Monday, 25 March 2013

Staffordshire Gull Watching!

Staffordshire is generally one of the best counties within the WMBC region for Gulls, primarily because of the large Gull roosts that appear at the counties larger reservoirs  and for an avid Gull watched like me, Little can beat the Gull roost at Chasewater. So we decided to spend the day Cannock area of the county, taking in the Chase, kingswood and Chasewater.

The day didnt start very promisingly, as untill about 11 am thick fog covered the landscape, meaning we didnt leave untill it had started to burn off. Following this we slogged it around the chase for a few hours, with very little reward, with the only birds seen being a Yellowhammer in the car park and 2 Raven cronking overhead. 10 Roe deer were showing in the valleys, including a single stunning stag!

With half the day gone already, we decided to head to my new found favorite gulling spot of Kingswood lakeside following our sucessful visit back in January. Immidiatly upon driving up the road it was apparent there were hundreds of Gulls on the main pool, and there was around a thousand or so circling over the tip. We had a brief stop around the back of the first factory to have a look through the circling Gulls before moving back to find somewhere to park back near the main pool because some numpty had blocked the entire parking space with a single car!
We found somewhere to park and found a viewpoint of the lake, looking into the sun to have a quick scan through before we move to a better position. It was only a few seconds in before i was rewarded when the darkest juvenile GLAUCOUS GULL was sat on the water among the commoner Gulls! I could see there was a few dog walkers approaching the lakeside, so quickly continued scanning, and only another 20 or so Gulls to the right of the dark juvenile Glauc i picked out an absolutely stunning smack in the face 1st winter CASPIAN GULL! But i again continued scanning without stopping for photos as i knew the birds would fly very soon, and with only 100c Gulls out of the 700+ gone through, i had a few to go. I continued scanning further and further into the reflected sunlight, as far as i dared infact, and on nearing the end of the flock i was struck by a completely white Gull. And i mean WHITE! Back on its huge size was apparent, and when it turned its head showing its massive bi-coloured bill confirmed it to be a 2nd GLAUCOUS GULL!

As the dark Glauc and the Caspian were the closest out of the trio, i aimed the scope back at them, grabbed for my camera and took some record shots into the sun. The dark Glauc was easy to pick out again, because it really was a beast! Easilly one of the larger examples of Glauc you can get, and a very dark one at that, being one of the darkest possible biscuit colours you can get!

I also got some quick video footage of the bird as it swam around. The back-lit image actually emphasizes the pale transparent quality to the birds primary's. Its clear from the birds structure how much of a beast the bird is, with a huge chewing gum pink and black bi-coloured bill, chunky head, and very short primary projection all adding to this image. What a bird!

Scanning back to the right again, i picked up the CASPIAN again, and got a few photos before, as expected, almost 2/3rds of the flock were flushed as the owner of the dog then proceeded to let it then jump into the water.
In my quick picture, you can see the Caspian-esque structure so reminiscent of Caspian, with its long Bill, pale head, fairly dark 'shawl', completely dark eye placed well forward, fairly small, pear shaped head and pale back base colour combined with its large size. All this becomes very distinctive after some studying, all of these amounting to a fairly standard stunning 1st winter CASPIAN GULL.

With a fair chunk of the flock now gone, we now changed our position to view the lake, so that more of the flock was out of direct back light.
And i was overjoyed when scanning through the flock that this absolute stunner shone back at me!

Is there anything other to say that Wow? Again, an absolute BEAST of a GLAUCOUS GULL, it completely dwarthed the LBBG adjacent to it, in every single way.

So, 2 GLAUCOUS GULL, both at completely opposite ends of the spectrum of plumage at 1st winter, and both absolute brutes!
This bird is obviously very very faded, being almost an entirely white bird, but there are a few small clues to the birds true age. Its fully black eye being the most prominent. It is also apparent that the bird had many juvenile type feathers, with darker edges, revealing that the bird is infact a faded 1w rather than an older bird.

I went back to scanning the flock again, and i was amazed when the CASPIAN GULL again jumped out at me, with slightly better light this time.

Additionally to the points mentioned earlier, Caspian Gull also have fairly pale white underwings, which contrasts to most other 1st winter Gulls, and if only to further secure the identification, the bird then decided to have a quick stretch for a video!

CASPIAN GULL is one of those really birder's birds, and probably one that not many of the readers of this blog will be interested in (Well done if your still reading). Gulls are one of those very specialist subjects that a fair few birders shy away from, but even non-gullers have to admit the potential prizes that could become apparent in the thousands of Gulls that arrive here each winter. The sheer complexity of the subject only helping to heighten my enjoyment from these greatly overlooked species.
It does make you wonder just how under recorded birds like Caspian Gull are (Less so for the more obvious white wingers), but recent trends shows the midlands as being one of the best places to catch up with them, so get checking those flocks people!

We started to leave for the Chasewater roost, walking past a few large Gulls sat fairly close of the water. I knew the Caspian had been fairly close into the bank at times, and i was glad to see that one of the closest birds was infact the CASPIAN GULL!
I grabbed the camera and fired of a series before taking some video!

Moving onto Chasewater i was fairly dissapointed to see the Gull flock had again pitched up at the north end, but a section of the flock was within scopable distance. I scanned the entirety of the Reservoir  picking up 19 Goldeneye. We stayed until dark, and the birds did eventually come slightly closer, allowing me to pick up the familiar 2nd winter GLAUCOUS GULL that i saw in January. A distinctively different bird to the other 2 birds, with fairly tatty plumage, which is very 'blodgy', with alternating white and grubby brown patches. A few Yellow-legged gulls were also in, but my biggest prize was the one that completed the 'set', when i picked out the dinky ICELAND GULL, a very small and petite bird, small, cute looking head  and long primary tips. Still a decent biscuit colour on the bird too, just a shame it was too far away and came in too late for any photos.

But as i have said, that completed my 'set' of rare winter Gulls for the day. 3 GLAUCOUS GULL, 1 ICELAND GULL and 1 CASPIAN GULL, as well as all the usuals. It was about as good a winters day gulling as your going to get!


Rob Stokes said...

Hi MB , excellent gull watching session you had there , i have only seen a handfull of Caspian Gulls and really enjoyed your videos of these 1st winter birds especailly the view of the underwing on the first bird

Jason K said...

What a great day you had Craig...Love imm. white wing gulls

javediqbal said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Georgia Locock said...

Hello, great post! Haven't been to Chasewater for a while, must go soon and where did you see the Roe dear?

midlands birder said...

Thankyou all for the comments. I love my Gulls, and white wingers certainly are 'up there' on my favorites.
The Roe deer were on Cannock Chase in Sherbrook valley.