Wednesday 29 October 2014

More Caspian Gull Stuff

I had to work all last weekend, but fortunately I was off yesterday, as I needed a change of scenery. I spent the morning holding my car's hand whilst it was serviced and then took it for a test drive up the A5 to Shawell A5 Lagoons.

Winter now appears to be here judging by the masses of gulls that were present around Shawell. Hopefully the first white-winger will arrive soon.

Many gulls were congregated around the lagoons including three Caspian Gulls. A new third-winter and two that I've seen previously.

Third-winter Caspian Gull

The third-winter was a smallish gull and its eyes were quite pale, but other than that it was an obvious Caspian. On the water it had the typical profile: long bodied and winged plus it sat low on the water. On land it had nice long thin spindly legs.

The others were an adult I had already seen a couple of times and the sub-adult that I saw on the 22nd.

The adult was the last to appear, but it showed very well. I had already seen this one on both the 18th and 22nd. Both previous times I failed to see the pattern on P5, but this time I saw it well and it had a dark marking across the feather. This gull scores very well on the trait scoring scheme and is without doubt a pure Caspian Gull. The wings look a little short in the photo below, but that is the angle of the bird and also the longest primary feather is still growing.

Adult Caspian Gull
Adult Caspian Gull

Wednesday 22 October 2014

A Three Caspian Gull Lunch Break

I was happy with three in a day at the weekend, but three in my lunch break today is even more impressive (Paul I did ask them to fly south towards Guernsey, but I'm not sure if they were listening).

The first one was none other than Polish colour ringed PADZ, last seen back in August. Another adult, which I'm fairly sure is one of the ones present last weekend, was preening on the same bit of shoreline. If that wasn't enough I spotted what is most likely a fourth-winter on the water. All too soon I had to continue on my journey to Northampton, but it had been a good dinner break. I was hoping to read two new colour rings, as I'm just two short of 400 different colour ringed gulls at the site, but alas you'll have to wait for that gripping story for a little while.

Adult Caspian Gull

Tuesday 21 October 2014

Sub-adult Yellow-legged Gull with Very Dark Eyes

I have seen the occasional Yellow-legged Gull (Larus michahellis) in Britain that appeared to have dark eyes, but the views were often distant, so I may have been mistaken. In Gulls of Europe, Asia and North America it states that in adults the eyes are rarely dark brown or darker. The gull below, that I saw in Portugal, is not quite fully adult, but it clearly has very dark eyes that are not likely to alter significantly as it reaches full adulthood.

Dark Eyed Yellow-legged Gull

Monday 20 October 2014

Caspian Gull Influx?

I'm not sure if there's been a noticeable influx of Caspian Gulls at other sites, but I've certainly had my fair share at Shawell A5 Lagoons this weekend.  After seeing three yesterday I popped back this afternoon and found another trying to hide amongst some adult Herring Gulls. I have aged it as a third-winter due to it being too advanced in its journey towards adulthood for it to be a second-winter. That said, it hasn't replaced all of its tertials and coverts with adult like feathers, so it might be a very advanced second-winter.

Third-winter Caspian Gull

Sunday 19 October 2014

First-winter Yellow-legged Gull at Shawell A5 Lagoons

Since arriving back from Portugal, I have been delighted to find a few smart looking (that's perhaps a matter of opinion) first-winter Yellow-legged Gulls at Shawell. The one in the image below shows all the standard features: Large and robust, with fairly short legs; grey mantle and scapulars that contrast with the mainly brown coverts; tertials that are pale edged and darker than the coverts and an all black chunky bill. The anchor markings on the scapulars are slightly paler than some I've seen, but this is still a classic individual.

First-winter Yellow-legged Gull, Shawell A5 Lagoons, October 2014

Saturday 18 October 2014

Three Caspian Gull Day at Shawell

The second-winter Caspian Gull with the green colour-ring was back at Shawell A5 lagoons today and once again it was snoozing on the bank between the lagoons. I suggested to Steve Nichols that it was most probably the same gull that we had seen the previous weekend and when it stood up I was pleased to see the colour-ring. We were able to confirm the ring read XNDJ, so it was the same gull. It has injured its right leg and it walks with a slight limp.

Second-winter Yellow-legged Gull - XNDJ

Friday 17 October 2014

First-year Yellow-legged Gull (Larus michehellis) Versus First-year Lesser Black-backed Gull (Larus fuscus)

Yellow-legged Gulls turn up in Southern England on a regular basis and are readily identified in all their guises by experienced gull watchers. I have made it my mission to learn the complexities of this species and trips to the Algarve last year and again recently have really helped. Possibly the most difficult age for birders to identify is juvenile and first-winter. With this in mind, I attempted to take lots of images of first-year birds during my trips.

