28 January 2014

Nelson's Gulls in Pembrokeshire

Nelson's Gull was first described by H W Henshawe in 1884 and named after the Alaskan ornithologist Mr E W Nelson, who collected the first specimen. Nelson's Gull was first considered a separate species but is now universally agreed to be a hybrid of Glaucous x Herring Gull. It is the commonest hybrid gull on the Eastern Seaboard of the USA so it should be no surprise that it turns up in Pembrokeshire. It is surprising that so few have been recorded, the only candidate before this year being a bird seen at The Gann by Graham Rees in 1984.

With a fine run of 'White-winged Gulls' in Pembs this winter, including no less than five Kumlien's Gulls, it was no surprise that Nelson's Gull has also been recorded. The first, a 2nd or 3rd calendar year bird was found by James Garside in horse paddocks at Simpson's Cross on the 23rd January. This was a big bird, very like Glaucous Gull in size, with a bill approaching adult in pattern, dark eye and with clear buff grey-brown primaries. The bird had a feel of Glaucous about it in bulk and overall plumage tones. It seems most likely a 1st winter but it's possible that the flight photo shows some pale 2nd winter feathering in the wing coverts.

All photos James Garside
I found the second bird at Newgale (of course) on January 27th and quick flight views suggested an immature Glaucous Gull until the dusky primaries became apparent. The bird was very pale, certainly as pale as a young Glaucous Gull. Then as I got better views and some half-decent photos so the extent of dark markings in wings and tail became apparent. The dusky primaries, secondary bar and tail band all suggest Herring Gull whereas the bill, with pink base and 'dipped-in-ink' black tip, overall pale tones and size suggested Glaucous Gull.

The question has to be asked about the possibility of leucism but this seems unlikely. The primaries and secondaries and tail would be creamy I suggest, the bird is too contrastingly pale and dark. The same for the Simpson's Cross bird to a lesser extent. The rather 'patchy' appearance suggests a 3rd calendar year bird, the back seems to be mixed with paler, adult feathering. This also seems to be a Glaucous feature since the darker grey of Herring would be easier to distinguish than it is here. The bird seems to be well beyond the range of a pale Herring Gull. Photos here:

All photos Mike Young-Powell

The third bird of this exceptional period was found by Clive Hurford at Freshwater West on 28th of January. Clearly a second calendar year bird and a bulky beast! showing the typical Glaucous bill. Dave Astins noted the dark overall appearance, especially the underparts, head tail and rump and suggested a strong American Herring Gull influence. It seems pretty certain to me that he's right and given the statement I made earlier about Nelson's being the commonest hybrid gull on the east coast of America and the appearance of all three birds at a time when five Kumlien's Gulls have been seen in the County, it may well be that all three birds are Glaucous x American Herring crosses, just with different combinations of genes and (at least for the Newgale bird) a different age. It's been an exciting time for Gulls hereabouts just lately. The Freshwater West bird here:

All photos Clive Hurford

25 January 2014

Scandinavian Rock Pipit at Fishguard

Went for a walk on the Outer Breakwater at Fishguard Harbour today, organised by the Trust and led by John Steer. We couldn't find any Snow Buntings but a reasonably close Great Northern Diver was good value along with 8 Purple Sandpipers. There were 3 or 4 Rock Pipits, one of which was noticeably pale in flight with apparently clean white outer tail feathers. I managed to get a few poor pictures of the bird and came to the conclusion it was a Scandinavian Rock Pipit (Anthus petrosus littoralis). The others were pretty much bog standard British petrosus.

