7 Oct 2014

7 Oct 14 - A Flock Of Seagulls

This isn't about the early 80s New Romantic band with the wacky hairstyles, but a flock of Mediterranean Gulls. Going back about 10 years ago, I can remember hearing local Studland Birder, Graham Armstrong, had seen a flock of 5 Med Gulls at Middle Beach, Studland. This was an impressive number for Studland & it took me another couple of years until I first hit a double figure total of 10 Med Gulls in Oct 2007. Since that date, the numbers have increased rapidly and they are now a common Winter visitor. My best Autumn count has been 230+ on 23 Sept 11 in fields on Ballard Down next to Studland's South Beach & the best Spring count has been 350+ on 24 March 13 at South Beach. A consolidated count is not easy to get as they regularly move across to Brands Bay & can form reasonable daytime gatherings here, as well as, dropping into Little Sea to wash. A few are seen further North around the harbour mouth. A proper count in the evening off Middle or Knoll Beach would probably get even better numbers, but I invariably get distracted by counting the Black-necked Grebe roost & only quickly scan the Med Gull flock to ensure I'm not overlooking a Laughing or Franklin's Gull: which would be a criminal Birding offence.
South Beach: They can often be found tucked into this Southern corner of South Beach in 80% pure flocks with Black-headed Gulls & Herring Gulls making up the remaining Gulls. The cliffs at the back are the Old Harry edge of Ballard Down
Mediterranean Gull: A typical group of Adults
The Med Gulls are often not that good at mixing with the other Gull species & prefer to congregate in their own flocks, where there are maybe only 20% of Black-headed Gulls & Herring Gulls mixed in. Their favourite area is South Beach, where they can often be found in good numbers feeding at the water's edge or on the seaweed that's thrown on the beach. They also roost on the nearby rocks or on the water.
Mediterranean Gull: Adult Winter. A nice easy plumage to figure out with its Common Gull size, dark red thick bill and white wing tips. Also, note the black smudged ear coverts patch
Mediterranean Gull: Adult Winter
Mediterranean Gull: Adult Winter. Note, this Adult is still in active wing moult, hence the odd wing shape caused by the short secondaries. South Beach. (4 Sep 14)
Mediterranean Gull: Adult Winter. Middle Beach, Studland (13 Nov 13)
This is a great place for any budding Birder who is still getting used to Gulls to go & have a good look at them, as there are all ages present in good numbers. The count for the 7 Oct was 130+ Med Gulls. Normally, these numbers are present from mid Sept, but this year they seemed to be a bit later arriving in numbers.
Mediterranean Gull: 2nd Winter. Note, the thick dark bill, typical head smudge on the ear coverts and the black & white tips to the primaries in the closed wing 
Mediterranean Gull: 2nd Winter
Mediterranean Gull: 2nd Winter. Would make a good mystery photo. Not the best of postures, but it's the only photo of a 2nd Winter with otustretched wings that I currently have
Med Gulls can be seen around Studland throughout the year with good numbers from Autumn to Spring. There are occasional visits from adults seen over the Summer. Numbers do start building as the local Poole Harbour breeding Med Gulls start of disperse at the end of the breeding season, but I suspect the bulk of the wintering Med Gulls come in from the continent. We have had Dutch colour ringed Med Gulls seen locally, but I'm sure they are coming from other European countries as well.
Mediterranean Gull: 1st Winter. This Med Gull has a thinner bill than the Adults. It shows a lot of brown in the closed wing & black primary tips. It also has a reduced face pattern
Mediterranean Gull: 1st Winter. This Med Gull has a thinner dark bill than the Adults and isn't showing a lot of brown in the closed wing & black primary tips. It still has the distinctive face smudge
Mediterranean Gull: 1st Winter. There is a bit more brown in the closed wing, a thicker bill & a stronger face pattern on this Med Gull
Mediterranean Gull: 1st Winter. Showing they can turn around as well. Med Gulls also have distinctive white eye lids even at this age
Mediterranean Gull: 1st Winter. Note, the strong contrast between the black secondary bar & outer primaries compared to the pale grey secondary coverts and the deeper brown of the rest of the minor secondary coverts. It also has a black tail band & the distinctive face pattern
Up to about 10 or 15 years ago, it used to be good looking at Gull flocks in the Winter as there was a reasonable chance you might find a Med Gull. OK it wasn't that exciting when you did find one, but at least I went home thinking I had seen something from the effort. But these days, I'm looking for an Iceland or Glaucous Gull or rarer in the Gull flocks & it just seems a lot harder to find something noteworthy, given the relative scarcity of good Gulls in Poole Harbour.