Category Archives: d) Terns

Sabine’s Gull, Shearwaters, Skuas, Gulls, Terns etc!

RSPB Cruise, 4th September 2011

Very happy to be asked again to be a ‘caller’ on one of the annual RSPB Skua and Shearwater cruise organised by Sal and Keith and their team. (Book soon I think they will fill up quick after this one!). The last one I was involved with was 4 years ago when we had a close  juvenile Long-tailed Skua and a fly over wild adult Snow Goose (arriving with Pink-feet Geese). Phil Palmer was there last time. So it was good to join forces with him again.

What would we see today?

Birders board the Yorkshire Belle in Bridlington Harbour.

The sea was a glassy ‘millpond’. No wind. Not good for Shearwaters to fly in. I don’t think optimism was high! However the old rule: To see more, get out more! At least we were out, looking. The tipping point was seeing a distant line of hundreds and hundreds of post breeding flightless auks. Adult and juvenile Guillmots and Razorbills with small handful of Puffin.

The little dark dots on the sea (left side of boat) are loads of auks. Maybe this is where the good stuff would be? Indeed it was. Our highlights:

Sabine’s Gull 1 adult, Sooty Shearwater 1, Balearic Shearwater 1, Manx Shearwater 4, Little Gull 40+, Black Tern 9, Arctic Skua 7, Great Skua 1, Arctic Tern 3+, Red-throated Diver 5 etc etc…

Adult summer plumaged Sabine’s Gull. Always a highlight. Flew straight across the bows of the Yorkshire Belle and was away. Unfortunately the close but brief appearance meant not all got on to it. © Phil Palmer (Bird Holidays) (he got much better pics than me!)

Superb views of Harbour Porpoise were had a close range. Some seemed to come right out of the water © Michael Flowers (see his blog)

juvenile Arctic Skua. Several well seen, including juveniles and pale and dark morph adults. © Martin Standley (more of his photos here)

moulting Manx Shearwater © Martin Standley (more of his photos here)

Sooty Shearwater. One well seen by all on the boat © Martin Standley (see more here)

Balearic Shearwater was a nice surprise. All 3 photos © Michael Flowers (see his blog)

Over 40 Little Gulls included some lovely black patterned juveniles and first winters © Martin Standley (see more here)

Adult Arctic Tern. Close views of several Arctic Tern amoung more numerous Common Tern included both adult and juvenile © Martin Standley (see more here)

The commoner birds were excellent too. Several groups of feeding/ diving Gannets were encountered. © Martin Standley (see his blog here)

Black and Arctic Terns

Turn of the Terns.

Wind turned to north east yesterday, the favoured head wind of northern moving Terns. Sure enough at 6 am 4 Arctic Terns headed NE off the Warren. In the same 4 minute period 15 Whimbrel flew out, a Peregrine flew overhead while a Greenland Wheatear dropped in. Spurn magic!  Soon after I picked the first of 15 Black Terns for the day and Arctics reached nearly 80. Several Little Gulls brought more beauty amoung the fly-by’s plus a Marsh Harrier.

6 am brought Arctic Terns. 6 pm and a Red-throated Diver ‘lounged’ just off my Caravan.

In term of numbers, bird of the day went to Wheatears with some 73 Greenland/ Iceland types. A male Ring Ouzel and a probable acredula Willow Warbler added interest. Both Tree and Meadow Pipit were trapped so I thought they made nice comparison. Will label later and do something on those amazing Greenland Wheatears… Do YOU know which is which.

Celebration of Birds

Spurn late August 2010

What the heck – no theme here just a celebration of waders, and wagtails, terns and warblers. Birds have such fantastic variety. They do so many different things. Even when the bushes aren’t rarity hopping and popping – how can you be bored?!

A few photos from yesterday and today at Spurn

Multi-coloured shorebirds. Left: adult summer male Bar-tailed Godwit. Centre:winter plumaged Knot. Right: adult summer Knot. The reddish undertail coverts of the Knot mean it won’t be from the American or east Siberian populations (which have white UTC). Ringing has shown that almost all the birds at Spurn will be of the High Canadian Arctic and Greenland form islandica.

There are still some bright adult Dunlin around. Almost all of these, will be of the nominate form alpina. Besides indicative plumage features many alpina arrive having already moulted some of their flight feathers, unlike nearer breeding schinzii – which moult on wintering grounds in Africa. No sign of any ‘adult buff coverts’ indicating centralis from Central Siberia- though they have been strongly suspected at this time of year.

