Monday, 16 December 2019

Cuckmere colour-ring rainbow (15 December)

Monday 16 December. Megan and I took Cookie to Shoreham Fort and along the beach seeing 2 Purple Sandpipers, a calling Chiffchaff, 40 House Sparrows, 2 Meadow Pipits and 35 Greenfinches. Nothing was seen offshore although there was a heavy swell. An afternoon sorting gull photos, not helped by inadvertently deleting them all after I'd finished and having to download them from the camera and start again.

Sunday 15 December. Megan and I took Cookie for a walk around the Adur. The rising tide wasn't helpful with few gulls around and waders only represented by 7 Oystercatchers and 4 Turnstones. By the airport were a Stonechat and 2 Meadow Pipits. I then went down to the Cuckmere hoping the high tide and a strong wind would have brought decent numbers of gulls into the roost. I found the A26 closed at Beddington (remember the road number) and had to return to Kingston and take the Newhaven road arriving in the Cuckmere via Chyngton Farm at about 12:45. There were just over 400 large gulls in the field out from the farm track but I could only pick out two adult Yellow-legged Gulls amongst them and soon headed down to the Harry's Bush field which held at least 1600. With more coming than goings I estimated the majority to be 1800 Great Black-backed Gulls, 200 Herrings and at least 100 Lesser Black-backs. When I'd left three hours later I'd seen out at least 8 Yellow-legged Gulls (6 adults and single second and third-winters), two first-winter Caspian Gulls and at least 4 argentatus Herring Gulls. I saw eight gulls with colour rings although only read half of them. A veritable rainbow of colours and although no orange or purple, one of the black rings had thick orangy characters. All Great Black-backs unless stated, they were: 

Red - H1AT, a North Thames Great Black-back, very dull one this, the first sighting of an adult ringed at Pitsea in February 2013 
Yellow - a partly read Caspian, looking most like A3xx or xxEV depending on which way up the ring was fitted.
Green - i) A26, like the road, a Great Black-back hatched in Normandie in 2007 and seen on the Adur a few times in autumn/winter during 2010-13. It has since been seen at Granville Chausey, Manche in May 2015, Brighton on 25 November 2015 and at Granville Chausey again in July 2017 and February 2018.

ii) S03 another Normandie Great Black-back, it was ringed as a chick on Iles Saint-Marcouf, Manche, Normandie inJuly 2014 and seen at Bernières-sur-Mer, Calvados in October 2014, Port-en-Bessin-Huppain, Calvados in May 2016 and Grandcamp-Maisy, Calvados in June and October 2016, August-October 2017, June 2018 and October 2019
Blue - an unread Lesser Black-back, most likely from Belgium
Black - i) an unread Norwegian Great Black-back, ii) JX61, a Norwegian Great Black-back hatched in Vest-Agder in 2007 and seen there every year since in late spring/summer with a visit to Dungeness in October 2018, 

iii) 60S, 
its ring looking almost orange, a Le Havre Great Black-back hatched in 2015 and seen along the Normandie coast each year since although this is its first sighting our side of the Channel.

One of the Caspian Gulls was first seen when it stood up from behind a Great Black-back at the front of the flock and walked a few paces in full view before stopping partly obscured by another, a classic bird, I watched it hoping it would move in full view again and was just about to try some obscured photos when it flew showing its clear pale underwing. The other Caspian Gull showed for longer although in poor light:

first view of what looked a good contender for a first-winter Caspian Gull, a more contrasting looking bird than is shown in these images due to range, poor light and substandard digiscoping
clean white head and underparts, black bill and thin legs

snouty appearance with long thin bill

white head, grey mantle, brown coverts and black primaries require a bit of imagination, white tips to tertials a bit more obvious
thuggish behaviour attacking a Great Black-back for no apparent reason
it really didn't like it

the most representative image I took
it then sat down looking very similar to one of Friday's birds
I never saw that one's legs and the pattern of dark mantle feathers look very marginally different
The following gull(s) could have been Caspian too although head-on views (into the wind) were not helpful and attempts to find a better angle unsuccessful.

possibly an earlier sighting of the Caspian Gull that flew off before I could take photos of it, with argentatus Herring Gull top left
The following are all Yellow-legged Gulls although one or two looked quite interesting for a while:
small eyed and quite pale billed bird that initially caught my eye
until closer inspection reveals yellowish legs and a pale eye while the mantle looks a shade dark so Yellow-legged
another Yellow-legged Gull at the back of the flock, this one looking very ordinary
long pale legs on this one but quite a dark mantle
yellowish legs too
the bill not special and a small but pale eye too
looking typical Yellow-legged Gull here
another Yelow-legged Gull with H1AT
another or one of those above, dark mantle, pale eye and thick bill enough for an easy identification 
a long-billed bird that caught my eye
although the mantle a shade dark and the bill a bit bright for Caspian
the same bird appearing small headed but with yellow legs
it had a pale eye too

another long billed bird
mantle looking a bit dark
but looking small headed and full breasted
pale looking eye, extensive black under p10 and a glimpse of a yellow leg, another potential Caspian Gull comprehensively ruled out

another bird in not the most helpful pose and its legs do look more fleshy than yellow but I didn't knowingly see any more of it

this one I thought most likely a second-winter Yellow-legged

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