I jumped through hoops on Friday to fulfil all my commitments with time to get to the Draycote roost in the hope of nailing the Kumlien’s Gull which was the principal subject of my last post.  Martin Elliott helped me get my farmland bird survey at Long Compton done in return for a lift to Shawell to photograph argentatus and we managed to get away by lunchtime.  A party of four Red Kites were the only unusual birds on the survey and the farmland bird numbers were down significantly, as at two of the other three farms I have surveyed this month.

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Red Kites Long Compton

At Shawell I found an adult Caspian Gull which we saw three times as it commuted between the tip and the balancing lagoons (the dirty smudges on the ear coverts making individual recognition easy).

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Ad. Caspian Gull Shawell

Martin then pulled out a Juv. Glaucous Gull x Herring Gull hybrid, a dark individual with many Glaucous Gull like structural features including a short primary projection and pale webs in the primaries though much of the plumage was perhaps more Herring Gull like than some.

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Juv. Glaucous Gull x Herring Gull hybrid Shawell

We arrived at Draycote Water at 3.45 where we split up, Dan Watson and I finding two Ad. Caspian Gulls and a couple of Yellow-legged Gulls whilst Martin found the first Mediterranean Gull of the year for the site (an adult).  I returned today hoping that birds would be in early as the tips close down on Saturday afternoons.  I thought I might at least get the Juv. Glaucous Gull from the tip at Weston which Dan Watson and Jon Barnett found on Friday.  After some considerable time on Hensborough Bank I switched to Draycote Bank where I also drew a blank, finding it difficult to believe there was not at least one ‘white-winger’ in a roost of c. 50 000 birds.  At 16.35 when I had given up hope I found ‘the beastie’ really close in a hundred metres along the dam from where I was standing.  A quick check to ensure that the primaries were definitely brown with pale fringes was followed by a nervous sprint to a position in line with the bird.  The sight that greeted me was pretty astonishing.  The head and body plumage of the bird is extremely dark, though the appearance was probably exaggerated by the poor light, and there is white feathering showing through on the face and neck.  The overall appearance is similar to the way Martin memorably once described some Juv.  Glaucous-winged Gulls as ‘looking like a loaf of Hovis’.  I concentrated on the primary pattern which was brown with pale fringes.  In my original description I refer to P6 on the left wing being paler than the rest of the primaries but it is actually P6 & 7.   The bill does have a paler base where I thought previously it was entirely dark and John Judges observation that the under tail coverts are very heavily barred is indeed the case.  I forgot to look at the scapulars, coverts and tertials and again the bird only flew once for the shortest of distances so I have still not seen the spread wing and tail patterns but the pattern of the folded primaries rules out glaucoides.  I moved closer still to try and find it through the viewfinder of the camera (a forlorn task  if ever there was one)  and the entire raft spooked so I retired more than a little happy.