California Dreamin’

First-cycle California Gull, West Haven, CT 3/24 (Julian Hough). Without direct comparison, some of the structural features are not clearly evident. The small size, intermediate between Ring-billed and Herring Gull, with disproportionately longer wings, short, narrow tail and shorter legs were quite obvious. The glaucous-like bill pattern was similar to other 2nd -cycle Herring Gulls but the darker grey mantle feathers coming in and dark greater covert panel were typical California. In flat light the pale, anemic legs were grey-green toned on the shins, another feature charactersitic of CAGU.

First-cycle California Gull, West Haven, CT 3/24 (Julian Hough). Without direct comparison with other gulls, some of the structural features are not clearly evident. The smaller size, intermediate between Ring-billed and Herring Gull, with disproportionately longer wings, short, narrow tail and shorter legs were quite obvious in the field. The glaucous-like bill pattern was similar to other 2nd -cycle Herring Gulls but the darker grey mantle feathers coming in and dark greater covert panel were typical California. In flat light, the pale, anemic legs were grey-green toned on the shins, another feature characteristic of CAGU.

Act #1

Well, as if Eurasian Common Gull and (Short-billed) Mew Gull at Hammo wasn’t enough, Stefan Martin, while looking for both these birds the day after I saw them,  photographed a first-cycle bird on the beach at Meig’s point which he identified as a California Gull!!

A long-awaited state first, this was a bird on several peoples’ radar for a long time – a real birder’s bird! The identification is compounded by the vast array of Herring Gull mimics, which makes picking out a California Gull not for the faint of heart – it is a bird that would be easily overlooked by many birders, so Stefan receives big kudos for this one!

Thankfully the bird remained faithful to the beach and boulder pool area at Meig’s point, showing well and  allowing many people to catch up with it before it disappeared by Wednesday.

Act #2

On my way home from work on 24th March, Nick Bonomo and I were discussing on the phone what other new gulls were lurking in the sound – still to be found. He was out checking the local areas. Sitting in the Yale University Gym, New Haven,  I was just about to work-out when I get a call from him, “I’m at the West Haven Boat Ramp – I have the California Gull here!”

This boat ramp is on the west side of New Haven harbor, close to my home and a spot I check regularly, one I had planned to check in the morning! It is 20 miles west of Hammonasset, so Nick’s re-finding was amazing-even better when it was right next to the house.

Leave gym. Get bins and camera. Arrive at boat ramp. See California Gull sitting nonchalantly on the beach. It is dusk, so light isn’t great but Nick, myself and Tony Amato enjoy great views of this bird. Who’d have thunk!

First-cycle California Gull, West Haven, CT 3/24 (Julian Hough). The long, rakish wings are not as evident in this shot, but in flight the longish, spiky bill, relatively narrow tail and Long-tailed Jaeger-like shape to the undercarriage were classic California. The best feature on this image is the nice dark primaries, lacking any pale inner window, dark trailing edge and a second dark bar formed by extensively dark greater coverts, is a must-have for any putative California. The dark tail and heavily barred rump is very Herring Gull-like, but the thin white outerweb to the tail and pale terminal tips are subtle differences from Herring Gull.

First-cycle California Gull, West Haven, CT 3/24 (Julian Hough). The long, rakish wings are not as evident in this shot, but in flight the longish, spiky bill, relatively narrow tail and Long-tailed Jaeger-like shape to the undercarriage were classic California. The best features on this image : the nice dark primaries, lacking any pale inner window; dark trailing edge; and a second dark bar formed by extensively dark greater coverts – all ‘must-haves” for any putative California. The dark tail and heavily barred rump is very Herring Gull-like, but the thin white outerweb to the tail and pale terminal tips are subtly different.

Postscript: the most interesting part of all this, is from photographs, it appears that this is the same bird that was seen, and photographed, by a single observer in Gravesend Bay, Brooklyn in January 2016, before being refound across the sound in CT at Hammonasset and then in New Haven in March 2016.

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