Monday, 12 October 2009

A Wild Gull Chase and another Wild Goose

A couple of local excursions to report on: on Friday morning I got a call to say that a Brent goose was on Farmoor Reservoir. Fortunately for me I wasn't doing anything special and could leave my work for a while so I was able to get down there almost immediately. The bird was right in the middle of Farmoor II to start with and was rather wary. While we were watching it it flew up and did a number of circuits before eventually settling on Farmoor I. Apparently it stayed until mid afternoon before departing. Brent geese are by no means common county birds so I was most pleased to pick this up for my county year and indeed county life list.

As the bird was so far away I had to be content with a digiscoped videograb record shot which didn't come out too badly.

Whilst I'd been off chasing wrynecks and Brent geese during the week of course there was much hoohaa in the county about the Azorean Gull down at Didcot. Finally on Sunday I was free to go and see if I could find it but by all accounts it was not an easy bird to locate as it (and all the other gulls there) were highly mobile and there were lots of places that it could be, many of which were inaccessible. Still I thought I'd have a go and at least I could see if I could catch up with the two first winter Caspian gulls which were around as well. Also, I'd only birded the area once before and had found it rather difficult so I wanted to get better acquainted with the location and it's various access and viewing points.

I arrived to find a persistent drizzle which didn't abate the whole time I was there. I initially checked out the fields to the north of the minor B road where a number of gulls were loafing but there was no sign of it. Indeed no sightings had come across the pagers at all that day so it wasn't looking that promising. I next made my way over to the Appleford GP, the small pool just beyond the level crossing there. Here were half a dozen or so hardy birders patiently waiting to see if the vagrant gull would turn up. Ian Lewington, gull guru and finder of the bird turned up and pointed out that there was a Baltic Gull in amongst the fifty odd gulls that were at present gracing the pool. Once he had told us what to look for: a very small, very black-and-white lesser black back gull with a clean head and very long primaries, it was fairly straight-forward to pick out and it did indeed really stand out from the others.

A digiscoped videograb record shot of the Baltic Gull

And again, this time with a standard lesser black-backed for comparison. Note the very black wing colour, the small size, the clean and delicate head and the extraordinary long primary projection.

Unfortunately the Azorean Gull never turned up though Ian did locate it later in the afternoon in a private pit further north. I also managed to miss one of the first winter Caspian Gulls by about ten minutes (a consistent theme with birds for me in the last week!) but I was very pleased the the Baltic gull by way of compenstation for a rather damp and frustrating afternoon. Baltic Gulls (larus fuscus fuscus) are currently a sub-species of the lesser black-backed gull though apparently they are ripe for splitting and have already been split in the Netherlands. This means that it's not a tick at present but an armchair one may be due in the future. In terms of identification, although in general there is apparently some overlap with l. f. intermedius it was a very striking bird and Ian was very confident about it.

Just one more tick for the county list in the form of the Brent goose which was a most welcome addition. Having already achieved my year target, I feel that all birds now are bonuses.

Oxon County List 2009
181 Brent Goose 09/10/09 Farmoor Reservoir (County Lifer)

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