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November 2011 Diary and News
All the latest sightings, news and photos from Chasewater, Cuckoo Bank and surrounding areas
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All records and photos (jpegs) are welcome, please send them via our comments page. Home Key to Contributors
A serene November evening.
20cm more water before the 'plug-hole' is covered.
Lots of activity at the Nine-foot.
130 Lapwings were present and the gull roost held at least 6 (4+ adults, 3cy, 1cy) Yellow-legged Gulls, 450 Lesser Black-backs, 110 Herring Gulls, 15 Great Black-backs, 6 Common Gulls and 4000+ Black-headed Gulls but large numbers flew over from the south with a constant stream of birds from 16:25-16:45 involving hundreds of large gulls and presumably including the Caspian Gull from Stubbers Green. Blithfield must have had a very large roost tonight (GE, PJ).
The photos below show Yellow-legged Gulls and the range of light conditions typical when 'doing' the roost (GE).
1cy and adult
At Stubbers Green the small adult Caspian Gull and an adult Yellow-legged Gull were seen (EGP).
12 Snipe were present and several Redwings with a few Fieldfares were by Fly Pool (GR). The small adult Caspian Gull was in the roost but the large bird seen at Stubbers Green was not present amongst the 560 Lesser Black-backs, 3 (2 adults, 2cy) Yellow-legged Gulls, around 100 Herring Gulls and 15 Great Black-backs. Very late on a possible 2cy Caspian Gull was seen but it was rather dusky around the eye and needs to be seen in better light (PJ, GE).
Small adult Caspian Gull GE
Adult Yellow-legged Gull GE
Possible 2cy Caspian Gull GE
At Stubbers Green the large adult Caspian Gull that was at Chasewater on 28th and 30th October was present from 14:10- 14:17. At least 4 (3 adult, 1cy) Yellow-legged Gulls were also present. A Goosander and a Migrant Hawker were also seen (GE, AWa).
Caspian Gull GE
Caspian Gull GE
Yellow-legged Gull GE
Yellow-legged Gull GE
The Swag continues to be almost devoid of ducks with only 5 Teal and 2 Mallard amongst the usual Coot, 88 Canada Geese and a Great Crested Grebe.
The gull roost held 3 (adult, sub-adult, 1cy) Yellow-legged Gulls, 330 Lesser Black-backs, 11 Great Black-backs, 70 Herring Gulls, 5 Common Gulls and 4600 Black-headed Gulls. The variety of plumage within each species and age group is fascinating yet quite mind-boggling! The photos below show a tiny sample of tonight's gathering (GE).
Adult Yellow-legged Gull
Sub-adult Yellow-legged Gull
1cy Yellow-legged Gull
Adult intermedius
Adult and 2cy Herring Gulls. Probable intergrade and graellsii Lesser Black-backs
The warm weather was encouraging Teal and Mallard to display and a Jack Snipe, Shoveler, 40 redpolls, a small flock of Goldfinches and 4 Red Deer were seen (GR). Heavy rain terminated the study of the gull roost at 16:25 when there were only 50 Lesser Black-backs, 11 Herring Gulls, 4 Great Black-backs, 4 Common Gulls and 3000 Black-headed Gulls present (GE).
At least 6 Red Admirals were seen in the Brownhills/Walsall Wood area.
At Stubbers Green the large adult Caspian Gull and an adult Yellow-legged Gull were present amongst over 800 large gulls (PJ, GE).
Adult Caspian Gull GE
Caspian wing
Adult Yellow-legged Gull GE
2 Ravens flew over, 10 Snipe, 6 Pochard (GR, GE) and a Ruddy Darter were seen (RD). The gull roost was inevitably disturbed by fireworks and many flew north, leaving only a few more than 100 large gulls and 3500 Black-headed Gulls (GE).
At Stubbers Green an adult Yellow-legged Gull was amongst up to 300 large gulls including 190 Herring Gulls and only 90 Lesser Black-backs (GE).
The main lake and 'plug-hole' GE
Slurry Pool or Norton Bog Lagoon GE
Over 50 Teal and 10 Tufted Ducks were on the main lake. The Slurry Pool/Norton Bog area held 95 Tufted Ducks, 11 Wigeon, 3 Gadwall, 20 Mallard, 10 Teal, 5 Moorhens, several Coot, 2 Mute Swans, a Great Crested Grebe and a further 4 Tufted (total = 109) were on the Swag (GE, GR). A Common Darter was at Norton Bog (RD) and at dusk 32 Pied Wagtails flew west along the south shore (GE).
Around 600 large gulls had gathered to roost but at 16:40 two quad bikes rode along the Sailing Shore and dam, resulting in 300 large gulls flying north, followed by another 200 when fireworks started 10 minutes later. The Black-headed Gulls are far more tolerant and the usual 3000+ appeared to stay. A very distinctive 2cy gull was briefly seen prior to the disturbance and could prove to be a Caspian Gull. It was small and slender, reminiscent of a Common Gull, with a long and thin greyish bill with a dark tip. Its head was white, but with apparent flecking behind the dark eye, and a distinct 'shawl' around the lower neck. The mantle was a clean 'Caspian' grey and in flight the inner primaries showed a clear 'Venetian blind' effect, the rump and tail were unmarked white and the complete black tail-band was finely vermiculated on its inner edge. The legs appeared long, thin and pale. The images show it bringing up its Sunday dinner; adding to the bones on the lake bed. Hopefully it can be seen more clearly tomorrow (GE).
A late arrival and poor, murky weather conditions meant that a detailed examination of the gull roost was impossible but it was clearly much larger than recently with at least 460 Herring Gulls and 750 Lesser Black-backs (GE).
The large adult Caspian Gull was at Stubbers Green along with a 2cy Yellow-legged Gull, 150 Jackdaws and a Shoveler (GE).

