Though gulls in the Draycote roost are generally too far away to photograph it is nonetheless possible to identify individuals if attention is paid to detail.  Thus far John Judge and I estimate that 16 or more individual Glaucous Gulls have now occurred at Draycote Water and on nearby landfills in 2017, following NW gales in the New Year period which resulted in a national influx. The influx is unprecedented locally although a similar event involving Iceland Gulls occurred in 2012. Thus far there has been at least one Glaucous Gull found in all but one of the 37 roost visits undertaken between 03/01 and 24/02 and there has generally been more than one, the figures are presented here.

No. of Individuals
0 1 2 3 4 5
No. of nights 1 6 19 6 4 1

Six individuals have been seen at Weston Landfill and at least two of those were not recorded from the Draycote Water roost. The details of individuals which could be identified with confidence (all but two of the birds being found within a 23 day period) are listed here (numerous records of birds which could not be identified individually are omitted):

Individual 1. A very large Ad. A red spot on the gonys separated it from individuals 2 & 3 and clean head and body plumage separated it from subsequent adults (head streaking would only be lost not acquired as the season progressed). Found by John Judge with Tim Marlow in the Draycote roost 03/01 and seen again there 04 & 05/01 by the original observers and Paul Hyde. Length of stay = 3 days.

Individual 2. Ad. A very large, pale billed individual with a well-defined black spot on the gonys and typical build with a short primary projection. Found by Tim Marlow in the Draycote roost 08/01 and seen again there 09, 10 and 11/01 (by John Judge and Paul Hyde on the latter date) and at Bubbenhall Lakes 10/01 by Tim Marlow John Judge & Roland Hopkins.  Individually identified at Bubbenhall and seen simultaneously with individual 3 at Draycote. Length of stay = 4 days.

Individual 3. Ad. Another pale billed individual but with a very weak black spot on the gonys, and a very small bird with a long primary projection differentiating it from individual 2. Found by Tim Marlow with John Judge and Roland Hopkins off Watery Lane 10/01 and also seen in the Draycote roost 10/01 & 11/01 (by John Judge and Paul Hyde on the latter date) and last seen there on 30/01 by John Judge and Paul Hyde.  Individually identified at Bubbenhall and seen simultaneously with individual 2 at Draycote. Length of stay = 21 days.

GlaucBubb 5

Individual 4. Ad. A large bird with very light head streaking and a ‘shawl’ of remnant streaks at the base of the neck differentiating it from individual 1 which had clean head and body plumage and had not been recorded since 05/01. Found by John Judge with Tim Marlow at Bubbenhall Lakes 17/01 and seen in the Draycote roost that evening by Tim Marlow and there again 20/01 by Tim Marlow and Paul Hyde and 22/01 by Tim Marlow. Length of stay = 6 days.

Individual 5. Ad. A smaller bird than individual 1 which unlike this bird was clean headed, with heavier streaking on the head than individual 4 and a crescent of streaks across the lower breast differentiating it from all earlier adults.   Found in the Draycote roost 25/01 by Tim Marlow with John Judge and John Sirret and seen there again 26/01 by John Judge with Tim Marlow, 27/01 by Tim Marlow and Paul Hyde and 28/01 by John Judge, Tim Marlow and Nick Barlow.  Last seen 11/02. Length of stay = 17 days.

Individual 6. Ad. A large bird with darker, denser and more extensive head streaking than any of the earlier adults. Found by John Judge 11/02/17 with Tim Marlow and last seen 18/02 by Tim Marlow. Length of stay = 8 days.

Second winters

Individual 7. A very worn, off-white individual with an uneven scatter of faded remnant brown markings in the scapulars and coverts, the palest immature bird seen and the only certain 2nd W involved. Found by John Judge in the Draycote Water roost with Tim Marlow and Steve Valentine 05/02/17 and seen again 16-22/02 by Paul Hyde, Richard Knightbridge and Tim Marlow. Occurred within 19 days of the three birds included in pale Juvs. for which the possibility of 2nd W could not be excluded with certainty.  Length of stay = 17 days.

Dark Juveniles

Individual 8. Juv. A very large, very fresh, dark bird with very well-marked upperparts and brown primaries. Found by John Judge with Tim Marlow in the Draycote roost 03/01 and also seen again there 04 & 05/01 by the original observers and Paul Hyde. Seen at Watery Lane 04/01 by Tim Marlow and Dennis Woodward and Bubbenhall Lakes 05/01 by John Judge. A similar bird found by John Judge in the Draycote roost 14/01 seems likely to have been a different individual but could not be separated on plumage or structure and is thus included here.   It is unlikely any of the subsequent Juvs. would have faded to the degree necessary for them to refer to this individual in the 23 days which elapsed between the finding of it and the last Juv. involved. Length of stay = 3 days.

