Friday, 31 July 2015

Update on the Breeding Gulls in Leicester

As you know, I have been keeping an eye on the gulls breeding at the old British Shoe warehouse in Leicester. I've also been worrying about the threat of the building being demolished during July. Well the building is still there and the gulls have had a successful breeding season much to the annoyance of some people. I counted around 80 juvenile Lesser Black-backed Gulls last night although the total is higher as this is just juveniles resting on lower roofs. I still can't see much of the roof the gulls are nesting on. I estimate that there is about 50 pairs of LBB Gulls and between 10 and 20 pairs of Herring Gulls.

I have enjoyed photographing the gulls flying between the buildings:

Juvenile Lesser Black-backed Gull

Juvenile Lesser Black-backed Gull

Juvenile Lesser Black-backed Gull

Juvenile Lesser Black-backed Gull

Adult Lesser Black-backed Gull

Adult Lesser Black-backed Gull (colour ringed  blue JMH, Gloucestershire)

Third Calendar Year Lesser Black-backed Gull

Second Calendar Year Lesser Black-backed Gull

Adult Herring Gull

Adult Herring Gull

Monday, 27 July 2015

Black-headed Gulls

So the Black-headed Gulls arriving in Leicestershire are not necessarily local breeding birds despite the fact it is still July.

At Shawell there has been a steady build up of Black-headed Gulls. At the beginning of July there was just four, then 32 appeared including a few juveniles, then 200 and by the 25th over 1000 were present. It is easy to think that the first small group had come from a local source. However, amongst the small group seen on 11th was one ringed in Poland and another ringed in Croatia.

So far this month I have recorded five colour-ringed Black-headed Gulls: three from Poland and one each from England and The Netherlands. This is not bad considering I've only successfully read 23 at Shawell since 2012. They are quite distant and the codes are very small. I have treated myself to a new scope with 70x magnification, so hopefully the extra 10x will improve my strike rate.

I have sightings of colour-ringed BHGs from Croatia, Denmark, England, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Scotland and The Netherlands. 

It just goes to show that a species we generally take for granted can turn out to be interesting.

TNCT Originally Ringed in Southern Poland was at Shawell on 25/07/15. Photo Tomascz Iciek

After writing this post, Steve Lister and Terry Sherwood saw TNCT at Rutland Water. This is quite remarkable and for me it is a really interesting insight into the wonderings of gulls around our local area.

Sunday, 26 July 2015

Hooded Merganser

Just before lunchtime I was sitting down watching the rain falling heavily on my living room window. My phone rang and it was Colin Green and he sounded quite excited. He and Pete Asher had lost their senses and were out birding in the rain at Brascote Pits. They had spotted a small 'merganser' and thought it might be a Hooded Merganser. I looked at the rain on the window and then my wife and said 'hold the dinner I'm off to help Colin and Pete'.

On arrival I could sense something was wrong. True to form it had flown from its original location and they had lost it. 

Luckily Colin re-found it on one of the other pools. It was distant and appeared wary - good sign. It then completely let itself down by swimming directly towards us and came as close as it could. With better views we confirmed the identification.

Lovely duck, but sadly not the 200th genuinely wild bird for SW Leicestershire I'm afraid. 

Female Hooded Merganser

Good Times at Shawell

Gulls are starting to disperse having already bred and as a result more legs are appearing with colour rings. I read 28 colour rings yesterday including another Polish ringed Black-headed Gull. 

One of the colour-ringed gulls was a second calendar year Lesser Black-backed Gull, blue VX5M, ringed in Denmark. Nothing remarkable about the sighting at Shawell, but this morning I had an hour at the breeding site in Leicester and there was VX5M sitting on the roof in Leicester. This definitely links the two sites. The site in Leicester has food on offer at the re-cycle plant, which attracts roaming feeding birds as well as the breeding ones - maybe a Yellow-legged or Caspian Gull will be sitting on the roof sometime soon?

After last weekend's juvenile Caspian Gull/Yellow-legged Gull/hybrid I was hoping for some easier gulls. 

Anyway I spotted a gull on the main A5 Lagoon that immediately looked like a Caspian Gull, but a really small one - most likely a female. The small size was further exaggerated by the fact that its new primaries were still growing. I took some video of it and whilst watching it, I realised that it had a yellow colour ring. I can't read the code, but from what I can see, it may be either a Lithuanian or German ring. It could also be Polish, but I think it has numbers in the code and the Polish ones should have four letters. Of course this colour ring helps prove my identification, or at least that it originated from a good location.

