Friday 10 April 2015

Mie, April 9: gulls on the beach

Last night I was sitting in a harbour car park just north of Tsu city agonising over whether to stay and continue birding here, the day hadn't been brilliant, or drive about four hours to northern Kyoto to do some forest birding, even though the summer migrants won't be in yet.

Ultimately two things swung it in favour of staying. Firstly, uploading today's images onto the computer it was obvious today's bean goose was a Tundra which is an excellent record for the area and well worth trying to see again in better conditions and secondly high tide at 8:30am means gulls may be loafing on the beach and the overcast conditions would be good for observation. Neither were certainties, the goose could have moved and I've never done early morning gulling here as it normally means looking into the rising sun. And pro leaving? Well, I enjoy driving at night and there are a lot of hours to fill till dawn. With hindsight clearly neither of have anything to do with birding ergo staying was the only sensible option but it really wasn't such a straight forward choice at the time.

And thank goodness common sense prevailed; at 5:30 I peeked over the seawall and there were two large flocks of gulls further down the beach. Pleny of time to position myself before it was fully light.

One of the first birds I noticed was a leucistic Vega which I saw very distantly in early February but not since. Another oddity was a very dark and perhaps sickly Common Gull.

Nice to catch up with this after seeing it very distantly two months ago.

This amazingly dark gull really stood out along the beach.

Getting a little closer hopes of anything exotic were dashed but it still looks strange for Common Gull. Very dark kamtschatschensis occur but I've only seen a few. On this view an apparent lack of obvious A-spots and dull rather greenish legs suggest a 4CY bird. 

It turned out to be an active bird for something that didn't look in-the-pink and once on the move I was surprised to find it did have quite large A-spots, unlike a 4CY at this time of year. The leg colour may be down to illness affecting pigmentation?

It seemed fit enough when it flew off down the beach.

Slaty-backed Gull is a regular bird but in low numbers, usually no more than one or two at this time of year and Black-tailed have disappeared with onset of the breeding season. There was one fly-past Black-tailed in the morning and there were two 2CY Slaty-backed on the beach.

Slaty-backed is common in some seasons but scarce now.

Vega is the commonest taxon on the beach and by now the vast majority are becoming white-headed. The absence of Winter head markings means one fewer potentially helpful identification feature.

This gull was by far the most heavily marked on the day.

The same dark-headed Vega conveniently alongside the whitest-headed Vega on the beach. Note the Taimyr in the background, each of the gulls I've shown except the Slaty-backed have an incidental Taimyr in at least one shot and I could easily have selected an SBG shot alongside a Taimyr too which goes some way to show how common they are at this time of year.

Mongolian Gull is another scarce taxon here, and as I mentioned in another recent post showing Mongolian, some Vegas can be very difficult to exclude with certainty at this time of year. Difficult even to spot in fact. A few months ago above bird would have been very suggestive of Mongolian. Birds with pure white heads tend to look piggy-eyed compared to those that have darker surrounds which appear to enlarge the eye. This becomes apparent when you see a Vega like this suddenly looking small-eyed which they never do in non-breeding plumage. The following images show why this one is just a Vega.

It's still suggestive of Mongolian here but those bright, deep pink legs are straight off the Vega shelf in the store. 

Were I hoping for Mongolian I'd be disappointed to see so much grey in the primaries below the tertial crescent, it looks like there's extensive black reaching the coverts. Common Gull behind it. 

The wing-tip is clearly Vega. The mirror breaking through to the tip of p10 isn't impossible for Mongolian but the ones I see here don't usually show this. The p9 mirror is too large, there's extensive grey on the inner web and even a little grey at the base of the outer web. On p8 black falls well short of the coverts on the outer web and the pattern of limited black continues inwards. There isn't even a complete subterminal band on p5.

I mentioned Taimyr are common at this time of year so just a couple of shots of adults to close.

Spot-the-Vegas; four Taimyr to only two Vega in this shot.  

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