Sunday 15 December 2013

Scandanavian Herring Gull ?

I had a quick look at Hayes Barton Pig Farm this morning. The weather was really foul, and visibility not great, but this herring gull stood out from the flock on account of its mantle colour, being a shade darker than all accompanying 'argenteus' herring gulls - quite a neutral grey but definitely darker. It was nothing special size-wise but sported heavy head streaking and really large white tips to the primaries. The distance and dampness wouldn't allow any photographs and annoyingly the whole flock was spooked by the sound of an air rifle echoing around the farm. I couldn't pick it up in flight so couldn't get the all-important wing tip detail (see photo in previous post). It was a distinctive individual with extensive black markings on a dull yellow bill and noticeably dark ear covert crescents. The bill colour, coupled with an apparent faint brown wash across the greater coverts, presumably makes it a fourth winter bird? 
Hayes Barton is the nearest thing to a landfill site locally, with regards to gulls. I love the place but gull watching is a bit hit and miss with birds remaining airborne for ages if spooked. Most of the gull 'traffic' seems to come from the Otter but there is presumably lots of interchange between there and the Exe. The good thing is that a public footpath bisects the farm allowing you to scope flocks wherever they are on the farm. The photo below was taken last weekend from the entrance to the farm when an adult mediterranean gull was the only bird of note.

 Most winters a sizeable chaffinch flock takes advantage of the game-cover crops and that tends to draw in reed buntings and yellowhammers with good numbers of brambling some years. The farm also attracts good-sized flocks of pied wagtails, meadow pipits, stock doves, woodpigeons, starlings and corvids so there's always something to look at. I've also had stuff like crossbill, redpoll and black redstart there. Red-legged partridge numbers are quite high but they're all released for shooting.

A flying visit to Orcombe Point before football yesterday produced 15 dark-bellied brent goose, 7+ turnstone, 1 redshank, 29 curlew, 1+ purple sandpiper, 1 red-throated diver, 1 diver sp (prob black-throat), 1 great northern diver, and 5 shelduck - all Maer Rocks/offshore. The top fields held 14+ snipe, c50+ skylark, 1 meadow pipit and c20/30+ linnet. This morning, first thing, there were 2 female-type eider off Maer Rocks, 2 red-throated diver flew West and 8 dark-bellied brent goose were feeding on the rocks.

Photographing purple sandpipers on slippery Maer Rocks is a bloody risky business - not sure the results are worth it!

Off Mudbank yesterday - 1 ad mediterranean gull, 12+ teal, 27+ redshank, 7+ ringed plover, c200+ pintail, c300+ wigeon, 46+ turnstone and 44+ shelduck.


  1. Hi Matt,
    re Hayes Barton, know the spot well and have often wondered about it's potential for interesting gulls - it's classic cachinnans habitat after all. I'm currently scope-less so I suspect distance might be an issue but tempted to have another look sometime. Meanwhile, had a nice 1W michahellis on the Otter on Saturday - though like all my recent birds far too distant.



  2. Hi Matt,
    The Scandinavian Herring Gulls I've seen have been stonking great things with large bills and longish legs. They've also looked very menacing!
    Watch yourself on Maer Rocks - I know someone who has a metal pin fitted in their arm, after they completely smashed their bone whilst slipping up there on the seaweed!

  3. Hi Matt, forgot to say that I had a couple of dark, pink-legged HG's earlier this year at Topsham; initially suspected argentatus but wing pattern more like michahellis - put them down as probable hybrids, there's a lot of them about!

    1. Hi Tim - yes I'm aware of these birds. The big white primary tips of this bird are perhaps indicative of argentatus but without the primary pattern nothing can be done with it. I'll keep my eyes open for it as it's pretty distinctive. You're right about the pig farm looking good for cachinnans - I'm certain it's just a matter of time. Would be good to have another birder looking up there - have never once bumped into anybody else but I suppose pig farms aren't everybody's cup of tea! Saw your Otter YLG photo - brilliant looking bird. Love the new sketches and artwork too - amazing.

      Terry - you've properly put me off Maer Rocks now! Haven't seen you for ages - hope your trip was good.