Category Archives: 09) Skuas, Gulls, Terns

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

 

1st winter Baltic Gull- how identifiable?

Corker!

The working hypothesis is that frosty looking juvenile Lesser Black-backs with obvious white ground colour to underparts, small-sized, long-winged, ‘wasted’ bills and especially white underwing coverts are… baby Baltic Gulls.

I looked at the subject having encountered a couple of candidates at Flamborough last Sept. 2013. see HERE. and one in Cheshire HERE

This one’s an absolute corker from Spain. Photographed  on 27th October 2012 at Alcázar de San Juan landfill, Ciudad Real, by Gabriel Martin. There is a record of a record of a ringed Finnish Baltic Gull from Gabi’s local patch and several other good candidate, so this is not unprecedented.

See more of Gabi’s superb photos HERE and HERE.

 

and I would like to find more like this- and know if anyone think its other than a fuscus? Some heuglini can have similarly white underwing coverts. Would they structurally look like this?

IMG_9225BjwtPN_CMAEwMOk

IMG_9268IMG_9251IMG_9209IMG_9281IMG_9283IMG_9226BjwtBhsCcAA5iPS

Adult Baltic Gull

Looks the Part

It’s sufficiently well-known. You need a ring- or so they say. Actually the  Dutch have been proactive and are confident that blackish backed 1st summer (2cy)- that is to say one year old Baltic Gulls Larus fuscus fuscus- can be identified without a ring. At least some of them. What to do then when you encounter a spring adult just as a bunch of Kent birders did last week (28th March) at their local patch at Restharrow. I don’t know, but they are surely worth recording such birds in some form- at least watching for patterns to emerge. Can this be an intermedius…?

Credit to observers Steve Ray, Justin de Villeneuve, Adam Faiers and Ian Hodgson (warden SBBOT)

All photos by Steve Ray Greater Kent Birder

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.IMG_1025 baltic plus LBBIMG_1073 balticIMG_1074 BalticIMG_1081 BalticIMG_1099 BalticIMG_1100 Baltic

Trouble along the Black Sea

It’s all very well to have distinct, artificial categories like Caspian – Steppe – Heuglin’s Gull, but what if you keep seeing gulls that do not fit into any of these “boxes”?

Peter Adriaens

Caution! This is a long and tedious read about Asian gulls!

[Note: You can click on pictures for bigger version.]

 

In January 2014, Chris Gibbins and I visited the Black Sea coast in Georgia, with the idea of studying Russian Common Gulls (Larus canus heinei) in the field. This research trip was sponsored by the Dutch Birding fund. There were thousands of large gulls, especially in the Chorokhi delta south of Batumi, and in Poti, a rather industrial coastal city with a big harbour. The vast majority were Caspian Gulls, but we also saw quite a few Yellow-legged Gulls (Larus michahellis), about a hundred Armenian Gulls (Larus armenicus), 15 Herring Gulls (Larus argentatus – a vagrant in Georgia), 4 Baltic Gulls (Larus fuscus fuscus), 2 Pallas’s Gulls (Larus ichthyaetus), and tens of Heuglin’s Gulls (Larus [fuscus] heuglini).

A few Caspian Gulls on the beach at Poti...

A few Caspian Gulls on the beach at Poti…

From day one it became clear that among these thousands of gulls there were some odd adult birds, looking a bit like Heuglin’s Gull but with paler upperparts and somewhat less black in the wingtips. Were we perhaps looking at Steppe Gulls (Larus [cachinnans/fuscus/heuglini] barabensis), a taxon that winters in the Persian Gulf and India and that has not been recorded in Georgia before? These birds were trouble. It is nice to have books and papers that classify gulls into distinct categories like Caspian – Steppe – Heuglin’s Gull, but what to do when it is obvious that the gulls have not read any of this and do not care for such categories?

Allow me a quick recap. What exactly is a Heuglin’s Gull, what is a Steppe Gull, and what do they look like? Adult Heuglin’s Gull has been described by Rauste (1999) and Buzun (2002). Most authors seem to consider it a subspecies of Lesser Black-backed Gull, as it is very similar in plumage and there is evidence of some gene flow between fuscus and heuglini. However, the long calls of Heuglin’s Gull are slightly different from those of Lesser Black-backed, and some authorities advocate full species status. Essentially, adult Heuglin’s Gull looks very similar to adult graellsii Lesser Black-backed Gull, though some birds have slightly paler upperparts. The black wingtips are very extensive, with only a short pale tongue on underside of outermost primary (usually covering about 1/3 of the inner web, but sometimes up to ½). The tongue mainly has a diagonal shape, not concave or rectangular. From above, the black colour on the outermost three primaries (P8-10) reaches the primary coverts, creating a solid black outer hand. Most birds (95%) show black down to P4. The white mirrors are small; the one on outermost primary (P10) nearly always shows a complete distal black band, and the one on P9 never breaks the black outer edge of the feather. Nearly all birds show head streaking in winter (until March) and their leg colour is variably dull yellowish to greyish/pinkish – rarely bright yellow.

