Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Gulls, gulls, gulls....Gulls, gulls, gulls.

A very short safari along the beach today. There were hundreds of gulls rooting through the strandline after yesterdays storm...which leads nicely in to a gull masterclass.

I couldn't see any Mediterranean Gulls and wasn't really expecting to. (One spent all last winter at Bispham beach a little to the north and to the trained eye was quite easy to pick out from the sea wall without binoculars - is it there this year?) They can be told from Black Headed Gulls as they do actually have a black head (although in winter all that remains in both species is a dark smudge behind the eye). The bill is heavier and a brighter coral red, the legs too are brighter red. The back - mantle - is much paler than the silvery grey of a Black Headed Gull. This one is a second summer bird as it has black feathers in the wing tip, adults have pure white wingtips.

This one below is an adult Black Headed Gull moulting its 'black' head. You can see the bill is a darker shade of red, more burgundy than coral and finer too. A very easy way to identify Black Headed Gulls at all times of year, and in all plumages, is by the white leading edge to the outer wing and smokey underwing when seen in flight.

Here are two Lesser Black Backed Gulls, both adults. The mantle colour is not black (it is in Great Black Backed Gulls, which are obviously bigger and have pink legs) but a very dark charcoal grey. Legs are yellow. The preening bird in the foreground is a Herring Gull with pink legs and a silvery grey mantle, very close in shade to the Black Headed Gull's colour. The brown on the wings indicates it is a young bird second or third winter plumage. How do I know it's winter - they are standing on a frozen lake and there are dark flecks on the head and neck. Both Herring and Lesser Black Backs have this but 'Yellow Legged' Gulls do not making them stand out a little.

An adult Herring Gull has learn't how to raid the bird table at base camp; and yes it does take the peanuts left out for the smaller birds. The wind has to be in the right direction for it to get the necessary fine control for a landing and it doesn't half teeter if it has to land on the top of the fence. Sorry about the glare - the picture was taken through the kitchen window. You can still see the pink legs and pale mantle.

I don't have a picture of a Common Gull (that's Mew Gull to anyone the other side of the Atlantic - I hate to be pedantic, by why can't you lot call anything by its proper name?) yet but they are intermediate between the smaller Black Headed Gull and the larger Herring/Lesser Black Backed Gulls. Also their mantle colour is an intermediate slatey blue grey. So next time you're out and about in your outback have a good look at the gulls - there are plenty of different species to sort out - unless you are in Australia where most places only have two; big 'uns and little 'uns. Would you believe it Blackpool beach has more species of gull than a whole continent!!!!! (There's a Silver Gull...oh and another one...and another...and another...and another...ad infinitum. I've got some slides of one somewhere I'll have to dig 'em out and scan 'em.)
Be wary of the 'colour' of the mantle in bright sunlight as it an look different on adjacent birds if they are not facing the same way. The aspect causes shadows and shadowing making the same colour look different - an example of this can be seen in your own living room if it is painted the same colour on all walls - look in a corner - although the colour is the same it will appear to be different. The best light for assessing mantle colour is dull and flat as on a cloudy day when there are no shadows. (This is irrelevant in Australia where they are all Silver Gulls, or the other one - what the other one is depends whereabouts in Aus you are)

More gull masterclass coming up in the future...when we might look at some immature plumages and throw in the confusing melee of 'Yellow Legged' Gulls.

If any of you are wondering -I didn't manage to get the head from the Porpoise, the tide had removed it before I got to it. Some of the spine was still there and it really stunk...not a sniff of the skull - if you'll pardon the pun.
Here's a question to ponder during the long dark nights (of the northern hemisphere at least). Not quite the meaning of life; although I believe Ford Prefect et al have sussed that one, and far less important and worrying than 'why do wellingtons always suck your socks off?' But this........
I don't know about your neck of the woods but round here the gulls spend loads of time foraging round the rubbish dumps and following the plough in muddy fields so without access to a well known brand of washing powder how do they stay whiter than white? In fact the only time they show any trace of 'dirt' is when they have been out at sea and got contaminated with spilt oil; something that, thankfully, seems to be happening much less frequently now than in previous decades.
A second question (for UK readers only) is which is our commonest breeding gull...hint...it's not the Common Gull. Answers on a post card please...to coin a phrase.

In the meantime let us know what you have seen in your outback.


Where to next? We still hope to connect with the very elusive Long Eared Owls sooner rather than later we hope.

2 comments:

babooshka said...

Good to see we are not the only ones who have visting garden gulls. I had no idea there was such a variety.

Lancashire and Lakeland Outback Adventure Wildlife Safaris said...

Thanks Babs, I heard from Big G that they'd been doing the same on your table - -anyone else anywhere in the world got gulls on their feeders? (I was gonna say nuts -but I didn't)