Wednesday, 24 February 2021

Late Winter Gulls

A quick birdy update...

Finally, a break in the relentless wet and/or cold weather means I have a massive backlog of work that needs attention. This is frustrating, because lots of gulls have been passing through the Axe Estuary in the strong southerlies, and they all need checking. Lunch breaks have therefore been brief, highly focused, and carefully spread through the working day. Checking the several hundred migrant Common Gulls for Ring-billed feels like a necessity, despite the very slim chance of success. Herring Gull numbers are well up too, and they all need sifting. Some of the Lesser Black-backed Gulls are now looking comfortably dark enough for intermedius, and Med Gulls always demand at least a few moments of appreciation, and maybe a photo...

First-winter Med Gull looking very cool

Adult Med Gull approaching summery perfection

Second-winter Med Gull.

Lesser Black-backs are coming through in numbers now, though a steady flow rather than a flood. And there is quite a variety in mantle shade...

Both Lesser Black-backed Gulls of course, but the left hand bird I would happily label intermedius, with a graellsii on the right.

The only oddity I've seen during the week was this bird yesterday...

Initial views

Its bright yellow legs and upperparts shade (a touch darker than Common Gull) suggests Yellow-legged Gull, but I was slightly concerned about its modest proportions. Age-wise it is sub-adult, and in flight showed extensive dark markings in the primary coverts, so I would go for third-winter (4cy). A few more photos...

Just discernible is a p10 mirror - though it is very small - which I think backs up the age diagnosis. A nicely saturated yellow bill, with obvious blackish sub-terminal markings, also fits a third-winter bird.

Nice white tips to p4 and p5, some dark markings in the tertials. Yep, a third-winter, I'm pretty sure.

I have to say, despite the less-than-gargantuan stature, its beautifully clean white head, hefty bill and facial expression do look great for Yellow-legged Gull. I assume it is therefore a female. Look at those legs. Proper yellow!

The Axe Estuary is quite short, but some areas are nonetheless better for gulls than others. And on its day, one of the better spots for large gulls is right in front of what we have always called the 'tram sheds'. There is a raised gravelly strip in the mud here, and for some reason large gulls like to stand on it, or even go to sleep on it. A year ago Steve found the American Herring Gull on it, and I have old photos of Caspian and Iceland Gulls revelling in its stony welcome. This morning there were lots of big gulls loitering in the area, though all standard fare this time. I took a phone snap...

Big gulls crammed on to the gravelly strip. That long, low building is technically called the tram depot, but to me 'tram depot' doesn't sound quite as birdery as 'tram sheds'!


  1. Nothing wrong with that Yellow-legger. Mantle shade and leg colour wrong for a hybrid IMO. Bit gripped to be honest - seen nothing in with them for weeks!

    1. Thanks for the endorsement Steve. Not sure why, but I've developed hybrid paranoia with YLGs, and it's beginning to annoy me a lot!

      Weird isn't it? Hundreds and hundreds (probably thousands) of gulls passing through the Axe this week, and that's the only scarcity among them so far. Mind you, I love the excitement of all this turnover. You just never know... 😊