Slaty shades of grey

7 02 2008

Birding for gulls around Sapsucker Woods is generally slim pickings; the most common gull to be found (flying over, of course, always flying over) is everyone’s favorite parking lot resident, the Ring-billed Gull. In general, I don’t spend a lot of time trying to identify difficult gulls because it’s such a confusing mess of plumages: first-year, second-cycle, subspecies, hybrids, 2-yr, 3-yr…When I add up all the potential combinations and laminate them onto a bird that is basically white, grey and black, I become relatively confused. Hence my penchant for reporting Ring-billed Gulls on my clandestine visits to Taco Bell, a Great Black-backed Gull here and there, maybe a Herring Gull if I get a good look. But I never thought I’d find myself squinting through the gloaming for a gull.

(BMC on the lookout for gulls)

But that’s exactly where I found myself last Sunday before the Super Bowl. A rarity, the Slaty-backed Gull, had been sighted a mere handful of miles from the Lab. As a siberian breeder. it isn’t seen round these parts very often, and when I was invited along to go search for it among the thousand odd gulls that clamored along the ice edges in Stewart Park, I was hesitant but respectfully interested. (At this point I should mention that I probably am one of the least “twitchy” birdwatchers at the Lab of O, but after a long grey day spent holed up out of the weather, I needed air, and a foray to look for gulls seemed like an appropriate way to spend such a dreary day.)


(the larger, darker mantled bird in the upper right is the Slaty-backed Gull; shot through my scope. Note the pinkish legs)

Arriving at the shore of Cayuga Lake, we spotted fellow basin birders with scopes unfurled and converged on a spot near the Swan Pen to scan for gulls. In the end, the quarry we sought made an appearance, allowing for a great deal of observation and study. Seven gull species were seen that day (Slaty-backed, Iceland (Kumlien’s), Great Black-backed, Lesser Black-backed, Glaucous, Ring-billed, and Herring), and it was the perfect prelude to watching the Giants win later that evening (go Giants!).

Meanwhile, across the state at Niagara Falls another rarity had been sighted, this one even rarer: the fabled Ross’s Gull. According to Nick over at Biological Ramblings, a weekend field trip to Niagara Falls for a group from the Cornell area exposed the ever-present risk of twitching: sometimes the bird just doesn’t show.




5 responses

7 02 2008

What about the funny looking dark-headed, flat-beaked gull in the upper left?

Any pics of the Iceland gull? That must’ve been cool to see.

8 02 2008

After much speculation, and passing that photo around to a few birding experts, it was decided that it may be a sighting of the ever-rarer Mallard Duck (notice that there’s only one in the picture, just like the Slaty-backed; hence equally rare). As for the iceland gull, when we spotted it it was even darker than in these photos (so I didnt try and snap a shot), but if you click thru the link to the iceland gull in this post it takes you to some pictures that were shot of that bird earlier…

9 02 2008

Hmm… check out the suspicious pudginess of the Mallard Gull and the guilty way it refuses to look directly at the camera. I think the Mallard Gull has been EATING ROSS’S GULLS and that’s why the Cornell contingent missed it on their recent twitching journey. The Mallard is normally a decent fowl, but apparently has a deeply concealed mean streak. Keep your distance!

19 02 2008

Hey, nice blog, man! Took me a few minutes to figure out just who you were.

20 02 2008

Thanks, Nick! Good to find a fellow ithaca blogger…

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