Tuesday 7 January 2020

Jam is Sweet

My pre-work intentions today involved Sibe Chiff worship, but with the cloud base just above head height and Kilmington WTW therefore totally shrouded, I went straight to the Axe instead. Which turned out more fortuitous than I would have anticipated...

Driving along the estuary I spied very few gulls, and most were small ones. Turning at the bottom end, I pulled up and half-heartedly raised my bins. A handful of freshly-arrived birds were floating along just off the far edge, washing vigorously. One of them looked very interesting, with a clean white head and very Casp-ish feel. I jumped out for a proper look. One or two of the big gulls were already leaving and I realised I was going to get caught out if the Casp-ish one did likewise, so I fumbled around, trying to dig out scope and camera simultaneously, and panicking slightly. It was at this point I noticed some mild trembling. still gets me...

Anyway, enough story-telling. It was a cracking Caspian Gull in 1st-winter plumage, and it remained for about 90 minutes. Best of all, I got to share it - not always an easy thing with an Axe Casp. After about five minutes of photographing it I suddenly realised that Steve might be in his new office, which overlooks this very spot, and gave him a call. He was! Score! Unfortunately no other local birders were able to arrive before it departed.

A few snaps...

The first shot I took, while it was still bobbing about in the water. If you can see what it was that caught my attention, beware, you might be in danger of becoming as sad a gull-victim as I am.
Although much of it is hidden, this is one of the best shots of the tail band. Truly black, sharp, and even with some crisp white tips on it still. Very characteristic. The rest of the tail very sparsely marked.
Portrait shot. Very plain greater and median coverts, with the remains of some light notching on the inner GCs. The mantle and scaps are quite dark for a Casp, with rather strong shaft-streaks and some bold anchor shapes. But that white ground colour to the underparts is nice, and only modestly-streaked/mottled darker on the flanks and belly.
A nicely pale underwing
Dark tertials with diffuse pale tips. Spot on.
Great comparison with similar-aged Herring Gull. A very different look.
Full underwing. Perfect for Casp. Beautifully pale.

All the above were taken with the Nikon P900 of course, but I'm experimenting with 'P' mode, or 'Programmable Auto' at the moment, and had forgotten that I'd left the camera set on it. Even so, I'm very happy with those pics. Apart from the first one, they were all at 2000mm zoom, with the camera supported lengthwise on the scope. The bird was probably 80+ yards away at its closest, and frequently further. Most of the shots here were at the closest range.

The bird was so obliging that I was tempted into trying a video recording. Nothing fancy, I simply pressed the red button on the back of the camera...


I am blown away by the quality! On my laptop it looks amazing. A major asset is the ability to play back your video on the camera's monitor, and extract single frames as a still image. It's like this camera was designed specifically for birders or something...

This post was due to be about X78C, but I think the loyal readers of NQS have suffered enough for one day. Another time.

I can't believe how jammy I've been just lately...


  1. Very nice and much, much more acceptable (less Germanic)than the last one!! All boxes ticked. Keep up the good work. All the best. Matt

    1. Ha ha! Thanks Matt, it certainly looks different to the other one :-)

      I won't say too much on here, but I suspect that the pale underparts and plain coverts are what make this bird look better. But they are only two traits. I would point out that the scaps and (to a lesser extent) bill are not as good as X78C. So when it comes to scoring both birds with the Gibbins et al criteria, I think you'll be surprised at the result...

      No spoilers!!! ;-)

    2. Hi Gav - yes no doubt, and I think that I can safely infer that X78C passes the Gibbins criteria with flying colours, but I still prefer this one by miles. As far as I can see there are no signs of Herring influence in this one. The underwing is fantastic and even the tibia look skinnier than on X78C. Can see nothing wrong with the bill and the scaps appear neatly within expected variation of Caspian, from what I understand. Tertials good, tail good, underparts clean and facial expression spot on. Rich Bonser often features birds on his twitter feed which he refers to as 'German muck' but he still calls them Caspian. This is sometimes confusing, but the inference is of course that they're from mixed German colonies, which X78C most certainly originates from. Anyway, congratulations on finding this stunner - wish I'd seen it. All the very best. Matt

    3. Matt, I'm very grateful to you for taking the trouble to comment on here and offer your thoughts on these birds. Steve too, for his contribution to the discussion. I was a bit complacent about the subject previously I think, and it has pushed me to both remind myself about some things I had read a while back, and to learn a bit more. As Caspian Gull is a Devon 'A' rarity I do appreciate that my cavalier "Have it" approach could be a bit unhelpful to anyone reading this blog, and despite how I might come across on occasion I certainly do not seek to encourage such an attitude in anyone else, especially new or newish birders. So I'll try to be a bit more objective in my next post on this. Thanks again Matt.