Tag Archives: Mediterranean Gull

Gulling the Thames

Amongst the gulls returning to London from coastal breeding grounds, there have been a few gems recently. Most notably a Bonaparte’s Gull that was seen over several days at Crossness. But there have also been a few returning Yellow-legged Gull as well.

It was mainly this latter bird that I went out looking for this morning, starting with the Thames Barrier park at low tide.

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Thames Barrier at low-tide

There were large numbers of Black-headed Gull spread pretty evenly along the exposed shoreline (I suppose they don’t really need to huddle together in this heat). There were maybe high double digits of Lesser Black-backed Gull, low double digits of Herring Gull, and a small handful of Common Gull.

It was soon pretty clear there were no Yellow-legged Gull, so I focused on scanning the small gulls. I got lucky and found an adult Mediterranean Gull, always nice to see in summer plumage with its true black head (unlike the choclatey-coloured hood of the mis-named Black-headed Gull). The Med Gull was quite close in, but by the time I had got my camera out and ready, it must have flown. As I packed up and left, I saw one more juvenile Med Gull way down river in the distance so I took a grainy phone-scope shot for my records (and to inflict on my long-suffering readers).

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Juvenile Mediterranean Gull (Larus melanocephalus)

By the time I had driven down the road and walked the rather epicly long path down to Creekmouth, the tide had come in rapidly and there was a much-diminished beach.

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Roding entering the Thames at Barking Creekmouth with the flood barrier

I checked the Black-headed Gulls floating around the Roding outflow, but couldn’t pick out any narrow-billed Bonaparte’s candidates, or any more thick-billed Med Gulls, so I turned my attention to the Beckton Sewage Works behind me.

It isn’t easy birding the sewage works but it had good numbers of gulls…

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Beckton Sewage Works

That view above is not typical or illustrative of reality. I managed to take it because my iPhone pressed up against the fence is small enough to get a good view, but a more accurate representation of what I was looking at is:

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I’m not sure quite why the fencing needs to be so narrow and restrictive

The pools in the photo are quite sizeable, and, at 40,000 square metres (Google Maps has allowed me to measure them), they are a third bigger than Heronry Lake on my local Patch.

Creekmouth and Beckton

I quickly found what I was hoping for on the water as one bird stood out quite well, despite the blurry distortions of peaking through such narrow meshing. It was a fair distance away so I didn’t get any good shots, but at least I had found a Yellow-legged Gull.

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Juvenile Yellow-legged Gull (Larus michaellis)

As it swam about in the treatment pools, it helpfully aligned up with a Herring Gull to give a better sense of size and bill thickness.

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The morning wasn’t all about gulls, a pair of Peregrine performed for me and another local birder who I bumped into, Linnet and Grey Wagtail danced about on trees and posts respectively, and I got some stunning views of Reed Warbler which popped through the reeds and fencing to watch me walk past.

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Eurasian Reed Warbler (Acrocephalus scirpaceus)

When both laziness and labour pay off

On being lazy
This weekend was going to be about butterflies again. I started early on Saturday morning walking purposefully towards Wanstead Park in the hope of finally clinching White-letter Hairstreak.

Walking through ‘School Scrub’ and then up Evelyn’s Avenue towards Bush Wood, I glanced to my right at the pitches and saw a large number of Black-headed Gull loafing. Only recently back from their breeding territories, I had a quick scan through these early-ish returners. Out of 98 birds, I spotted a small handful of juvenile birds and so WhatsApped my patch-colleagues the news but walked on.

My mind was fixed on hairstreaks, not gulls, but Tony’s reply asking about juveniles made me turn back, just as a jogger and dog put many of the gulls in the air. Some flew and about 40 were left with seemingly no juveniles. I spotted one remaining right at the very back of the flock. As I walked towards it, I started to spook the closest gulls which seem less tolerant than they get later in the year, so I fired off a few shots and sent a back-of-camera shot to the guys.

Again I walked on. But, something niggled me. Here is how it played out on our WhatsApp group…

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Through my slapdash approach and my impatience to be somewhere else, I forgot to actually check if my juvenile Black-headed Gull was actually a Black-headed Gull at all. It wasn’t. It was a textbook juvenile Mediterranean Gull instead. Tony had not only prompted me to go and look at the juveniles, but he was also faster at concluding the identity of my bird. Without him, I wouldn’t have got this record shot of my first Med Gull for the year.

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Juvenile Mediterranean Gull (Larus melanocephalus)

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Just to prove I do know what a juvenile Black-headed Gull looks like (Chroicocephalus ridibundus)

On labouring hard
Walking around in the sweltering heat is hard work at the moment. I seem to have a perpetual ruck-sack-shaped sweat-patch on my back and shoulders (too much info?) and beads of sweat carry suncream into my eyes.

