Sunday 3 November 2013

'A what? From where?'

Watchers of rare birds will recognise this type of conversation with passers-by, of which there were plenty on the South West Coast Path yesterday as I tried to photograph a juvenile Sabine's Gull which was commuting between the sea and clifftop fields in gale force winds. Last time an approachable Sabine's Gull turned up in Dorset my only decent lens was being mended so reports of another had me planning a family day out at nearby Abbotsbury with a detour to Cogden built in. Depositing offspring and their mum at the Children's Farm - where else - I was granted a couple of hours to find and photograph the Gull. Finding it was easy enough as others were watching it on the sea as I arrived. Photographing it in very strong winds in air full of salt spray was another matter. Tripods and image stabilisers wouldn't have helped much, and I didn't have either anyway. So my chosen approach was to lie down on the edge of it's favoured field, back to the sea, with rucksack for lens support, and fire away.
Sabine's Gull: discovered in the nineteenth century by Joseph Sabine who named it after his brother Edward. Makes the Amazon voucher I gave my brother for his birthday seem a bit lame.
The species was first recorded on a high Arctic expedition to find the North West Passage, led by Rear Admiral Ross, who also has a gull named after him.

We wondered what the Sabine's Gull was picking from the surface of the field - this photo answers that question. Earthworms must be a delicacy for a pelagic species such as this.

A seawatch or pelagic trip would usually be your best chance of seeing Sabine's Gull, when you would be looking for this characteristic three-tone wing pattern.
Just to show size comparison with Black-headed Gull.
A beautiful plumage, especially the scalloping on the back.
The forked tail is another feature of this species.
It doesn't look like it in this shot but the Gull was struggling to stand still in the wind and kept being pushed sideways.
My reasonably heavy rucksack was also in danger of blowing away in the stronger gusts.
Another view of that distinctive upperwing pattern...
...mirrored faintly in the underwing.

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