Steppe Gull - barabensis

(last update: 8-9-2014 )

Coordinator:
Mars Muusse (Netherlands)

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adult barabensis: July

Images on the right in this page are from a 2010 trip into Kazakhstan, by Ross Ahmed. It remains to be seen if the birds breeding near Aqtobe and Qostanay in Kazakhstan should be called 'barabensis', as they still show several features reminiscent of cachinnans. They may also just represent birds from the transition zone.

A. R. Dean went to Kazakhstan in 1987 and 2008 and reports: This form breeds primarily in steppe lakes from south-west Siberia, from the Urals to the Omsk region, but is also assigned by some authors to the gulls breeding in northern Kazakhstan. In 2000, a study of the gulls at the Chany Lakes, in southwest Siberia, was published by Panov and Monzikov  ('Status of the form barabensis within the ‘Larus argentatus-cachinnans-fuscus complex’'. British Birds 93: 227-241). Their study recognised barabensis as distinct from cachinnans but also stated that birds in Kazakhstan are intermediate in appearance between cachinnans and barabensis, as already asserted by Johansen as long ago as 1960 ('Die Vogelfauna Westsibiriens'. III, Laridae, Alcidae. J Ornithol 101: 316-339). Interestingly (and somewhat ambiguously), elsewhere in their paper Panov and Monzikov refer to the gulls breeding at Lake Tengiz (which was the location used by Liebers and Helbig for barabensis) as cachinnans and state that this is 'about 1000 km south of the breeding range of barabensis'.

Panov and Monzikov concluded (together with some earlier authors) that barabensis was closely related to heuglini, and more recent mtDNA studies have supported that view. For more details see also: Dubois, P. 2002. ('Systematics of Larus argentatus-cachinnans-fuscus complex revisited'. Dutch Birding 24: 271-298).  A ‘classic’ barabensis is:
- smaller and rounder-headed than cachinnans with a shorter bill and shorter legs;
- it looks more compact overall;
- it has darker upperparts, similar in shade to taimyrensis or more easterly populations of heuglini;
- black in the wingtip is more extensive than in other southern forms of yellow-legged gulls, with black on at least the outer seven primaries (p4 to p10) and often a small black mark on p3;
- black occupies >50% of p10 and occupies a relatively large area on p9 to p7;
- a feature associated with 'classic' barabensis is the tendency to a narrow black subterminal band on the bill, even in summer;
- and the red spot tends to extend from the gonys onto the upper mandible.

At Saltaim Lake, 360 km northwest of Chany Lakes, 18 of 29 barabensis examined in the hand by Filchagov displayed such a black band (Filchagov 1993, 'The Armenian Gull in Armenia', Brit Birds 86: 550-560). At Chany Lakes, Panov and Monzikov found that only two of 12 gulls examined possessed black marks near the bill tip, so this feature may be less well-developed further south and closer towards the breeding range of cachinnans. It has also been suggested that the black band may be a feature of younger adults, which becomes less evident in older individuals (Philippe Dubois, quoted by Panov & Monzikov).

The gulls in northern Kazakhstan are deemed to have some cachinnans-type features but a wing-tip pattern approaching barabensis (Panov and Monzikov). On some individuals, however, the extent of black in the primaries and the prominence of pale veins on the inner webs of p8 and p7 (extending well down towards the tips of the feathers) also recalls cachinnans. Some birds show a head and bill profile more attenuated than on classic barabensis. Iris colour in the Kazakhstan gulls is variable, some with an obviously pale eye. A relatively dark iris is associated with classic barabensis but variable iris colour was reported by Panov & Monzikov during their study of barabensis at the Chany Lakes in southwest Siberia. The leg colour of Kazakh birds reportedly includes birds with a greyish tinge and some even with a fleshy tinge (see Olsen and Larson, Gulls of Europe, Asia and North America).

Below: page 48 from: An atlas of movements of Southwest Siberian waterbirds, 2005. BY: J. Veen, A.K. Yurlov, S.N. Delany, A.I. Mihantiev, M.A. Selivanova & G.C. Boere. Publication by: Wetlands International, Droevendaalsesteeg 3A, PO Box 471, 6700 AL Wageningen, The Netherlands

Yellow-legged Gull – Hohotunij
Larus cachinnans

Ringing data
There were 30 recoveries, all of birds ringed as chicks in colonies on islands in Lake Chany and other lakes in the Novosibirsk Region (figure 43). 24 recoveries from inside the study area, all in the period April-October, refer to juvenile birds fledged in the same year (11) or to adults (13, age 1-6 years) returning to the breeding area in later
years (7 birds were recovered in close vicinity of the natal colony). Autumn migration appears to take place in a SW direction. Recoveries from the Caspian Sea region were from August, September and April. No winter recoveries are available.
There were 3 recoveries from the southern part of the study area (1 juvenile, 1 sub-adult and 1 adult in September-October) of birds ringed as chicks in a colony in east Kazakhstan.

Conclusion
Yellow-legged Gulls ringed as chicks in the Novosibirsk region migrate in a predominantly SW direction. The main wintering area might be situated in the Caspian Sea region but the number of recoveries are few. None were recovered in Europe or Africa. The oldest bird recovered was 6 years.

