1st winter Yellow-Legged Gulls, Venice

Another work trip, this time fiddling with some Art at Venice Biennale. I had the odd hour during lunch or before work to spend some time photographing local larids. This post, inspired by one of my favourite of Chris Gibbins blog posts from a few years back, will hopefully be just as helpful as a reference point and display of variation within Yellow Legged Gulls as post in the link was for me with Caspian Gulls. Dont give a shit about gulls??? Fear not you can scroll right down to the bottom and there are some Black Redstarts and Black-Necked Grebes thrown in too!

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Just a load of images really, showing variation throughout the plumage tracts and structures of these first winter birds. You’ll notice some birds with no replaced wing coverts, showing that it really can be 0-100% of coverts included in the post juvenile moult.

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The next bird showing a ‘softer focus’ scapular pattern – closer to that of Caspian.

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Folowed by a really grainy contrasty 2nd generation scapular and covert pattern.

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The below birds 2nd generation coverts are taking on the adult grey.

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The bird behind the first winter here looks quite Caspian like in this shot, the following image shows 2nd winter Yellow Leg, bit of a Caspy looking one in my opinion.

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The following pale bird had me thinking I’d found a Herring gull there for a moment, Ive never seen a YLG with such a soft/delicate scapular pattern. The covert moult and tail pattern rule out Herring for me but certainly not how I like my Yellow legs! I think fading and wear are at play here. Note the funny pattern on the replaced central tail feather.

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This spread wing and tail shot nicely segways into some tail pattern variation.

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Another little anomaly that I noticed were 2(!) 2nd winter Yelow Legs with a faint p10 mirror. The holy texts say this is extremely rare and really only a Caspian / sometimes argentatus feature. Just goes to show- its never one feature alone with gulls!.

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Not a yellow-Legged gull i know but a second winter Med Gull with a particularly lovely primary pattern.

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I couldn’t not post this. A great looking adult, pretty much all of the adults I was seeing had this slightly larger white tips to the primaries than i’ve traditionally expected. Looks amazing though! Some with complete white tip to p10.

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Thats probably going to be more of less it from me regarding Yellow-Legged Gulls untill the 2nd winter birds begin getting saturated bills and eye rings around March…Love that!

There was abit of waiting around during the day so just outside where i was working I could see multiple Black Redstarts feeding on the berries of a huge Virginia Creeper growing in a little courtyard. There were up to 11 birds at one point, all different ages/sexes, almost like a tit flock they would come and go during the day.

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The following bird seems to be a first winter Male, note the moult contrast across the greater coverts, the new black shiny inner feathers contrasting with the browner juvenile outer feathers,also all median coverts are new. The face pattern is coming in and more of the wing is second generation. It seems more advanced than they often are at this age in the uk. Probably (similar to gulls) as they’re born earlier than birds from northern/central Europe. therefore have longer to develop.

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One last thing. Venice is full of Black-necked grebes, must have seen 100’s from boat trips to and from the airport

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Abu Dhabi Nov ’17

I was debating on whether or not to organise the birds in this post taxonomically or not . However if I were to do so the first 20 or so photos would depict a load of scruffy eastern Gulls, so to keep peoples attention I thought id just write in whatever order they pop into my head.

12 Days away with work and a lot of spare time in the mornings and late afternoons. Birds were concentrated into any ‘green’ space, with a racecourse and a golf course being the best areas in the city.

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Most birding was done on Abu Dhabi island itself however a day trip out with Abu Dhabi resident Oscar Campbell into much more remote and spectacular habitat was a better reflection of the regions avi fauna.

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Wheatears were abundant and performative. Six species seen during the trip the most abundant were Isabelline and Desert…

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Isabelline Wheatears (above) and Desert Wheatears (below)

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In refernce to Desert Wheatears, I remembered reading that Asian Desert Warblers have a habit of ‘tailing’ Desert Wheatears and funnily enough I found one of these handsome sylvids doing exactly that!

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Both Red-tailed and a female Variable Wheatear were on a private site with no photogrpahy, which is a shame as they were all fantastic and very unfamiliar.  Perhaps the rarest for the region Was a Northern Wheatear (below) that i ran into on the Sadyaat Beech golf course (apparently only one or two get recorded on passage each autumn on Abu Dhabi island.)

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My personal Favourite of the trip, however were Hume’s Wheatear, with a couple of birds seen in the more remote areas visited, those glossy black upper parts head and wings looked amazing in the bright light.

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Shrikes were fairly widespread with Durian (Below) being the most common, Turkestan Shikes usually come through earlier than my dates but one or two were noted at the Dairy farm by the Omani Border, another place with no photography. Fair enough! the following are all Durian

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Steppe (above) and Southern (below) Grey Shrikes were also seen and heard in most places

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five species of Lark were noted with Crested the most populous.

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A Hoopoe Lark was a notable record for the island itself in Autumn and looked incredible on the Golf course, giving an idea of what one would look like if it turned up on a British south coast Golf course. This was actually one of the most amazing birds I’ve ever seen, didn’t expect to go so bonkers over it before seeing it but it blew my mind.

