clean white head, red orbital ring, and yellow legs

For comparison of mantle colour with Herring Gull (left)

A quick glimpse of the primary pattern - a black band on p5!

A better view of p5 - band nice and broad but broken at shaft

From further away, detail of p5 band is lost and looks perfect for michahellis

p10 with complete subterminal band separating the small mirror from the white primary tip, no p9 mirror, extensive black on p8, absence of white tongue tips on p6 and 7, and slightly broken broad p5 band - all fine for michahellis

Short pale tongue on p10

Interesting black marks on secondaries

Overall, and after much debate and input from others, I am sticking with my decision to call this a michahellis from the views I had in the field. Reviewing the pictures, I am happy to rule out omissus Herring Gull based on the fact that this bird has both a subterminal band on p10 (mentioned above) and a broad band on p5. It is very likely that omissus would either have no p10 subterminal band, very limited black on p5, or both. As for hybrids, the most likely and therefore  the one considered was Herring x LBBG, but as every feature is within variation for a Yellow-legged Gull, the possibility of a hybrid should not be stressed and it would be very hard to prove anyways.

Sunday, 16 January 2022

Snaresbrook and Wanstead Flats

Yesterday I decided to go to Snaresbrook for the adult Caspian Gull that has regularly been seen on Eagle Pond. I have seen plenty of Caspian Gulls at Beddington but I have never seen anything older than 2nd winters so I thought it was a good opportunity to go and study this individual and get some physical experience with their adult plumage. When I arrived early morning it was unfortunately quite foggy, so I decided to walk over to Hollow Pond and see what was over there. The fog just started to lift after I had had a thorough look around Hollow Pond but I decided to head off to Wanstead Flats to look at the 1,200+ Common Gulls there, with the intentions of heading back for the Casp in the afternoon. Anyone that has heard me talk about Common Gulls will know how much I've always wanted to see a Russian Common Gull (Larus canus heinei) or at least find a decent candidate. I knew that this was by far the best chance I had ever had to study the variation in nominate canus and pick out any heinei candidates. I ended up spending a total of 3hrs and 20mins at Wanstead as I got a bit carried away. Whilst this was great as it made me happy I had given it a good go, it did unfortunately mean I had cut it rather fine in terms of time to get back for the Caspian Gull at Eagle Pond. It had started to get dark as I arrived back at Eagle Pond and I just got on a large gull in the far corner of the pond as it then flew off. It was it! How frustrating! It was nowhere near the views I was hoping for, but it was good to see how noticeable the large white mirrors are on p10. I have put it on Ebird but I am by no means taking it as my first ever adult Caspian Gull. I guess that just means I will really have to try and find one at Beddington. Ebird trip report here and my favourite pics below:

Hollow Pond:

Black Swan above and below. A nice surprise and sound recorded too

Great Crested Grebe (not that frequent at Beddington so always good to see)

Adult Common Gull (canus) - large white mirrors on p9 and p10, grey base on p8, obvious white tongue tip on p7, incomplete band on p5 and broad white trailing edge on secondaries

My first Nuthatch of the year. I promise this photo is not upside down - just the bird!

Lesser Redpoll - a group of 6 were my first of the year

Wanstead Flats:

Adult Common Gull (canus) doing the rather amusing shuffling of feet to bring worms to the surface. Note the head streaking on the crown and behind the eye and large white mirrors

Probable Russian Common Gull (heinei):

Clean white head and a nice shawl. Legs and bill brighter yellow than surrounding nominate canus, along with slightly darker mantle and paleing eye

Some pros and cons in the wing pattern here. Pros - extensive black on outer primaries (black on p8 does not quite extend fully to primary coverts but that is still fine for heinei) and spot on p4. Cons - large white p9 mirror and large white tongue tips, particularly on p7

Another interesting individual (perhaps an intergrade?):

Pics overexposed but more canus-like than previous individual. Mostly white headed except some small 'pencil marks' on the crown. Nice shawl but bill less bright yellow

Open wing shot far better on this bird which allows for better detailed analysis. Mirrors and tongue tips certainly better this time, but no spot on p4 and black on outer primaries less extensive.

