Sunday, 23 February 2014

Dungeness winter Kitiwakes

A first-winter Kittiwake roosting on the beach at Dungeness.
Kittiwakes patrolling the Dungeness shoreline.

Walking along the beach at Dungeness I'm more often than not greeted with Kittiwakes to-ing and fro-ing along the shoreline looking for fishermen's handouts. In winter, the Dungeness Kittiwakes have learnt to survive alongside the larger gulls by feeding on fishermen's ofal and the discards of sea anglers who line the beach daily. This February, there seems to be plenty of Kittiwakes present, sometimes in their hundreds. Most Kittiwakes winter far out to sea, with new evidence that some birds failing to breed on UK coasts fly to Canadian waters before returning to British waters the following spring. It's also suggested that successful breeding birds stay closer to UK shores in the winter, like these birds at Dungeness.

At Dungeness there are Kittiwakes of all ages - from first-winter to adult birds. In size, they're similar to a Black Headed Gull, but more stout. They're much smaller than a Herring Gull and, because of this, they can hold their own when scavenging, out-manouvering Herring and Black Backed Gulls for discards. Patrolling the surfline, the Kittiwakes' agility enables them to slowly glide and watch the surf, quickly dipping into the water for a variety of prey. Kittiwakes have a large beak gape enabling them to swallow surprisingly big fish quickly, lessoning the chance of a Herring Gull steal.

Adult Kittiwake showing-off its bright red gape.
Gutsy juvenile Kittwakes rarely loose out to the fury of the Herring Gull
This Kittiwake has caught a Sea Mouse, a hairy marine worm often seen washed up on the tide line after storms.
Here, a fisherman's discarded Whiting becomes the Kittiwake's meal.
.. and here before a larger Gull gets a sniff, the Kittiwate is swallowing a bulky Ling.

Through from late summer to winter adolescent Kittiwakes have striking 'W' shaped markings across their wings and back. As the birds twist and turn in flight they look striking.
A first winter Kittiwake with 'designer' W plumage and black tail tips.

A first spring Kittiwake developing a yellow bill.
Kittiwakes don't seem particularly perturbed by people. They will sit and roost on the beach, reluctant to fly up when people walk by. A mixed flock of Kittiwakes with Black Headed Gulls will always see the Black Headed Gulls fly up first before a Kittiwake feels the need to make a move. In winter, adult Kittiwakes have a lemon/yellow bill and a designer silver collar on their necks - making them appear a pretty and attractive gull.

Adult winter Kitiwake, it will loose its grey head markings for its breeding summer plumage soon.

First winter Kittiwakes.

Kittiwake fishing in the surf at Dungeness.

Kittiwakes take four years to mature - many at the beach are this age, with the bill almost yellow.
Adult and first winter Kittiwakes just weeks away from moving north to UK and European breeding grounds.


Jerry Dicker said...

Thanks Nick. Beautiful pics and interesting info both in the text and in the photos. Jerry Dicker

Clare Gillatt said...

Fabulous photos!

Wilma said...

Terrific series of shots, Nick. I enjoyed the mix of info with the photos.

Steve Pearson said...

Great pics Nick!