Category Archives: 09) Skuas, Gulls, Terns

Calls of Thayer’s, Kumlien’s and Iceland Gulls

Peter Adriaens

(MG) A reblog from last January and one of my favourites. With Iceland, Kumlien’s and Thayer’s Gulls  around- is anyone recording calls? Come on chapesses and chaps-  a wonderful frontier...

Interminable debates have surrounded the identity and taxonomy of Thayer’s, Kumlien’s and Iceland Gulls of Arctic Canada. Until now, most of these have focused on plumage similarities and differences. Having obtained recordings of Kumlien’s Gulls in Newfoundland in early 2013, comparison could then be made between all 3 taxa. The long call of gulls is effectively their ‘song’. When the flight calls and especially long calls of the 3 are compared, the results are unexpected and surprising…

While our knowledge of birds in general has increased exponentially over the last few decades, it seems that some gull taxa have managed to remain a mystery. This is particularly true for the “Iceland Gull complex”. The taxonomic position of Thayer’s Gull, Kumlien’s Gull and Iceland Gull is a much discussed topic, but for the last 15 years or so, the debate seems to have been going in circles rather than forward. It may even be going backward: indeed, Snell (2002) in ‘Birds of North America online’ treats the three taxa as just one, monotypic species, Larus glaucoides. Thus, we are led to believe that gulls with white wing tips (glaucoides) living in Greenland are the same taxon as gulls with black wing tips (thayeri) living in western North America, 2,000 to 5,000 km further away. Convenient perhaps, but a bit despondent surely?

The debate is characterised by many unanswered questions and a lot of speculation. To add something more informative, I would like to draw attention to the calls of these taxa. For display, large gulls have a “long call” that is unique to each taxon. It is effectively the song of a gull, and consists of three separate stages, the third one being a long, loud series of fairly short, staccato notes. One thing that the three “Iceland Gull taxa” have in common, is that the staccato notes of the long call are delivered more slowly than in other large gulls: there are usually only two staccato notes per second, as opposed to four in, e.g., European or American Herring Gull. For a recording and sonogram of a displaying pair of the latter taxon, have a look at the recording >>>HERE<<< and note that about 3.5 – 4 staccato notes are delivered per second (from seconds 3 to 7), at a frequency of c 1000 to 4000 Hz.

Yet, there are noticeable differences between the three “Iceland Gull taxa” as well. Recordings have become available in recent years, except for Kumlien’s Gull, so I recorded this taxon myself in Newfoundland in January and February 2013. When discussing these recordings with Magnus Robb, it became clear that especially Thayer’s Gull is somewhat different. While gull long calls are variable, e.g. differing between male and female and depending on the kind of interaction that is going on, the difference may be significant, and has actually been hinted at before: Sibley (2000) described the long call of Thayer’s Gull as lower and flatter than (American) Herring Gull, while Iceland Gull is said to be ‘shriller’ (i.e. higher).

Thayer’s Gull

Thayer' s Gull (near) adult Choshi, Japan, 11th March 2013. Peter Adriaens

Thayer’ s Gull (near) adult Choshi, Japan, 11th March 2013. Peter Adriaens

So what do these birds sound like? The Macaulay Library has three recordings of adult Thayer’s long calls and two of flight calls. You can listen to them >>> HERE <<< . As the recordist also comments, these calls sound rather deep. If we put this into a sonogram, we can see that the fundamental (i.e. lowest) staccato notes start below 1000 Hz and have a rather flat, gently arched shape. There are also some guttural sounds, which go below 500 Hz.

Adult Thayers Gull, flight calls & long calls. Churchill, Canada 3 June 2009 (from Macaulay Library)

Adult Thayers Gull, flight calls & long calls. Churchill, Canada 3 June 2009 (from Macaulay Library)

Note also that the flight calls sound quite low, starting clearly below 500 Hz.

Thayer's Gull (near) adult, Choshi, Japan, 11th March 2012. Peter Adriaens

Thayer’s Gull (near) adult, Choshi, Japan, 11th March 2012. Peter Adriaens

Another recording of Thayer’s Gull long call is available on the Stokes CD ‘Bird songs of West America’. Again, the sonogram shows deep staccato notes (starting below 1000 Hz) with a flat shape.

