Please note that this is my own personal blog and therefore the views and opinions expressed, although in no way intended to be controversial, are not necessarily those shared by my employers Abbotsbury Tourism Ltd. and Ilchester Estates . All photos are © Steve Groves unless otherwise credited.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

'Late Winter White-Out!'

Ok so it's technically early spring now and although it's true there was a slight flurry of sleet when I went down to feed today that is not what I'm referring to in my title! What I'm referring to was this week's avian white-out!

First there was this beautiful 'White Nun' the colloquial name for a drake Smew...

The Smew with Tufted Duck
Smew (fish-eating ducks related to mergansers and goldeneyes) are a scarce winter visitor to the swannery from Northern Europe and it normally takes a severe cold snap to push them this far south-west. Even then we normally just see females or first-year males known collectively as 'redheads' for obvious reasons... having reddish brown heads and greyish bodies, lacking the near pure white plumage of the adult males.

Then following the white Smew came a flurry of white 'Mews' the colliquial name for gulls of course (see what I did there?). Most gull species have varying amounts of black in their wing-tips but a few have pure white wing-tips and as they also have very pale grey feathers on the upper-wing and mantle they appear almost pure white.

Of the latter there was a virtual blizzard, a record swannery count, of 350+ Mediterranean Gulls, many of them near pure white adults...

Just a few of the Mediterranean Gulls present this week (with a few Black-headed Gulls and Common Gulls),
the adults with gleaming white wing tips.
Then another beautiful 'white-winger'... a first-winter Iceland Gull (as predicted in my last blog), lingered briefly off 'Bum Point', unfortunately flying off over Chesil Bank before I could get a photo.

There has been a massive increase in 'Med' Gull numbers on The Fleet in recent years but this has until now been most noticeable in the East Fleet, with numbers at the Abbotsbury end of the lagoon barely affected... in fact I only had my first double figure count last year. Iceland Gulls however are a much rarer visitor (from Greenland and adjacent Canada, not Iceland!), with this week's bird being only my third at the swannery, although that's not counting a dead Kumlien's Gull (a form of Iceland Gull now believed to be a stable fertile hybrid with Thayer's Gull... which itself is still considered by the BOU to be a race of Iceland).

Non-white highlights this past week were... a Red Kite seen by visiting birders from the car park today, the Barnacle Goose still with the Canada Geese (it will be interesting to see whether it lingers well into the spring or decides to head north), the first-winter male Scaup still present and last weeks two Ruffs lingered until Monday. Also the two recent Marsh Harriers... the regular immature male and the occasional adult female, flew up the fleet together, lingered briefly over the western reed beds then went their seperate ways. Although it was a momentary encounter, perhaps the recent breeding at nearby Radipole/Lodmoor gives us reasons to be hopeful... watch this space! 

The lonesome Barnacle Goose... wild or 'feral'? Time may tell!

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