If you are not interested in the finer points of Gull identification, feel free not to read this post. I won’t mind. There is no hidden message in this post, no flourish at the end, not even a piss poor pun to reward your dedication at the end of all the discourse on primary feather configuration.
For those that have decided to commit, here goes – it’s like the Yarmouth Pleasure Beach in ornithological form!
The irregular reader will have been aware that a Yellow-legged Gull Larus micahellis had been found in the patch, and that its image had appeared on this here blog. Not a quality image, but with notes taken the identification was reasonably certain. I didn’t think that it would hang around, and there is no shortage of gulls around here to aid distraction/confusion. Nonetheless, it is still knocking about and it is still seemingly paired up with a Herring Gull. I don’t know who is Martha, who Arthur. Neither bird is obviously bigger than the other. But, because it is still around and still paired up, I wondered if the Gull with yellow legs might be a Herring Gull sub-species as this would make the pairing more likely. Actually I didn’t really but thought that at the very least, it would be interesting to go through the process of making sure.
I had heard tell of these beasts referred to as omissus. So, I had a look in the big-scary-gull-book to find out the finer details of this omissus thing, and started with the index. It isn’t there. No really. I read every single word in the index of that book, and omissus isn’t there. It is on the web, this link for example, but no reference to it in the index of the Gullists bible. I did eventually find reference to it on page 263. Omissus is an occasionally used name for birds that populat(ed) the Baltic Sea. But it’s not that simple. All round the Baltic States and Southern Finland it turns out that Herring Gulls often have yellow legs, and can have orbital rings and primary tip markings that can confuse the unwary, albeit this is often going hand in hand with a paler mantle. So rather than carry on with the possibility that I could end up sobbing in the corner with little nuances of the Kodak Grey Scale going around my head, I thought I’d attack it from the other side. Definitive proof of ‘micahellisness’.
Ready for a picture yet?
To do carry out this ID quest, of course, requires better pictures. And pictures of the open wings, nothing else will do. No gull ID can be 100% these days without decent images of the primaries.
Check it out.
So we have a picture of a darker mantled gull with yellow legs and its wings open. What do we need to see? It’s all about P5, innit. From Malling, Olsen and Larsson – “unlike typical Herring, black markings solid on P5” and “Shows extensive black subterminal bar on P5; if present in Herring it is narrower and mainly restricted to outer web”. Which looks like this.
Also note “white mirror on p10 and small white mirror on P9” which points to western rather than eastern population origin.
So, as far as I know, by the book it is a Yellow-legged Gull, but the P5 on the link at the beginning looks much the same. Which is stated with confidence as an omissus. Bollocks, I’ve done what I didn’t want to do and argued myself into a self-created corner. Based on the P5 argument, one of us has to be wrong – or am I missing something?
I’ll have to get to watch it some more, take more photos and read some more.
Either way, as I stated previously, it might be about to breed with a Herring Gull. You thought this post was dull. Wait until the young start getting in reach of the camera!
And here is the stunning photograph of the
incredibly reasonably rare uncommon bird. A small caveat on the quality of the image, or more properly the lack of quality therein. There are two gulls in the picture, the gull in the background is a Herring Gull. The foreground, the YLG. And it is asleep. The photographic process has darkened the mantle somewhat, and no you cannot see the legs but thought against pissing about with the image.
However, before it started sleeping, I did see it’s legs and they are yellow. So is it a dead pale LBB you ask? I reckon no. I’ve had a fair bit of recent experience with the ol’ YLG and have a fair handle on the mantle colour that I should be looking for and this one was good enough to stop me sharply when driving past. I reckon it’s a good ‘un.
And that bit about trying to connect with it later? Folly. I forget that my patch is mainly a beach, by a port, with a river, many chip-n-bap-vans and several hundred gulls knocking about a hugely large area. The chances of me connecting with that bird at lunchtime were about the same as casually walking up to a Hoopoe when I fancy it. Eejit.
