Shell Beach 4-16

Brad Schram

I was at Shell Beach (tennis courts) this morning for 1 hr. 50 mins.,
leaving at 10:50. The PEREGRINES have apparently hatched chicks there again
this year; their behavior is identical to last year when they had young in
the eyrie--they fly around and swear at you, harassing gulls in classic
displacement behavior. If you go to see the Peregrines there, I suggest--in
order to minimize disturbance--that you retreat up by the tennis court fence
if the birds get agitated; they calm down when you do this.

During the time I was there PACIFIC LOONS streamed by offshore at an
estimated average of 100 per minute. They were at spotting scope distance,
essentially on a course roughly from Pt. Sal toward Pt Buchon. I imagine
that Richard Rowlett up at Piedras Blancas had quite a flight this morning.
A few COMMON LOONS were seen going north also, as were only 4 CASPIAN TERNS
in this time. One WHIMBREL flew by offshore, headed north alone. A lone
Brant flew into the cove beneath the tennis courts. Rafting SURF SCOTERS,
approx. 150 in several small rafts, were offshore, as were 1-2000
Aecmorphorus grebes in a ratio of roughly 25 or more WESTERNS to 1 CLARK'S.

PIGEON GUILLEMOTS are displaying on the water just below the cliffs is rafts
of 4-10 birds, with much coming and going; there are a few PELAGIC
CORMORANTS nesting on the cliffs as well. The usual BRANDT'S CORMORANTS
were on offshore rocks along with BROWN PELICANS; a few DOUBLE-CRESTED
CORMORANTS flew by in breeding plumage--going downcoast. The resident
BLACK OYSTERCATCHERS piped loudly on occasion.

Common Dolphins were surfacing lazily just off the big rock. Sea Otters
floated on their backs 400-500 yards offshore. A mile or so out a Humpback
Whale spouted and sounded. A second whale breached, crashing back in a
massive splash. The second whale may have been a late Gray--its
paddle-shaped pectoral fins and lack of white on the throat and belly
certainly cancel out Humpback.

The usual flock of migrant gulls (for this date) was loafing on the beach
some with faded white primaries, were among them. Also among them was an
interesting gull, one sure to cause debate and maybe casual
misidentification. When if flew by I thought it may well be a genuine
Glaucous Gull, given the large size, seemingly pure white primaries, and
obvious bi-colored bill of apparently the right shape and size for Glaucous.
The tail was so faded that it gave no good clue--essentially all white with
a bit of a banded effect toward the body. Faded large gulls (particularly
Glaucous-winged) are common in April, though--birds that are late in
assuming second year plumage and their first-year feathers are worn and
faded. Fortunately it landed on the beach with the loafers and I got a 60x
look at it. I'm convinced the bird is a faded to white first-year HERRING
GULL. It was the size of the average WESTERN GULLs nearby, maybe a touch
smaller than the largest male Western--not good for Glaucous. There were
too many smudgy gray feathers on the otherwise white breast to give a
classic first winter Glaucous look, and it was not heavy-breasted in
proportion as Glaucous show. The bill shape and color are right for
Herring, thus cancelling Glaucous-winged (although Glaucous can show this
shape and proportion as well), but most importantly I could see in the
'scope as the bird preened that the base of its primaries--covered by the
greater coverts and tertials when the bird is at rest, and therefore
shielded from the sun--were a uniform faded brown. No Glaucous Gull has
primaries like that. If you were to see this bird fly by or asleep on the
beach and were not tipped off that there are many faded gulls this time of
year it would be easy to pass this off as a first year Glaucous. The bill
color is perfect and an uncritical look at the bird overall, simply noting a
large white gull with (seemingly) pure white primaries, supports Glaucous.
Gulls are a challenge.