Friday, 22 August 2014

Not Yellow Legged Gulls

A trip to Wembury on 15th August very nearly didn't happen at all as 3 buses arrived together at the bus stop and with the 3rd bus being the Wembury bus it overtook the other 2 and passed right by, despite my frantic arm waving - bastard! Luckily David was home and very kindly dropped me off at Wembury and I had a very enjoyable walk, and I managed to catch the bus back to Plymouth to enjoy the delights of Flavourfest, a food and drink festival celebrating local produce, with our friends Julie and Lizzie.

Highlights were:-8 ringed plover roosting on the beach at high tide, being very well camouflaged amongst the pebbles; a green woodpecker heard yaffling; 4 little egrets flying high East; 3 juvenile wheatears feeding amongst the horse poo in the field above the riding stables; and 3 small shearwater species flying West but too distant to confirm ID.

At Wembury Point there were quite a few whitethroats flitting about, mostly juveniles, with a male blackcap and a few chiffchaff also seen. Stonechats were noticeable too with a pair and 3 juveniles feeding from the wheat stalks in the wheat field and another juvenile seen unsuccessfully chasing a flyby Jersey tiger moth.

An oak bush cricket was found in the toilet block and released outside but the only other moth sighting was a knot grass caterpillar walking across the footpath.

 Oak Bush Cricket
 Oak Bush Cricket
Knot Grass Caterpillar

August 16th and we headed off to Hope Cove for a walk along the coast, walking from Hope Cove to Thurlestone and back. There were lots of tourists around on the beach in the sunshine despite the breezey and cool conditions. The highlights at South Huish Marsh were 3 juvenile wheatear, a black tailed godwit, 16 dunlin, 1 sand martin and 2 clouded yellows but there were no moths in the toilet block at Thurlestone at all, I presume the council do not have the lights on at night anymore due to budget cuts (as I suspect is the case at Wembury too). The ongoing dispute with the council and the landowner regarding the collapsed coastal path also meant an inland detour which looks like it will now become a permanent fixture but it is still a nice walk.

Returning to Hope Cove a bizarre sight was a peregrine stooping on a woodpigeon over the post office as we sat in the sunshine eating our lunch - I heard a smack and saw something out of the corner of my eye and then a load of pigeon feathers floating to the ground before seeing a peregrine flying off being mobbed by herring gulls. A few minutes later a woodpigeon flew out from under the display crates outside the post office having had a very lucky escape! And on heading home a swift flew overhead near the Bantham roundabout, what will now presumably be my last of the year.

August 21st and I headed off to Wembury for a walk again, seeing just 1 ringed plover along the beach this time with an eclipse male mallard, a little egret and 8 oystercatcher. 3 curlew flew East offshore where a few adult gannets were flying around and a female sparrowhawk flew over being mobbed by jackdaws. Fewer whitethroats were seen this time but it was cooler and breezier than my visit on the 15th. 2 clouded yellows were seen, 1 being an helice type female which threw me at first as I thought it was an abberant marbled white until realising it is a bit late in the year for marbled whites to be on the wing!

And so to yellow legged gulls. I have never seen one in the UK and have had little experience of juveniles, having seen mainly adult birds in Spain, Malta, Morocco and Italy. An influx of juveniles to the UK occurs in late summer but I am not good (or patient) with gulls and have never really looked for them. However with a report of a juvenile yellow legged gull on the sightings board at South Huish Marsh on our walk on the 16th I kept an eye out for any unusual looking gulls and my attention was drawn to a bird roosting on the beach when it opened its wings and showed a white rump with a distinct black tail band, a classic plumage detail. However on closer examination it was a juvenile great black backed gull, being larger than nearby herring gulls but smaller than an adult great black backed gull. But it did spur me on when I returned home to read up on juvenile gull ID and peruse various web sites and photographs online to try and get to grips with their ID.

 Awful photo of rump and tail
 Juvenile Great Black Backed Gull
 Great Black Backed Gull
 Great Black Backed Gull
Great Black Backed Gull

And on my walk at Wembury on the 21st there as a large flock of gulls loafing around on the rocks, mostly herring gulls including many juveniles, but with a few great black backed and lesser black backed and a lone black headed. One bird stood out with a pale head and dark eye mask, another classic plumage detail, and when it flew it had a very white looking rump with a smart and very dark tail band. But it seemed too pale on the upperparts which may have been due to the strong sunlight and I eventually lost sight of it as it flew off amongst the gull melee so I guess it was a 1st Summer Herring Gull with a well marked tail. Later I saw a dark backed juvenile gull flying off West and it too had a very white rump with dark tail band but I couldn't make out any other plumage details as it disappeared from view. All in all very frustrating but at least I have started to get my head around gull ID although I don't think I will become a gull enthusiast as it is proving to be a taxing and frustrating task.

 Another awful photo of 1st Summer Herring Gull (upper centre to the right of the Lesser Black Backed Gull)
1st Summer Herring Gull

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