Ravens living in juvenile gangs are more stressed than those in adult pairs, a new study reveals.
Scientists analysing droppings found higher levels of stress hormones among birds living in groups.
The findings contradict theories that living in territorial pairs is more energetically demanding than co-operative group life.
Researchers now suggest that stress could be a driving factor in ravens’ maturation from groups to pairs.
Ravens are members of the intelligent corvid family that includes crows and magpies.
Dr Selva also says stress could be a significant factor in ravens’ maturation.
“We think that having high stress levels can be an important reason to leave the group,” she said.
The pressures of gang life could drive young ravens to set up home in a more stable adult “relationship”.
“Somehow, we feel it has many similarities with human life – stressful life in teenage gangs versus a more peaceful live in a pair,” said Dr Selva.
Young birds live together in social groups and co-operatively share food.
Adult birds, meanwhile, form pairs, often for life, and aggressively defend their breeding territory.
Scientists studying the birds in Bialowieza Forest, Poland, investigated how stressful these different social systems were.
Their findings, published in the journal Biology Letters, caused researcher Dr Nuria Selva some surprise.
“In the case of ravens, it is clear that food finding and sharing is easier when a group of 30 ravens is searching for a carcass, than when only two ravens do it,” she said
“But our study shows that life in groups is not so heavenly as traditionally thought.”
Previous theories have identified the benefits of group living because young ravens do not have to defend territory or forage alone.
However, the new study’s analysis of raven droppings on the forest floor told a different story.
The juvenile gangs’ droppings contained much higher levels of the stress hormone corticosterone than the adult pairs’.
The new evidence suggests it may be more energetically demanding to live in groups than to maintain a territory.
Competition for dominance could cause the increased stress, the researchers say.
If I know you, right, and it’s like your birthday today then happy birthday and many happy returns. If I do or don’t know you, and/or it is or isn’t your birthday you may not care for these felicitations. You may wish to know the counts from the garden of chez Thing on Sunday recorded for the purposes of science. Or you may not.
8 Siskin (a garden high count no less)
1 Collared Dove
4 Blackbirds (2 male, 2 female)
5 Blue Tit
1 Great Tit
2 House Sparrow
Very soon, I will actually mention the patch. Perhaps tomorrow. I’ve got patch ticks and everything!
See, there were a fair few peeps at Buckenham Marshes yesterday, me included. To see birds and what not, but unbenkownst to me and probably most of the grumpy folks on the marsh (why is it that the more expensive your gear, the more attitude you have? Does it come with the free lenscloth on stupidly expensive optics?) there had been an alert on the twitchering pagers that the Lesser White-fronted Goose was back. Ohhhhhh, yyyyyes. Arguably the rarest escaped bird in the country that had spent a lot of time this winter in the Yare Valley marshes had returned from a week long exile and reappeared on the little beepy-lit-up-thingy, due to it being on Buckenham Marshes. There was a twitcherer there that was keen to point it out to those that passed.
And here it is!
Another high quality image methinks. So there you have it. A rare goose.
But lets scan back and have a look at his mates…
Yep, that’s right – it is a Greylag Goose! Which by default means that the LWFG (get me!) is not the wild bird at all! Why the hoo-ha? Why the report? Why the fuss? The twitcherer seemed ever so keen for it to be the (THE) bird but for what reason I cannot fathom – the very fact that it’s cohorts are feral means that it is not wild and really he and the original reporter should really have known this. There wasn’t a Bean Goose anywhere in the vicinity.
It does conform to the old two bird theory. It wasn’t until I read up on this situation beyond the provenance of the other bird, that I found out that this bird (the newly reported rare, but not at all rare bird) has been knocking about all winter with the Greylags and is considered by some to be a hybrid (with what I don’t know) so all the time that the supposedly rare bird has been knocking about there have actually been two birds, and I wonder how many people have seen this bird and taken it for the ‘real’ thing?
