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Gyr Falcon strikes in gull paradise

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Old Monday 10th April 2006, 12:48   #1
Edward
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Gyr Falcon strikes in gull paradise

I spent a lot of time at the weekend in Hafnarfjörður, the most southerly town in the Reykjavík conurbation, after my friend found Iceland's 10th Laughing Gull (and first twitchable) on Friday night. It gave people a runaround for most of the weekend, but whilst other people were unfortunate and never saw it despite hours of searching, I went to the area four times and saw it four times, a superb summer plumaged adult and a welcome lifer. Iceland is a paradise for gull watchers in March and April and the harbour was packed at the weekend with ten species of gull recorded (an 11th, Ivory Gull, was seen elsewhere in Iceland on Saturday). The most common species was Black-headed Gull followed by Iceland Gull (still many hundreds of Iceland Gulls around and it was still the most numeorus gull in many areas further out on the peninsula on Sunday), Lesser Black-backed Gull, Herring Gull, Glaucous Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, Common Gull and smaller number of Kittiwake at the edge of the harbour plus a single Laughing Gull and a single Little Gull appeared very briefly. Amongst the numerous Iceland Gulls were also a handful of Kumlien's, as variable as ever.

On no fewer than three occasions whilst searching through the hundreds of Black-headed Gulls a Gyr Falcon came and scattered the massing gulls, provoking curses from the small group of birders, although not from me as I always enjoy seeing them. Gulls are by nature very restless birds but when every single bird lifts off in unison and flees then it's a sure sign that a Gyr Falcon is around. On Saturday we saw it powering low over the sea 50 metres in front of us and turning sharply up into the Black-headed Gulls and striking one on the way up. The hapless gull limply fell on to the sea with a broken wing and floundered in the waves, ducking as the young Gyr Falcon made 7-8 attempts to pick it out of the water. At first two Lesser Black-backed Gulls mobbed the Gyr half-heartedly but eventually the Gyr got its timing right and snatched the gull and flew labouredly to some rocks abut 75 metres away. Two weeks ago I saw a Gyr Falcon catch a Black-headed Gull and it killed it instantly in flight but this time the gull survived for a quite a long time, squawking feebly with the full weight of falcon sitting on its back (which was deciding whether the Ravens were going to do anything), turning its head to the falcon as if in supplication, before the Gyr regained its focus and delivered the coup de grace with a single bite to the back of the neck. For the next half an hour I watched in absolute fascination as the Gyr Falcon dealt with its prey in full view, thoroughly plucking it in a blizzard of feathers, before decapitating it and tossing the head away, then disembowelling it, pulling out its intestines and leaving them for the Ravens, and then feasting on great strips of breast meat. After half an hour it up and went, and Ravens were very quick to pick up the pieces. The gulls had long since returned, and with them the Laughing Gull. A great way to spend a Saturday afternoon. Pictures of the Laughing Gull can be seen here http://www.hi.is/~yannk/laratr06.html

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Old Monday 10th April 2006, 12:52   #2
Jos Stratford
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I'd be eyes for the Gyr over Laughing Gull any day, good stuff there.
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Old Monday 10th April 2006, 13:44   #3
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Blimey - we'll have to start calling you 'Edward Bloodlusten'.
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Old Monday 10th April 2006, 13:51   #4
Alan Hobson
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Another good, v.interesting report, Edward - I don't get onto BF as often as I used to, so it was a pleasure find this report of yours during my latest visit!
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Old Monday 10th April 2006, 14:27   #5
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So this wasn't even the first time this year that you've seen Gyr kill a Black-headed Gull? Out of interest (not to say envy) how many species do you have on your "things I've seen Gyr Falcon kill" list?

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Old Monday 10th April 2006, 15:03   #6
John Dixon
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Quote:
Originally Posted by StuartReeves
So this wasn't even the first time this year that you've seen Gyr kill a Black-headed Gull? Out of interest (not to say envy) how many species do you have on your "things I've seen Gyr Falcon kill" list?

Stuart

Yellow Wagtail at Berry Head in 1986! (It would have been a year tick if my first sighting hadn't been an explosion of yellow feathers - someone croaked "its got a budgie"!) I've now seen 4 (Gyrs not Yellow Wags) in the UK but that first one was the best.

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Old Monday 10th April 2006, 16:03   #7
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Good observation!
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Old Monday 10th April 2006, 16:03   #8
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Wish I was there, thanks for sharing it with us.
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Old Monday 10th April 2006, 16:31   #9
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I wonder if you may get another Laugher before long, there is a suggestion that the UK birds are heading north.
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Old Monday 10th April 2006, 18:18   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Rob Smallwood
I wonder if you may get another Laugher before long, there is a suggestion that the UK birds are heading north.
To a 'purposeful end' at the hands of a Gyr Falcon, by the sounds of it.
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Old Monday 10th April 2006, 18:33   #11
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There is certainly no Laughing Gulls been reported on the East coast where i live in Sunderland one over at Marton Mere thats the only one i have heard about heading north.When i was in Norway a few years ago saw a Gyr attacking Herring Gulls

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Old Monday 10th April 2006, 22:29   #12
Edward
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Quote:
Originally Posted by StuartReeves
So this wasn't even the first time this year that you've seen Gyr kill a Black-headed Gull? Out of interest (not to say envy) how many species do you have on your "things I've seen Gyr Falcon kill" list?

Stuart
Hi Stuart

No, it's not the first Gyr kill I've seen this year, but it was new on my April list. My list of things I've seen Gyrs kill is short, and consists of Black-headed Gull. My list of things I've seen Gyrs eat (but missed the kill) is longer and consists of Mallard, Eider and Redwing (not a common prey item I don't think). I've also seen them unsuccessfully try to kill Whimbrels and Fulmars. Strangely I've never seen them with Ptarmigan, which is overwhelmingly their favourite prey item.

I think the Laughing Gull almost certainly came from Britain with migrating Black-headed Gulls. Hope a few more turn up, better still a Franklin's.

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