Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Heuglin's Gull, Larnaca, Cyprus

One of the reasons I like to visit Cyprus in the winter is to see perhaps the most enigmatic of all Western Palearctic gullsHeuglin's gull Larus heuglini, also sometimes called Western Siberian or Tundra gull.  There is some argument as to whether or not this bird warrants separate species status or if it is simply another race of lesser black back gull, but whichever way, it's a cracking bird.

Over the past few days I've seen several, all either adults or 3rd winters and I've noticed how variable they can be in both mantle colour and size. I've mentioned previously that 3rd winters always seem to look darker to me, close to Baltic Gull L.f. fuscus, whereas adults look paler more like our western European lesser black-back L.f. graellsii. Apart from some very distant birds at Mandria I've only ever seen quite small looking Heuglin's before yesterday. However I found this adult on the waste water reservoirs at Larnaca yesterday, and it's a monster. Notice the size compared to the nearby Caspians. In the flight photos you can also see the late moult typical of the species. P10 is virtually non-existant and P9 is very small and seems to be just coming through whilst the secondaries are very tatty looking and clearly in the process of moulting. Sorry about the poor quality of the photos, they were taken on my phone, through my telescope using a homemade adapter and on 60x maginification, then cropped. To be honest it's a miracle that they are as good as they are, especially the flight photos.

Heuglin's gull is a far northern breeder and delays completing its moult until it gets to its wintering grounds so it's a long way behind our typical lesser black-back L.f. graellsii which in January is usually fully moulted and has a full set of pristine flight feathers. In contrast Heuglin's gull still looks quite tatty at this time of year.

Note the short and growing outer primaries and secondaries.

Note the huge size of the Heuglin's gull, when compared to this Caspian gull. Some  male Heuglin's gulls can approach great black-backed gull in size.

I suspect that this maybe the same bird photographed two days earlier in amongst a group of Caspian gulls on the salt lake at nearby Yialos. It looks a little darker in this photo but that may be because of differing light conditions, for example it was a cloudier day, but also this photo was taken on my camera and not my phone.

Caspian Gulls, Larnaca, Cyprus

Living in North West England, Caspian gull is still quite a rarity in my area and I don't get to see very many, so visiting a place like Cyprus where there are lots in winter is a good way to try to get to grips with them. At Larnaca in particular they were very common during my stay there this week, far outnumbering all other big gulls even yellow-legged. The area around Larnaca waste water treatment works and the salt lake at Yialos held at least 300 birds, and there were other smaller flocks at Larnaca salt lake and elsewhere.

Caspian gull is often said to have a distinct jizz, but unless you see a lot of them it's hard to get to grips with this feature. By the end of this short birding break I was at least able to have an appreciation of the jizz of a Caspian, even if it still won't necessarily be obvious in the gull roost at Pennington Flash.

One of the features I noticed of birds in flight was the amazing similarity in jizz to pomarine skua, you can even see this in the photo of the adult above, it's a great big barrel chested bird.

I was always under the impression that Caspian in flight would have pale tongues in the outer primaries, as in the photo below. However whereas that bird was simply gliding around and about to land, all of the other flight shots here are of birds heading away from the reservoir and battling against quite a strong wind. I'm not sure that the tongues are always visible in such circumstances. Perhaps they are more of feature of a spread wing.

Caspian gulls and at least one Heuglin's gull.

Bits and pieces from around Larnaca, Cyprus

When I'm abroad in sunnier climes, I love seeing species which I wouldn't necessarily expect to see in the Mediterranean but which are common or frequent visitors to the UK.  I suspect that the majority of birders who visit Cyprus don't go for the European white-fronted geese, yet here are five of them feeding on fields near Larnaca airport and occasionally flying onto the water treatment reservoirs.

Part of a flock of 61 black-necked grebes on Larnaca water treatment reservoirs.

Larnaca water treatment reservoirs.

I called in at Cape Greco for a couple of hours on Tuesday, just to have a break from salt lakes and gulls. This is a Finsch's wheatear site, but I didn't see any, though having seen them elsewhere on previous visits to Cyprus I wasn't too worried about that.

