Wednesday, December 30, 2009


After hearing about all sorts of interesting birds being reported in southern New York City, I was fortunate enough to go on a daytrip to see whatever was out there. By midmorning we arrived along the Gravesend Bay promenade in Brooklyn (pictured above, at sunset). A Mew Gull of European origins (Larus canus canus, henceforth Common Gull) had been seen amongst a flock of Ring-billed Gulls there. From the parkway, a group of gulls was visible in the parking lot of the department stores there. It looked like this bird would be easy. Ha!
Needless to say, the bird wasn't among the gulls in the parking lot. A few other birders were there already, and they had heard positive reports from earlier in the morning. However, the bird had flown off, and around a thousand Ring-billed Gulls were now visible. Groups were being fed at several points along the promenade while others rested on the water and on the ballfield. I think it is safe to say within each half hour every bird had moved to participate in some other activity. Despite the continual rotation, no Common Gull ever showed.
The next spot was Cloves Lakes Park over in (on?) Staten Island where a female Summer Tanager had apparently forgotten to check her wintering range in Sibley. En route, we had excellent views of the ever-impressive Verrazano-Narrows Bridge before crossing over it. Some research later revealed that it is the largest suspension bridge in the country, and is so massive that its towers were built very, very slightly tilted away from each other to compensate for the curvature of the Earth. I thought that was worth the digression. Despite recent snowfall, the ironic tanager was still in the park, busy sitting guarding an active beehive inside an old woodpecker hole! Eventually she began sallying out to catch bees, then messily disarming them in her beak. Apparently very pleased with herself, she then began her distinctive chortling call!

A quick check for a nearby Rufous Hummingbird was fruitless, so we returned to the Common Gull stakeout. No positive sightings until shortly after arrival, when the bird was seen briefly by one birder but again vanished. One Bonaparte's Gull that landed on the ballfield, a Lesser Black-backed Gull, and some Purple Sandpipers did make the spot productive. I also thought it was interesting how one could see such an eclectic group of vagrant birds right where so many human immigrants had also found new homes in a foreign land. The Lesser Black-backed Gull could be Scottish. Perhaps the tanager is Cuban. Maybe the Common Gull hails from Poland. They don't realize it, but they are not without compatriots here.
Postscript: the author did catch up with the adorable Common Gull on a subsequent trip. A detailed account of the day was written by Benjamin Van Doren here!

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