Firstly, welcome to the blog! Whilst its clear this is my first post on my blog, I will do an introductory post at some point in the near future. In the meantime, I have some white-winged gull drama to whet the appetite.
With the recent incredible influx of Iceland and Glaucous Gulls, Aberdeenshire – which normally produces a smattering of both species per winter – has inevitably benefited immensely, hosting an amazing amount of these fantastic birds. A trip to both Peterhead Harbour and Fraserburgh Harbours on Saturday (14th Jan) – the best places for white-wingers in the region at this time of year – produced an astonishing 9 Iceland Gulls, 3 times more than I had seen previously (3) in one day! Strangely no Glaucs were seen, unlucky considering they were seen at both harbours by others during the day. Regardless of the lack of Glaucs seen, I am still utterly bowled over by the total of Icelands that were had, and what’s more, with the weather being perfect and the majority of the gulls being very obliging I can only describe this astonishing experience as ‘White-winged Heaven’ .
On arrival at Peterhead Harbour I was delighted to see that a boat was coming in; a sure sign of most of the gulls in the surrounding area coming together to gorge on the available fish. As the boat arrived, it chucked its remaining fish onto the ground very near where the car was stationed and duly I witnessed a pretty extraordinary sight as over 200 gulls descended and a feeding frenzy took place, but no Icelands or Glaucs were amongst them. Some gulls weren’t getting any look in whatsoever, but those that did were fighting as hard as they could for their bit. Several birds had their mouths round the same fish and were trying to tug it off one another. Inevitably it was the burly Great Black Backed Gulls that were most successful in winning the tug of war matches, many swallowing their prize in one go! Whilst this was somewhat unpleasant to watch, it was absolutely fascinating as I had never witnessed the behaviour at such close quarters before. Once they had dispersed we got out and searched further afield, and it wasn’t long before white-wingers were located, with 4 Iceland Gulls seen in quick succession, x3 second winters and one first winter, 3 of which were spread out on the same area of rocks. I was overjoyed by this; there are usually one or two white-wingers of each species around at Peterhead per winter which are hard to see, but to have 4 together in close proximity of each other and of where I was standing was something I previously would’ve found hard to imagine. There were probably more than 4 Icelands present, as we kept on getting glimpses of others. About an hour and a half was spent admiring these spectacular white wingers and I set about photographing them, photos of which which are below.
Some general birding at Loch of Strathbeg took place after Peterhead, where the highlights were a fine female Hen Harrier and stunning views of Whooper Swans at Fen Hide; a count of at least 147 was had of this spectacular swan species . This is a good but not unusual count here. Other birds seen that were new for the year included Pintail, the resident Tree Sparrow flock and Yellowhammer all from the Visitor Centre.
Fraserburgh Harbour was our next and final stop of the day as we went in search of a thrid winter Kumlien’s Gull. Stationing ourselves in the harbour opposite the ‘Balaclava Pub’ , our first scan of the water produced 4 Iceland Gulls , 3 second winters and a first winter. The local text alert said there had only been one Iceland Gull present in the morning so these may have been completely new birds. As we delighted ourselves with these 4 Icelands we noticed two more white wingers flying in. One of these birds was another Iceland, taking it up to 5 Icelands. The other was the best candidate for the third winter Kumlien’s yet; a bird very much resembling an adult Iceland but with a paler yellow bill and a nice blackish ring round it. Inspection of the primaries revealed faint brown and greyish tips, confirming that this was indeed the 3rd winter Kumlien’s Gull. It proceeded to show extremely well along with the 5 Icelands and all birds concerned were watched as they loafed about on the same area of water until dusk; insanely good birding! I really couldn’t have asked for more; this truly was White-Winged Gull Heaven.
The day ended with an astonishing white-winged gull total of: 9 Iceland Gulls and a 3w winter Kumlien’s Gull. An unforgettable and astonishing day; I doubt I will ever see that many Iceland Gulls again, and the idyllic conditions and superb views of all the birds make this an overall experience to savour for a long time to come.