Reading ringed Lesser Black-backed Gulls in Morocco – January 2019

Two years after our first gull ring reading trip to Morocco together in 2017, Jacob and I went back last January for a 2-week trip.

Our plan was to follow the same route by starting at Agadir, staying in the area for a few days before moving up north to eventually end up at El Jadida, and then to travel back to Agadir again. This time though we decided to stay a little longer in El Jadida because the ring reading in 2017 there was so good.

It turned out to be a very successful trip.

Summary

First some numbers.

In total, we logged just under 1100 observations of about 800 ringed birds, of 9 different species from 14 different countries.

Apart from 9 White Storks and 2 Sandwich Terns, all of them were gulls.

(At the time of writing we are still processing our observations so some minor corrections might still have to be applied to these numbers).

The species were (in order of abundance):

  1. Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus (graellsii and Dutch intergrade)
  2. Audouin’s Gull Ichthyaetus audouinii
  3. Nordic Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus intermedius
  4. Mediterranean Gull Ichthyaetus melanocephalus
  5. White Stork Ciconia ciconia
  6. Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis
  7. Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus
  8. Baltic Gull Larus fuscus fuscus
  9. Yellow-legged Gull Larus michahellis

Highlights

It is a good problem to have when you don’t know where to start making a list of highlights. Shortly into the trip it would become clear that just having a top 3 would not be enough.

So here are my highlights, not necessarily in this order:

  1. The Dutch Black-headed Gull at the El Jadida landfill
  2. The 291 colour-ringed Audouin’s Gulls, including one from Croatia
  3. The 3rd-calendar year Baltic Gull
  4. The 6 Lesser Black-backed Gulls from our IJmuiden ringing project
  5. The 10 Lesser Black-backed Gulls from Ireland
  6. The 98 Lesser Black-backed Gulls from Roland-Jan Buijs
  7. The 100+ Lesser Black-backed Gulls from Norway
  8. The first-winter year Yellow-legged Gull from Portugal
  9. The Lesser Black-backed Gull from Finmark, Norway (a distance of almost 5000 kilometers)
  10. The 4 Lesser Black-backed Gulls which we have observed in Morocco and at the Blaringhem landfill in France
  11. The 11 Lesser Black-backed Gulls which we have observed in Morocco and in the Netherlands

Another highlight was getting the responses from the ringers who we submitted our sightings to:

  • “Fantastic! It holds the scheme record for furthest observation.”
  • “We don’t get many from Morocco, so especially nice.”
  • “Excellent! I don’t get many recoveries from Africa!”
  • “They’re really special.”
  • “This is the first observation of our project south of Gibraltar. Very nice!”

Rare observations

The trip was dominated by Lesser Black-backed Gulls from pretty much every project in Europe, as well as an abundance of Audouin’s Gulls from France, Spain, and Portugal.

In between all of this, the following gulls stood out:

The Dutch Black-headed Gull

The very first ringed gull that we observed at the landfill of El Jadida turned out to be one of the most exciting ones of the trip: a Dutch Black-headed Gull.

Observations of Dutch Black-headed Gulls in Morocco are rare and this is the first one from this project (Griend) that has been seen south of Gibraltar up till then.

The Croation Audouin’s Gull

Right up there with the Dutch Black-headed Gull for us was coming across an Audouin’s Gull with a colour ring from Croatia.

The Portuguese Yellow-legged Gull

Equally rare to see in Morocco are ringed Yellow-legged Gulls. At Tamri (and later at the beach of Agadir) we saw a first-winter that was ringed in Portugal.

The Baltic Gull from Norway

Although we didn’t recognize it in the field, we learned from the ringing details that we had observed a 3rd-calendar year Baltic Gull from Norway. We have even seen it twice (one week apart) but its plumage details (assuming we have seen it because sometimes the groups are so big that you can only see the legs), did not raise any suspicion that we were looking at an odd Lesser Black-backed Gull.

Even so, it is nice to have put it on the radar. It is only my second ringed Baltic Gull and my first outside of the Netherlands.

Honourable mention

Not rare as species or project is concerned, but this Lesser Black-backed Gull is worthy of a special mention: it was born in Finmark at the very top of Norway, a distance of almost 5000 kilometers from Tamri where we observed it.

Info courtesy of rinmerking.no.

Impressions

Scenes at the fish factory at Anza:

Scenes at the landfill at El Jadida:

Reading ringed Lesser Black-backed Gulls at one of the many beaches:

A Dutch Lesser Black-backed Gull doing what it came to do at the fish factory at Anza: eating fish left-overs:

Lesser Black-backed Gulls and Audouin’s Gulls resting at Azazoul Beach:

Gulls from our IJmuiden project

When reading ringed gulls abroad, I’m especially interested in coming across one or more gulls from our ringing project of the IJmuiden Forteiland colony.

In total we came across 6 of them, which I’m really pleased about. I have written a full report in another blog post.

Most beautiful gull

The price for the gull with the most beautiful plumage goes to first-winter Audouin’s Gulls, such as this one ringed in Spain.

Incidentally, high on my list was photographing adult Audouin’s Gulls in flight. At a high cliff at Azazoul beach during strong winds I finally got my chance. It resulted in one of my favorite images of the trip:

Looking back, it’s been a great trip of which we have many fond memories!

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