Thayer' s Gull long call from Stokes CD ‘Bird songs of West America’.

Thayer’ s Gull long call from Stokes CD ‘Bird songs of West America’.

Iceland Gull

Adult Iceland Gull, Grindavik , Iceland, 28 March 2010. Peter Adriaens

Adult Iceland Gull, Grindavik , Iceland, 28 March 2010. Peter Adriaens

Compare the Thayer’s Gull calls above to the following recording of a displaying adult Iceland Gull (nominate glaucoides), made by Magnus in Iceland in spring:

Transferring this to a sonogram reveals that the call notes have a distinctly peaked shape, are all clearly above 1000 Hz and therefore higher pitched than in Thayer’s Gull:

Adult Iceland Gull long call, Iceland, Magnus Robb

Adult Iceland Gull long call, Iceland, Magnus Robb

Goethe (1986) based on several hundreds of recordings made in breeding colonies in Greenland and on birds in captivity, also describes the long call of adult Iceland Gull as higher than 1000 Hz. He also found it to be 500 to 700 Hz higher than in Herring Gull.

Adult Iceland Gull, Grindavik, Iceland, 23 March 2010. Peter Adriaens

Adult Iceland Gull, Grindavik, Iceland, 23 March 2010. Peter Adriaens

Further recordings of nominate Iceland Gull can be found on commercial CDs such as Schulze’s ‘Bird Songs of Europe, North Africa and the Middle East’ – though the long call on there is that of an immature bird.

Flight calls can be heard from about the 24th second in Magnus’ recording (first recording above and in short section extracted in 2nd recording directly above). These sound higher pitched than in Thayer’s Gull. In the sonogram, they are clearly above 1000 Hz:

Adult Iceland Gull flight call, Iceland. Magnus Robb

Adult Iceland Gull flight call, Iceland. Magnus Robb

Kumlien’s Gull

Adult Kumlien's Gull Newfoundland, 22nd January 2013. Peter Adriaens

Adult Kumlien’s Gull Newfoundland, 22nd January 2013. Peter Adriaens

The long call of Kumlien’s Gull seems similar to Iceland Gull, though perhaps sounding even higher – which is a bit unexpected in a taxon that is seen as intermediate between Thayer’s and Iceland Gull, or even as a hybrid between the two by some. In any case, the long call is clearly higher than in Thayer’s Gull, with the fundamentals starting above 1000 Hz. The flight calls sound higher pitched too; in the sonogram, they are at about 1000 Hz or higher, while Thayer’s flight calls start below 500 Hz already.

Long calls

Kumlien’s Gull adult Long calls (best 2) Newfoundland Jan- Feb 2013. Peter Adriaens

Kumlien’s Gull adult Long calls (best) Newfoundland Jan- Feb 2013. Peter Adriaens

Kumlien’s Gull adult Long calls (best 3) Newfoundland Jan- Feb 2013. Peter Adriaens

Kumlien’s Gull adult Long calls and Flight calls Newfoundland Jan- Feb 2013. Peter Adriaens

Kumlien's Gull adult Long calls (best 2) Newfoundland Jan- Feb 2013. Peter Adriaens

Kumlien’s Gull adult Long calls (best 2) Newfoundland Jan- Feb 2013. Peter Adriaens