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Saw a couple of Short-toed larks (below) between the racecourse and the Golf course as well as hearing mostly the odd flighty Skylark .

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Desert Larks were seen high up in the Wadi’s (dry mountain riover beds) in groups of up to 15 birds. excellently camouflaged with their subtle ‘Chup’ or ‘Chilp’ (as i noted) calls giving them away

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On this Occasion The Desert Larks were sharing the dry mountain habitat with a singing Southern Grey shrikePlain Leaf Warbler and Scrub warbler as well as a handful of Striolated Buntings

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Another abundant group of birds were pipits. With Tawny and (Coutelli) water pipits the most abundant although there were large numbers of Red throated Pipits on the golf course rough areas, they shared this habitat with about 6/7 Richard’s Pipits which remained difficult to photograph on the deck!

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Richard’s Pipit and Tawny Pipits (Below)

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Red Throated Pipits (below)

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White Wagtails were predictably the most common Wagtails, most were stunningly crisp, with totally white flanks and more extensively white tipped Greater Coverts, I half arsedly assumed these birds to be eastern Alba, with reference to geography too i should add.

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also in small numbers (perhaps 4 seen over the trip) were the subspecies Masked wagtail (below) Moticilla Alba personata, 

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Both Yellow (above) and Citrine (below) Wagtails were present on the Golf Course, often calling one after another which was useful. In terms of yellow apparently Thunbergi are the most common on spring passage but good Beema and Feldegg also fairly regular… I also found a first for the UAE follow this for details.

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Laughing Doves were everywhere…

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Little Green Bee eaters were perched around most half built buildings…

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As were Pale Crag Martins…

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Lawns and roadside turfed areas usually had a Hoopoe or two about…

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This Lesser Kestrel was apparently late for the region and shows much more grey/blue in the coverts than the western-most populations. as well as being perhaps a shade darker about the head and underparts. Certainly not to the extent of ‘Pekinsis’ but surely from somewhere more easterly. Interesting bird

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Mushrif Palace Gardens are a well known wintering site for Oriental Honey Buzzard, 2 birds were seen around the site including a bird i accidentally flushed off the deck. The below adult female gave close views.

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I also wanted to include a shot of it higher up to reference more regular views of large birds of prey. Quite distinctive, but still ‘Honey-ish’ although noticeable more eagle-like in active flight

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Other Raptors included many Marsh Harriers seen almost anywhere, Ospreys similar, Common Kestrels and a both an adult and a Juv Greater-Spotted Eagle, seen in poor light although fairly close, circling with Marsh Harriers pre roost at a mangrove site near Dubai…

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…This last site held a great number of herons etc fishing in an outfall. Grey, Purple, aswell as Great, western Reef  (below) and Little were abundant. Glossy Ibis too in a 30+ strong flock.

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I didn’t spend lots of time looking for waders as the better sites for them were harder to get to and to tidally dependant for my time but a quick trip with Oscar to so e habitat one evening produced things like Black winged stilts, Lesser Sand and Kentish Plover (both pictured below) of interest.

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The golf course had the odd Little stint and Curlew Sandpiper as well as many Stilts, Greenshank and Redshank , and of course the numerous Red-Wattled Lapwings as well as things like the below Temminck’s Stint, But wasn’t the best or most flattering place to photograph shorebirds. Update! I was reminded today how I didn’t mention Crab Plover in this post, Well we saw a good number of them in one tidal mangrove site, Great birds, how could i have forgotten!

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A walk along the edghe of a large mangrove site in Abu Dhabi was poorly timed oin terms of the tide, with hopes of a close Terek/Marsh Sandpiper or similar crushed i made do with this greenshank and Whimbrel.

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The waterways and coast line were patrolled by the odd Caspian Tern, heres a terrorfying looking adult.

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GullBilled, Saunders and both Lesser and GreaterCrested terns were also seen. The latter two at a site Oscar and I visited together, were 5 arctic Skuas were briefly seen harrasing GreaterCresteds also a small party of Red Necked Phaleropes.

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Lesser and Greater Crested Terns

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Greater-Crested Terns

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This site also revealed a single adult Sooty Gull, a Gull Tick!

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This gets us onto the gulls nicely. The go to species in the UAE is Steppe GullLarus Cachinanns Barabensis – totally similar 1st win plumage to Caspian Gull,”best ID’d on structure at this age”. being thicker legged, more horizontal stance , shorter thicker bill etc. Other ages relatively easy due to mantle tone and emerging primary pattern etc heres some examples in ascending order of age.

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Heuglins Gulls were probably the next most numerous, 1cy birds being further behind in terms of moult, with the below bird almost complelty Juvenile plumage.

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and here’s a second winter Steppe alongside a similary aged Hueglins

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With a smaller number of Caspian Gulls present

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Theres lots ive missed out through just wanting to get the post over with but I’d love to go again. Many Many thanks to Oscar Campbell.