Category Archives: 09) Skuas, Gulls, Terns

Seawatching Joys

Flamborough in mid-July

It’s just a personal thing. I have very much been enjoying some recent mornings sitting and watching the passing seabirds off Flamborough. No big rarities, nor great spectacles. Just the joy of sitting (able to sit much longer as my health improves), often with my friend Brett Richards and watching. I enjoy the close and the far away. All kinds of learning and testing opportunities, and the beauty of staring out at wild seas and a big wide open space.

Outer head with east end of Flamborough head to the left end of the picture. Thanks for photo to Mick Sherwin

Outer head with east end of Flamborough head to the left end of the picture. Thanks for photo to Mick Sherwin

Here some shots of birds all taken from the seawatch spot over a couple of days. We did see a Pomarine Skua and some beautiful Arctic Terns, unfortunately a little too far to get a worthwhile photo. This is just the autumn warm-up act.

The Seawatch Spot:

Here's where we sit- the little arc below the front end of the Fog Station- part way down the cliff- can you see it? Hopefully some joy-filled moments yet to be had here in the coming days. Photo: Mick Sherwin

Here’s where we sit- the little arc below the front end of the Fog Station- part way down the cliff- can you see it? Hopefully some joy-filled moments yet to be had here in the coming days. Photo: Mick Sherwin

The captions explain a little more:

Inspired on the first seawatch of last week when this ad male Velvet Scoter landed in front of us. Photo by Brett Richards

Inspired on the first seawatch of last week when this ad male Velvet Scoter landed in front of us. Photo by Brett Richards

 

a  mix of seabirds to test skills

a mix of seabirds to test skills

Manx Shearwaters - sometimes up to several hundred can pass in a morning

Manx Shearwaters – sometimes up to several hundred can pass in a morning

 

good chance to improve skills on Guillemot and Razorbill flight ID. Can you ID the 3 on the right?

good chance to improve skills on Guillemot and Razorbill flight ID. Can you ID the 3 on the right?

some come nice and close

some come nice and close

and Puffins breed on the cliffs below

and Puffins breed on the cliffs below

Fulmars pass close with 2 Blue Fulmar in the last week

Fulmars pass close with 2 Blue Fulmar in the last week

Scoters are the commonest wildfowl right now, with occasional Eider like these 3 drakes

Scoters are the commonest wildfowl right now, with occasional Eider like these 3 drakes

gull variety can be excellent- 2nd summer?? Common Gull

gull variety can be excellent- 2nd summer?? Common Gull

and practice on in flight Cormorant ID. This one's a carbo- Atlantic Cormorant

and practice on in flight Cormorant ID. This one’s a carbo- Atlantic Cormorant

These are sinensis- Continental Cormorants- much championed locally by Brett R.

These are sinensis- Continental Cormorants- much championed locally by Brett R.

Plus the passing Shags

Plus the passing Shags

Skuas are just starting to appear- we had a fine 3cy Pomarine Skua. I think this plain winged Bonxie (Great Skua) might be a 1cy (first summer)

Skuas are just starting to appear- we had a fine 3cy Pomarine Skua. I think this plain winged Bonxie (Great Skua) might be a 1cy (first summer)

Waders are also increasingly present and passing like these Oystercatcher

Waders are also increasingly present and passing like these Oystercatcher

 

so a gull to end- what age and species is this one? :)

so a gull to end- what age and species is this one? :)

 

New Gull under scrutiny in Europe

From the deep south.

This species is on the European List. Would you identify it on a local patch. Would I?

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This is to flag up BF team member Chris Gibbin’s collection of photos from South Africa of this species. There was a bird in claim in Spain recently and these pics are helping resolve the ID.

