Thursday, 7 October 2010

Yesterday's gulls today

When I began birding, gulls were practically ignored by most birders - unless it was something easily identifiable, such as an Iceland or Glaucous Gull... or a nice adult Mediterranean. Meds were still rare then, and non-adult plumages were a real challenge for most. Any large gull that was not in adult plumage was shunned. It was an unwritten rule that they were, on the whole, unidentifiable. A few birders came along who changed that perception. One of them was Peter Grant. Because we were both Dungeness regulars I got to know him well, and can remember him critically analysing the few gull skins that were housed in a cabinet in the observatory. He made sketches, spent a long time at the power station water outflow where gulls gathered and similarly at the RSPB reserve where a significant roost assembled. We both sat in a hide overlooking this roost and he asked me to go through the motley collection of larids that had gathered, and to make my best attempt at ageing and identifying them. He was interested in finding out what the 'normal' birder knew about gulls and how much of his newly found knowledge was, in field conditions, workable. He did this with many, many people. From this interest, nay passion of his, which stretched back to the early sixties, he wrote the first identification guide to gulls, which was published by Poyser. If you look at it now, it appears somewhat insubstantial for modern needs. There are fewer species covered with a scant regard of racial differences. But, because of this book, it enabled the rest of us to take to gull watching and identify them with some confidence. The only reason that we can now tackle such thorny subjects as Caspian, Heuglin's and Baltic Gulls is because today's gull guru's have all benefitted from PJG's trailblazing.

So, in 2010, where are the main challenges to the UK birder? What do we have comparable to the sub-adult gull of the 1960s and 1970s? Answers on a postcard please...

1 comment:

  1. Challenges? Getting away from the Bird Forum crowd is the main one I reckon. I seem to be successful up here... ;)

    I still think the old challenges are here today. After 30 years and more some Willow Chiffs, Commic Terns, and even juv Herring LBB Gulls defy seperation. Let alone juv skuas, acros, etc

    To hear younger birders on, they can trip out Blyth's Reed in the blink of an eye, and Caspian Gulls in flight ...