Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Caspian Gull

If you have read previous blogs you will know that Dave and I have been on a mission to spot a Caspian Gull. Neither of us were confident in our ability to identify a Caspian. We had studied the identifying features and knew what to look for  but theory and practice are vastly different when you are faced with a large flock of Herring Gulls.

Our favoured approach has been to visit Dungeness where there are two juvenile Polish colour ringed Caspians and we could play hunt the colour ring rather than hunt the Caspian.

Today we were down at Dungeness again for another try. Our initial search drew a blank and somewhat discouraged we headed off in search of other birds. We had a good day and had just finished photographing the Smew at Burrowes Pit and were about to head for home when we realised that we still had a loaf of bread left. Rather than waste it we decided to head back to the beach for one last look for a Caspian.

This time our luck was in, when a local gull expert told us that there was an adult Caspian in the gull roost. Unfortunately he was just driving away so we had to find it for ourselves. Knowing one is there is a huge advantage but we still had the challenge of locating it.

Some time later and having studied every gull in the roost it looked as though we were going to miss out again. We had one gull, that looked significantly different from the Herring Gulls and showed some of the features we were looking for but it had a yellow eye so could not be our Caspian. We were left with one gull that was asleep with its head tucked back so that we could not see its features. We waited, our confidence slowly draining away, then it moved and a black beady eye appeared.

A Caspian at last - please don't anyone add a comment telling me that it is some form of hybrid and doesn't count.

The pictures are not good. It was getting late and the light was failing. Then on top of that I was admiring the shots on the back of the camera when the bird took off and I missed getting a flight shot. See Dave's Blog for some flight shots.

Caspian Gull

The identifying features I was looking for and think I can see are:-

Small black beady eye
White head with no streaking
Small head compared to a Herring Gull
Legs thinner, longer and paler grey than the Herring Gull
Bill long and narrow
Long neck - not really visible here

It looks good and I am claiming the life tick.

We had a good day at Dungeness but it started slowly. Our initial search for the Caspian drew a blank and the ARC hide, for once, had little to offer, although we were told later that a Bittern had shown well and close just after we left.

We headed back to the Power Station to look for the Black Redstarts that are often present there. The sewage treatment area in the south east corner supports a good colony of midges and a number of birds can usually be found feeding in the area.

Black Redstart

Good supply of food 

Pied Wagtail

We also had a visit from armed police to check out what we were doing taking pictures so close to the Nuclear Power Station. There is no restriction on taking photographs but in this day and age they take no chances. It was a bit annoying but they were only doing their job and trying to keep us safe so it is best just to co-operate. Anyway he had a machine gun so I wasn't going to argue.

Just as we were packing up to move on an alert came through for a Long-eared Owl close to the RSPB Visitors Centre. It was buried deep in the bushes at the other side of the pond and very difficult to spot but we did at least get a picture.

Long-eared Owl

I have only ever seen one Long-eared Owl out in the open and I doubt that I will ever get better pictures than on that occasion. Have a look at this blog if you are interested.

We were on a roll, so we walked round to the Scott hide to have a look for the redhead Smew. They had not been showing last time we were there. This time we were a bit luckier, showing but very distant. Lets hope the male comes in to visit them before the winter is out.

and getting further away all the time

One life tick  and one year tick. Not a bad days birdwatching. The past month has been very slow on the bird photography front. It was nice to come home feeling we had achieved something.

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