I was at the airport at 5:15 am to catch my Porter flight #172 to St. John’s. I’d been wanting to go for winter gull’s in Newfoundland for a few years. Rarities abound, but I really wanted to pick up the Black-headed Gull and Yellow-legged Gull for my ABA list.
Having seen both these species in Europe, Black-headed I’d found in Czech Republic and Yellow-legged in Italy, getting close for a photo wasn’t an issue, seeing them was.
There are a few sightings in the eastern states for Black-headed Gull but Yellow-legged Gull’s have been reported in St. John’s for a number of years. Seeing Yellow-legged Gulls is by no means easy, there are only two of them in town. Now that would seem like pretty good odds if St. John’s didn’t have one the largest concentration of gulls I’ve ever seen.
ONE OF THE SMALLER GROUPS
15,000 plus, Herring, Iceland, Kumulien’s, Glaucous, Lesser Black-backed and Greater Black-backed make this city their home in the winter. Then throw in a few Black-headed, Ring-billed, Common Gull’s and Hybrids, you get the idea, “like looking for a needle in a haystack”.
Below is a photo of one such mantle color that closely resembles Yellow-legged but turned out to be a hybrid. If the front bird, had an all white head, we may have had our gull. We figured this was a herring/lesser hybrid.
The only way to find the Yellow-legged Gull is by scannning gull groups, Where ever they may be. You are looking for a color variation somewhere between the mantle color of a Lesser Black-back and a Herring Gull, with an almost complete white head. Sound’s easy right…NOT. I’d need a local guide, they know where the birds are and give me a fighting chance.
Needing help, I enlisted the help of local guide, Jared Clarke. He run’s Newfoundland Bird and Nature Tours, a guide service in the St. John’s area. His blog page, contact information, can be found at http://birdtherock.com. His rates are very competative and reasonable, knows his gulls and knows where all the other rarities are in the area. He gives 100% and never stopped trying until there wasn’t enough light to see through our spotting scopes. Good man, 100% recommended.
The local dump does not allow access to birder’s. To make matter’s worse the management of the Robin Hood Landfill, has decided to shoot gulls on Tuesday to get them to leave the dump. If you get too close to the flock, they flush.
For anyone who needs Eurasian Widgeon, Tufted Duck, Boreal Chickadee, Dovekie and up to 12 species of Gull depending on the time of year. You never know what will show up during winter, european rarities can show up at any time. On this trip, I didn’t have time, for rarities on this trip, we focused on Gulls.
GULLS OF ST. JOHN’S
FIRST CYCLE BLACK-HEADED GULL
NON-BREEDING ADULT BLACK-HEADED GULL
NON-BREEDING ADULT GLAUCOUS
FIRST CYCLE GLAUCOUS
THIRD CYCLE GREAT BLACK-BACKED GULL
NON-BREEDING HERRING GULL
FIRST CYCLE KUMLIEN’S (ICELAND)
SECOND CYCLE KUMLIEN’S GULL
THIRD CYCLE KUMLIEN’S GULL
NON-BREEDING ADULT WITH PALE WING TIPS
NON-BREEDING ADULT WITH WHITE WING TIPS
NON-BREEDING ADULT LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULL
NON-BREEDING ADULT RING-BILLED GULL
The second day was much a easier to id the gulls but the Yellow-legged never materialized. On my last day, I went out alone, fairly confident I knew what to look for but the weather changed, it got very warm, melting the ice on the ponds and it rained hard. Jared said this would force the gulls to move off the water and find collect on lawns. I spent the day searching the baseball diamonds and fields around St. John’s, scanning for an off color gull.
I found one gull in a group that looked a bit different but turned out to be a hybrid.
Whether your a birder like me or a photographer, the birds allow you to get very close in areas. They see people all and are fed by the local almost daily. The pigeons, mallards and gulls will in most cases fly to your car.
I was expecting the weather to be cold but except for the first day it was warmer than Ottawa. Layers is the way to go.
Tuesday morning we to Back Cove to look for Dovekie, we did find a few. The flyby image, is my best to date.
Jared took me to Cape Spear on Wednesday morning, it’s the easternmost land in Canada. A lovely spot.
Thursday it was warm but rainy and windy, I think the photo below sums it up, nicely.
If the Yellow-legged Gull is spotted in either January or February, I’ll take another trip out to St. John’s….
A very special Thank You to Jared Clarke, great company, great family.
Ciao for now..