Wildlife sightings 28 February 2014

Sightings from Maggie

The Common Gull Larus canus
Length 38-44cm Wingspan: 1.2m Weight: 400g Average Lifespan: 10 years

The common gull is a medium sized gull. It is similar in appearance to the herring gull, but lacks the famous red spot on its bill. Silvery-grey above and white below, with a white head (streaky during the winter) and black wing tips. It’s larger than the black headed gull but smaller than the herring gull. It has greenish-yellow legs and a yellow bill.

The common gull can be found on farmland, wetland and coastal habitats throughout Britain. It breeds on coastal marshes, dunes, rocky ledges, shingle beaches, and even on buildings. Diet: invertebrates, fish, but has a preference for foraging on ground. It can be spotted at landfill sites eating rubbish or sports fields trampling for worms, but is not as common as its name suggests.

Numbers increase during winter and can often be seen in sizeable flocks along the coast and fields. Last week I mentioned mentioned common gulls on the Bass, however, it tends to be herring gulls and occasional great black backs that we see there.
A call a few weeks back from someone who had witnessed a large movement of ‘birds’ not long after first light. What could they be? We eliminated starling, but after a bit more digging I suggested they were probably gulls en-route to daytime feeding locations. I was reassured to find that it was, creating a great discussion recently on Lothian Bird News, (I suspect it was the same gentlemen that sparked it).

A few years ago, I took part in a wintering survey for roosting gulls. Basically, doing an ID & count of all gulls roosting on the sea within a two km range pre dusk. By pure chance my survey area was off Tantallon castle (which closes early in winter!). The closest location was Gin Head so, wrapped up against the winter chill, for two hours pre dark I sat watching, pen, paper, scope ready to record numbers and species and in they came in their dozens, flying over and landing on the Bass which … was just outside the 2km range! Therefore, my report read one, GBB on the sea, x hundred Herring gull on the Bass. A similar scenario on Craigleith. Many of the Forth islands are free from predators, therefore safe and within easy reach of winter food source. Watch pre dusk and at first light during winter month, they stream in/out but they can be heading some distance. There are many night roosts on the sea.

Shags! Where are they!! Sightings have plummeted. There is a fear that a similar scenario to last year has occurred, the difference being with westerly winds we may not be finding corpses as they will be washed out to sea and again it could affect another year of juveniles. Mark Newell (CEH) has asked we keep an eye out for any corpses. Let me know location, or hand them in if they are fresh. Likewise with any puffins found. Photos of bills (so they can be aged) and again location.

It was hoped that the wreck down south may not have affected North Sea birds. However a dead May guillemot was found with a geolocator… I’m sure we’ll be updated on its wintering travels before it was caught up in the storms of the Bay of Biscay and the south west coast. Please note any Darvick ringed shags.

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