Early return of wintering Black-headed Gulls

It’s the end of September and not really the time when I expect wintering gulls to return to my local gull patches in the city of Leiden, The Netherlands. Going by my observations over the last 3 winters, the earliest arrival is usually about mid-October.

Over the last few weeks though, the first few Black-headed Gulls have started to appear and this week 2 ringed individuals arrived at my local gull patch.

Both are part of a group of some 18 ringed Black-headed gulls or so that I expect to return each winter.

Kaunas HA08.566/White E0TY

Black-headed Gull White E0TY

Adult Black-headed Gull (Larus chroicocephalus) with Lithuanian metal ring Kaunas HA08.566 and Dutch color ring White E0TY. Leiden, The Netherlands, 29 September 2012.

The first to arrive (on 25 September) was this Lithuanian individual which was ringed as a nestling in Lithuania in June 2009 and which has spend every winter here in a small city park.

It was first observed at the end of December 2009 by a fellow bird watcher (I did not see it myself until 2 January 2010) and it stayed here until the first week of March 2011. It then returned on 26 October of that same year and stayed until 2 March 2011. Last winter, it arrived a week earlier on 18 October 2011 and was last seen on 6 March 2012. During this stay, it was caught by Dutch ringer Frank Majoor in December 2011, who fitted the white color ring.

Fitting a color ring vastly increases the number of re-sightings, which was proven when it was seen in Lithuania on 17 March 2012, 11 days after it was last seen in The Netherlands by me.

As a 4th-calendar year gull, it will have been breeding for possibly the second season, and it’s a shame that we don’t really know where it spends its summer months. Hopefully the color ring will result in more sightings abroad over the coming years.

More images of this individual in different ages

Arnhem 3.618.180

Black-headed Gull Arnhem 3618180

Adult Black-headed Gull (Larus chroicocephalus) with Dutch ring Arnhem 3.618.180. Leiden, The Netherlands, 28 September 2012.

The 2nd to arrive (on 28 September) was a Dutch-ringed individual, ringed as a sub-adult (after 1st calendar year) in Leiden in December 2007.

With more than 50 observations since January 2010, it is one of my most observed ringed gulls. (This is not a big achievement because it winters near my home from the end of October until mid-March and it is pretty much a given that I see him during my regular gull watching rounds.)

Again, this is an early observation because my earliest observations in previous years where not until October (30 October 2010 and 22 October 2011 respectively).

Unfortunately we don’t know where this gull spends it summer; no observations are reported outside of my home town at all. Because wintering Black-headed Gulls in this part of the Netherlands mainly originate from the Scandinavian/Baltic Sea area, it wouldn’t surprise me if this is an East-European or even Russian bird that breeds in a marsh somewhere in a remote area.

See more images of this individual in different plumages

I’m looking forward to seeing the rest of the wintering gulls return over the coming weeks.

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