Sunday 1 February 2015

Despite the Cold Weather Shawell Was Once Again Entertaining

My target yesterday was to read four new colour rings to bring my total to 500 colour-ringed gulls in the Shawell area. The weather was terrible at the Cotesbach landfill site, but I stood firm as a blizzard raged. I was rewarded when I spotted the fourth new colour-ringed gull of the day - a third-winter Herring Gull with a yellow colour-ring. Wiping the snow off my eyepiece I peered through the murk and read the code 1P6B. This gull was ringed by the East Anglia Gull Group. I had hoped to photograph the 500th, but the heavy snowfall made me not want to risk damaging my camera.

Eventually the weather improved and I was able to start looking amongst the Herring Gulls for Caspian Gulls and a suitable candidate soon appeared distantly on the tip. As I checked out its legs I noticed a yellow colour-ring and the code was readable and very familiar to me - it was PADZ. I first saw this gull in August 2014 and then again in October of that year. It was last seen at Albion landfill site, Leicestershire back in November. 

Below are details of the sightings of Caspian Gull PADZ so far:

It is easy to think that PADZ has been kicking around Leicestershire all this time, but not necessarily. After checking the details of another Polish ringed Caspian Gull that I saw at Shawell there may be another theory for its absence since November. First-winter Caspian Gull red 16P4 was at Shawell on December 29th 2014, but three days later it was seen in Germany near Munster. Amongst the 500 colour-ringed gulls that I have seen at Shawell are a few that have made quite long journeys in just a few days. Data loggers also show gulls cross the North Sea quickly and they also show that some gulls visit England to feed and then cross back over the North Sea again.

At the lagoons a second-winter Caspian Gull was lurking amongst the other gulls, but due to the poor light it is not as smart looking in the photo below as it appeared to me.

Second-winter Caspian Gull

Standing close to the second-winter was an adult gull that attracted my attention. Just having a clean white head doesn't mean anything at this time of year as many of the Herring Gulls have clean white heads. From a Caspian Gull point of view its head is quite small, but robust looking; its eyes are pale though not obviously yellow; its legs are flesh coloured but only moderately long; its bill is dull yellow and although not exceptionally long looking it is still ok and its primary pattern was also ok. I have given it a trait score of 9 or maybe 10. Anything above 8 is considered to be too high and based on this it is not safe to identify this gull as a pure Caspian Gull. I never felt good about this individual whilst I was watching it, but I could clearly see it was at least part Caspian Gull. The pale eyes bumped the score up, so if it had darker eyes it would have passed the trait score test. The trait scoring system does not replace experience altogether.

Presumed Hybrid Caspian x Herring Gull

A really smart first-winter Yellow-legged Gull was at the A5 Lagoons late afternoon. The photograph below does not do it justice. It was very distinctive compared to the similar aged Herring Gull in front and slightly right of it. The Herring Gull had a bi-coloured bill, pink and black, but the YLG had an all black bill. The YLGs head is white with a dark mask around the eyes. Its saddle is grey with thick black anchor marks, which contrasted with the brown coverts. Also note how dark the tertials are compared to the first-winter Herring Gull. 

First-winter Yellow-legged Gull

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