Marsh Gull – Sheffield

Well maybe his Great x10 Grandaddy was…

Joined Sheffield January Bird racers down at Orgreave  for the gull roost on Saturday evening (22nd Jan). Mark and Pete had a ‘yellow-legged’ argentatus Herring Gull in the morning and before long it was picked up in the evening roost.  This one looked like it might be from the yellow-legged Finnish population-sporting ‘proper’ yellow legs (similar to dull winter Lesser-Black-backed legs) with reddish orbital ring, only perhaps a tad paler than some of the nearby ‘argies’, with longish grey tongue on p10 and no black visible on p5 (though some Finnish birds have black on p5).

These seem pretty rare to me in the UK. I have only seen a couple before that I thought looked pucka. There was a dead bird found in the London area I think in the 1990’s- which had the same yellow legs, reddish orbital, bit more black on wings than Norwegian argies etc. I was sent details and it had been ringed in Finland. This was the only ‘proof’ which I knew of indicating that birds from the old ‘omissus’ population reached the UK.  Anyone know more about that one? I did have photos of it but lost in the mists of time. Would like to get hold of them again…

Marsh Gull?

It’s the English name sometimes used for the original eastern Baltic, (Finnish,/Estonian/ Latvian) population that nested on  (you guessed it) marshes, and had yellow legs. Used to be called ‘omissus’. Seemingly the omissus stock were invaded by pink-legged Baltic breeders in the 1950’s and lost their integrity.  To add to the complexity it hs been postulated that omissus was originally  the product of hybridisation between Caspian Gulls and Baltic (pink-legged ) Herring Gulls. I am not personally convinced by the hybridisation argument (re Caspian)- or that these yellow-legged birds are uninteresting. They have a reputation though of generating more heat than light!

Some birds from the region, though, still look pretty distinctive and worth looking for in the U.K.

Bad photos but it was virtually dark!

About Martin Garner

I am a Free Spirit
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2 Responses to Marsh Gull – Sheffield

  1. Dean Nicholson says:

    Having found and photographed one of these Marsh Gulls (0r omissus ‘types’…. yellow legged Herring Gulls….take your pic!) in Lincs recently (itself possibly the first documented record for the County?) i was pleased to see Martin bringing these birds to the table once again. Having recently corresponded with several ‘Laridophiles’ around the Country and from the subsequent feedback i received it would seem that this form/cline is genuinely scarce in Britain, there seems to be a Easterly bias of occurences, with the the tips/Landfills in the SE of Britain seemingly offering the best chance of seeing one, this however is probably down to observer coverage more than a true reflection of distribution?
    These previous two ‘bad’ winters seem have yeilded more sightings than usual of ‘Marsh Gull’ but this could be contributed to the fact that many birds have been observed standing on the ice with their yellow legs on show whereas birds on the water (with less ice to stand on in the run of recent milder winters?) would simply be overlooked as bog standard argentatus Herring Gulls?? it’s a fact that my Lincoln bird would easily have escaped detection had i not first saw it stood out on the ice. This could also explain why so few ‘Marsh Gulls’ are recorded from well watched roosts in the Midlands?
    I also believe that by the time we get into January when some Herring Gulls have become white headed, these large, bulky, dark mantled and often long winged argentatus Herrings could quite easily be turned into michahelis by some ‘casual’ winter gullwatchers, suckered in primarily by leg colour?
    We know these birds are out there but in terms of what numbers is far from black and white, it seems we still have much to learn about this overlooked (over-rated?!) but no less fascinating gull?

  2. Tim Allwood says:


    a similar bird was recorded on the beach here in Sea Palling two winters ago and was only sorted satisfactorily as it was out on the sand on occasion enabling true leg colour etc to be ascertained. We put it down as an omissus-type, or Marsh Gull if you like. We have also observed a Caspian-type that was not quite ‘right’ for cachinnans and may have been a hybrid or backcross with argentatus although theere is the possibility that it was a Caspian and we were unduly cautious. And last year we also had a very bright pink-legged and dark-mantled Herring-type that could almost be taken for a vegae. I think Brian Small has also seen a couple of similarly very bright pink legged herring-type birds in east Suffolk. All of these birds occurred during influxes of large gulls in very cold weather. There are certainly some interesting gulls out there Dean, and more cold winter spells in future should spell more exciting gull encounters…

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