Saturday, 24 March 2012

Day 3 Finnmark March 2012

Another long day. Up at 0430 and in the field from 0500 until 1730. Were we rewarded? Not really. Two adult Iceland Gulls, a very early Rock Pipit, over 50 Glaucous Gulls, finally some satisfying pictures of Steller’s Eider and another White-billed Diver were the highlights apart from more hybirds and subspecies (see blow). Very surprising was a complete lack of raptors, not even a single White-tailed Eagle.
Male Steller's Eider

Flock of Steller's Eider

Viewing conditions were very good with little wind such that it was easy to see what was on the sea and also good light for studying the birds. We spent most time on gulls particularly the two sand beaches near Svartnes (on the mainland looking over to Vardø) where streams provide fresh water for bathing/preening gulls. There is much movement of gulls here with many hundreds of gulls passing through. At any one time there were around 400 Herrings Gulls with upto 20 Glaucous Gulls. By looking at the ages of the Glaucous Gulls present at any one time it was easy to see that there was much movement of birds. It was here we faced our most interesting identification challenges.
 Firstly with a couple of adult Common Gulls one of which we was ringed and we had first seen on Vardø. The ringed bird at least was a very good candidate for Heinei with a pale iris, long yellow bill and yellow legs. It also looked different to normal Common Gulls with a bit of Ring-billed Gull look about it. The other bird had a dark eye and a more normal jizz but did also have noticeably yellow bill and legs.
Adult Common Gull showing characters of Russian subspecies Heinei. Although the eye looks dark in this picture it was pale in real life (see next picture). Also note yellow bill and legs. The white eye lids of this bird helped give it a special appearance

Note pale iris visible in this picture

2 adult Common Gulls. The right hand bird which was ringed is shown in the other photos and showed Heinei characters. Notice in this picture it is slightly darker on the wings than the other bird which had a dark eye.

Wing pattern of the right-hand bird

We also spent some time with a 2nd winter gull that initially looked like a Glaucous but on closer inspection was probably too dark with a dark tail, dark secondary bar and primaries that were not quite pale enough. We discussed Glaucous Winged Gull and the bird appeared to have a dark eye but did not get conclusive views or good photos (see the best below which are hugely cropped) due to distance and in the end veered towards it perhaps being a hybrid between Glaucous and Herring.
Mystery Gull. Hybrid Glaucous x Herring? Dark Glaucous? or something rarer

Another 3rd winter bird in the flock was also a probable hybrid but we got no photos of this bird. It was a far more intermediate bird with a Glaucous like bill, pale grey scapulars, creamy coloured coverts and tertials and brown primaries. It was also a large bird at the top end for Herring Gull.
It was interesting looking at the Glaucous Gulls and noting the large difference in size with some birds smaller than the largest Herring Gulls and others the size of Great Black-backed. The 2 Iceland Gulls we had we both very small birds, notably smaller than adjacent Herring Gulls and therefore likely to be females.

The day ended with a vindaloo in Vadsø – the world’s most northerly curry house?

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