See Chris’s post  and photos >>>> HERE <<<<

Cape Gulls in NW Europe…

From what seemed like a super crazy record in a zoo in central Paris, France nearly 20 years ago Cape Gull Larus dominicanus vetula keeps growing in credibility as vagrant to NW Europe. Following a record in Portugal last June 2013, we published an ID paper by Chris Gibbins on identifying Cape Gull in its first year plumage. Now Vincent LeGrand has picked up what appears to be a Cape Gull in Spain on >>>this website<<< photographed his month. So in the interests of finding one, raising awareness and a bit of inspiration, here are 2 articles, one featuring Vincent’s apparent hybrid gulls and another featuring this intriguing and surely likely-to-occur plumage of Cape Gull. Good hunting!

and visit Vincent Legrand’s website >>> HERE<<<

Identification of first cycle Larus dominicanus vetula:

The Cape Gull of Good Hope?

 by Chris Gibbins

cg4

The two Cape Gulls Larus dominicanus vetula recently found in Portugal (Birding World, 26(6), July 2013), along with the previous bird in Paris (Jiguet et al., 2004), illustrate that this is a species we should be looking out for in Britain.

Gull watching in Europe is perhaps best in the Northern hemisphere winter, because this is the time that Northern breeders move away from their breeding areas and displaced birds may find themselves on our shores.  For the same reason, the chances of finding Southern hemisphere taxa here may therefore be best in the months following their breeding season; i.e. in the Austral winter, our Northern summer.

All three European Cape Gulls have been adult or near adult birds.  However, given that younger individuals are more likely to occur here as vagrants, anyone keen to find a Cape Gull is perhaps best advised to have a working knowledge of what first cycle birds look like during the Northern summer. The aim of this note is to showcase this age group at this time of year, and highlight one or two features that should make them stand out among our local gulls. The main argument put forward is that because of their absolute age and related absence of primary moult, along with the presence of a remarkably striking secondary skirt, in the Northern summer first cycle birds offer good prospects for out-of-range identification – they are the Cape Gulls of good hope.

Taxonomy and terminology

 Before discussing identification, a few words on taxonomy and the terminology used in this note may be useful. cape gull3 Cape Gull (vetula) is the African subspecies of the very widely distributed Kelp Gull Larus dominicanus.  So far it seems that all European records of Kelp Gull have been vetula (Jiguet et al., 2004), so at least for the moment this seems the most meaningful taxon to discuss.  All the photographs and observations upon which this note is based relate to birds observed in the SW Cape Province of South Africa between 26 June and 6 July 2013. Hence, all birds are assumed to be vetula.  Comparing age classes of Northern and Southern hemisphere gulls is made complicated by respective breeding seasons.  Terms such as ‘first winter’, ‘first summer’ are confusing when comparing Southern and Northern species, because the seasons are effectively reversed. Moreover, because breeding times differ by around 6 months, at certain times of the year the use of calendar years does not work. For example, the laying period of Kelp is November-December (Jiguet et al, 2001) so by April first calendar year (1cy) birds will be a few months old, and so could conceivably turn up in Europe; however, there is no such thing as a 1cy Northern hemisphere gull in April (as laying has not even commenced and birds reared in the previous season have ‘ticked over’ into their second calendar year) so meaningful comparison using calendar years is not possible at this time. The solution is therefore to talk about ‘cycles’ (as per Howell and Dunn, 2007).  A first cycle bird is defined here as a bird that has not completed its first primary moult. For Northern taxa this moult occurs in the summer of their second calendar year (e.g. in Scotland Herring Gulls start primary moult around 1 May), so first cycle birds in the Northern summer are around a year old.  In Cape Gull this primary moult commences in October-November, when birds are a little less than a year old.  The main advantage of using cycles when comparing immature Cape to our Northern gulls is that birds in the same cycle are the most likely cause of confusion, even though their absolute ages differ by several months. cape gull1

Moult: Why we should not throw the baby out with the bath-water

Moult is often cited as being useful for field identification of gulls. Due to reversed breeding times, Southern hemisphere gulls such as Cape have completely different moult periods to Northern ones; they are in moult when our birds are not, and vice versa. This should make them look strikingly different.  However, the opposing argument is that displaced birds may adopt (or ‘correct’ to) the moult cycle of the birds in their new location. Indeed, Malling Olsen and Larsson (2003) specifically make this point in relation to Kelp/Cape Gull:

