Thursday 19 December 2019

Devon Flashback 17 - Franklin's Gull

Mark Bailey found this little beauty on December 16th 2000. He found it on Clennon Valley playing fields and I twitched it the following day, adding it to my Devon list, along with many other Devon birders. It put in a long stay, being last seen on the Teign estuary on April 21st 2001 which, at the time, was still a site that I was watching regularly. I've seen only one Franklin's Gull since - a first-winter on the Hayle estuary, Cornwall on 3/3/07.
Here's my logbook entry for December 17th, 2000:
I had a call yesterday, whilst birding Countess Wear, from Tom Whiley. He told me that Mark Bailey had had a Franklin's Gull at Clennon Valley. I dashed down yesterday and spent a damp afternoon wandering aimlessly around Torbay, at times with Tom. I was half hoping it wasn't seen today because I'd promised a day with Lu. We did a freezing car-boot at 7am - 10am and made a respectable £50 before buying some 'Barley-sand' paint for the hallways, stairway and landing. It was whilst painting, shortly before 2pm, that Mike's wife, Tanya phoned to say the Franklin's Gull was on the football pitch. Mike had seen it from his living room! This was just what I didn't want but Lu was fantastic, urging me to go. I very nearly u-turned on the way, realising the selfishness of it, but kept going.
I sped down there and made good time, but arrived at the cut-through beneath Mike's house to find empty pitches. A few gulls were dropping on to the pond but there were none in the pool on the pitch where Mike had seen the bird. I scanned the pitches but just saw Colin Bath on the raised pitch, apparently not watching anything but talking to a blonde lady who was using a mobile. I noticed someone staring through a scope from the YMCA carpark, but as far as I could see there were just two Herring Gulls on the raised pitch. No small gulls at all. About 10 minutes later, a man and his son walked quickly towards Colin who let them look through his scope after pointing somewhere! I soon realised that they were watching what was presumably the gull. Unbelievably they were watching the Franklin's Gull that that had been totally invisible from my position, in the corner.
I enjoyed prolonged views before I left, returning to Exeter for 345pm - well-satisfied!
Although this was a Devon tick, it wasn't my first Franklin's Gull. A couple year before I'd birded Texas with Tom Whiley, and we managed to dig out at least two adults amongst a big flock of Laughing Gulls, at Galveston ferry port. My field notes of one of those pink-tinged birds from 17/4/98 are below:

Mark's Franklin's Gull was initially found on Clennon Valley football pitches but Mike re-discovered it off Goodrington on 19/1/01 and it later moved to Hope's Nose, where I saw it again on 31/3/01. Later that same day I picked it up on the Teign estuary. My logbook entry and notes for the 31/3 are shown below:
Following a report of a possible Laughing Gull, I got to Hope's Nose to find the 'Paignton'  Franklin's Gull, feeding on the outfall. It fed in much the same manner as Black-headed Gulls, moving steadily over the effluent, picking food from the surface and foot-paddling, tern-like over the surface. Occasionally it landed on the water and sat with the Back-headed Gulls. We watched the bird until it disappeared at approximately 130pm?
I  left to bird the Teign estuary and at some time between 3 and 4pm I relocated it out on the mud, amongst a small string of Common Gulls. The bird was still present at 430pm at least. It appeared in every respect to be the same bird as that at Hope's Nose,just along the coast.


  1. Another cracker Matt! What a twitching fiend you were... ;-)

    1. Hi Gav - yep I was a bit! Never really considered myself as a proper twitcher but always kinda liked keeping a Devon list - Devon born and bred and all that. Try to stick with Exmouth these days but it does me good to get out of the town now and again. Thoroughly enjoying you postings - like the look of all those tristis but have really struggled to find any locally of late so a bit gripped too! All the best. Matt

    2. Thanks Matt. Casps, Sibe Chiffs - I do seem to like a challenge! Had some great feedback from London gullers re the recent Axe biurd, and som help from Martin Collinson re the Chiffs. Will write it up in due course...
      Keep up the good work Matt - your patch-working is an inspiration!

  2. Wonderful notes again Matt, I know people like a photo but when recollection a bird notes win every time. What a fantastic pictorial diary and archive to look back on - well done.

    1. Thank you Mike - that means a huge amount coming from you - you've been a huge source of inspiration for as long as I can remember. Sadly I've become far too reliant on my camera and note-taking is something that, for a long time now, I've been promising to do more of. It's still my intention to get back in to the habit. All the best. Matt

  3. Lovely account. One I've yet to see in the UK (rarely twitch without car these days!). Remember some 30 years or so going for one with friends on a miserable day to a rubbish dump somewhere in Gloucs- it did a bunk. Possibly my most miserable day's twitching! Fortunately did see a few once in the US in breeding plumage- very handsome birds.

    If I don't post again before the big day, have a great Xmas, Matt + thanks for your enjoyable posts! And of course a wildlife filled 2020!