Monday, January 27, 2014

When a Gull ain't so "Common" you FREEZE for it...

And that is what I did. For TWO DAYS, starting on Saturday the 25th, I spent several hours in the field looking for the bird.  Starting at Veteran Memorial Pier in Brooklyn NY, where the Common Gull, was initially found by Shane Blodgett. Unfortunately, on Saturday I had to leave due to an emergency and about 15 minutes after I left, I got several phone calls and texts indicating that the bird had shown up.   Many folks who knew that I had frozen my hands and feet off in the field patiently looking all day were bummed that I missed it. But I shrugged it off, I had to leave there was no other way around my departure and left it to faith and luck in hoping I had another crack at it the next day.

So some readers might be wondering. What's that? A Common Gull? Shouldn't there be a lot of them around then with a name like 'Common"? Well, this beauty, may be common elsewhere; however, it is quite a rarity along the Atlantic Coast. Also known as Mew Gull, it is common along Pacific Coast beaches in winter. In Eurasia, where it occurs, it is known as the "Common Gull." Birds showing up on the Atlantic Coast are said to likely be from Europe. So now you understand the fuss.

The next day (Sunday), I decided to start the day by trying for a Barnacle Goose that was found on Saturday by Anya Auerbach at Randall's Island Manhattan NY.  I found it where it was last reported and shared views with a birder named Alexis. I then waited for over an hour for my friends Tom Burke and Gail Benson who came to see it. By then, I had gotten cold again to the point of shivering. The wind that whips through Randall's Island, is no joke. After getting splendid looks at the Barnacle Goose, I decided to make my way back to Brooklyn to try again for the Common Gull. A quick stop at Baisley Pond in Queens to look for Geese and then it was onto Veteran's Memorial Park, to once again brave the wind and cold (crazy stuff birders do).  As luck would have it, I was stunned that in a matter of minutes after arriving I managed to lock onto the prize! Talk about the Gods taking pity on me. I enjoyed excellent views with Jim Merwin who incidentally reminded me that the last time we met was at the East Pond at Jamaica Bay where we had a lengthy discussion on the nuances of identifying Long-billed Dowitchers.  That day we had crippling views of an immature LBDO.

Jim and I were very lucky to pick up this bird in flight and then tracked it once it landed.  Not wanting to take our eyes off or walk away from the bird, we waited until a couple of birders who were at the base of the pier looked our way and then waved them over.  I believe the birders were Sam Stuart and Rhys Marsh. Only one other birder, Karen who had seen the bird the day before made it in time to see the Common Gull with us before it took off heading towards the Verazanno Bridge.  We had tried during the short time we had the bird, to wave off people jogging and or strolling along the pier but we were not successful with all of them and the bird was noticeably nervous after one fellow stopped behind the roosting flock to take photos of who knows what.  Here are some photos, I hope you enjoy them.

This is the view in flight that Jim and I got of the Common Gull flying into the Pier. Note the extended mirror (white) on P10 (primary flight feather counting from the outer feather inward on the wing), quite unlike what one would see in a Ring-billed Gull.

Another nice view of P10 as well as the extended white on the secondaries as the bird got set to land. On this bird P8 is mostly black but in some birds it could show a mirror. Howell and Dunn has a nice example of this in Gulls of the Americas image 22B.8.

Here is a nice tight crop of the bird resting. Note the nice Tertial Crescent, created by the extended white on the inner secondaries. It stands out in comparison to the Ring-billed Gulls. Note also the dark eye in comparison to the eyes of nearby Ring-billed Gulls.

Here is a shot before it settled in to rest. Note the smaller bill and the dusky type subterminal ring on the bill in comparison to the nearby Ring-billed Gulls. The head is also more rounded, giving a gentler look than what one would see in a Ring-billed Gull. I am not sure if readers would notice this and it could be the lighting at the time of observation. I should note that the bird seemed to show a subtly darker shade of gray on the mantle.

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Jim said...

Excellent photos of the bird that we saw on Sunday.

Gyorgy Szimuly said...

It depends which side of the pond you are. :) I have been waiting for at least one of those Ring-billed Gulls for years. I'm glad you saw the Common Gull. :)

Cheers, Szimi

catharus said...

Thanks for all your ID tips...very useful!


Thanks Jim, I can't believe you remembered our LBDO conversation on the East Pond at Jamaica Bay. Very cool that we have now shared two neat birds. Glad to see you and I look forward to our next meeting which hopefully would be with another excellent bird.


Hi Gyorgy, I'll trade a Ring-billed Gull for one of your Common Ringed Plover :)


Catharus, the one set of images I did not post which I will are those of Ring-billed Gulls in flight.