Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Azores 2: gulls, and then some

Chalk and cheese: a second-winter Kumlien's Gull mixes it with three first-winter Azores Gulls on Terceira.
The second leg of this trip takes place on Terceira, where I arrived yesterday afternoon. Despite the fierce winds and overcast conditions things got off to a good start, with Semipalmated Plover and Semipalmated Sandpiper at Cabo da Praia and a (or should that be 'the'?) Hudsonian Whimbrel in with a Eurasian Whimbrel flock which landed on rocks while I was gulling nearby. And have I been gulling ...

The streaked hood, often most obvious on second-winter birds, gives Azores Gull an appearance of its own.
This first-winter Mediterranean Gull is a long way from home - next stop America?
This flock of Black-headed Gulls merits closer scrutiny - can you spot anything different?
Today, gulls were my prime objective. So after checking the wetland in town and scoring with Wood Duck (I assumed this bird had left as it wasn't visible yesterday), I did my rounds of the island, taking in a fish quay, tidal quarry, farmland, rubbish tip, reservoir and finally beach. The end result was no fewer than 10 gull species, at least three of them originating from North America - for gull watchers, it doesn't often get much better than that. The breakdown is as follows:

Whether it's European or American, this Herring Gull is a rarity on the Azores. The ID is a work in progress.
  • Mediterranean Gull - first-winter.
  • Ring-billed Gull - 12 (four adults, three second-winters and five first-winters).
  • Common Gull - adult.
  • Black-headed Gull - c 40  in one flock.
  • Bonaparte's Gull - one with the Black-headeds.
  • European or American Herring Gull - adult in flight only (working to try and resolve this ID, but it's tricky).
  • Lesser Black-backed Gull - 10+ around the island.
  • Great Black-backed Gull - seven in total.
  • Azores Gull - 2,000-3,000 of the endemic atlantis form of Yellow-legged Gull.
  • Kumlien's Gull - second-winter seen at two sites this afternoon.
Adult (left) and first-winter Ring-billed Gulls on the beach this evening - two of the 12 present by dusk.
The head says adult, but the spread wings and tail reveal the tell-tale darker markings of second-winter plumage.
A first-winter Ring-billed Gull forages on the tideline before going to roost.
With just 41 records in the Azores until the end of last year, this adult Common Gull (left) is a far greater rarity locally than the second-winter Ring-billed Gull which is keeping it company.
I think it will be difficult for me to surpass that gull species total anywhere else in the Western Palearctic, at least any time soon, and the quality of rarer species - and in the case of Ring-billed also the quantity - makes it a stand-out day that I won't forget for some time. In the meantime, time for some shut-eye ...

And though gulls were today's big prize, there were others - not least this smart drake Wood Duck.


  1. Thanks for the introduction to some impressive gulls.... and no rubbish in the background !

  2. You'll be pleased to know I did manage to take in the island tip and shoot a few frames there as well, but the birds are closer and easier on the beach and in the port. There were 13 Ring-billed Gulls there last night, a new first-winter being the additional bird.

  3. Hi Dominic
    I was mainly glad to see you got the short eared owl.2 Owls on a Azorean trip is exeptional.Good birding and
    See you in autum !!



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