After a session of bathing and prior to a long period of preening, the Caspian Gull's generally smart and long-legged 'jizz' was not particularly apparent.

The small adult Caspian Gull was in the roost which also included 450 Herring Gulls and 1150 Lesser Black-backs (GE, PJ).
The gull roost was interesting to say the least with an adult Mediterranean Gull and 2cy Yellow-legged Gull taking back seat to what is a very good candidate for an Azorean Yellow-legged Gull (Larus michahellis atlantis). Typically it appeared very late on and decided to be the furthest gull away from me but the following shots give a good impression of the bird despite being massively enhanced, exposure-wise, to make the bird visible.

It was intermediate in size between typical Lesser Black-back and Herring Gull, in fact the same as Yellow-legged Gull but a shade darker with well grown new primaries showing as black with 4 white tips. The grey of the lesser coverts or adjacent flanks just touched the water-line, separating the white breast from the rest of the underparts. Clearly the most obvious feature was the very dark hood which had a very clear division from the breast and merged gradually into the grey of the mantle on the lower nape. The dark was most intense around and behind the eye, which appeared pale. The bill was the only feature that wasn't typically adult in appearance since it had a yellow tip to the upper mandible, a darker sub-terminal patch and a dirty yellow basal two thirds. Unfortunately it didn't fly or even flap so the open-wing pattern could not be seen. It was strangely reminiscent of a giant adult Sabines Gull! (GE).

I've now had time to look through my 44 'shots in the dark', taken between 16:28 and 16:50 and have been able to read up and look at photos of other claims of atlantis. I now have no doubt that this bird literally fits the bill and I'll be hoping for better views today and intend to spend some time in the Stubbers Green area where it could be feeding. The bill appears to be typical for some adult atlantis in winter. The photos clearly show that the bird is actually only the size of an average Lesser Black-back and therefore in the lower size range for Yellow-legged Gull. One was seen on 29th October at Stewartby Tip Bedfordshire and this could very well be the same bird (GE).
Three Goldeneye were present and the gull roost included the large adult Caspian Gull, 4 (2 adult, 2 2cy) Yellow-legged Gulls, an adult Mediterranean Gull and 450+ Herring Gulls but there was no sign of the Azorean Yellow-legged Gull which, predictably, decided to go to Belvide, where it was seen distantly and in poor light at 16:30 (GE, PJ, CM, EGP, AC, GJM, BS).
At Stubbers Green the large Caspian Gull was present along with 2 (adult, 2cy) Yellow-legged Gulls (GE, KC, CM, JJH, EGP, AC).
10 Waxwings were seen at 11:50 in the first copse past the station, between the railway line and the lake. They circled for a few moments calling then flew over the copse. We couldn't find them afterwards but there was no mistaking their identity as that call is unique (MP, SBa). On the Swag there were 11 Wigeon, 2 Shovelers, a Gadwall, 10 Teal and 69 Canada Geese. Up to 100 redpolls were near the Sailing Club (PW) and a Dunlin was flying around the main lake. The gull roost included the large adult Caspian Gull, adult Mediterranean Gull, 2 2cy Yellow-legged Gulls, 400+ Herring Gulls and 900+ Lesser Black-backs (GE, PJ).

