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Saturday, February 06, 2010

Rare Gull in Prospect Park

Around NYC the winter months are primarily a time to look for gulls and waterfowl. To the uninitiated, there is only one type of gull - the "Seagull". Occasionally, I'll point out to beginner birders that there is no such bird. There are Laughing Gulls, Ring-billed Gulls, Herring Gulls and Great Black-backed Gulls (to name a few), but no seagulls. Over the last month I've been checking Prospect Lake's large winter roost of gulls, hoping to find something different. I was finally successful.

When the lake in Prospect Park freezes, assorted gulls, which spend most of their time foraging along the coast, fly into the park for a brief respite within the relative safety of the lake. They rest on the barren stretch of ice and drink or bathe at the small openings created by the constant movement of the resident waterfowl. The vast majority of the gulls are tiny Ring-billed Gulls,which can sometimes number as many as 3,000 individuals. The larger Herring Gulls can be seen by the dozens. Great Black-backed Gulls, the world's largest gull, are usually only represented by a handful of birds.

I had about an hour yesterday to cycle down to the lake, do a little birding, then head back. When I got to the edge of the lake, I leaned my bicycle up against a tree, looked across a narrow stretch of open water and immediately saw a Lesser Black-backed Gull in front of me. It was amusing itself by tossing a bone around on the ice and retrieving it. Before even looking through my binoculars (which seemed moot, because the bird was so close), I texted Peter, who then sent the word out. I then called Heydi, Doug and Shane. Doug and Shane would swing by, but Heydi was stuck in Long Island City (I knew that, but thought it would be fun to torture her).

While I waited for Doug and Shane, I took a bunch of photos of the bird as it walked around the edge of the ice. The bird was so close, it was the best looks I've ever had of this rare NYC visitor. I think it was the fourth one that I've seen in Prospect Park in 20 years. This bird looks similar to the Great Black-backed Gull, but the dark gray wings and mantle are a bit lighter than the great. In addition, it is a much smaller bird; smaller than a Herring Gull and nearly the size of a Ring-billed Gull.

Eventually, the gull flew into the water where it spent several minutes bathing and drinking. Peter pulled up in one of the park's work trucks and walked over to me. I think he expected the bird to be way out on the ice in the middle of the lake. When he asked where it was, I pointed to a spot in the water about 10 feet away from us. He didn't need binoculars, but I handed him mine, anyway. Doug was the next person to arrive, and the gull had flown from the open water and into the main flock of gulls, several yards back from the edge of the ice. When I left, Shane, Doug and Rob Bate were still watching the gull.

In this video I shot of the Lesser Black-backed Gull in the water, you can get a good sense of how small it is in relation to the adjacent Ring-billed Gulls.

1 comment:

Starz723 said...


That was a great comparison of size to see against the ring bills and you can definetly see the difference in color on the wings and mantle.


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