Sunday 21 July 2013

BONAPARTE'S GULL in Lancashire

Gulls loafing off Red Nab, Heysham, Lancashire.
Photo by Adam Archer

It has been a while since my only previous sighting of this diminutive North American gull in Britain. In fact it was during a double tick day in Devon and Cornwall a staggering eleven years ago. We initially connected with a stunning ROSS'S GULL on the Plym Estuary that day then caught the Devonport to Torpoint ferry over the River Tamar where we enjoyed a winter plumaged adult BONAPARTE'S GULL at Millbrook.

Therefore with a handsome summer plumaged bird up on the Lancashire coast I took the decision to pay it a visit while I could. Late on Saturday night I quickly assembled a small team of interested birders from the West Midlands for a trip north this morning.

adult BONAPARTE'S GULL (centre) at Heysham, Lancashire.
Photo by Adam Archer

At around 10.30am, I along with Dave Hutton and Jules Allen positioned ourselves in the dark, shadow of Heysham nuclear power station and began scanning through the hundreds of Black-headed Gulls. Within seconds we had located the rarity loafing around off the area known as Red Nab just south of the southern outfall of the facility. Even from a distance the bird could be picked out by its smaller size, its jet black hood and its slightly darker wings. Other birds offshore included a small number of Herring Gulls, Lesser Black-backed Gulls, Common Gulls and a nice trio of Mediterranean Gulls.

After about forty minutes of studying the bird it suddenly took flight and headed directly towards the outfall. With the chance of some closer views of the bird we scrambled north where the bird performed superbly just a few yards off the seawall showing its distinctive wing pattern. Luckily local Lancastrians Mike Watson and Gary Jenkins were on hand to secure some pretty impressive photographs whilst our official ASBO photographer Dave Hutton fiddled about with his latest 'fat lens'.
BONAPARTE'S GULL (adult summer)
Photo by Gary Jenkins

After a thirty minute feeding frenzy jostling for scraps amongst the Black-headed Gulls the BONAPARTE'S GULL then flew off from the outfall and made its way out to sea where it floated around in the distance digesting its meal. After an unsuccessful attempt for Red-veined Darters with Mike and Gary at a site nearby we all then made our way to a famous Scottish restaurant for a slap-up Sunday lunch. It was another successful trip during this epic year for British rarities. It was also great to meet up with another few birders who enjoyed the craic as much as we do. Birding up north is way more fun!

BONAPARTE'S GULL (adult summer)
Photos (above & below) by Mike Watson

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