In birding terms, the only thing I miss about London is the Thames and its gulls. Regular readers of my blog will know that it is usually stuffed with gull photos and often little else. In terms of setup (read Dante and my article on Thames gulling here), it's hard to imagine a better place for regular views and photos of Caspian and Yellow-legged Gulls at point-blank range, with a number of ideally positioned sites from which to look.
Peterborough birding is undoubtedly more varied than London. Its diverse habitats mean plenty of opportunities throughout the year. It's also still 'fortunate' to have a working landfill site at Tanholt, which draws in good numbers of gulls. Yet Peterborough gulling has never been easy. Skittish and unpredictable birds, plus difficult-to-view loafing areas (both pits and fields), makes it frustratingly hit and miss. There are some good days, but these are outweighed by the bad! You never really feel like you've managed to look through all the birds, and viewing is often at distance, through fences, hedges and so on. What Peterborough lacks, or so I thought, was an 'easy' place where you could throw bread and get the birds in nice and close.
A couple of weeks ago, one of the Iceland Gulls started getting seen at Flag Fen sewage works. Shortly after, up to two birds (both seen initially at Tanholt at the end of December) became semi-regular features at the currently flooded Stanground Wash. Since then I'd been vowing to go down and chuck some bread in the River Nene there, to see what happened. Fitzwilliam Bridge seemed to be the obvious place to do it, being close to the birds' loafing area on the wash and within a km or so of the sewage works and nearby Fengate, where gulls feed at a recycling centre. I'll be honest, I wasn't too confident of it working effectively – but it did.
The effect was a familiar one. As soon as the Black-headed Gulls got involved and started making a racket, which took a little time, in came the large. It was amazing to watch from how far they were coming from, and from all directions. On Sunday (31 Jan), 200 or more Herring Gulls were attracted during the time I spent there. Unsurprisingly, there were fewer large gulls on Monday (1 Feb), but on both visits Iceland Gulls came in to the melee. The second-winter showed particularly well on Sunday:
Extraordinarily, Will Bowell and I had all three local Iceland Gulls together on the same spit on Stanground Wash on Sunday afternoon. With thousands of gulls locally, feeding across several sites, what are the chances of that happening? Amazing stuff.
There were also some nice argentatus Herring Gulls in the mix on Sunday. Sometimes they are so distinctive that they really feel like a different species to the local birds, being much more Glaucous-like in many respects.
Lesser Black-backed Gulls are also starting to arrive back locally now after a few months away, and this crisp first-winter couldn't resist coming in for a munch.
On Monday I returned, hoping one of the juveniles might be lured in by a few 'freebies' launched into the Nene. There weren't any gulls when I arrived, but a quick chuck of some sliced wholemeal and the second-winter appeared, quickly followed by the darker juvenile. Both tried their luck with the offerings that weren't gobbled up by a ravenous congregation of Canada Geese below the bridge. Unreal!
All in all, this has been a real revelation! Although conditions are undoubtedly helping at present, with the adjacent Stanground Wash in total flood and the river level high, it feels like it could be a decent place for regular winter bread chucking, and my longing for the Thames gulls might finally be quashed for good. I can't imagine it'll be much good in summer, when the floods are fields and the river is low, but we'll have to wait and see on that front. For now, though, I'll enjoy every moment that the Icelands are around.
The musings of a wildlife enthusiast, usually armed with his camera.