Mediterranean Gull

This gull showed mixed Caspian and Yellow-legged characters (GE)

The day started with another report of 10 Waxwings (Birdguides) but the precise location is unclear to everyone other than the finder! At 12:50 an adult European White-fronted Goose flew round the lake four times, occasionally calling, and then appeared to disappear to the south (CM, GE). The first Short-eared Owl of the year was over the west shore grassland during the afternoon (JAn).
Short-eared Owl mobbed by Magpies J Anderson
Short-eared Owl J Anderson
The Azorean Yellow-legged Gull (click for video) reappeared in the roost at 15:40 and performed very well in much better light than on Wednesday and hopefully enough detail has been recorded to confirm its identity; it certainly appears to be the same as the Bedfordshire bird (PJ, GE, JA, CM, IW, BS, AS et al). The large adult Caspian Gull and 2 (adult, 2cy) Yellow-legged Gulls were also present.
Sub-adult Azorean Yellow-legged Gull GE
A distinctive bird when compared to the Herring Gulls and Lesser Black-backs GE

After going through all my photos on Monday evening (14th), I realised that the gull seen on 13th and 14th was also present on Saturday (12th) and I'd photographed it at 15:27, 13 minutes before the other bird was found and kept me occupied till dark! The head is less intensely marked and the bill has far less black so this is probably an adult and the other a sub-adult (GE).
...and here's one I took earlier! GE

Amongst the large gull roost were the large adult Caspian Gull, adult Yellow-legged Gull and adult Mediterranean Gull but the Azorean Yellow-legged Gull was not seen despite it being at Cannock Tip during the day. However, another fascinating gull bemused all who saw it since it too had a shade of grey identical to the Azorean, a distinct but less intense hood, 4 visible white primary tips and a white 'mirror' on p10. Its bill was more evenly yellow on the upper mandible and there was a light red and black mark on the gonys.

It was a very distinct, neat and compact gull that contrasted with all those around it in structure, size, colour and pattern (GE, PJ, IW, JA, KC, GJM, MY et al). (We now realise that this bird was also present yesterday - GE)

A cute, dark eyed Herring Gull - one of several odd gulls tonight (GE)
At Cannock (Poplars) Tip the sub-adult Azorean Yellow-legged Gull was loafing on the restored slopes along with 3 adult Yellow-legged Gulls, 15 Great Black-backed Gulls, 700 Lesser Black-backs and 300 Herring Gulls (GE).
Some of the 1000+ gulls.
Compare with other gulls GE
Close-up showing short, pale yellowish leg and white 'mirror' on p10 GE
The large adult Caspian Gull was seen at Stubbers Green (PJ, JA, EGP).
The adult Mediterranean Gull and 3 (2 adult, 2cy) Yellow-legged Gulls were in the roost along with the putative adult Azorean Yellow-legged Gull which, despite being found at 16:40 in very dark conditions and at long range, stood out distinctly from all the surrounding gulls (GE, EGP, KC et al). The following links show images of the Bedfordshire gull and of Azoreans at home in the Azores in November, which shows, amongst other things, just how variable the head markings and bill pattern can be. One of the birds in the top photo is an adult with identical head pattern to our first bird, which would appear to be a sub-adult with no need to be 'pumped up' with bright bill and leg colour. Our probable adult bird is clearly more hooded than many proven Azoreans and, with its perfect grey tones, seems to fall neatly within the Azorean parameters but where does the race lusitanius come in the identification puzzle? Please respond with your thoughts.
The large adult Caspian Gull, 8 Common Gulls and a Goosander were seen at Stubbers Green (KC, GE, PP).
Another large gull roost developed tonight including 30 Great Black-backs, 3 (2 adults, 1cy) Yellow-legged Gulls, the large adult Caspian Gull and the putative adult Azorean Yellow-legged Gull appeared very late on in very poor light. Another very striking bird was present which was the size and bulk of the largest Herring Gulls but equally as dark as the Azorean types with fully grown black primaries with 5 white tips and a full dark grey hood that extended over the breast. A unique looking bird who's origins are a complete mystery; perhaps an argentatus x fuscus hybrid? (GE, EGP, PJ).
A sub-adult Caspian Gull was seen at Stubbers Green (HK).
The original putative sub-adult Azorean Yellow-legged Gull, last seen at Cannock Tip on 13th, was in the roost again tonight along with 3 (2 adult, 3cy) Yellow-legged Gulls (GE, GJM, HK, RC, PJ et al).
A 2cy Caspian Gull was seen at Stubbers Green (RC).
Sightings included 2 Ravens, 5 Goosanders (GR), 140 Lapwings, 35 Linnets, 3 Goldeneye (GE) and the Short-eared Owl was hunting over the west shore grassland at dusk (PJ). The gull roost held an adult Yellow-legged Gull, the large adult Caspian Gull and at 15:55 the putative sub-adult Azorean Yellow-legged Gull appeared and stayed till 16:15 when it  flew north in the direction of Blithfield. Although no primary feather detail was seen when the bird was in flight, there was no obvious white in the wing tips which appeared noticeably rounded, giving the bird a rather owl-like silhouette as it disappeared into the distance (IM, GE et al). As much information as possible is needed in order to clinch a positive identification of these gulls so please record as much detail as you can so we can, hopefully, exclude the hybrid minefield as demonstrated by bird J in this article by Peter Adriaens and this presumed hybrid seen by Alan Dean. There are excellent images of true atlantis by Dominic Mitchell here, Peter Alfrey and Martin Reid here and interesting discussion here which really suggests that these dark headed birds are more likely to be hybrids or sub-adult lusitanius from the north coast of Portugal and Spain rather than true atlantis from the Azores (GE).
Here are 2 real Atlantis photographed on the Azores in September 2006 by Daniele Occhiato ...and here's our 'sub-adult' bird taken today before it flew off to the north GE
The large adult Caspian Gull was seen at Stubbers Green (Birdguides).
At dusk a female Merlin was hunting over the west shore grassland, there was no sign of the Short-eared Owl (IW) but an escaped grey parrot flew over (PJ). The gull roost held both atlantis/lusitanius type Yellow-legged Gulls of which full descriptions are needed to have a chance of establishing identity and purity, so any descriptions and photographs would be welcomed (PJ, EGP, GE et al).