Anyway, the local Bean Geese may have recently left for the winter and perhaps taken their exotic Swedish friend with them ( if you don’t understand that geographical reference you will probably fall asleep by the time the explanation is finished) which does give the percieved wildness of the other bird a little boost, but enhances it’s overall dodgy provenance, sort of. Regardless, as far as I’m concerned, neither bird is tickable. But the whole exercise has been quite illuminating.
Ooh, it’s a veritable ornithological minefield.
…then sign this petition.
And then why not do the RSPB garden watch too…
Yes, manifestly that is now two things. Life’s not always that straightforward okay?
Amongst all the doom and gloom stories that we are used to hearing in the world of the environmental theatre (selling off and messing about with a national forest network that works just fine for example) there are occasional nuggets of hope, which are understandably trumpeted to the press to get them into the national conciousness for all the right reasons. One of the stories masquerading as good news last week was the growing nonsense in Somerset regarding the re-introduction of Great Bustards in the UK. What was the good news? Well the project had been given £1.8m by the EU LIFE+ project, whatever that is. Hurrah say lots of people. Boo say not many, desperate to cling onto any snippet of good news the conservation lobby has been suckered into this nonsense. Unfortunately, this grant is not good news – it is bad news. That figure (one million and eight hundred thousand pounds) is a waste of money. Pray allow me, dear reader, to deconstruct this vast sum of taxpayers money for the edification of my argument.
The EU and various wildlife partners have bought into the notion that this is a good idea. Which it isn’t. Great Bustards last bred in the UK in 1832. Well before Charlie Darwin had the Origin of Species in print or Mr Benz stuck four wheels around the corners of an engine and shouted POWER!. Yes, that long ago. Not only is the world a different place, but the countryside in Britain is a vastly different proposition that is no longer suitable for a bird so big and restricted in it’s habitat requirements like the Great Bustard. This isn’t an apology for the wasting of our wildlife since the industrial revolution, it is simply a factual observation. If the Bustards are successfully introduced, there is only one viable area for them to live, and that is the area that they are being introduced to; Salisbury Plain. There has been a modicum of success around the reintroduction program, as the birds are protected from the outside world by the simple fact that the MOD owns Salisbury Plain and uses most of it for war games and what not. Why has there been success? Mainly due to the isolation of the site, which is effectively a zoo. That’s why they are successful, they have been introduced (at what cost to the population that they are being prized from I don’t know) to an area that is completely and utterly enclosed from the reality of the rest of the UK and will have little or no hope beyond these artificial boundaries. Again its sounds like a zoo to me, and self-fulfilling in it’s remit. Bizarre.
What is more bizarre is the money being thrown at it – £1.8m? Please! This project benefits nothing that I can see beyond the selfish and misguided dreams of a the few, while there are many, many projects out there that will promote and protect biodiversity to hugely more significant degree than this little vanity press. Ranting you might say I am, but would you like an example or two? Ok, here is a brief guide to how to spend £1.8m on wildlife projects in the UK that are actually beneficial.
£100,000 to complete the Norfolk Wildlife Trust’s million pound appeal to buy masses of fenland to create a huge land corridor. Biodiversity on a massive scale.
£25,000 for the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust to enable them to save ALL of the Water Voles in Wiltshire. Note that this is a native, extant species that is in danger.
£970,000 for the RSPB (who incredibly support the Bustard nonsense) to by 38,000 square metres of Scottish Flow country. Hugely massive amounts of vulnerable habitat saved. [Guys, if you hadn’t gone in with the Bustards, you could have nailed this one. Straight away. ]
Three examples that I found with very little effort and all of them very worthy indeed. I’ve spent £1.1m out the £1.8m and have just enough for a new Leica scope, I’ve created the biggest reserve in Eastern England, saved all the Water Voles in Wiltshire and bought most of Scotland for the future.