The text book features of a first-winter Yellow-legged Gull are: large and brutish looking, a whitish head with a dark eye mask, greyish mantle and scapulars feathers with dark anchor markings, contrasting brown wing coverts and dark brown pale-edged tertials. The bill is usually black or mostly black and the shape is distinctive, being relatively short and appearing heavier towards the tip due to the steep gonys angle. Lesser Black-backed Gulls are often found with Yellow-legged Gulls and this is the species that is most likely to cause confusion at this age. 

The first four gulls below are classic first-winter Yellow-legged Gulls and identification should prove fairly straightforward:

First-winter Yellow-legged Gull

A Dragonfly Tick

Whilst I was away in Portugal the weather was extremely warm compared to the same time in 2013. As well as the massive numbers of Red-veined Darters that I have already mentioned, there was also large numbers of Lesser Emperors although they proved impossible to photograph. 

I stopped along a gravel track one day and noticed a small dragonfly perched on the ground next to a small stream. At the time I hadn't a clue what it was, but I managed to get some photographs. Checking my field guide at home I have tentatively identified it as a mature male Epaulet Skimmer. The main feature is the waisted abdomen.

Mature Male Epaulet Skimmer

Thursday 16 October 2014

Caspian Gull Sightings at Shawell so far During 2014

 CDB's Caspian Gull Sightings at Shawell so far During 2014

  1. Second-winter, January 11th
  2. Adult, January 18th
  3. Second-winter, January 18th
  4. Fourth-winter, February 1st
  5. First-winter, March 5th
  6. Second-winter, March 5th (also March 15th, 26th and 29th)
  7. Fourth-winter, March 8th
  8. Second-winter, March 22nd
  9. Second-winter, March 29th
  10. First-winter/summer, April 5th
  11. Juvenile, August 2nd
  12. Juvenile, August 5th, colour-ringed XDFV
  13. Juvenile, August 9th (also August 13th and 20th)
  14. Adult, August 9th, colour-ringed PADZ (also October 22nd)
  15. First-summer/second-winter, August 19th
  16. Adult, August 20th
  17. Adult, August 23rd
  18. First-winter, September 17th (also September 24th)
  19. Second-winter, October 11th, colour-ringed XNDJ (also October 18th)
  20. Adult, October 12th (also October 18th)
  21. Adult, October 18th (also October 22nd, 28th & 29th)
  22. Third-winter, October 19th
  23. Fourth-winter, October 22nd (also October 29th)
  24. Third-winter, October 28th
  25. Adult, November 1st, (female)
  26. Adult, November 1st (also November 10th)
  27. Fourth-winter, November 8th (also November 19th & 22nd)
  28. Fourth-winter, November 10th
  29. Third-winter, November 19th (also December 6th)
  30. Third-winter, November 20th (also December 6th, 11th and 13th)
  31. Adult or fourth-winter, November 26th
  32. Third-winter, November 29th
  33. Adult or fourth-winter, November 29th (also December 3rd)
  34. Adult, December 6th (short legged)
  35. Adult or fourth-winter, December 6th
  36. Fourth-winter, December 20th
  37. Third-winter, December 23rd
  38. First-winter, December 29th, colour-ringed 16P4
  39. Adult, December 29th
Note: these are all considered to be different individuals - bill colour and unique marks plus eye colour was compared especially on adults to work out whether they were the same or not.


All presumed to be Caspian x Herring

  1. Adult, February 7th
  2. Adult, March 5th
  3. Adult, April 9th
  4. Adult, July 5th (metal ring on right leg)
  5. Second-summer/winter, August 20th (also August 23rd)
  6. Adult, November 1st, (also November 5th and 8th)
  7. Second-winter, November 10th (also November 12th & 22nd)
  8. Adult, November 20th
  9. Adult, November 22nd
  10. Fourth-winter or adult December 11th
  11. Adult, December 20th

Sunday 12 October 2014

Another Colour-ringed Caspian Gull at Shawell

Back to reality - no more wandering amongst the gulls reading colour rings with the naked eye, as I did in Portugal. It was back to extreme 'sea gulling' at Shawell A5 lagoons.

The day was going well, as I'd read quite a few colour rings including a couple from Guernsey. Most Guernsey LBB Gulls know better than to hang around in Britain during the colder months, but 7T8 and 4CK6 hadn't read the memo.

Anyway I spotted what looked like a second-winter Caspian Gull lying down on the bank between the lagoons. It spent most of its time fast asleep, but all of a sudden it jumped up and revealed a green colour ring. It must have been a 'doggy dream' as it was back down and fast asleep in seconds. It started to rain heavily, but still it lay there asleep. A commotion amongst the nearby gulls ended up with one of them falling on to my subject, which got it back on its feet very quickly! 

