Sunday morning I got up bright and early–well, at least early; it was before dawn–to chase a couple of rarities that have showed up in Brooklyn. The rarest was the Common Gull that Shane Blodgett first found in Gravesend Bay a couple of weeks ago. I’ve seen this bird before in Europe but never in the United States. A Mew Gull–the Pacific subspecies–showed up at San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary while I was living in Irvine last year, but I was never able to find it. The other target was a Lapland Longspur that Rob Jett found on the cricket field at Floyd Bennett Field last Saturday.
I arrived at Bay 16th St. shortly after dawn, and walked across the pedestrian bridge over the Belt Parkway to the bike path that follows the curve of the bay. The temperature was several degrees below freezing and the wind off the bay, while not as bad as it sometimes is, certainly didn’t help matters. I was hoping to quickly find the bird on the grass along the bike path where it had been seen the previous day and several times earlier, but no such luck. A couple of dozen gulls were flying over the bay, but even if a Common Gull were one of them it would be extremely hard to distinguish in this light at that distance. The Common Gull is very similar to a Ring-billed Gull. It’s about an inch smaller and does not show an obvious ring around the bill. Also, the legs are gray instead of dirty yellow, the eye is black instead of yellow, and there is a little more white along the base of the mantle. Exactly none of these field marks are obvious on a flying bird 20 meters away.
I walked up and down along the path waiting for some gulls to come in closer where I might have a chance at picking out a Common Gull. I saw what looked like a couple of fairly large shorebirds fly up the rocks. Heading up the way they proved to be Purple Sandpipers, the closest I’ve ever seen. I had a great deal of trouble finding these a few years ago, and now here they were right in front of me. Unfortunately they weren’t the bird I was looking for today.
I ran into a couple of other birders who had come to look for the gull, and showed them the Purples, and then we hunkered down to wait for the gull. Gulls flew in and out, but no Common Gull. I lasted another hour until about 8:30 when the cold just got too much for me. Since there didn’t seem to be a lot of action happening here, we traded cell phone numbers in case it showed up and I drove over to the end of Bay Parkway where the gull had first been spotted. It looked promising, especially when I realized there was someone from a bakery feeding a large box of stale bread to the rampant gull flock, but although there were numerous Ring-billed Gulls and not a few Rock Pigeons, that was all. The common gull was not to be found here either, at least not this morning.