Sunday, 9 September 2018

Summering Gulls in Limerick City

The River Shannon in Limerick City attracts large numbers of gulls outside of the breeding season. Black-headed Gulls with a peak count of 1,628 in mid winter tops the list followed by Common Gulls (peak count 80), Herring Gulls (peak count 66) and Lesser Black-backed Gulls (peak count 25).  Outside of these commoner species, Iceland, Great Black-backed, Glaucous, Yellow-legged, Mediterranean and Ring-billed Gulls all occur in single figures most years.

As one would expect the situation changes dramatically during the breeding season.  About 90% of the Black-headed Gulls disappear along with virtually all of the Common Gulls. The Herring Gull numbers don't vary much, as a number of pairs breed locally on City roof tops. Virtually all of the scarcer species also disappear, however numbers of Lesser Black-backed Gulls appear to have increased noticeably in recent years.

Very low flows in the Shannon this summer combined with low tides exposed large rock outcrops and gravelly stretches in the river bed.  These areas have proved attractive to roosting gulls and provided an opportunity to estimate the numbers involved.  A count on August 13th last produced a surprisingly large total of 882 Lesser Black-backed Gulls.  The majority of these were 2nd calendar year birds with smaller numbers of juvenile (about 10%) and older birds.  The 2CY birds were in widely varying stages of moult.

Four 2nd CY birds showing varying moult progression

A colour ringed juvenile first seen in the City on 11/8/18, (Blue 005:R), was ringed as a chick at the north-eastern end of Lough Ree in Co. Longford on 29/6/18. This was a fairly quick dispersal from the breeding colony and was the fourth report of a colour ringed bird from a newly established ringed project run by Brian Burke on Lough Ree.
Juvenile Lesser Black-backed Gull (Blue 005:R) from Lough Ree, Co. Longford

Fresh Juveniles

Several mature adult Lesser Black-backs were visible all summer so it seems likely that a few at least bred locally.

The first juvenile Black-headed Gulls started to appear in the City in late July and the first returning Common Gulls were only noted in late August. These were joined by an adult Mediterranean Gull in early August, an early date for this scarce species in the City.

Moulting adult Mediterranean Gull at Brown's Quay on 11/8/18

This is the first year that a summering Yellow-legged Gull was recorded in the City.  It appears to be one of two 2nd winter birds that were present last winter.

2nd summer (3CY) Yellow-legged Gull

Friday, 4 May 2018


I got nice surprise at the Coonagh Nature reserve last Saturday (28/4/2018) when a large raptor appeared high over the lower lagoon.  Luckily I had the camera to hand so got a few quick record shots of the bird before it disappeared off westwards towards the Shannon Estuary.  It looked like an Osprey from its size and behaviour but seemed very dark from the brief views of it through the bins and the camera lens. The id. was confirmed once I got the camera back indoors.

This is just the sixth record for Limerick and the first definite Spring record.  It was also a first for the site.   Osprey records are scarce in the west of the Ireland and spring records are scarcer still, so this was a nice one to come across, even if it was all too fleeting.

Thursday, 3 May 2018

More Iceland Gulls

It was a great winter in Limerick City for Iceland Gulls.  By early March at least six different birds had been logged; four 1st winters, a 2nd winter and a third winter.  Amazingly by the end of the month at least two additional 1st winter birds were present, bringing the total for the winter to at least eight birds.

The 3rd winter (4cy) bird found in early March was proving to be a bit elusive initially as it ranged from Harvey's Quay up river as far as Corbally. Later in the month it proved to be more regular at Harvey's Quay, showing a distinct preference for the Shannon Rowing Club side of the Sarsfield Lock.

4cy Iceland Gull

Five 1st winter birds and the 3rd winter(4cy) bird were all visible on the short stretch of the Shannon between Bishop's Quay and Arthur's Quay on 30/3/2018 and again on 2/4/2018, the largest number of Icelands in one location recorded in Limerick

1st winter Iceland Gull of the nominate race Larus glaucoides glaucoides
One of the five 1st winter birds was the bird showing some characteristics of Kumlien's Iceland Gull, Larus glaucoides kumlieni, that was originally found in February. It is still showing a darker shade on the outer primaries along with darker secondaries and largely solid darker markings on the tail band. See photo below.   The bill also looks dark at a distance but closer views show the darker tone gradually fading towards the base. 