Steve Nichols arrived at this point and helped me read the colour ring. We both agreed on D and I knew the starting letter was X, but there were two other characters to read. I fitted my camera and zoomed up to 10x. I got a quick look at the last letter, which was a J. We now had X_DJ, but what was the last letter? I thought it was a V at first, but the haze cleared for a second and I was sure it was a N. We didn't get any longer to ponder, as a Common Buzzard scared the gulls and the Caspian Gull flew towards the tip. I was not over confident, but it looked like the green colour ring had the code XNDJ. I was able to take a few seconds of video in the pouring rain and below is a screen grab from that video just for the record.

                                             Caspian Gull XNDJ

So were we right?

This evening I sent an email to Dr Ronald Klien, as he is in the know about these East German ringed Caspians. 

In the time it took me to have my Sunday night bath he had replied:

Hi Carl,
Hiddensee EA-183821 + green XNDJ
nfl. 7. June 2013 Gräbendorfer See /Brandenburg GER   51.42 N  14.06 E
No other sightings yet. Hiddensee-Centre was informed, official report will come to you from there.
Many thanks and good gulling.

I am really chuffed by this result - thanks Ronald

I was allowed to sneak back to Shawell A5 Lagoons today, as the ladies of the house were out shopping in Leicester. I hoped to get a better view of XNDJ, which was asking a lot as the nearby tip is closed on Sundays and so fewer gulls congregate in the area.

Almost as soon as I arrived I spotted what looked like an adult Caspian Gull. It was re-growing its longest primaries, so it looked short winged, but it will look longer winged in a few weeks. I did get to see the new longest primary (P10) as it preened and although short the pattern was spot on for Caspian Gull. Its eyes were slightly paler than I would like, but their eyes are variable just like in other gull species. Its eyes weren't as pale as the adult Herring Gulls that were present.

Adult Caspian Gull

All the standard features are there to see: long parallel sided washed out bill, small head, beady eyes and a low profile as it rests on the water. Its legs were a sickly flesh colour. 

The Mystery Unravels

During my trip to Portugal in 2013 I visited the Portimao Fishing Harbour where I found a juvenile Lesser Black-backed Gull with a yellow colour ring and the code M+C. Initially I thought it might be a young Herring Gull due to the pattern of the greater coverts and the notched tertials. It appeared more like a small Herring Gull as well when compared with other obvious juvenile Lesser Black-backed Gulls at the time.

M+C, September 2013

Thursday 9 October 2014

Red-veined Darters

Ever since Adey Baker and I found some Red-veined Darters at Huncote, I have been fascinated by them. I have seen them in large numbers in Spain before, but nothing had prepared me for the numbers I was to see in the south-west of Portugal last week. Dawn commented that it's a good job they don't bite. There must have been millions of them. What's really interesting is how they survive in such massive numbers in an area that is so dry and lacking in open water? At one cliff top location there was some very shallow surface water and swarms of RVD's were there and most of the males and females were coupled up.

Male Red-veined Darter

Wednesday 8 October 2014

Portugal 2014

Dawn and I decided that a second trip to Portugal would give us the chance to visit the sites we missed last year. We once again headed to the Algarve for the last days of September and early October.

The stand out highlight of the trip was seeing an Iberian Wolf. I spotted it near to the LPN Bustard Reserve at Guerreiro. This site is close to Castro Verde a drive of just over 90 km from our base at Praia da Rocha on the Algarve coast. I stopped to scan for bustards and was very surprised to see what looked like a wolf running away from us. It was distant, but I told Dawn to get out of the car and look for what I thought was a wolf running away from us up the hill. I set up my scope just in time to get a brief view at a higher magnification before it disappeared over the brow of the hill. With this view I was convinced it was a wolf and luckily Dawn had found it and agreed. It was mostly grey in colour with a few brown areas. It ran as though each pair of legs operated together (loping). It ears were obviously quite big even at the distance, as were its feet. I was able to compare its size with some sheep that were at a similar distance and I could see that it was taller, but not by that much. Iberian Wolves are smaller than other European Wolves. Its style of running was different to a Red Fox in that they tend to run with a much quicker leg action. I considered the possibility of it being a dog, but I discounted that because I don't know of a dog that matches what I saw. This sighting was made outside of what I believe is the stronghold of Iberian Wolf in Portugal, however, their numbers are increasing in both Portugal and Spain. After the wolf had disappeared we continued to search for bustards and we were rewarded with good views of three Great Bustards. During the day we saw at least forty more.

The weather was really good with temperatures up to 29ºC daily. I don't know if it was this that had encouraged White Storks to return to their nests and start displaying but it was great to see. One day we came across a group of at least a 100 White Storks soaring high above us.

White Stork on Nest