Friday 9 December 2022

Axe Gulls of 2022

Although of course 2022 is not yet done, now that my laptop is back up and running I have access to all my photos (and more importantly - Photoshop!) and my urge to tell you all about the best gulls I've seen so far this year is just too great.  So, please enjoy... 

Iceland Gull

Before I go into the Herring Gull-types, I figured I had a better chance of tempting you deeper into this post with a nice white-winger.  And this is the only one that has been seen on the Axe so far this year...

I really didn't think we were going to get a white-winged this year, having missed out during the peak months (February - April). However Ian Mc found this snow white 1st-summer Iceland Gull on the Estuary on the unusual date of 3rd June...

Harsh light but clearly a slim and petite bird

It always pays to take great care identifying any pure white large gull, especially if it is June! But this bird's long sleek appearance, rounded head and squat structure make this a relatively straight forward ID.    


Caspian Gull

There were no Caspian Gull records on the Axe during the first half of this year, which hasn't happened since 2017 highlighting nicely the increased frequency this species is now occurring here. However am pleased to have found three during autumn 2022 - all within the space of two weeks!

Bird one was the least satisfactory, offering only distant views in poor weather on Colyford Marsh on 29th Oct, a 1st-winter...

I struggled to even get this shot. But note neck shawl, advanced moult on mantle/scaps, parallel bill... not much I know but was enough for it to stand out in the flock!

Thankfully I got good flight and underwing views of the above bird, and Ian Mc saw it again about 20 mins later.  I would argue this is the first Axe Casp not provable by photos alone. 

Bird two on the other hand was lovely. A really big classic 1st-winter on 5th Nov, but again it didn't offer me the best views from where I was watching from.  If only I was sat in the Tower Hide the views would have been crippling!

Note the advanced 1w moult on scapulars and mantle, solidly dark tertials with white tips, very plain greater coverts with pale base, white head contrasting with neck shawl, narrow bill, full belly-appearance.

Note the grey necklace contrasting with the pale head, and the classic neck shawl

Nice white rump and tail with neat black tail band

Luckily I fluked this underwing shot, nice and clean (although the weather conditions are making it look greyer!).  Note the venetian blind effect on inner primaries and the dark greater covert bar.


Bird three was also always pretty distant. I actually first saw it at extreme distance in the Seaton Hole gull roost after sunset on 9th Nov, but thankfully saw it again on the Estuary two days later (11th)...

The hint of a neck shawl, darker than Herring Gull mantle and slight immaturity on the bill all indicated a possible Caspian to me but no chance of taking it further

That is more like it!  So nearly an adult but not quite... note the grey neck streaking and dark mark on the lower mandible.

Poor shot but shows bill shape well

That lovely little dark eye really does stand out!
The shot I was waiting for! Shows a huge amount of white on P10 (outer most primary) and lots of black on P5 - the most classic Caspian wing-pattern going.

I cannot tell you how frustrated I was feeling, with three minutes until I had to leave to collect Harry from school and this bird stubbornly refused to show me an open wing.  Then just when I thought it was game over it gave a big old stretch which allowing me to capture the above shot.  

Ageing the bird is not so straight forward for me though. I have already pointed out the bill and neck streaking which suggests immaturity, but if you look closely at the open wing photo you can see two small black streaks on the primary coverts of its right wing.  This absolutely confirms it is not the adult I am longing for, but I cannot make my mind up on whether it is a 3rd or 4th-winter bird!?  With such an adult-type primary pattern I am leaning more towards a 4th-winter bird (similar to THIS bird?) but comments welcome.

And that makes 28 confirmed Caspian Gulls for the Axe, as long as these three are accepted.  What a result!

Yellow-legged Gull

Well 2022 will not go down as a classic summer for juvenile Yellow-legged Gulls.  Three is all I mustered, of which two I managed to photograph...

Dreadful light but a true beast - 20th July

Another view of the 20th July juvenile - upperparts as smooth as chocolate

Much better views of a juv, taken on 24th July from a tram.  A really chunky bird and great to watch it at close range.


The only non-juvenile Yellow-legged Gull I have seen this year on the Axe was a brief adult through my office window on 23rd Feb. Really surprised not to see any more during Oct/Nov when stormy weather can often produce multiple sightings.  

Little Gull

I missed out on pretty much all the stormy weather this autumn, but was pleased to get in on a little bit of the action with a Little Gull west through Seaton Bay on 9th Nov, a 2nd-winter.  It was a calm day between stormy ones, but there was a steady trickle of Black-heads going through for much of the afternoon, it was mixed in with them and a joy to see!


Although as I said in the Little Gull section I missed most of the stormy weather, I still managed to see more Kittiwakes this autumn than I have in any other autumn here!  Saw a few individuals on the Estuary, as well as many passing really close inshore...

Adult Kittiwake over the west walk!

Almost Gulls

I've seen very few terns on patch this year, only the two most common species and not many of either of them!  However a nice sight came through on 6th Sept when an evening Estuary vigil hoping for terns actually produced terns!  

They didn't hang around hence the awful photo!

These 18 Common Terns had spent the day at Chard Reservoir and I just happened to be watching when they decided to carry on with their southbound migration (19:23 down the Axe).  But did they bring with them the Black Tern they had been sharing Chard Res with ??... Did they heck!

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