Category Archives: c) Large Gulls

Juvenile Thayer’s Gull in Aberdeen. NOW!

BOOM!

Thayer’s Gull, Donmouth, Aberdeenshire. 20th Jan 2016.

It’s an open secret. Chris Gibbins and I are working on a GULLS BOOK.

So the obvious thing- go out and find an uber rare gull of course. DOH!

Chris Gibbins writes:

“Isn’t birding just brilliant.

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Exciting. Challenging. Sometimes stressful. Often mind-blowing. And sometimes simply bonkers.

Thayer’s Gull, Donmouth, Aberdeenshire. All photos: Chris Gibbins & Hywel Maggs.

I had made a conscious effort to escape from work more over lunch. Rather than work and have lunch at my computer, I’d promised myself that for 2016 I would go to Donmouth to check the gulls over lunch. A kind-of New Year resolution. I’d been doing this since going back to work after the Christmas break, but in the last few days I was particularly spurred on by Dave Foster. Dave had been finding lots of Caspian Gulls back home in NE England over the last 10 days or so, and Dave’s text messages and gripping Caspian photos reminded me to plug away with Donmouth.

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Tuesday 19 January. I arrived at Donmouth. The tide was just beginning to drop and birds were gathering on the gravel bar. As I wandered along to my usual viewing point, I noticed a gull just below me, very close to the base of the cliffs and just 30 m or so from me. It looked odd. I put my bins up and looked at it – ‘ooooohhh…. here we go’. I put my scope up and started to have a close look.

I look at gulls a lot. One consequence of this is that I see lots of wacky birds (e.g. crazy-looking Herring Gulls), birds that fall rather clearly into the presumed hybrid bracket, and others that don’t quite fit anything. Thus, when confronted with something initially puzzling, my default position is always ‘why isn’t this simply a weird Herring Gull, or a hybrid etc’. But as the features of this Donmouth bird were registering themselves in my mind, this slightly negative default did not kick in – it looked just like a proper gull, and that gull was Thayer’s. That said, I had to be careful not to let first impressions run away with me (‘‘stop, concentrate on the details; be objective’’ I told myself) but boy was this an interesting bird.

The bummer was that, having just nipped out over lunch, I did not have any camera kit. This was critical as a bird like this really needs to be captured in flight. I spent 5 or 10 mins looking at it and running through the options; it was no Herring x Glaucous hybrid, nor did the features add up to a small Glaucous-winged. Over the Christmas period I’d been in Korea looking at gulls, and had seen many puzzling birds that I took to represent various hybrid combinations involving Glaucous, Glaucous-winged, Slaty-backed and Vega. But this bird was not like any of these. For sure it had that Pacific look (largely dark tail and well-marked rump and upper-tail coverts) but it was not like anything I’d seen in Korea. It was either a Thayer’s or a crazy dark Kumlien’s. This is the real nightmare zone, but several things had me leaning towards Thayer’s to me – those amazing fresh, scaley scapulars (like a juv Baird’s Sand), the tertial pattern was good, and the primaries had a narrow fringe confined to the tip (not bleeding along all the feather edge). The primary tone changed a lot in relation to angle and the light conditions (cloudy but sun sometimes breaking through and creating glare) but overall I judged them to be more or less the same as the tertials, but perhaps slightly colder/greyer in tone. Some Thayer’s in my photo collection show primaries the same as tertials, others slightly darker. So this bird seemed okay in this department. Any paler and I would get the jitters. Stills don’t do it justice to its jizz, but walking around and interacting with Herring’s it was obvious it had its own character. It was just fractionally smaller than a Herring with a pinched-in bill base. Slightly snouty. It was rather aggressive and long calling too – how many time have you seen this on an Iceland/Kumliens type? All this was good but I needed flight images. I’d managed some video footage and stills of it on the deck using my phone. Fine, but I really needed to see the details of the open wings and tail/rump frozen in a flight photo, rather than relying on perceptions of them in the field. Dam. No camera. I needed help – some second opinions from friends who were not quite so adrenalin-fuelled or stressed as me, and so could look objectively, and pictures were needed