Third-summer Caspian Gull (presumed to be a female), Shawell A5 Lagoons, 25/07/15

Third-summer Caspian Gull, Shawell A5 Lagoons

Although this gulls looks almost adult like, it still had black in the outer primary coverts. The primary pattern was almost adult like. P5 is not visible in the photo below and may well be moulted and not re-grown, or just hidden behind P6. The longest primary has a nice white tip.

Third-summer Caspian Gull, Shawell A5 Lagoons

One thing that is important when working with gulls is to realise that they are extremely variable. Size difference between the sexes can be massive. I saw a large adult male Yellow-legged Gull yesterday that completely dwarfed another adult stood close by.

Monday, 20 July 2015

Marbled White

Whilst I was scratching about at Shawell GP on Sunday trying to get a view of the pits to do my WeBS count, I came across about 20 of these stunners.

They are restricted to only a few locations in the East Midlands as far as I know, so this is a good addition to their local range.

Marbled White Butterfly, Shawell GP, 19/07/2015

Saturday, 18 July 2015

Juvenile Caspian Gull Completes the Full Set or Does It?

I was back at Shawell today searching through hundreds of second year LBB Gulls in the hope of re-finding the Baltic Gull. I didn't manage that but I did see a lot of worn and faded primaries.

So what set have I completed? Juvenile gulls of course. Gulls don't keep their juvenile plumage for long, so it's good to get them early.

By 'A Full Set' I mean juvenile Lesser Black-backed , Herring, Yellow-legged and Caspian Gulls.

Juvenile Yellow-legged Gull, Shawell A5 Lagoons

The first juvenile Yellow-legged Gull arrived on July 4th and up to five have been present since although only one was around today. The first juvenile LBB Gulls turned up on the 8th and at least 20 were there today. Next came Herring Gull with one on the 15th and two today, So that only leaves juvenile Caspian Gull.

I wasn't really expecting a juvenile Casp, because they usually turn up in the UK in August. They are early breeders so one could arrive. Its not far to Poland or east Germany as the gull flies after all.

I spotted a gull this afternoon on the lagoons and said to Steve Nichols that it looked like a juvenile Caspian Gull. 

Juvenile Caspian Gull?, Shawell A5 Lagoons, 18/07/15 - Video Below

It was quite a small one so presumably a female. I was pleased to see that it revealed long gangly legs when it stood up in the shallow water. It is typically high breasted, elegant and has the snouty look about it. The dark centred greater coverts are spot on as well. We watched it fly off and I was relieved to see it had a blackish tail bar and clean white upper tail coverts, plus whitish underwings. I haven't heard of another juvenile Caspian Gull in the country yet, so this maybe the first this year.

That said, a question has been raised over its identification based on the contrast between the upper and lower parts. I have been asked to check as it is difficult to rule out a juvenile YLG.  At present the opinion has swung back around in favour of my original identification. Clearly this is a difficult one, so any opinions will be gratefully received. Gulls can be very complicated and thought provoking and at present my head is beginning to hurt a little!

The consensus of opinion seems to favour some sort of hybrid, but this one has proved to be a bit tricky.

It was quite distant, so once again it was better to video it.

Best watched by clicking on the YouTube logo and selected HD quality:

Thanks for watching.

Monday, 13 July 2015

Baltic Gull (Larus fuscus fuscus) at Shawell

As you may have already read on my previous post, last Saturday was a good day at Shawell. Amongst the 1000+ Lesser Black-backed Gulls was a really smart second calendar year gull, which took my eye. I have read the paper 'Field identification criteria for second calendar-year Baltic Gull' several times and so when I saw this gull had really black primaries my alarm bells started to ring. Luckily I was able to get a bit of video footage of it, which is not easy on the working area of the tip.

Second-calendar year Baltic Gulls have a different primary moult strategy to the same age Lesser Black-backed Gulls (graellsii and intermedius). Most Baltic Gulls moult during their time in their winter quarters and so arrive back in Europe with a fresh set of second-generation primaries. In contrast Lesser Black-backed Gulls moult their primaries in September. So basically second-calendar Baltic Gull is identifiable on primary moult timing. There are no known photographs of either graellsii or intermedius with a full set of second-generation primaries as early as July. Therefore I feel confident to call this gull a  Baltic Gull. This bird was accepted by the BBRC in 2018.

Thanks for looking.

Sunday, 12 July 2015

Gulls are Not Just for Christmas

The promise of 'white-wingers' in the depths of winter excites avid gull watchers, but for me there is excitement in mid-summer as well. As soon as gulls have finished breeding they start wandering.

