Wednesday 29 January 2020

One Two Three

Just occasionally birding presents you with an unforgettable spectacle which absolutely no one could have predicted. Today was one of those times...

On the Axe Estuary, Mediterranean Gull is a regular visitor but never numerous. My highest count is 16, on 19th Feb 2010, and the record stands at around 30 and is held by Tim Wright. A good time for bigger numbers is late winter, when there is usually a bit of gull movement anyway, and all my double-figure counts date from the end of January to late February. So it was nice, but no surprise, to spot four adults on the grassy island N of Coronation Corner just before I came through Axmouth at midday. Arriving at the river there were clearly a lot more gulls than yesterday. Phil was there and called me over. Amazingly he'd counted 28 Meds! As we watched, more were coming up the river in twos and threes, or dropping from above. In a short time we had counted 56. Fifty-six! Ridiculous!

Lunchtime Med Gulls. New arrivals at Coronation Corner.

Having busted the record by a mile, we retired for lunch, Phil heading for home and me for the van. The movement had stopped as suddenly as it had begun, and all the Med Gulls appeared to have settled on the shore with the many Black-headed Gulls present. Mike arrived to see them, but after a bit came over to tell me that he could only find a handful. Sure enough, they'd slipped away. Baffling. Well, that seemed to be that. A brief, inexplicable hour of Med Gull overload. One blink, and we'd have missed it.

A couple of hours later, and a message from Mike: '30+ Meds past Tower Hide and returned to Coronation Corner now'. I too returned to Coronation Corner, quite rapidly, and began counting Med Gulls. I got to 65 before the flock was spooked, some gulls heading off, the remainder settling again. Mike joined me and a fuller count took me to 83. There were many gulls further down the river, too distant to ID, but to be honest I was all counted out. 83 Med Gulls! No big deal further east towards the Fleet and Weymouth, but on the Axe? Totally unprecendented.

A sight to gladden the guller's heart
Just a few of many...

Eventually I headed for home, quite satisfied. Meanwhile, former record holder Tim Wright had become aware of the threat to his title. Girding his loins he set off for the bottom end of the estuary to begin a dogged count of departing birds. Because that's what Axe gulls do at the end of a day - they head downriver and out into Seaton Bay to roost. And can you guess how many he tallied up to dusk? The post title says it: one hundred and twenty three. Tim thereby retains his Med Gull crown. And who knows whether the earlier 56 were among the 123 or not, and how many others escaped attention? Remarkable...

It's funny, we're not talking about anything rare here, or even scarce really, but witnessing a mass arrival of Med Gulls on the Axe Estuary is one of the most unexpected and delightful surprises I've enjoyed in birding. Truly, no one would have predicted it.

There was also a big arrival of Black-headed Gulls and Herring Gulls, plus good numbers of Great Black-backed, but not even a handful of Lesser Black-backed. What on earth was going on? And why? Gulls are just so enigmatic. Love 'em!


  1. Hi Gavin; were the pics taken on your Nikon and if so could it resolve gull rings from say Coronation Corner to the other side of the river??

    1. Hi Martin, yes they are all P900 photos. It easily resolved the colour ring code on a Caspian Gull back in December which was at the bottom end of the river by the tram sheds, but this is the narrowest spot. At Coronation Corner I would say it's probably doable, but I haven't tried it. 2000mm of optical zoom is probably ample magnification, so the resolution potential is going to depend on level of noise and camera shake I guess. Hopefully I'll get an opportunity to give it a go.

    2. Thanks Gavin; I do a lot of phonescoping of gull rings and get some decent results but its such a faff and shutter speed can be a problem when they are preening. I visited E Devon a few days ago and noticed all the ringed Shelducks on Seaton Marshes, I assume the P900 could take decent clears images of those across the estuary?? Anyway , I look forward to viewing some of your shots...nice blog BTW

    3. Many thanks Martin. I'll see what I can do :-)