Sunday 1/13, Paul Meleski, Chuck Caron and I visited Cape Ann for the typical winter "circuit", however we planned on spending extra time working on gulls. The Slaty-backed Gull, present since just before Christmas, is still being seen intermittently. With the gulls being scrutintized by a plethora of highly skilled birders, perhaps its no surprise that a Thayer's Gull was "pulled" out of the scrum. Upon arrival at Jodrey Pier, in Gloucester, we noted the calm and unseasonably mild weather, but also very low numbers of gulls. Only a single Iceland Gull was seen by another group, but the "regular" Peregrine Falcon was perched on the town hall clock tower, which seems to be leaning east a bit!
We headed over to view 10 Pound Island, typically a good stop for Barrow's Goldeneye but not today. Just down the street we quickly found the Eared Grebe off Niles Beach and a Carolina Wren and Gray Catbird across the street in the thicket. This Eared Grebe, presumably the same bird, has been returning here since the winter of 1995!
Low tide is a good time view Harbor Seals hauled out.
Niles Pond, near Eastern Point has been the focus of gull study in recent weeks. There were hundreds of gulls on the pond and hundreds more on the exposed rocks in Brace Cove. At least 3 Glaucous Gulls were present but very few Iceland Gulls. We spoke with Eric Neilson who had seen 10 species (at Niles Pond) of Gulls the previous day including the Slaty-backed and Thayer's Gull! A trawler that was headed in toward Gloucester harbor had at least a 1,000 gulls "in tow", as it approached some of these birds headed to Niles Pond and Gloucester Harbor. The gulls come and go all day here, so the mix of birds would change all day.
After an hour and a half we decided to try a few other spots on the planned route and we'd return to Niles later. Off Atlantic Drive we had nice looks at a small flock of Purple Sandpipers, a Black Guillemot and a few Red-necked Grebes, but we miss the drake King Eider recently reported. We miss the Townsend's Solitaire at the Rockport golf course but managed a Yellow-rumped Warbler (a "ho-hum" consolation!).
Purple Sandpipers off Atlantic Drive
At Andrew's Point, one of the best seabird stops on Cape Ann (particularly in strong east winds) it was also slow. Harlequin Ducks are regulars here and we enjoyed these colorful sea ducks as they worked the surf and rocks. Chuck and Paul manage to find the previously reported female King Eider and we saw a few Razorbills.
Upon returning to Niles Pond, there are still hundreds of gulls on the pond, but now there are good numbers of Iceland and a few Glaucous Gulls in the mix. Scanning through a group of birds a few hundred feet away, we come up with a minimum of 28 "white-winged" gulls, 2 or 3 are Glaucous and the balance Iceland (Kumlien's ) Gulls. There is a dizzying array of ages and plumage variations. We speak with Phil Brown and he informs us of two things, one...the Slaty-backed gull has not been seen and two...he is freezing and he's headed home. Phil leaves but checks in with other birders down the road, also studying the gulls, and passes the word to us that a Thayer's gull has been found.
We "caugh up" with the birders that had it in view and we are able to get a decent look at this first year gull. Eric Neilson is in contact with James Smith , a few hundred yards away, and James and Scott Surner have TWO additional Thayer's at closer range. We quickly join James, Scott and the 2 additional Thayer's less then 100 feet away! I manage a few (poor) digi-scope images, one is below. Check out James' blog for nice photographs and commentary and links on the finer points of Thayer's Gull ID.
First Winter Thayer's Gull
Our day List:
Great Black-backed Gull...200
American Black Duck....20
Lesser Black-backed Gull....1
Great Black-backed Gull....750