Monday, October 13, 2014

Far from the madding crowd, not close enough to the maddening gull

Saturday, after the rain, I was finally able to go out to Randall's Island for the first time in weeks. I was looking for a little orangy bird, Nelson's Sparrow, that had been sighted in the salt marsh on the northern tip of the island. The last report was of three birds on Monday the 6th.

I had no luck with the Nelson's. At the west end of the marsh were many Swamp Sparrows, some Song Sparrows, a few Common Yellowthroats. A hundred or so yards away, at the other end, a group of Savannah Sparrows jumped in and out of the bushes onto the grass and back in.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Savannah Sparrow, Randall's Island

After a couple of times back and forth along the marsh, I continued around the northeast shore. Three more Savannah Sparrows seemed to follow me around. Sometimes I flushed them, sometimes they flew past me and led me up the shore.

It was quiet. The solitude was wonderful. Almost nobody was ever in sight. two joggers, once, and a man walking a dog.

There is a small hill at the south east end of this area, past the ball fields and jest before the fire department training area. I sat on a bench at the top of the hill for a while. When I want down the hill, a Kestrel flew past me and perched on a lamppost at the top.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; American kestrel, Randall's Island
industrial Kestrel

Just then, a couple with two dogs started up the hill, the first people I'd seen in an hour. I got my camera ready.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; American Kestrel taking off
it was time to hunt anyway

I didn't think the Kestrel would care for them. Besides, it was time to hunt. I went back to the salt marsh.

There was still no sign of unusual sparrows. I waited a long time. As I got ready to leave, I scanned the opposite shore of the Bronx Kill, and noticed a rather small, slim gull, much smaller than the Herring and Ring-Billed Gulls nearby.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Laughing Gull, Randall's Island
on shore, left to right:  Herring, mystery gull, Ring-Billed.  In the water, juvenile, probably a Herring

That was interesting. I'm not good at gulls, but I didn't think we had any small white-headed gulls. Maybe it was some kind of tern?

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Laughing Gull, Randall's Island
maddening gull

Not a tern surely. Smallish bill, though, and kind of a dark spot behind the eye. I paged through Peterson's. Hmm, maybe a winter-plumaged Bonaparte's? That would be a good bird--a lifer for me, in fact, though not a screaming rarity. Maybe a Laughing Gull, but it seemed much too small--Laughing Gulls are only a little smaller then Ring-Billeds.

The gull moved several times--it didn't care to stay around the bigger gulls. I don't blame it--gulls in general are assholes, though they weren't really bothering the smaller bird.

Eventually, it flew north out of sight around the eastern Bronx shore.

Time to go home. A Kingfisher came out and hunted along the Bronx Kill, and perched near the New York Post plant.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Posted
Kingfisher, posted

when I got home, I looked over my many photos of the gull to try to definitely ID it. I had a few of the bird in flight.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Laughing Gull, Randall's Island

Drat. Those aren't the wings of a Bonaparte's--they have kind of a white triangle thing going on on the top of the wing, and usually some black on the trailing edge. Laughing Gull. Oh well. A fine afternoon out, anyway.

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