Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Amble Caspian Gull Revisited

With all the recent talk of 'mantle shade' variability in Slaty-backed Gulls lately (due to the recent Irish bird) I got thinking again about the Amble Caspian Gull, the bird would represent a 2nd for Northumberland, following the 1st accepted record being a bird in the summer months at Grindon Lough one evening.

During September I tweeted out that I had 'scored' the Amble Caspian Gull against a paper in British Birds. As with most thing to do with Caspian Gull I got interested fairly swiftly, the paper is written by Chris Gibbins, Grzegorz Neubauer and Brian J. Small. It's a very impressively written and thorough paper in the December 2011 issue of British Birds. It was handily written only recently, as our knowledge of the acceptable variability in Caspian Gulls has grown, it was written to deal with the pitfalls of possible hybrids.

If you have time to sit with a highlighter and read the article I can highly recommend it. Some particularly interesting features were listed in the article and the article has a positive conclusion. So if you are interested in gulls make sure you read it!

'Table 1' in the article is what this entire brief blog post is about, it lays out a scoring system for adult Caspian Gulls. I thought I would run the Amble Caspian Gull through the test, trying to be as objective as possible. The reason for this is that although it was from a 'Caspian Gull colony', it was a bit naughty to fail to point out that the colonies in that area are known for having mixed pair.

Lets be clear, this bird was a '4th winter', if you like, so NOT an adult. However it would appear that all the features listed in the table remain unchanged between this age and adult as they are so similar. Seems as though the species is seemingly so rare north of the Tyne I thought it best to be 'cruel' rather than 'kind', to 'edge on the side of caution'. So when scoring the bird I gave a realistic, if not somewhat mean score in order to be 'sure' on the outcome.

When I scored it in September it came out with a score of 7, but I scored it again this month and came out with 8. Even though I was very cruel with the final score of 8, the article comments; "For adult birds, it is clear (fig. 6) that a bird with a score of less than 9 should be pure Caspian, while one with a score of 9 or more is not safely identifiable as a Caspian." Later the same article goes on to say "Frequency statistics indicate that these scores can be used to separate even the most extreme (atypical) first-winter birds and the vast majority (c. 99%) of adults with confidence."

If you have got the article then you can go away and have a look for yourself, but basically the score I allocated for the black band on P10, overall P5, overall P4, the iris peppering, the eye-ring colour, the bill, and the leg length would likely go uncontested! The only feature that I think could be contested was what I scored the overall black to white ratio on P10, I scored this a 2. As 'having more black than white', however I think this may have been quite unfair! Even so, it still passed the test.

However, this was based on me giving the bill a score of 1, which is "slim, slight gonydeal angle (ratio 2.4–2.79)", whereas 2, "intermediate (ratio 2.0–2.39)", may have been a fairer assessment. If we said the bill was 2, and dropped the black to ratio down to 1 ("approximately equal black and white"), the bird would still come out with a score of 8. Which is still pure Caspian Gull, I think that my original score of 7 was being a bit too kind. I do wonder how the Cromer (Norfolk) bird would score.....

I personally fail to see how the Able bird could be a hybrid, it even sounded well and truly the part in the field. Time and research may eradicate all of this data, but at the moment I think it's safe to shimmy the 'Amble Casp' into the 'Casp column'.  Most people who have commented (minus LGRE) have not expressed concern, the bill may appear a little chunky and deep at the base, but a quick Google search can show that this isn't too abnormal for Caspian Gull. I think for now, I'll trust the 99% percentage. So I will say...



Sunday, 11 January 2015

That's why birders go to Iceland...

Couldn't resist going to see the Harlequin Duck in Aberdeen on Saturday, I heard it had been showing well, but I had not quite expected it to be showing quite as well as it actually did. It looks rather settled as well, may stay to become even more stunning yet?


On the way back the female King Eider quite conveniently (for my mates in the car, who had never seen one) was seen off Kincraig Point, so we went to see that. Difficult viewing and it took about 20 minutes or so to pick up in difficult viewing conditions. I quite like female King Eider, and the accompanying rafts of Velvet Scoter offshore were a bit of a treat.

Spent Sunday checking the local areas in the AM, very little about and no sign of the Tundra Bean Goose with the Greylag flock, but looks like flock has broken off into two, so presumably its around somewhere with a handful of Greylags. I spent the afternoon at North Shields Fish Quay which was really good, the 2nd winter Iceland Gull was showing fantastically and remaining faithful to one particular spot underneath a ship. Later in the day towards 15:30 I picked up a juvenile Iceland Gull drifting into view from behind part of the Fish Quay, it eventually came out to play and had pretty good views. No sign of any Glaucs though. 

2nd win Ice...

Not even Photoshop could save my horrendous camera work at 15:30. Juv Ice...

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

North Shields Fish Quay 2014

A brief afternoon visit to the Fish Quay on the afternoon of the 28th resulted in some pretty decent views of the 2nd winter Iceland Gull, which may well have even been a plumage tick for me, I can't recall having seen a 2nd winter before.


Nice, but would have preferred a good old 1st winter Casp, cracking birds. 

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Sunday, 4 January 2015

Penduline Tit in Bedfordshire

On the 29th of December I was down in Bedfordshire at around 08:20 in the morning in the hope of seeing the Penduline Tit that appeared to have roosted on a small reedy pool on Prior CP. On arrival there was very little of note and no sign of the bird, a short while later it burst out from the reeds giving its distinctive somewhat high pitched calls, it flew a short way and landed in the bottom of some reeds where it showed briefly. A short while later it flew towards myself and others and landed on some nearby reeds where it showed really well!

Ripping apart some bulrushes... 

Some more of my shaky-shaky video footage: 

Cracking little bird, and a British tick. Had seen the species in Bulgaria in a small flock and previously had dipped a bird in South Yorkshire.

Thursday, 1 January 2015

Happy New Year!

Decided I probably better start using my blog again, its been a bit neglected the past 12 months or so, so I thought I would resurrect it, somewhat, I hope!

I finished off a truly fantastic and exciting year with the Ivory Gull in Uig harbour on the Isle of Skye on the 31st of December. I also managed to see an immature White-tailed Eagle, always superb to see. However the fairly grim weather did not allow for any additional birds to be seen, no Golden Eagles were going to be flying in the weather on the day. So say it was 'quite bad rain' does not quite cut it!

Ivory Gull.....

What I call a 'proper bird', phwoar!


Dawn today saw me heading down to East Yorkshire with Beadnell Birder and Michael Murphy to hopefully clap eyes on the Little Bustard that had turned up, the first properly twitchable bird since the mid 90's apparently

Little Bustard keeping down...

Breakfast and then we took in the local Med Gulls in Scarborough, which, of course, but on a nice show! A total of 9 birds noted, with one 1st winter and the rest adults. 


An awesome 1st of January, but nothing at Lambton Pond on my visit, turns out though that the Tundra Bean Goose turned up after we had been.