Saturday, December 3, 2011

Slaty-backed Gull

Larophile extraordinaire, Kevin McLaughlin has been offering to go gull-watching with us on the Niagara River for a while now, and I have been threatening to take him up on that offer. So right in the middle of gull-watching prime time we met up at the Sir Adam Beck overlook where we started the morning off with a first-winter Franklin's Gull flying at the south side of the dam (a bird first reported to Ontbirds by Willie D'Anna on Nov. 13).

We then took a trip to the Queenston boat launch where we observed two Little Gulls amidst the hundreds of Bonaparte's Gulls, and then to the whirlpool where we saw the previously reported juvenile Black-legged Kittiwake.

At that point, with 9 gull species in the bag we would have been satisfied. Little did we know what was waiting for us at the control gates above the falls. We arrived with no other birders present and began scanning the hundreds of gulls on the breakwall and on the river. Kevin very quickly spotted a dark-mantled gull with what appeared to be dark smudging on the face and a thick white tertial crescent. Kevin could distinguish pink legs as well. I think Kevin was convinced all along, but when the bird flew in directly towards us and landed on the breakwall we got amazing up-close views of this great rarity! At this point we had alerted other birders via Ontbirds and the crowds had appeared.

Visible in the first photo is the face pattern and bright pink legs.

Slaty-backed Gull

While in this second photo you can see the broad white tertial crescent and large white edge of the folded secondary feathers.

Slaty-backed Gull

Slaty-backed Gull is designated as a Code-3 rarity for the ABA area but is considerably more scarce than that in Ontario. It breeds primarily in Siberia, but also in western Alaska. Hannah & I were blown away. Thanks Kevin for gull-watching with us and leading us to this fantastic life gull!

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