The Occasional Likeness. heinei, or the lack of in the UK

For whatever reason I’ve been thinking about Russian Common Gulls alot recently…The BBRC has this to say about them: 

“we believe that heinei is not safely diagnosable, owing primarily to the difficulty of excluding intergrades with nominate canus. Based on its distribution and movements, it seems likely to be of regular occurrence in Britain and dark-mantled Common Gulls in eastern Britain in winter may well be of this form”

I would basically agree with the above, however if it was likely a regular occurrence, Im pretty sure I would have seen a spot on bird by now. The fact is I have never seen a Russian Common gull in the UK, not even photos of decent 1st winter.

Generally speaking, 1st winter Common gulls in the UK do not look like Heinei, I ve never seen a first winter common gull with faint or no streaking in the head and little or none around the eye combined with a pink base to the bill, its a look that you don’t see here. The majority of 1st winters in Istanbul did look this way. Below are 45 individuals out of a flock of c600 common gulls taken in London in early Febuary. Theres some differring stages of moult on show and and Im sure some are from a good way to the North and North east (Norwegian and Estonian rings are picked up at wanstead on the regular)  this is a pretty decent slice of what they usually look like. 


None really look like this (heinei taken in istanbul ’19 and Cyprus ’16)

BUT! I thought i would post  are closest birds I’ve seen to heinei in the uk, call them ‘lookalikes’ if you will . They may be almost within variation but theyre not perfect so no good i say. I might see one a year might look along these lines and show the following features :

  • Caspian Gull-like neck Shawl
  • Pink Bill base
  • Clean white rump and upper tail, a neatish thin Black band with little or no white in outer web of t6
  • Mostly White underwing, contrasting with dark secondaries
  • A long winged appearance  

Whats really missing, or what makes them not heinei, or not perfect is the lack of :

  • A Clean white or mostly un-streaked head (on all)
  • 2nd generation Scapulars are darker than canus, (in most)

*canus can show all of the above features but in a combination of all of them should indicate heinei. 

Bird 1 wanstead 2016, a little too much head streaking/ smudging around the eye



Bird 2 Greenwich 2017, Again too much head streaking, dull bill base, (nice dark mantle though..)



Bird 3, Wanstead 2019– A little too much head streaking, although nice buff/pinkish shawl. Grey in mantle perhaps too plain and too pale. lacks dark secondaries in underwing (not shown)



Bird 4 Wanstead 2019, better looking about the head, but plain pale scaps not great and this bird showed a small mirror on p10 so I lost interest.


That sums up the best ive seen here and its where I am at the moment with them, maybe in ten years they’ll all be easily identifiable but I am currently yet to see anything that Im convinced is a heinei . Below is a confusingly plumaged 2nd winter bird fro Wanstead last week. Showing much black in the tail and secondaries, also no mirror on p9 and all black outer web of p6, but im sure its a still a retarded canus. Maybe i should be looking at adults!


1st winter Russian (heinei) Common Gulls, Istanbul

Here are some of the Common Gulls I came across in Istanbul. according to the Peter Adriaens & Chris Gibbins paper from Dutch birding a couple of years ago Istanbul was a research location for heinei Common gulls, most of what I was seeing were likely from decent ‘Russian’ stock, they did have that look and showed:

  • A Clean white, mostly un-streaked head (I feel this must be a highly important feature as I am yet to see canus show this!) with Casp-like neck Shawl
  • Pink Bill base
  • Clean white rump and upper tail, a neatish thin Black band with little or no white in outer web of t6
  • Mostly White underwing, contrasting with dark secondaries
  • A long winged appearance
  • 2nd generation Scapulars are darker than canus, many with brown chevrons and markings contrasting with the darker choclately remaining wing coverts, (unless bleached as some were)









The next few birds shows some head streaking but give a similar feel to me in terms of the tones in the wing and mantle, could well be from an intergrade zone or just variation … dunno





The Below photo was taken in Cyprus December 2016, a similar thing going on, long winged, bug eyed thing.


Ive seen a few Candidates in the UK, with one in particular showing almost every feature but the usual let down over here is the lack of an un-streaked almost pure white head which I suppose gives that impression of a small round head with a large eye and the expression seen on the clean headed birds above. According to the BBRC heinei common gulls are something along the lines of ‘probably only scarce’ due to a number of birds ringed in a catch of common gulls being assigned to heinei on biometrics (mainly wing length i think) i’ve never seen one that looks exactly like theyre supposed to in the paper although id hope it was a possibility. Keep looking.




Istanbul Caspian Gulls


2 nights stay in Istanbul for Amy’s birthday. The destination was her choice but I was defiantly pleased as I had an inkling it would be good for gulls.


I’d heard mixed reviews from ‘a good number of caspian gulls’ to ‘none at all!’ and I guess dates have alot to do with that. However in between the multitude of Yellow-Legs I probably saw 40+ Caspian Gulls. There were also a mix of Canus and Heninei Common Gulls, (Blog post for them coming soon) thousands of Blackheaded and one or two Slender Billed gulls.

