Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Excellent Gull Passage

What an exciting few days. February is a great month for gull passage and the last few days have not disappointed. Today I had quite a bit of free time and could barely tear myself away from the Estuary.  It was nice to spend time gulling with Gav too, just like the old days!  What was telling was that he wasn't even working in the area today...

Iceland Gull was the rarest of the days birds, found by Ian Mc at about 08:55 down by the tram sheds. It was a first-winter/juv, so not last weeks bird and probably my third different Iceland Gull in as many weeks!  I would have been able to post a nice photo of it here but for the bait digger who decided to flush the lot just after my arrival, so this is my only pic of it...

The middle bird. Yes I know it looks to have dark in the wing tips but that's just shadows

Next best bird was this second-winter Yellow-legged Gull.  I first saw it mid morning but sat with a bunch of Lesser Black-backed Gulls in the rain it looked short legged and rather unimpressive in overall structure, so I put it down as a probable hybrid-type. But Gav picked it up again later and we both watched it for much longer and in better light, and he soon managed to change my mind. Yes it was not long legged at all, and didn't have a strong bill, but everything else was absolutely perfect for second-winter Yellow-legged Gull. It was such a smart and clean bird, really pristine looking, hybrids always seem to look 'messy'. So a small female Yellow-legged Gull it is, but do drop me a line if you (Tim/Mike/Matt?) don't agree...

For me though today was all about the Lesser Black-backed Gulls.  There were 75 along the Estuary mid afternoon, but with birds coming and going all day, and no fewer than 40 birds on the river at any one time, who knows how many really passed through? As always with Lesser Black-backed Gulls at this time of year they came in a variety of mantle shades...

One of them was colour-ringed though, and it looks like 'V6VU' was ringed in Denmark. I will let you all know when I hear back about its ringing details, as this would be a confirmed intermedius if it originates from here. I do wonder whether all these spring passage Lesser Black-backs are intermedius though - even the slightly less black mantled birds!?

I only saw two adult Med Gulls today, but at least one of them was different from the five of yesterday. The five yesterday included a green-ringed second-winter, which was another new bird for me.  The last few weeks have seen a steady turn over of Med Gulls, I've seen at least 20 different individuals on the Axe this month, only two second-winters and one first-winter though.

Also yesterday the Lesser Black-backed count got to 44, and there were 135 Common Gulls which is more proof of gull passage.

Right let's leave the gulls for now, and I'll try and tidy up all my other patch birding sightings for the last few days. I'll start with the sea, and that's where I started today (as usual!). In 45 minutes I had eight Red-throated Divers and three Common Scoters west, along with a lovely pod of Bottlenose Dolphins.  There were at least six animals, including three calves that were jumping around all over the place, but they always remained distant and quickly headed off west.

Yesterday the sea gave twelve Red-throated Divers, but little else.  And on Monday I gave it an hour despite how quiet it was, and was rewarded with a fine drake Pintail close west with a Wigeon. Also two Red-throated Divers and a Razorbill.  I just WISH I stayed on an extra ten minutes or so though, as Ian Mc from another spot had a Velvet Scoter fly west shortly after I packed away my telescope. So gripping!!  I've given the sea so much time and effort this year hoping for something like this, and each watch one or two Scoters go by, but for me so far none of them have had white secondaries.  I suppose something like this was always going to happen though, I can't watch the sea all the time!

The Brent Goose is still knocking around with the Canada Goose flock in the valley, but another bad miss was a Goosander seen by others flying down and then upriver at dusk on Monday. Bums.

Dark-bellied Brent Goose

On the western boundary of our patch there's still Golden Plovers about, had 16 last Wednesday and 47 on Sunday morning. Also saw 50+ Snipe today in a field near Hangman's Stone (the Beer turn off on the A3052) which was a bit of a surprise.  

It's been nice to finally see some more Siskin about, I had 15 alongside the River Coly just north of Chantry Bridge last Saturday, and another couple over Lower Bruckland Ponds (yeah on my PWC patch finally!).

And last but by no means least, Chiffchaffs. Both Colyford and Branscombe sewage works are still home to plenty of Chiffchaffs, with many of them singing in recent days too which is nice.  The ringed tristis is still at Colyford WTW and there were at least two grey birds at Branscombe too.

Even wetter and windier tomorrow, can't wait to see what the Estuary has to offer us...


  1. Gulls are still defeating me - saw some on cliff ledges at Seaton Hole this afternoon that I couldn't ID. Pure white head/breast, paleish grey mantle, dark eye, neat bill, long, straight wings - could they be kittiwakes?

    1. Hi 'Novice'. They will be Fulmar, we are lucky enough to have some breeding on the cliffs here. Best wishes, Steve.

    2. Rats! I wondered but couldn't see the 'tubes'. Thanks Steve.

  2. Hi Steve, I think you've said it all - plumage looks good but like you would have preferred a bigger bodied and billed bird with longer legs.

    1. Hi Mike, thanks for the comment. I would have preferred a Humpback Whale! Am getting twitchy... Take care, Steve.

  3. Hi Steve, no worries on plumage, just as a 2w michahellis should look. Agree it looks a little slight but that's OK, they're not all big bruisers - particularly Atlantic coast 'lusitanius' which I suspect accounts for a fair few of our records.

    1. Hi Tim, thanks for that. Exactly what Gav said really, I am obviously too strict! Thanks for taking the time to comment. Best wishes, Steve.