Now do you see why the Bustard reintroduction is ill-concieved waste of money?
That’s right kids – here is a brand new way of accurately nailing that most tricky of species, the ugly cousin of the Mauritius Solitaire – the Dodo. This is the kind of inside info that you cannot get in your Collins or Sibley. Bookmark it – tell your friends – this is important ok?
Look, I know this is blog is advertised and probably derided in equal measure as a dodgy-patch-birding-blog, but it’s pretty quiet out there, and there is only so much distance I can get out of ‘I saw a Kestrel fly off’, ‘I saw some Wigeon yesterday’, or ‘my year list is nearly twenty’ – but I thought that this might be interesting, so here goes.
The Dodo – Raphus cucullatus. If someone you know has Dodo on their list, they probably have a half glimpse of a Slaty-backed on there in permanent marker. Or their name is Nebuchadnezzar. Either way, it is, as I am sure you know properly, properly very extinct indeed. No comeback tour for this 20kg mother. Not Slender-billed Curlew extinct either – this one will not be rediscovered by loads of birders having their holidays in Ulan Bator or somesuch. Anyway, here is the classic image of the Dodo painted by the esteemed Dutchman (I only want to help you) Roelandt Savery.
(Is that a Macaw? Is that possible?)
Now this is the rub. It was assumed, because it’s what he said, that this was drawn from life studies of the now non-life-like Dodo. But others claim that this is not the case, and like most other Dodo drawers he painted from stuffed birds or skeletons or what not. Now, it seems that the Natural History Museum and this cool dude called Julian Hume have got together to produce something a bit more accurate based on bones and facts and all those good things that avoid supposition. The pictures are up in the Natural History Museum, perhaps even permanently. A rubbish electronic copy of your new Dodo ID reference is here…
The keen eyed super-birder will have noticed that the birds head is smaller, the body is less bulky, legs longer and neck straighter. The wings, which being a flightless bird are redundant, are more Penguin like or even Great Auk-ish. So next time that you are confronted with a strange looking Raphidae on your local rubbish tip, you know exactly what to look for.
No, don’t thank me. I seek no praise for this – think of it as a kind of public service.
By the way, despite the Dodo supposedly being eaten to death by sailors, it tasted ‘orrible. And Savery painted a picture of it’s arse for some strange reason. Perspective I guess.
In the absence of a picture of an Iceland Gull, here is a picture of one of my regular companions at luncheon.
It’s winter, it’s Norfolk, and that means that geese are on the menu. All good, and very dramatic and really good birding. Shitting great flocks of Pink-feet all over the place, Bean geese, Brent and White-fronted by the side of the A149 and lots of little erm, specials amongst them. But of course all is not as it seems. Some of my occasional readers will know all that is to come in this diatribe, but some will not. Ho hum.
A couple of days ago, in fact last year, perhaps even in the last decade (blimey I could start a decade list! You wouldn’t let it lie etc etc) there were plenty of Brent Geese around Salthouse and Cley with reports of Pale Bellied, Black Brant and a Ross’s Goose amongst them. Last week/year/decade I picked out one of these half-tick subspecial thingies but none of the others. Today, with minimal effort, the Ross’s Goose was located, exactly where it was supposed to be. Here is an amazing photo of said goose.
It will be the white bit, yeah?
