Saturday, 17 September 2011

The Sabine's Gull.

Juvenile Sabine's Gull. Copy Permitted.

The Sabine's Gull (SG) has a fragmented but circumpolar breeding range in subarctic regions and the high Arctic, it winters off the Pacific coast of South America and in the South Atlantic off southern Africa. 

A scare passage migrant to our area in Lancashire, a SG has spent 6 days at Heysham Harbour until last seen on Wednesday 14 September and 'entertained' all comers during its stay....including me. Unlike the one in the photograph above the Heysham bird was an adult which thankfully - to birders with an expertise to match mine - could be picked out from the attendant 'terns/gulls' at the power station outfalls even without the aid of optics on your nose-end such are its easy ID characteristics.

The numbers of SG seen in Britain are - to a large extent - dependant on the incidence of westerly gales in September. In recent years there have been two particularly large influxes, a severe gale in September 1983 produced in excess of 100 individuals in Cornwall, while a 'hurricane' in October 1987 produced c.250 of which up to 100 were seen inland mainly in south east England.

The first record for a SG in Britain is of a bird at Milford Haven, Pembrokeshire in 1839. But in Ireland there is a record of an immature bird found in Belfast Bay, Antrim in September 1822. Oakes claimed the first Lancashire record of SG to have been a bird at Morecambe in October 1893. A more modern first county record is of a bird at Blackpool in September 1950.

With the popularity of sea-watching growing, by the 1970's sightings were becoming more frequent. In 1980 passage began in August, and in the period up to mid-October 9 singles were recorded from Heysham south to Liverpool, and in 1987 covering a similar span 15 birds included at least 6 at Heysham in September which constitutes the county's largest day-count. Most SG's seen in Lancashire are 'one day only' birds, but a few hang around for longer as this latest Heysham bird has shown, but this one didn't do so for as long as one there in 1988 which stayed for 15 days.

The Sabine's Gull I saw last Monday gave me the enjoyment and fascination I knew it would - if only I could find it - when I arrived at the harbour. Find it I did and went on to have excellent views of what I'd refer to as a brilliant creature which added perfectly to my still growing passion for the birds.

Try these for size! 

392+ Sabine's Gulls Bridges of Ross, Co. Clare
12 Buff-breasted Sandpipers Tacumshin, Co. Wexford

And....The 'Scilly Season' is under way with, Solitary Sandpiper and a Black and White Warbler already found.


ray said...

I'm glad you liked "that Gull" but of course I didn't go to see it because I won't go "there" !! Anyway, I've seen plenty from Scilly boats... also, do you remember that oiled one that stayed on the grass near Red Nab for ages! I have considered investing in some sort of subtle disguise but I would have trouble with the moustache and beard. Maybe a Burka is the way forward?? What would security at the power station make of that I wonder...
Best wishes from Ray

Pete Woodruff said...

The oiled bird is the one mentioned in my post which stayed at Heysham for 15 days in 1988, a bird I didn't see, I'm not that old Ray, not having yet reached my 50th birthday!!

Thanks for this Ray....should you ever lose your sense of humour I shall worry about you.