Thankfully Hywel Maggs lives not far away and he was there with his camera within 15 mins. I left Hywel to try and secure some pics and bombed off to pick up Paul Baxter to get his views on it – he was stuck at work with no car. By the time Paul and myself got back, Hywel had it all under control. Myself, Paul, Hywel and Phil Crockett (who I had also rang for a second opinion and managed a brief look between work duties) discussed the bird; to cut a long story short, were in agreement. It was great for me see and hear their instinctive reactions to seeing it.

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I had to get back to work but this provided me with the chance to put the news out on the email systems etc. Most importantly I emailed a couple of my phone pics to folks whose views I trust more than my own – Peter Adriaens and Martin Garner.

Accepting that they had just my phone-scoped standing shots to go on, both quickly came back with positive, ‘thumbs-up’ type comments. We have lift-off. I waited to receive some copies from Hywel of his flight pics, but at least for the time being there were no big warning lights. The news was out and no doubt the usual Thayer’s-Kumliens’ debate (ID, taxonomy…) would ensue over the internet. These birds are always going to be the subject of discussion and everyone will have their views. All part of birding, and how it should be.

(all pics Mr. Gibbins and Mr Maggs, Donmouth, Aberdeen, NE Scotland – YESTERDAY)

COMMENT from Martin G.

No doubt as already intimated by Chris G. there will be internet/ social media debate. What did I think/ It looks like like a Thayer’s Gull. (This really not necessary- already cracked by Chris!!)

“20 years  after my first Thayer’s. A crazy amout of juvenile only upperparts (lack 2cy feathers). Same fillled in JUVENILE scapulars. Same pinched base bill. Same velvety underparts, same  tertial pattern, morphing colour to primaries (but LOTS look just like this, spot on secondaries and tail). There- it’s what CHRIS SAID!

THAYER’S GULL…    see ya later”

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Below- 2 fresh juvenile Thayer’s Gulls on breeding grounds…

Postscript from Chris Gibbins:
‘‘I’ve just come from Donmouth where the gull is still present. I saw it briefly but light conditions now very neutral so ideal for judging its overall colour tones.

I have to say that I have concerns having seen it in these conditions – it looks rather too milky to my liking. John Nadine’s fantastic image from the other day of it standing on the groyne make it look good, but today I have come away with rather different perception of it. In neutral light the primaries do not look dark enough and the secondaries and outer primaries in flight not quite contrasting enough for me – or at least to put it beyond doubt. I thought I should voice my new concerns about it.

Whatever, it is a great bird. Best thing is to see it and make your own mind up. ‘’

Chris

Dr Chris Gibbins
Senior Lecturer
Northern Rivers Institute
School of Geoscience
University of Aberdeen
Old Aberdeen
AB24 3UF
Telephone: 01224 272338
e-mail: c.gibbins@abdn.ac.uk
Web page: www.abdn.ac.uk/nri

Humble Pie from MG- yes it is right at the pallid end. Yes I probably jumped the gun- though I still some can look like this (see photo below). Some cases will never know for sure.

juv Thayer's 2

(Stunning!) juvenile Baltic Gull type

Check this one out!

by Hans Schekkerman

“When I found this juvenile gull standing between a ‘normal’ juvenile LBB and a Common Gull it was about half way between them in size, but structurally closer to the Common Gull! Unfortunately it didn’t wear a ring, but in my opinion everything points at Baltic Gull –it even seems to be on the ‘extreme side’ of Baltic plumage variation in several characters, e.g whiteness and lack of marking on head and underbody, and total lack of notching and barring on (particularly) greater coverts. I haven’t found a Baltic Gull photo yet with such plain greater coverts, but it seems even more unlikely that a graellsii or intermedius could show this.