Kumlien's Gull adult Long calls Newfoundland Jan- Feb 2013. Peter Adriaens

Kumlien’s Gull adult Long calls Newfoundland Jan- Feb 2013. Peter Adriaens

Adult Kumlien's Gull Newfoundland, 1st February 2013. Peter Adriaens

Adult Kumlien’s Gull Newfoundland, 1st February 2013. Peter Adriaens

Flight calls

Kumlien’s Gull adult Flight calls Newfoundland Jan- Feb 2013. Peter Adriaens

Kumlien's Gull adult Flight calls Newfoundland Jan- Feb 2013. Peter Adriaens

Kumlien’s Gull adult Flight calls Newfoundland Jan- Feb 2013. Peter Adriaens

Conclusions

It seems interesting that Thayer’s Gull appears to have a deeper, flatter voice than Iceland, Kumlien’s and even Herring Gulls. While I fully realise that many more recordings are needed, especially from the breeding grounds, I simply hope that the above information provides a fresh look at an old problem. Perhaps the taxonomic debate cannot be settled by measuring skins in musea. There is still a need for more detailed and controlled research, which should probably also take into account voice and ecology. Thayer’s, Kumlien’s and Iceland Gull certainly behave like three distinct populations; each one has its own breeding and wintering range, for instance. Each one seems to have its own plumage traits (Howell & Elliott, 2001; Howell & Mactavish, 2003) and probably also voice. If the whole Iceland Gull complex is just one big cline, as suggested by e.g. Snell (2002), how can there be three distinct populations? And if Kumlien’s Gull is merely a hybrid, as advocated by e.g. Weir et al (2000), why does it have its own range? Surely the taxonomic debate can only be settled when there are firm answers to such questions.

References

Goethe, F. 1986. Zur Biologie, insbesondere Ethographie der Polarmöwe (Larus glaucoides Meyer, 1822). Ann. Naturhist. Mus. Wien. 88/89(Ser. B):113-146.

Howell, S & Elliott, M T. 2001. Identification and variation of winter adult thayer’s gulls – with comments on taxonomy. Alula 7 (4): 130-144

Howell, S & Mactavish, B. 2003. Identification and variation of winter adult Kumlien’s Gulls. Alula 1: 2-15

Snell, R. R. 2002. Iceland Gull (Larus glaucoides), The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; Retrieved from the Birds of North America Online: http://bna.birds.cornell.edu/bna/spe…0.2173/bna.699

Weir, D. N., Kitchener A.C., and McGowan R. Y. 2000. Hybridization and changes in the distribution of Iceland gulls (Larus glaucoides/kumlieni/thayeri). J. Zool., London, 252: 517-530

Trickier birds would be very interesting to record…

Adult Kumlien's Gull (dark individual), Newfoundland, 25 January 2013. Peter Adriaens

Adult Kumlien’s Gull (dark individual), Newfoundland, 25 January 2013. Peter Adriaens

Britain’s Most Northerly Caspian Gull… ever!

February 6th 2015

Mark Lewis

caspo 2 ml

I’m currently working on a Norwegian International Bottom Trawl Survey vessel (collecting some of the data that will inform fishing quotas) as a seabird observer. On the 6th, as we worked east of Shetland, I was shocked to see a pale mantled, white-headed and white rumped 1st winter gull zooming around the ship with the melee of Fulmar, Great black-backed and Herring Gulls we’d attracted. I zapped off a few photos on its third pass and then tried to concentrate on the survey – but only after checking with the officer on watch that our location was within UK waters! I had strong suspicions that it was a Caspian Gull – but was cautious as I’ve no experience with them, and they’re pretty mega in Scotland, especially that far north. Luckily it stayed with the boat for the rest of the afternoon, even landing on board at one point, allowing me to get a proper look at it and some better shots.

Screen Shot 2015-02-08 at 11.19.06

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When you get on these boats you expect to see a few white wingers and hope for something like a Ross’s Gull or Brunnich’s Guillemot, if you’re feeling ambitious. This was completely off the radar!

There are other records from similar latitudes (e.g. one in Bergen in 2007) but this is certainly the most northerly record of Caspian Gull from the UK

Mark

caspo 3 ml

 

Identification of Thayer’s Gull in…

2nd winter plumage

**Free Article Download**

2nd winter Thayer's CG

web-cover-page

Hi,

This is a reblog from a couple of years back. Following a claim of 2nd winter Thayer’s Gull in Shropshire UK and a juvenile Thayer’s in West Yorkshire , UK both in recent weeks, it seems timely to share some love in the hope of more discoveries…

Identification of Thayer’s Gull has been a hot potato for a long time, and remains so today. This photo-essay has been put together to encourage birders to look for second winter Thayer’s, an age group that has yet to be recorded ‘officially’ in Europe. A record from 15 years ago in southern Ireland was more recently showcased HERE. 

Also nice selection of shots of 2nd w Thayer’s from Rich Bonser HERE.

The article is in pdf format to download, print off, and use in the field etc…

Chris Gibbins and Martin Garner

click below to download, print off and get out looking’!

Identification of second winter Thayers Gull CG MG

 

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.

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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 combination.ad 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.

russische-stormmeeuw-04022012-nr-4

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

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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:

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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