Monday, 24 February 2014

A flurry of white

The black-headed gulls are a familiar presence on the green near the river. Most mornings will see a flock of at least a dozen individuals loafing around, with a few on the river itself and others darting down to take scraps of food. Their regular presence makes them easy to dismiss but I know from experience that these birds will not be the same individuals day after day. Instead, they are part of a larger, looser gathering. Others of their kind can be found on the nearby lakes or are to be encountered on pig fields and farm reservoirs across East Anglia. Some of the birds seen on the river here have come from even further afield; patient watching and the use of binoculars has revealed birds from eastern Europe, their identity disclosed by the ring fitted to their leg.

This is probably our most familiar gull, even if its more delicate appearance sets it apart from the typical image of a gull – brutish, thick set and to be found raiding chips from unwary seaside visitors. Black-headed gulls nest in a wide range of locations, many of which are to be found well inland. Dense colonies of these birds breed amongst some of our coastal sand dunes and areas of saltmarsh, but smaller numbers are to be encountered elsewhere. Given such a wide breeding range it is perhaps unsurprising that they should occur so widely inland during the winter months, even here in the centre of the Brecks.

While the birds may forage widely during the day, they tend to gather together come evening, seeking out the relative security of large bodies of open water. Welney and Wroxham Broad are just two of the sites where five-figure roosting counts may be noted. They are great birds, surprisingly delicate, especially when seen at close quarters or in the hand during bird ringing operations. While I admire of the brute strength of the a lesser black-backed gull or herring gull, I prefer these black-headed gulls that spend part of the year living alongside me. They are a welcome companion on my daily walks to and from work and, just occasionally, they appear low over the garden, on the look out for a feeding opportunity.

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