Sunday, July 31, 2011

Gray-headed/hooded Gull

(Gray-hooded in AOU area - they just have to be different; Gray-headed everywhere else).

A bird originally identified as a Black-headed Gull had its ID corrected on Thursday from something semi-rare to something exceptional. Two birders had spotted a Gray-hooded Gull on the Coney Island beach on 7/24, and thank God they took a photo of it.

As you might expect with a rare bird that's been seen precisely once in the USA over a decade ago, some civilized panic occurred. Not seen Friday morning but seen Friday afternoon, seen off and on during Saturday, I finally decided to go look for it late morning on Sunday. Since I started out first at Negri-Nepote (Blue Grosbeak, Grasshopper Sparrow etc) I accelerated arrival time to mid morning since it had already been seen.

I actually saw it while walking toward the group of birders on the boardwalk because it has a very distinctive flight pattern with large white mirrors above the black primary tips. On the ground it was a little less obvious with the gray hood and black collar less pronounced than some photos of birds in fresh alternate. Overall plumage condition is a little worn but consistent with an adult in late alternate with year-old primaries and retrices. It's pretty tame but no tamer than the Laughing Gulls it's taking its cues from. It's a little smaller than a Laughing Gull but not by much.

I'm still not sure this qualifies as a countable species - while I don't see any captive origin issues for the bird and there's no particular reason to believe ship-assistance it's still a quite remarkable record well out-of-range.

A picture from August 2nd, when I made a second trip to see this bird:

See also: New York Times article.

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