Two Rabbits – One Hat!

Short-billed (Mew) Gull, Hammonasset SP, CT 20th March 2016 (Julian Hough). Note very narrow bill, nicotine-stained blotchiness extending from crown around in a shawl onto the upperbreast. Very extensive grey tongues P8-7 with broad white subterminal "spots". Broad trailing edge.

Short-billed (Mew) Gull, Hammonasset SP, CT 20th March 2016 (Julian Hough). Note very narrow bill, nicotine-stained blotchiness extending from crown around in a shawl onto the upperbreast. Very extensive grey tongues P8-7 with broad white subterminal “spots”. Broad trailing edge very striking! (Click on images for hi-res version)

Sunday March 20th saw me leisurely sipping my fourth cup of java in Park Slope, Brooklyn, contemplating getting Alex and myself together to leave when my phone rang. It was Nick Bonomo, calmly informing me with news that he had found (another) Common Gull in CT, at Hamonassett State Park.

“I know you need it for CT, so wanted to let you know..but..it’s not in view right now”. Appreciative of the personal shout-out about a state Nemesis bird, it kick-started our exit strategy.

We were on the road by 11:30 and had got onto the Brooklyn Bridge when I get another call from NB..”Hey..I am pretty sure there’s two Mew-type Gulls here and the one I just refound in the flock is a !@#### Short-billed!!”.

AAARRGGGHHHHH!!!!

The first documented state record of the west coast race brachyrhyncus, which, if the current treatise on the complex by Adriaens and Gibbins 2016  is anything to go by, may be split in the near future.

Motherfather! Well done Mr. Bonomo – a two-fer!!

It seems that every weekend I am in Brooklyn, someone finds a rare bird in CT. This has necessitated a frantic, white-knuckle, cannonball-type run from the ‘burbs of the Big Apple to the tax-hiked landscape of Connecticut.

Thankfully, I blasted out of Brooklyn and up I-95 into CT not encountering any traffic at all. A mere two hours after leaving Brooklyn, including a quick pit-stop in New Haven, to grab the scope and camera, I Tokyo-drifted into the Meigs Point parking lot at 1:32pm!

I ran down and joined some familiar faces that were overseeing an expansive flock of gulls. The problem was that most were all jibber-jabbering away and not really focused on the prizes at hand. Damn them..I expected to look in one scope and see a brachyrhyncus, and then move on to the next scope and see a canus.

Panicked and fuelled by adrenaline and in full twitch mode, I was ready to commit some GBH at any second, when John Oshlik mercifully said “I’ve got the Short-billed in my scope”.  BOOM…Mew Gull #1!

Note slightly darker mantle, long wings with broad white tertial crescent at rest.Short-billed (Mew) Gull, Hammonasset SP, CT 20th March 2016 (Julian Hough).
Note slightly darker mantle, long wings with broad white tertial crescent at rest

The bird showed briefly on the water then quickly took flight, showing a whopping broad trailing edge to the wing and obvious white subterminal “spots” which gave the bird a much different wing pattern than nominate Canus. The bird circled around and alighted on the stone jetty.

Short-billed (Mew) Gull, Hammonasset SP, CT 20th March 2016 (Julian Hough).

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Within minutes, the bird belonging to the nominate Eurasian race, canus , was found bathing in the water in the lee of the rocks, showing a much cleaner head and a staring, black eye. BOOM…Mew Gull #2!

Holy crap!

With both birds safely under the belt I settled in to take a good look at the canus, noticing the much whiter-headed, dark-eyed look and, in flight, the narrower trailing edge (especially on the inner primaries) and darker areas on P8 lacking extensive grey tongues and with black extending 3/4 up the feather shafts.

_MG_9515 copyCommon Gull, nominate canus, Little Lever, UK, February 2008 (Julian Hough). Note dark subterminal mark to bill, P8 largely dark with no extensive grey “tongue”. Relatively narrow trailing edge, especially on the inner primaries. This individual has a dark, blackish eye in the field.

Growing up in the UK, canus was a North American tick, but a species I was familiar with, but the brachyrhyncus was the main prize. It had been lost for a while in the swirling melee, but thankfully I locked into it as it flew back in to join the plankton-feeding flock in front of us, giving great, prolonged looks. It subsequently took flight, passing reasonably close in front of us giving a decent photo-opp. Excellent stuff.

For a personal account of a great find by Nick, check out his blog here;http://www.shorebirder.com/2016/03/two-gulls-one-flock.html

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One Response to “Two Rabbits – One Hat!”

  1. Glenn Says:

    We weren’t jibber-jabbering, we were having a Julian Hough impersonation contest.

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