Category Archives: 09) Skuas, Gulls, Terns

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





Kamchatka Gull at St. John’s, Newfoundland


Alvan Buckley found this bird at St. John’s 4 days ago (September 16th 2014) and emailed the next day. Apologies for not getting it up earlier ( of living at Flamborough!). This bird looks right on the money  for the East Asian Kamchatka Gull. Here’s Alvan’s description: IMG_5566

Remarkably, it was standing right next to an adult Yellow-legged Gull (see last photo).
The mantle colour was very similar, if not the same as the YLGU.
Bill was notably thinner without any obvious markings or widening near the end (almost Mew Gull like).
Eye was dark!
Leg colour was definitely more yellow than the YLGU. In fact I would say that the YLGU legs were more orange in colour.
Legs were short and thin, could barely see above the tarsus.
Head streaking was slightly more dense on top of the head, but was present along the neck too and the streaking was generally smudgy in appearance.
Body was noticeably slimmer and smaller than the YLGU and HERGs.
From the in flight shots it appears that p9 and p10 are missing/growing in – so it is advanced in its primary molt for an adult at this time of year. New P8 is part grown.
and my response:
Hi Alvan
sorry for slow response- very busy as just moved house and lots migration going on outside!
This look remarkable and looks pretty much spot on for a Kamchatka Gull (as you hinted)- no problem with size- you get big ones. The dark iris was little disconcerting as they often have paler iris but think its ok.
I checked with top gull man Chris Gibbins and his reaction was exactly the same- look great for Kamchatka Gull.
Cheers Martin
More on Alvan’s Blog: Birding with Buckley

IMG_5572 IMG_5580IMG_5622 IMG_5620 IMG_5619IMG_5569

Six of Eighteen

The Challenge Series: AUTUMN

One of the chapters covers Sandwich Tern and Cabot’s tern (the Sandwich Tern of North America). Twice young Cabot’s Terns have reached NW Europe as young birds in their first autumn, one in Britain and one in the Netherlands. Now that they have been recognised as full species- it’s about time another one appeared :)  For more on the content and how to buy the book click HERE.

Do you know which this one is?

One of them terns. Superb photo by a top photographer- if I tell you who took you'll know what it is.

One of them terns. Superb photo by a top photographer- if I tell you who took you’ll know what it is.


Five of Eighteen

The Challenge Series: AUTUMN

One of the chapters covers South Polar Skua and Great Skua. South Polars have a fascinating narrative in their ‘super migration’ into the North Atlantic. Special friends on the Lanzarote pelagics have pioneered the path. The features are clearer than ever. South Polars seem to have already reached Britain. There must be more to come. For more on the content and how to buy the book click HERE.

 South Polar Skua presumed to be 2cy, with Great Shearwater. September.  J. Sagardia

South Polar Skua presumed to be 2cy, with Great Shearwater. September. J. Sagardia

Kumlien’s Gulls can appear early

23rd September 2013 on the Isle of Man

Recent correspondence sent from John (dad) and Adam (son ) Peet on the Isle of Man about a tricky gull early in the autumn last year.

Apparently birders were still trying to get a definitive verdict on whether it was a Kumlien’s Gull or not.

2cy Kumlien's Gull, Isle of Man, 23rd September 2013, Adam Peet

2cy Kumlien’s Gull, Isle of Man, 23rd September 2013, Adam Peet


John also sent  a link to very instructive photos taken by Chris W. HERE

2cy Kumlien’s Gull, Isle of Man, 23rd September 2013, Adam Peet


Well I think its one of those (fortunately) straight forward Kumlien’s Gulls and it’s moulting from 1st summer to 2nd winter plumage- or if you prefer it’s a 2cy bird in September in full wing, tail and body moult. I checked with BF team member and gull guru, Chris Gibbins who also thought I was a straightforward Kumlien’s’. WHY? Structurally looks great for Kumlien’s/ Iceland.  7 full-grown new primaries, p8 part grown and still to grow in p9 and p10. The outer 3 visible (p6, 7 and 8) all have dark smudge at feather tips with a kind of pale mirror- a spot-on pattern 2nd winter Kumlien’s’ character. Furthermore p7 and 8 have outer web obviously darker than inner web. Fab broad and very obvious dark, plain tail band completes the ID as Kumlien’s Gull.

Why September?

When I lived in N. Ireland it wasn’t unusual to see the odd Glaucous or Iceland which arrived the previous winter and stayed on over summer. That for me would be the most likely explanation for the birds’ appearance at this time of year, though there could be others of course.



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)






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!


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