This year, more than any I've experienced here before, the sound of Mediterranean Gulls flying above the coast and towns of the Solent has been remarkable in its normality. Quite an extraordinary turn of events for a species that a century ago was largely confined to the marshes surrounding the Black Sea during the breeding season. Just within the boundaries of the Chichester and Langstone harbour special protection area, a minimum of 1737 breeding pairs were recorded during 2018 and they fledged at least 623 young.
As they're now a regular part of our coast here, I thought we'd take a closer look at their year.
Starting in February/March, a pre-breeding season roost usually establishes itself at the West Hayling local nature reserve, an interesting choice as it's rare that any actually breed there. Nevertheless, groups of several hundred gather, especially on the shingle islands in the lagoon, to act out courtship rituals and select mates before leaving for nesting sites elsewhere (sometimes much further afield). This acts a great place to observe them and also re-sight ringed individuals for the European Colour Ringing Scheme (details here)
Above: Courtship displays at West Hayling LNR in early spring.
Above: Seen off by a Black-headed Gull.
After a relatively restful period of incubation (hopefully), chicks begin to hatch in late Spring and develop fast. They are much like their Black-headed Gull cousins but the chicks do stand out, especially as they get older towards fledging age.
Above: Newly hatched chicks on the Solent coastline.
Within just one to two weeks of hatching, they have grown spectacularly in size on a regular diet of grubs, leatherjackets and (mostly) other invertebrates. The parents will busily gather food across an extended area (potentially many miles in some cases at least), swallowing it and then later regurgitating the mass for the chicks to feed on directly from their open mouth.
Above: Feeding chicks at 1-2 weeks.
Above: The same chicks getting a hearty meal just a few days later.
Four weeks after hatching, the chicks are fledged and taking their first wobbly flights into the sky. As with other gulls and terns though, they're still happy to be fed for some time afterwards.
Above: Chicks at around 40 days old.
Over the last 2 years, just over 200 Mediterranean Gull young have been fitted with yellow colour rings in the Solent and sightings are very much appreciated by the team (although please do remember that Mediterranean Gulls are a schedule 1 species and disturbing them at nest without a licence is an offence). If you see a ringed bird or notice one on a photo you've taken, please do email your sighting to firstname.lastname@example.org. So far, reports have come in from Cornwall to Morocco and many places in between.
Only time will tell what happens in the future for this species in the UK but I can't help but think of the collared dove, a species that we now take for granted and yet only started breeding within this country during the 1950's. The one thing that is certain is that our wildlife nationally and internationally is in a massive state of flux and that record keeping at this time offers one of the best routes for understanding the developing picture.
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