The long staying Ross’s Gull at Aberavon finally proved an irresistible pull yesterday afternoon resulting in our appearance at the Afan just after three. In blustery conditions the bulk of activity seemed to be concentrated around the river mouth itself with a selection of thirty or forty gulls in flight with as many again settled on the water. We set about scanning them all and quickly identified a significantly smaller individual which initially looked to be a prime candidate for our target. Unfortunately my experience with this species is nil and knowing that Little Gulls (superficially similar) have been numerous in the area I was wary of jumping to any premature conclusions. Lady luck was with us however as the bird in question proved very showy allowing ample opportunity for observation and a few record photos to be taken. Analysis of these showed a darker head and longer beak than I was expecting, both features more reminiscent of Little Gull than Ross’s.

P1060872 - Little Gull, Aberavon

As our deliberations continued another birder arrived who helpfully gave us a few pointers as to what we were looking for. A white tail with small pointed centre appeared to be the most distinct characteristic and finally nailed the fate of our mystery bird above. As suspected it was a first winter Little Gull. A few minutes later and three more Little Gulls had joined the show in the shape of another first winter and two adults. All were feeding avidly across the length and breadth of the river mouth giving superb views, if a little distant. And that was was how things stayed for the next twenty minutes or so before Emma spotted something a little offshore. I was quickly onto it and thought I’d been able to pick out a pointed tail but could not be sure. However before better views could be obtained the bird flew strongly upstream and out of sight behind the dunes. A brisk relocation later and Emma again picked it up loafing about in the middle of the channel and we quickly had a positive identification, confirmed yet further by timely flight views.

Ross's Gull, Aberavon

The arrival of two more birders confirmed that Emma’s initial suspicions had been correct as they’d also been able to pick up the Ross’s Gull as it disappeared upstream. Plaudits were duly dispensed as we enjoyed further prolonged views of the Ross’s before its next spell on the wing took it over a breakwater and out of sight.  Left in its wake were four very happy people who, if they were anything like me, were on a real high. The bird itself was not only very handsome but a personal lifer and another huge step forwards for our birding skills. The days of dismissing gull flocks out of hand are well behind us now and I look forward to the next rarity to grace our area. Even the weather must have felt the positive vibes as it treated us to some glorious late evening sunshine as we headed for home.

P1060878 - Watching the Ross's Gull


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