The Med in Norfolk

The sky beyond the houses along Great Yarmouth’s seafront was dark blue grey, while above the beach the sun was playing hide and seek behind whitish clouds. As it broke out from behind the clouds its brightness and warmth spread over the yellow pebbly sand, turning the sea a deep turquoise blue. Tiny waves rolled down the strand line, white water sparkling.

I bury my bare feet in the sand, wriggling my toes feeling the grains tickling between them. Shading my eyes from the bright glare, I can see the group of gulls gathering in front of me. Their bright white feathers and bright red legs and bills dazzle in the sunlight. The black on their heads is starting to moult creating a mottled appearance, on some only a smudge of black remains behind the eye.

A beautiful Mediterranean gull…check out that ring!

But these are not your usual black-headed gulls, that in fact have chocolate brown heads and are so often seen along the coast and inland in parks. These are Mediterranean Gulls. This beautiful, clean looking gull is predominantly a southern European species, breeding in continental Europe and mostly wintering in the Mediterranean. Every year a few hundred breed in Britain but it is mainly a winter visitor to our shores. Absent from the beach in Great Yarmouth  through the summer, the birds have been returning over the last couple of weeks or so and will spend most of the winter here.

On the legs of some of this group is something that provides an hint of where these birds are coming from. At least four are ringed with metal rings and two have additional colour rings which make it easier to identify individuals in the field.

Mediterranean gull with green colour ring AJCA

The first bird has a green colour ring with white letters AJCA and the second a white colour ring with black letters 32E2. So where are they from? A simple email to the colour ring coordinator for small gulls provided some answers…

Green AJCA (blue pin) was originally ringed as a chick in 2006 on a small island in the Elbe estuary beyond Hamburg in Germany! While white 32E2 (red pin) was ringed as a chick in 2008 in Belgium! Both birds have regularly been wintering on the east coast of Britain over the last few years. Such sightings information from colour ringed birds is providing invaluable information about the movements and population dynamics of Mediterranean gulls in Europe. It is clear that the east coast of Britain is providing important wintering habitat for this expanding population…my sightings are just one more piece in this giant puzzle.

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