When I finally reached the elm trees in Wanstead Park where I fancied White-letter Hairstreak may show-up, I was already very hot, slightly de-hydrated, and rather worn out, but I had dragged Nick along to help me look for quarry.

Hairstreaks are hard! They are small, rather nondescript, some of them look very similar, and they flit about restlessly high up in trees. We watched hairstreak after hairstreak flit about and failed to get enough identification on the majority of them to discern between Purple and White-letter. Occasionally one would settle for long enough to ID as a Purple Hairstreak.

Eventually, after Nick’s patience was undoubtedly wearing thin (he has seen one before), we got enough on one of the elm-settled specimens to positively ID as my first patch White-letter Hairstreak. It may be ragged with some of orange and ‘W’ missing, but it is still my first photo of this patch-tick for me.

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White-letter Hairstreak (Satyrium w-album)

So, whilst I didn’t expect the weekend to be about birds, I got patch-year ticks in the form of Mediterranean Gull and Common Tern and also got a good summer record of five passage Lapwing (probably failed breeders).

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Common Tern (Sterna hirundo)

And with the patch tick White-letter Hairstreak, following last week’s tick with the Silver-washed Fritillary, this hot spell in early July is being more productive than I could have hoped. Especially, when there are bonuses like this beauty…

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Elephant Hawk Moth (Deilephila elpenor)

Smash and grab birding

Sometimes birding can be an almost spiritual experience: alone in the wild; seeking; observing; experiencing. And sometimes it is… err… not.

I had little time for the patch this weekend, with other commitments. But when our resident larid enthusiast, Tony, found a Mediterranean Gull on Alexandra pond (the first since the likely demise of our annually-appearing old timer, Valentino), or rather when I woke up to see that Jonathan had just seen it on the Western Flats (barely a skip and hop from my front door), I thought I had better check it out.

I found a large flock of Black-headed Gull and Common Gull all facing into the strong wind on the football pitches, and immediately began a thorough scan. I adjusted my position several times to get better views of some of the obscured gulls and scanned again, and again. Despite Jono having seen the Med Gull just half an hour or so before I arrived (and posting photographic proof), I could not find it.

My best find in the large flock was a colour ringed BH Gull. There is something exciting about ringed gulls – to get a sense of the age and provenance of a bird. Was it ringed in Norway, or Germany, or even further afield? When I finally managed to get enough of a view of the markings, I was very quickly a little disappointed. This particular gull, let’s call him ‘2LBA’ now, has already been recorded at least twice on the patch before (once in March of last year, and then again just a few months ago in December), and from Tony’s list, I could see that it was ringed in the exotic location of Fishers Green… just a few miles up the road in June 2015.

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Black-headed Gull (Chroicocephalus ridibundus) ringed ‘2LBA’

Tony advised me via a certain restricted character social networking platform to ‘try Alex’. I was hungover, I had a meeting I needed to get to on the other side of London, it was very windy. I questioned how much I wanted a Med Gull on my patch year list. But I went. Right across the whole flipping patch in search for this gull. When I got to Alex, my heart sank, most of the gulls seemed to be circling high in the wind and the rest were spread all over the donut-shaped water and the muddy beaches. It would take a lot of time to scan everything, and I did not have time. To cut this rather lengthy story much shorter… I failed. Gave up. Walked back in the wind, and raced off to my meeting.

Rather like the great Bill Murray in ‘Groundhog Day’, I woke up this morning to more alerts on my phone telling me that the Med Gull was still out there. On the Western Flats again, where it had last been seen, and where I felt sure I had thoroughly checked the day before. I had even less time than yesterday to find it, but I shot out once again, with a buddhist chant on my determined lips – more as a superstitious good luck charm than any profound spiritual incantation. By the time I arrived, today’s ‘finder’, Bob, had already left. Yet again, there was a – slightly smaller this time – flock of grounded gulls. But this time, after a matter of seconds of scanning, I saw it: Initially its smudgy mid-moult head was turned back and its distinctive bill was hidden in its plumage in roost. But its clean, pure white wing-tips were unmistakeable. Before long the big red bill was out and we exchanged glances, I rattled off a couple of distant pics and I let the gulls be.

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Mediterranean Gull (Larus melanocephalus)

If that was ‘tick and run’ birding, then an hour or two later I descended into a ‘smash and grab’ exercise. Jono – looking for the Med Gull again – stumbled across a friendly female Red-crested Pochard on Jubilee pond. With my wife and mother waiting in the car, I quickly dashed out around the pond to grab a couple of pics. I was struck by the difference in behaviour between this female – without any fear of humans and clearly looking to be fed – and the male I found last year on Heronry pond that stayed well away from everyone. Perhaps they were both feral. Perhaps this female was, and the male was a true vagrant visitor. I doubt we will ever know. What I do know, is that my slow-moving year-lists increased by ‘two’ today.

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Red-crested Pochard (Netta rufina)