Monday, 31 January 2011

Icing on the cake: January's Lothian highlight

The first month of the year is coming to its end already, and I see on Bubo listing that I am well off the Lothian list pace. My running total of 88 species reflects a January with limited time for birding beyond my local patch. As a combined force, Lothian listers have logged 130 species in the county this year already and Tony O'Connor leads the current table up at 112. Of course, it is not a competition, I keep telling myself - just some fun. Nevertheless, quite a few of these should be easy targets for me in the next few weeks - I am yet to see Goosander, Whooper Swan or even Pochard. I also note that there are three species that feature on several lists that I have not yet seen in the county - Taiga Bean Goose, Green-winged Teal and Smew - maybe I should put some effort into seeing these in early February...

I did add a couple of new species today thanks to a deviation on the school run and a lunch hour in Holyrood Park, Edinburgh.

On both visits the Iceland Gull was showing well, on St Margaret's Loch in the morning and on Dunsapie Loch at lunch time. It could be enticed into flight with some carefully thrown bread crusts, though it seemed unable to compete with the screaming Black-headed Gulls for the scraps.

This bird is in first winter plumage, though this term is sometimes avoided for gulls like this one that have no post-juvenile moult (all the feathers here are un-moulted first generation juvenile feathers). The lack of moult may be related to the short nature of the Arctic summer. So what term would be better than first winter? Second calendar year (2CY) is maybe no better, given how different this bird will look in ten months' time, so possibly 'first generation' is best of all. Whatever we call it, it is certainly a strikingly beautiful young gull.

I had travelled to Galway in December in the vain hope of getting good views of this white-winged cracker. Little did I know that a month later there would be such an accommodating individual within a couple of miles of home!
The subtlety of the bird's markings could be best appreciated on the tail. The white primary feathers and long wings make this bird unmissable in flight.

The Iceland Gull could be tempted by bread, but it always seemed that little bit slower off the mark than the Black-headed Gulls and Common Gulls.
On the water, the long white primaries made the bird equally distinctive, and in good light, the bird's iris could be seen to be chestnut brown rather than black. This colour will lighten over the coming months to the very pale eye typical of adult Iceland Gull. The 2CY bill pattern already seems well developed.

Too slow to get to the bread, the bird started foraging, though it did not seem to be successful.
A great bird and one that I hope hangs around for the next few months...

Another bonus while feeding the gulls this morning was this Common Treecreeper in the trees around St Margaret's Loch. Another Lothian year tick for me.

A Common Raven  over Arthur's Seat at lunchtime was a good bird for the city centre.

Finally, here is a Carrion Crow with de-pigmentation showing that there is more than one 'white-winger' in Holyrood Park today!


Joseph Nichols said...

Hi Geoff,

Congratulations on seeing the Iceland Gull, it certainly looks like a cracker of a bird and you've captured it very well on camera! I particularly like your second photo, very sharp and shows the bird's diagonsitcs perfectly. Well done!

All the Best,


Morg said...

Hi Joseph

Thanks for the comments - that is my favourite pic as well.