is it one or not?

American Herring Gull that is…

I will be back tomorrow for another look. I saw this 1st winter ‘Herring-type’ gull this afternoon at Stubber’s Green, West Midlands. I have seen a  fair few young argentatus Herring Gulls that made a good effort with various characters to look like a young American Herring Gull but not really seen one like this before though. This one comes much closer in a bunch of characters to American Herring Gull. I am not sure what I think about it and would like more views- but just letting anyone interested know. Here’s a few photos and videos to look though. I know all the arguments, pros and cons and some appreciation of the variation. I didn’t see the uppertail tail at all and would very much like to. Tomorrow might be interesting…  (at least there have definitely been 3 adult Caspian Gulls and a 3rd winter Iceland Gull there in the last couple of days).

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About Martin Garner

I am a Free Spirit
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13 Responses to is it one or not?

  1. Neil Hagley says:

    Hi Martin, what a striking bird! I’m sure you know the characters as well as anyone, I wonder if the undertail coverts are sufficiently barred (Pom-like)? I like it though.
    Just my 2p.

  2. julianhough says:

    Hi Martin,
    I don’t have the benefit of seeing a lot of argentatus and argenteus lately. It does look a big bird, but due to the vast variation in smithsonianus, it can be tough to separate out anything but classic birds (as you already know). The rump has nice parallel barring, yet the dark barring seems quite narrow (?) and the lateral undertail coverts are boldly barred too…not sure if these are too strong for smithsonianus, but again perhaps there’s some variability between birds with rather numerous wavy bars and ones that have more long-tailed skua-like bars. The underbody looks a little “marbled” and the pale areas look streaky in shape – I’d like the underparts to be a bit more solidly brown with less pale streaking showing through. Greater coverts look chequered throughout most of their length, again perhaps not great for a classic smith.
    I am erring on the side of caution based on these images that it might not tick all the right boxes, and perhaps additional shots would reveal a tail shot that might add to the overall look of the rump and tail. Interesting bird and one that requires some looking at. It’s hard with these birds in a vagrancy context since i see birds here that i know are smithsonianus and yet in the Uk would not pass the criteria for acceptance as such. They are real headaches here when trying to find a European or Yellow-legged Gull! Look forward to your comments.

  3. Josh Jones says:

    Hi Martin,
    A striking individual but don’t see a lot here to rule out EHG… the tail looks predominately dark and the pale head contrasts with the darker body but you get this in EHG too. In fact, I don’t think your bird looks too dissimilar to this bird I photographed in Peterborough a few winters back (apart from yours looks more robust):

    http://www.birdguides.com/picture?f=189679

    Julian also mentions the concerns with the UTCs and rather smudgey (rather than uniform) underpart colouration.

    Cheers
    Josh

    • Martin Garner says:

      Thanks Josh

      Just not seeing what you are saying though. The bird in your pics I wouldn’t look at twice I don’t think. Looks like lots of 1st winter Herrings I see. I am not even sure why it’s identifiable as argentatus especially though in winter in Cambridge its a pretty reasonable chance of being one. Don’t want to give you a hard time! To demonstrate your argument in a compelling way think you would need to produce photos of birds you have seen with plain smoky grey scapulars, same kind of tertial pattern as Stubbers bird, same kind of barring pattern on rump/ uppertail coverts, mostly dark tail (which I think? the Stubbers bird has actually- and will say a bit more on that) and overall feel- all on the same bird.
      I will do a bit more on the Stubbers bird soon I think… Not saying for sure I know what it was but honestly I haven’t seen a young herring gull in Britain quite like it before- even though I have seen the odd ‘smithsonianus character’ many times amoung presumed 1st winter argentatus.

      Martin

  4. James H says:

    To my eyes there is some white at the base of the outer tail feathers and the rump does not look as heavily barred as on the few individuals I’ve seen. I’m sure this would fall into the range of either species but miss meeting all the criteria for AHG in a European context. It certainly doesn’t look like a ‘classic’ bird. Happy to be proven wrong with better pics though!

  5. paul french says:

    I agree with josh and James. This could be a smiths, but the extensive white tail base along with the indeterminate other features mentioned make this unacceptable to me, and of course to you too Martin 😉

  6. julianhough says:

    To add to earlier comments, the undertail barring is quite variable in smith. I saw a few today that were quite LT Skua-like and a few birds that did not have any obvious darkening of the outer greater coverts on the wing. Probability is likely to be factor with these birds depending on the geographical region of observation. I couldn’t personally make out much of the tail pattern in the images.

  7. Jan Jörgensen (JanJ) says:

    Hi Martin.
    I was also worried about the less heavy undertail barring and the underpart pattern (mentioned by Julan and it doesen´t strike as an obvious 1st cycle smithsonianus. Taken in January one should consider wear and such which of course would affect pattern of the underparts to a certain degree.. Hindneck looks pale unmarked. However, since ‘Herring’ on both side of the pond are one of the more troublesome sp regarding variability it´s usually more or less impossible to identify if not the so called combined classic set of plumage characters are seen(which you would know of no doubt) and a ringed individual would make it even better.
    A few 1st cycles (Oct) here shows some of the variablity.

    http://gull-research.org/smithsonianus/1cyoct.html

    JanJ

  8. Paul French says:

    I’ve just uploaded some crappy footage of another smiths lookalike, this one from Cambletown in Argyll (so a bit of a better location than Walsall perhaps…;-) ). I dont think this is a smiths either, but to me the Argyll bird looks just as good if not slightly better than the Stubbers bird. Take a look at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qTQtHrC_FoE&feature=youtu.be , be really good to read any comments.

    • Martin Garner says:

      Hey Frenchy- I agree with your big hint that location has much greater confidence boosting effect than careful scrutiny of characters when it comes to these! Not that gulls can’t get anywhere of course but sometimes you wouldn’t think folk believed that.
      Your bird looks like a smicker candidate doesn’t it- shame you didn’t nail it! Though I am not sure its necessarily a better candidate than the W Midlands bird. Its just folk prefer the easy ones don’t you think? The Titchwell Coues’s Arctic Redpoll was a good candidate from seeing the first photos. However the preference for a nice adult male is understandable, though I have seen major cock-up with identifying that age class of Arctic Roll too!

      Martin

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