Saturday, July 30, 2011

Gray-hooded Gull, aka Most Bizarre Birding Excursion Ever

Forget bucolic backdrops and a nice ride in the country for a spot of birding. Why do that when you can go see a super-rare bird . . . on the boardwalk at Coney Island, amid tattoos and thongs, beach umbrellas and giant pina coladas, and signs boasting "Live Freaks, Cold Beers"?

Gray-hooded Gull, Coney Island, NY, July 30, 2011

The Gray-headed Gull that has been hanging around Coney Island recently is a truly beautiful gull--with its icy, translucent eye and those red-licorice legs. When it flies, the bright flashes of white in its forewings make it stand out from the many Laughing Gulls that call Coney Island home. And this bird is sassy. I guess it would have to be gutsy to have somehow made its way here from South America. And now it has really made itself at home on the boardwalk. Twice we watched it chase a hapless Laughing Gull off the top of a lamp-post, and no other bird was getting near it once it perched on there.

Laughing Gull that was soon not laughing, as it was about to be evicted from its lamp-post
Patriotic Laughing Gull
I don't chase birds all that often, but when I do, I never expect that the bird will just fly right at me. Yet that's exactly what it did. Out of the flocks of Laughing Gulls swirling above the beach umbrellas and gold bikinis, the Gray-Hooded Gull peeled off and came and sat on the lamp-post we were standing next to. I was so shocked, I could hardly turn the camera on or remember how to use it. If anything, the bird seemed curious, although no doubt it was probably just calculating whether we had any french fries.

The fact that we were looking at such an extraordinary rarity (only one has ever been recorded in the United States before this) was made all the more surreal by the surroundings.

That's Frank Gallo getting some beautiful shots of the bird after it landed on the lamp-post.

It chose lucky lamp-post number 13 to perch on. Looks like it wasn't the first gull to have done so.
Flight shot showing the glowing white forewings (copyright Frank Gallo)

There are a lot of remarkable things about this bird, but for me it is those icy eyes. When the bird moved to perch on a roof next to other gulls, the lightness of its eyes was so distinctive.

Laughing Gull (in molt), Gray-hooded Gull, Great Black-backed Gull -- on the roof of the public toilet (really, this was the most pristine, scenic birdwatching experience ever)
Gray-hooded Gull on left, with Laughing Gulls

We celebrated with freshly squeezed lemonade.

Though it was hard to resist the tastefully presented pina coladas in naked-lady glasses.

Thank you, Coney Island, for your super-rare gull, your burlesque girls, guys with snakes wrapped around their necks, and girls with Amazon parrots on their shoulders.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Things I am grateful for today

The Catbird that I see patrolling the same section of fence every afternoon. It is his fence, and don't you forget it.

That while I was not seeing a White-winged Dove I'd set out to see earlier this week, this Song Sparrow landed beside me instead.

The sanity of trees at moments when all else in the world seems crazy.

And that only two days after I called the Milford Police to tell them that my neighborhood park had racist and sexist graffiti in it, I returned to find this: