Category Archives: 09) Skuas, Gulls, Terns

Slaty-backed Gull

The Young’uns

With the recent stunning/ gripping/Oh flip why can’t I find one… adult Slaty-backed Gull found by Derek Charles and Majella Callaghan Killybegs in co Donegal the question goes:

How to identify young birds as surly they are at least as likely to occur.

eBird map of Slaty-backed Gull sightings. More to come!

eBird map of Slaty-backed Gull sightings. More to come!


Thanks to Julian Hough we posted about a candidate first winter Slaty-backed gull in Connecticut, USA a couple of years ago. Well a paper just out gives that bird a thumbs up as good looking Slaty. So here’s that bird again. Story and more photos on Julian’s website

The 9000 word paper!! is entitled

Vagrancy and Identification of first-cycle Slaty-backed Gull

and can found in the Nov/ Dec 2014 edition of the ABA’s ‘Birding’ magazine.

mg_7494 mg_7453Screen-Shot-2015-01-23-at-2.01.47-PM

Russian Common Gull – heinei

An adult on Texel

This is a reblog of a bird on telex which remains a convincing adult heinei from 3 years ago which I watched and photographed on Texel, Netherlands with Nils van Duivendijk. Dawn Balmer tweeted about a dark looking bird seen in last day or two in UK. Here’s the right upperwing pattern Dawn :)

One of the fun birds to find with the guys on Texel was this adult Russian Common Gull ssp. heinei. Info on identification on these is bit uncertain so this is a little peak at a work-in-progress. I have been looking at the subject for a while, more recently very encouraged to be working with Chris Gibbins and his fresh insights.

This bird, in a frozen harbour on Texel ticks ALL the boxes for ID as adult heinei. I think it is one!

ad common gull henei Texel 12.2.12 c

It’s the bird in the middle at the back. Compare upperpart tone with adult argentatus Herring on Gull on the near left. Some heinei are almost/ virtually the tone of graellsii Lesser Black-backed Gulls. (Kodak Grey Scale: heinei Common = 6-8, graellsii LBB = 8-10 (11).)

I saw several darker Common Gulls on Texel (adult and 2nd winters), though not all as well as this bird. There are no ‘sight records’ for heinei in Netherlands, only trapped birds as far as I know. Same in the U.K. Shame.

ad common gull texel henei 12.2.12 dCloser view- check out the iris colour and interestingly the considerable protrusion of black-banded p5 beyond tertials. It looked long-winged on the deck with quite bright legs and bill.

ad Common Gull henei  Texel 12.2.12 dad Common Gull henei  Texel 12.2.12 fad Common Gull henei  Texel 12.2.12 g

Lots of good heinei info in the primaries- broad black ‘michahellis’ band on p5, combined with mostly black p8  or at least black (nearly) up to primary coverts on outer web of p8 and little dark marks on p4. A bit technical but that seems to be a winning Common Gull henei  Texel 12.2.12 b

ad Common Gull henei  Texel 12.2.12

paler iris, very dark upperparts and 3 points in wing tip pattern

This bird was trapped in the Netherlands, also in February 2012 by VRS Meijendel (the name of the ringing group). Vincent van der Spek got in touch and kindly sent images. It had a wing length of 394mm - a heinei on wing length (max wing in canus 390mm). Notice similar themes in primary pattern to bird above.


P.S. Don’t write if you find a Common Gull with black band on p5- some nominate canus have the feature although it’s often broken and not as broad. Let me know though if you see one with all these characters.

The Thayer’s Gull in West Yorkshire

Best images yet



Thanks to Chris Batty who has sorted through and emailed his excellent pics of the recent bird. It was found by Jim Welford at Mirfield  on 27th and seen at Mirfield and Pugney’s CP on 28th December 2014. Chris knows the subject of  Thayer’s Gull well enough – we’ve been sharing thoughts on these for years. He was very happy that this one looked the business. I was sent a few picture of the ‘right’ bird  early on, which in some shots looked misleadingly Herring Gull-like. Apologies. I had no desire to cast aspersions –  just expressing an opinion. As ever the lesson: beware photo versus good field views!

In these shots once again it does looks very much like a juvenile Thayer’s Gull doesn’t it, albeit and little more ‘speckled’ above than some due to some paler indents in the juvenile scapulars. Depending on how you use ‘juvenile’ and ‘first winter’, it has mostly juvenile scapulars but looks like a couple might be moulted into 2nd generation greyish feathers. All the right bits for a Thayer’s do seem to be there.

Remember the juvenile Thayer’s in Oxford found by Nic Hallam and Ian Lewington? We picked it up in Derbyshire a while later. Link to great set of photos plus some of mine HERE.


Well this Yorkshire bird must be in Britain somewhere….

on the roofs:




and in the roost:Dscn9011


What was that Gull?

21st-23rd August 2014

Flamborough Head.

2cy Caspian b

In that remarkable summer of 2014 with Caspian Gulls galore (c20) at Flamborough, several Yellow-legged Gulls, three candidate juvenile Baltic Gulls, one excellent looking 2cy Baltic Gull AND this chap (or perhaps more likely lady) caused a little local stir and national response.

