Thursday 15 October 2020

In the Absence of Bluetails

Right now a migra-blitz is blasting the east coast and peppering much of this land with highly desirable feathered shrapnel. With all that Sibe vibe I feel rather cheap, offering just a couple of gulls on here. Not even particularly exciting ones either (and yes, that is actually possible) merely interesting.

On Tuesday there was a very big lunchtime skive, involving me and a whole load of Axe Estuary gulls. First up, a striking 1st-winter Yellow-legged Gull. Due to amazing ineptitude it took three or four attempts to find the thing with my camera, and I hadn't even managed to focus when it promptly upped and went. I got this...

Note the many diagnostic features...

I don't see a lot of 1st-winters, so was disappointed to watch it fly away towards the coast. Still, glancing upriver I could see plenty of potential loafing about, so made my way round to the Tower Hide on Black Hole Marsh. It commands a grand view of the upper estuary, and on Tuesday, of a lot of gulls. Fairly quickly I found another one which made me get the camera out. Momentarily I thought it was an adult (or near-adult) Yellow-legged Gull. The upperparts colour looked bang on, and it even had reasonably bright yellow legs. The bill was a bit dull, with some blackish marks, but that's okay on a bird which isn't quite a full adult. However, I was very unhappy with the extent of streaking on the head; typically they are unmarked white, or nearly so. Anyway, I took loads of photos, and in my mind dismissed it as a probable hybrid.

Back home I got out my Spotters Guide to Seagulls, and delved deeply among the Yellow-legged Gull pages of the Gull Research Organisation website. And now I am thinking it might actually be a YLG after all...

Primary moult-wise it fits mid-October YLG perfectly. P8 is fully grown, P9 is roughly same length as P8, and P10 is coming along nicely (that big white mirror visible on the furthest wing is on P10)

It certainly has the 'look'. Butch and beefy, big-billed. Not a huge bird though.

The outer primary coverts are visible here, and complete absence of black means that it is basically an adult bird. The innermost primary with black on it is P5. So wing is currently only as long as P8, and has a few mm to grow yet.

Those legs and feet are really quite yellow. The bill suggests a bit of immaturity though. Typical full-adult bill is bright, buttery yellow with a big red blob extending onto upper mandible too.

Without all the head streaking I wouldn't have thought twice, but maybe I'm being over-cautious. Anyway, dear NQS reader, until Dorset translocates to the east coast, this is what you get in October. In fact, this is what you get until mid-March or later. Gulls.

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