1st winter Iceland Gull with some characteristics of the Kumlein's subspecies

Gull Quest to Kilkee

I set out for Kilkee, Co. Clare on Saturday March 23rd to look for the 1st winter American Herring that was found there earlier in the week.  The bird had been seen there earlier in the morning by Murf, so I was hopeful it would show again at some stage.    Most of a loaf of bread later, I had to head for home without connecting with it.

As it was a fine bright day we managed to have some good birding, in spite of the yank no show.
First up was a 1st winter Iceland Gull at the shoreline, followed quickly by a  Red-throated Diver in the middle of the bay.  Next up was a 1st winter male Long-tailed Duck who obligingly came closer to the shoreline.

Long-tailed Duck

 Next up was an adult Iceland Gull that was attracted by the bread.

Adult Iceland Gull

We had a few interesting looking gulls including this adult Herring Gull below that apperared to have yellowish legs.  The primary pattern suggested the that it was the local race Larus argentatus argenteus rather than the northern race L.a. argetatus, which can have yellow legs.
Herring Gull with yellow legs.

There was nice mix of waders around, lots of Sanderling, some Dunlin, Oystercatchers, Redshank and a few Turnstone.
As luck would have I met a few Kerry birders when I was heading away and they eventually caught up with the bird later in the day.

Call back later for more details!

Monday, 19 March 2018

Iceland Gulls

The first significant storm of the winter from the north west Atlantic was Storm Dylan, which arrived on the west coast of Ireland in late December 2017. Once the winds settled on the evening of 30/12/17  I went out in search of white-winged gulls and came across a very interesting one at Thomond Weir in Limerick City. It was about Herring Gull size, on the darker end of the scale for Iceland Gull and also had a largely dark bill.  I put it down tentatively as an untypically darker 1st winter Iceland Gull based on the brief views i got that evening.   Kumlien's Iceland Gull and Viking Gull (Herring X Glaucous hybrid) were also a possibility.  I found it again the following evening and got a few shots in the rather poor light.

Having had a chance to study the photos I eventually came down in favour of a possible Kumlien's Iceland Gull.  The bill colouration, blackish but fading towards the base and the wing pattern showing paler inner primaries and a secondary bar seem to support the case.   I got one suggestion from another birder that it might fit the bill for Viking Gull but I think it was probably not large enough or sufficiently long-billed.  I only managed to see it again on one further occasion when it spent several minutes flying around the Shannon in the City centre on 14/1/2018.  Once again the size of the bird and the pattern of primaries looked good for Kumlien's.

As expected January brought lots of strong wind from the north west, so it was no surprise that further Iceland Gulls eventually showed up.  I found a two new birds, a 2nd winter and a 1st winter, at O'Callaghan's Strand on 18/1/018.

2nd winter Iceland Gull

1st winter Iceland Gull

1st winter Iceland Gull
Geoff Hunt then had two 1st winter birds at Harvey's Quay four days later.  By the 23/1/2018 it was clear that there were at least  three 1st winter Iceland Gulls in town.

1st winter Iceland Gulls

One of the three 1st winter birds was showing some characteristics of Kumlien's Iceland Gull.  The bird, shown below, has slightly a darker tone on the outer primaries, a secondary bar and a largely solid pattern (rather than variagated) to the colouring on the tailband.   As the bird's plumage is heavily bleached, the relevant features are fairly subtle and not always apparent in some views.


 Just over six weeks later Geoff Hunt found an adult or near adult bird at Harvey's Quay on 7/3/18.  I came across a similar bird at the Barrack Lane Boat Club, just upstream of Thomond Weir on 13/3/18.  Subsequent views showed that it retained some juvenile markings on the tail feathers, making it a 3rd winter(4cy) bird.

In all at least six birds, four 1st winters, a 2nd winter and an adult/near adult, have shown up in Limerick so far this winter, mirroring large influxes of the species elsewhere in the Country.

April Update

Amazingly three more new 1st winter birds had turned up by March 30th. Six 1st winter birds, including the bleached Kumlien's, were present on the river in the City centre on the day and remained there up to April 2nd, bringing the total number of Iceland Gulls this winter up to nine, a record number for the City.