Bonaparte’s Gull – 2012

Larus philadelphiaGwylan Bonaparte – Vagrant

16th October 2012.  Wind – west force 6.  Cloud 5/10

I have been going down to Strumble for about 30 years and first met Graham Rees there.  I am sure it was his enthusiasm and knowledge that sparked my interest in seawatching.  I have tried to get down there from the dark wastes of Ceredigion at least once every autumn and have seen some very good birds over the years.  I think Strumble is great when you are a beginner as there are so many usual birds to see, that over time, you can learn to spot a different one when it turns up, as one did on the 16th October 2012.

I started the seawatch from Strumble Head at 7.40 am.  My routine is to scan the area starting WNW with the telescope, working my way round to NE.  I always follow this pattern as most of the birds are travelling in a southerly direction and hopefully, I would come across them as they pass.

At about 10 am there were a few Manx Shearwaters and Common Scoters flying past, a single Brent Goose and three Arctic Skuas.   I was slowly going through feeding flocks of Kittiwakes at about 1 mile distant and there among them was a smaller gull going up and down to the surface of the sea.  It was similar to the Kittiwakes, but it had a lighter flight and the leading edges of the wings were white.  Not many gulls have white leading edges.  So I thought, “What was it?” 

It wasn’t a Black-headed Gull as it was too small for that, and it also had pale underwings.  The flight was reminiscent of Little Gull, which I had seen the day before.  But this gull was a bit bigger than that. 

I called out to Adrian Rogers and Clive Hurford to get onto this bird, which they did and we discussed about it being a Bonaparte’s Gull.

I had been watching the gull for about 25 minutes and I estimated the size compared to the Kittiwakes with it.  It looked about 3 inches shorter in length, and the wingspan 3 – 4 inches narrower.  It was seen in bright sunlight and shade.  The description was sent off for verification a few days later.

Unfortunately for me, a Bonaparte’s Gull was seen from Strumble Head three days later and much closer than I had seen.  But by then, I was back at home. 

Red Liford


19 October 2012

On arriving at Strumble it was evident there were many gulls, the majority Black- headed feeding in a very close tide race no more than 200m offshore. “You never know “, I thought to myself. Within approx. 5 minutes I picked up the adult Bonaparte’s Gull in the flock , had good views of the clean white underwing and even its pale pink legs on a couple of occasions as it dip fed. News out, D J Astins and P K Grennard made it up to Strumble picking up the bird on the sea on the far side of Mackerel Rock with reasonable views of its black beak, head pattern and upperparts colour obtained.

20 October 2012

Paul Grennard noted that the Bonaparte’s Gull was still showing in feeding flocks.

Adrian Rogers

More about the Bonaparte’s Gull in Pembrokeshire