Wednesday, 29 February 2012

A Maltese Rarity

I had an e-mail the other day from a Maltese birder, Edward, who expected to be passing through the port of Dover today. He wanted some information as to how he might see the Kumlien's Gull. Since Maltese birders are rarer than Kumlien's Gulls I offered to pop down and meet him if he gave me a call, when he was near to arriving. Although my mobile was refused access to his phone we did manage to meet and spent a frustrating time on the Prince of Wales Pier, where the Gull had been reported yesterday. I met Phil Smith and when he gave me a call to say he'd seen our Gull fly past the end of the pier my hopes were raised. We tried the "feeding the Gulls with bread" trick and accumulated a good group of Herring Gulls, with the occasional Kittiwake dropping in, but no sign of the boy. As time was pressing and Edward had a Euro-train to catch I decided to take him round to the car park by the Admiralty Pier. We scanned all the visible gulls, with no luck and as he didn't have time to go out on the pier we had one last try, going out of the car park and onto the "beach" to look along the outside of the harbour. The first distant bird I clapped eyes on looked quite good, and although it was head on making it difficult to be certain in the bright sun light, I got Edward on it and hoped that as it got closer my optimism would be justified. Soon it was quite close and Edward exclaimed that it looked like an Iceland Gull, which was hardly surprising. It was a generous bird and gave us a complete circle showing all it's Kumlien features. A very satisfactory end to what had the making of an annoying miss.

While I was waiting for Edward to arrive I had the company of this Rock Pipit. I watched it have a big feather shuffle as it sat sunning itself on the wall, something it would have been able today and hour earlier as we were shrouded in fog.

I don't know if they breed out on the harbour walls at all, but there is a lot of suitable habitat on either side of the port.


Neil Harvey said...


The colouration of the Rock Pipit suggests to me that it's a Scandanavian bird (littoralis) rather than a British one (petrosus). I believe that British Rock Pipits do occur in Kent, but there's never been an accepted record in Essex.


Tony Morris said...

Hi Neil,
petrosus breed reasonably commonly around the cliffs between Dover and Kingsdown, and towards Folkestone. What I don't know is if they breed on the man-made structures around the harbour. I thought that this was probably one of our resident birds. Litoralis is often found wintering up the Thames as far up as Dartford, and I have seen two that had characters at at that end of the plumage variations here in spring, but I don't think that it is always easy to ascribe to sub-species, see Alstrom and Mild in "Pipits and Wagtails", Helm. I can certainly see your point that it does show some characters that could be litoralis. I have also found that bright sunshine makes the face pattern of petrosus look more striking.