Not long after I arrived in China, I visited Liaoning Province to see my good friend, Dalian-based Tom Beeke. He very kindly showed me some of his local birding sites, including what must be the best gull-watching site in north-eastern China, Jinzhou Bay. Attracted by the nearby landfill site, thousands of gulls congregate in the area to spend the winter. Most are Mongolian Gulls but there is always a good selection with Vega Gull, Heuglin’s Gull, Common Gull, Black-tailed Gull, Black-headed Gull and occasionally something rarer like a Glaucous Gull, Slaty-backed Gull or, as I was lucky enough to see on my first visit, a Pallas’s Gull.
Before I visited, friend and co-author of the excellent Birding Mongolia blog, Andreas Buchheim, asked me to look out for wing-tagged Mongolian Gulls and, sure enough, among the large flocks of Mongolian Gull loafing on the ice in the bay, I was able to pick out several wing-tagged birds. These birds had been tagged by Andreas at various sites in Mongolia and Russia and showed that these birds, as expected, moved to the east coast of Asia in winter.
This site was so good that I went back in winter 2011/12 with Beijing-based Paul Holt, during which time we found several more wing-tagged Mongolian Gulls.
I haven’t been able to visit Jinzhou Bay this winter but another good friend, and fellow birder, Bai Qingquan from Dandong, visited there on 23 and 24 March. Qingquan estimated that there were around 6,000 gulls of 7 different species on site. Excitingly, he found two wing-tagged gulls that I had seen, together with Paul Holt, in winter 2011/12.
Even more excitingly he saw “AC82”. This bird was originally ringed as a “pullus” (nestling) on 25 June 1989 at Lake Baikal in Russia. It was subsequently caught again as an adult bird on 20 May 2005 at Airchan Nuur, Mongolia, when the metal leg ring was replaced and a wing tag (“AC82”) attached. Qingquan’s sighting is the first since the tag was fixed in 2005 and, with the original ringing data from Russia, proves that this bird is almost 24 years old! (almost as old as me.. cough). Wow.. what a record! If anyone has any information about the longevity of large gulls, I would love to know…
Another of Qingquan’s sightings was of “AF63”. I saw this bird at the same site in February 2011 and Paul Holt and I saw it again in January 2012, showing that at least some of these gulls are site-faithful in winter.. again, another valuable piece of data.
I simply love the information that can be gained through tagging programmes like this. Looking for marked birds adds another dimension to birding and it’s so rewarding to hear back from the project leaders about the history of individual birds. I urge every birder to look out for, and report, any wing-tagged, colour-ringed or any other birds marked in any way.
For more information about Andreas Buccheim’s Mongolian Gull wing-tagging programme, see here.