In the Dumps


Ring-billed and California Gulls and a few American Crows, Ada County Landfill, Idaho

Ring-billed and California Gulls and a few American Crows, Ada County Landfill, Idaho

Birders are known to hang around dumps. Because dumps are where certain kinds of birds hang out. Heck, WC got his life Tamaulipas Crow at the Brownsville, Texas Landfill, along with likely a thousand or so other birders.

California Gulls, Ada County Landfill, Idaho

California Gulls, Ada County Landfill, Idaho

It comes to mind because last week WC spent some quality time scoping out the gulls – not “sea gulls;” never “sea gulls” – at the Ada County Sanitary Landfill with a dozen other hard core birders. In addition to hundreds of Ring-billed Gull and California Gulls, there were a couple of Herring Gulls and a single Lesser Black-backed Gull as well. Larids, with their multitude of plumages are always a challenge. Landfills are where you find them, unless you live on a coast.

Ravens and subadult Bald Eagle, Fairbanks Landfill

Ravens and subadult Bald Eagle, Fairbanks Landfill

WC used to spend a lot of time on the backside of the Fairbanks North Star Borough Landfill. It was reliable for Bald Eagles, three (sometimes four) species of Gull, Common Ravens and Black-billed Magpies. Not scenic, by anyone’s definition, but productive.

Bald Eagles, Kodiak, Alaska Landfill (one of the world's most scenic landfill locations)

Bald Eagles, Kodiak, Alaska Landfill (one of the world’s most scenic landfill locations)

Even when birding away from home, it’s usually worth the time to visit a town’s landfill. In Kodiak’s landfill, in addition to dozens of Bald Eagles, WC found Steller’s Jays, Northwestern Crows and more. Impressive scenery, too.

The same principle applies birding outside the United States. When WC and Mrs. WC were in Belize, we talked our local guide, Bredda David Obi, into taking us to Dangriga’s little landfill. In the tropics, you not only find the usual dumpster-diving birds, but also birds that feed on the copious flies.

Fork-tailed Flycatcher, Dangriga Unsanitary Landfill, Belize

Fork-tailed Flycatcher, Dangriga Unsanitary Landfill, Belize

Sure, your photos may have trash in the background, and the stench sometimes will make your eyes water, but the birding can be very good.

You just have to want the birds badly enough.