Yesterday's highlights included 25 Yellow-legged Gulls (5 juveniles), two Caspian Gulls (a first and second-summer), a juvenile Mediterranean Gull and the first Great Black-backed Gull for a while. The Red kites were also trying to hunt the gulls.

More remarkably was the re-sighting of a Croatian ringed Black-headed Gull, SJ22, which I last clocked eyes on in September 2009 - See Here.

Second-Summer Caspian Gull, Cotesbach Landfill Site, 11/07/15
Below is a video of some of the highlights including the second-summer Caspian Gull and a couple of juvenile Yellow-legged Gulls (again best to change settings to HD and click on the YouTube logo to launch it)

Thursday, 9 July 2015

Yellow-legged Gull Bonanza

I had a few hours at Shawell this afternoon and Yellow-legged Gulls were everywhere. It is difficult to be exact, but there was over twenty individuals. Amongst them were two smart juveniles. I have to say that juvenile Yellow-legged Gulls are one of my favourites. The large pale buff edged scapulars look really good when fresh.

The heat haze was a problem today (shouldn't complain about sunshine), but eventually the visibility though my scope improved allowing me to get a few digiscoped images of one of the juveniles.

Juvenile Yellow-legged Gull

I also managed to read a colour ring on an adult Black-headed Gull. The ring was a Polish one. This is interesting as I was speculating where the BHGs had all of a sudden appeared from. I have also had one from The Netherlands recently. 

These days I see Red Kites at Shawell every time I visit. Three were harassing the gulls today including a wing-tagged individual. It had a white tag with the number 2 on its left wing and a red tag with the number 2 on the right. I am awaiting information to be emailed to me.

Red Kite

Red Kite

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Update on the Urban Gulls

The gulls on the old British Shoe building in Leicester are doing OK despite my worries about the building being demolished any time soon. I believe it is scheduled to be knocked down very soon, but luckily the first juvenile Lesser Black-backed Gulls have fledged. Last night three young LBBGs were on the roof of the re-cycle plant on the opposite side of the road to the breeding site.

Juvenile Lesser Black-backed Gull, Leicester

It can be difficult to positively ID some of these chicks, because you can see both species of gull standing close to them and it isn't always obvious who the parents are.

In the video below two immature Herring Gulls are standing close to the chick and just prior to that and adult HG was standing next to it, but I think it becomes clear that it is a LBBG. Just watch what its mother does to it.

Saturday, 4 July 2015

The Gulls are on the Move Again

One of the most exciting things about watching a site regularly is seeing the subtle changes each time you visit. It only seems five minutes since the adult gulls had moved away to breed. Last weekend there was an obvious change as a small group of Black-headed Gulls had appeared and Yellow-legged Gull numbers had increased. Today 18 Yellow-legged Gulls were present including a fresh juvenile. Also a smart pair of Mediterranean Gulls were feeding together at the tip. I first heard their distinctive call and eventually I spotted them feeding together. 

Adult Mediterranean Gull, Cotesbach LF, 04/07/15
Second-summer Yellow-legged Gull

A Green Sandpiper feeding around the edges of one of the pools near the landfill site also hinted that autumn passage has already begun.

Below is a short video showing the pair of adult Mediterranean Gulls. Best watched by clicking on the YouTube logo and in settings select 720p HD.

Thursday, 2 July 2015

More Urban Gulls

Yesterday I had to go to an industrial estate in Northampton and you guessed it, I found another group of breeding gulls. Not quite as many as on the Old British Shoe works in Leicester, but still a good record. Both Herring and Lesser Black-backed Gulls are nesting there. I spoke to the company and although they didn't throw me out they were not helpful as far as allowing access to ring the chicks is concerned. The boss had instructed a staff member to get rid of the gulls. Apparently because they occasionally leave a mess on his car occasionally. It is a real shame that so many people want to destroy anything that inconveniences them slightly.

Herring Gulls Keeping Watch From a Nearby Building (free advertising)

I have also made a return visit to the old British Shoe works in Leicester this week and there is a great deal of activity there, as some of the chicks are quite mature now. I saw one fly along the road about a metre above the tarmac. It managed to clear the wall and disappeared into the works. 

I am concerned that the demolition of the site will start before all the gulls fledge, as I've been told the contractors arrive next week. I'll keep my eye on things and see how it goes.

The photo below is of a young Herring Gull. I know this because I saw its parents feed it.

Herring Gull Chick, Sunningdale Business Park, Leicester
On the Look Out