Saturday, 10 February 2007

Gull Watching

See those specks on the far pool? In amongst them was supposed to be a Kumlien's Gull, a rare vagrant race of Iceland Gull all the way from Arctic Canada, only it wasn't. The first day in a week the bird doesn't turn up is when I go there. Ah well, I did score my first Glaucous Gull, so I couldn't count myself as disappointed.

Gull watching is a new thing for me. I'd always thought of it as grossly labourious, not only do you need to study very carefully to distinguish 2nd-winter this form 2-nd winter that, but you may very well end up browsing 20,000 such birds at some winter roosts. That's more like bird-working than birdwatching to me.
Still, I felt I should bite the bullet and did plenty of homework with guides and specialist websites, and felt confident enough to give it a go. Fortunately the site I chose, Carr Vale, only had around 300 gulls in the day roost so it was a pretty easy start, and the bird of the day was a handsome 1st-winter Glaucous Gull (looks like this), which did rather stick out once you found it. It's the white wing-tips you look for first - then you can be quite certain it's either Glaucous or Iceland Gull, and work it out from there.

As for the Kumlien's, a special bird like that attracts twitchers to my local area and it was surprising how poor some their ID skills were. I'm no purist myself, I don't expect great expertise from any birdwatcher I come across, yet I cannot understand why anybody would travel dozens of miles to spot a bird when they don't actually know what it looks like. A couple of times some of the elder gents swore blind they had found the bird and then went on to describe an individual with black wing-tips (probably a Herring Gull), the first thing that should indicate the bird wasn't their target.
I find most twitchers do know their stuff, but this small minority who can seldom tell anything apart and still claim life lists into the 300's, well, I do not understand them at all.

After a while, I surprisingly found the gull watching quiet fun. It's a true test of ID skills, which is something you don't very often get after a decade's worth of birding, so there is real achievement when you pick out something a bit special.

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