Found it in the Old Fall fields on the flashes so popular with many of the large gulls, I struggled with the ID. Aged as a 1st summer (2cy- just over a year old) – I chewed on it for a while and my best assessment was I thought it was a Yellow-legged Gull though I remained uneasy. First summers can be hard! The head pattern (a strong white C shape around the back of the ear coverts) inner primaries and trial pattern lead me to the YLGull conclusion. Rather unusually one of the national bird info agencies ‘re-identifed it, based on I think photos on twitter and Flamborough Bird Obs as a 1st summer Lesser Black-backed Gull. A little odd as I was privy to a lot more info, having actually seen it. No sweat, I never thought it was a LBB but I realised it was also never a straightforward identification. One local friend has been keen for me to resolve the to ID more fully, given the questions raised, so with Chris Gibbins visiting over the weekend we had a fresh look at the images. I think we came to an identification I am more confident in.

His enormous experience especially in recent years of thousands of Caspian Gulls in many locations quickly lead him to the assessment that the most likely ID was a 1st summer female Caspian Gull. Revisiting the images with fresh eyes I have to agree, this seems the bets fit. Indeed it looks blooming’ obvious in some images! It’s a darker bird but as Chris pointed out head the head structure is very good and there are no real minus points for that species.

If you look through the videos and images- check out the plumage of the head and especially the head and bill structure, the paler inner primaries (wrong for LBB) and the tail pattern.


The images below are taken from video hence some reduced quality

2cy Caspian a2cy Caspian e2cy Caspian c 2cy Caspian d

The shot below was taken 2 days after the first series looks… perhaps bit more convincing for those still unsure.

What do you think?

2cy Caspian f

A Curious Large Gull

On Ainsdale Beach, Southport


Thanks to John Dempsey for this.

Big Gulls. Some of them are head scratchers. They don’t instantly resolve into an obvious taxon or even a familiar hybrid. This large white-headed gull on Ainsdale Beach, Southport, Merseyside 3 days ago fits that category. I found it intriguing and I admit it has a whiff of some pacific rim taxa about it in the photos. Kind of Vega Gull-ish but lots of reasons why doesn’t  fit that taxon. I’m sure there is a simple explanation, I just don’t have it yet.

Thought you might like a look. A photo of the open wing would reveal more interesting data. At the very least it gets me reviewing how ready I am for the rarer stuff, should the opportunity arise…

Chris Batty is more confident that it is a LBB X Herring hybrid- which seems the most likely explanation, though I admit I have not seen one looking quite like this.

See John’s website for couple more photos etc:






Sandwich Tern with yellow…

on more of the bill than usual

This curious looking tern was photographed on the 5th of November at Faro Saltpans in the south of Portugal. Thijs Valkenburg  is the guy who picked it up and in discussion with Pim Wolf came to a considered ID. I agree- see what you think. It’s interesting too when you recall that yellow-billed tern at Cemlyn, N. Wales a few years back. What have I said! ;)

Hi Martin,

 I got your email from Pim Wolf after discussing the identification of this tern. (see pictures attached)
We got to a fairly good conclusion we think, sandvicensis with a weird bill deformation and colouration.
We would like to see what´s your opinion about it. It´s quite a nice case. Lucky it was not a fly by,
that would be quite a heart breaking bird I think!
Best regards and thanks in advance for an answer,
Thijs Valkenburg



sandwich 1 sandwich 2 sandwich 3


Baltic Gull Chronicles

at Flamborough, September 2014

We keep exploring!

Martin Garner


After a record-breaking year for Caspian Gulls at Flamborough (c15 at least in Aug-Sept this year including 5 ringed birds- c 10 previous records in total) Baltic Gulls entered the stage again. The population is recovering and increasing after a ‘crash’. The chances of finding more individual in identifiable plumages and ringed birds is going back up.


Enter 12th September, Flamborough Golf Course. Top of the list was a juvenile type with white darvic ring and black lettering which I found in the evening of 12th September. Other observers got on to it including Craig Thomas, Andy Malley, Brett Richards and Phil Cunningham. Unfortunately distant and in fading light in evening gull roost we couldn’t read the letters and numbers though Craig had a rough go and thought maybe something … F or P 2nd letter.  4 numbers/ letters. Trouble is the darvic is on the wrong leg! Most Swedish/Finnish ringed fuscus have the darvic place on the left leg- right leg on this bird (thanks to Hannu Koskinen). What does it mean?

I then found another stunning looking juvenile unringed 2 days later (14th September) in the field behind our house. This one looks as cool if not better than the ringed bird. We haven’t finished with these yet. Thanks especially to Chris Gibbins and Hannu Koskinen for all their input.

14th September 2014

candidate fuscus fuscus 14.9.14a juv fuscus 14th September 2014a juv fuscus d 14th September 2014a juv fuscus b 14th September 2014

14th ssept 2014


 2 days earlier…  12th September 2014

The boy with the darvic ring- right leg (and metal ring on left leg)

12th september 2014 juv fuscus white darvic 1410547500068 1410549661971