  • The flight views were interesting and once seen on the deck, the clean ground-colour of the underparts was still clearly seen and the white outer tail (T6 basically white though maybe not on the basal inner web and maybe a touch of white on the tip of T5 but hard to be sure). 
  • The underpart streaking was diffuse as for Rock Pipit but confined to the breast and rear flanks and appearing (at least relatively) neat against the pale ground. 
  • The eye-ring and supercilium were strong, whitish, though affected by angle of view and posture. 
  • There were markedly strong pale fringes to the great and median coverts, appearing as strong whitish wing-bars.
  • The upperparts appeared brownish, particularly on the flight feathers with a slightly greyer tone to rump, back and mantle, the latter diffusely streaked darker. The contrast depending again on light and posture.
  • The bill was quite strong with a noticeably yellow base (particularly lower mandible) and blackish tip.
  • The legs were somewhat variable but most often appeared a rather soft pale pink.
  • The call was as for Rock Pipit.
In certain circumstances of light etc the bird could appear more like spinoletta than petrosus. Pictures here:

12 January 2014

Newgale Gulls

As a result of the extraordinary series of storms which powered their way across the Atlantic in late December and early January, the shingle bank at Newgale was breached and the marsh flooded. The road was closed by piles of shingle and the Duke of Edinburgh Pub became a temporary island. The flooded marsh, for a period, held an amazing amount of water and huge numbers of Gulls bathed and roosted there.

The Marsh and The Duke of Edinburgh

It later became apparent that the gulls were being drawn by the quantities of shellfish and worms scoured from the seabed and deposited on the beach.

The first rare gull was found by Dave Astins on 31st December - a juvenile Glaucous Gull which was roosting on the marsh

Photo D J Astins

and this was soon followed by this near adult (buff markings to coverts/scapulars) picked up, once again, on the Marsh by Clive Hurford the next day

Photo M Young-Powell
I picked up this next bird on the 8th while looking over the Marsh, sheltered from the howling gale beside MM Carter's Hardware shop. Though this photo of the juvenile Kumlien's Gull was taken the next day by Bob Haycock, feeding at the North end of the beach. A regular gathering place at the mouth of the Brandy Brook.

Photo B Haycock

A dark bird, consistently in the third quarter of the Hampton Scale and consequently close to Thayer's Gull. 

I counted 18 Mediterranean Gulls on the Marsh one time but I'm sure there were many more. An adult and second winter here.

Photo M Young-Powell

The 10th January was the hightlight of this period to my mind, with lots of gulls on the Marsh and at the North end again but even more in huge groups all along the beach. The near adult and juvenile Glaucous Gull was joined by a second juvenile. 

Photo M Young-Powell

Dave Astins and I had a great morning, Dave picking out this juvenile Iceland Gull which provided a nice pallid contrast to the juvenile Kumlien's. The hybrid Mediterranean Gull x Black-headed Gull first seen yesterday is in front.

Photo B Southern

Later in the afternoon Mushaq Ahmad joined us and he picked up a new Kumlien's Gull, this time a smart adult which showed next day also at the North end of the beach.

Photo M Young-Powell

Photo D J Astins

The numbers of gulls had dropped dramatically on the 11th with good weather and even more so the next day but still Arfon Williams managed to find a second winter Ring-billed Gull. Hard to be certain but maybe drawing the curtain down on quite a drama.

02 January 2014

Siberian Chiffchaffs revisited

The Siberian Chiffchaffs (3?) at Monk Haven noted in my previous post have proved to be good value through the New Year period. I revisited Martin Garner's excellent papers on Siberian Chiffchaffs last night and read through the associated comments and discussion. I noticed that one bird, thought to be tristis was played a tristis song recording to attempt to get a response. Dave Astins and I had tried playing the call at Monk Haven but no response but why not try the song? Therefore, today, Kathy and I visited the sight and played tristis song from just outside the main gates of the WWTW. Within 30 seconds two Siberian Chiffchaffs - see photos in previous post - came visiting. They landed in the tall bush next to us, shivering wings a bit and cocking heads to listen. They were clearly drawn by the song, listening and reacting but not calling unfortunately. This was, however, an extraordinarily clear and strong response.

To put the scene into context: the Chiffchaffs at the site (all races) have been feeding on and around the double filter bed. They stray into a thick scrubby area behind the far fence occasionally but I have never seen any of them more than about 5 metres from the filter bed since my first visit with Dave Astins on 28th December. In order to reach the unremarkable area near the gate, the two Sibes today flew 50 metres across a clear, lawned area with no cover whatsoever. None of the collybita types showed the least bit of interest. This, to me, is pretty good evidence regarding the provenance of these birds. Love 'em.

A couple more photos: