November 26th   Leave a comment

I had another lockdown-working-from-home boon today. An Iceland gull as reported from Fife Ness at lunchtime, and unusually it was on the deck rather than flying by. White-winged gulls are rare around Crail – a handful of Iceland and glaucous gulls in my 18 years here – and these are almost invariably flybys, except when one discovers the fish discards in Anstruther harbour or Pittenweem. I cycled down to Fife Ness reasonably fast: 20 minutes rather than the 13 I managed for the Arctic, but then the degree of incentive was higher. All the same an Iceland gull is a good bird, and an id challenge with a couple of leucistic herring gulls being around the area. The key criteria for Iceland and glaucous gulls is their lack of black in the wings, but herring gulls occasionally lack this. So I looked at this bird with caution. It was resting among the gulls on the rocks off Stinky Pool where the shags and cormorants roost. Luckily it was settled in and I was able to watch it closely for an hour before it flew off strongly south, looking like a barn owl because of its mealy brown and white colours. The Iceland gull was a first winter bird, so a dirty, pale brownish over the top of its white plumage, but not in any coherent way as with herring gulls, and lacking any black in the wings. But the main criteria is the head shape: more rounded than a herring gull with a bill heading towards Mediterranean in structure, and a relatively kindly expression. This is the key to gull id: great black-backed gulls look like they will damage you with their evil expressions and giant bills; herring gulls look slightly prone to violence and have a slightly aggressive look, but Iceland gulls are on their way to looking innocent. An open faced look, a normal looking bill and a peaceful demeanour – not cute or gentle like a kittiwake, but clearly further down the continuum compared to a herring gull. It’s really a general impression, and the id is best done straight away from first impression. The longer you look at gull head structure, the more similar the species start looking (it’s the same with raptor wing shape). Every encounter with an unusual species is a birding lesson and I got my money’s worth today, with the Iceland gull moving to stand next to herring gulls and then great black-backed gulls as if posing for a field guide. An ideal lunchtime diversion. And 171 for this year’s record breaking Crail year list.

3 = Iceland Gull; 2 = Herring Gull; 1 = Great Black-backed Gull. Note the mealy, almost orangey brown impression to the plumage, rather than coherently barred, and the white wing tips on the right hand photos. Top left note the expression and bill structure 1 = violent, 2 = aggressive, 3 = moderately peaceful. Bottom right you can also see the shorter legs and smaller headed look compared to a herring gull, giving the Iceland gull a more dumpy appearance.

Posted November 26, 2020 by wildcrail in Sightings

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