Mystery Gulls heads up!

Alvaro Jaramillo


This is one of those extremely tantalizing birds, but unfortunately not
fully identified to my satisfaction. I am writing this note just in case I
may be correct, and just in case this bird is found again.

In any case at about 0800 this morning in Half Moon Bay, I saw a strange
gull flying around with the Elegant Terns, Heermann's Gulls, Brown Pelicans
and so forth that were fishing just offshore immediately south of the end of
Kelly Ave.

My first looks were the best, but I only had binoculars and the bird then
flew off to the north and eventually disappeared as it headed to the beach.
It was a few hundred yards out, and I was on top of the bluff. It may have
in fact landed on the beach (somewhere south of the Pilarcitos creek mouth)
as it disappeared behind the bluff, but I tried to get closer to look to no
avail, before I had to run off to do some family stuff. In any case this was
a smallish gull with a dark grey mantle and wings. To give you an idea about
what was going through my mind at first I though Oooh, this could be a
Laughing Gull (as it was smaller than Californias, and quite dark grey above
in direct comparison to an adult California it was darker grey on the
upperparts!)...but it was all wrong for that. Then about a second into the
observation it shifted course and I could see a bold white "V" (triangle
shape) on the trailing edge of the wings. This make Sabine's go through my
head momentarily, but it clearly was not a Sabine's Gull as the white "V"
was not nearly as well developed, and only reached to 1/3 of the way up
towards the bend of the wing. It showed black outer primaries, and likely
primary coverts, so it was black exactly where a Bonaparte's Gull should be
white. It did not show a black wing tip like most other gulls (including
Laughing), but showed a black "stripe" on the outer wing. The bird had an
odd shape, particularly troubling to me was that it looked rather short
tailed, but the tail was full and squarish...from the distance I saw it from
it did not look to be molting tail. The tail was normal, just short, giving
the bird a bat-like essence. The head was largely white but I could see that
it was darker on the nape, I could not see any dark cap, dark ear spot or
anything like that. I did not see the bill, but it at least appeared not to
be bright colored. The flight style of the bird was somewhat tern-like, but
it was an obviously larger bird (heavier) than Elegant Terns, and smaller
than Heermann's Gull.

I could only come up with one thing for this - RED-LEGGED KITTIWAKE! A first
summer bird. I just which I had my scope with me, if I had, I know I would
be certain, but with the bino looks it was just a bit too far away to know
for sure. But my looks were good enough to very soon realize that I was
looking at a real weird gull, this was no regular occurring species that I
could think of. I had Laughing Gull on my mind to begin with because that is
the gull I have sort of been looking for around here for a while (and still
haven't found). But it was not a Laughing, or anything else reasonably sane
to report. I may be able to go look a bit later on today, and tomorrow
morning. But otherwise take this as a heads up on this gull.

Keep in mind that early in the mornings, there is a lot of bird activity on
the beaches. Hundreds can roost on the sand, but on the weekends very
quickly the beachgoers disturb them so by mid-day there are very few gulls
on the beach. Early in the morning may be the best chance to re-find it.



Alvaro Jaramillo
Half Moon Bay, CA

Field Guides - Birding Tours Worldwide

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