Tuesday 19 October 2021

A landmark Caspian Gull

I didn't have chance for much today, but after a trip into town with Harry mid-morning I thought I'd drive back home via the Estuary. When I saw the number of resting gulls there I simply could not drive on by without at least a cursory glance!  

Wet and windy October days are one of my favourites for gulling, so I thought I'd test Harry's patience and see how long he'd let me scan through the vast flocks whilst he was occupying himself in the back seat.  Thankfully he was actually pretty good, as I came away with two cracking rewards...

I almost completely fluffed the Caspian Gull though.  I was scanning the mass of gulls on the water (must have been 200 here at least) when a darker mantle, white head and clear neck shawl shone out like a beacon.  I just knew it had to be a Caspian Gull so didn't go for my scope but went straight for the camera instead.  However I couldn't find it in the view finder, and when I went back to my bins I couldn't relocate it!  A quick look in the air didn't show any large gulls flying away, so I began scanning the river bank opposite where about 250 large gulls were resting.  

I almost immediately picked up a darker mantled sub-adult gull with my bins, I transferred to the telescope (learnt my lesson!) and found myself looking at a Yellow-legged Gull, an absolutely huge third-winter...

Look how big it is compared to all those Herring Gulls. Lovely white head as to be expected for this species.

I just know this bird is going to look absolutely stunning in adult plumage. Please come back in a year or two!

Anyway, although this bird clearly didn't have a neck shawl, I started to think I'd been seeing things with the bird on the water and that this must have been it. However, I then lost the Yellow-legged Gull when a few gulls took off and had a fly round, but shortly after resuming scanning came across this...

Well hello there!

I was right all along - Caspian Gull! Complete with neck shawl, a lovely white head and small dark eye, a narrow parallel bill, nice darker mantle tone (but less dark than the YLG) and overall a bit of a brute.  

It then decided to completely show off, and very kindly struck a very typical Caspian-pose...

Classic belly, neck and head shape. Also note the 'saggy nappy' appearance. Compare size with the Herring Gull to left and the subtly darker mantle tone.

On a bird this old, a streaky and defined neck shawl contrasting with no other head, neck or underpart streaking is a pretty solid and obvious Casp-trait.

A clearer shot showing neck shawl, nice long-winged appearance and that lovely little eye.

I sent a message out on the patch WhatsApp group, but about thirty seconds later the darn thing took off and flew away south west.  At least I was pointing my camera at it when it took to the air...

Long white tip to P10 and grey tongues protruding into the black feather tips

When I first saw this bird in my bins I thought it was going to be second-winter, but you can see from the above pics it is clearly a third-winter with its adult-like wing pattern and all white tail.   And that makes this the most mature Caspian Gull ever to have been recorded on the Axe. Before today we've not had anything older than a second-winter, but this is not the reason it's a landmark Caspian Gull as the post title implies...

This is (if accepted!) the 25th Caspian Gull for the Axe Estuary - we are a quarter of a century in!  The total consists of 19 first-winter/summers, five second-winters and today's third-winter.  The quest for an adult continues but it certainly feels like it is getting ever closer.

And if you find yourself yearning for just a bit more detail on these Casps then you are in luck. It's time for another appearance of my Axe Casp chart, which documents each of the Axe's Casps by year, month and age...

I have seen 16 of these, having found 13.  Gav adds the other 12. It is really quite remarkable that only two people have found every single one of them.  Tim White so nearly got his name to one, but looking closer at photos after the event revealed it was highly likely the same bird I had seen a week or so earlier - sorry Tim!

And finally to complete today's bird news, another quick look along the Estuary mid afternoon revealed 29 Med Gulls and 1x Gav.  It's great to see plenty of Common Gulls around now as well, they have suddenly arrived in numbers.  It's just a pity Ring-billed Gull no longer feels like a realistic possibility - although that will never stop me trying!


  1. Another victory for the dynamic Gull duo Gav & Steve 🤩
    Quite an acquired skill to look past the 'noise' when identifying such gems.

    1. Hi Ric, thanks for the comment. Not been called part of a 'dynamic duo' for a few years so thanks! Haha.
      I think the key is being part of such a great team of patch birders, as we can all bird how we want to. So whilst Gav and I waste our days watching the Larids, thankfully there are plenty more switched on birders doing what they most enjoy and checking other corners of the patch. I'd still call this a very underwatched place mind but we all do our best.

      Thanks again for the comment, Steve.