Any thoughts or opinions would be appreciated,

Best,

Hans Schekkerman”


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Field Appearance

Very conspicuous among the other gulls on the beach – including a few 100 ‘normal’ juvenile Lesser Black-backs, by small and delicate build as well as contrasting plumage. Differences with ‘ordinary’ juv LBBG:
(1) Strikingly smaller and more slender; size between LBB and Common Gull, but shape closer to Common.
(2) Very long wings creating elongated body. Primary projection 2.4 times tertial length beyond greater coverts. Depending on posture, 5 or 6 primary tips visible, with P10 3-5 mm > P9.
(3) Head smaller, more ‘friendly’ with rounded crown.
(4) Less heavy bill, rather straight with flat gonys.
(5) Shorter legs (also looking somewhat thinner), contributing to elongated impression.
(6) Head almost white with fine grey-brown streaking mostly confined to shadow patch before/below eye, crown, hindneck and rear ear coverts, and white cheeks neatly demarcated from grey-brown barring on neck sides.
(7) Underparts strikingly pale with less grey-brown patterning on white ground-colour; upper breast, belly and vent almost unpatterned white.
(8) Upperparts with almost pure white feather edges contrasting with cold grey-brown centres; no warm brown or buff hues present.
(9) Edges of wing coverts (particularly greaters) and tertials with hardly any notching, creating a completely unbarred (but rather striped) lower closed wing. (Such plain greaters must be rare even in Baltics?).
(10) Narrower black tail-band than typical contrasting with weakly patterned rest of tail, uppertail coverts and rump.
(11) Underwing basically white or very pale grey with restricted brown streaking on coverts.
(12) Hardly any pale tips visible on primaries (small pale tips in majority of LBBG).
Some aspects of the bird reminded of a young Caspian Gull but in the field this impression was counteracted by the short legs, shortish-looking neck and wrong upperwing pattern in flight.

That is no normal baby Lesser Black-backed Gull!

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with a 1cy Lesser Black-backed (below)9529785

 

with a 1cy Herring Gull (below)9529789

 

on da beach9549874

 

Oof- underwing with magic whiteness…9549921

 

and a whiter rump and tail…9529802

 

please can I have one this autumn 🙂9549874,,

Flamborough 2014

 

 

Baltic Gull

Keep lookin’

It was just over a year ago (26th July 2014) that Craig Thomas and I had an excellent first summer Baltic Gull off Flamborough Head. I could add ‘candidate’ but it just looked too good to use caveats 🙂

It gets a little harder in August but 2cy Baltic Gulls can still be expected. The Large Gulls now start to get very interesting.

A reminder of what to look for in this distinctive plumage  >>>>HERE<<<<

2cy Baltic Gull Nokia Koukku dump, SW Finland 20.7.2007. Photo: Hannu Koskinen

2cy Baltic Gull Nokia Koukku dump, SW Finland 20.7.2007. Photo: Hannu Koskinen

Above: A 2cy Baltic Gull in late July and below and a 2cy one in mid-November

2cy Baltic Gull, Israel, November 2012. Martin Garner

2cy Baltic Gull, Israel, November 2012. Martin Garner

 

 

juvenile Yellow-legged Gulls

michahellis– NOW!

It’s that time of year. Can I reminisce momentarily? Just 20 years ago juvenile and first winter Yellow-legged Gulls were rarely identified with any confidence. There seemed just too tricky and confusing! I remember trying to unravel the riddles.

Slowly but surely a picture began to emerge. Lots of practice with close-up juveniles of Herring and Lesser Black-backed Gulls helped a lot.

Are you there yet? There are always a very satisfying local find.

Right now juvenile/ 1cy Yellow-legged GUlls are flung far and wide. Almost daily off Flamborough they are about and waiting to be found 🙂

So it was nice to ogle over these close-up photos by Brett Spencer of two young michs taken 2 days ago in Dorset.

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2 photos above, 1cy Yellow-legged Gulls (michahellis) Dorset , 26th July 2015, Brett Spencer.

