Several years ago I went to a Gull seminar. The speaker walked the audience through the various Gulls found in Maine and how to tell them apart. But in his lecture he made subtle, references to “Gull People”.
No, he wasn’t talking about a bad 1950’s science fiction movie . . . “Gull People” are that small subset of birders the specialize in Gull identification!!!
There are approximately 50 species of gulls in the world with about half of them regularly being seen in the United States. Many of these gulls change in appearance from year to year, season to season and go through molts once or twice a year. The same species can look entirely different from one season to the next.
“Gull People” can tell the difference between a 1st summer Herring Gull, a 2nd winter Herring Gull and a 3rd winter Herring Gull. I feel happy just to know I’m looking at a Herring Gull. The subtle phase difference are difficult to me (but I’m trying).
To make matters more complicated, there is a subset of Gulls . . . the “black-headed gulls” that can be even more confusing.
“Black-headed gulls” are small gulls that have . . . wait for it . . . here it comes . . . you guessed it . . . “a black head!!!”. (Some of the time). Thats right, about half the year, the so-called “black-headed gulls” have a white head.
Since I started serious birding, I’ve seen five different types of “black-headed gulls” that you tell apart by the color of their legs and bills and feather patterns. For the most part in Maine, we see Laughing Gulls.
And Bonaparte’s Gulls:
Last fall, a Black-headed Gull (yes there is a species named Black-headed Gull just to make things more confusing) showed up briefly on a beach in southern Maine.
Then last Saturday, Ingrid, myself and a couple other birders saw what we thought was a Bonaparte’s Gull harassing a pair of Laughing Gulls. I took a photo and posted it along with our trip report (birds we had seen) on eBird.
Yesterday afternoon, an eBird reviewer (who checks for errors and omissions) e-mailed us suggesting our Bonaparte’s Gull was actually a Little Gull . . . yet another “black-headed gull” . . . but one that rarely shows up in Maine.
We reviewed our photos, checked our gull reference books and were thrilled to realize we had, in-fact, photographed a Little Gull, a Maine rarity.
Thank goodness the eBird reviewer is a “Gull Person!!!”