Friday, 24 February 2012

Iceland in London

Gulls galore at Beddington: spot the first-winter Iceland.
This very white second-winter Iceland Gull stayed on the far side of the lake.
Despite numerous gulling sessions along the Thames this winter, and finding them in Scotland and Ireland, I've yet to run into an Iceland Gull in London since January's nationwide influx. So there was only one thing for it today: a trip across town to Beddington, the Iceland Gull capital of the South-East - up to six individuals (including a first-winter Kumlien's) have been seen so far, along with a couple of Glaucous Gulls and a few thousand other larids. Beddington is a pain in the neck to get to from north London, but it was well worth the trip around the M25 - I caught up with first-winter and second-winter individuals in good time on the main lake, and while watching them I enjoyed the increasingly rare soundtrack of chattering Tree Sparrows to keep me company. Beddington is not only their last remaining London stronghold, but also a nationally important site for this declining species. Many thanks to Johnny Allan for his help on site.

Beddington is nationally important for its thriving Tree Sparrow colony.


Monday, 6 February 2012

County Gullway

First-winter Glaucous Gull (Killala, Mayo, 3 February 2012).
This winter has seen an unprecedented influx of Iceland Gulls, and an excellent (record?) haul of Kumlien’s too. Although there has been a sprinkling of white-wingers in London, there is no substitute for seeing them in ‘proper’ habitat – that is, wild celtic coasts rather than the industrial South-East. I needed more material on Iceland Gull in particular, so looked at options for an overnight trip to Stornoway or Shetland. It actually proved cheaper to fly to Tokyo than either on the dates that I had available; on the downside, there are no Iceland Gulls in Tokyo, and I couldn’t spare the time for the long flights.

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.

One of  three adult Ring-billed Gulls (Nimmo's Pier, Galway, 2 February 2012).
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!

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