The Fourth Record
Two days ago, I’ve found the Great Black-backed Gull – the fourth ever record of this predominantly marine species for land-locked Serbia (previous were in 1857, 1993 and 2012):
Down at the riverbank in Belgrade, I am mounting the scope onto the window clamp and making myself some coffee in a small water bottle, often used as an instant coffee shaker, while scanning the Danube water surface for gulls. One Pygmy Cormorant by the noisy group of Black-headed Gulls fighting over something edible carried downstream, a pair of Mute Swans by the other bank, widely scattered flock of Yellow-legged Gulls… Taking a sip of coffee and… one Lesser Black-backed Gull is among them.
I am watching the Lesser Black-backed carefully and am no longer convinced… But if it isn’t an LBBG, it can only be the Great Black-backed Gull. This bird differs from the Baltic race of the LBBG Larus f. fuscus by prominent white spots along the primaries, barely noticeable in Baltic gulls, and visibly larger head and heavy, broad flanks, when compared to Yellow-legged Gulls next to it. On the water, it does not appear longer, but does appear larger-headed and heavier than YLG.
The Great Black-backed Gull is predominantly a sea gull, found in the ocean even 150 kilometers from coasts, and only rarely deeper inland in the continent. Hence, in land-locked Serbia, it has been recorded only three times: in 1857, one was shot at the Morava River; in 1993, one was observed by a bird photographer Rastko Aleksandrov at the Centa fish farm, north of Belgrade; and in 2012, a team of Croat and Serbian ornithologists found one at the Belgrade city rubbish dump. The rubbish dump lies a mere 8 kilometers from my present location and, as a curiosity, it was last year at this very spot that I found the sixth ever Pallas’s Gull (or Great Black-headed Gull) recorded in Serbia.
Still, in recent decades, the Great Black-backed Gull has become a regular migratory and wintering wanderer of neighbouring Hungary and Croatia. Is it because the number of birds is increasing? Or the number of birders is increasing? Or better optics becomes more readily available? I started to bird this section of the river more regularly, making it my local winter patch, only after I’ve acquired the new Swarovski STX scope – the Danube is one thousand meters wide here and the new scope has opened an entire new world of birding for me!
Whatever the reason, I will be coming back over the next few days to try to photograph the bird. While dismounting the scope, I realise that I have forgot the coffee altogether.