Individual 9. Juv. Another dark individual but much smaller than individual 8 and paler (with 8 days separating the sightings).  Found in the Draycote roost by John Judge with Tim Marlow 22/01 and seen again there 24/01 by John Judge with Tim Marlow. A similar bird found by John Judge with Tim Marlow in the Draycote roost 28/01 and last seen 05/02 is thought to have been a different individual but could not be separated on plumage or structure with absolute certainty and is thus included here. Length of stay = 3 days.

Typical Juveniles

Individual 10. Juv. A ‘typical’ biscuit coloured bird found by Paul Hyde at Bubbenhall Lakes and then seen by John Judge and Paul Hyde in the Draycote roost 11/01. The date spans for the darker individuals overlap with the single date for this bird. Length of stay = 1 day.

Individual 11. Juv. A ‘typical’ biscuit coloured bird but larger and paler than individual 10 found by John Judge (who also saw individual 8) with Gus Ariss at Bubbenhall Lakes 13/01. The date spans for the darker individuals overlap with the single date for this bird. Length of stay = 1 day.

Glaucous_5480

Individual 12. Juv. A fairly ‘typical’ biscuit coloured individual with some substantial paler areas in the scapulars differentiating it from individuals 9 and 10 which will not have undergone significant wear in the intervening 4 daysThe date span is separated by just 1 day from individual 8 and 7 days from individual 9 which are unlikely to have undergone significant fading in such a short time. Found by John Judge with Tim Marlow in the Draycote roost 15/01 and seen again there 17/01. Length of stay = 3 days.

Pale Juveniles

Individual 13. Juv./2nd W An extremely large pale individual with dense streaking on the head and breast contrasting markedly with the uniformly pale upperparts distinguishing it from subsequent pale Juvs. which occurred within 4-5 days. Found by Tim Marlow 17/01 in the Draycote roost.  Pale birds were seen at Bubbenhall on 17 & 18/01 but it is not known if they refer to the same individual. This individual had a dark eye and no pale tip was discernible to the bill but the plumage contrast may suggest a 2nd W rather than a Juv. The date overlaps with the last of the typically plumaged Juvs. and is separated by 7 days from the earliest of the rest. Length of stay = Length of stay = 1 day.

Glauc 10 edit 2

Individual 14. Juv. A large bird with pale ground colouration but with fairly dark, well defined brown markings in the scapulars and coverts and neat sub-terminal arrowheads in the primaries distinguishing it from the other pale individuals all of which had very faded, uniform looking scapulars, coverts and primaries and occurred within three days of it. Found in the Draycote roost 21/01 by Tim Marlow with John Judge and Cliff Smith.  The date is separated by 10 days from the earliest of the typically plumaged birds. Length of stay = 1 day.

Individual 15. Juv./2nd W A very large, uniformly very pale, faded brown bird with no discernible markings in the scapulars, coverts or primaries and lacking contrasting head and breast streaking found in the Draycote roost 21/01 by John Judge with Tim Marlow and Cliff Smith and seen there again 24/01 by Tim Marlow and John Judge, 25/01 by John Judge, Tim Marlow and John Sirret, 27/01 by Tim Marlow, Paul Hyde and Dan Watson and 28 & 29/01 by John Judge and Tim Marlow and 30/01 by John Judge and Paul Hyde.  Last seen 04/02 by John Judge, Tim Marlow and Gus Ariss. A much larger bird than individual 16 which had pretty much identical plumage and was seen in the same field of view on 24/01 and simultaneously with it on 28/01.  The date is separated by 11 days later from the earliest of the typically plumaged birds. Length of stay = 15 days.

Glaucous_5765 edit 2

Individual 16.  Juv./2nd W A uniformly very pale, faded brown bird with no discernible markings in the scapulars, coverts or primaries and lacking head and breast streaking which differed from Individual 15 in being much smaller and was seen in the same field of view at one point.  Found in the Draycote roost 24/01 by Tim Marlow with John Judge and last seen 28/01.  Seen in the same field of view as individual 15 on 24/01 & simultaneously with it on 28/01. The date is separated by 14 days from the earliest of the typically plumaged birds. Length of stay = 4 days.

On average there is a tendency for Glaucous Gull to occur a little earlier in the season than Iceland Gull the majority of which are found between February and April. The Iceland Gull records for 2017 are as follows:

Individual 1. Juv. A very fresh, dark individual with boldly patterned scapulars and brown primaries with pale fringes found by Dan Watson with Tim Marlow at Bubbenhall Lakes 14/01. Length of stay = 1 day.

Ice 2

Individual 2. Juv. A paler bird than, more worn bird than individual 1. Found by Tim Marlow in the Draycote roost 22/01 and seen again there by John Judge with Tim Marlow and Gus Ariss 04/02. Length of stay = 14 days.

Individual 3. Ad. The first adult of the season. Found by Tim Marlow in the Draycote roost 24/02. Length of stay = 1 day.

