by Nick Upton
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Slaty-backed Gull, A new Species for Thailand
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One of the most rewarding things about ornithology in Thailand is that it is most certainly not a closed book. It is relatively easy to find something new when birdwatching in Thailand, be it a previously unknown site rich in birdlife, a range extension for a particular species or an interesting migratory date.

However easy these types of discoveries are, few of us expect to find a new species for the Thai list even though new birds are added quite regularly. Still, this is what happened quite recently in a rather convoluted way. In April Alex Vargas received a message from Geoff Carey informing him that he had a photograph incorrectly labeled on his pbase gallery. Instead of it being a Heuglin's Gull, as he and all the other observers who saw this bird thought, it was in fact a first winter Slaty-backed Gull Larus schistisagus with worn plumage. Alex had this verified by other gull experts and the record has been accepted as a new species for Thailand.

Slaty-backed Gull
(Photo by Alex Vargas)

The above photo was taken at Laem Pak Bia sandspit on the 4th January 2008 where it was amongst a group of other gulls including Heuglin's and Pallas's Gulls. The same bird was photographed by other lucky photographers who gained a new bird for their Thai lists as a result of their efforts; this reminds us how valuable making proper records can be, whether it is by photographic records or more traditional notes and sketches.

The range map given for Slaty-backed Gull in Gulls of Europe, Asia and North America (Helm Identification Guides) by Olsen & Larsson (left) suggests that it may not be that surprising that the species has found its way to Thailand and indeed Slaty-backed Gull was a species that some had identified as one to look out for at gull roosts in Thailand.

It is also possible that a number of other gull species that breed and winter in similar areas to Slaty-backed and Heuglin's Gulls may also be recorded in Thailand in the future by the vigilant.

Slaty-backed Gull
(Photo by Peter Ericsson)

Slaty-backed Gull
(Photo by Johan Svensson)

Nick Upton, 9 June 2008.


Note 1: Whilst this website does not pretend to be the official location for announcements such as the above, I have been waiting (in vain) for the Bird Conservation Society of Thailand (BCST) to break the news before placing it here, even though I was notified as soon as the bird had been tentatively identified. As it seems that the English version of the BCST's website is not getting updated I have published the news here considering that the inclusion of this species on the Thai list does not seem in doubt.

Note 2: The Gulls of Europe, Asia & North America by Olsen and Larsson (left) is an excellent publication that any ornithologist who wants to get to grips with the many confusing gull species, their moult pattern and other aspects of their ecology must own. If it had been available to the observers of this Slaty-backed Gull when in the field I am sure they would have identified it at the time.

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Related Pages: Recent Additions to the Thai Bird Checklist, Laem Pak Bia/Pak Thale

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