Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Bona fide gull

First-winter Bonaparte's Gull at Barking Bay: note the diagnostic white under-primaries with black trailing edge.
Black bill aside, there is something subtly different about the head pattern of Bonaparte's cf Black-headed.
I was delighted to get a phone call from Rich Bonser last Saturday to say that he was looking at a Bonaparte's Gull on the Thames at Crossness. Less pleasing was the fact that, instead of me being two miles up the road at Rainham (as I often am on a weekend), I was actually some 420 miles away in Edinburgh, spending the weekend representing Birdwatch at the first-ever Scottish Birdfair. Thereafter I endured an anxious three days until returning to Stansted Airport on Monday evening, hoping that the bird would still be there.


Having made excellent time from Stansted to Barking, a nervous 40 minutes followed as I searched in vain for the bird while the light slowly began to wane. Even flushing a Ring Ouzel failed to raise a smile, and the news from John Archer and Rich Bonser who were looking across the water at Crossness was also negative. Then, suddenly, there it was - on the water's edge beyond the vast expanse of mud in front of me. I'd already checked that stretch repeatedly without luck; the bird must have dropped in while I was scanning further along. Though very distant, there was no mistaking the wing pattern, black bill and diminutive size. I struggled to get usable images at that range with only a 300mm lens and 1.4x converter, but these record shots hopefully convey an idea of the bird's distinctive appearance.


This seems set to become the first London record of the species, after rumblings suggesting the only currently accepted claim is unlikely to survive a review . Many of us gullwatchers on the Thames (and elsewhere in London) have looked for this species, but the prize goes to Rich for nailing it, and for cementing Crossness's reputation as (along with Rainham and Beddington) one of the three top larid spots in the capital - it has previously hosted Franklin's Gull and (if I recall correctly) 10 Sabine's Gulls together after the 1987 'hurricane'.

Thanks also to Bob Watts, Roy Beddard and Paul Hawkins for news updates and local gen on the bird.

1 comment:

  1. There has also been White-winged Black Tern and two Sabine's since 1987 including a long stay in about 1998 (?).

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