Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Not Every Matchstick is a Swan Vesta

Needing somewhere to take the kids yesterday I opted for a rare twitch. They had particularly enjoyed the visit we made to North Shields Fish Quay a few weeks back, probably as kids do because they get to eat chips in the car and throw leftovers out of the window at the gulls.

A 2nd-winter Glaucous Gull had been reported on Monday and then again yesterday morning as still present. So at least there was something worth looking at I thought and it wasn't raining, so off we go. We did a quick scan of the main shed roof on arrival but it was pretty empty with only half a dozen large gulls loafing around. More were wheeling about over the car park further east and I spoke to another birder who had been around for an hour without joy. We headed for the chip shop and drove back around to where we could view the shed roof.

With the kids taking their time, I wound down the window and stepped outside and started to scan the gulls in the air, again with little joy. At this point the other birder who had setup scope 100m further west walked along and pointed out a white-winged gull across the other side of the river some 250-300m away. Back on, face on, but never in profile over the next ten minutes it looked very pale, similar in size to nearby Herring Gull but slightly round-headed and not particularly large billed.

Eventually it took off and came over the river, spending the next twenty minutes doing a 150m circuit around the fish quay and overhead. It alighted once whilst I was there on the peak of the nearby shed roof and was almost immediately pushed off by a Great Black-backed Gull.

Now at this point I could give you all sorts of excuses for why I left thinking I'd seen a Glaucous Gull, albeit a small female; kids needing the toilet ten minutes apart; another observer definite and vocal about it being a Glauc; focussing on photographs rather than looking at the bird blah, blah,blah.
Reality is I went expecting to see a Glaucous Gull, saw a white-winged large gull with pinkish bill and 'dipped in ink black' bill and left without really critically examining the bird in the field.

So I spent last night processing the images and kept stumbling over things that were inconsistent with the label that I had given the bird, the iris was dark, mid-brown, not pale, rare in 2nd-winter birds (of either species), the eye looked large; the legs looked thin,; the bill was short; the expression not as fierce as I thought.
This morning in the Inbox an image on the ground taken by John Clark after I had left yesterday and a note from Eddie Crabtree saying that they had had excellent views on the ground after I left and considered the bird to be an Iceland Gull.

I spent much of this morning comparing images of small female Glaucous and juvenile and 2nd-winter Iceland and talking to several other people about the bird and the images on the phone and via email. In the meantime young Jack Bucknall had uploaded the images to birdguides and someone else had thought they were Glaucous as opposed to the Iceland they were uploaded as. Confusion reigns. I've now come down off the fence I was perched on all morning and put both feet in the Iceland camp and based on the overall impression of the bird and as Dan Turner highlighted the hint of a pale tip to the bill, I'll stick my neck out and disagree with some of those that I've corresponded with today and say it's 2nd-winter despite the dark eye (though feel free to tell me why it isn't and if anyone wants to offer a two-bird theory that would add some further controversy). I'll leave you with the images and get back to doing penance...

Thou shalt not assume
Thou shalt always look critically
Thou shalt not assume...


Tim Jones said...

I'd go for Iceland just on overall feel, doesn't look mean enough to be a Glauc, also pp looks long in the last photo or am I just imagining that!

Also does look like a 2w due to how pale it is, but the eye colour is puzzling and also the apparent lack of any grey mantle feathers. Maybe a 2w bird thats still quite young or maybe an old 1w bird...

Earl Gray or Dave for short! said...

Far to soft to be a Glaucous Gull!! 2nd winter Iceland Gull for me!

Andrew Kinghorn said...

These images are great. Iceland from me as well. Its got that 'awwww arn't I canny look' in one of the flight shots.