The Short-eared Owl was seen briefly over the west shore (PW). The gull roost attracted over 20 birders but the only birds of note were the adult Mediterranean Gull and a Yellow-legged Gull (JA, MY, KC et al).

The large adult Caspian Gull and 2 Green Sandpipers were at Stubbers Green (KC).
The Short-eared Owl was seen over the west shore grassland during the late afternoon (JD). The WeBS count produced totals of 20 Mute Swans, 79 Canada Geese, 138 Mallard, 75 Teal, 21 Wigeon, 56 Tufted Ducks, 2 Goldeneye, 3 Goosanders, 202 Coot, 6 Moorhens, 11 Great Crested Grebes, 3 Cormorants, 2 Herons and 140 Lapwings (NS, GE). A Raven flew over the North Shore and 2 flocks of Lesser Redpolls totalled around 70 birds. Little of note was confirmed in the gull roost apart from an adult Yellow-legged Gull (GE, CM, JJH, JD).
November mist GE
First seen on the 11th, this gull continues to confuse but is probably a small Caspian Gull or Herring x Caspian  (GE)


The adult Caspian Gull and an adult Yellow-legged Gull were seen at Stubbers Green (TC).
Back to solitary gull roost watching so I ignored anything odd and counted 8000 Black-headed Gulls, 12 Common Gulls, 820 Lesser Black-backs, 25 Great Black-backs, 340 Herring Gulls and 2 adult Yellow-legged Gulls (GE).
At 15:56 a call from Chaz alerted me to the imminent arrival of 6 White-fronted Geese that had just flown round Clayhanger four or five times and sure enough at 15:59 they flew over the south shore, north-north-west over the Swag and lost to sight at 16:08 by which time they would have been over Hednesford Hills. I concentrated on trying to photograph them as they silently flew over but as the images came out as little more than silhouettes I'm grateful for Chaz and Kevin's identification as White-fronts (probably a family party as 2 adults and 2+ juvs were identified) since 6 Tundra Bean Geese flew into Belvide at 16:23! The gull roost held an adult Yellow-legged Gull, 450 Herring Gulls, 600 Lesser Back-backs and 32 Great Black-backs (GE).
White-fronted Geese GE
The adult Caspian Gull was at Stubbers Green along with 50 Lapwings, 17 Pochard and 3 Shovelers (GE et al).
Caspian Gull GE
The putative sub-adult Atlantis type Yellow-legged Gull roosted again tonight along with 3 (sub-adult and 2 2cy) Yellow-legged Gulls (GE).

