Friday, February 27, 2015

Laughing Gull

Over the years I have seen a number of rare birds in Britain including three American Laughing Gulls; two adults in Norfolk in the nineties and a second summer bird in North Wales ten years ago. So I was unlikely to travel very far to see another one, that is unless one turned up near my home, and that is exactly what happened a few weeks ago!
I live three miles from New Brighton on the Wirral, so when a group of visiting birders from Manchester found a Laughing Gull on the marine lake in the resort I dashed to the site at the first available opportunity. For the first few days the bird was quite mobile and when I arrived it was feeding near the lighthouse on the incoming tide at a distance of over half a mile away. Luckily it took to roosting on a pontoon on the marine lake that is regularly used by wading birds as a safe place to rest over the high tides.
Birders often talk about the tameness of a bird (especially gulls) by saying "it was coming to bread". Well there was plenty of bread on offer on the pontoon, but some enterprising individuals had sprinkled a few shrimps on the wooden platform and these tasty morsels proved irresistible to the vagrant gull. At times it came closer than any other bird on the lake, providing birders and photographers with unrivalled views.
Now I know that gulls are not every wildlife-watchers cup-of-tea, but I have to confess to being a bit of a larophile (lover of gulls!). So that even in its drab first winter plumage I found it to be an immensely interesting bird. The adult birds with their black hoods and dark grey backs and wings are most attractive. Hopefully this bird, which still exhibits some brown juvenile feathering, will stick around and develop more of a black hood. It is still present three weeks after being found.
Another popular bird that frequents the pontoon at this time of the year is the Purple Sandpiper. This scarce dumpy wader is found on rocky coasts and is something of a speciality on the Wirral, with birds regularly spending the winter on the northern coast and on Hilbre Island in the mouth of the River Dee. There were at least a dozen of these roosting on the pontoon when I was photographing the  Laughing Gull. Also present was a solitary ghostly-white Sanderling. All in all it was an excellent morning spent close to home.

Purple Sandpiper


Redshanks and Turnstones


First-winter plumaged Herring Gull


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