Thursday, 27 June 2013

Vardø gulls

I promised (threatened?) a separate post on the Gulls we saw at Vardø. There was a lot of activity from fishing boats unloading their catch and this attracted many hundreds of gulls to the harbour. Many were resting on a jetty that we were able to drive onto and therefore come very close to them. The majority of the birds were Herring Gulls (gråmåke) with much smaller numbers of Great Black-backed Gulls (svartbak). The Herring Gulls were nearly all adults or at least adult looking but from ringed birds that we saw a number were probably in their 5th calendar year - born in 2009 – and maybe not yet breeding.
Gulls resting on the quayside in Vardø harbour
A line up of adult Herring Gulls (gråmpke) with the head of a 2cy Great Black-backed Gull (svartbak) poking out

An adult and 2cy Great Black-backed Gull with Herring Gulls. This bird seemed yellower legged and darker eyed than usual

 The only unusual gulls we saw were four 1st summer Glaucous Gulls (polarmåke) most of which looked to have some sort of injury or ailment which probably explains why they haven't gone north for the summer (for some birds Vardø is a warm winter destination!).
2cy Glaucous Gull (polarmåke). Note the deformed bill. Also note the metal ringed bird behind but we were unable to take photos to allow us to read the ring

Many of the Herring Gulls have reduced black in the wing tips seemingly restricted to the outer two primaries (P10 and P9). This could be a sign of hybridasation with Glaucous Gulls but seems so widespread that it may just be part of the natural variation this far north. One particular bird really stood out and perched it looked to be an adult Glaucous but there was some dark in the wing tips. When it flew it could be seen that the left wing had black on P7-10 but P9 was nearly all white and the right wing seemed to have lost its feather tips.
strangely white winged Herring Gull

in flight note that the right wing is missing its wing tips and on the left wing P9 is nearly all white

We also managed to read a number of colour rings. Six bore Norwegian rings and due to the fantastic internet based reporting system I was able to report the birds and get instant access to their life history. Four had been ringed as juveniles in June 2009 on nearby Hornøya, one had also been ringed here in May 2008 as an adult and another ringed as an adult in mid Norway in November 2012. One of the birds has wintered in Holland and another in Denmark but there were otherwise very few reports of these birds.

JN355 Ringed as a chick on hearby Hornøya 11.06.2009 and not subsequently reported before our sighting. This bird is in its 5th calendar year making it a fourth summer. It's plumage looks entirely adult though
More excitingly we also read the rings of two birds ringed in England by the North Thames Ringing Group. Unfortunately, the Brits rely on observers sending in observations by email and after a week I have yet to receive any reply regarding these birds......It also took me a long time to find the correct ringing scheme (using this excellent voluntarily updated website) because to my eyes the rings were red but apparently they are orange (make up your own mind). It helped that I could read the metal ring and therefore narrow my search to British schemes. I definitely think the ease of reporting the Norwegian birds encourages people to go to the effort of reading and reporting rings whilst my experience so far with the North Thames Birds has left me a little frustrated.

British ringed Herring Gull – the metal ring can also be read. But is the colour ring really orange?

British ringed Great Black-backed Gull. Although the picture is not so good I don’t think that the letters used here are the easiest to read - what is the second letter?


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