Sunday, 22 January 2012

Ross's Gull - Ardglass, Northern Ireland

I had been planning a trip to Ireland this winter. most probably to Killybegs towards the end of January/early February to look for gulls but with the current influx of white-winged gulls and the bonus of an adult Ross's Gull in Ardglass, Co Down I decided to go for it this weekend rather than wait. It probably ended up costing me a little more as I flew over to Belfast and hired a car from there on Saturday morning. I managed to get through Easyjet with camera bag, scope and tripod on the way out but not on the way back adding an extra £25. On the plus side with the car hire, I booked a cheap Fiat Panda type and benefited from a free upgrade to a Vauxhall Zafira; at least I drove around in reasonable comfort and luxury.

Ardglass is a small village about an hour southeast of Belfast with a natural harbour on one side protected by some typical rock formations and a man-made pier/sea wall at the south.

There was a bit of a breeze but otherwise reasonably pleasant. As the Ross's Gull had been parading off the harbour entrance there was reasonably good vantage from atop the sea wall where about a dozen birders were gathered when I arrived mid-morning. The first time the Ross's came in it moved back offshore very quickly but it soon returned and spent much of the rest of the day moving to and fro and feeding actively on a circuit ensuring plenty of time to enjoy it. A superb looking adult in winter plumage with just a smudge of pink on the breast the pale grey wing and big eye gave this a distinctive look. The first image below also highlights the narrow black outer web on P10 and the wedge shaped tail quite nicely too. After a short while it's deep wingbeats and habit of flying in high and then dropping rapidly to either patter briefly or plunge feed allowed it to be easily picked out with the naked eye at some distance (probably helped by the lack of many other small gulls).

The plunge diving in particular was quite an interesting behaviour and not one that I've seen another gull species perform as regularly as this individual, It's mentioned in the literature so is obviously a regular feeding technique employed by the species. The Ross's Gull would continually fly in to within 25m of the sea wall at a height of c25m then drop rapidly, almost tern-like into the sea. Whilst not the sharpest set of images these give an idea as how this looks.

Not once during 4-5 hours did it settle on the sea for more than a split-second, constantly active sometimes heading hundreds of metres out to sea before coming back in and resuming the short feeding circuit along the sea wall and into the harbour mouth. There was lots of other gull action but I'll save that for another post as I won't have too many opportunities to bang on images (even ropey ones like mine) of one these charismatic little beauties.

I can't go without saying a big thanks to Craig and Penny Nash though for kindly putting me up in their wonderful cottage overlooking Strangford Lough, generously cooking and providing an evening of bright conversation that just put an extra shine onto a very enjoyable day in a beautiful location with a stunning little gull. You can find Craig's images of the area and further afield, some of which are incredible, here.

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