‘Note, however, that Kelp Gulls in the Northern hemisphere may adopt moult cycles similar to Northern hemisphere gulls, as has been observed in US and Mexican adults’ (p144)

The Paris Cape Gull supports this argument, as it was moulting in accordance with our Northern hemisphere gulls (Jiguet et al., 2004).  So perhaps we should abandon any thought of moult being useful for picking out a Cape Gull? The Paris bird was an adult.  In theory it could therefore have been in the Northern hemisphere for several years; this is ample time both for it to need to adjust its moult to Northern seasons and be physiologically able to do this.  Younger birds, especially first cycle ones, by definition can’t have been here so long. A first cycle Cape reared in the austral summer will only be a few months old by the time the Northern summer comes around; unlike our birds whose primaries are a year old, a first cycle Cape should have much fresher feathers that do not need replacing, and in any case if it has only just arrived, it may not be physiologically capable of moulting feathers rapidly enough to catch up to our first cycle birds (i.e. our 2cy, ‘first-summer’ gulls; Table 1). So, while we should always be careful when using moult, in the Northern summer it seems likely to be more useful for first cycle Cape Gulls than adults.  In addition, as birds may be more prone to be displaced or wander in their first year of life, the Northern summer is likely to be a productive time for first cycle Cape Gulls in Europe.  At this time, because they will only be a few months old, their moult and extent of feather wear and bleaching should be markedly different to our birds. cape gull2 june 13

Picking out a Cape Gull

The starting point for picking out a Cape is to be familiar with first cycle Northern gulls during the summer when they are moulting primaries. A safe window for picking out a Cape would be May-August inclusive, as this covers the start and mid part of the moult period of Northern taxa, but is well before first cycle Cape Gulls might be expected to drop their first primary (Table 1).  Because of feather grey tones and the inner primary patterns (detailed later) first cycle Lesser Black-backed Gulls (LBBs) are most similar to Cape, but actually the key distinguishing features suggested here also apply to separation of Cape from Herring and Yellow-legged Gulls.  Plates 1-3 show what a typical first cycle graellsii or intermedius LBB looks like in mid summer, while Plate 4 shows a Yellow-legged Gull. The key points to note in these images are the extreme wear on remaining first generation primaries and wing coverts and the fact that birds are in primary moult.

The Full Article

This blog post is a taster to full article fully illustrated with Chris’s fab photos and available as a pdf. Just download the PDF below.

>>>> Identification of first cycle Cape Gull <<<<

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Cape Gull hybrid?

 Khniffis Lagoon conundrum continues

On the  Atlantic coast of Morocco the conundrum of the large and dark backed gulls continues to play out. Both Cape Gulls and Great Black- backed Gulls have been seen, what seems uncertain is how many of each species have occurred at different times. Enter the other element of small pioneering gull colonies: the high incidence of hybridization. You can begin to imagine the problems! More:

http://www.surfbirds.com/forum/showthread.php?t=7147

http://www.birdforum.net/showthread.php?t=181282

and articles in Birding World magazine

Atlantic Yellow-legged Gulls also occur in the area. So the photos of the bird below (taken March 19th 2011) by Vincent Legrand are intriguing. They are stunning photos and at first glance my best guess would be something with a GBB type head and bill (watered down) that had a Yellow-legged Gull as its other parent. However as Vincent has pointed out, the white trailing edge to the primaries is particularly wide. A feature of Cape Gull. So hypothetically, an adult Yellow-legged Gull X Cape Gull hybrid?! And the inevitable scary question- what if the Great Black-backed and Cape Gulls hybridise?

Have a look:

Apparent hybrid gull, Khniffis Lagoon, Southern Morocco, 19th March 2011, Vincent Legrand.

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Probable Taimyr Gulls in Okha, Gujarat

India -  and what are they?

Prasad Ganpule

Introduction:

Identification of large white-headed Gulls is very challenging. In India, there has not been much interest in Gull watching, though now there are many birdwatchers here who are interested in this and reports and photographs of large White-headed Gulls are fairly common on various birding websites.

