Saturday, 26 March 2011

West Coast Sailing 4: Larophilia

Gulls (Larids) are not everyone’s favorite bird – they’re loud, the steal food from people and other birds.  They are also one family of birds that has, on balance, benefited from human impacts on the environment, which probably means they are displacing other species in certain habitats.  And of course they poop.  A lot.  In one case on this trip, on one of my students.

With all that being said I think they are extremely cool birds.  They are intelligent and adaptable.  They are accomplished and graceful fliers.  They also, as I discovered in my bird rehab volunteer days, have an amazing gape to which this great photo barely does justice.
Gull and Sea Star
Source and License: Flickr Creative Commons, Photo by Ingrid Taylar
With that in mind, one of the things I wanted to do on this trip was try to sort out gull identification a little bit - Calgary is not really a gull hotspot!  Although I freely admit that a Thayer's or Iceland Gull could fly right in front of me and I would miss it, I think I've figured out a system that works for the more common species.  For example, dark iris + medium gray back + matching wingtips = Glaucous-winged Gull, here on the dock at South Pender Island.
Glaucous-winged Gull, Larus glaucescens
Of course the whole three-year gull thing, with partial molts and different plumages makes my head spin.  As far as I can make out the bird below, based on the heavy black bill and primaries matching the body colour is also a Glaucous-winged Gull, in this case a first winter bird.
Glaucous-winged Gull, Larus glaucescens
Lastly, while on the subject of gulls, we saw a neat phenomenon on the last night of the trip as we were anchored in Fulford Harbour.  There was a large flock of gulls and some alcids (auklets?) some way out in the channel, apparently feeding on a school of fish.  Over the course of an hour or so, as the fish moved closer to shore (presumably spawning and/or following the sunlight as it set) the alcids departed.  The gulls - predominantly and appropriately Herring Gulls - followed all the way to the shoreline, where there were two Belted Kingfishers that joined in the feeding, as well as several Buffleheads, perhaps cleaning up fish eggs?  In any case it was great to see several species working together in their respective niches and a great learning opportunity for the students on the boat who could really see the ecosystem working as a whole.
Gull spp. (mostly Herring) feeding on fish in shoal

One more West Coast post to wrap things up in another two days...


  1. What's that bird trying to swallow in the first pic? Great photos,all in this post!

  2. The gull is eating (or attempting to eat!) a sea-star - I have to admit that photo, as captioned, is not mine!