 

A typical (though rather dark) adult Heuglin's Gull together with Caspian, Armenian and Black-headed Gulls, Poti. Compare mantle colour to that of the Armenian Gull immediately behind.

A typical (though rather dark) adult Heuglin’s Gull together with Caspian, Armenian and Black-headed Gulls, Poti. Compare mantle colour to that of the Armenian Gull immediately behind.

The same Heuglin's Gull in flight. Black colour on P8-10 reaches the primary coverts. On the underside of P10, there is only a short, diagonal pale tongue (indicated by the black arrow).

The same Heuglin’s Gull in flight. Black colour on P8-10 reaches the primary coverts. On the underside of P10, there is only a short, diagonal pale tongue (indicated by the black arrow).

Steppe Gull is a poorly differentiated taxon and is clearly very closely related to Heuglin’s Gull. The two taxa are genetically very similar. However, not all of its long calls are similar to those of Heuglin’s. Steppe Gull is said to have two different types of long call, one being much closer to Caspian Gull.  Nowadays, most authorities seem to consider it a subspecies of Heuglin’s Gull (or a subspecies of Lesser Black-backed Gull, if you consider Heuglin’s to be part of Lesser Black-backed Gull too), but it has also been grouped with Caspian Gull or even been treated as a full species. In any case, it is believed to have a hybrid origin. To make things even more complicated, mixed colonies of Caspian and Steppe Gulls have been reported from southern Siberia, and birds breeding in northern Kazakhstan appear to show characters intermediate between these two taxa.

The characters of adult Steppe Gull have been described by Panov & Monzikov (2000). Photographs from the breeding range can be seen at http://birds-altay.ru/chajka-larus-barabensis/, and from the core wintering range at, e.g., http://chrisgibbins-gullsbirds.blogspot.de/2010/05/steppe-gulls-in-uae.html. Its upperparts are dark bluish-grey, similar to Armenian Gull (Larus armenicus), and the black wingtips are slightly less extensive than in Heuglin’s Gull. The pale tongue on P10 usually covers about half of the inner web, though this can be up to 2/3 in a few. The tongue can be concave or rectangular in shape. Nearly all birds have black down to P4 or P3. Black band at tip of P10 is usually complete and thick. Adults are very white-headed even in mid-winter, and have bright yellow legs and feet, especially from February on.

So far for the theory.

Now, what are these then?

 

An adult gull with dark grey upperparts and Caspian-like structure, thus suggestive of Steppe Gull, but note the pinkish tinge to legs and, especially, feet.

Bird 1. An adult gull with dark grey upperparts and Caspian-like structure, thus suggestive of Steppe Gull, but note the pinkish tinge to legs and, especially, feet, more like Heuglin’s Gull.

The same bird, stretching its wing. Unlike Heuglin's Gull, black on P8 falls clearly short of primary coverts. The pale tongue on underside of P10 covers about 50% of inner web and is concave in shape (diagonal in Heuglin's).

The same bird, stretching its wing. Unlike Heuglin’s Gull, black on P8 falls clearly short of primary coverts. The pale tongue on underside of P10 covers about 50% of inner web and is concave in shape (diagonal in Heuglin’s).

Another very similar mystery gull, Poti. First view is strongly suggestive of Steppe Gull.

Bird 2. Another very similar mystery gull, Poti. First view is strongly suggestive of Steppe Gull.

View of the upperwing of this bird. The primary pattern looks ok for Steppe as well as Heuglin's Gull here.

View of the upperwing of this bird. The primary pattern looks ok for Steppe as well as Heuglin’s Gull here.

From below, however, the pale tongue on P10 has a concave shape, unlike Heuglin's Gull. The pink feet and greenish tinge on legs are not typical of Steppe Gull.

From below, however, the pale tongue on P10 has a concave shape, unlike Heuglin’s Gull. The pink feet and greenish tinge on legs are not typical of Steppe Gull.

Bird 3. This bird has bright yellow legs, but the fairly extensive brown spotting on head is unlike Steppe Gull. The bluish-grey mantle colour seems a bit too pale for Heuglin's Gull.

