'A record for Norfolk' - Extremely old gull spotted on coast

A black-headed gull believed to be almost 30 years old was spotted in Sheringham by Jane Crossen (inset).

A black-headed gull believed to be almost 30 years old was spotted in Sheringham by Jane Crossen (inset). - Credit: Jane Crossen / Archant

When it was a chick, Norwich City were top of the Premier League, Charles and Diana were still married and Ukraine had just voted for independence. 

Thirty years on, black-headed gull ST 131146 is still soaring in the skies above Norfolk.

The bird - one of the oldest of its type ever recorded in the UK - has been spotted in Sheringham.

It was first ringed in 1992 in Finland and has now lived to  almost three times its expected lifespan.

Jane Crossen, from Sheringham, photographed the feathered wanderer at the town's boating lake on the Esplanade. 

Ms Crossen, who said she was an "enthusiastic amateur" birder, noticed the gull had an identification ring around its left leg, and established it had lived for almost three decades.

The black-headed gull by Sheringham's boating lake. 

The black-headed gull by Sheringham's boating lake. - Credit: Jane Crossen

She said: "I spotted it on the beach and it flew to the boating lake where I sat for ages taking various angles of it.

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"A friend helped me piece the numbers together and I sent it to the ringing station in Finland. Finding where to send the details are all online.

A screenshot showing the recorded locations of the black-headed gull which was once again spotted in Sheringham. 

A screenshot showing the recorded locations of the black-headed gull which was once again spotted in Sheringham. - Credit: Jane Crossen

"In June, all being well, he'll be 30. That's incredibly old for a black-headed gull. The average age is 11.

"We believe it might be a record for Norfolk and certainly Sheringham."

Due to his advanced years, Ms Crossen said had nicknamed the gull Old Spice, after the aftershave, or Spicy for short. 

The oldest black-headed gull recorded in the UK was last year in Bournemouth - that bird was at least 32 years old.  

After that discovery, a spokesman for the Thetford-based British Trust for Ornithology said: “To see one which is this old is very significant.

An unusually old black-headed gull has been spotted at Sheringham's boating lake

An unusually old black-headed gull has been spotted at Sheringham's boating lake - Credit: Jane Crossen

"The oldest ever recorded was tagged in Lithuania and its body was found 39 years later in the UK.”

According to the records Ms Crossen got from the ringing centre at the University of Helsinki, the Sheringham gull was seen twice around Germany's Baltic Sea coast in April 1993. 

But no sightings were recorded for the following two decades before it was seen on the north Norfolk coast in 2016, 2019, 2020 and last year.

Sheringham boating lake.

The gull was seen at Sheringham's boating lake, west of the town's High Street. - Credit: Pat Foan

Ms Crossen said: "He wasn't seen for 23 years. And then for the following years he pops up regularly in Sheringham. Have a look if you are around the boating lake. He's been there regularly - as have I."

The black-headed gull is the UK's commonest small gull. It has a chocolate-brown head in summer, which turns mostly white for the rest of the year.

Jane Crossen, from Sheringham, describes herself as an "enthusiastic amateur" birder.

Jane Crossen, from Sheringham, describes herself as an "enthusiastic amateur" birder. - Credit: Karen Bethell

The ring used to identify the black-headed gull. According to records,

The ring used to identify the black-headed gull. According to records, the ring was attached to the bid in Pargas, Finnland, when it was just out of the nest. - Credit: Jane Crossen

Screenshot of the University of Helsinki record of the black-headed gull. 

Screenshot of the University of Helsinki record of the black-headed gull. - Credit: Jane Crossen