 

Chris Gibbins has just returned from Spain, so to add to the visual preparation, here are more young michahellis showing the striking upperparts in flight, especially the tail pattern. Also some more variation in plumage. Good luck!

4D2A80054D2A76164D2A94813 photos above, 1cy Yellow-legged Gulls (michahellis) Spain, July 2015, Chris Gibbins.

 

Juvenile/ 2cy Thayer’s Gull in Iceland

Helgavik Harbour, South West Iceland. 15th-16th March 2015

Following this 2nd winter trickier bird, Derek Charles and Edward Rickson picked up this more straightforward 2cy (juvenile/ first winter) Thayer’s from SW Iceland last Sunday and Monday (15-16th March).  It’ s a bit mealier below and paler in scapulars above than some but certainly  fits the Thayer’s ‘look’ overall. Derek also picked out a Brünnich’s Guillemot which proved popular with Icelandic birders. Nice!

One interesting point, Derek noted was that all first winter Iceland and Kumlien’s were extremely worn compared with this Thayer’s, furthermore making many Kumlien’s considerably more difficult to distinguish. All among the glorious swarm of March Icelandic Gull acton!

2cy Thayer’s Gull. Helgavik Harbour, March 2015. All photos Derek Charles:

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tfour (1 of 1) tone (1 of 1) tthree (1 of 1) ttwo (1 of 1)

Thayer’s Gull in Iceland?

Challenging 2nd winter plumage

Martin Garner and David Walker

First off checkout this amazing photo of the awesome gull swarm at Olafsvik, Iceland last year. From Dungeness Bird Obs warden Dave Walker- man you wanna go there!

Martin Casemore Plodding Birder and David clocked the darker bird looking a candidate 2nd winter’s Thayer’s a few days ago at Grundarfjordur, Iceland. It’s a bit of a scary bird, so a few photos and some comment. Lot more pictures of the bird on the Dungeness Bird Obs website.

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 Gull sp , Grundarfjordur, Iceland, March, 2015

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 From MG:

“From the first photos it is pretty Thayer’s like. Indeed I suppose it may well be the progeny of 2 adult Thayer’s. However for ID purposes of vagrants I would not peg it as identifiable/ acceptable if it was say in the UK. There are a number of features that put it into the uncertain/ what is going on? box. On the broad front I wonder if there is some pioneer zone where there is some gene mixing- say NW Greenland and these scary ones show up from.

Specifically- and your photos show this much better- it is very mealy dark/light patterning in greater coverts- most often thayeri is quiet plain, the outer primaries have less dark than ideal- best if it crosses to the inner web- and the pattern starts going weak from p6, also not so good. There is a pale spot even if not a proper mirror on p10 and the little subterminal string of pale spots on p8 ish and inwards is definitely odd and maybe better for kumlieni I think.

So that combined set of slight oddments are a least at ‘edge’ of acceptable 2nd winter Thayer’s would make me say it’s best left as Thayer’s -like but uncertain ID. It’s not dissimilar to some we showcased here  and those features are hashed out further here. I have seen quite a few 2nd winter Thayer’s and most look more straightforward- which is of course you want when claiming vagrants! Always learning…”

argentatus Herring Gull wing tips and travels

Remarkable Movements

Martin Garner

It’s what they do, where they go, how far they travel,  the ‘gull narrative’ that adds to the wonder. While Gullfest 2015 is cooking in Vardø and folk visit the mighty Hornøya  Island. Here’s one of those stories.

