Pitsea landfill visit – 20151010

As a bird watcher with a passion for gulls, I visit places where many gulls congregate. More often than not, these are man-made locations such as large harbours, (heavy) industry sites, city centers, wastewater treatment sites and yes: waste dumps.

Not really the places I had in mind when I took up bird watching in 2008.

One of the locations that has made a huge impression on me (for more than one reason) is the Pitsea landfill site. Located to the east of London near Basildon in Essex, Great-Britain, it is (according to Wiki) the second largest landfill site in the UK.

pitsea-landfill

I visited Pitsea on 10 October 2015 with Jacob who is also passionate about gulls. We were invited by Paul Roper from the North Thames Gull Group (NTGG) who study the gulls that make use of the landfill tips on the Essex coast of the Thames estuary, east of London.

They do this by fitting the gulls with color rings in a process that involves catching the gulls by use of a cannon net, extracting the gulls from the net, ringing and processing them (see images of this process on the NTGG web site).

We observe some of these gulls in the Netherlands as well (such as breeding Herring Gulls who visit the landfill in winter) and we submit our sightings to Paul and his team. Paul kindly invited us to come and see them in action.

Ring reading

After meeting up with Paul at the entrance of the facility, he drove us around to some good spots were we could spend time looking for any ringed gulls that were present.

pitsea-20151010-1

Me (left) reading rings with Paul (center) and Jacob. (Click for larger image.)

Most of the gulls that were present were Herring Gulls Larus argentatus of all ages but surprisingly (to us and the NTGG team) many Great Black-backed Gulls Larus marinus were present as well. We also spotted a few Lesser Black-backed Gulls, many Black-headed Gulls, about 4 Yellow-legged Gulls, and 1 Mediterranean Gull. In total we read almost 60 color rings, with only 2 not belonging to the NTGG project.

O-AY3T-20151010

Adult Herring Gull, ringed by the NTGG team as AY3T.

O-A4AT-20151010

Adult Great Black-backed Gull, ringed by the NTGG team as A4AT.

Impressions

Although excited about seeing so many gulls, we were at the same time saddened by the amount of waste being dumped. If only people could see where the waste that they carelessy throw away ends up, surely they would act more responsibly.

And of course gulls should not have to rely on human waste as a food source. Does the high number of Great Black-backed Gulls that were present that day indicate a lack of food in the North Sea? I hope not but I suspect it might.

Some impressions of the site:

Ringing gulls

It took a while before the team managed to catch some gulls that day. Here is a summary from the NTGG web site:

TRIP – Pitsea – 10/10/2015: Another tough day with birds not wanting to feed early on and again we had to wait until the main tip started to cover over before birds showed any interest in our waste. It was full of food so it is unclear why birds are waiting so long until they come on to feed. It may be because it has been very warm and birds did not need to feed but it is interesting never the less. Eventually Aron was able to take a catch and the timing was just right with a very nice catch of 172 birds including 2 Yellow-legs. Thanks once again to the tip for their hard work and enabling us to continue activities and keep the study going.”

Once the gulls were caught, we helped extracting them from under the net, putting them in bags and were subsequently allowed to help ringing them by fitting a metal ring (all done under supervision), while a colour ring was fitted for us by another team.

Apart from 2 Black-headed Gulls, 1 Lesser Black-backed Gull, and 9 Herring Gulls that I handled, the absolute highlight was fitting a metal ring on an adult Great Black-backed Gull. What an impressive bird!

gull-ringing-pitsea-20151010

Opposite sides of the gull spectrum: me after having ringed Black-headed Gull Yellow 2LCC (left) and Great Black-backed Gull Orange N7AT.

Many thanks to the NTGG team

I would like to thank Paul and the NTGG team for their hospitality, for allowing us to help them handling the gulls and all in all for providing us with a day that we will remember for a long time!

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