Friday, 28 April 2017

Bonaparte's Gull On Patch! 68 Birds


The brilliance of bird watching is that you never know what's going to happen. Equally, a really shitty thing about bird watching is you never know what's going to happen.

Take this week for example. Longham Lakes is a solid patch with a great number of decent birds but it rarely (ho ho) gets anything that's astonishingly rare. Sure it's had some megas in the past, but in general it was starting to feel like last year's Great White Egrets were going to be the highlights of my patching there.

Common Sandpipers were still present. This is a heavy crop but holds up well.
I was wrong. Of course, I'm often wrong, but on Wednesday there was some excited tweets that a Bonaparte's Gull had been spotted at the North Lake. This is a big deal, as this small gull is typically an American bird, meaning it was a long way from home.

Frustratingly, I was carless as my daughter and wife were scouting universities whilst I looked after our youngest. Thursday was even worse as my competitor Martin not only saw the Bonaparte's but also a Red-Rumped Swallow of all things. Both are firsts for the site.

Another dull pic of the island. I thought this was a Yellow Legged Gull, but it's a Lesser Black-Backed Gull.
There's nothing worse than when you're sitting at work or at home knowing great birds are being seen on your patch and you're completely unable to do anything about it. Longham is too far to go by bus and too expensive to taxi so all I could do was hope.

Hoping only gets you so far and when I went into work the next day there were already reports that the Swallow had long gone. So then you sit there thinking 'what if the Bonaparte's goes as well', 'will I know what it looks like', 'what if I never see one on patch again'. You convince yourself of the worse and the day drags for an eternity.

A quite frankly awful shot of a Reed Warbler. Still, it's a new bird for the patch this year.
Reaching Longham carpark I was dismayed to see no cars there. The Bonaparte's is a pretty big deal and you'd typically get a fair few birders wanting to see it, but the lot was empty. Panicking I set my lens and tripod up as quickly as possible and sprinted across the green.

"Have you seen the Bonaparte's?" I asked, a little desperation creeping into my voice. "He was over there a minute ago," was the reply. I looked over there and I didn't see it. I looked again and there was nothing. I desperately scanned the skies and the North Lake but all I saw were the black heads of summer Black-Headed Gulls mocking me.

What a cracking bird. The Bonaparte's Gull in all its glory.
I walked up the causeway and stopped. Was that it? I couldn't be sure because my id skills for gulls is about as good as my bass playing is. Terrible. It looked like the bird, but I couldn't be sure. I knew it was smaller than the Black-Headed Gulls, but couldn't remember how small. I'd seen one through a scope a year or two back at Blashford but I couldn't be sure. I needed to be sure.

"I called out to another fellow birder who was also scanning the gulls. "That's the Bonaparte's right?", I literally whispered. "That's right, the pink legs are the giveaway," can the wonderful reply. "I soaked the bird up, marvelling at its colouration and the thought that the little bugger had crossed the North Atlantic Ocean to get here.

A comparison shot with a Black-Headed Gull. The Bonaparte's is on the right.
It was a great addition to the patch, but I was greedy. I wanted the Red-Rumped Swallow as well. Hell, I'd even take the Osprey that had been seen earlier that day. I was hungry for new birds and now I'd consumed the Bonaparte's I wanted more.

I didn't get it, but I did see five Reed Warblers, another new  bird for the patch, as well as several House Martins hawking after the midges that swarmed the area. Plopping down next to another birder who was looking for the Swallow, we explained pleasantries and he informed me that I'd just missed four Shelducks. Bugger...

I'm now on 68 birds. Getting very close to passing last year's target.

It's a fair crop, but still looks nice :)

Bonaparte's Gull in flight. The underneath of the wings is a good way to distinguish it from the Black-Headed.