Sub-specific status
The taxonomic status of the Yellow-legged Gulls ringed as chick at Lake Chany is uncertain. According to del Hoyo et al. (1996) L. c. cachinnans breeds in the Black and Caspian Sea area and east Kazakhstan, whereas L. c. barabensis is a breeding bird of the Central Asian steppes. L. c. mongolicus is mentioned as a breeding bird from the Southeast Altai mountains and eastwards.
So, all three sub-species are thought to be present as breeding birds in a relatively small area. Lake Balkhash in eastern Kazakhstan in thought to be the borderline for breeding L. c. cachinnans and L. c . barabensis, the latter being supposed to breed north of this line. However,
birds ringed as chicks near Lake Balkhash (Lake Alakol) have been recorded in the breeding colonies at Lake Chany, so mixing of breeding populations at the sub-specific level may take place in the area. On the basis of our present knowledge of the breeding distribution of the various sub-species, the Chany breeding population should be regarded as to belong to L. c. barabensis. However, according to Wetlands International (2002) L. c. barabensis (treated as Larus heuglini barabensis by these authors) winters in Southwest Asia, mainly along the shores of the Persian gulf and the Arabian Sea, whereas L. c. cachinnans spends the winter along the
Black & Caspian Seas, SW Asia, NE Africa and Sri Lanka. The recoveries of the Chany birds, though few in numbers, fit with the latter and not with the first. So breeding and wintering distribution suggest different subspecies, which leaves the taxonomic status of Larus
cachinnans
breeding at lake Chany unknown.

Figure 43. Recoveries of Yellow-legged Gulls ringed as chicks inside (Lake Chany, Novosibirsk Region) and outside the study area.

Steppe Gull barabensis adult, July 14 2012, near Karasuk, Novosibirsk, Russia. Picture: Sergey Pisarevskiy.
Steppe Gull barabensis adult, July 09 2011, near Karasuk, Novosibirsk, Russia. Picture: Sergey Pisarevskiy.
Steppe Gull barabensis adult, July 09 2011, near Karasuk, Novosibirsk, Russia. Picture: Sergey Pisarevskiy.
Steppe Gull barabensis adult, July 08 2011, near Karasuk, Novosibirsk, Russia. Picture: Sergey Pisarevskiy.
Steppe Gull barabensis adult, July 08 2011, near Karasuk, Novosibirsk, Russia. Picture: Sergey Pisarevskiy.
Steppe Gull barabensis adult, July 08 2011, near Karasuk, Novosibirsk, Russia. Picture: Sergey Pisarevskiy.
Steppe Gull barabensis adult, July 13 2012, near Karasuk, Novosibirsk, Russia. Picture: Sergey Pisarevskiy.
Steppe Gull barabensis adult, July 13 2012, near Karasuk, Novosibirsk, Russia. Picture: Sergey Pisarevskiy.
Steppe Gull barabensis adult, July 13 2012, near Karasuk, Novosibirsk, Russia. Picture: Sergey Pisarevskiy.
Steppe Gull barabensis adult, July 13 2012, near Karasuk, Novosibirsk, Russia. Picture: Sergey Pisarevskiy.
Steppe Gull barabensis adult, July 14 2012, near Karasuk, Novosibirsk, Russia. Picture: Sergey Pisarevskiy.
Steppe Gull barabensis adult, July 08 2011, near Karasuk, Novosibirsk, Russia. Picture: Sergey Pisarevskiy.
transition barabensis adult July 18 2010, Qostanay, Kazakhstan. Picture: Ross Ahmed. Bird from N Kazakhstan.
transition barabensis adult July 18 2010, Qostanay, Kazakhstan. Picture: Ross Ahmed. Bird from N Kazakhstan.
transition barabensis adult July 18 2010, Qostanay, Kazakhstan. Picture: Ross Ahmed. Bird from N Kazakhstan.
transition barabensis adult July 18 2010, Qostanay, Kazakhstan. Picture: Ross Ahmed. Bird from N Kazakhstan.
transition barabensis adult July 18 2010, Qostanay, Kazakhstan. Picture: Ross Ahmed. Bird from N Kazakhstan.
eastern cachinnans adult July 19 2010, Aqtobe, Kazakhstan. Picture: Ross Ahmed. Bird from NW Kazakhstan.
eastern cachinnans adult July 19 2010, Aqtobe, Kazakhstan. Picture: Ross Ahmed. Bird from NW Kazakhstan.
eastern cachinnans adult July 19 2010, Aqtobe, Kazakhstan. Picture: Ross Ahmed. Bird from NW Kazakhstan.
eastern cachinnans adult July 19 2010, Aqtobe, Kazakhstan. Picture: Ross Ahmed. Bird from NW Kazakhstan.
eastern cachinnans adult July 20 2010, Aqtobe, Kazakhstan. Picture: Ross Ahmed. Bird from NW Kazakhstan.
eastern cachinnans adult July 20 2010, Aqtobe, Kazakhstan. Picture: Ross Ahmed. Bird from NW Kazakhstan.
eastern cachinnans adult July 20 2010, Aqtobe, Kazakhstan. Picture: Ross Ahmed. Bird from NW Kazakhstan.
eastern cachinnans adult July 20 2010, Aqtobe, Kazakhstan. Picture: Ross Ahmed. Bird from NW Kazakhstan.
eastern cachinnans adult July 20 2010, Aqtobe, Kazakhstan. Picture: Ross Ahmed. Bird from NW Kazakhstan.
eastern cachinnans adult July 21 2010, Aqtobe, Kazakhstan. Picture: Ross Ahmed. Bird from NW Kazakhstan.
eastern cachinnans adult July 23 2010, Aqtobe, Kazakhstan. Picture: Ross Ahmed. Bird from NW Kazakhstan.