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Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Looking for Gulls

It may seem a little obsessive, but over the weekend Heydi and I went back to Coney Island to look for gulls and waterfowl. Unlike the previous two weekends, the weather was sunny and relatively mild. Fisherman were standing shoulder to shoulder along the rails of Steeplechase Pier. They alternately tugged and dropped long lines rigged with multiple, shiny lures. A few had their catch laid out on the fish scale spattered pier. The long, silver fish looked like some type of herring. I don't know if it was the nice weather or the period of fish migration, but there were so many fisherman on the pier that there was only a small opening at the very end for us to set up our scopes. From there we spied several hundred Bonaparte's Gulls far off shore. Farther in the distance, massive numbers of scoters moved across the horizon like rolling, black waves, too indistinct to determine the exact species. Near the western-most jetty, at Seaview, a single White-winged Scoter was still present. On the rocks behind her were 8 Purple Sandpipers.

Following the same route as the previous two weekends, we left the bay side beaches and went over to Coney Island Creek. Red-breasted Mergansers seemed to have increased in numbers, as have Common Loons. Like every other weekend, we found high numbers of Ring-billed Gulls, but nothing else out of the ordinary, so headed to Marine Park, followed by Dead Horse Bay, then winding up our efforts at Floyd Bennett Field.

We never located any unusual gulls or waterfowl, but it wasn't for a lack of trying. The abundance and diversity of these two groups of birds has definitely increased over the last few weeks and will continue to as each new cold front moves through the northeast.

Fast forward to Wednesday ...

Today began as the coldest day yet this season. The wind was blasting out of the west-north-west, making it feel like 10 degrees. I had some work in the morning but thought about taking a run over to the pier at Owl's Head Park in the afternoon to scan the gull flocks. Then Shane called me at about 11am confirming what I had hoped for ... the Black-headed Gull had returned to the Veteran's Memorial Pier next to Owl's Head Park!

I stood on the exposed pier and scanned a few scattered flocks of Ring-billed Gulls for the smaller black-headed. There were white-caps on the bay and my tripod was vibrating in the arctic blast. Then I spotted the gull's deep-red legs and bill as he tried to stay warm and concealed among the larger, more drab gulls. After three weeks, I finally had my Black-headed Gull for 2010. I hope he sticks around for the Christmas Count.

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