Abit about Wing Moult in first winter gulls

Hopefully readers will find this post useful. Understanding wing covert pattern and the advance of wing moult was a real turning point for me learning about gulls and a really important bit of information for identifying gulls in their first winter plumage.

Yellow Legged Gull numbers are continuing to drop here on the inner London Thames however a few 1st winters and an adult were lurking about on Sunday morning. Below are the 1cy birds showing wing, and in the case of the second bird, tertial moult.

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Wing moult, (shown above as the darker, diamond shaped, white fringed replaced feathers dotted amongst the first generation coverts in the wing) combined with other supporting features is a reliable method for separating 1st winter Yellow Legged and Caspian from Herring and Lesser Black backed Gulls. Supposedly caused by the former two species being born in a warmer climate with earlier breeding season and therefore an older bird by the time we see it here in autumn/winter.

Up until last month I had not heard of 1cy Herring or Lesser Black-backed gulls having replaced wing coverts before spring. The bird pictured below however , photographed in Regents Park London by Dante Shepherd this October, contradicts the rule and has included c40% of its wing coverts in its post juvenile moult.  These replaced feathers are less heavily marked than Yellow in Legged gull, with a pattern recalling 2nd generation Herring gull- type scapulars rather than the seemingly dark centered diamond headed coverts of YLG.

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Flight shot shows tail pattern and large window in the inner primaries, revealing the ID of this interesting bird.

N.B: It should also be said that if a bird doesn’t show any wing moult in its post juvenile plumage it could still be a Yellow-Legged or Caspian Gull, and this method should be used carefully in combination with other features.

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UPDATE! JAN 2020  – After seeing images of this bird as a 2nd, 3rd and now 4th winter Im more inclined to call it a hybrid rather than a decent Caspian Gull. It looked pretty standard German Caspian as a 1st winter as you can see below but as the bird has grown is has developed a few less than desirable features which are more Herring than Caspian;

  • The amount of black on p10
  • short or none existent grey tongues in the longest primaries
  • Paling Iris
  • pale mantle

Below is the post as i wrote it back in 2016:

Today I received the ringing information for a 1cy Caspian Gull found on the foreshore at Thames Barrier Park on the 25th of September. 111 days and 970 km west of its birthplace.

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The bird was rung as a chick at Reddern Germany, near the Polish border on 06.06.16. Hatched into a 80% Caspian 20% Herring Gull colony.  A couple of heavily marked second generation scapulars as well as faintly notched first generation scaps could be an indicator of mixed ansestory at some point, however the replaced feathers are brand new, adding to the bold pattern and as far as i can see are within variation of the species. It’s worth pointing this out if the colony is known to be mixed and its impossible to say for sure. For more pics of this bird click here

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Scillies 2016

Whilst the North East of the country was being showered in Siberian vagrants and rarities, the opposite end of the was slightly behind in avian terms. However a few great birds and many close encounters with species not so often seen by London patch watchers, plus very good company and pretty much constant clement weather made for a great trip.

A surprise find and a first for Scilly! was my personal highlight- this gleaming 1cy Caspian Gull dropped in front of me for a matter of seconds on the rising tide at Porth Killier/Browath, accidentally flushed by fellow house mate and Larid loather Lee Amery along with 30 or so Lesser Black backs towards Gugh, the latter species were present in notably higher numbers the day that the Caspian arrived. The bird wasnt seen again although number of Mary’s birders were high the following day.

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Due to occasional showers and an aching back, i didn’t always have my camera on me, but a few choice birds around the island were showy enough for a few shots now and then.

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Firecrests were seen and heard most days.

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Northern Wheatear

 

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A few Spotted Flycatchers were seen over the two weeks, including this 1st year bird that littered the ground under its perch with Red-Admiral wings.

