Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Birding on the tip

Just occasionally in amongst the more mundane birding experiences you come across a sight so spectacular that it takes the breath away. It might be thousands of geese taking off from a field, or hundreds of thousands of starlings swirling around at a roost, or tens of thousands of knot on an incoming tide. Well yesterday I added thousands of gulls on a rubbish tip to that list of awe inspiring experiences.

When Dave Owen found a juvenile glaucous gull at Penkford Flash, Earlestown which flew off shortly after he saw it, I decided to have a search around the local area to see if I could find it. I was quite interested to see if it was the same bird which I had found at Pennington Flash a couple of weeks ago.

The obvious place to start was Lyme and Woods Pit tip just off Vista road in Haydock. I parked up in the car park and walked up to the perimeter fence.

When I arrived there were hundreds of birds swirling around in the sky but none on the ground as a lorry dumped more food onto the bird table and a bulldozer flattened it.

As soon as the lorry was gone the birds came down in a feeding frenzy. The bulldozer was still flattening the rubbish, but the birds ignored it unless it came too close.

Just incredible scenes and noise, as hundreds of mainly herring gulls descended onto the tip, grabbed a tasy morsel, and then flew away with their prize.

It was actually very difficult to pick out any one individual in swirling masses, I felt a bit like a bird of prey hunting in a starling roost. Which one should I concentrate on? And when the birds landed many were out of view. However I suddenly caught sight of white primaries and realised that the glaucous gull was here. Fortunately it landed in view for a few brief seconds allowing me to fire off a couple of photos.

I'm pretty sure that this is the same glaucous gull that was at Pennington Flash. The white marks on the underwing correspond with markings on the underwing of the Pennington bird, and the large size also fits.

Then the whole lot went almost as suddenly as they had arrived. At first I wasn't sure why, but it soon became clear.

This large falcon with jesses flew over and then around the tip. I guessed that it was a falconer trying to keep the tip clear of birds.

Sure enough, a guy in a bright yellow jacket appeared and the bird landed on his glove and he came down to the fence for a chat. Turns out he's there 5 days a week scaring off the gulls. The falcon is a peregrine x saker hybrid. It's clear that the tactic is only partially working when you see the masses of birds in some of the photos above, but it doesn't help when you're trying to find a white winged gull.

However when the birds are not feeding on the tip they are loafing about in the nearby fields. The following day I relocated the glaucous gull in fields opposite the entrance to the car park, and actually it was much easier to see and I was able to photograph it at my leisure, away from the mad scramble for food on the tip. Not so easy to see and what I didn't notice when I took this photo, there is also an adult Iceland gull in the lefthand side of the picture! It's the bird facing left.

This photo really shows the large tertial step of the glaucous gull!

Glaucous gull (left) and Iceland gull (right)

Adult Iceland gull.

Adult Iceland gull.

Another lorry on the tip restocking the bird table.

After the falcon flushed the gulls yesterday, the glaucous gull flew back to Penkford Flash. The birds are not very approachable here and the vegetation has been cut down to such an extent that everything flushes as soon as you appear. However I did manage a couple of distant photos of the bird from here.

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