Friday, 28 April 2017

Not tonight Josephine

Another early start today, as I wanted to get to Farmoor reservoir early doors to see a Bonapartes gull which has been there for 3 weeks. These are small gulls, superficially similar to black-headed gulls but with key differences, which I will highlight later. So, I set out about 6.15 and got to the reservoir which is on the far side of Oxford to me, about 7.20. The gates however were locked. I've been here plenty of times before, and the car park, with associated barrier has always open to let in the assorted birders, boaters and fisher-folk. This was solidly chained-up though. A nip down the road to the water-board site and the man on the gate told me it opens at 8 officially, but often earlier. So, I headed back just as the man was opening up. I pulled in behind his car. Then after he went through he stopped and locked the gate again. "are you not opening up" I politely queried. "No, we open at 8 and I can't let you in early as it wouldn't be fair on the others". Fair! Others! I had met the proverbial jobsworth! He wasn't to be moved though, so I parked up outside the gate and soon another birder fell into the same trap. At pretty much 8am ON THE DOT he returned to open the gate though.
In the meantime, I had been talking with other birder, who was a local (why did he turn up early?) who told me where the gull was normally seen. Turn left at the top of the steps and walk about a quarter of a mile. It's always in that bay. I'd got about 200 hundred yards when I heard a loud shout. My friend was gesticulating wildly and pointing at an area of water I couldn't see!
A short but unseemly dash later and I could see what he was pointing at - the gull was sitting quite happily on a pontoon outside the sailing centre. Thank god I hadn't gone out of shouting range as its a really large reservoir and I could have been looking for ages in the other place.

Now this is the problem with gulls. They do look pretty similar. On this shot above, if you were casually walking past your local pond you wouldn't give it a second glance - two black-headed gulls.
When they turn sideways on, it becomes more interesting. Can you circle the main points of difference. Main thing is the beak - bird on the left has a short, black, quite pointed bill. The one on the right has a thicker, longer, paler bill. Left has a marked spot behind it's eye compared to the smudge on the right. Left has a dark patch on it's wing, right has a clean shoulder.

You should be able to make out all of these in the cropped photos above. It is smaller as well, but not markedly so and without a direct close comparison that would be hard to tell. The main point is that sharp, dagger-like black bill. It's leg are almost more pink in colour than the slightly more orange ones of a black-headed gull.

It didn't really want to move much, but it did have one fly around which let me see the characteristic wing pattern. This s the smudge you can see when it is sitting, which is a bolder bar in flight. All in all very nice, and by far the best view of a Bonapartes gull I've had. I also picked up my first common whitethroat of the year, so my year list is now up to a very respectable 214. At this rate 270 or more should be achievable but I do need to find a few lifers soon - red-rumped swallow anyone?