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Friday, 9 October 2009


I spent another afternoon in the Didcot area today (Oxfordshire), the adult AZOREAN YELLOW-LEGGED GULL once again proving very difficult to see. What's more, the flock of over 2,600 large gulls now has at least one 'Azorean-lookalike' individual amongst its ranks which may cause problems when searching for it.

Once again, the large flock of birds was commuting between the Didcot Landfill and the fields to the north of the B4016. Although there was no sign of the Azorean all morning, it eventually appeared on the pool just NE of the landfill and just SW of the level crossing at 1318 hours. It was on view for about three minutes before flying back towards the tip.

At around 1525, Paul Whiteman picked it up flying on its own from the landfill and the seven of us still waiting by the pool followed it as it flew NE towards the tilled fields. It was not until 1557 hours that it was relocated (by Ian Williams), roosting in the westernmost field north of the B4016 amongst 450 other gulls. Fortunately, it was almost the extreme right hand bird in the flock, and could be easily 'scoped from the adjacent footpath. It then went on to give its best performance during the latter part of the week, remaining in view on and off for nearly an hour. At 1653 hours, for no apparent reason, it lifted up on its own and then flew strongly north and continued going until lost to view.

With a good view, the bird is readily identifiable, and is distinctly larger, deeper-chested, longer-legged and slightly paler than the Lesser Black-backed Gulls, with a very noticeable thick, straight bill, yellow at the tip and following a distinct black vertical bar. The legs are grey-green in colour, with the dense streaking on the head forming a noticeable dark grey fore-hood enclosing a striking pale pearly-white eye. The hood extends to the base of the hindneck and around on to the chin and throat but unlike a very similar-looking apparent Lesser Black-backed Gull, has gleaming white breast and underparts without any heavy streaking.

The feel of the bird is much more Herring or Yellow-legged Gull-like, particularly in stance and structure, and at times quite Sabine's Gull-like when seen just head-on and without the body (perhaps the effect of the pale yellow tip to the bill).

Two different first-winter CASPIAN GULLS were on site today (showing well on the Landfill pool, with one relocated in the field), along with at least 7 different YELLOW-LEGGED GULLS. The landfill site is also very attractive to RED KITES, with 20 or more hunting along the perimeter fence and showing very well, with at least one adult PEREGRINE in the area. The fields also harbour 50 or so Skylarks and up to 100 Linnets.

I am not sure on the operations of the landfill at the weekend (Lee G R Evans)