Saturday, 18 February 2012

Gull Bladder

I have a weak gull bladder so I decided to drain my urge today with a scan through any flocks I could come across.  Over the last week, a Glaucous Gull (Larus hyperboreus) has been sighted among the usual Mew (L. canus), Thayer's (L. thayeri), American Herring (L. smithsonianus), and Glaucous-winged Gulls (L. glaucescens) on the Saanich Peninsula.  Glaucous Gulls are an expected but scarce winter bird on southern Vancouver Island, with only a few records occurring in a typical winter.  As the etymology of 'hyperboreus' implies, they  come "from the north" after breeding in the high arctic.

Locally, the method for finding unusual gulls in a flock usually involves looking for pale or dark-backed individuals.  Glaucous Gulls fall into the former category.  Today I could only find one decent-sized flock of gulls on the polo field adjacent to Maber Flats in Brentwood Bay.  Scanning through the group, nothing really jumped out.  The Glaucous Gull was originally located near Maber Flats by Mary Robichaud on Friday, February 10th and it later was seen by several others when it was relocated at the Vantreight bulb fields a few days later by Kirsten Mills.  When I passed by the Vantreight bulb fields off Central Saanich Rd., I saw a whopping six gulls on one field and once again nothing jumped out of the mix.  After wandering around Sidney for a couple hours and having a bite to eat, my day ended with a check at Patricia Bay.  Last year in March, I found a first-winter Glaucous Gull at the mouth of Wsikem Creek where it drains into the bay.  I hoped to relive the magic but was a little deflated when I got to bay and saw all the gulls were heavily backlit by the low sun to the west.  I still gave my best effort and could see one gull that was intriguing.  I made my way down to the beach and walked out towards the sparse flock of gulls until the viewing conditions improved and the bird in question could be identified.  The overall paleness of the bird was not a trick of the light - the wingtips were nearly pure white, the body appeared to be uniformly dingy white, and its bill was pink with a black tip.  A perfect specimen of a Glaucous Gull.  I think it was a second-winter bird but I'd like to see it in better light to slap a proper age label on it.  I wasn't able to get a photo due to the low light, but I will share a couple shots of the first-winter bird from March last year at the same location:

This classic first-winter Glaucous Gull is distinguished by its white wingtips, white mantle with grey-brown vermiculations, sharply bicoloured bill, and overall bulk (approximately the same size as the hybrid Glaucous-winged x Western Gull to right)

The bird is aged as a first-winter Glaucous Gull by its dark eye; typical second-winter birds have a pale iris

The sighting gave my gull bladder the sweet relief I needed.  I'm sure I'll have to go again by midweek, so I may sneak back down to Patricia Bay and try to relocate the bird or perhaps something rarer from the dark-backed end of the spectrum.  Fingers crossed!

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