 

JX347:  Hornøya to South Yorkshire and back again and back again

JX347 having been rung on Hornøya has wintered in South Yorkshire- two years running! As a first winter bird and as a second winter bird- and been well photographed. The variety in young northern argentatus Herring Gull is quiet considerable. This one is not an easy ‘pick-out’ on plumage. And what route did it take to reach the UK? Over the arctic top like this Great Black-backed Gull or through the Baltic? Both are possibilities. Have  look:

First Winter plumage 

(poached from excellent  Barnsley Bird Blog – photo by Steve Denny)

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Second Winter plumage

In Sheffield last month- (photo by Andy Deighton)

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Thanks to Andy Deighton and Morton Helberg for following:

CR-Code Black ring with white code: JX347 LBM;RBNW(JX347)
Ringing Centre Stavanger Museum (Norway) Ring number 4193850
Species Herring Gull  Larus argentatus
Sex Unknown Age Pullus

Date Place Coordinates Observers Days/km/°
29.06 2013 Hornoya, Vardo, Finnmark, Norway 70°23’16″N 031°09’21″E Lyng, Torben
26.02 2014 Anglers Country Park, Wintersett, West Yorks, Great Britain 53°38’19″N 001°25’56″W Leeman, Brian 242/2464/237
02.03 2014 Wintersett Reservoir , West Yorks, Great Britain 53°37’42″N 001°25’57″W Denny, Steven 246/2465/237
02.03 2014 Wintersett Reservoirs, Great Britain, Great Britain 58°38’00″N 001°26’00″W Denny, Steven 246/1994/245
11.02 2015 Warren Street, Sheffield, South Yorks, Great Britain 53°23’21″N 001°26’41″W Deighton, Andy 592/2489/236

 to compare- a similar 1st winter was photographed at Vardø April 2012:

argy first winter  vardo (1 of 1)

Adult wing tips

Since the early 1980’s these have fascinated me (especially when the local county refused to accept the records!). The most interesting have usually been the ones with reduced black and more white in the wing tips. Some sporting the ‘thayer’ pattern on the outermost primary P10 and even on the penultimate long primary p9. What’s the thayeri pattern? As on an adult Thayer’s Gull, the pale/ white wedge on the inner primary runs right through to th white ‘mirrors’ near the tip and NO black cuts across the feather- as on the typical pattern of most dark winged Large Gulls.

Here is the thayeri pattern from  Banks from 1917- “The Status of Larus thayeri. Thayer’s Gull”

The pattern on the right show the uninterrupted white right through to the wing tip.

 

Thayeri wing tip Banks

 

So here’s some argentatus  with the thayeri pattern

from Gullfest 2013 at Vardø

ad argy white (1 of 1) argentataus adddb (1 of 1) argentataus adddbm (1 of 1) argentatus 1 (1 of 1) argentatus 45a (1 of 1)argentatus adult wing 13 (1 of 1)argentatus adult wing 4 (1 of 1)THAYERI ARGY3 (1 of 1)THAYERI ARGY4 (1 of 1)

not visible this just has thayeri pattern on p9argy wing not used

This one has nice long tongue but no thayeri

THAYERI ARGY6 (1 of 1)

Darker-winged adults

we also found darker winger birds- some with 6 black marked primaries which were intriguing. one of these had been rung further south in the Baltic.

argentatus adult wing 1 (1 of 1) argentatus adult wing 2 (1 of 1) argentatus adult wing 10 (1 of 1) argentatus adult wing 11 (1 of 1)

 

Ringed in Poland 

This next bird was trapped at Vardø already sported ring from Poland. Pink-legged and dark backed it was the darkest winged bird we trapped. 6 black marked primaries including dark band across p5.

argentatus adult wing 12 (1 of 1)

Gdansk ring b (1 of 1) Gdansk ring c (1 of 1)

 

another darker winged bird
dARKER WINGED ARGY2 (1 of 1)

back to those beautiful pale wing tip patternsargentatus c (1 of 1) argentatus extreme a (1 of 1) argy 3 (1 of 1)

How cold? Waiting to explore gulls and ducks…blizz (1 of 1)

 

Colourful ducks

with rubbery looking fish lips and amazing plumage tones- in both males and femalesstelers onee (1 of 1) fem steller's e (1 of 1)

and King DucksKing eiders (1 of 1)

and pretty smaller gulls

whose wing tip patterns we are exploring…

Kittiwake ne (1 of 1)