Situation in Gujarat:

It is generally accepted in the latest reference books (Grimmett et al 2011, Rasmussen & Anderton 2012) that there are three types of large white-headed Gulls in Gujarat:

Heuglin’s Gull – L.f.heuglini: These are bulky Gulls with dark upperparts and relatively late moult. The dark on mantle ranges from almost a blackish-blue to quite dark grey. But the upperparts are always much darker than the paler Gulls seen with them and hence it is possible to differentiate quite easily. The lightest heuglini are still much darker than the Gulls with lighter upperparts.  These are also Gulls which are late moulting. Many are in moult in January. I have observed such Gulls with only p6 or p7 longest in first week of January, but these are rare. Most complete their moult by mid-Jan. Head streaking is variable but most show streaking on head with strong streaking on neck. Almost none are white headed in winter. These are presumed to be breeding to the north. These are very common in Gujarat.

Steppe  Gull – L.f.barabensis: These are Gulls with pale upperparts, much paler than heuglini. These are also early moulting birds, which complete their primary moult usually by mid to end November. These are white headed in the winter and almost always never show any head streaking. They are round headed and with delicate features, and are not bulky. These are thought to be barabensis. These are also fairly common in Gujarat and found in good numbers here.

Caspian Gull* – L.cachinnans: These are bulky Gulls with pale upperparts (even paler than barabensis)  and with earliest moult, mostly completing moult by early November. These show some streaking around the eyes and on the nape in the winter. But these are rare and more data is needed to know its status here.

(*Though Rasmussen and Anderton (2012) give L.cachinnans as ‘hypothetical’ for India, it is usually accepted that L.cachinnans occurs in Gujarat and in India)

Observations in January:

On 12 January 2014, I visited Okha, Gujarat. Okha is a fishing village located on the noth-westernmost point of Saurashtra, on the coast of the Arabian Sea. It is a fishing village and since fish is processed here, there are large numbers of Gulls. There were a large number of Gulls present here on this day also. Majority of the Gulls were Heuglin’s Gulls. Many were Steppe Gulls. Caspian Gulls were not noted.

However I found a group of around 20 Gulls, which were quite different from the Heuglin’s and Steppe Gulls present in the area. These were very pale mantled, late moulting, bulky Gulls with either yellowish or pinkish legs. There were a few juveniles also in this group. I was unable to identify these Gulls, as they were much paler backed from the Heuglin’s Gulls in the area. I was able to take many images and these are given below:

Fig 1

Fig 1:  A group of these Gulls at a small puddle in the area. Note the pale mantle , late moult, head streaking .

Fig 2

Fig 2:  Adult. Note heavy head streaking, pale mantle, yellowish legs. Pale eye with reddish eye-ring.

Fig 3

Fig 3: Adult. Note streaking on head, pale mantle, yellowish-pink legs. Pale eye with reddish eye-ring

Fig 4

Fig 4: Adult. Late moult with only p7 grown. Pale mantle, deep yellowish legs. Pale eye with reddish eye ring.

Fig 5

Fig 5:  Adult. Slightly darker mantle than earlier birds- but still much paler than heuglini. Heavy head streaking with blotches on the nape. Pale eye with reddish eye-ring. Streaking similar to Vega Gull.

Fig 6

Fig 6: Adult. In flight

Fig 7

Fig 7: Adult. Pale mantle with yellowish legs. P9 longest. Very dark eye

Fig 8

Fig 8: First-winter

Fig 9

Fig 9: First-winter.

Fig 10

Fig 10: First-winter

Fig 11

Fig 11: First-winter in flight.

Discussion:

So what are these Gulls?  Majority of these Gulls were in active moult in second week of January. Hence these must be breeding to the north, in the arctic. These are certainly not Heuglin’s, Steppe or Caspian Gulls, since their structure, moult, mantle colour and other features do not match them. Buchheim (2006) also noted three individuals of such type of Gulls at Okha and speculated that these might be taimyrensis, birulai or vegae. A detailed paper on Taimyr Gulls by van Dijk et al (2011) showed that Taimyr Gulls are genetically distinct and they simply refer to them as L.taimyrensis. However all long distance ring recoveries from wintering Taimyr Gulls were from the pacific coast of Asia, mainly on the Sea of Okhotsk. They state that Gulls resembling Taimyr Gulls winter in low numbers in Iran and Bahrain, noting that the unidentified birds seen by Buchheim (2006) also could be these. Olsen and Larsson (2004) also speculate that birds matching taimyrensis could frequent W India. Thus the possibility that a small number of Taimyr Gulls could winter in India is not ruled out.

