Monday, 10 February 2014
Yesterday I was just getting into my car early afternoon in order to have a look at the lower end of the Exe estuary when I had a call from Matt Knott, informing me he had an Iceland Gull on Shelly Bank, a large prominent sandbar off the Imperial Ground and Mudbank Lane in Exmouth. I dashed down to find the bird still in position. The bird was a typical first-winter Iceland Gull in all respects from the distance we were viewing apart from an all-dark bill, a feature of first-winter Kumliens Gull! The primary tips appeared to be all-white and fairly gleaming at that, in the bright sunshine. Matt tried to entice the bird closer by throwing a whole loaf of bread on to the estuary side (yes, he did actually break this up into bite-size pieces!). Many gulls came in from along behind the station, but the Iceland preferred to stick to its spot out on the sandbar. The Dawlish Warren boys managed to pick it out, but from a great distance away (over a mile!). Whilst getting into our cars to take refuge from a sharpish shower we both somehow managed to lose the bird! However the Warren boys were still on it and followed it out of the estuary and eastwards along the seafront, where a bit later on Matt relocated it feeding in with the mass of large gulls that have been stormdriven into the tideline surf over the past few days right by the lifeboat station. It was then photographed by Matt and when pics were published it was realised that in point of fact the bird also showed a greyish hooped wash to the outer webs of the primaries thus practically confirming that the bird was indeed a Kumlien's Gull! Now imagine my surprise when looking again for this bird along by the lifeboat station at lunchtime today I found another Kumlien's Gull, this time a cracking adult in near full-breeding plumage. This bird had more noticeable grey hooped outer webs to the primaries and was a very smart bird, being in practically full breeding plumage. It had a lovely white head and neck with hardly any grey flecking, a nice deep yellow iris to the eye and a subtle pale grey mantle and upper-wing surfaces! The paper for identifying adult winter Kumlien's Gull is to be found in Alula 1/2003 by Steve Howell and Bruce Mactavish based on hundreds of individuals studied in Newfoundland! Of course, wingtip pattern and eye colouration applies to adult Kumlien's in all plumages. Todays bird had a wing pattern closely referred to as pale-grey by said authors and the eye colour being a deep yellow was definitely on their scale of 3.0. Interesting to see that these authors also seem to relate the paler wing-tips in adults to the older birds studied, giving the impression that my bird was quite an old timer! I understand that a couple of other birders managed to get on to the bird later on in the afternoon, after I had returned to work.