Limited head streaking on this canus:

Black on p5 appears to be weaker on the right wing than it is on the left wing

1st winter Common Gulls (canus):

A special thanks to Dante for his views on my probable heinei. I must come back to Wanstead Flats or go somewhere else with more Common Gulls than Beddington at some point to give it another go after now feeling more confident with looking for certain features.

Monday, 10 January 2022

Beddington Farmlands, Poulter Park and Watermeads

It was a good birding session overall yesterday. I did the Farmlands all morning and stayed until mid afternoon, before heading off north to bird along the Wandle River, where many are hoping the concentration of warblers will bring in a scarcer bird or two.

60 species observed at the Farmlands, Ebird list here. which included my first Rook of the year. However, the highlight was the pair of Ravens that put on a show, calling and flying around for a good 40 minutes. My favourite pics from the Farmlands:

Ravens below:

Nice as always to see the glamorous Incinerator

Aerial acrobatics above and below

A new 1st winter Caspian Gull made an appearance on the North Lake:

Usual 2nd winter Caspian Gull

After feeling like we had rinsed the Farmlands enough, Arjun, Dave and I headed off to Poulter Park and Watermeads along the Wandle in the search of some Siberian Chiffchaffs, and also hoping for something even better. The concentration of warblers along this area of the Wandle (and likely other areas too) is amazing and destined to get Surrey's first Dusky Warbler. No scarcer warblers were seen but it was still nice to see all the Chiffchaffs and Goldcrests about. A pair of Ravens (presumably the same as earlier in the day at the Farmlands) flew over south east back towards Beddington. They were a new bird for the Poulter Park Ebird hotspot.

I then met up with Claire Williams and Steve Shimwell at their spot to watch the Little Egret roost at Watermeads. We had 13 Little Egrets last night, but last year I managed to see 21. Steve says he has had even more than that. Ebird lists for Poulter Park and Watermeads here and here.

Grey Wagtail along Poulter Park stretch of the Wandle

Little Egret having just come in to roost at Watermeads

On the walk home, in the darkness I briefly caught a glimpse of a ghostly Barn Owl at the Farmlands. It was a fantastic way to finish the day!

Wednesday, 5 January 2022

Super Seven: Peak Gulling at Beddington Farmlands

The gulling season seemed to have dropped off a bit recently at Beddington, so I was pleased to see that two days ago there were finally a bigger number of large gulls. Along with the usual three Caspian Gulls (including the Czech ringed 1st winter '87AU'), four new ones showed up, taking my total for the day to 7 (my highest ever and new highest count for the Ebird hotspot!). They were also accompanied by 10 Great Black-backed Gulls (the highest this winter here), a Northern Herring Gull, some Common Gulls and a couple of ringed Black-headed Gulls found by Dave Warren. Sadly no Yellow-legged Gulls seen yet this year but hopefully that will change soon.

Black-headed Gull

Ringed Black-headed Gulls: '2J84' above and '2J66' below

Black-headed Gull

1st winter Caspian Gull
1st winter Caspian Gull - a new bird that shows advanced post-juvenile moult with 2nd generation coverts (and a tertial too?) coming through.

2nd winter Caspian Gull
Usual 2nd winter Caspian Gull

1st winter Caspian Gull

A regularly seen 1st winter Caspian Gull above and below

1st winter Caspian Gull

1st winter Caspian Gull
A new 1st winter Caspian Gull

1st winter Caspian Gull
Another new 1st winter Caspian Gull

1st winter Caspian Gull
The third new 1st winter Caspian Gull

1st winter Herring Gull
A rather smart looking 1st winter Herring Gull

Adult Common Gull
Adult Common Gull

1st winter Common Gull
1st winter Common Gull

I also had this interesting immature gull with a noticeably dark mantle. I was hoping that maybe I had finally found a 2nd winter YLG, but on reviewing pics and asking for some more opinions, it appears to be a 3rd winter (white primary tips visible in first pic - thanks Dante) dark Northern Herring (Larus argentatus argentatus) or Herring x Lesser Black-backed hybrid. Sadly these are the only pics I managed to get, so hopefully someone can relocate the bird and get some flight pics to help confirm identification.

Other highlights included:

Red Kite, Peregrine, Raven, Skylark and Goldcrest (all year ticks), plus 42 Lapwing.


Red Kite

Red Kite above and below

Red Kite

Raven below