14 Dec 2012

Large numbers of Gulls - Abqaiq Landfill

Phil Roberts and I went to Abqaiq Landfill on Friday morning to see what Large White-headed Gulls (LWHG) we could see. We had not been there previously so arrived just before first light. The gate was open and trucks appeared to be dumping, which was a pleasant surprise, as we thought it may be closed due to Friday being a holiday. We drove onto the dump without any issues at all, although a weigh bridge is positioned just after the entrance gate, and went to the area where the main dumping was being done. There were no gulls to be seen at all, but as it started getting light more and more gulls started appearing. They built up in numbers to well over 1000 birds, but were very timid and took almost an hour of circling around before they started to alight and feed. The Common Black-headed Gulls were the pioneers and first to land but were soon followed by the 200+ LWHG. It was not easy to photograph the birds due to their flighty nature and it was also not easy to wield a 600mm lens inside a car (even if it was a big 4 wheel drive) to get shots of birds in flight. It was not safe to get out of the car as there were plenty of stray dogs as well as large trucks and diggers moving about, but I did managed to get a couple of reasonable shots. The more we get used to the site and where the birds go to rest the better the photos will become. I will be going back here a few times during the winter to see what is about and look for changes to the population levels. This time we saw mainly Steppe Gulls (approximately 80%) and Heuglin’s Gulls (approximately 20%) with a single adult Armenian Gull and three Caspian Gulls. I was hoping to locate a Baltic Gull, as I have not seen this species in Saudi Arabia yet, but saw no sign of any birds resembling this type.
Heuglin's Gull
Heuglin's Gull
Heuglin's Gull
Heuglin's Gull

The Juvenile gull below is a heuglini, which compared to other JWHG in the region, barabensis, cachinnans, armenicus, moults later and are usually at this time of year in complete juvenile plumage with little wear (similar to many Baltic Gulls). There is slight variation though, since some individuals apparently appear with second generation scapulars but no covert moult. However, in this bird there are a few second generation inner median and greater coverts, and seemingly one lesser. One should perhaps be aware of the late moulting barabensis showing how difficult these juvenile birds can be. Jan Jorgenson helped with discussion on the ID of this bird.
Heuglin's Gull - juvenile
Steppe Gull
Steppe Gull
Steppe Gull
Common Black-headed Gull


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