Conclusion:

It is possible that these are either Taimyr Gulls or Vega Gulls of the birulai sub-species. However the probability that these are Taimyr Gulls looks more feasible as the structure, mantle colour and other characteristics fit Taimyr Gulls more, but the possibility of birulai cannot be ruled out.

Large scale ringing programmes or satellite tagging of an adequate number of Gulls on the Taimyr Peninsula and in other nearby areas would lead to a better understanding of whether these are Taimyr Gulls or something else. This also shows that it is still unclear which large white-headed Gulls winter in India.

Note on Photographs:

All photographs were taken at around 11am in harsh sunlight and I have not done any post-processing to show true colour in these Gulls. Images taken with Nikon D7100 DSLR Camera with Nikkor 300mm F4 lens + Nikon 1.7 TC

Acknowledgements:

I thank Andreas Buchheim, Klaus Malling Olsen, Nial Moores and Norman Deans van Swelm for their help.

References:

Buchheim, A. 2006. Adult large white-headed gulls at Okha. Birding Asia 5: 40-53.

 

Grimmett, R.,Inskipp, C., & Inskipp, T.2011. Birds of the Indian  Subcontinent. 2 nd ed.Pp.1-528. London: Christopher Helm & Oxford University Press.London.

Olsen, K M & Larsson, H .2004. Gulls of Europe, Asia and North America. Second edition. London

Rasmussen, P.C  & Anderton, J.C.2012. Birds of South Asia: The    Ripley Guide. 2 vols. 2 nd ed. Pp.1-378; 1-684. Washington D.C and   Barcelona. Smithsonian  Institution and Lynx Edicions

van Dijk, Klaas., Kharitonov Sergei, Holmer Vonk & Bart Ebbinge.2011. Taimyr Gulls: evidence for Pacific winter range, with notes on morphology and breeding. Dutch Birding 33: 9-21

 

Prasad Ganpule. Opp. Nazarbaug, Morbi – 363642, Gujarat, India.

Email: prasadganpule@gmail.com

 

 

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Juvenile Heuglin’s Gull

To Compare…

 Oscar Campbell

juvenile Heuglin's Gull, Oman, mid October 2013, Oscar Campbell

juvenile Heuglin’s Gull, Oman, mid October 2013, Oscar Campbell

Whilst I am no expert on fuscus, heuglini arrive in the UAE in fair numbers from mid-late October each year and plumage-wise young (1cy) birds look pretty much NOTHING like this Spanish bird. They are invariably in full juvenile plumage with a full set of juvenile scapulars and neat, intricate spotting and marbling over much of the underparts, on the crown and around the eye – they don’t exhibit a striking white-headed appearance and this is one of the quickest ways to pull them out from the mob of other large 1cy gulls (mainly barabensis with an unknown proportion of cachinnans) that they flock with. I have attached a couple of shots from southern Oman of heuglini, taken mid October 2013 but most still look like this well into Nov and even Dec – see, for example, this shot from the UAE in early Dec.

Whilst I guess what I am saying here does not preclude the chance that some (the odd maverick) heuglini may moult its body feathers and scaps prior to arriving in the UAE and so resemble the Spanish bird, but, from what I have observed over 8 years now, this is very rare (if it happens at all).

juvenile Heuglin's Gull, Oman, mid October 2013, Oscar Campbell

juvenile Heuglin’s Gull, Oman, mid October 2013, Oscar Campbell

Apparent juvenile Baltic Gull, Ciudad Real, Spain, 27th October 2012 by Gabriel Martin

Apparent juvenile Baltic Gull, Ciudad Real, Spain, 27th October 2012 by Gabriel Martin