Gull-fest at Didcot

Saturday 31st October 2009

I spent an excellent day's 'gulling' with Richard and Andy at Appleford (near Didcot), Oxfordshire on Saturday. The target bird was the adult 'Azorean' Yellow-legged Gull, L. michahellis atlantis, which kept us waiting until mid-afternoon, long enough to become very familiar with the gulls on the pit just next to the level crossing. Gulls of particular interest noted were three Caspian Gulls, a first-winter and two third-winters (the third winters were very distinctive with their white head and, small dark eyes), seven Yellow-legged Gulls, an intermedius Lesser Black-backed Gull (much darker mantle and smaller than the usual graellsii) and a few 'Scandinavian' Herring Gulls, L. argentatus arentatus (much larger than the other Herrings) . A count of other gulls on the produced 180 Black-headed Gulls, 560 Lesser Black-backed Gulls, eight great Black-backed Gulls, 160 Herring Gulls and a Common Gull. Other birds seen were 15 Red Kites, a Grey Heron, seven Coot, seven Moorhens, six Little Grebes, five Teal, six Tufted Ducks, two Mute Swans, four Pied Wagtails, five Goldfinches, c60 Linnets, two Meadow Pipits, a Green Woodpecker, a Kestrel and a Buzzard. Most of the gulls had departed by about 1:30pm, but eventually, at 2:45pm, news came that the 'Azorean' Yellow-legged Gull had been located in a nearby field on the other side of the level crossing, with other gulls. After watching it sat on the ground for some time (photos above and below), it stood up and proceed to regurgitate a large chicken bone, no doubt the remnants of it having spent some time earlier on the nearby tip. Perhaps thankfully, my, Nikon's 4500 battery had run out by this time, so you are spared seeing photos of this part of its performance here; photos above and below show its previous, more relaxed phase! Whilst reviewing its earlier meal, it attracted the attention of some of the surrounding gulls, who, licking their bills at the tasty offering on view, started making a move to grab the delicious morsel. They chase the gull as it took to the air, and flew right over our heads, still carrying its take-away in its bill! As can be seen from these photos, the bird has a very distinct appearance, with heavy dark streaking on its head forming a hood effect; when it stood up, it was seen to have pale yellow legs.

Here some photos of one of the Caspian Gulls (third-winter):


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