Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Sabine's Gull at Heysham

September 12, 2011:
Despite two visits in recent years to Svalbard in the high arctic, neither have provided sight of either a Ross's or a Sabine's Gull both of which sometimes can be seen there. A report of the latter at Heysham over the weekend provided an opportunity to correct this, at least as far as the Sabine's was concerned.

The bird was favouring a section of coast adjacent to the outflow from Heysham nuclear power station. This morning, conditions were atrocious with gale force winds and seaspray battering this exposed section as the remnants of the recent American hurricane arrived in Britain. The gull was an adult bird in full plumage with the contrasting black, white and grey sections of its wings clearly visible, and with a darkish head, yellow-tipped bill, and a shallowly forked tail.

It ranged along a several hundred metre section of the coast here, flying very fast downwind and then holding up against the airflow, often descending to the rough sea to pick morsels from the surface. It was a very agile flier with long, quite slender wings.

It was in company with several other gulls and terns including Black-headed and Mediterranean Gulls and a juvenile Kittiwake as well as Arctic Terns.

[As an arctic bird it was quite at home in the very rough conditions]

[The juvenile Kittiwake]

It was well worth braving the elements to see such a splendid, scarce bird.

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