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.

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