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At times there were up to 6 Black-Redstarts on Periglis beach, with a couple of lone birds dotted about the island

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Tame old Scilly Blackbird

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Yellow-Browed Warblers were a daily occurence and seemed to fluctuate in numbers during the two week stay,  some days seeing 10+ on Agnes alone.

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There were two Red-Breasted Flycatchers in the Parsonage, a British tick for me! After a few near misses over the years.

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The Eastern Yellow Wag on st Mary’s (above) If accepted will be rarer still than Siberian Accentor in the UK…

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A tame Lapland Bunting was a half hour lying on my belly spent well.

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The last chance saloon!  this Red-Flanked Bluetail gave myself, Laurence Pitcher, Graham Gordon and Lee Amery (finder) a private show away from the crowds on our final day. Stoked for Lee for finding one of the last few BBRC Bluetails as it comes off the list this year apparently.

Just before the news of the Bluetail broke, the beginning of a long and widespread story began. Laurence Pitcher and I were handed a dead ‘Yellow-Browed Warbler’ by Islander Fran Hicks that had flown into his window at the lighthouse, the crazy story goes on from there and can be read in full here

A great two weeks away from the patch, although I hardly felt away from it with fellow Walthamstow enthusiast David Bradshaw being an October feature on st Agnes for many years.   Lovely people and lovely birds even the ones i missed out in this quick summary. But i’ll be spending more time year on this unique Island for years to come.

Thames Juvenile Yellow-Legged Gull, ringing recovery HD232

 

 

I came across this small mucky looking Yellow-Legged Gull the other day on the Thames foreshore at North Greenwich. The ring itself being yellow made me think of recent photos of rung Caspian Gulls and how this bird may have come from that part of the world rather than other young YLG ring recoveries I’ve heard of being from southern France along the Mediterranean .

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It was rung as an unfledged Pullis at Neuenburger See in Switzerland on the 11th of May.  Its so interesting to get these further afield recoveries, especially so close in date and far in distance.  Its quite an atypical looking, Small bird,resembling Lesser black backed in a few features but looking nice having moulted 85% of it scapulars and window in inner primaries etc.

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Numbers of Yellow Legs seem to have dropped a little at Greenwich in the last two visits, and I’m still to see a Caspian gull this season. The remaining birds however are looking beautiful as they approach first winter plumage.

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The below bird was only seen in flight, taken at first for a juvenile YLG, closer inspection of the image showed it to be a 2CY bird.  The iris is starting to become pale, P9 and P10 are growing, all wing coverts and tertials replaced as well as tail and adult grey feathers coming through in a few scaps.

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Below is a Juvenile YLG in a similar flight position for comparison, taken in Marseille in Early August.

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Spotted Flycatchers, Walthamstow

 

 

 

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We struggle for good autumn migrants on the patch. Wanstead seems to pull in all the Redstarts and Pied Flys.  So when David, Paul and Lol found a Spotted Flycatcher in the sheltered area along the central path, I made sure I paid it a visit the following day. Surprisingly it was still there and joined by two others. Rarely sitting out in the open the birds stayed within cover for most of the time I watched them.

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David had seen a Wheatear on the Lockwood and a few common warblers, as well as five or so Swift feeding over Banbury.  A group of mostly juvenile Gulls on the causeway between number four and five reservoirs held a nice Yellow-Legged and Great Black-backed, both juveniles. The Yellow Leg stayed out of camera range and is the third juvenile I’ve seen this year.

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Juvenile Great-Black back

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Goldcrests seem to have bred on in or near the pub carpark this bird and several juveniles were in a tit flock nearby the other day.

Falsterbo, Sweden

I returned on Monday evening from four nights at Falsterbo Bird Observatory, southern Sweden.  Known to many as a unique destination for raptor migration with hundreds sometimes thousands of raptors moving through each day around this time of year.

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Honey Buzzard

Early mornings were soundtracked by constant Tree Pipits and Thunbergi Yellow Wagtails wth high flying flocks of Common Crossbills and occasional Tree Sparrows too.  Sparrow Hawks were all over the place during the hours of daylight.

