2nd winter Kumlien’s Gull

The Scary Zone

I have been very fortunate. Seen plenty of Iceland, Kumlien’s and Thayer’s Gulls. Co-found Thayer’s Gull (second western Palaearctic record), found an adult Kumlien’s on my local park lake while walking the family, even showed Bill Oddie his first Kumlien’s Gull (a 2nd winter I think,  which I initially misidentified ; ) in Ireland. But I still get scary birds sometimes!  Had a really good day out with Alan Davies and the ‘Magnificent Seven’ in North Wales on 12th Jan. Weather started wet and dreary but soon cleared, scoring some fifty species in the first couple of hours.  We arrived at Pont Llyfni to sunshine, brisk wind and crashing waves on the storm beach.  Loads of Gulls!  Alan was on point picking out first a second winter Glaucous and then a distant apparent Iceland-type.  Fly-by Choughs and a briefly seen zig-zagging Sanderling looking thing (Grey Phalarope seen subsequently!) added to the atmosphere.  A failed attempt to ford a stream after the Iceland Gull left one keen North Wales birder soaking wet. Soon the gull came towards us.  Sharp eyes noted a rather uniform appearance to the upper wing with darker bits.  However the sun was bright and the bird was almost constantly strongly back-lit.  With patience it was possible to see a set of characters that could at least tag it as a ‘Kumlien’s’ candidate.  These were as follows on this 2nd winter plumaged bird

  • At rest darker grey-brown primary tips with thin white fringe – a good-looking Kumlien’s like pattern
  • In flight primaries showed dark outer webs contrasting with paler inner webs to primaries and a broader dark tip
  • Subtle darker tail band contrasting with whiter rump
  • Dark iris
  • Large gawky looking Iceland, rather big billed, fooled me for Glaucous at one stage at distance

However, it’s been known for quite a while (and we talked about it in the field), that some 2nd winter apparent glaucoides can have primary tips shaded with grey brown speckling.  Also some of the most obvious 2nd winter Kumlien’s have dark outer primaries contrasting with pale inner ones.  My photographs clearly show the Pont Llyfni bird has dark tips to the inner primaries as well as outer primaries.  So what is it?

The difficulty of resolving some Kumlien’s Gull types is not new.  This winter what IS extraordinary is the number of 2nd winters that have so far reached Western Europe.  50 % of 152 Iceland Gulls in Shetland counted last week were 2nd winters. Incredible! This age class bias seems unprecedented to me.  Clearly some factor in the birds’ origin (more pelagic, colony-shy birds?)  I just don’t know.  A number of the birds currently in the Faeroes are 2nd winters with remarkable dark pigmented primaries (including inners) e.g. see here.  Does glaucoides normally, or as part of its ‘pure variation’ have a dark iris in second winter and alternating pale and dark bands in the primaries like the Pont Llyfni bird?  Inevitably we’re struggling to identify birds of unknown origin.  Remember there is no such thing really as kumlieni/glaucoides intergrades or thayeri/kumlieni intergrades, at least using the working hypothesis that glaucoides has been invaded by the dominant dark pigments of thayeri. Thus every glaucoides, with trace of thayeri dark pigments in the right places are a ‘Kumlien’s Gull’. It’s all about where you draw the line. We don’t really even know the normal range of variation in Iceland Gull (glaucoides) plumages which would be a good starting point. For me, for now, the Pont Llyfd bird with its dark iris and wing pattern is a still at least a candidate kumlieni even if I don’t know for sure, and some Kumlien’s are easier and ‘less problematic’. Thanks very much indeed to Chris Gibbins and Derek Charles who both affirmed the Welsh bird looks fascinating with at least some ‘kumlieni characters’ …and stuff like that! There are surely more to be found!

From Newfoundland..with love.

Not that we know for sure but there is always more birding joy and confidence in Kumlien’s types photographed in Newfoundland. Here a selection from there in February. All copyright Chris Gibbins









And back in Scotland.

All photos Chris Gibbins. This first bird  an ‘acceptable’ 2nd winter Kumlien’s Gull at Fraseburgh, Grampian:

and the rest:

Various normal and scary 2nd winter (presumed) Iceland Gulls from NE Scotland








About Martin Garner

I am a Free Spirit
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2 Responses to 2nd winter Kumlien’s Gull

  1. deaneades says:

    Superb , great Bird

  2. Stan Groundwater says:

    Cheers Martin

    This information was very usefull, made the difference between dibbing on the Kumliens on Sunday and not, thanks.

    Kindest regards


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