This 4cy Lesser Black-back was small, hooded and had unusually large white primary tips. There seems to be no end to these odd gulls (GE).
On Cuckoo Bank there was a Woodcock (GR).
The adult Caspian Gull was seen at Stubbers Green (per GE).
The gull roost was gathering well when at 15:50 they went into as mass panic, as if there was a raptor or skua present, and all the gulls except for a handful of Great Black-backs rose off the water and swirled high into the sky. Only around 300 large gulls and 5000 Black-headed Gulls were present at 14:30 with many of these having arrived after the disturbance. 5 Goldeneye were on the main lake (GE).
Gull panic
A very dark-fronted Lesser Black-back
The putative sub-adult Atlantis type Yellow-legged Gull was seen at Stubbers Green at 13:15 (MS) and the adult Caspian Gull was also present at 12:50 (EGP).
Up to 8000 Black-headed Gulls were in the roost but the numbers of large gulls were rather low with a 2cy Yellow-legged Gull being the only gull of note (GE).
At Stubbers Green between 11:00 and 15:30 there were up to 70 Lesser Black-backs, 110 Herring Gulls, 6 Great Black-backs, 500 Black-headed Gulls, 3 Common Gulls, an adult Caspian Gull, a 2cy Yellow-legged Gull and adult Mediterranean Gull, whilst many hundreds of gulls appeared to prefer to swirl around the Highfields South landfill area and didn't come down to bathe and loaf. Also present were 51 Lapwings, a Green Sandpiper, 5 Shoveler, 13 Pochard, a Buzzard, Sparrowhawk and 142 Jackdaws (GE).
Caspian Gull GE
Mediterranean Gull GE
Yellow-legged Gull GE
A Whooper Swan was on the south shore of the main lake. The putative sub-adult Atlantis type Yellow-legged Gull was present in the roost along with 2 adult Yellow-legged Gulls and an adult Mediterranean Gull, probably the same as the one seen at Stubbers Green (JA, KC, RC, RP, GE).
Whooper Swan GE

Spot  the Med. Gull!

Roost conditions are not ideal for seeing detail although the images emphasise how the hooded appearance becomes far more apparent as the light fades. The two images of the gull in flight show a single small mirror on p10, black upper and under surfaces to the outer primaries and possibly some dark marks on the primary coverts (GE).
A real Azorean again for comparison.

At Kingswood the putative sub-adult Atlantis type Yellow-legged Gull showed extremely well for 5 minutes at 14:55 before flying towards the landfill and then to roost at Chasewater. Unfortunately no images were taken of it taking flight but again the wing tips appeared slightly rounded. Its legs appeared very short and a pale yellowish flesh with pinker feet; altogether a rather odd looking bird with the long, slightly down curved gape-line and pale eye giving it a somewhat worried expression (GE).

At Stubbers Green a new adult Caspian Gull and adult Mediterranean Gull were seen (PJ, JA, KC, RC, RP).
Caspian Gull R Powell
A Kingfisher and a Gadwall were at Fly Pool (GR). At least 107 Teal were present, including 17 on the Swag where there were also 17 Wigeon and 5 Cormorants (GE). At dusk a Short-eared Owl performed superbly along the South Shore and the gull roost held the sub-adult Atlantis type Yellow-legged Gull, 3 adult Yellow-legged Gulls and an adult Mediterranean Gull (SR, JA, GE et al).
In the Kingswood/Cannock Tip area there were at least 600 large gulls including 3 (2 adult, 1cy) Yellow-legged Gulls (GE).
The same Caspian Gull as yesterday was seen at Stubbers Green (BG).
The 3 Red-legged Partridges were found to be still on the lake bed (per GE). The gull roost held 2 adult Yellow-legged Gulls and what was very probably the adult atlantis type was seen again, in very poor light, for the first time since the 15th. It was certainly a very striking bird showing an adult bill and dark hood and upperparts separated by the white hind-neck collar and breast. As with all 'odd' gulls, hybridization and individual variation has to be considered and as much detail as possible needs to be noted in all postures and much better light (GE).
The large adult Caspian Gull was in the roost along with 2 (adult, 2cy) Yellow-legged Gulls, 1, possibly 2 adult Mediterranean Gulls, 14 Common Gulls, and drake Goosander and Goldeneye (GE).
An adult Mediterranean Gull was on the Education Development Centre's field, Rushall at 13:20 (DHa).
A Peregrine, 90+ Teal, 5 Goosanders (PW) and 40 Linnets were present. The sub-adult atlantis type Yellow-legged Gull appeared in the roost at 16:20 along with 2 (adult, 2cy) Yellow-legged Gulls, 16 Common Gulls, 195 Lesser Black-backs, 115 Herring Gulls, 33 Great Black-backs and 8100 Black-headed Gulls (GE).
The adult Caspian Gull was seen at Stubbers Green (BG).