Sunday, 29 March 2015


The "following" I now realise is shortly going to be the preceeding, so forgive the schoolboy error and remember when I say " see below" it will eventually  mean "see above"!

American Herring Gull L.smithsonianus

     I am treating this taxon first as, thanks to M. Ahmad "(Mush") finding a 2nd winter briefly at Drift reservoir, and then relocating it at Jericho Farm outside St Just last week, and now having seen another possible 2nd w. on the Hayle (28/3/15) this is more topical. Mush's bird is a classic "smith" and provides a perfect bench-mark against which to judge the Hayle birds!
    The initially distant views and poor light (low evening sun was burning out detail and producing deceptive deep shadows) made ageing  tricky when I saw the Jericho bird thanks to a timely lift from Bob Hibbett. The bird looked remarkably like a typical 1st w./2nd calendar year; smooth or "clouded" brownish underparts  and hind-neck shawl contrasting with pale head, extensive dark greater covert bar, apparently solid brown tail, dark centered rear scapulars contrasting with newer pale grey ff in the mantle and upper scapulars, and particularly the dense, broad dark-barred (arguably dark ff with pale notches!) upper tail coverts and single generation upper-wing coverts.

        2nd w. smithsonianus (lower mid.) Jericho farm .20/3/2015

   Bare-parts were inconclusive as the (apparently) dark eye and extensive blackish running along the cutting-edges towards the bill base could be shown by 2nd or 3rd calendar years, and- added to the distance- wear and bleaching at this time of year make it impossible to use fine ff pattern details to help ageing. Pattern distribution is of some use; 1st w. birds should still have uniformly patterned upper/under wing and tail coverts, being all retained juvenile ff, so no "breaks" or moult contrast should show until spring when new ff would be obvious. There are a couple of problems with this as more "northern" taxa such as smithsonianus (hereafter just "smith"- I don't want to keep on typing anus!) breed and therefore moult later, so 2nd w. (2nd basic) birds are less likely than argenteus to begin another moult (usually a few median cov.s etc.) before winter suspends it.

        2nd w. smithsonianus (upper mid. showing underwing) Jericho farm 20/3/2015

    The Jericho bird looked better for 1st w. on the upper wing and tail cov.s  but crucially the corresponding undersides were too messy and- on the underwing- too pale, thus better for 2nd w. In addition the bird had a more blotchy body, the newest grey scap.s looked plain, it lacked the dark sub-terminal marks on the inner pp typical of 1st w. and had a clean white outer edge to r6 all favouring 2nd w. (M.Ahmad

      2nd w. smithsonianus  Jericho farm. My sketches made 20/3 (after returning from field). Note
       depicted in low sun from left.

    Now I have to deal with the Hayle birds- I don't like discussing my own records as the bird's should stand on their own merits. The problem is I know both birds are flawed in that they don't have the full suite of characteristics for 2nd w. smith- unlike the Jericho bird- but given the infamous variability of L.W.H.G. at this age the question remains are they smiths?

fig 1

fig 2

fig 3

fig 4

fig 5
fig 6
      2nd w. Larus sp. (pos. smithsonianus) Hayle; top 31/1, lowest 21/2, rest 2/2/15.

       Sketches from notes of 2nd w. Larus sp. (pos. smithsonianus) Hayle, 28/3/15

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

   Here we go then! I will be trying to keep most of this current, but as I don't expect too much day-to-day excitement in Cornwall the bulk of this will be gull-related based on "highlights" from days of old- starting with an over-view of the last 3 months gulling on the Hayle Estuary, Cornwall. I might even get proficient enough to create other pages or photo galleries according to my tame nerd (daughter!), and need to link this to my other- fossilised- blog (Last Resort Bird Art) but that would be running before I can walk!                                                                                                            
   Hayle Estuary gulls, 23/1/15- 20/3/15