There were several blue rock thrush........ well as lots of chukar.

I visited Oroklini lake a couple of times, and at dawn on the second occasion  I was fortunate to be there when the cattle egrets left the roost for the day.

Yialos salt lake held the largest flocks of gulls while I was in Larnaca.

Monday, 15 January 2018

Lady's Mile and Akrotiri

If you were to ask me my favourite birding site in the whole of Cyprus I would say Lady's Mile on the Akrotiri peninsular, and this is one of the main the reasons why, an adult Armenian gull in winter plumage. What a bird, one of the most beautiful of all of the gulls and this species alone makes winter my favourite season to visit Cyprus. Lady's Mile is a great place to see Armenian gull, and the Oasis Fish Restaurant  right on the pebble beach is an ideal place to see them from. Today there were about 30 Armenian gulls on the water in front of the restaurant, along with a nice selection of Caspian, yellow-legged, slender-billed and black-headed. I've seen some great views of some very special birds today, but this bird was the highlight.


Wow, simply stunning.

Armenian gulls generally outnumber Caspian at Lady's Mile in my experience, unlike Larnaca where there are many more Caspian. However there are a few Caspians here, including this impressive 2nd winter bird which was quite approachable.

There were also a couple of slender-billed gulls on the sea in front of the restaurant, an adult and a 1st winter. In many respects these are very like black-headed gulls, at least until you see them together! They were very aggressive, frequently chasing away any black-headed gull which came too close, and not afraid to chase off the large gulls too! This is an adult.

1st winter slender-billed gull.

Next to Lady's Mile is Zakaki marsh and during a break from gull watching I had a quick look and managed to find not only this bluethroat, but also two moustached warblers and a male Penduline tit on the same small pool, all showing exceptionally well!

I also called in at Bishop's Pool where there was a nice selection of ducks including several ferruginous ducks.

However it was this juvenile Bonelli's eagle which nearly stole the show from the Armenian gulls. An unbelievable view at Bishop's Pool, it flew right overhead. I've never seen one so well.

Sunday, 14 January 2018

Gull watching at Larnaka

A good day in Cyprus today, I spent it around Larnaca going back and forth between the water treatment reservoirs near the airport, the salt lake and Oroklini Lake. I'm here specifically to look for gulls and especially Great black-headed or Pallas's gull, a species which I have never seen before. I've also never been to Larnaca before, but this is the best place in Cyprus to see Great black-headed and the middle of January is the best time of year. That said, there's usually only one or two records every year and they are sometimes only present for a few minutes before moving on, so it's at best a longshot. However if you stay at home and don't try then you definitely won't see one, so here I am.

No sign of great black-headed gull today, but at least 4 Heuglin's (Siberian) gulls (2 ads, 2 3cy and a possible 1cy), about 300 Caspian, many yellow-legged and several Armenian. They don't seem as easy to get close to here as they are at Lady's Mile near Limassol, but still not too bad when compared to the gull roost at Pennington Flash! Also the gull flocks seem to be dominated by Caspian here, whereas in previous winters I've seen more Armenian at Lady's Mile and just a few Caspian. I'm heading for Lady's Mile tomorrow so it will be interesting to see if history repeats itself.

Obviously I'm also seeing plenty of other birds, notably around 500 greater flamingos, 11 ferruginous ducks, a few laughing doves, loads of Kentish plover, a single flock of 61 black-necked grebes (!), red-crested pochards, a good variety of waders and plenty of chiffchaffs of the race brevirostris. The remarkable story of how I discovered that this was overwhelmingly the race which overwinters on Cyprus when it was previously thought to have never been recorded on the island is told here

A flock of mainly Caspian gulls

Adult Heuglin's gull

3cy Heuglin's gull. Note how retarded the moult is. Also I've always found that 3cy are darker than adults.

Heuglin's gull
Laughing dove, Larnaca

European white-fronted geese, Larnaca waste water treatment reservoirs

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