Sometimes birding is all about timing. For the past four days I have been guiding visiting birder Liis Veelma from Manitoba. We have been pretty successful in picking up most of the Newfoundland winter birds,aside from Dovekie,which is mysteriously absent from our shores this winter. After a couple of days birding the southern Avalon, bagging a Redwing and various other winter birds, we changed our focus in the last two days to birding St.John's gulls and ducks.
We wandered yesterday taking in great views of 2 1st winter and an adult Common Gull,Black-headed Gulls,numbers of Lesser Black-backed Gulls and many Iceland and Glaucous Gulls. This was nice of course but birders visiting St.John's in winter have a different species on their minds. One that has a mantle shade between Smithsonianus Herring Gull and Graellsii Lesser Black-backed Gull, a gleaming white head,crimson red orbital ring,extensive black in the outer primaries with just a singe mirror on p10 and of course, yellow legs. I'm of course,referring to Yellow-legged Gull.
After spending some time scanning the gull flocks on Quidi Vidi Lake,the sewer outlet and the harbour we decided it was time for lunch. When I arrived back at the car the phone rang, it was Bruce Mactavish- this could only be good news. He was calling to inform me that a Yellow-legged Gull has been seen resting with a small flock of gulls at the harbour. He also told me that it was seen 30 minutes ago and he had tried calling but got no answer!!When we went for lunch, I left the cell phone in the car- bad idea.Luckily, it never made any difference because I sped off to the location and easily found the bird resting among a small flock only 30 feet from the car. Once again long,scope filling views were had. We were interrupted at one point though by a government official who advised us that ir was prohibited to take photos in the area (coast guard parking lot).I advised him that we were only looking at the gulls, not taking photos. He proceeded to mumble something and I went about trying to convince him that it was not possible to take photos with my spotting scope.Well he didn't seem entirely convinced but didn't push the issue. Finally he reluctantly allowed us to stay,but not before warning us NOT to look at the ships with our optics! Now we were both confused. I guess there must have been a very important ship in town,or the coast guard has some secret they are trying to hide.Anyway, he left and we went back to enjoying the Yellow-legged Gull that was totally unconcerned by all the hoopla.
Today we were again doing the gull watching thing in St.John's. Our plan was to just keep scanning gull flocks at Quidi Vidi Lake and the harbour hoping to uncover a Slaty-backed Gull that had been found the a couple days earlier by visiting Ontario birder Brandon Holden. Well,things didn't go quite according to plan because we rolled into Quidi Vidi Lake and I was on the Slaty Backed Gull before I had the car in park. I jumped out got the scope on the bird to confirm our incredible luck. A quick look revealed all the detail needed and amazingly we had found our days target bird in our first minute of actual birding- it just doesn't get any better than this!
Finding our target gulls has freed up our last day to wander in search of Robin flocks, Alcids and whatever else we might stumble upon. Given the track record so far this winter, I have a feeling we might just bump into something pretty good!