Last weekend there was a group of Little Gulls at Frampton Marsh RSPB on the Lincolnshire coast. The group numbers fluctuated throughout the time I was at the site, but the most I saw at one time was 12 individuals. The gulls looked to me to be 1st summer birds, but varied greatly in their appearance. Some looked like 1st winter birds, with pale heads, some had the start of a black hood and a couple had almost complete black hoods, with one bird looking almost adult like, except for its wing pattern.
This group gave me a chance to study the differing plumages in a group of birds, that whilst they looked different, were in fact the same species.
The above photo shows 4 Little Gulls and a larger Black-headed Gull in the background. You can see the differing plumage patterns on the heads of the birds, but they all show the wing patterns of 1st summer birds, with the dark on the upperwing appearing almost bleached, giving it a browner appearance than on winter birds.
The above 3 photos show the differences in the plumages on a larger section of the group, with up to 6 birds present in the last photo. They all show the wing pattern of 1st summer birds, but again, the differences in head plumage is quite apparent.
The photos below show a few of the birds in closer detail, giving a chance to see the wing pattern a bit better. The bright red legs and all black bill are I.D. features of this stunning little gull and are present on all, but juvenile birds (although in winter the legs are slightly pinker).
The two photos below show the bird with an almost complete black hood, but the bird is not an adult as the wing pattern shows. An adult Little Gull has clean grey wings with pure white tips and the hood is complete. This bird shows the dark on its upperwing and the hood has a whitish freckling on the front.
A good lesson for me in gull identification, showing the wide range of appearance of a bird that tends to only be shown as an adult summer or winter bird in the guide books.