Sunday, March 9, 2014

2013-14, The winter of gulls.

It's another cold, drizzly day outside so I'll make a blog post.  Perhaps it's because of the frigid weather across the continent, but the winter of 2013-14 has been great for gulls in the Rio Grande Valley of south Texas.  To me the number of Laughing Gulls is down but Ring-bills and Herring Gulls seem up.  And then there are the more unusual gulls.  A first winter Glaucous Gull was found at Boca Chica beach in December.  It was not reported for a while but then I refound it on the Mexico side of the mouth of the Rio Grande on 1/17, one of very few records for this species in Mexico.   Another or the same has been hanging out at the Brownsville city landfill.

While I was trying to photograph the distant Glaucous Gull in across the river, a flock of Bonaparte's Gull was feeding in the surf.  A heavily marked 1st year bird flew by a bit more closely than the others so I casually shot a few photos.  When I downloaded my photos at home I was shocked to find it was actually a first winter Little Gull, only the second ever for the RGV.  The next day Mary Gustafson saw it on the Mexico side of the river for the first record for Tamaulipas and the second ever for Mexico.  Scarlet later found it in the ship channel during one of her tours.

So 1/17 prove d to be a great gull day for me with five species.  However I manged to top this two weeks later on 1/31 when I made a drive up South Padre Island, 25 miles to the Port Mansfield Channel.  Of course the usual triumvirate of Laughing, Herring and Ring-billed Gulls were common.  My first good gull of the day was this 1st winter Black-legged Kittiwake about 10 miles north of beach access #6.  Another or the same was later found at the SPI jetty.

Just another mile north I found a hoped-for but not real rare species, a 1st winter Lesser Black-backed Gull.

A few miles farther north, I crossed the line from Cameron County to Willacy County and found a nice surprise, the first ever Glaucous Gull for Willacy county.  It was an alabaster beauty!

So with a six gull day under my belt I remembered one more I should be able to see.  Number seven, two Bonaparte's Gulls were feeding in the surf at the end of the Port Mansfield Jetty, right where I expected to find them.

Then during the Laredo Birding Festival, a strange dark-backed gull went misidentified as a Lesser Black-backed Gull on 2/7.  When photos surfaced in the internet, it was discovered to be a rare Slaty-backed Gull.  I raced up there on 2/10 and managed to get some distant but diagnostic photos.

So that makes nine species of gulls for the lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas.  But then an adult California Gull was found by Martin Reid and Willie Sekula at the Brownsville city land fill for #10 and a 1st winter Thayer's Gull has been recently seen near the south end of South Padre Island for #11.  I've manged to strike out twice on that bird.  And in a few days our first Franklin's Gulls will be passing through.  So there will have been twelve species of gulls seen in the Valley this amazing "winter of the gulls".

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