Despite it being a trip to see the cultural and historic delights of Istanbul and not a Caspian paparazzi outing I managed to photograph a good few birds, Many more were seen just flying around, following boats and sat around in the small harbour at Kadikoy. I didn’t locate the best spot for seeing birds on the deck but here’s selection of the birds I photographed:








This next bird was a delight, following the boat for 5 minutes giving point black views sometimes even too close for the 100-400mm Zoom.















The only other age other than 1st winters were a couple of 2nd winters, this one below with tiny p10 mirrors.


The Sound of a few Caspian Gulls squabbling over bread was music to my ears and I think i’l make an effort to get out that direction again before April arrives.



Adult Bonaparte’s Gull, Erith

The Sunday before last I was driving away from a fairly quiet morning gulling in the Crayford area when I got a text from Dante, “We just found a Bonies, Erith Pier” my heart sunk as i couldn’t go and see the bird and having been there myself at low tide that morning I’d have loved to have been there for the find. Hey ho, and very happy for Rich and Dante picking it up on call! Today was the first chance I’ve had to go ad see it and despite it not been reported for over a week it came to bread at the end of the pier and performed a treat, often being the closest bird and calling on a few occasions.  A truly wonderful bird.




Strong sunlight gave the bird an alien impression when flying into the light, very distinctive translucency in the wing.


Other than that I’ve seen a couple of Caspian Gulls since the last blog post. below a pic of the Polish regular p:985 from Crayford.


…and below some shots from Erith a week a so ago. Firstly German Ringed Caspian from Laßig colony (quite a nice German bird)




Followed by this nice 2nd winter which seems to be new to the area.



and this slim dark 1st winter Casp, which has been seen at Crayford before.



Finally a big ol’ 1w Yellow-Legged Gull. 




Ringed Adult and Repeat Casp at Crayford

3 Hours at Crayford Viridor today with Dante and I closely missed a/the Glaucous Gull which may or may not have been the bird from last weekend. I picked up an Adult Caspian Gull which turned out to be Ringed. Green XUDU from Germany, ringed as a chick in 2013, have a look at the history below.



The only other Caspian Gull was this one which was loafing on jolly farmers and also seen on the roof at Viridor. 



Dante recognised it from my photos of a bird at Dungeness and low and behold… it is the same bird! (dunge pic below)


Another brief but enjoyable trip to the delightful Viridor Recycling centre and its scenically stunning surrounding area.

The day previous to this I visited Laurence Pitcher on the south coast, we had a look at what (at the time) was a suppressed Humes Leaf Warbler,which only really the Sussex locals seemed to know about, despite it being in a busy public park. A new bird for me and very interesting. I couldn’t believe the call and how pied wagtail like it was, no pics as it was a bugger to pin down. Earlier that morning we checked Newhaven Harbour for Glaucous Gulls of which there was a juv on the beach.





Crayford Glaucous plus a handful o’ Casps

Dante and I had 2 hours looking at Crayford this afternoon. We’ve recently been doing the sites on foot, rotating around the 3/4 places to stand and check through the loafing or feeding birds between Viridor, Serco, Jolly farmers and the roofs in between and I feel were getting more covered.  5 Caspain gulls and a juv Glaucous Gull were recorded amoung a huge amount of (very mobile) gulls .


The Glauc, that dante picked up on the Serco roof was really the highlight and was seen in flight a few times but i never really got close.  At Viridor, there was many times more the usual amount of ‘stuff’ on the ‘piles’ and the Gulls were going mad for it. We had three 1st winter Caspians feeding on it all, one of which (not photographed here) I had the week previous but these two below are new birds it seems.



Above and below birds are different individuals, 2 pics of each. They’re both great looking birds in my opinion.



Below is 3rd winter ringed Casp ‘G0UT’ again, who featured in last weeks Caspfest. 


The following pic shows its developing primary pattern despite the shitty photo, it looks great with those nice long grey tongues for a bird this age.


Finally, Polish Ringed regular P895, I’m pretty sure I picked up this bird once or twice in flight during the session and haven’t added to the total incase I’m right


I think Crayford will continue to turn up decent birds from now till april so expect a weekly set of these kind of photos like it or not!


Crayford Caspian Gulls

Dante and I spent 4 hours at Crayford today. There were more birds than I’ve ever seen at the site and a pretty solid/conservative count of 12 Caspian Gulls was recorded between us. Most of course were 1cy birds. (Each of the following photographs depict a different birds unless stated.)





This nice pale, delicately plumaged bird even did a long call and ‘albatross’ (below)…





Dante picked out this adult in flight. A small, presumably female bird. (above and below)


Barry Wright and Andrew Lawson turned up and we had a few more 1st Winters





The above bird is P:895, a Polish ringed 1cy thats seen regularly at the site. We also had this fella below, ‘G0UT’ –  a thames ringed and regular Caspian in the area, seen every so often between London, the Netherlands and even Poland last summer.


A handful of yellow legged gulls (below), an adult Med and a leucistic Herring were also recorded.


We saw several birds in flight but of course its harder to tell if these were new birds to the count or already counted birds moving about. A really enjoyable day!