Sunday, 17 July 2016

An American in Kent - again

Adult Bonaparte's Gull at Oare Marshes. Note the black hood and bill, dark red gape and pinkish-red legs.
A change from large gulls: small gulls! I headed down to Kent today to catch up with the returning adult Bonaparte's Gull at Oare Marshes. This individual is now present for its fourth summer at the site; according to BirdGuides.com it was first seen there as a first-summer on 22 May 2013 (and previously nearby at Elmley on the Isle of Sheppey). In subsequent years it has usually appeared in June or July and departed late August. 

In this partial wing stretch, the Bonaparte's reveals the white undersides to its black-tipped outermost primaries, a key distinction from Black-headed Gull (which has dark grey bordering the white leading edge of its underwing).
Today it was present quite close to the road, so I took welcome advantage of the fact - all these images are taken with a Canon 500mm f4 lens, 1.4x EFIII extender and 7D MkII body, and manually exposed to take account of the difficult backlit lighting conditions. (Tip: if you are visiting Oare Marshes on a sunny day, whether for photography or just birding, afternoons and evenings are always best, with the light illuminating the East Flood from behind you).

Comparison shot of the Bonaparte's Gull with Black-headed Gulls (and islandica Black-tailed Godwits).
As might be expected, and shown in the above comparison shot, the Bonaparte's associates closely with the local Black-headed Gulls. When I saw it best it was close to the west edge of the East Flood, at times obvious and easy to pick out, at others tucked away out of view among its congeners and not easily visible. It particularly seemed to like a muddy patch just next to some tall rushes, and after going AWOL for a while in the high-tide throng would gravitate back towards this corner.

Clean those primaries! Another view of the strikingly white underside of the wing-tip.
I also had a juvenile Mediterranean Gull briefly on the East Flood which then joined a large group of Black-headed Gulls asleep on a small island on the north side of the flood. While watching it there another birder picked out a moulting second-summer Med, still sporting the remnants of a black hood. The Bonaparte's eventually flew to the same island, so it was a rare treat to have all three of these small hooded gulls together at once.

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