    I only failed to visit the estuary twice during this period. I'm not particularly proud of the fact and at times it was more like a punishment than a privelige, but as this was not a good winter for Arctic gulls in the South West I probably shouldn't complain! Twelve species were recorded ( not including the possible 2nd w. smithsonianus) plus three "sub"-species (including kumlieni) and possibly one other "form" in the shape of apparent "Atlantic"/"Western" Yellow-legged Gulls (i.e. not "nominate"/typical Mediterranean michahellis). These were complimented (or tainted depending on your point of view) by a seemingly endless procession of hybrids and freaks which meant hardly a day went by without some fascinating i.d. challenge (or total ball-ache depending etc etc). The full list is below- note this only includes birds recorded by myself or birds I have seen photographed during the period;
Black-headed Gull L.ridibundus- max.flock 500+ (estimate- no counts during peak in Jan.)
Mediterranean Gull L.melanocephalus- max flock 60+ (160+ recorded earlier on Carnsew Pool)
Common Gull L.canus- max flock 45
Ring-billed Gull L.delawarensis- 1 1st w. 1ad. w. (bird first reported from Marazion)
Herring Gull L.argentatus argenteus- max flock c.1500 (estimate)
                   L.argentatus argentatus- max"flock" 3, est.8 individuals during period
(American Herring Gull L.smithsonianus- 1 2nd w. prob. this taxon)
Lesser Black-backed Gull L.f.graellsii- max flock 1265 (prob. exceeded during "passage" days)
                                      L.f."intermedius"- max flock 180+ (no distinction made here between
                                                                "Dutch intergrades" or pos. Scandinavian birds)
Yellow-legged Gull L.michahellis- max "flock" 4, est. 13+ ind. only c.3 of which app. "nominate"
                                                   type (see section on Y.l.g. below)
(Azorean Yellow-legged Gull L.(m.)atlantis- 1 2nd w./s. showing some characters of this taxon)
Caspian Gull L.cachinnans- 1 1st w. 1 2nd w./s.
Iceland Gull L.glaucoides- 1-2 juv. (no images to confirm ind. i.d. others reported but see below)
                   L.(g.)kumlieni- 1 (2?) 2nd w. 1 ad. w. (1 juv. photographed). Given the remarkable
                                          fact that this taxon outnumbered glaucoides locally I am reluctant to
                                          believe records of the latter without photographic support!
Glaucous Gull L.hyperboreus- 1 juv (1 other juv reliably reported)
Great Black-backed Gull- max flock 600+ (estimate)
Kittywake R.tridactyla- 1!
HYBRIDS- Lesser Black-backed x Herring- max "flock"4, est.12 individuals (i.d. contentious- see
                                                               hybrid section below)
                 (Lesser Black-backed x Common- ad. showing pos. mixed characters- see hybrid section)
                 (Lesser Black-backed x michahellis- ad. showing mixed characters-    "        "         "    )
                  Herring x Glaucous- 1 1st w. 2 2nd w. showing mixed characters, but pos. "back-cross"
                                                H.xG. x H.- see hybrid section
                  Herring x Great Black-backed- 1 juv-1st w. probably x L.a.argentatus
                  Glaucous x Great Black-backed- 1 juv- 1st w.

     I will treat most of the above in separate sections to follow but a few things are worth noting here; the remarkable fact that Kumlien's (Iceland) Gull was the most numerous "white-winger" during the period (if not the whole winter!) on the Hayle, the increase in LBBxH hybrids despite my total failure to find apparent 1st w./2nd cal. birds, the first long-staying/overwintering records of cachinnans for Cornwall I am aware of (not that I am likely to take too long researching this), and the almost distressing number of hybrids and freaks in general! The latter could simply be explained by the relatively poor showing of the "better" species over the last 3 months meaning I often had to scrape the larid-barrel or hammer birds into something vaguely/arguably interesting to try to justify the rail-fare and time spent (or wasted) freezing my bits off at what purports to be an RSPB reserve- without so much as a wattle-screen to shelter their members (or mine) or the interested public!
 Hayle 13/3 15. 5-or 6 species and 6 or 7 taxa- answers in the next exciting installment!

Monday, 23 March 2015

Welcome to the new blog - don't hold your breath!

Juvenile Kumlien's Gull - Coverack 22,3,2015
For those of you who are familiar with me and/or my previous abortive attempts at joining the world of social media - Last Resort Bird-art or my (loss-of)facebook page I probably don't need to flag-up the strong possibility that this may also die an early death! For those of you who DON'T know- don't expect anything too slick or too frequent- I will only post when I have something to say, and judging from the painful birth of this new blog you could have a long wait! So before I do or say anything else- huge thanks to Tim Worfolk for being the midwife!!
    Now- don't hold your breath.....