Saturday, 14 December 2019

Caspian Gulls in the Cuckmere (13 December)

Saturday 14 December. Megan and I took Cookie to the Burgh after visiting Boxgrove Priory Cemetary. Little was showing in the strong wind and we did a short circuit seeing 9 Grey Partridges, 35 Stock Doves and single Red KiteBuzzard and Redwing. Half was round Cookie became nervous of distant shooting and had to be dragged out of a bush, our return to the car was then faster than normal. The afternoon was spent sorting out 300 gull imges from yesterday ...

Friday 13 December. To get away from the worst election result I can remember and in the hope that a forecast of strong winds and a high tide would be good for gulls I took Cookie to the Lower Cuckmere where we spent four hours. I estimated almost 4000 large gulls were present in three close but distinct groups opposite Harry's Bush, probably the largest number I have seen there. Bright sunshine made it harder for me to pick out anything interesting due to its effect on shades of grey. Many birds were sitting down due to the strong wind which was also unhelpful while not being able to find a sheltered viewpoint made scope shake an issue and a couple of times I was almost blown over. Cookie was largely unaffected being below knee level. Most numerous were Great Black-backed Gulls with at least 2800 including an unread green colour-ringed bird most likely from Normandie.There were 650+ Herring Gulls of which I was happy 8 were argentatus, many others may have been too, and at least 350 Lesser Black-backed Gulls. Almost the first, closest Lesser Black-back I looked at had a blue colour-ring, most likely from Belgium, but it flew before I could read it and was not seen again. I saw eight or nine Yellow-legged Gulls, single first and second winters, two third-winters and four or probably five adults. Also several sleeping gulls with pure white heads and appearing darker mantled than Herring might have been Yellow-legged although quite a few Herrings had developed pure white heads too, as if they weren't hard enough as it was. It was Caspian Gulls I was particularly hoping to see having only convinced myself of a first-winter in four recent(ish) visits. During the time I was present I had three sightings of an adult Caspian Gull and two of first-winters. The first winters looked different at the time and reviewing images later confirmed this and also suggested that at least two of the adults were different, a very satisfactory outcome. I looked at the geese in the Cuckmere including walking up towards Chyngton Farm but only found single Brent and Barnacle amongst the Canada Geese. A Sparrowhawk flew over twice and heard then saw a Raven. The following photos are shown in the order that they were taken. There was little movement to and from the gull flocks and while those there didn't spook very often and some appeared to hardly move others did making it hard to keep tabs on them and work out how many of the scarcer species were actually seen. 
first views of the encouragingly large gull assemblage in the Lower Cuckmere
third-winter Yellow-legged Gull, presumably a male given its similar size to the Great Black-backs
its appearance changed quite dramatically with its posture here quite Caspian-like
and back again to Yellow-legged
two adult Yellow-legged Gulls with two Lesser Black-backs, much easier when bright legs are seen
adult Caspian Gull, note small head, pallid legs and sagging vent
pale bill and dark bullet-hole eye
thin pale legs, two presumed argentatus Herring Gulls behind
a later bird had a slightly different bill pattern, this one an almost unmarked upper mandible
the same bird a few minutes later, the inner tongue of p10 appearing quite dusky
small headed and full chested

slightly more upright posture
extensive left hand and more compact rear flocks
rear and straggling right hand flocks
first-winter Caspian Gull: snouty, black bill white head and underparts, small dark eye, finely marked grey mantle, brown coverts, white thumbnail tips to tertials and black primaries make this a distinctive bird although it would be nice to have seen its legs
it never stood up and soon went to sleep, that all black bill was one of the features differentiating it from the later first-winter seen. Its small head and thick neck evident here.
the same bird 10 minutes later in a slightly different part of the flock
sleeping again, I continued scanning the flock but it had gone when I looked back and I never saw it again
adult Caspian Gull, at the time thought to be the adult seen elsewhere in the flock until 20 minutes earlier
long, thin, pale bill, white head, dark bullet-hole eye, long thin washed out legs
this bird had a dark mark above the reddish gonal spot appearing as a subterminal back making it different from the earlier individual

it also had a more extensive white tip to the underside of p10 and whiter tongue

small head and bulging vent visible on this image
another or one of the earlier Yellow-legged Gulls, darker mantle, bright bill and reddish eyering give it away, I never saw its legs
another stubbier billed Yellow-legged Gull an hour later (we'd taken a break to look for geese)

argentatus Herring Gull, note extensive white tip to the underside of p10, darker mantle and streaked head. The two yellow legs belong to a hidden Lesser Black-back immediately behind it
presumed Caspian Gull, it had long legs but I never saw much more of it although what I did see looked good - long thin washed out bill, somewhat foreshortened in this image, small dark eye, pure white head, mantle a shade darker than Herring and lighter than Yellow-legged. Possible the first Caspian Gull seen as the upper mandible appeared unmarked.
first-winter Caspian Gull - long black wings, white edges to tips of tertials, brownish faintly patterned coverts, greyish lightly marked mantle and white head and underparts
very snouty with a dark bill with a paler base making it different from the earlier first-winter seen, very white underneath although a somewhat overexposed image, very long winged
it appeared to have fewer dark centres to the upper mantle feathers and paler coverts than the earlier bird too
it quickly walked along the channel and out of sight
ten minutes later it flew back showing a clean whitish underwing before landing back on the bank and soon went to sleep.Its white hood shows well in this image as do its long legs. For me it was a classic bird.
15 minutes later it moved slightly showing part of its clean underwing. I'd moved position slightly to check through another part of the flock and unfortunately was looking through some thin branches 
this image shows it legs to good effect, note the first-winter Yellow-legged Gull behind and to its left

first-winter Yellow-legged and Caspian Gulls in the Cuckmere
a very smart bird, my poor digiscoped images hardly do it justice. What would life be like without birding?
colour-ringed Great Black-backed Gull. The wind was too strong to read it at this range although the angle of the ring didn't help. It flew and landed a little closer, but in longer grass with only the top letter S visible before frustratingly flying off out to sea. It is probably from a scheme in Normandie.
another or one of the earlier adult Yellow-legged Gulls
showing off its legs
another third-winter Yellow-legged Gull
this one had a darker bill tip than the one first seen although I thought it was the same at the time
Seven Sisters from Harry's Bush
Thursday 12 December. Voting, what a disaster for the environment that turned out to be.

Wednesday 11 December. I took Cookie to Brooklands where we saw male Pochard, 3 Little Grebes, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Chiffchaff, Stonechat and Reed Bunting. Despite a high tide few gulls were in evidence.

Pochard at Brooklands
Reed Bunting at Brooklands
always photogenic

No comments:

Post a comment

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.