Only a minority of WC’s readers are birders. WC is working to change that, with limited success thus far. But WC saw a new bird Friday and will walk readers through the process he used to identify the bird.
Gulls and terns – Larids – are WC’s favorite North American birds. Some gulls go through as many as eight different plumages on the path to adulthood. Some gulls, in sub-adult plumages, are quite similar. It makes identification a real challenge. And both gulls and terns are so beautifully adapted that all of them are fun.
The first view of WC’s mystery bird was at a considerable distance, but the bird was clearly a gull or tern.
Not one of the regularly breeding gulls or terns, unless a juvenile. Too chunky in the chest to be a tern; probably a gull. The bird was dropping to the surface a lot, and not very gracefully. Likely a juvenile with limited flight and hunting experience. The bird was slowly moving closer.
A very strong, distinctive pattern on the wings; should be easy to key out in Sibley [Amazon link] (Sibley is the best field guide for immature gulls). The large black ear spot suggests a black-headed gull in non-breeding or, again, juvenile plumage. Thin, sharp bill. Maybe a juvenile Bonaparte’s Gull?
And then the mystery bird landed. On the wing of a Cessna 185 on floats, ironically enough, providing an outstanding view of the bird.
And there you have it. WC’s first juvenile Bonaparte’s Gull. A few minutes with Gulls of North America, Europe and Asia [Amazon link] removed any lingering doubt. Yes, it would have been fun to find some accidental visitor, a Black-headed Gull maybe, but Bonaparte’s kid is pretty cool. To get a decent photo of it is just icing.