Thursday, 18 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 gulls Heuglin'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.

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