The day before we arrived was the first ‘Big Day’ of the season, many birds would have crossed the sea already and things were fairly quiet during our stay, however almost day long sky watching sessions were the most rewarding I’ve ever had, with hundreds of Common and Honey Buzzards, many Red kite, Ospreys, Marsh Harriers and the Local White Tailed Eagles putting in a handful of appearances over the peninsular. A Flock of 32 White Storks were also a perk, White Stork is a relatively good bird for Falsterbo.

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Common Buzzard

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Juvenile Honey Buzzards (above)

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We were fairly unlucky with the weather and lack of big numbers. However a Juvenile Pallid Harrier, picked up at Hunting height on the Heath was ample reward for the few periods of empty sky.

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These birds are coming through the peninsular almost everyday in late August and early September. This individual was mobbed by a Hobby and gained height rapidly allowing these distant record shots.

Passerines were never thick on the ground. A couple of Pied Flys, few Redstarts, many Spotted Flycatchers (or Grå Flugsnappare in Swedish, a bird that many houses have historically incorporated nesting opportunities within the architecture, as they eat Mosquitoes, Love that) Willows and a Wood Warbler,  and this first year Red-Backed Shrike.

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Nutcrackers put in a few appearances , with three birds first seen from the mound. The same, possibly, three were seen again over the heath and then another two so possibly five birds were around in total.

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Other highlights were a couple of Juvenile Caspian Gulls amongst the few Argentatus Herrings on the point, two Caspian Terns low and calling aswell as wood and Curlew Sandpipers, summer plumaged Grey Plover, Spotted Redshaks…etc.  Basically great views of great birds, a general good vibe, great people and I will certainly return.

Thanks To Laurence P and Paul C for good birding and great company

Youth and Movement

 

With it being the middle of August, I have started walking around the Lockwood before work. So far the only notable migrants being many Willow , and a couple of  Garden Warblers, a few Yellow Wags this morning and a trickle of Swifts.  Although AW had a Spotted Flycatcher in the Water works and Twitter tells me that PW has just found a Pied there too.

Yesterday whilst scanning the Bomb crater field for a returning Whinchat, One of three Juvenile Kestrels landed on the fence two meters in front me.

 

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After blasting it with the camera I spent five or so minutes sat down, watching it through bins. It felt good, quite a memorable bit of birding I guess.

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A deranged dog eventually flushed it.  

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Willow Warbler

Thames Juvenile Yellow-Legged Gulls

 

 

An evening walk with Amy along the thames, from the O2 eastwards, with Juv YLGs on my mind and mudlarking on hers, was fruitful for both.

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The right-hand bird is a brute, classic (probably male), it was joined by the nice contrasty bird on the left, which, although smaller, shares the features i look for in a Yellow-Leg, although I didnt see the open wing or tail pattern. The tertials have a slight notching to them, which is acceptable and well within range for Michahellis and this patterning is limited to the tips.

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Evening light looked great but ruined this photo in a way… Such a great tail pattern. I also noted a pair of Oystercatchers and a single common sandpiper along the water’s edge.

Juvenile Yellow-Legged Gulls, Eastbourne

 

It was booked weeks before, and much looked forward to. A trip to Visit Friend Laurence P on the south coast in an attempt to find some of the first arriving juvenile Yellow-Legged Gulls on the year.

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Our first site drew a blank, but a small boating lake within Princes Park, Eastbourne was host to this beast.  Presumably a Male, the bird gave incredibly close views and we got through two loaves of mighty white pretty quickly.

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The bird was quite worn on the tertials, most scaps and the tail, which seemed to be slightly stuck together, perhaps a substance picked up on route from the Med, as a ringed bird in the same place a few years back from Perpignan would suggest.

The following day we returned to the same spot to find a different bird. Smaller, slightly less worn and just as generous with its proximity.

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