Friday, 27 March 2015

Cutesy Caspo

After a very wet night on Wednesday I thought the Estuary gulls would be worth a look on Thursday morning.  This immediately seemed a good move as there were decent sized gatherings of large gulls both at Coronation Corner and down by the tram sheds. The flock at the top of the Estuary showed nothing better than both species of Black-backs, but the lower flock had a white-headed belter shining out - a first-summer Caspian Gull...

Middle bird facing right, such a distinctive head and bill shape.
A tighter crop of the upper pic.

The cropped photo above, although grainy, is actually quite a handy pic as you can easily compare the Casp to a similarly aged Herring Gull just to its left. Pretty much all Herring Gulls of this age have a dark eye mask (at least) which hides the eye, compare this to the beautifully clean white headed Caspian Gull and notice how its eye really stands out. This bird almost completely lacked the characteristic neck shawl that first-winter Caspians show (see THIS bird to see what I mean by neck shawl), but that is expected in a first-summer bird. Be wary of second-summer Herring Gulls though, they often look very white-headed and beady eyed, it is always important to age a gull correctly first. Also compare bills, it wasn't the longest-billed Caspian that I've seen, but see how the lower edge of the bill is pretty much straight, whereas the Herring has a distinctive kink (known as the goyns)

Much to my dismay, after about a minute of watching it and taking a few snaps, it stretched its wings and flew off. Bugger. At least it allowed me to get the useful under wing shot (just)...

Lovely white axillaries and a very pale underwing.

It looked like it was going to fly off north west, but thankfully it banked round and dropped down where gulls often gather in the corner of Seaton Marshes. I zipped round there and soon relocated it...

No where near being a sharp photo, but it shows the head and bill shape and the solid black white-tipped tertials really well.
Showing here the typical Caspian gait, standing tall with a nice bulge on upper neck.

It wasn't a very big Caspian, being only slightly larger than the Herring Gulls, so maybe a female? I've still not seen a Caspian as big as the second one that I ever saw on the Axe, which was found by Gav back in 2011 (see HERE).

At 09:40 the whole flock of gulls were flushed, and I sadly had to leave.  Ian M saw it in the same place about ten minutes later though, so hopefully it is going to linger.  

Although the number of large gulls always seems to drop off in mid March, late March and early April often gives us some gull goodies, and there always appears to be a pretty rapid turn over of birds changing day to day (maybe even hour to hour!).  I really wouldn't be surprised if we get a white-winged Gull in the next couple of weeks.

This gull has fired me up nicely, which got me out of bed early this morning. That is despite the fact spring migration has seemingly ground to a halt on the south coast of England. A quick sea watch was pretty pointless, so I headed to Seaton Marshes...

Nice and atmospheric

And here I was rewarded for my early start, with the sweet sound of Willow Warbler song coming from the southern most trees around the Borrow Pit. There were two together, and they moved north pretty quickly, constantly feeding giving just the occasional burst of song.  

A true 'record shot'

Hearing the first singing Willow Warbler of the year is up there for me along with seeing the first Wheatear, they are the sound of summer.


  1. Great to see you have willow warbler. I've heard two chiffchaff now

  2. They will be with you in no time at all I'm sure. Sure were great to see/hear.