Tuesday, 9 January 2018

White-fronted Goose and Caspian Gull

Well that was an exciting hour out!

Mid afternoon Ian Mc texted with news of our second White-fronted Goose in three years on Colyford Marsh. But he soon texted again with more news, it had flown off... Thankfully Martin Wolinski was in the Tower Hide and phoned in excitement as an adult White-fronted Goose had just landed on the mud in front of him. Thanks for the call Martin.

By the time I got out this afternoon, it was back on Colyford Marsh where it thought it was a Shelduck...

But quickly saw sense, flew south, and decided it actually wanted to be a gull...

Although this is our second in three years, I missed the last one so it's my first on patch for a staggering six years and three months! The last one I saw/found here was a Greenland flavirostris bird. My last European White-front albifrons was six months before that, also a lone adult bird, but oddly in the month of May!  White-fronted Geese are going the same way as all the grey goose species and winter swans for us, getting scarcer and scarcer. Whooper Swans and White-fronted Geese were virtually annual on the Axe ten plus years ago, presumably it's the milder winters meaning these species simply don't need to fly as far south and west.

As the post title suggests, there was more to the afternoon than the Goose. Just before 4pm the White-fronted Goose disappeared (I think it followed a small flock of Canada Geese south west) but was, amazingly, replaced by a gorgeous snowy-headed first-winter Caspian Gull! Another somewhat overdue bird, as I said the other day, our first since Nov 2015.  

This is the seventh Caspian Gull I've found here, the ninth I've seen here (the Axe's thirteenth), and was just as gorgeous as all of them, but it was without doubt the most frustrating. My first views of it were very distant and in rapidly diminishing light. I drove to a different view point where it was closer, but after a brief clear view, gull after gull decided to stand in front of it before the whole flock took to the air and the Casp flew off south. Arse. Hopefully it sticks around.

So my first views looked like this...

Knowing the pictures would be so poor, I tried a video. This didn't prove much better...

Then I moved. Head and back end showing well here, just missing the middle bit (second gull left of the male Mallard)...

Not even a head in this picture, but it does show the wing quite well (note the solidly dark tertials with narrow pale tips, plain greater coverts and the amount of grey on the mantle)...

See what I mean - frustrating. I never managed the money shot, but thankfully saw all the key features, and most are visible in these pics somewhere (though some squinting may be required!). It wasn't a massive bird, larger than surrounding Herrings but not by much, and although its bill was narrow and longer than the Herrings, again it wasn't massive. This makes me think it's a female.  

My photos are so poor that I'm not going to do my usual 'this is what makes it a Caspian Gull' notes. I will if I get some better shots I promise.

So great to see on social media that lots of people are coming over/getting out to enjoy the Colyford Common Water Pipits. They really are great value, I can't recommend them enough. And as today proves, who knows what else you might find...


  1. Nice result Stevie! You're up to at least 12 Casps on the Axe though (I can think of 4 that you didn't see: Dec '09, Feb '10, Oct '11 and Apr '13) which makes it surely the best location in the SW?

    1. Hi Gavo, thanks for the comment. I thought I was missing one out but just couldn't think of it. I remember missing your first find (think Karen and Bun got to it?), your big hefty 1w and the bird you found whilst looking for Redstarts. Presumably the one I can't think of was your Oct '11 bird... oh hang on, was that the bird that you thought looked like a recent Weymouth bird? Was it a one-dayer?

    2. The Oct '11 bird was the 1w with a couple of juv scaps that I had with GBBs from the tower hide. Got photos and a short video of it. The bird that was at Portland earlier was that enormous brute which everyone got to. Your favourite I think?

    3. Oh yes I remember that one now. Lovely, thanks for the reminder. The long stayer certainly remains my favourite Casp to date, it looked like someone had stuck a bicycle pump into it and given it a good few pumps! Hopefully see you along the Estuary soon? Maybe...

  2. Makes me wonder whether our classic 1w at Brixham was the same.. ours was head and neck all of the time and with Grt B-b gulls (and not Herring) only perhaps making it look big. Like yours a very clean bird head and neck markings look the same the bill on a head up (stretched neck) bird always looks longer, tertials and scaps very very similar. without better photos from you or any photos from me we'll never know, but the last Torbay bird a 2w turned up on the axe a few days later too!
    We are well behind you in Torbay with just 3 records - but the best and biggest gull flocks (10,000 or more) are always too far out to scrutinise properly.

    1. Hi Mike, thanks for the comment. Yes I did wonder that, I think a lot of birds like this get seen at various different places but may all be listed as different individuals, it must happen with white-wingers all the time! As for this bird though, out of all the 1w Casps I've see here, this one had the least obvious neck shawl. Looked faded which gave the bird an almost entirely white-headed appearance, very striking. The only other thing I'd say is most our big gull gatherings happen during stormy weather when gulls arrive from the sea to rest up, which was the case when we had your second-winter Casp. But over the last week, most our gulls have been arriving from inland (presumably feeding on flooded fields), in fact I'm 99% sure this Casp dropped in with a group of c15 large gulls that flew in from upriver. I suppose this makes no difference though as your Casp could easily have wandered in land between sightings. Three Casps is brilliant for a non-estuarine site!

  3. The neck shawl was quite obvious on the Torbay Bird - probably more so as the neck was stretched all the time - so sounds like a different bird.