Thursday, 7 November 2013

Ring-billed and other Gulls at Walpole Park, Gosport

With strong south-westerly winds across the south of England this week there has been no opportunity for bird ringing. Instead I decided to spend a few hours working my way along the coast looking for gulls and other storm blown species. Back in January I wrote about an adult ring-billed gull that had been frequenting a park in Gosport every winter for the last 10 years, well this last weekend it had returned, so my first stop was to go and look for it.

Adult Ring-billed Gull Larus delawarensis - Returning for its 11th Winter

Being over 10 years old now, this bird is a full adult, and therefore is probably in the easiest plumage for identification of the species. In winter plumage an adult ring-billed essentially looks like many other gull species, pure white head, breast, belly and under-tail coverts and black tips to the primaries.

Flight View of Adult Ring-billed Showing obvious Small White Window in Primary Tips

There are still some obvious and distinctive identification features and these include the large yellow bill with obvious black band near the tip, the yellow legs, the pale yellow iris and when in flight the small white window in the otherwise black wing tips. The bird showed very well for the whole time I was there, so if anyone is interested in getting some experience with this species, Walpole Park may be worth a visit.

Adult Winter Black-headed Gull Larus ridibundus - The deep red legs and bill suggest this
bird is several years old

There are often many other species of gull at the site, the most common being black-headed gull. Black-headed gulls reach full adult plumage in their second winter and therefore there are only two plumage's to consider. Adult birds show some vertical head streaking, light grey back and mantle and pure white nape and underparts (see above). First winter birds lack the bright red bill and legs, have brown primaries and brown feathers in the tertials and lesser coverts (see below).

First Winter Black-headed Gull - Note the brown primary tips, tertials and
some lesser coverts. The leg colour is also duller and more orange than that
of the adult bird (above)

Another species that is a regular along the south coast is Mediterranean gull, although the numbers in winter are much lower than during the summer months. There was only one bird at Walpole Park and that was an adult winter bird. Mediterranean Gulls in adult plumage have pure white wings, including the primaries. They have a deep, blood red bill with a black band and dark red legs, white eye crescents and a dark mask. Overall this species is larger and stockier than black-headed gull, with a squarer shaped head and subsequently stands out from the black-heads.

Adult Mediterranean Gull Larus melanocephalus - the light grey upper parts

Herring Gulls are another common species, often with a variety of ages present. On this visit there was just one first winter bird. This bird had a fairly short dark bill, which was slightly paler at the base. A paler head, breast and underparts and brown markings on the under parts. The tertials exhibit broad dark centres and a dark subterminal band is present on the back and mantle.

First Winter Herring Gull Larus argentatus - Walpole Park

Walpole Park has a bit of a history with American Gulls as in November 2005 a first winter laughing gull joined the ring-billed and was present at the site from 5th November through until the 13th. It did go missing at times but for the patient it provided some great views. 

First Winter Laughing Gull Larus atricilla Walpole Park November 2005

Unfortunately I was limited by time every time I visited but I did still manage to get some acceptable record shots.

First Winter Laughing Gull Walpole Park November 2005

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