Bird 3. This bird has bright yellow legs, but the fairly extensive brown spotting on head is unlike Steppe Gull. The bluish-grey mantle colour seems a bit too pale for Heuglin’s Gull.

In flight, the pale tongue on underside of P10 is too long for both Steppe and Heuglin's Gull. In fact, it is as long as in the Caspian Gull to the right of it! Note also the large white mirror on P10, with broken black distal band (at least on left wing). Black only reaches down to P5; the inner four primaries are unmarked.

In flight, the pale tongue on underside of P10 is too long for both Steppe and Heuglin’s Gull. In fact, it is as long as in the Caspian Gull to the right of it! Note also the large white mirror on P10, with broken black distal band (at least on left wing). Black only reaches down to P5; the inner four primaries are unmarked. Black on P8 falls short of the primary coverts.

And it goes from bad to worse. Bird 4 has head streaking that is so extensive that it matches Herring Gull. Yet, its upperparts are as dark grey as in Armenian Gull, and black on P8 reaches the primary coverts (just visible below the tertials here). The big white mirror on P10, with very little distal black, is unlike Heuglin's and Steppe Gull.

And it goes from bad to worse. Bird 4 has head streaking that is so extensive that it matches Herring Gull. Yet, its upperparts are as dark grey as in Armenian Gull, and black on P8 reaches the primary coverts (just visible below the tertials here). The big white mirror on P10, with very little distal black, is unlike Heuglin’s and Steppe Gull.

Bird 5. Another barabensis type with way too big white mirror on P10.

Bird 5. Another barabensis type with way too big white mirror on P10.

There is very little distal black on the P10 mirror, and the feet have a pinkish tinge.

There is very little distal black on the P10 mirror, and the feet have a pinkish tinge.

Still the same bird. Note that the strong contrast between dark grey remiges and white underwing coverts differs from Caspian Gull.

Still the same bird. Note that the strong contrast between dark grey remiges and white underwing coverts differs from Caspian Gull – if anyone was wondering about that species here.

Bird 6. With its bit of head streaking and short, fairly diagonal tongue on P10, this bird suggests Heuglin's Gull at first.

Bird 6. With its bit of head streaking and short, fairly diagonal tongue on P10, this bird suggests Heuglin’s Gull at first.

From above though, the upperwings are rather pale and bluish for that taxon, and the black colour of P8 and P9 falls short of the primary coverts.

From above though, the upperwings are rather pale and bluish for that taxon, and the black colour of P8 and P9 falls short of the primary coverts.

Birds 7 (left) and 8 (right). Two heuglini types, seemingly...

Birds 7 (left) and 8 (right). Two heuglini types, seemingly…

In flight, however, neither of these two birds truly matches Heuglin's Gull. In the left bird, the pale tongue on P10 is way too long (longer even than in Steppe Gull) and has a concave shape, while in the right bird black on P8-9 falls clearly short of the primary coverts.

In flight, however, neither of these two birds truly matches Heuglin’s Gull. In the left bird, the pale tongue on P10 is way too long (longer even than in Steppe Gull) and has a concave shape, while in the right bird black on P8-9 falls clearly short of the primary coverts.

Another look at bird 8 in flight. The pale tongue on P10 has a concave shape, unlike Heuglin's.

Another look at bird 8 in flight. The pale tongue on P10 has a concave shape, unlike Heuglin’s.

Bird 9. Big white mirror on P10, almost without any distal black. The black wingtip is quite restricted: black only reaches down to P5, and on P8-9 it falls clearly short of the primary coverts.

Bird 9. Big white mirror on P10, almost without any distal black. The black wingtip is quite restricted: black only reaches down to P5, and on P8-9 it falls clearly short of the primary coverts.

The underwing of bird 9. The pale tongue on P10 is extremely long and suggests Caspian Gull, but note the dark grey colour of the remiges as well as different head structure.

The underwing of bird 9. The pale tongue on P10 is extremely long and suggests Caspian Gull, but note the dark grey colour of the remiges as well as different head structure.

The following two birds seem to match Steppe Gull in all respects. They were seen above the landfill just south of Batumi on February 2nd. If they truly are Steppe Gulls, they would represent the first records for Georgia, which is over 1,200 km northwest of their normal wintering range.

 

Bird 10. Putative Steppe Gull, Batumi.

Bird 10. Putative Steppe Gull, Batumi.

Bird 10, upperwing. Note bright yellow legs, clean white head and neck, thick black distal band on P10, black wingtip reaching down to P3.

