Watch the birdie - Sunderland twitchers search for rare gull

Bird watchers braving the inclement weather on Roker beach hoping for a sighting of a Bonaparte's Gull.

Bird watchers braving the inclement weather on Roker beach hoping for a sighting of a Bonaparte's Gull.

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BIRDERS have been braving the bad weather to search for a rare gull which has turned up on Wearside.

The Bonaparte’s gull is usually found in North America. It is believed the bird was swept to the UK by storms.

Mark Newsome

Mark Newsome

It was first spotted on August 5 in Whitburn by Mark Newsome, the county recorder for Durham.

Since then, the bird has been seen at several locations in the Whitburn area, but also on the beaches between Whitburn and Roker.

The latest reported sightings were just north of Roker Pier and on Roker Beach between 1pm and 3pm yesterday.

Paul Anderson, chairman of Durham Bird Club, said it could stay in our area for several weeks.

“In essence Bonaparte’s gull is very much like a smaller, slighter version of the familiar black-headed gull which is a common bird across Britain,” he said.

“Any small gull with a mainly dark head is worth a second look for anyone searching for the Bonaparte’s gull.

“It also has a black bill whereas the black-headed gull has an orange-red bill with a dark tip, and shorter legs than black-headed, which should be obvious in direct comparison.”

Mr Anderson said the Bonaparte’s gull can also be distinguished as it has a sooty-black hood as opposed to the chocolate-brown hood of the black-headed gulls, many of which have now lost their hood for the season.

Bonaparte’s gull has been recorded about 173 times in Britain but the current bird is only the fourth record for County Durham.

The first record was in 1977, the second in 1987 and the third last year.

Mr Anderson said: “It is very likely the bird present now is the same individual which occurred in late August and early September 2010.”

He added: “It is an adult bird just beginning to moult out of summer plumage.”

He said the bird’s head would have been black, but it is starting to lose the hood as dark feathers are replaced by white ones.

“It will lose it entirely over the next few weeks, leaving just a small dark spot on the side of the head,” he said.

l Anyone interested in birds in Sunderland or County Durham can find out more from the Durham Bird Club website: www.durhambirdclub.org