MEDITERRANEAN GULLS IN GREAT YARMOUTH by Steve Smith
Norfolk is one of the best counties in the UK to see Mediterranean Gulls. The favoured sites are Hunstanton, Heacham, Titchwell, Scolt Head, Blakeney, Cley, Gromer, Overstrand, with the Breydon Water/Great Yarmouth Seafront area being the next most productive and reliable site. Here more than 20 individuals of all ages are recorded on a regular basis.
Although birds may be encountered at any time of the year, and anywhere in and around the town, it is the area of Great Yarmouth seafront, between the Wellington and Britannia piers that most birds are seen, and seen very well, at close range, often coming to feed on bread. The birds are present throughout the year and can be seen at any time of the day, though it is mid-afternoon to early evening that they gather on the beach behind the Sealife Centre just to the North of the Wellington Pier. The numbers in these gatherings start to increase in the early Autumn, and it was on the 13th of November 1998 that the record count of 26 individuals was made. This group consisted of 12 adults, 3 second years, and 11 first year birds. This Winter we have an average of 12 birds, with a similar proportion of age groups, juveniles are rare. The birds are usually in double figures untill April, when most of the birds disperse, presumably to breeding sites. If you are visiting this site, bear in mind that the birds leave the beach about half an hour before dusk to roost. At least some of them roost on the nearby Breydon Water, numbers on the estuary rarely match those on the seafront, maybe some arrive after dark and depart before light.
However numbers often increase on the estuary in May, when a Spring passage of 1st Summer birds may occur. 1995 was a good year when over 30 birds were recorded, with 14 together on the 31st of May, a site record.
Though I know of no local breeding records, I have seen adult birds displaying on the seafront in Spring, and birds in obvious pair-mode on the Western end of the estuary in early Summer. The nearest large colony of Black-headed Gulls is only a few miles to the West, at the Cantley sugar-beet factory. I have never seen Med Gulls in the colony, but I am sure that they must occur.
A few of the birds which winter in Great Yarmouth carry white colour rings, these birds have been ringed in Holland or Belgium. Some have returned on consecutive years. This year a bird carrying a metal BTO type ring has been noted, but as yet I have not been able to read it!
If you are visiting Great Yarmouth to see Med Gulls, and are arriving by car, just follow the signs for the seafront, turn South when you reach the sea, and park in one of the many pay and display parks near the Sealife Centre and check the beach. You should be rewarded almost immediately. If not throw some bread onto the beach and they appear very quickly If arriving by public transport the seafront is about a 10 to 15 minute walk. If visiting the Breydon roost, parking is available at the ASDA supermarket behind the railway station. At all times when in the town keep your eyes open for Med Gulls they may be seen anywhere, I have seen them on more than one occasion around the chip stalls in the market place. If you do visit I am sure you will not be disappointed, but wish you luck all the same.
STEVE SMITH , GREAT YARMOUTH BIRD CLUB Tel: +44-(0)1493 600333
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