Thursday 1 May 2014

The BONAPARTE'S GULL in Warwickshire

BONAPARTE'S GULL (adult summer)
Marsh Lane Nature Reserve
Photo by Dave Hutton

The day began with a pretty stressful morning. The hassle and expense of having a new gas boiler fitted, working from home and the lure of a possible weekend charter flight to Fair Isle were all taking their toll on my fragile mental state. Then sometime around mid-morning the panic levels increased even further. I received a text message from Dave Hutton to say that an adult BONAPARTE'S GULL had just dropped in, down the road at Marsh Lane Nature Reserve near Hampton-in-Arden.

I knew that this rare visitor from across the Atlantic Ocean could continue its migration at any time but with a few urgent phone calls to make there was no way I could leave the house until lunch time at the very earliest. With the bird still present during early part of the afternoon though I abandoned the heating technician and blasted my way down the M42. Luckily Dave Hutton was still on site to direct me to the area where the bird had last been seen and almost immediately there it was! 

BONAPARTE'S GULL (adult summer)
Marsh Lane Nature Reserve, Warwickshire/West Midlands.
Photo by Dave Hutton

During my fleeting visit to this excellent reserve the BONAPARTE'S GULL could be found hawking for insects over Railway Pool with a small flock of Black-headed Gulls. The bird showed incredibly well from Oak Hide and very occasionally it would rest either on the water or on one of the many islands. It could be picked up in flight by its slightly smaller size, the pale panel to primaries on the underwing, the black hood and smaller dark bill in comparison to the accompanying Black-headed Gulls. Every now and then you could even spot the distinctive bright-coloured legs as it passed by in flight.

A nice comparison shot of both species in summer plumage.
Black-headed Gull (left) and Bonaparte's Gull (right).
Photo by Dave Hutton

This was only the third BONAPARTE'S GULL I had seen in Britain following an adult winter bird at Millbrook, Cornwall way back in February 2002 and an adult summer individual at Heysham, Lancashire during last July (see HERE). It was therefore a most welcome addition to both my Warwickshire list and my West Midlands regional list.

Please note that access to this private nature reserve is strictly by permit only. On special occasions like this however there is usually a volunteer on hand to relieve you of your £4.00 entrance fee. Further details regarding access, directions and membership can be found by clicking on Marsh Lane Nature Reserve.

The BONAPARTE'S GULL in the West Midlands Region

This diminutive gull breeds across the subarctic taiga zone of North America from western Alaska to Hudson Bay. Unusually for a gull, it nests mainly in spruce trees and tamaracks and very rarely on the ground. During the winter it can be found along the Atlantic coast from Virginia southwards, along the Gulf coast inland to southern Missouri and south down to northern Mexico. It can also be encountered along the Pacific coast from Washington south to central Mexico.

BONAPARTE'S GULL (adult summer)
Marsh Lane Nature Reserve, Warwickshire/West Midlands
Photo by Max Silverman

By the end of 2012 there had been 197 accepted records of this species in Britain with a further 65 records over in Ireland. Despite the trickle of records through the 1990's and the fact it has become more regular in Britain, the species had evaded the region for over 18 years. It is therefore a welcome and long overdue visitor to the West Midlands. If accepted this will be the first record for the former West Midlands county and Worcestershire has yet to attract this species at all. All records for Warwickshire and Staffordshire are as follows:

2014 - West Midlands - Marsh Lane Nature Reserve - adult summer on 1st May.
1996 - Staffordshire - Blithfield Reservoir - first-winter from 27th to 30th April. 
1994 - Staffordshire - Blithfield Reservoir - adult from 4th to 6th October.
1992 - Warwickshire - Draycote Water - first summer on 24th May only.
1991 - Staffordshire - Westport Lake - first-winter on 24th December only.
1990 - Warwickshire - Kenilworth - first-winter from 10th to 28th March. This same bird was also present at Draycote Water on four dates between the 18th and 29th March.

BONAPARTE'S GULL (adult summer) with Common Terns
 Marsh Lane Nature Reserve, Warwickshire/West Midlands.
Photo (record shot) by Adam Archer

Special thanks to John Oates for initially finding the bird, to Dave Hutton and Max Silverman for the fantastic photos and to the regulars and volunteers of Marsh Lane Nature Reserve for allowing birders temporary access to the site.

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