Monday, 20 December 2010

Thought we were in luck

The Safari has nothing to report from a very cold Patch 1 a full 2 ½ hours before sunrise, but as we left for work we heard a Blackbird singing somewhere in the distance. Only a couple of days now til the nights start drawing out, not much chance of the weather warming up significantly though.
We managed a short spell on Patch 2 and although light it was still a stupid -7ºC. The tide was just about full and there were only a couple of hundred gulls sat about on the gentle swell to look through. At any distance there was only grey mist.
So we set about the gulls. Nothing out of the ordinary until we got to the last dozen or so when we found four Herring Gulls sat close together. One of them was just a little different. So much so that we decided it would be worth while contacting a local expert with a bit of a description. Not that we could get much of a description as the bird was more or less facing us jsut taking it easy resting on the water. A pic might have helped but the camera was too cold and it wasn’t cooperating at all.

Size - as Herring Gull.
Bill - pale lemony yellow with dark gonyeal spot and above on upper mandible, some red on lower mandible – probably indicating a fourth winter rather than full adult - pale tip looked quite heavy but not as pronounced as Great Black Backed Gull.
Eye - dark brown but too far to see eye ring colour, easy to see the pale eye of adjacent similarly aged Herring Gull
Head - lightly streaked couldn't see how far down the back of the head it reached but upper breast was unstreaked so unlikely to have a hooded appearance
Mantle - bit of a weird light this morning but it looked almost if not the same shade of silvery grey as nearby Herring Gulls, certainly not as pale as an Iceland or Glaucous Gull.
Primaries – which were the first thing we noticed that made it stand out very clearly from the others - dark silvery grey, darker grey than mantle but much paler than the typical black of the Herring Gulls. The tips were/appeared silvery white rather than pure white. Tips of a normal size ie more grey showing than white.
The bird was only seen resting on the sea so no leg colour was visible
We doubted very much if this was a leucistic bird, the ones we’ve seen over the years (several) looked more like duff Iceland or Glaucous Gulls.
However, our resident expert came back with this link from only yesterday! which shows a very similar bird, maybe slightly paler and with no head streaking but those primaries are just what we saw. We’re now happy to call it a leucistic Herring Gull, any thoughts of something good and transatlantic being well and truly put to rest. Sadly not one of these from Monika (fourth pic down with less head markigs and more black on bill including the upper mandible - unless one turns up this week not too far away. An interesting bird none-the-less so keep your eyes peeled.
At lunchtime the tide was just dropping off the seawall and exposing the beach. looking south was useless in the bright sunlight and there wasn’t anything on the tiny bit of beach in front of us so we broke the habit of a lifetime and walked 100 yards to the north to look along that section of beach with the light coming obver our shoulder...maybe we should do it more often. There were a hundred or more gulls mostly Black Headed and Commons, but the waders were interesting too. Almost the first bird we saw was a Bar Tailed Godwit and we soon found another – two in a day – double wow! A Grey Plover tip-toed around with six Ringed Plovers. A couple of Dunlins were seen with the dozen or so but increasing all the time Sanderlings. Six Turnstones turned over seaweed on the wall while a few uncounted Redshanks and Oystercatchers scoured the beach and tideline.
Checking the larger gulls we found an adult Lesser Black Back but no amount of grilling the Herring Gulls exposed our ‘mystery’ bird, had it been there we would have found it in the excellent conditions.
Where to next? Back for another look for it tomorrow.
In the meantime let us know what the mystery bird was in your outback.


Warren Baker said...

Gulls!! Its bad enough without getting leucistic ones, I just turn a blind eye to any wierd looking ones :-)

Lancashire and Lakeland Outback Adventure Wildlife Safaris said...

Shame on you - Warren ;)



Monika said...

I have to say I'm with Warren on this least until I get a bit better at the "normal" adult gulls! Immatures are hard enough, but then with all the hybrids that are turning up, it just gets crazy.