Adult Whimbrel. This fella has been around with his damaged leg for most of August

‘Yellow’ or  flava  Wagtail. Quite a few have been moving through Spurn yesterday and today. Many just fly over, though some land, as this one on Canal Scrape. Birds in juvenile plumage are also about – some with no visible yellow in the plumage.

This Barred Warbler has reappeared by Canal Scrape this morning. Though more often seen in flight than out in the open -hence the photo!

Common Terns and Moon. Spurn birding in late August can be exhausting. With passerine searches beginning at 6:00 am and terns passing well after dark – it can be a non-stop experience. Last night some 16,000 Common terns flew south to roost off Lincolnshire. They were still going ‘after dark’.

Yellow-legged Gull

Identifying a juvenile Yellow-legged Gull

24th August 2010 Spurn, East Yorkshire

OK , here’s how the juvenile Yellow-legged Gull was identified. Health warning-there are no long-winded explanations of every feather or caveats-everywhere kind of texts – its just rough and raw. Hope you can follow it!

First picked up by Sharon (Mrs G to you!) from the caravan window. Why? Because it was harassing a Common Gull for its food item, as tenaciously as any Arctic Skua. At distance- it looked like it was going to be a skua (naked eye). Binoculars out – saw it was a juvenile type ‘large gull’ and seeing all dark outer wing assumed Lesser-Black-back. Maybe I should have thought a moment. Mediterranean Yellow-legs are littoral feeders- aggressive scavengers. The Orgreave juvenile YLG last week

flew in and immediately began harassing and chasing smaller gulls. I have a feeling LBB’s are less aggressive.

Anyway, having dismissed it, it appeared shortly afterwards flying in front of the van. Now I could see (naked eye) it has quite contrasty with white looking head and body (ground colour) land with striking black/ white tail. It landed on the beach – bins out – the first thing that started the alarm bells ringing was the greater covert bar– viewable through binoculars (couldn’t make out other upperparts details). It looked paler/‘marbled’ lacking the expected (more extensively) darker pattern/bases to these feathers of LBB. This is when I began to think it was worth a ‘proper look’ and YLG began to be a possibility.

So scope out, and SLAM! A juvenile plumaged large gull in August with lots of 2nd generation scapulars. To be precise, the first generation scapulars in these birds are brown centred feathers with variable pale creamy fringes. The second generation feathers are, roughly speaking, paler centred with dark anchor shape. LBB and Herring don’t start moulting the juvenile scapulars until September. This bird has LOTS of moulted scaps.  That’s it. In my mind, it is now almost certainly a juvenile YLG- and I begin to check the other features just to ensure the identification is water tight.

So in order

1)      Aggressive behaviour of large juvenile gull (Herring/ LBB type) could be useful (note to self! )

2)      Dark outer wing (no window) = LBB or YLG)

3)      Paler marbled grater coverts when noticed on the deck – this could be one?

4)      2nd generation scapulars in August – pretty much slam dunk

Other features

  • Yes it is white headed, little dark mask and beefy bill with heavy tip – classic!
  • Though very blotchy below it has white ground colour to underparts
  • Loooonnnng primary extension at rest
  • Double check in flight- bright white rump and tail with neat black tail band
  • Inner wing looks all pale apart from secondaries. – no extra dark bar on greater coverts as in LBB
  • Underwing looks dark – but is actually ‘mealie’ and less solidly dark than LBB

All these features should be visible in the photos below -laid out to reflect the identification process as it unfolded. Remember it is a lot easier in a photo still than with a dynamically moving bird!

moulting juvenile – first winter Yellow-legged Gull Spurn 24th August 2010

Stop Press

Following this posting, fellow Sheffield birder, Pete Wragg sent his photo of a 1st winter Yellow-legged Gull taken at Spurn last weekenddn (21st August). Pete wrote:

“Think it’s a different bird to yours, but identified basically by the same features that you mention on your blog.”

It is clearly a different individual with even more advanced moult in scapulars and perhaps (though hard to be sure) even in some coverts:

First winter Yellow-legged Gull. Spurn. 21st August 2009. Pete Wragg

OK , OK couldn’t resist one more from tonight. It is a flock of Common Terns – literally thousands of these streamed past my caravan window this evening. What a sight!

There is one other species here. Can you see it and name it and age it? Bit closer (and easier in lower shot).