|First-winter Glaucous Gull (Killala, Mayo, 3 February 2012).|
Instead I found a reasonable compromise in Galway, western Ireland – an hour or so in the air to get there, and return flights for just £39 plus extras on my least favourite airline, Ryanair. So after an early breakfast at home in London last Thursday, I was gulling in Galway by midday – and loving every minute of it.
|Second-winter Kumlien's Gull (Nimmo's Pier, Galway, 2 February 2012).|
|First-winter Iceland Gull (Nimmo's Pier, Galway, 2 February 2012).|
|Second-winter Iceland Gull (Killala, Mayo, 3 February 2012).|
|Third-winter Iceland Gull (Killala, Mayo, 3 February 2012).|
Nimmo’s Pier in Galway City produced the goods with probably seven different Iceland Gulls over the two days, including individually identifiable first-winters* and second-winters, and on the second day an immaculate adult. Alongside them was a second-winter Kumlien’s, while my expectations in seeing the long-staying Ring-billed Gull were surpassed when I found three different adults present at the same time. Finding a further two Icelands at Rossaveal later in the day were another bonus.
While I was in Galway Martin Garner texted late-breaking news of a putative Thayer’s Gull found two weeks previously at Killala, Mayo. Time was tight on the Friday as I had an evening flight home from Shannon to the south, but I had to give it a go so did the long drive north just in case. Alas, two and a half hours of searching didn’t turn up a candidate for the Thayer’s, an excellent find by John Murphy, but up to four more Icelands and a first-winter Glaucous Gull added to the larid tally.
Overall, for a short trip focused almost exclusively on gulls, it was very successful, despite the best efforts of Ryanair in attempting to part me from my camera equipment (a mission in which they failed). My overnight stay benefited greatly from the warm Irish hospitality exhibited by the very welcoming owners of Ross House B&B, just minutes away from Nimmo’s Pier – thanks to Rich Bonser for that tip, and to Killian Mullarney for the useful gen on Killala. If anyone has the inclination and opportunity to do a short gulling break in this underwatched area, at present I recommend two or three nights for a longer circuit taking in Enniskillen, Co Fermanagh, for another putative Thayer’s Gull, and Ardglass, Co Down, for the long-staying Ross’s Gull. But don’t just twitch, find your own gulls too – and make sure you report all sightings of interest to the excellent Irish Birding website.
* It's become fashionable to describe the age class of some arctic-breeding large gulls as juvenile rather than first-winter into and through the winter, as many retain juvenile plumage (or elements of it) much longer than more southerly breeding large gulls. However, this is variable according to individual moult, so routinely using the term juvenile without analysing what feathers have or have not been moulted by a given individual seems arbitrary, if not pointless - especially as it is generally applied (in a European context) only to Iceland, Kumlien's, Thayer's and Glaucous Gulls, and not to eg northern-breeding argentatus European Herring Gulls, some of which are also currently still in partial juvenile plumage. A better solution is probably to use the term first-calendar-year, though as it is somewhat long-winded I have stuck here to good, old-fashioned first-winter. So there!