Thursday, February 23, 2012


 I have been remiss in taking gull pictures this year. Few opportunities arose and when they did, I didn't have much time.
 One of the nicest gulls to photograph ( Black-headed Gull, aside) is the Ring-billed Gull. As winter fades and spring arrives, the changes in this gull are amazing.  The bill and the legs become bright, bright yellow, sometimes even look orange. The streaking on the head fades and becomes pure white and even the mantle seems to become a little darker.
This gull is much smaller than the ever present Herring Gulls and the winter Iceland Gulls. The ice is going out of Quidi Vidi Lake which makes it harder to access the many species of gulls. With a little luck, we will get at least one more cold snap and the gulls will appear once again.  Did I just say that? Well, it is obviously going to be a long time for the spring birds to arrive, so we should enjoy the birds that stay with us during the winter.
We had two rare gulls visit us in St. John's this winter: the Slaty-backed Gull and the Yellow-legged Gull. I tried several times to see the YL Gull but with no success this year.  It must have moved on. In the meantime, a Slaty-backed Gull came early and stayed late.  I have been able to see this rare gull from northeast Asia at least three times.
I don't know what it is about this species but for the last three winters, at least one has found its way here. When thousands of gulls are sitting on the ice, its distinct gray back stands out.  However, every gull that has a dark gray mantle is not a Slaty-backed Gull.  It is easy to confuse this bird with a Lesser Black-backed Gull.  Gull identification, especially the immatures, is difficult. When in doubt, hang around the lake long enough and a knowledgeable gull watcher will show up to confirm your sighting, or not!

As I reviewed these recent pictures, I realized that I may have lost the best opportunities to photograph gulls this year. Nevertheless, I will keep checking the lake over the next few weeks and hope I can salvage some of the remaining cold weather.

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