News broke on 05/02 that a pair of Whooper Swans were on the park lake at Abbey Fields in Kenilworth. Though the lake has played host to a Grey Phalarope, that species is often tame and the other big rarity recorded there was a Bonaparte’s Gull, a member of another fairly tolerant species group. The idea of two wild winter swans stopping over on the lake struck me as pretty suspect and I couldn’t help but wonder if they were ‘fence jumpers’. I went after work the next day and was somewhat dismayed to see them fly the length of the lake only to gorge on bread being thrown at the birds by park visitors. I had wondered if we might be able to check for them on the data base held by the Wildfowl and Wetland Trust which identifies wild individuals from their bill patterns but they only have records for Bewick’s, the variability in Whoopers being so great as to render individual identification impossible. The bill pattern of both was ‘yellowneb’ in which the black of the bill tip does not extend up the centre all the way to the base.  This is the commonest bill pattern shown by Icelandic birds and John Oates has commented that in Rekyavik Whoopers will come to food, so perhaps they were not quite so plastic as they appeared?  As far as I could see neither was ringed.

Whooper Bill 1

Whooper Swan, Kenilworth

Whooper Bill 2

Whooper Swan, Kenilworth

Whooper 2

Whooper Swans, Kenilworth

Whooper 4

Whooper Swan, Kenilworth

The next local twitch I went on was to another park. This time Swanhurst Park in the Birmingham suburb of Moseley where a Juv. Iceland Gull had taken to spending large amounts of its day. Aside from the photographic opportunities this bird interested me because it had a pale eye, not whitish but not just a slightly paler brown than is usual. John Judge and I went on 15/02, some time after the bird turned up. The light was very poor that day and I had to crop this image heavily.

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Juv. Iceland Gull, Moseley

I noticed that the pale iris was soon ‘lost’ once the bird moved away and though I was not using a scope the distances involved were never great. I began to wonder whether Juvs. might occasionally show pale irides and if the frequency with  which they do might be ‘masked’ by the fact that the true colour is simply not discernible at any kind of distance. I posted the photo on the Western Palearctic Gulls Facebook page asking how unusual the iris colour was and received one reply. Derek Charles commented that ‘it is not rare for Juv. Iceland Gull to show a slightly pale iris when seen at very close range’.

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Juv. Iceland Gull, Moseley

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Juv. Iceland Gull, Moseley