Thursday, 12 January 2012

Kumlien's Gull

Unfortunately, during my late teenage years, I phased out of birding quite badly. Although I still noticed birds (e.g. flocks of Waxwings overhead while out with my girlfriend in my native Sheffield) I did not pay them too much attention... and missed some quality rares (the Black-throated Thrush wintering in the Botanical Gardens which was a stone's throw from where I lived hurts most).

Back in late 1993 I found myself living at the GreenWood Centre, Felinheli - deep in 16 acres of woods where it was impossible to avoid the cracking woodland birds on offer. I dusted off my binoculars and started birding again, trying to make up for lost time.

One of the first books I bought during this period of rediscovery was the excellent 'A Field Guide to the Rare Birds of Britain & Europe', by Ian Lewington, Per Alstrom and Peter Colston. This superb guide - worth buying for Lewington's exquisite paintings alone - outlines identification pointers and the occurrence patterns of these avian waifs and strays. Inside were detailed some of the rarities I had seen during my early twitching days and some I'd never heard of or missed in my years "in the wilderness".

One of these birds was Kumlien's Gull - a cracking looking Arctic species, that breeds no closer than Baffin Island in northern Canada. Variously classified as a sub-species of Iceland Gull or even a hybrid between this and Thayer's Gull; whatever it's genetic make-up - I was intrigued and wanted to see them.

This lunchtime Marc Hughes texted me to say he was looking at a 2nd winter at Pontllyfni. Although I rarely twitch these days (this usually entails way too much time spent staring at tarmac and is stressful if/when you see the bird in question), I headed off and studied the bird until dusk (with thanks to Reg Thorpe and Adrienne Stratford who relocated it when it went missing); it was ranging up and down the beach with the fantastic immature Glaucous Gull (which is now thought to be a 2nd winter). Incidentally, if you're going for this bird Wellingtons are a must as the public footpath from Pontllyfni is muddy and there's a stream to cross if the bird has moved north up the beach.

Kumlien's can be tricky birds to identify and this is certainly at the paler end of the spectrum with limited brown markings on the primaries. Some cracking photos have been taken by Steve Culley - see them here.

Marc was out with a group led jointly by Martin Garner of Birding Frontiers with Alan Davies and Ruth Miller's tour company The Biggest Twitch.

Martin gave a really inspiring talk last night at Bangor Bird Group about various aspects of cutting edge bird identification which was delivered with great humour and enthusiasm. As a friend said at the time - he wanted to go birding straight afterwards (although there would be a limited palette of species late at night in Bangor!). If he is speaking near you - get along!

Also, Eddie reported a herd of one (!) Whooper Swan at Llanengan today plus a Chiffchaff in his Rhyd-y-clafdy garden.

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