This goose has been reported on Birdguides and dutifuly written in the log in the Cley visitors centre a few times. Why? Seriously, why? Ross’s Goose is not on the British List unless I read the BOU website wrong earlier (the Caol Ila was very very nice earlier on but it was only an ickle bottle) and if you scan through some of the big lists on BUBO, you won’t find it included. Yes, you will find it on the UK400 British List, but I dare say that Peacock is on there too. No, this bird is a no go – as untickable as an unringed Bar-headed Goose in Barnet in the summer. So why bother telling anyone that it is there, and why bother looking for it (I ask myself more than anyone) why bother at al? No, unless this goose came to Norfolk with a ruddy great flock of Barnacle Geese that all had ‘my folks went to greenland and all I got was this lousy t-shirt’ t-shirts on, it is nothing other than an escape and everyone should know this. But geese in Norfolk in the winter get people all excited. There is another goose that is bothering people in Cantley and from what I can see the consensus is that it may well be a Lesser White-fronted but has dodgy provenance and isn’t really a proper tick. But it does end up as a mega on Birdguides every day and can be seen on BUBO listings and on umpteen signatures on
turdBirdforum as a new life tick. It does seem that there is a lot of justincasism amongst ardent listers going on. Alright, I saw a Ross’s goose and a Pale-bellied Brent Goose and didn’t find a Black Brant (whatever they are) and the life list goes up by a fat nada, and nor can I be arsed to go to Cantley just in case.
The funny looking Harrier is tempting mind you.
Although not in a position to be actively birding this weekend, my inquisitive nature still impels me to check out birdguides to see what is about. It seems that there are hardly any birds of note in Norfolk at all (barring geese, an orange harrier and waxwings). Which is a bit odd. There was an alert for a Med in Yarmouth, which is about as useful as a heads up for Avocets at Havergate. Foreigners, obviously.
Not taken in Yarmouth but taken in Norfolk. Reasonably on topic.
For some reason, blogger is doing nowt but make strange noises today when exposed to imagery. So for the sake of completion but on the wrong blog – this is an incredible high quality photograph of a Wheatear that I found in Fulham recently (a Mega, natch). I should now be able to link this back to another place where it is actually relevant. Perhaps. You with me?
Way. It came as a little bit of a surprise to me too. But the simple fact is that the area between the two Piers is officially a hotspot for Med Gulls, and it’s not a secret either. And by hotspot I don’t mean that there are a couple of them knocking about regularly but there are 30+ Med Gulls flying about and doing the things and occupying the space that is normally taken by Black-headed Gulls and the numbers will rise as the winter progresses. Nice.
They are bloody everywhere. There are a fair few ringed ones amongst them, with many different colours which means they’ve come from all over the show (red, green and white at the last visit). I’ve yet to go through the numbers of the ones that I recorded but if it’s the kind of thing that rocks your boat, then this site will do it for you too.
Now I could choose this area to be part of my imminent patch, but just to be bloody minded (and so that I don’t just follow Meds all the time) I’ve purposely drawn a line in the sand (no pun intended) someway south of this marvellous hot spot. Having said that, I wouldn’t be surprised if I’m counting them weekly. Because I can, and because they are Med Gulls and because they are cracking. So good that they deserve a picture.
As I pointed out to Mrs Thing at the weekend, nearly everything is a patch tick at the moment. Although the designated patch has been visited before, the visits have been largely brief and largely dominated by Gulls.
However, a more significant visit over the weekend was as you might expect more significant in the birds found. First up, and almost instantly, was a Wheatear bouncing along behind the dunes and quickly joined by another. Top stuff – and in October too. Shortly after this there was the obligatory Med Gull (I’ll explain later this week why I can be slightly dismissive about one of my favourite birds on this patch) and then the usual gulls. There were 50+ Cormorants (diligently scanned for a stray Shag to no avail) and still more gulls at sea. I was hoping to catch site of a distant Gannet for the patch list but the winds were in no way helpful, so it will have to wait until next time. Before leaving there were a few Meadow Pipits and half a dozen Linnets. Nearly all patch ticks and all welcome.
I was hoping that leaving the big smoke would have limited my exposure to the dreaded Feral Pigeon and their confusing flights, but there is a resident flock in the new patch and two of them are totally white. Bastards.
It has been mentally noted that the actual patch and it’s boundaries has yet to be specified. I intend to rectify that little omission this week too. Interestingly (or perhaps not) I’m not including an area of special importance for a wintering bird that is nearby. Just because I can.
Stay tuned kids!