Bird 10, upperwing. Note bright yellow legs, clean white head and neck, thick black distal band on P10, black wingtip reaching down to P3. Bluish-grey upperwing.

The tongue on P10 is rather short and diagonal.

The tongue on P10 is rather short and diagonal. Remiges paler grey than in Heuglin’s Gull, not contrasting strongly with white underwing coverts.

Bird 11. Putative Steppe Gull, Batumi. The pale tongue is rather long and could also match Caspian Gull, but there is no white mirror on P9 and black reaches down to P3. There is a thick black distal band on P10.

Bird 11. Putative Steppe Gull, Batumi. The pale tongue is rather long and could also match Caspian Gull, but there is no white mirror on P9 and black reaches down to P3. There is a thick black distal band on P10.

Bird 11, upperwing.

Bird 11, upperwing.

What does it all mean?

 In 11 days time, we saw over 30 adult ‘misery gulls’ in Georgia. These seemed to show mixed characters of Heuglin’s and Caspian Gull, thus making them similar but not identical to Steppe Gull. It is difficult and probably unwise to try to pigeonhole such birds. Heuglin’s Gull is a tundra breeder, and its breeding range is well separated from the much more southern range of Caspian Gull, so extensive hybridisation is not likely. Perhaps some Herring Gull genes are involved, but that is just speculation. Whatever these birds are, it is clear that they make the identification of out-of-range barabensis more challenging. Another complication is that the breeding range of barabensis overlaps with that of Caspian Gull to some extent, and it may even come into contact with that of Heuglin’s Gull. Between the known breeding ranges of the latter and Steppe Gull lies an area of approximately 1,200 – 1,500 km wide impenetrable bogs and marshes; nobody really knows what is really going on there… At least, extensive intermingling of barabensis and cachinnans characters is known from northeastern Kazakhstan, and the same may be happening with Heuglin’s Gull.

One more possibility to consider when faced with such gulls as in Georgia is Taimyr Gull (Larus fuscus/heuglini taimyrensis). This is a very unlikely option though, as colour-ringing has shown that the gulls of the Taimyr peninsula move southeast to winter along the Pacific coast of East Asia. In addition, the tongue on P10 in this taxon is not longer than 50%, and there is always a substantial amount of black at the tip of this primary. Since some of the Georgian ‘misery gulls’ have a very long tongue and a big white mirror on P10, they do not match the appearance of Taimyr Gull.

As a final note, such ‘misery gulls’, of course, may also occur in other regions. There have been reports of Steppe Gull from Israel and even Greece; are these truly Steppe Gulls? Even some of the “Heuglin’s Gulls” photographed in Israel seem odd, and do not really match birds from the breeding range. For example, http://gull-research.org/heuglini/heug5cy/admarch06.html shows a huge, concave tongue on P10, and http://gull-research.org/heuglini/heug5cy/adfeb01.html portrays a bird with rather paler grey upperparts, big white mirrors on P9-10, and black of P8-9 clearly falling short of the primary coverts.

If you are still reading this, congratulations and thank you for your attention! Let us keep an open mind about these heuglini and barabensis types.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dark 1st-cycle Kumlien’s Gulls

Peter Adriaens

 

With a fairly pale, putative 1st-cycle Thayer’s Gull in Scotland at the moment, now is probably a good time to look into some of the variation shown by Kumlien’s Gull.

The following photos were all taken at St John’s, Newfoundland, in late January 2013. They illustrate some of the variation at the darker end of 1st-cycle Kumlien’s Gull. Thayer’s Gull is still a rarity in Newfoundland, and the large numbers of Kumlien’s Gulls, all showing bewildering variation, make looking for one a rather daunting task!  However, given enough scrutiny, a typical Thayer’s Gull should still stand out, even when you have to sift through thousands of Kumlien’s Gulls.

This rather dark bird differs only subtly from paler examples of Thayer's Gull: it has already moulted many scapulars, the secondaries are greyish rather than dark brown, and the pale fringes to the primaries are slightly longer (reaching the secondaries at rest).

This rather dark bird differs only subtly from paler examples of Thayer’s Gull: it has already moulted many scapulars, the secondaries are greyish rather than dark brown, and the pale fringes to the primaries are slightly longer (reaching the secondaries at rest).

Compared to typical Thayer's Gulls, this bird shows less contrast between the outer and inner webs on outer primaries. Note that secondaries can appear darker than the greater coverts; this depends on the angle of the wing towards the photographer.

Compared to typical Thayer’s Gulls, this bird shows less contrast between the outer and inner webs on outer primaries. Note that secondaries can appear darker than the greater coverts; this depends on the angle of the wing towards the photographer.

