Sunday, 22 June 2014

Gullfest at Bowling Green Marsh - June 2014

Whilst I was away in Canada new broke of a Ross's Gull at Bowling Green Marsh, Topsham, Devon. This is a species that I had not seen before in the UK, in fact it was a species that I had never seen before. I have often thought about making a trip to Churchill on one of my trips to Canada, but have not got around to it yet. With the Ross's Gull at Bowling Green Marsh apparently showing daily, and the news of other good birds, Bonaparte's Gull and Eurasian Spoonbill, also being seen it seemed like too good an opportunity to miss.

I had a day booked off on Friday 20th June and teamed up with Simon Colenutt (the desk bound birder) for the trip. I arrived at Simon's at 6am, and we set off on the two hour drive to the site. Neither of us have been to Bowling Green Marsh before and I have to say that when we arrived we were met with what can only be described as a truly uninspiring site. As we looked out across the scrape we were greeted by a few mallards and Coots, two Black-tailed Godwits and single sleeping Little Egret and Spoonbill.

Bowling Green Marsh with Sleeping Little Egret and Spoonbill

As we sat looking out across the water a local volunteer warden arrived. He informed us that the Ross's Gull usually came in a couple of hours before high tide so we had a long time to wait. But at least we had a sleeping and occasionally waking and stretching Spoonbill to keep us occupied.

Stretching Eurasian Spoonbill

By now it was 8:30 and there was not much going on, but then suddenly we heard a Spotted Redshank call. A summer plumaged bird dropped in and landed next to the Black-tailed Godwits, only to be immediately joined by another. We waited for another half an hour, but with not much going on we decided to walk down the road and look over the Exe Estuary. The tide was a long way out and there were good numbers of gulls on the intertidal, unfortunately none were the gulls we wanted. Black-headed Gulls were the most numerous, with Herring, Great black-backed Gull and Mediterranean Gull also present. There were also family flocks of Shelduck, Eurasian Curlew and Whimbrel present.

Two Summer plumaged Spotted Redshanks and Black-tailed Godwits

On returning to the hide the numbers of birds in front of the hide had increased significantly, as had the numbers of birders in it. There were now around 100 Black-headed Gulls, and handful of Common Gulls, and the Black-tailed Godwit flock had increased to 79 birds. The spoonbill had also woken up and was now feeding in the channel outside the hide.

Adult Eurasian Spoonbill
Eurasian Spoonbill showing its typical spoon shaped Bill

The numbers of gulls present continued to increase and there was now around 300 birds, if not more. They were again mainly Black-headed Gulls but also Common, and Lesser Black-backed and about eight Mediterranean Gulls of various ages. Simon picked up a first-winter Little Gull, but just as I got onto it, it took off and did not come back. 

First Summer Mediterranean Gull

By now the numbers of gulls had really increased, and it was difficult to keep up with what was coming and going, fortunately there were plenty of pairs of eyes present. Another Little Gull was picked up, quickly followed by another, more Mediterranean and Common Gulls. Suddenly the shout went up that the Ross's Gull had arrived, and after a brief panic trying to figure out where it was, I got on to it. It was the closest bird to us but was giving tantalisingly brief glimpses as it fed beneath a bank. Eventually though it appeared and flew around giving some great views. The bird was in first winter plumage, and fairly tatty and so not the summer plumaged adult I had dreamed of, but it was a Ross's Gull, and my first.

Gulls at Bowling Green Marsh

The reported Bonaparte's Gull had not been seen regularly so we were not expecting to see that. But when some asked what the gull was in front of us were were pleantly surprised to see it was the Bonaparte's Gull. I have seen several of these in the UK, including Hampshire, and hundreds on my trips to America and Canada, but it was still nice to see another.

First winter Bonaparte's Gull (front) and Black-headed Gull

The bird was a first winter and despite my poor quality photo it is possible to make out the distinctive features; small size, small black bill and grey nape.

Bonaparte's Gull

By the time we left we had seen nine species of gull (Great Black-backed, Lesser Black-backed, Herring, Mediterranean, Common, Ross's, Black-headed, Bonaparte's and Little) all from the same seat in a small hide overlooking a pool in Devon. Our initial thought of an uninspiring site now well and truly pushed to the back of our minds, and all we could think of was what a great days birding we had had. 

If the Ross's Gull hangs around and you are consider going to see it be sure to check on the tides and make sure you arrive about three hours before high tide.

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