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Sunday, 11 March 2012

Kilmory's gone to Iceland

Had a nice surprise down at Kilmory today (Sunday 11th March about 2pm) in the form of not one but three Iceland gulls Larus glaucoides (2 x 1st winter plumage and 1 x 3rd winter). These are scarce winter visitors to NW Europe, but we regularly encounter them in Scotland at this time of year, especially in the north of the country.Even though they're called Iceland gulls, they don't actually breed in Iceland, but do the biz in northern Canada and Greenland, so our trio will presumable be making a trip over the Atlantic soon.

Iceland Gull (1st winter) Kilmory beach

I initially picked up one bird as it flew down the beach.They're a so called 'white winged gull', so the absence of any black in the primaries (wing tips) and tail were an obvious give away.Then all of a sudden I was seeing double and there were two 'white wingers' flying down the beach.On closer examination, both were aged as 1st winter birds. They were both very pale and had quite a lot of biscuit coloured feathering on the upperparts which is plumage retained from their darker juvenile stage from last year, so they are enjoying their first winter of life ie 1st winter birds.

Then there were two!

They landed in a flock of mostly herring and great black backs, so I scanned intently for a possible third, and as luck would have it, there it was, but this individual had no biscuit colouration to its plumage and was almost pure white on the upperparts, so an adult bird.However, this bird still had a dark terminal band on the bill and not the yellow and red one of a full adult.They take four years to mature fully, so this individual must have been a 3rd winter.

Take a close look at the photos, Iceland gulls are slightly smaller than herring gulls and rather more gentle in appearance and not as fierce due in part to a smaller head.They have long wing or primary projection so look very attenuated on their rear ends. 

Iceland Gulls, 2 x 1st winters.Note the attenuated rear end due to the long primary projection of the bird on the far left, a diagnostic feature of the species.  

All plumage variations walking right

3rd winter Iceland gull making sure I had noticed its lack of black on its wing tips!Cheers bro!

3rd winter Iceland gull (middle), 1st winter on extreme left.Note how much paler and slight these birds are compared to the darker backed heavier herring gull

3rd winter Iceland gull, only bird facing fully right

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