Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Great gulls but the ‘wrong’ ones

The Safari and Frank bumped into Blue again last night who had managed to get ‘out’ and was as ferocious as a whole pack of African Hunting Dogs! Sadly he took us by surprise and we were unable to get a pic or clip of video for you. Crikey he’s feisty.
No Peregrine on the ledge last night and we didn’t get round to Patch 1 this morning, taking Wifey off to the airport for her Scandinavian trip instead – betcha she’s forgotten to take her camera and won’t be able to get us any Stockholm waterfront gull pics.
At Patch 2 were once again able to get out before work and have a ten minute shuffy – oh to be able to get a full hour or two in...Conditions were good with reasonable light and little wind giving a flatish sea. The initial scan gave us nothing out of the ordinary a few Cormorants were fishing in a narrow strip and a few gulls wheeled about above them. It was then we noticed something was afoot! Most of the gulls were Lesser Black Backs which have been the least numerous of the regular five species (Black Headed, Common, Herring, Lesser Black Back and Great Black Back for none-UK readers) in the area in recent weeks. Then a stream of more Cormorants started to arrive and subsequently the gull activity increased. Half a dozen Great Black Backs joined the throng.
Beyond the activity a flock of 11 Red Throated Divers flew high to the south, with two more and two more again a little later, there were also several scattered about on the water, at least 20 in all. Two speeding distant white dots were auks of one species or the other, another was closer in but still unidentifiable, after a little while a fourth gave itself up as a Razorbill.
Whilst watching the growing feeding frenzy, (still more Cormorants were arriving mostly from out to sea to the north-west [if they only fly a foot above the waves how do they see the others sat in the water feeding and know where to go?], up to at least 50 now), a flock of about 45 Pink Footed Geese flew low over the water through the scope’s field of view much closer in, looking up we saw there was another slightly larger flock higher up above them which we had missed, so over a 100 in all.
Back at the fishing zone a Kittiwake caught our attention then a smaller gull too. A Little Gull (91), we weren’t expecting that! But wait; there were more coming from the south and briefly joining in but not stopping, we had at least six as they wheeled around, some alighting on the water where they were lost in the wavelets. Eventually they moved on. Later a similar number (re)appeared, were they the same ones which had gone round in a loop or new ones coming up from the south? If they were new ones we’d had at least a dozen. So seven species of gulls before nine o’clock in the morning - Nice one but no Mediterraneans or Slaty Backs unless some or all of the Lesser Black Backs were but they were too far way to tell...yeah right!!!
By lunchtime the tide was on the ebb and the line of Cormorants had drifted a little further out, there were fewer of them too. Two of the Little Gulls were still out there until they too drifted in to the haze and were lost to view. Not a lot else happening, some of the Red Throated Divers were still about including one quite close in. Common Scoter numbers were so low we almost didn’t mention them! Once the beach had started to show gulls began to arrive from their roost to the south of us but by then it was time to go back inside and put our nose back on the grindstone – work deffo is the bane of the gulling classes.
Going back to the Slaty Backed Gull and whether it is genuine or 'just' a hybrid, here's a couple of possibilities:-
In this scenario one of the grand parents is a Vega Gull (for example), making one parent a hybrid which then back-crosses according to its 'type.

In the next scenario the original hybridisation was in the great grand parents generation so one of the four grandparents is a hybrid.

Certainly if the latter is the case would we ever know? There would probably only be the tiniest feature that wasn't 'quite right'. So can you tick it or not, assuming you've actually seen it of course? Perhaps none of them are full species yet and we've caught them in the act of differentiation with only Great Black Backed Gull making the 'leap'...well almost; apparently it's still a Herring Gull that has evolved a slightly different, but unique enough, mate selection which has caused it to become 'almost' a full species in its own right. All of which means we're back to the sixties when there were just 'Herring' Gulls and Great Black Backed Gulls and the easy to pick out but technically no different Lesser Black need to waste our time hunting for those Yellow Legged or Caspian Gulls which may or probably may not be lurking in amongst the thousands of Herring Gulls on the beach (no need to check for 'argentatus' characters either...phewww).

Enough genetic nonsense - on with this arvo's news. We did a beach survey looking for Native Oysters, giving ourselves one hour to search the various strandlines. But before we even reached the car park we'd seen this Oyster Mushroom growing in the Raised Garden.

Once on the beach we did find our quarry, actually we didn't; we got chatting to an elderly couple who were out for a stroll, the gentleman had a passing interest in fishing and beach life. He got separated from his wife who'd gone on ahead and as he hurried on to catch her up he called out he'd found what we were looking for...well done that man as it turned out to be the only one seen during the session.

Other stuff on the beach included five of these rather impressive jellyfish, not sure of their ID at the moment, they could be Octopus Jellies but seemed a lot more solid and 'formed' than those we saw a few weeks ago. The second one looks like someone or something has tried to turn it inside out.

Seaweeds included this Spiral Wrack.

Knotted Wrack

The same but in close up

We think this is 'ordinary' Bladder Wrack with the pairs of bladders, must do more sea weed swotting.
There were a few Sea Hearts, the shells of hairy Sea Urchins. Most were damaged as they are very delicate but this one was complete and still had some of the hairs.

Last and by no means least was this still alive Sea Mouse. Look at the colours of those hairs!
It was so much alive that we took a short bit of video complete with running commentary...

Where to next? More of the same without the walk on the beach...oh that means those bally gulls again we hear you sigh...

In the meantime let us know what's hybridised with what in your outback


Amila Kanchana said...

Hi Davo,That see mouse is a fascinating critter. Never seen it before. What Kind of a creature is it? A mollusk? Crustacean?

cliff said...

That Sea Mouse is fantastic Dave!!

Lancashire and Lakeland Outback Adventure Wildlife Safaris said...

Hi Amila - the sea mouse is the UK's largest (=heaviest rather than longest) Annelid worm (same family as earthworms). This one is about 10cm long.



Anonymous said...

That Sea Mouse is one hell of a creature Dave. Much more interesting than any hybrid gulls ;-)

Monika said...

The sea mouse IS neat, but I like the gull conversation too!

"Perhaps none of them are full species" - I think you hit the nail on the head with that one. Not interbreeding with other species and creating fertile offspring has long been in the definition of species, hasn't it? It seems like they are coming up with more and more hybrid gulls (and names for them) every year.