Wednesday, 18 January 2017


As soon as I heard about the mystery gull in Darwin, I wanted to see it.  The authorities were debating its identity:  some said it was a Caspian Gull, some said it was Heuglin's Gull, which (so I learnt) is a race of the Lesser Black-backed Gull.  Whatever it was, it was a tick, and I wanted to see it.

James Mustafa and I decided this was an opportunity too good to miss.  We flew to Darwin on Monday, 16 January 2017, and arrived late at night, filled with expectation.  I was confident we'd get this gull, even though it had not been seen for several days.

Dawn was 6.30, so we set off at 6.  We drove straight to Lee Point, where the gull had last been seen.  There were thousands of waders on the beach:  mainly knots, also godwits and sand plovers, but also a few curlews and one Beach Stone Curlew.  However, there were very few gulls.  We expected our mystery gull to be associating with Silver Gulls so we were looking for flocks of gulls.  Every gull we saw was a Silver Gull, but they had no exotic companion.  We walked along the beach, to ensure that we weren't missing any flock of gulls amongst the waders.

Once we'd persuaded ourselves that our quarry was not present, we returned to the car and drove to Buffalo Creek, pausing along the way to check out a large flock of gulls flying overhead.  They were all Silver Gulls.

At Buffalo Creek, we could see a flock of waders and gulls on the sand spit.  James jumped across the creek most elegantly.  I walked up and down, looking for a spot where I could cross the water without either falling in or getting my feet covered in water up to the ankles.  A greenshank regarded me with amusement.  Once I'd finally crossed the creek (which was flowing quite quickly and was all of eight inches deep at the most) I had to climb a steep sand bank.  I think James was watching the waders as I clambered awkwardly up the bank.   I hope so anyway.  I hurried to catch up with James.
James at Buffalo Creek, regarding waders and gulls

We walked towards the mixed flock, trying not to disturb some nearby terns.  It was immediately apparent that one gull was much larger than the rest.  There it was!  We had our mystery gull at 7.37 a.m.!
Mystery gull at Buffalo Creek, photo by James Mustafa

We felt disproportionately clever.  All we'd done was walk along the beach and see a gull.  We reacted as if we'd achieved some remarkable feat, and indeed that's how it felt.  We congratulated each other with enthusiasm.

Our plane didn't leave until 6.15 p.m., so we had a whole day to go birding in Darwin.  We had a wonderful time, listing over 70 species for the day.  We visited Knuckey's Lagoons, Snipe Pond, McMinn's Lagoon, East Point and, finally, a spot on the Esplanade looking for Barking Owls.  Highlights were three Red-backed Button-quail at the Snipe Pond, and several Rose-crowned Fruit Doves and two Rainbow Pittas at East Point.

This was a most enjoyable twitch.  When the experts decide what to call this mystery gull, I will call it number 801.  2017 is starting off very well indeed.

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