Category Archives: 09) Skuas, Gulls, Terns

Baltic Gull off Flamborough – the easy plumage.

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

Juvenile Gull showing characters of Baltic Gull, Flamborugh, 21st Sept. 2013. Martin Garner.

Juvenile Gull showing characters of Baltic Gull, Flamborugh, 21st Sept. 2013. Martin Garner.

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 belowBaltic Gull at Flamborough 26th July 2014 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)

 

 

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2cy Larus fuscus red "C68A" at Nokia Koukku dump, SW Finland 20.7.2007. Foto: Hannu Koskinen

2cy Larus fuscus red “C68A” at Nokia Koukku dump, SW Finland 20.7.2007. Foto: Hannu Koskinen

 

2cy Larus fuscus red "C68A" at Nokia Koukku dump, SW Finland 20.7.2007. Foto: Hannu Koskinen

2cy Larus fuscus red “C68A” at Nokia Koukku dump, SW Finland 20.7.2007. Foto: Hannu Koskinen

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

2cy Larus fuscus "HT000110" at Tara dump, SW Finland 14.7.2007. Foto: Hannu Koskinen

2cy Larus fuscus “HT000110″ at Tara dump, SW Finland 14.7.2007. Foto: Hannu Koskinen

 

2cy Larus fuscus "HT000110" at Tara dump, SW Finland 14.7.2007. Foto: Hannu Koskinen

2cy Larus fuscus “HT000110″ at Tara dump, SW Finland 14.7.2007. Foto: Hannu Koskinen

 ‘ave it!

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.

Juvenile Caspian Gull off Flamborough

26th July 2014

Martin Garner and Craig Thomas

That was fun! An early morning seawatch gave no reason for anything other than low expectation. As I am a keenly enjoying the patchwork challenge I till needed Arctic Skua and Mediterranean Gull, both of which are ‘about’.

Hey Mr Fisherman- that's a flippin' Caspian Gull flying in- a corking full juvenile!

Hey Mr Fisherman- that’s a flippin’ Caspian Gull flying in- a corking full juvenile!

Not long after I started watching, Craig Thomas arrived. 2 fishing boats were pulling in the large gulls. We were soon onto what looked like a classic 2cy (first summer) Baltic Gull. More on that soon. Attention now focused on the gulls more, around 6:45 I clocked a juvenile  gull flying in with striking white rump and black tail band. Clearly looking a michahellis/cachinanns type through binoculars, I drew Craig’s attention. He was soon on it and through ‘scope called pale-looking underwings. Swinging my ‘scope around, anticipation rising… there the whitish underwing, silly long bill (already developing pale base) overall small head and loooooong primaries with somewhat plain (no holly leaf) warm (slightly rusty washed) scapulars and wing coverts and broad white thumbnail on otherwise all dark tertials…A  juvenile Caspian Gull- BOOM!

I never tire of these. We then had good 15 minutes as it loafed around the bota before flying into Bridlington Bay. The 3 or 4th juvenile I think this year reported so far in Britain, all in the last week. This one well north of the rest (all in Suffolk I think).

Craig scored extra points by locating it again late afternoon with John Beaumont on the rocks off Sewerby. Just need to refind that Baltic Gull now!

 

Short video- not easy and all the usual excuses. You can pause it to see features like the underwing

A few photos to give you an idea of features. Not the greatest, but hopefully of interest.

Yep. It's looking really good for one

Yep. It’s looking really good for one

arrgh unbelievably close and you're not even looking!

arrgh unbelievably close and you’re not even looking!

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Craig managed nice shot on the water

Craig managed nice shot on the water

juvenile b Caspian Gull 26 July 2014 Flamb - Copy juvenile d Caspian Gull 26 July 2014 Flamb juvenile Caspian Gull 26 July 2014 Flamb - Copyand finally at Sewerby on the rocks later on

juvenile Caspian Gull by Craig Thomas

juvenile Caspian Gull by Craig Thomas

 

 

Juvenile Caspian Gulls are aboot:

What do they really look like?

With a juvenile found yesterday off Flamborough and 3-4 in the last week in Suffolk, they have ‘arrived’ in Britain and NW Europe from breeding ground further east. They are undoubtedly overlooked. So here’s a refresher on what the most elegant of the large gulls looks like in first flight.
 

by Chris Gibbins

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Juvenile Caspian Gulls (and indeed Yellow-legged Gulls) are already independent and on the move.  A key trait of both Caspian and Yellow-Legged Gulls is that juveniles disperse rapidly away from their natal colony and, in many cases, they roam widely.  So we can expect and should be on the lookout for them here in Britain, even now in mid July.

The problem is that juveniles are very different to the first winter birds we are used to seeing over the winter months.  Due to a combination of moult, wear and fading, first winter birds are generally rather striking creatures.  In July and August, juveniles are different, being crisp and fresh, with no (or extremely limited) moult and they generally look rather dark on the head and body – quite unlike the image we have of this species. I’ve just come back from Azerbaijan, where our objective was to learn more about Caspian Gulls (I was with Visa Rauste and Hannu Koskinen, friends and fellow gull enthusiasts from Finland).  Being on the Caspian Sea, Azerbaijan is ideal for such studies, as it is far from the hybrid zone that now exists in western Europe; we can therefore be sure that the Caspian Gulls in Azerbaijan do not have any Herring or Yellow-legged Gull genes, as many of the birds in Europe undoubtedly do.  So just what do these ‘real’ juvenile Casps look like?

This post is meant simply to illustrate what birders searching for juvenile  ‘Casps’ should be looking for at this time of year – it is not analytical, merely a photo record that I hope is a useful reference point (few images of juveniles from the Caspian heartland of the species’ range have ever been published).  The main thing that should be evident from the selection of images that I’ve chosen is that they are very variable, in terms of both structure and plumage, and many are rather dark.

Differences between the individuals featured below are evident both on the ground and in flight.  On the ground notice that some have classic Caspian jizz, but others do not –in fact resemble Lesser Black-backed Gulls.  On the ground also notice differences in the greater covert patterns between these individuals, and also the tertials. More especially, notice how dark and well streaked some are on the head and body.  Juvenile Casps are not white. In flight, notice differences in the pattern on the inner primaries – some darker birds are very like Yellow-legged Gulls while paler individuals have silvery inner webs to the inner 5 or so primaries, with pale patches, stippling and a darker feather tip. Most importantly of all, note that, contrary to more or less everything that is published, they can have well marked (and hence dark looking) underwings at this age.

So, if you encounter an odd looking juvenile gull in the coming weeks, don’t write off Caspian just because it is dark/well streaked and/or does not have the pure white underwings you were expecting – real Caspian Gulls from the Caspian can be dark.  Such features are not necessarily a sign that you have a hybrid. Expect the unexpected.

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This final bird shows classic structure and plumage; simply remember that not all are like this.

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?

modFS7E2465

 

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

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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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