The UK’s first sighting of a Slaty-backed Gull has taken place at Veolia Environmental Services’ Rainham landfill site and the adjacent RSPB Rainham Marshes wildlife site.
The first-time visitor, believed to be a lone young adult gull, was seen by ornithologist and Managing Editor of Birdwatch magazine, Dominic Mitchell, at the Rainham site on Thursday 13 January.
Further sightings followed on Friday and as word spread over 1200 people turned up on Saturday – one of the biggest groups of ‘twitchers’ in the UK in recent years. Birdwatchers arrived from France, Belgium and Lithuania, as well as the UK with several unconfirmed sightings on the day - there have been no further sightings since then.
The species, known for its slaty-grey back, is very large at 27 inches long. It traditionally spends the summer in the Russian Far East and Japan before migrating further south along the Pacific coast.
The gull’s first appearance in the UK is believed to be related to the increasing navigability of the North West Passage linked to the melting of the Polar ice cap.
If the gull had become lost, it could have followed open water and joined up with other gulls such as the Herring Gull pictured alongside before arriving in the North Sea.
Richard Fassnidge, Veolia Environmental Services’ Rainham Landfill Site Manager, commented: “Landfill sites are an unexpected source of biodiversity and we have seen many species at Rainham including Caspian, Iceland and Glaucous Gulls. My site team reported that Saturday was amazing – the Slaty-backed Gull resulted in the perimeter of the adjacent RSPB site becoming a virtual tourist destination!”