Monday 18 September 2017

Sabine's Gull on Renews Beach

Took the day off work to do some warblering in the alders of Biscay Bay and Powles Head.  By 10:40 the slowness of the morning was starting to take its toll on my perseverance. Too lazy to get out of the car again on Powles Head road, I delayed an extra minute to check nf.birds on the iphone.  I was very surprised to see Dave Shepherd reporting for Richard Thomas and Jeff Harrison that they had a SABINE'S GULL in Renews at 10:15. It was a clear calm day.  Nothing made sense about that. Instead of trying to figure it out I made a U turn. It was the perfect monkey wrench in my plans to really work the alders until 1 pm. A Sabine's was the easy way out.

I flew down the road to Renews. Right away I saw the bird down the beach. I texted the crowd back in St. John's that it was still there. I drove around to the boat launch road. stopped  the car to change to a bigger (840mm) lens. Got out bean bag. Took off seat belt and attached behind me.

I could not see the beach because of the long grass. I knew approximately where it should be. I crept the car along the top of the beach. There were two layers of grass and weeds between my line of sight and the beach. The sun could not have been better positioned for maximum glare.  I located the bird ahead through the grass tops.  In an attempt to improve my angle with the sun I drove inland slightly so the bird could not see me and past the location of the gull.  I crept the car back up on the beach top and saw the gull behind me in better but still poor light. I found a narrow avenue of open light between the layers of grass and laid my camera down on the bean bag and started clicking.

The bird was mostly standing still looking out to sea.  It walked a short distance toward me along the water's edge and picked briefly at the mud. Then it stretched it wings up over it back and without warning went to wing. It flew directly away out through the harbour. No wavering to investigate anything. I watched it until it was a dot in the sky beyond the rock where cormorant loaf. It was over as quickly as that. Five minutes later and I would not have even taken a photo. Below are pics of the bird.

Such an unexpected, if not bizarre record. There was a slight bulge in the neck that might have indicated a health issue with the bird.  This was only my 6th Sabine's Gull from land in 40 years of birding in Newfoundland.  Interestingly only one of those birds was storm related. Once again Renews comes through with the unexpected.

There is no other small immature gull with a uniform scaly wing coverts and and back and with a gray wash over back of the neck.

The slight bulge in the neck was visible in several photos indicating a possible health problem.

The classic white triangles in the wing were visible as the bird flew away.


  1. Poor thing it's definitely sick but it's a lovely gull to see I recently did a pelagic out of Tofino and saw hundreds of adults in breeding I don't think I'll ever tire of seeing this little elegant gull


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