Thursday 13 February 2014

Caspian gull!

If the water pipit happened close to home, my next chase was certainly a bit further away. Reports of a Caspian gull (kaspimåke) all the way south in Fredrikstad. I have kind of decided not to go for this species - especially in Fredrikstad. The reason is simple. It is a very rare bird, and the place they usually are seen (thanks to a few very gull dedicated birders), is either at the rubbish tip in Fredrikstad, or in the town Mandal even further south. The two places has in common that the gulls there are almost never seen two days in a row. In Fredrikstad it is a simple reason for this. There are thousands of gulls feeding at the rubbish tip, and to find one stranger amongst all these take even more than luck. The birds here tend to fly a lot around in the area, and even when sitting, you can be sure they don't sit for long before they take to the wings again. A very difficult place indeed, and you never feel that you manage to check them all. In other words, a place excellent for giving you frustration!

Anyway, this time, the bird was reported at a harbour in downtown Fredrikstad. Even though close to the rubbish tip, it was seen at the same place twice and happily was attracted by bread. I decided to give it a go!

Starting 2 in the morning from home, ment driving all night. Advantage by driving during the night is that you save an hour because you don't need to meet all those driving in 60 km/hours (and believe me, there are lots of them! )The disadvantage - especially in winter is the number of moose (elg) along the roads. I almost got hit by one and a near moose death experience made the trip a bit more exciting than I liked. Because of the forestry industry and that Norway has eradicated all large predators that feed on moose, Norway has an extremely high moose population. Some believe that bears and wolves are dangerous, but the really dangerous animal in Norwgian forests is the moose. Several people get killed each year in car vs moose accidents. This time I managed to stop the car only 5 meters in front of moose, that pretended to be king of the road for a moment. I didn't dispute him. I hade 3 moose crossing the road in front of the car dueing this trip, but only one close one. Moose out of the way and 600km later I was surprisingly bright and shiny - ready for some gull action Fredrikstad.

But the story repeat itself...all day throwing bread in all different directions, but no caspian gull. About 7 years ago, I was at the same place for the exact same reason, and did the exact same thing - offering the finest bread I could buy for all gulls in Fredrikstad without the caspian taking the bait. Although a few caspian look alike, the star himself didn't want to put on a show. I wanted to try the next morning again, as I felt pretty sure the bird was in the area. Later that evening, news came out that the bird had been seen at Øra, the rubbish tip. The challenge was on - or the nightmare if you prefer...

My view for the whole day. Some gulls, but not any caspian....

Well, next morning after some more bread throwing exercise without any luck downtown Fredrikstad, I made my way to Øra. My hope was very slim but sometimes even I get lucky. Two hours searching, and suddenlly there it was. Sitting amongst a few hundred other birds. Flat head profile, white head and breast and pale upperparts. A small black eye, and long relatively slim blackish bill. I am far from any gull expert, but this individual stood out quite well from the rest. The most important feature though, was obscured by other gulls. I didn't manage to see the length of the legs properly. One gull moved, and I managed to see briefly one of the legs. Suddenly, as the only gull in the flock, it took to the wings, but I managed to take a few pictures of the beauty before it dissappeared amongst the herds of other gulls. Despite being in the area for 2 more hours, I didn't find it back. The whole observation only took 1 minute, but what a minute it was! This was not only an adition to my Big Year list, but also a twitch for my Norway list! Big thank you to the finder, that also was the one to find it back on Øra in the evening and made me try a second day. Here is some pictures. Sorry for the bad quality as these are already cropped almost 100%.

Flat and white head, long blackish bill and small dark eye. Black tail band stands
out quite well as the rump is almost all white. This bird, a 2nd winter, is late
for the time in the moulting. Normally, they would show more pale feathers
on the back.  

This was a very big bird, and much larger than most of the herring gulls (gråmåke).
Actually when I first saw it, I was thinking more of ruling out Black-backed gulls
(svartbak) than herring gull. Because of the size, it is probably a male. Even though
identifying these birds is extremely challenging due to the huge variateion that herring gulls
show, I feel that the jizz ans shape of caspian gull is very different from herring gulls.

While scanning for the caspian, I also came across some other interesting individuals, which I put into the box for variation of herring gull. The distance was very long, and almost all these pictures are cropped and even enlarged a bit. With such bad picture quality, it is impossible to make anything out of it, but I anyway want to show some of them to illustrate the difficulties these gulls represent.

White head and breast, and farily long leggs, as well as quite a pale back
remind us of caspiean features. However, head shape (round head), pale eye
and probably some other plumage feature I dont't have the knowledge to
comment on make this a herring gull in my eyes. 

Different individual than the one above. Again, very pale head and breast,
 and generally pale above reminds us of some of the features for caspian.
With its rounded head shape and short bill, jizz is however all wrong for caspian. 

At Øra, I saw two, maybe three adult "yellow-legged gull". This individual is
probably the most promising. Very little white in primaries, bright yellow legs,
all white head without any dark markings (most herring has at least some
 dark mottling on head this time of year).  Bill is stout, meaning short and heavy.
Unfortunately, the distance to this bird was too long for decent photos. But I do
think this is a very good candidate for Yellow-legged gull L.michaelis (gulbeinmåke). 

A different "yellow-legged gull" than the previous picture. This still has white
head, and yellowish legs. Bill is fairly short and heavy,  and the black on primaries
goes quite far towards the arm . Maybe too many white spots in the primaries to
make it something else than herring. I don't know. 

With the caspian gull safely bagged, I started the long drive home. I was planning to try a little owling, but too much wind made all the owls silent. I did however see two tengmalm's owls feeding along one of the many forest roads. A handsome addition to my Big Year list. At 4 am I was finally home after the 1500 kilometers long trip from start to end.

13 February
Inspired by the gull fest down south, I did go to my local patch today to feed the gulls. Just a hundred meters or so away from my garden, I was surprised by a Tundra bean goose (Sædgås ua rossicus) - a very welcome garden twitch!

A rare treat for my garden! 

Well, tomorrow I am off for some family business  and holiday in Turkey. So my Big Year list will stand still for two weeks, before I really will start my birding effort in March.

New species: 2
Total: 116


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