This bird has rather pale secondaries, of the same colour as the inner primaries.

This bird has rather pale secondaries, of the same colour as the inner primaries.

This bird has moulted only a few scapulars. Note that the juvenile scapulars have quite extensive brown centers.

This bird has moulted only a few scapulars. Note that the juvenile scapulars have quite extensive brown centers.

The same bird, now with its wings open. Secondaries rather brown. Compared to most Thayer's Gulls, note the rather pale outer web to P6 (dark in Thayer's).

The same bird, now with its wings open. Secondaries rather brown. Compared to most Thayer’s Gulls, note the rather pale outer web to P6 (dark in Thayer’s).

KumliensGull_1c_Newfoundland_20130131_033

The above two pictures show examples of birds with extensive brown juvenile scapulars. However, rather than thin primary fringes as in Thayer's Gull, they show frosty whitish distal area on each primary.

The above two pictures show examples of birds with extensive brown juvenile scapulars. However, rather than thin primary fringes as in Thayer’s Gull, they show frosty whitish distal area on each primary.

This bird has rather dark juvenile scapulars.

This bird has rather dark juvenile scapulars.

This one has paler tertials than most 1st-cycle Thayer's Gulls (and has moulted many scapulars).

This one has paler tertials than most 1st-cycle Thayer’s Gulls (and has moulted many scapulars).

Juvenile Thayer’s Gull on Islay

Bruichladdich,  Islay. 2nd March 2014

Mark Wilkinson

(MG) Had wee chat with Mark Wilkinson on Facebook this evening. I have been doing a bit of writing on Wilson’s Snipe today, and back in 2007  (the great Wilson’s Snipe autumn), Mark, myself and Tim Drew watched a veritable Wilson’s in flight, mid Oct on Foula, Shetland  but didn’t get any grounded views, just 4 very good flight views  or have the photographic tackle to nail it… Which brings me to this evening with this very nice (pioneering) chap…

and now he finds this. Really hope it sticks around for him as looks fine/ typical/ lovely scapular pattern for, primaries and tertials dead on, solid dark looking tail…. juvenile Thayer’s Gull.

Kumliens type gull MW Bruichladdich Islay 02032014 01

“Hi Martin,

Attached a couple of shots of the gull from Sunday 02 March. Found at 11:45 roosting with a group of Common Gulls just north of Bruichladdich, Islay (the small white island on the map just south of Loch Gorm House). Co-finders were Kris Gibb and Dennis Morrison. When first seen we were looking almost directly back-end on to it, when it looked extremely interesting!! We had to walk/jog about 50m along the road to get a better side-on view, which unfortunately flushed most of the Common Gulls out into the bay. Fortunately the bird in question stayed, although it moved position a couple of times. It ended up being the last gull to leave, when it flew out and landed in the middle of the Common Gull flock, probably about 100m offshore. It was till there when we left. The total viewing time was about 5 minutes in total – checked from the camera. I didn’t get any flight shots, but Kris did, I will try and get copies for you – but they were not great. I was too busy trying to watch and photograph it at the same time – you know how it is!! 
 
We had a great weekend, American Herring Gull early on Saturday morning at Campbeltown, then ferry over to Islay Sat afternoon. Saw a few Iceland Gulls on Islay, plus Richardson’s Cackling Goose. Loads of Chough, Golden and WT Sea Eagles, GND’s etc all added to the fun. Came off Islay yesterday afternoon, just back in the Netherlands now!
 
Mark”

Kumliens type gull Bruichladdich Islay 02032014 01Kumlien's type gull Bruichladdich Islay 02032014 02

and if you go up for it… Bardsey Bird Obs and Roger Riddington tell the whiskey is excellent too :)

Red Arrow shows the way!

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James Clark Ross and His Gull

 

Celebration of Beauty

A beautiful gull? Some may say there is no such thing. These images perhaps suggest otherwise. One a first winter bird, big treat any-day as they hard t o see and photograph. This first winter reached all the way to Espagne!

and the pink adult in Cork

With grateful thanks to Juan Sagardia (Lanzarote Pelagics) and Harry Hussy. Have a great weekend.

Gaviota-de-ross-017adult winter Ross's Gull 20th Feb 2014_HH_1aadult winter Ross's Gull 20th Feb 2014_HH_2aadult winter Ross's Gull 20th Feb 2014_HH_3aGaviota-de-ross-juvenil-2Gaviota-de-Ross-juvenil-9Gaviota-de-ross-juvenil-14n

Gaviota-de-ross-juvenil-5