Tuesday, 8 March 2011

February Gulls

Apart from my recent Cornish trip there's not been much to write about this month. I've been dutifully checking out the gull roost on my patch at Port Meadow but have not really gone anywhere else (apart from for the small matter of the Oriental Turtle Dove and the mealy redpolls at Milcombe). I thought though that I'd do another monthly round-up for my readers who don't follow my regular Port Meadow Birding blog.

At this time of year the main gulls that one can hope for are Iceland, glaucous, Mediterranean, yellow-legged and Caspian gulls. I've been fortunate enough to see all of these this month which has been really great. The only one of those for which I had to leave the comfort of my patch was the Iceland gull which has confined itself strictly to Appleford during the day and roosting at Radley GP's. Recently I had to go and pick up a parcel from the UPS depot at Didcot which was so close to Appleford that it would have been most rude of me not to pop in. This I duly did and although the Spit Pit was pretty empty the Iceland was to be found loafing in the distance on the field opposite the level crossing. The grass is getting quite long there and it was only when it stretched its wings that I got the full benefit of the white primaries. Having spent so much watching "Glauczilla" recently (see later) I'd become quite attuned to the relatively short primary projection of the glaucous gull so it was very noticeable how much further the iceland's primaries projected beyond the tail.

Here is a really rubbish record shot, even by my standards:
it's the very white one lying asleep in the middle

As I've hinted above, I've had the benefit of a glaucous gull coming in to my patch quite a few times this month. This bird, which was first seen by Nic Hallam in the Farmoor roost, is a real monster, and is considerably larger than the other large gulls around and is well endowed with a monster bill to boot, hence the name (courtesy of Badger) of "Glauczilla". This is the third glaucous gull that we've had in the county this winter: they're just like buses - none for several years and then three come along at once. Glauczilla did cause a bit of problems with ageing him: the three key pointers for a second winter as opposed to a first winter glaucous gull being:
  • A pale as opposed to a dark iris
  • A pale tip to the bill
  • More blotchy plumage to a second winter than a first
From my video footage and photos it's possible to determine that he does in fact have a pale iris and is quite blotchy though there's no sign of anything more than the faintest hint of a pale bill tip. Still two out of three is good enough to age him as a second winter apparently, though feel free to judge for yourself from the photos below

I've enhanced the contrast in this photo so that you can see the pale iris

What a handsome beast he is!

He completely dwarfs the normal "large gulls"

I took quite a few videos of him, this is probably the best one

At the other end of the gull scale, I was pleased to pick out a Mediterranean gull from the vast throng of black-headeds in the roost this month. It's hard work (for me at least) finding them and I haven't yet got to the stage of a true gull Jedi of instantly picking them out from a large flock without even having to scan through the flock. I've seen Nic Hallam do this at Farmoor and it is quite amazing.

For those for whom a still videograb is not enough, here's the full video which conveys the nice evening atmosphere of the gull roost

Med. gull in the Meadow roost

For me, my greatest gulling triumph this month (how sad am I) was to pick out a very subtle first winter Caspian gull from the evening roost. I'd been watching Glauczilla in the roost and was having a quick scan to see what else was about when my subconscious stopped me on one particular gull with a comparatively pale head (see I am acquiring rudimentary Gull Jedi skills). Now at this time of year all the herring gulls are looking very pale and bleached and a lot of them have pale heads and look altogether rather weird but nevertheless this gull did stand out. It had nice thinly-fringed tertials and a lovely long parallel-sided black bill and a good neck shawl around a pale head.

The bird in question

All sounds good for Caspian I hear you say? Yes, but it still had a rather streaky head and the coverts were quite heavily chequered and the anchor pattern on it's scaps. wasn't at all obvious. I took some video of it and from the comfort of my study back home it did seem to have that elegant cachninnans jizz. I sent it of to Lewington Labs for testing and the verdict came back positive: a Caspian gull but the streakiness apparently indicates distant (e.g. grandparent) argentatus influence. A most interesting bird!

Anyway, spring is now around the corner and the gulling season will soon be coming to an end ("shame" I hear you cry) and it will soon be time to start thinking about waders and warblers.

1 comment:

Badger said...

Spring sucks ;-)