Sunday, March 11, 2012

Herring gull id od, Bray

Whilst my better half was off in Lahinch doing 'deadly knee surfing' (?), I decided I'd head down to Bray to see how the surf was farin on the East Coast.

Bray's pebble beach, Co. Wicklow. Bray head in the background. March 11th 2012.

Surf's up - Irish East coast style

Since I wasn't going to get any surfing in, I decided I'd join the Wicklow Branch for Niall Keogh's Gull ID talk seeing as I happened to be in the exact area at exactly the right time.

Wicklow Branch, Bray Harbour. I just missed getting a photo of the Ring Billed gull, very disappointed about that, but great to get a glimpse at least, only other time I ever saw one was last year at Coney Island, New York.

'Anyway' Laraphobes, it's time to turn away now.

It's gull time and gulls are tough.
I remember a couple of years ago, I read the gull section in Collins, made notes and drawings of all the different gull stages (there are 4 stages of moult for the larger gulls, 2 for the smaller), then drove down to Bullock Harbour and Howth Harbour a few times to practice my gull id skills.
It was was head wrecking.

Trying to look at the Herring gulls, there were Greater black backs, a few Lesser black backs, Common gulls and Black headed gulls all milling around in their various plumages - all specific to their own age and species.
I found it impossble, I struggled, got very impatient and decided I didn't have any Gull id skills. 
But today seemed a little easier.
Laraphiles, apologies for any mistakes.
**No mistakes anywhere now, Niall emailed me with extra i.d pointers and said it was ok to copy and paste into the blog - so for anyone keen on gulls - knock yerself out with these pointers - very kindly emailed by Niall Keogh and pasted under each photo.

2nd winter Herring Gull moulting into 2nd summer plumage. The iris has changed from plain black to clearer, with a visible pupil and grey feathers starting to grow on its back. Black bill has a very tiny bit of yellow starting at the tip of the bill. The other gulls in the pic are 1st summer Herring gulls. Niall says....Pale eye, paler tip & base to the bill & the adult type grey feathering on the saddle (mantle/scapular feathers) are all features associated with 2nd-winter birds. In fairness this bird is quite brown & blotchy for a 2nd-winter in Spring but 1st-summer Herring Gulls are more like worn, messy looking 1st-winters and wouldn't have the new, fresh grey upperpart feathers or an eye as pale as this' (NTK).

2nd winter moulting into 2nd summer Herring Gull, beak fully yellow, head nearly pure white, more grey feathers on the back with some starting to grow on wings and white tips starting to show on the end of its primaries. I think a 3rd year summer would have more white tips and more grey feathers as the gull in the background is showing. Niall says '.....I often have trouble with birds like this myself, but I guess it is a more advanced 2nd-winter to 2nd-summer bird as you figured yourself. Compare with the definite 3rd-winter bird moulting into 3rd-summer in the background which has cleaner white underparts, what looks like an all white tail, more grey adult type median coverts, lesser coverts, tertials & white spots to the primaries' (NTK).

3rd Winter moulting into 3rd Summer, white tips on primaries showing a little more, most streaking has disappeared, red gony's (not guineys!!) spot showing.

Adult Herring Gull, could be 4 years old, could be 25 years old. Pure white tail, large white tips to primaries and white edge to secondaries and tertiaries. The iris is now completely pale which makes the pupil a striking black spot in the middle.

Adult Herring gull in flight, pure white tail, white tipped primaries and a white trailing edge. Niall says 'The black & white pattern on the primaries is well displayed here. The single white mirror & black subterminal band on the outermost primary (p10), lack of a white mirror on p9, thin black band on p5 & small black spot on outer web of p4 all indicate that this bird is an 'argenteus' Herring Gull, i.e. the subspecies that breeds in Ireland & the UK (NTK)'

Chaos at Bray Harbour, Turnstones, Herring Gulls, Mute Swans and feral pigeons.

2 juvenile Herring gulls, right? Wrong. Well, they are 2 juv Herring gulls, but see how much darker the one on the left is, way more streaking all over its body - the gull on the left (as Niall pointed out) is a juvenile Scandinavian gull wintering here.
Niall's ways to id a Scandinavian gull compared to an Irish Herring Gull.

'Pointers for identifying juvenile/1st-winter Herring Gulls originating from more northerly latitudes (presumably 'argentatus') from our own 1st-winter 'argenteus' include:
(1) The overall darker, blotchier brown colouration to the underparts (neck, breast, belly & flanks).
(2) The dark brown lesser coverts, median coverts & tertials contrasting with the more evenly brown & white chequered greater coverts.
(3) The limited amount of renewed 1st-winter scapular & mantle feathers compared to 1st-winter 'argenteus' Herring Gulls at this time of year (making them look more like a true 'juvenile').
(4) Generally bulkier & larger size.
(5) Larger bill, more sloping forehead & flatter crown.
NOTE: All of the above features are highly variable & some can even be shown by our own 'argenteus' Herring Gulls resulting in much overlap between the two subspecies. As such, only the most obvious of birds, sporting a suite of the above features can be safely identified' (NTK).



juv Scandinavian Herring gull? much darker streaks and primaries. Niall says'....not sure if this actually the juv/1st-winter Scandinavian Herring Gull, but the pic does illustrate nicely the 'window' in the open wing formed by the paler inner primaries contrasting with the darker outer primaries, a useful feature for separating juv/1st-winter Herring Gulls from Lesser Black-backed Gulls of the same age (NTK).

1st Winter Common gull, see the grey feathers on the back and a really strong dark tail band. Niall says 'Being a small gull they develop the grey back in 1st-winter as opposed to 2nd-winter like in the larger gull species. The grey itself is a good bit darker than Herring Gull, the head is small, the bill is slender and the tail & wings are a bit longer & more elegant looking than Herring Gull. The black tail band is also very neat & well defined as well as being wholly black. The tail bands on young Herring Gulls are generally messier, peppered with white along the edges. There would also be more black spotting on the uppertail coverts of a young Herring Gull compared to this bird' (NTK).

2nd year Med gull on left, Black headed gull on right. Niall says nothing

2nd yr Med gull, Black headed would have black tipped primaries and secondaries and tertiaries.

After quite a while at the small beach, we walked down the pier towards the sea and started looking through scopes off into the 'outflow', way out in the distance, but I was done. I had left my scope in the car, the sky was grey, the cold sea was grey and I was starting to feel grey inside.

Wicklow branch, Bray Harbour - looking at Iceland gulls at the outflow

Thanks to Niall for taking the time to explain gull id's and for pointing out what I certainly wouldn't have had the patience to look for myself amongst the gulls.

Thanks to Mark for a bit of photography advice too.
I've been messing with iso / shutter speed settings and wondered whether shutter speed still mattered when the bird was still (stillish, only a dead bird would be still!) - he said no, unless a bird's in flight or moving quickly, shutter speed can be slow and you can bring your iso right down - remembering to allow for camera shake too.


This is a 5x crop from the shot of the Adult Herring Gull shown a few pictures above (which is 1x cropped from original). It was taken at iso 320  at shutter speed1/500. I didn't need the 1/500, so I could have brought this down to iso 100 and had better sharpness, not that these compressed images would show the quality anyway.


All in all, an enjoyable afternoon.