Monday 21 October 2013

Yellow-legged Gull, again - At Last!

Yellow-legged Gull has been annual in St. John's, Newfoundland for more years than anyone can recall. That is until the regular wintering bird vanished in January 2012.  There are usually 2 or 3 around within the fall period mid August to mid December with only one, rarely two, overwintering.  In the autumn of 2012 none were found for the first autumn season in a long long time. None was present for the winter.  Sometimes you don't know what you got till it is gone. We all missed not having a Yellow-legged Gull to look for during the winter of 2012/2013. 
I started looking for Yellow-legged Gull in September at the traditional sites in the fields on the north side of Quidi Vidi Lake and Wishing Well park ball field when I was actually in the province which was not often enough. No luck. I was starting to wonder if the YLGU connection with the Azores had been cut off for some unknown reason.  In the back of my mind I remembered reading that Azorean YLGUs are known to follow tuna schools far offshore, even feeding at night on the bait fish the tuna force out of the water.  This was a good year for tuna in Newfoundland.  Would it be good for YLGU?
This morning it was raining heavy on the way to work - good conditions for lots of gulls on the grass. And there were in fact plenty around Quidi Vidi Lake.  The two ball fields were packed but nothing out of the ordinary.  The grassy slope on Churchill Ave had a few hundred gulls. The terraced slope conceals many gulls that you can't see from the car. You can't get out and look or the gulls will spook.  I angled the car to keep most of the driving rain from coming in the open window.  Yellow-legged Gull hunters are tuned into the rare shade of gray that only they and hybrid Herring x Lesser Black-backed Gulls show. Scan Scan Scan.  BINGO!  I locked onto the rare shade of gray.  Hybrid HERGxLBBG are more numerous than YLGUs. But this was no hybrid. It had a mainly white head, a large bright red spot on the bill and solid yellow legs.  Yup it was Bingo alright.  Just when you thought it might never happen again we have a Yellow-legged Gull in town again.
Yellow-legged Gull  21 Oct 2012. Spot the rare shade of gray and white head. The gulls are facing into a driving rain. The YLGU was preening and flew a few meters before it joined the mass of gulls in the sitting-out-the-rain-pose.  The face and forehead were lightly streaked with gray. The back of the head was white and umarked as can be seen here. Compare with adjacent Herring Gulls.  Try to find an adult Herring, Lesser Black-backed Gull with a head pattern like this in October. You won't.  Same goes for the hybrid HERG x LBBGs. (Of course nothing is impossible with gulls!). This is hardly even a record shot but the best I could do at the time. Hopefully more encounters and better pictures to follow in the coming weeks.

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