Tag Archives: Mew Gull

Epic Twitch of Mid-Coast Megas, 1/30/17

Fully caught up on work and life from our recent vacation, Jeannette and I spent Monday and Tuesday birding hard!  On Monday, we did our monthly “South-coastal Tour” from Kittery through Wells, enjoying a total of 49 Harlequin Ducks, two unseasonable American Pipits at Seapoint Beach, a hen Northern Pintail in the Moody Marsh, and finding a rare Pacific Loon off of The Cliff House (distantly phone-scoped here within an armada of Common Loons).


But on Tuesday, it was time to get caught up with some of this winter’s rarities. And so far this year, the Mid-Coast is where it’s at!

We began at Owl’s Head Harbor, arriving at 9:25. In about 10 minutes, we found the recently-discovered 2nd-cycle Mew Gull at the second lobster impoundment. Undoubtedly the same bird that spent last winter here, it was exciting to see it has returned, and with a more mature plumage. We watched it for about 20 minutes, as it regularly took flight, foraged in the cove, checked out the pens, and loafed with other gulls. Eventually, we watched it as it flew out into the bay, rounding the corner to the east and out of view. It steadfastly refused to fly into good lighting, however.

A lingering Belted Kingfisher was present as well, but surprisingly, not a single Iceland Gull was around.

We then went over to Owl’s Head State Park, where a little seawatching produced a couple of Black-legged Kittiwakes and Razorbills, but to our surprise, the Mew Gull as well!  It was feeding quite a bit off the lighthouse, out at a tideline.

Next up was a search for two Pink-footed Geese that have been around since December.  We didn’t find them in the playing fields they usually frequent, so we began a search of Rockland Harbor. The Mechanic Street Boat Launch yielded a Northern Shrike and lots of Mallards, but no geese.

We worked our way around the harbor, expecting to eventually find them in the greens of the Samoset Resort. Instead, we spotted them on the green of a sunny lawn in a small backyard off of Samoset Road. However, we were viewing them through a scope from a considerable distance, out across the large cove, from our vantage point in the parking lot at the end of Fales Street in downtown. They were not close.

So we raced over to Samoset Road, and got really lucky, finding them – along with a group of merely 15 or so Canada Geese – between a couple of houses.

After lunch, we worked our way towards Camden, checking a handful of waterfowl sites, but finding nothing of note. But a pair of Buffleheads off of Mechanic St in Camden were particularly photogenic.

We then arrived at 4 Central Street, the home that has been hosting a Bullock’s Oriole – merely Maine’s 2nd ever – since the early winter. Jeannette had not looked for it yet, so a visit seemed overdue. We arrived at 2:09, and after waiting a mere 7 minutes (many observers have waited multiple hours), it arrived, landing in a tall tree behind the house, catching some late afternoon rays.

It dropped to the feeder, and instead of its usual brief visit, it spent well over 5 minutes gorging itself on mealworms and grapes.

Mew Gull, Pink-footed Geese, and Bullock’s Oriole: an incredible January hat-trick of Mid-coast Megas!

A MEW GULL in Thomaston!

On August 3rd, Don Reimer found Maine’s Third State Record of a Mew Gull in a parking lot in Thomaston.  While it was seen in the area for most of the day, it was not seen by anyone on the 4th – myself included – despite extensive searching.  However, a few days later, Don relocated it, and it has been seen regularly since, although it is not always in the same place at the same time, and it seems to feed somewhere unknown at low tide.

After returning from Hawai’i on Friday, I was happy to see the bird has kindly awaited my return.  Today was the first chance I got to head over, and at 7:45 I met Kristen Lindquist in the parking lot behind downtown Thomaston.  Kristen was studying about 30 Ring-billed Gulls in the parking lot until a birder drove by and flushed them.  Apparently, a few gulls from rooftops and/or a nearby field joined the flushed birds, and as they settled back down or flew off, I noticed a single, seemingly darker gray bird sitting atop a basketball hoop in the adjacent playground.

