An adult Bonaparte's Gull had been found at Blenheim Park near Woodstock on Friday afternoon by one of Oxon's esteemed Gull watchers but it had disappeared by late afternoon so I didn't brave the rush hour traffic on the chance that it was still around. My own experience with the species is limited since the only Bony's I'd ever seen was a first winter bird at Farmoor two years ago.
|1st winter Bonaparte's Gull, Farmoor 08/04/2017|
|Little Ringed Plover|
To be fair we didn't look at much along the causeway and soon joined a half dozen or so of our Oxon peers who were stood gazing into the bushes and trees close to the Pinkhill hide. The bird, found by Dave Lowe just a half hour before, had shown briefly again just before we arrived so I was hopeful that we might just get that bonus year tick. An hour or so later with just a couple of Reed Buntings and newly arrived Blackcaps to get the pulse rate up that enthusiasm had been dashed and the assembled crowd began to dwindle. In the meantime the Bonaparte's Gull was present agin at Blenheim so we made the executive decision to head there instead. The Little Bunting didn't reappear.
|Great Crested Grebe|
The bridge was too far away from the birds, even the scope couldn't pull them in close enough for me, so we walked around the eastern bank and found a viewpoint much closer to the Gulls. Here I had a chance at least. As mentioned earlier my experience with Bonaparte's Gull is very limited and furthermore the one that we'd seen two years ago had mainly just floated on the water and had only been seen flying away from us. I had no real experience of what, or how, one looked like when it was flying. But I'm game and had researched before arriving so I knew that I was looking for a Gull slightly smaller than a Black-headed Gull that has a clear translucent patch on the primary wing feathers. It also has a "full" black hood as opposed to a "half" chocolate brown one although I thought that would be difficult to ascertain at a hundred yards! I settled in and made a concerted attempt at finding the Bonaparte's Gull. This wasn't going to be easy for me and I kept getting sidetracked by a couple of Common Terns since I was obviously looking for something different and they were different. My phone rang, it was Justin who was stood on the opposite bank, a far more experienced and better birder than I'll ever be, and he talked me through not only where the Bony's Gull was flying but also "how" it was flying. Pinpointing its position based on where it was in relation to Justin was impossible so I just had to study each and every Gull. After a few minutes I locked onto one that certainly looked different, it was flying with much stiffer wings, almost Barn Owl like I thought, and was also feeding differently, frequently flying up higher and then "dip feeding" like a Black Tern or Little Gull. I managed to take a couple of record shots just as Badger joined us by the lakeside. Now in company with another expert, I showed him a shot and asked if I had the right bird. "Looks good" was Badgers reply. Phew! Not easy but not as hard as I imagined.
|Initial record shots of the adult Bonaparte's Gull, Blenheim, 13/04/2019|
Our luck changed when a couple of birders arrived carrying some slices of bread! No sooner had they lobbed some into the water a Black-headed Gull spotted it and came closer to investigate. It was followed by the entire flock including the Bonaparte's. Now we had another tricky task, how to pick it out at just a few yards away now it was part of a frantic swirling frenzied flock of birds. Amazingly, for me, I managed to do just that quite easily, studying the birds at length earlier had paid off. In fact at such close quarters it was easy to track the Bonaparte's Gull and I fired off shot after shot, following the bird even as it dropped onto the water to collect some bread fragments. And by my own standards these were some of my best action photos that I've ever taken. I was pretty pleased to say the least.
Once the bread had been devoured the Gull flock would retreat to the middle of the lake and rest on the water until another slice was offered whereby they'd all fly in again. This was repeated several times until the loaf had been finished. For anybody visiting to see the Bonaparte's Gull, take some bread!
Thinking I wouldn't better the photos that I had already we bade Badger farewell and headed home. The Bonaparte's Gull had made it 182 on that year list.
Waiting for Bonaparte is an album by the excellent The Men They Couldn't Hang, a favourite band of mine. One of the tracks on it is entitled "The Bounty Hunter". I guess that in targeting specific birds then Mrs Caley and I are indeed modern day Bounty Hunters!!!