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Little gull? - NE Scotland (1 Viewer)

curlewsandpiper1980

Well-known member
These photos were taken a few weeks ago in March, so late winter/ early spring, in NE Scotland, in a River estuary.

Are any of these little gulls?
Or are they just black headed gulls.

There were reports of a little gull in the estuary a fee days before these photos were taken. Mediterranean gull also occurs occasionally. I found hard to separate these two species from black headed gull.
 

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Alexander Stöhr

Well-known member
Hello,
picture 1 , 6 and 7 shows one or more Common Gull: weak, all greenish-yellowish bill, dark eye and white mirrors in primaries
2 and 3 is an adult BH-Gull, white neck and right jizz for BH-Gull
 

curlewsandpiper1980

Well-known member
Thanks for the replies,

I would be very happy to have spotted a little gull indeed.

How does one confidently say that the gull from picture 4 and 5 is a little gull and not a black headed in winter plumage or a juvenile black headed? What traits to pin the ID for little gull?

The 4th and 5th pictures show a Little Gull, yes.
 

Butty

Well-known member
How does one confidently say that the gull from picture 4 and 5
Size obviously isn't very useful here, as you can tell from pics 4-6 - which show, if you compare the small gull in each photo with the large gulls behind, that there's no substantial apparent difference between the little gull and the common gull in those photos. Most helpful instead is to check the bill: shorter and thinner and differently coloured (all-black) compared to non-breeding/immature black-headed gull; little gull has a dinky bill.
 

Deb Burhinus

Used to be well known! 😎
Europe
Fortunately Curlewsandpiper, you will not be relying on digiscoped images in the field with the resultant compression of distances and distortion of sizes (where distant birds look larger than nearer birds).

Compared to other gulls in the field, Little Gull will be noticeably smaller which remains the most obvious feature and in adults, the head is black not brown and the underwings in flight are noticeably dark.
 

Butty

Well-known member
How does one confidently say that the gull from picture 4 and 5 is a little gull
Further to the question which you asked, curlewsandpiper1980, which was about identifying the birds as they are in your photos, and immature/non-breeding plumages . . . as well as the bill, note the dark cap which the little gull shows; this is not normally present in immature/non-breeding black-headed gull. There are also differences between the species in upperwing-pattern in these plumages, but these are only barely visible when the birds are not flying, as here.
 

curlewsandpiper1980

Well-known member
Further to the question which you asked, curlewsandpiper1980, which was about identifying the birds as they are in your photos, and immature/non-breeding plumages . . . as well as the bill, note the dark cap which the little gull shows; this is not normally present in immature/non-breeding black-headed gull. There are also differences between the species in upperwing-pattern in these plumages, but these are only barely visible when the birds are not flying, as here.
Thanks, what are those upperwing patterns in little gull?
 

lou salomon

the birdonist
pattern and structure of head+bill is very characteristic in basic (nonbreeding) plumaged little gull and differs from all other gulls in having a more rounded crown, a tiny black bill and a specific black pattern on crown and ear, different to that of black-headed gull (even allowing for some variation).
 

Parker

Uncomfortably Numb.
Thanks, what are those upperwing patterns in little gull?

The upper wing is grey with a white trailing edge to all the flight feathers on an adult whether in Summer or Winter plumage.
The underwing has very dark grey flight feathers & paler grey coverts.
You can see some dark grey/black in the wing tips in your photos which are the underside of the outer primaries.
Also Little gull has a grey nape basically extending from the mantle up the back of the neck & Lou has described the head pattern & bill size above. Hope this helps.
 

curlewsandpiper1980

Well-known member
Thanks, and just to confirm that I got it right: today I saw this one and I think it is a juvenile black headed as it lacks the black cap and grey nape.

I will have a look tomorrow at the adult black headed gulls and see if I can spot any little gull amongst them. Besides dark bill and smaller size, anything else that should stand out in little gull? The dark underwings might not be easy to see if the bird doesn't fly.
 

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Deb Burhinus

Used to be well known! 😎
Europe
Yes, it looks to be a 1w (BHG) moulting into 1st summer - (2cy) the wings and tail are juvenile (see how brown the tertials are and the coverts also look brownish tinged ) while the mantle is probably all/mostly adult. It still has it‘s winter head pattern.
 

Alexander Stöhr

Well-known member
Hello,
yes last one is a 1. winter Black-headed Gull.
My advice when searching for adult Mediteranean and Lttle Gulls among BH-Gulls is:
look at the flock with the sun from behind you, even if this means that the flock is much further away.
Little and Med Gulls have real black heads, while BH-Gulls have dark chocolate brown ones. Against the sun all appear dark (blackish), and the tone is the same in all of the 3 species. But with the sun from behind, the 2 rarer species stand out by the real black heads (usually more evident on Med than on Little Gull).
Even on an overcast day, it is usefull to have the sundirection from behind.
 

Deb Burhinus

Used to be well known! 😎
Europe
In addition to Alex’s advice, Little Gull are not rarities in the UK and are increasing, albeit still locally scarce - with a bit of planning and getting to the right locations, they can be seen in decent sized flocks at migration staging points - (March-April, July-October) - The Angus coast, especially Arbroath esplanade (Eastside) is a good place to see Little Gulls in the autumn (good South Easterlies helps) and the Tay and Forth areas.
 

Stephen Dunstan

Registered User
Are they increasing? The wintering numbers in this part of the world are much reduced, and what was a big spring passage through Seaforth is virtually non-existent these days as far as I am aware.
 

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