It is interesting to look back and compare the figures with previous years. Some historical data are unreliable prior to 2010 but I have gone back to 2008 in order to cover a ten year period and exercised some judgement with regard to reliability. Totals for all ‘white-winged’gulls over this period are as follows:

TOTALS
Glaucous Gull Iceland Gull Kumlien’s Gull Glaucous Gull x Herring Gull hybrid
YEAR
2017 16 3 0 1
2016 7 8 0 1
2015 4 9 1 2
2014 4 4 0 1
2013 2 2 0 0
2012 5 14 0 0
2011 3 3 0 0
2010 3 2 0 0
2009 2 6 1 0
2008 4 3 1 0
50  

54

 

3  5

As discussed in previous posts many landfill sites have closed down in recent years and there has been a reduction in the volume of food waste processed.  Gull numbers at many formerly outstanding localities in the West Midlands region and elsewhere have plummeted.  It seems likely that gull watching at the Draycote Water roost has benefited from these developments as there are still three operational landfill sites within c.10 km or so of the site.  The increase in Glaucous Gull numbers appears to support this hypothesis.  The situation with Iceland Gull is a little more complicated as many occur in the late winter/early spring period suggesting some of the later records involve birds which wintered to the SW moving back N, possibly having followed movements of other species such as Lesser Black-backed Gull.  Draycote may be in a privileged position in this regard as massive numbers of gulls move through the Leam Valley from SW to NE between the Severn and the Wash, a phenomenon first documented by Eric Simms in his book Bird Migrants and discussed in the Leam Valley pages on this site.  The occurrence of the species may thus be less tied to the presence of operational landfills than that of Glaucous Gull. The figures presented above do however suggest a recent increase in numbers, notwithstanding the exceptional tally for 2012 which was part of a national influx.

Whilst there is usually at least one record in the early winter period the overwhelming percentage of ‘arctic gulls’ are found between January and April. Aside from returning birds found later in this period most are discovered in the wake of NW gales. Numbers typically build up over the course of the working week and there is often a ‘turnaround’ at weekends when landfill sites close.  Figures for the average length of stay, taken from my own notes (including details of birds seen by John Judge) for the years 2017-2013 are presented below.

SPECIES
Glaucous Gull Iceland Gull
  Av. length of stay (days) Av. length of stay (days)
YEAR
2017 6.7 5.3
2016 4.7 1.6
2015 4.5 1.8
2014 5.5 6.5
2013 1.5 3

It can be seen that the average length of stay for Glaucous Gull is longer in two of the five years and this may support the view that the species presence is more closely linked to the availability of working landfill sites than that of Iceland Gull (the Iceland Gull figures for this year are likely to change as the season continues and more birds are found). Alternatively Iceland Gull, often occurring later in the season, may be less inclined to linger as spring approaches.  Though we are fortunate in that our area does still have working landfills they are coming to the end of their working lives and the average length of stay may perhaps be expected to change, decreasing if less food waste is available due to changes in working procedures or even increasing if fewer feeding sites are available elsewhere.  It seems peculiar that arctic gulls come inland to forage on tips and yet, having found them, move on so quickly.  It appears however that birds range across the UK, lingering for periods of varying duration.

Few birds are so distinctive as to facilitate the tracing of their movements between counties but there are several examples:

An Ad. Glaucous Gull ringed in Essex.  This bird was ringed at Pitsea in Essex in March 2015 and subsequntly found at Stanwick in Northamptonshire later that month.  A full account can be found here https://northantsbirds.com/2015/03/30/from-pitsea-to-stanwick-a-glaucous-gull-with-a-chequered-history/ In 2016 a Glaucous Gull with a plastic ring was seen at Weston Landfill but the observer was unable to read the code.  It seems highly unlikely that it was not this same individual (G1NT) which was subsequently recorded at Sandbach Flashes in Cheshire.

A Juv. Kumlien’s Gull which roosted at Draycote Water and fed at Weston Landfill in 2015.  The day after it was last seen at Bubbenhall on 24/01 this bird was found in Worcestershire and was subsequently recorded at Rufforth, York.

A Juv. Kumlien’s Gull which roosted at Draycote Water in 2009.  Found late on the afternoon of 06/02 at Draycote, just a couple of hours after it was last seen at Throckmorton in Worcs.

A 2nd W Kumlien’s Gull which roosted at Draycote Water in 2008.   First found at Telford this bird visited Belvide, Bartley, Wildmoor Sand quarry and Throckmorton before leaving the West Midlands and turning up at Shawell in Leicestershire (being seen in the Draycote roost during its stay there) and was last seen at Stewartby in Bedfordshire.  A full account of these movements can be found here http://www.birdingtoday.co.uk/birdwatching_articles_18.html.

Thanks to John Judge for data and use of photographs and also to Dan Watson for additional data.