And sure enough!   I snapped a few phone-scoped images, including this one.

Boy, that was easy, for us anyway (the gull is hard to see atop the basketball hoop here)!

MEGUonHoop, with Big CrankyDSC_0009_MEGU_on_hoop1

A short while later, it flew to a nearby field next to the Oceanside High School.  There, a jogger was doing laps around the track.  Although the bird was never too perturbed by this, it did fly a short distance when the jogger would be a little too close for comfort.  This afforded me a perfect opportunity for exactly what I wanted: flight and spread-wing photos. Shortly thereafter, it flew off the field and onto the roof of the elementary school where we left it at about 9:00.

(Click on the photos for a larger image)
DSC_0020_MEGU_upperwing2 DSC_0020_MEGU_upperwing3 DSC_0024_MEGU_upper_and_underwing1 DSC_0024_MEGU_upper_and_underwing2 DSC_0024_MEGU_upper_and_underwing3 DSC_0024_MEGU_upper_and_underwing4 DSC_0032_MEGU_in_field1 DSC_0032_MEGU_in_field2

Side-by-side with a Ring-billed Gull:
DSC_0037_MEGU_and_RBGU2 DSC_0037_MEGU_and_RBGU3

DSC_0045_MEGU_flight1 DSC_0045_MEGU_flight2

So, what is this?  Other than a big, fat, mess?

It’s definitely a bird in the Mew Gull (Larus canus) Complex, which here in the States, we refer to as composing four subspecies. There’s “Mew Gull,” L.c.brachyrhynchus that is common in the west, breeding from Alaska to extreme northwestern Manitoba and south through the coast of British Columbia, and wintering along the Pacific Coast from Washington into Baja California.  However, vagrants that have been recorded on the Eastern Seaboard have mostly (I believe) been assigned to the expanding European population, L.c.canus, or “Common Gull.”  There’s also the “Kamchatka Gull” (L.c. kamtschatsensis) of the Russian Far East that is a regular rarity in Western Alaska, with  perhaps a few claimed elsewhere on the continent (I am vaguely recalling one in Massachusetts?).  Finally, there is L.c.heinei of Siberia, which may just be an intergrade between Common and Kamchatka Gulls and I am unaware of any possible records of this in North America.

In short, the European “Common Gull” actually seems to be more likely on the East Coast than the North American “Mew Gull.”  But most records are from winter, and most birds do not have a plumage as trashed as this individual.

The bird appears small to me, with a relatively thin bill (although it’s on the long side), and a relatively dark mantle, all of which would be points in favor of Mew Gull.  However, the plumage is so ravaged, that it’s hard to even age the bird.  Is it an advanced 2nd cycle, a retarded 3rd cycle, or an adult that had some really bad days?  Intermediate-aged birds in the complex are notoriously, well, complex – and very difficult, at best, to identify.

But what can we actually see?
–          Fairly broad white windows in outer two primaries (primaries 10 + 9)
–          Little to know white between the black and gray on P8 (although this is probably only of value on an adult.
–          P7 is trashed
–          Is that a new P6 growing in? (One primary is definitely missing as well, could it be P1?)
–          The four new primaries have a fairly broad white tip.
–          The legs are dull olive-y (subadult-like).
–          The bill is fairly bright yellow at the tip with an olive-y base (adult-like).
–          The tail is too trashed too look for black spots at the tip (expected in a 2nd cycle Mew Gull, but not in a Common)
–          The eye is fairly dark.

So, we have an odd time of year for a vagrant gull, and we have a trashed plumage.  Can we narrow it down to a probable subspecies?  I will be sending this blog out to those who know various members of the Mew Gull Complex better than I do, and I will let you know what I learn.  Whatever it is, I got myself a state bird today!

Howell, Steve N.G. and Jon Dunn. 2007. Gulls of the Americas. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston/New York.