Sunday 31 January 2016

A mid-winter SABINE'S GULL in Newfoundland - A very true story.

At 09:45 31 Jan 2016 my iphone dingled while I was in Blackhead looking at 40 WW Xbills feeding close on spruce cones. It was Alvan Buckley.  I knew he, Ed Hayden and Alison Mews were down to St. Vincents trying to locate the wintering Pacific Loon. I was expecting the text to say they had found it. But nope.  It said something so outlandish that it would have easy to dismiss it as a mistake even if it was Roger Tory Peterson who claimed it except there was a fuzzy but distinctive photo showing a SABINE'S GULL.

The Peterson Gulls of the Americas states  "Sabine's Gull in N. America, almost unknown in winter...." Sabine's is difficult enough to see from land at anytime in Newfoundland. Some of the top birders did not have it on their provincial lists.  Since 1976 I have seen only three Sabine's Gulls from land in Newfoundland and that comes with a lot of sea watches in storms and without storms. The Sabine's Gull is out there at sea.  During my long sentences on seismic vessels on the outer Grand Banks, Flemish Pass, Orphan Basin etc you expect to see a few Sabine's during migration in late May - mid June and August & September. Sabine's are are quite a bit more regular at sea off Labrador.  The theory is that Sabine's Gulls leaving the Canadian Arctic are flying to the eastern side of the Atlantic and then fly south with at least some of them, maybe the vast majority wintering off west and south Africa.  

Why was a Sabine's Gull feeding leisurely in the surf at St. Vincent's beach on the last day of January like all was well? It must have been more than weather. There was a good southerly blow and a fast moving storm that started near Florida passed over the Avalon Peninsula on Friday night/Saturday.  But there should not be any Sabine's Gulls at sea between Florida and Newfoundland in late January.  Unless there are a few Sabine's wintering in the subtropical seas on the western side of the Atlantic and this bird did get caught up in the storm?  This is a difficult one to figure out. But the Sabine's Gull at St. Vincents beach on 31 Jan 2016 was for real. Fourteen people got to see this bird before dark. A hike along the coast got some of us fairly close to where it was feeding and the following pictures were snapped.

Note the gray feathers in the back and dark bar on nape. These areas usually just brown on the birds in juvenile plumage seen in North America during autumn migration.


  1. Awesome! What a bird and that last picture so oceanic!

  2. What an incredible bird for the date! Huge congrats to Alvan for the find!


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