Ingrid and I drove back to Maine from New Jersey today, a bit giddy after seeing a Red-flanked Bluetail yesterday. Instead of driving directly home, we made a couple detours hoping to see a few more birds.
Our first stop was an industrial park pond where we had seen an unusual goose at sunset the evening before . . . I was hoping for a photo in good light.
Naturally there were no geese and with tears in our eyes we prepared to head for Maine. As we were getting back in the car, I looked over and saw a small gull with red legs land about 50 feet away from us . . . a BLACK-HEADED GULL. A bird we last saw in September in London. A very lucky find this side of the Atlantic.
A couple hours later as we were crossing the Tappan Zee Bridge (I refuse to call it the “Governor Mario M. Cuomo Bridge”), Ingrid received a report of a SHORT-BILLED GULL in Stamford, NY. Another rare bird.
Unfortunately after 80 minutes standing in the cold staring across Long Island Sound mudflats . . . we gave up. We then headed toward a Windham, Connecticut Walmart where another rare bird had appeared . . . this time a COMMON GULL . . . another European species. Neither Ingrid or I have ever seen this bird.
Upon arriving, we found 200+ RING-BILLED GULLS (the same gulls that stands in every grocery store parking lot in America) mulling around. This was bad as a COMMON GULL looks almost exactly like a RING-BILLED, with only a slightly different bill, head shape and plumage. How would we ever find the rare bird, in that mess.
Then I noticed another birder watching the flock, and since “I have always relied on the kindness of strangers”, I asked him for help. Incredibly it was Phil Rusch, a renown Connecticut Birder who quickly helped us find the COMMON GULL. And just in time, as the gulls all flew off to roost for the night . . . 10 minutes after we arrived.
Not all birders enjoy Gull watching . . . many species look nearly identical . . . their appearance can change year to year and season to season. But when you get two rare Gulls in a day, one a lifer, its hard not to love Gulls.