In its first summer (2nd calendar year).
Martin Garner (and Chris Gibbins)
2cy fuscus- Why is it such a cool subject?
- no accepted British records of unringed Baltic Gull in Britain
- gull watching community convinced that many 2cy fuscus in May-July are very/easily/eminently identifiable and should be acceptable to national committees.
- just need a well seen and I guess really well photographed individual
- summer 2013 was a very good breeding year for fuscus, which logically explains the
appearance of apparent juvenile Baltic Gulls in Norfolk and East Yorkshire (and probably elsewhere?).
- following on from last point, this summer numbers of 2cy fuscus in Finland are described as ‘exceptionally high’- so there are probably a few roaming around …nearby… close to you… etc. etc.
- observers like Richard Millington, Mark Golley, Pete Wilson and Brian Small (and others?) have recorded them in the past and tried to get others enthused
26th July 2014
An early seawatch on 26th July from below the Fog Station at Flamborough soon saw me joined by Yorkshire’s finest in the form of Craig Thomas. About 6:30 am I was scanning gulls coming into one of 2 fishing boats off the head when a picked up what appeared to be a rather smart and blackish plumaged, if immature ‘Lesser Black-backed Gull’. I called it to Craig who had already picked up the same bird. It landed briefly on the water where I could see an immature bill base, not absolutely certain of the colour, somewhere around bright olive, with obvious ‘dipped-in-ink’ black tip. The whole upperparts plumage (mantle/scaps/wing coverts) was a mix of blackish- too dark for any graellsii, and plain brown immature feathering and set off a mostly clean-looking white head. It only remained on the water for a few seconds and as I was clocking the features it took off. I quickly noted what looked like a perfect and full set of wings and tail with seemingly at first, no apparent moult. I immediately said to Craig something like- “this is a Baltic Gull candidate”, pointing out the smartness and apparently complete wings and tail. We then watched the bird as it flew slowly around and eventually headed SW into Bridlington Bay. We both looked very closely at the wings and tail. The wings appeared really smart, all primaries of same looking type (no moult contrast) and lacking the brown worn pointed tips of old outer primaries, which were present on virtually all the other 2cy large gulls around. As Craig kept saying ‘it looks really smart! The tail was essentially a solid broad black band, no white ‘piano keys’ , just impression of small black stippling at proximal edge and bright white rump (and of course bases to tail feathers). As I watched it circle I detected a ‘nick’ at the juncture of the primaries and secondaries in one if not both wings, the tell-tale sign of a missing P1 feather. This was a little disconcerting and I was a little deflated because in my recollection, I wanted something with all new primaries… not gaps!
I quickly scribbled down notes on the birds appearance and we discussed the issues involved as they could be recalled. Less than 15 minutes later we were distracted again as a full juvenile Caspian Gull flew into the closer of the two fishing boats…
Only when I got home and spoke to Chris Gibbins did I discover the ‘nick’ was the best news possible- Staffelmauser!
Why moult makes the ID easy.
The moult of fuscus over their first winter is extremely variable, but a dominant pattern is for birds to replace all of their wing and tail feathers before returning north in the spring. This makes these typical birds very identifiable during the summer of their second calendar year. These typical ones are the ones to look for. The ones that don’t follow this typical pattern are very tricky, so best left aside. The following discussion focuses on the typical fuscus.
Bill colour and leg colour can be good start point for ageing – often pinkish or olive based bill with black tip in 2cy (some more yellow, some almost all black) normally bright yellow and more adult like in 3cy with varying amounts of red and black. Legs similar, most often dull pinkish/ olive and not so often bright yellow. 3cy fuscus look pretty much like full adult birds (unlike 3cy graellsii/ intermedius that have more obvious immaturity)
Then focus on wings. All graellsii/ intermedius are in obvious wing moult- usually mid wing moult in July with mix of old worn brown juvenile outer flight feathers and new inner ones, with moult gaps and regrowing feathers. Baltic Gulls (65-70%) of 2cy have moulted most/ all of their flight feathers in wintering grounds so have full set of nearly new primaries. The closest intermedius that get to that is for the most advanced birds to still have 2 plus old primaries; this is also matched by less advanced fuscus (which are harder to identify ).
The Silver Bullet - Staffelmauser moult pattern
So anything with full set new primaries and correctly aged as 2cy (bill and leg colour, as well as tail pattern) is fuscus. Period. Furthermore some 2cy fuscus in July have started a second primary moult, a one that brings in 3rd generation feathers (dropped inner primaries eg p1). Some even start this second this moult before completing the first; this is NEVER found in graellsii / intermedius and is refereed to by the German name: Staffelmauser where moulting outer primaries (or complete) to second gen and at same time inner primaries to 3rd gen.
graellsii and intermedius won’t start 3rd gen moult in primaries for nearly a whole year!
Tail: fully new tail is also pro fuscus but not so unusual in 2cy graellsii/ intermedius. Less good if in mid tail moult for fuscus
Have a look at photos below: look at upperparts, head colour, bare parts and especially new set of primaries, tail pattern and in some start of 3rd gen moult (inner most primary dropped)
Check out this one above photographed in July with new primaries and tail and starting its 3rd generation moult. P1 has been dropped. Staffelmauser!
A different individual below
Above: Look at those beautiful new wings and tail, no moult contrast between old and new flight feathers. It’s a very identifiable Baltic Gull in this type of plumage in May, June and July. This one has even dropped p1- its a totally acceptable Baltic Gull- wherever you see it.
Very grateful thanks to Craig T, Chris Gibbins, Mark Golley and Hannu Koskinen for much helpful input and clarification.