24 September 2023

Baltic Gull - Jubail

 Whilst birding Jubail 22 September 2023 I came across an interesting gull on the side of the flooded sabkha. I grabbed a couple of photos and after a quick look thought it looked good for a third or fourth calendar year Baltic Gull Larus fuscus, fuscus a rare gull in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia. As I was moving to get the sun in a better position to photograph the bird a security vehicle pulled up scaring it into flight. I had my camera on the wrong setting for flight mode but luckily managed to get a few photos as it flew past very close. This is only the third confirmed sighting I have had of this subspecies of Lesser-Black Backed Gull in the Eastern Province. They are commoner in the Red Sea area where approximately 1% of the large white-headed gulls are fuscus and they are seen infrequently. Identification of both fuscus and heuglini can be initiated by their mantle colour with fuscus the smallest and darkest species, with almost black upperparts in 3cy to adult plumage and a long-winged appearance. Any blackish bird with an unstreaked head, little or no covert moult and a full set of primaries (or with only P1-2 dropped) in September or later is a strong fuscus candidate. On an individual bird, once moult has commenced it tends to occur in parallel in different feather tracts. Thus, the extent of head streaking, the extent of covert moult and the stage of primary moult are directly correlated, i.e. no wing moult also probably means a white(r) head. A few identification points below for subadult/adult birds.

  • Small size, the smallest of the LWHG in Saudi Arabia
  • Bill is long and straight and rather thin with small unnoticeable gonys
  • Legs are very short and moderately thin
  • The primary projection beond the tail is typically 1.3 times the tarsus length.
  • Elongated rear end that looks slender.
  • Eye is pale in adults with red orbital ring
  • Head is gentle looking but not rounded with a noticeable slope to the forehead
  • Dark coal black upperparts, the darkest of the LWHG in Saudi Arabia
  • The black on the primaries do not usually contrast with the rest of the upperwing
  • Totally dark secondaries, all underwing remiges are dark
  • Normally shows a white mirror on P10
  • Moults later with active moult in February and March.