Sunday, 23 December 2012

Lewes and Cuckmere again (23 December 2012, updated)

23 December.  Disappointed with yesterday's photographic efforts and with a better day forecast (no rain!) I met John King in Mayhew Way, Lewes where the seven Waxwings were performing, although the light was only somewhat better.  There were few gulls by the Ouse Project so we drove straight on to the Cuckmere to look at the gulls north of the Golden Galleon.  Here a third-winter Caspian Gull was watched for ninety minutes although it was always distant and often asleep.  Later a presumed advanced second-winter Caspian Gull was seen but although it showed many features of Caspian Gull its coverts were perhaps coarser and the mantle a shade darker than usual - but then gulls are very variable.  Unfortunately yesterday's fine adult could not be found although neither of these two were the similar aged birds seen the previous day.   I called in at the Adur on the way home but the tide was coming in, not helped by a neap tide and a full river.   Few gulls were loafing, although they did include a 3CY North Thames Herring Gull YK7T previously seen there on 17 March 2012.  It was ringed at Pitsea, Essex in October 2010 and seen at Boulogne-sur-Mer a few days later.  I then ran out of time with the blog and more images, with captions, now follow.

Waxwings in Lewes, not raining but light still not brilliant

black berries were favoured as much as red ones
hopefully these will be the first of many Waxwings I see this winter
my favourite goose - Bar-headed in the Cuckmere
Now the gulls.  Very good experience although flooding meant the gulls were rather further away than normal and certainly further away than was ideal - for seeing feather detail and digiscoping.  At least the light was good and both birds gave prolonged views allowing one to get a good impression of them although the more I learn the more I realise I don't know (and the more frustrating the literature, at least for these ages).  They certainly present the greatest challenge for local birders, at least of species that realistically might be encountered.  As always conversations with David Cooper have proved immensely helpful although I'm happy to admit to struggling more than he does with these gulls - reading colour-rings on the Adur is usually much easier!

The third-winter Caspian.  After yesterday's age-related problems (of which I wasn't exempt) I initially thought this was the second-winter found by David Cooper which had a noticeable smudge on the side of the breast.  This appears to be just about evident in this image but in fact what I took to be a breast smudge is, because its head is turned away, faint nape streaking from a residual shawl.  It was eventually aged as a third-winter based on an almost wholly white tail, with the trace of a darker sub-terminal band on the inner feathers.

the dark mantle, white head and long primaries drew my attention to the rear left bird but it seemed a long wait for it to raise its head and confirm my suspicions
this image shows the pear shaped head with forward positioned small dark eye (some faint shadowing present), long sloping forehead.  The long thin bill is somewhat foreshortened and not showing to full effect.  Note also very white head and bulging breast. 
this image shows the brownish tinges to the coverts, the whitish edged tertials and very faint white tips to the primaries.  The head looks uncharacteristically large and the bill stubby but that is due to the angle and foreshortening.
this image shows the white head , forward placed eye and pale yellowish-olive bill with dark tip.  The mantle was a shade darker than argenteus Herring Gull (to the right) although that is not evident in this image due to the angle
this image shows the birds flat back, long wings, small head, long thin bill and small dark eye.  Pretty much a typical Caspian Gull structure.  Its neck hints of the annaconda swallowing a capybara.
as above, but capybara now swallowed, with the residual hind neck streaking just about visible, as is the wholly white out-tail
the bird was briefly seen in flight, but only head on when the only 'new' feature noted was a completely white undertail.
on one occasion the bird got out of the water and briefly (to brief to film) walked around.   Momentarily it stood next to two Lesser Black-backed Gulls and assumed a more upright posture putting it head and shoulders above them.  Its legs appeared long and thin and it gave the impression of a sagging vent so all the hoped for boxes were ticked. That is all the hoped for boxes until the last couple of weeks when one now hopes for a Polish colour-ring too!  Being unringed this was not the third-winter found by David Cooper (but only seen badly by me) the previous day.

third winter Caspian Gull, hand-held and rather shakey but it gives a good impression of the bird

as above

Presumed second-winter Caspian Gull.  The first bird (above) I was happy with the species but had some initial uncertainties about its age, at least until I saw its tail.  With this second one it never looked anything other than a second-winter but my concerns were more to the species, or purity thereof.  Very helpful discussions with David Cooper make me feel that this is a Caspian Gull too, as it very much has that species structure, but a further image search is probably required when I can face doing so!  This was differently plumaged from the much more advanced second-winter (confused as a third-winter) seen the previous day.

this bird was picked out as being 'different' by its darker mantle (c.f. argenteus Herring Gulls to the right).  This shows its small white head, dark eye and dark primaries.  It also shows very dark and coarsely patterned coverts and at times the mantle was perhaps darker than usual for Caspian Gull although that might be my lack of experience. 
this image shows the very small white head, dark eye, bulging neck and darker mantle
this image makes the head appear square and the bill short but is not considered to be representative due to the angle/foreshortening.  That doesn't negate the bullet hole eye which shows very well here.  The black tail band can be seen and part of one dull olive leg (unfortunately it never showed any more).
this image shows the tail band well but also the dark coarse coverts, some that have been replaced by more adult grey feathers.  Very long wings and white edged tertials can also be seen,.
this image shows a more typical head shape, small with a long sloping forehead, forward placed eye, long thin dull yellowish bill with black tip, long wings and white tipped tertials.  Faint hind neck streaking is just about visible, coverts don't look quite so contrasting?
the forward positioned eye and residual shawl streaking can be seen in this image.
as above but with apparent small pale notches in the tertials, 
a very clean headed bird with just a few streaks in the hind-neck, in this image the coverts don't appear so contrasting either ...
presumed second-winter Caspian Gull being attacked, blink and you'll miss it

presumed second-winter Caspian Gull

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