Friday, 14 February 2020

Beast!

It's 14:17 and there I am, innocently toiling away in Bridport. My phone rings. It's Steve...

'Gav, I've got a candidate American Herring Gull...'

I don't recall much of the 3'16" conversation which ensues. A brief discussion of useful field characters, details of its exact location on the estuary, that kind of thing. It's hard to concentrate. I am a good half-hour drive away. Mercifully I am able to head over immediately.

The stress...oh my life! It is such a long time since I've endured a pukka drop-everything-and-go twitching experience, and I'd forgotten how bad it is. Steve very, very rarely makes a mistake; if he thought it was a very good candidate, it would definitely be one. Torturing me the whole way were memories of times past. Similar phonecalls, similar nail-biting drives, and calamitous dips. Gull-billed Tern...Laughing Gull...the Axe patch has not always been kind to me. And yet, it might stick...it might just stick. Oh ple-e-e-ase let it stick!

Pulling up by the handful of birders already present I was a wreck. Still there? Yes it was. Yes. Yes! YE-E-E-E-SSSSS!!!

Exactly 38 minutes after ringing off from Steve, I took this...

See the black thing in the middle? American Herring Gull!

It was gob-smackingly dark. And big. BIG. And aggressive. And utterly, utterly gorgeous. And here are lots of photos to prove it. First of all, in company with various regular argenteus Herring Gulls. Just cop that massive bulk in comparison! It's a beast! I was struck by how certain poses accentuate the 'collared' effect that separates the paler head from the darker nape and underparts in a similar fashion to Caspian Gull. Note the smooth dark belly and pale-based bill leaning towards Glaucous Gull pattern. It even has a different facial expression to our HGs...


And a few shots highlighting other useful ID features like the strongly barred rump and undertail, the almost wholly dark tail with just a few whitish notches on the outer web of the outer feathers. I didn't manage any decent open wing photos, but don't care...

Big, dark, plain centres to many of the scapulars.

Initially I suspected this was not the same bird which Ian McLean found on West Bexington beach back on 25th January. My memory of the photos told me the scaps were darker, plainer. I was wrong. Here is a comparison of the two birds in a vaguely similar pose...

Despite the almost three-week gap in time, and the differences in resolution, it is easy to pick out similarities in these shots. They are one and the same bird.

In some ways I was encouraged by that fact. If it is still in the general vicinity, it may well appear again, and perhaps establish enough of a routine that a lot more birders might connect with this absolute monster of a gull. I hope so.

Finally, here is a video compilation from this afternoon. Please forgive the occasional background vocalisations. Main commentary by Harry Waite...

10 comments:

  1. The dormant twitcher finally awakens! Nice pics Gav.

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    1. Ha ha! Yes Derek, clearly some urges still lurk! Bizarrely, had it been in Weymouth I wouldn't have gone. It's evidently not the bird alone (much as I wanted to see one) but also the circumstances. Whatever ingredients went into yesterday's potion, the mix was irresistibly overpowering! Thank goodness it doesn't happen often. I couldn't stand the stress!

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  2. Great post, great bird Gav. Very gripped and hoping it stays. Had a strong feeling it would re-surface on the Axe but was of course hoping it would pop up in Exmouth! The Otter bird was erratic in its appearances so reckon you've a good chance of getting it again. Keep up the great work. All the best. Matt

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    1. Thanks very much Matt, really appreciate it. Your Otter bird was such a heartbreaker! I still have your distant photo of that bird - just a big black thing among the few other gulls in the shot. Also Brian's terrific close shots of it. For obvious reasons I'd been reviewing them again just recently! So delighted to finally see one in the flesh so well...

      Really hope it gives plenty more opportunities for everyone who wants to catch up with it to do so. Such a characterful bird.

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  3. Serin ... American Herring Gull ... What would you like Steve to find for you next, Gav? I trust you're paying him a decent retainer. Seriously, though, great pics and video. - Malcolm

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    1. Ha ha! Thanks Malcolm. A Laughing Gull I think, to make up for the one I narrowly missed back in 2007 or so. Nothing too mega though - it's way too stressful!

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  4. Very nice shot and great video, really like your posts about the birds and specially gulls as I am learning about gulls I find the difficult and interesting at the same time.

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    1. Thanks Martin, kind of you to say so. Simultaneously 'difficult and interesting' sums up gulls for me too, and is part of the attraction I think - it's a proper challenge. They can be so rewarding though, and personally I've found they definitely repay any effort you put in to learning how to ID them. Keep at it :-)

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  5. Great vid Gavin; really informative post; hope to find one of these in Derby (fat chance!!)

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    1. Thanks Martin, much appreciated. It was certainly a distinctive bird, and really 'stood out from the crowd'. Not sure if Derby is on its itinerary, but if so I hope you are there when it happens! ;-)

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