Flock of the Bonnies!! Bonaparte’s Gulls that is!! It’s really feeling like winter here in New York, the sun goes down real early and the amount of clouds we’ve had only shortens the day even more. I’ve been limiting my travel and going to the closest places I can, figuring that means more birding and less wasting time on the road. That has backfired on me, when I go all in on one place, find there’s no activity and wish I would have traveled to the next park, or any of the other locations I mulled over trying out. It’s the plight of the birder, we want to be everywhere at once it seems.
Today I was at the beach, looking for Saw-whet Owls and finches. Really I’m just there to get outside and enjoy the day, but I know a few birders that want to see a Northern Saw-whet Owl and I’ve been putting in extra effort trying to find one and get the word out to them. There’s certainly no guarantee to see one, and today was no different, and I struck out on those despite my overall feeling of confidence that I would find one.
In the back of my mind I want to head out towards the water and look for the newly arriving Snowy Owls. They are an annual visitor to my local beaches and I hear the first one has showed up already! That backfires when some flooding on the paths stop my progress and leave me wishing I was still combing through pines a mile away, as this decision was not fruitful for Snowy Owls! This decision did however lead to some very interesting birding!
I did see a late Eastern Phoebe that sort of lead me to an American Bittern! Thanks Phoebe!
It’s not much a photo but I got a real good look at it in my binoculars! I saw the Bittern land, but unsurprisingly could not relocate it as they are notoriously great at hiding! So who knows which way is right way to go birding! To go, stay, move on, take a chance… will you strike out or strike gold!?
I mention this because recently I tried a nearby park that leads to the ocean. It’s a really close drive and has a few different habitats. The ocean, the dunes, a parking lot with fences that the sparrows love and even an area with tall grass and cattails. A high fenced tennis court regularly has doves, kestrels, merlins and others enjoying the fence-posts. The tall bare trees are a hot spot for Cooper’s and Sharp-shinned Hawks. I have seen rare birds here like an Ash-throated Flycatcher and an Eastern Meadowlark. However on this day there was …nada. What recently had been teeming with many kinds of sparrows was just super quiet. There was no movement at all! I went to the water and saw nothing…at first.
Luckily I made out a Black Scoter in close in the rough surf. I noticed a gull that got my attention. I followed it in my binoculars but it refused to land. I had a hunch this gull was not one of the more common gulls and when it touched down on the water I was able to time a photo amidst the rolling and crashing waves. I noticed this was indeed a Bonaparte’s Gull!
Always a thrill to see, it’s a bird I had decent luck with last year as well. Word is they used to be really common here, but not so much anymore. When there was a lot of flocks of them around they were known to have even rarer stragglers mixed in the group such as Little Gull and Black-headed Gull. Two tough species in these parts, and luckily two that I have ticked of my life list in the last year or so.
I was glad I hung in there! The Black Scoter helped me find the Bonaparte’s Gull, and the Bonnie helped me find many Common and Red-throated Loons. This was a vast improvement over how things were going! And… it was about to get better! A second Bonaparte’s Gull started hanging around the first, cool!! Two Bonnies!!
Then I noticed a large flock of white gulls fly in all together close by. Wouldn’t you know they were all Bonaparte’s Gulls! With a few winter plumage Laughing Gulls in tow! I quickly got the word out to the rare bird list service, stating I had “at least 50 Bonnies”, but I kept thinking in my head there must be more like 100. Of course staring at your phone doesn’t help you keep track of birds and I honestly lost sight of the flock when I looked up after hitting ‘send’ on my e-mail to the birds-list service!
I wasn’t too worried as I knew they had to be around, and then I saw it…a little down the beach, the original flock of Bonaparte’s Gulls had apparently joined another flock and now I was seeing what looked like at least 200 Bonaparte’s Gulls!!
Some were in the ocean and I noticed others were forming a large group on the beach. A large mound of sand was obscuring the view so naturally the move was to head over there to get a better look! I excitedly headed that way, while again updating the list service that this was not 50 birds, but was at least 200. In my head I couldn’t help but feel like that number was really more like 300!
The Bonnies are such cute birds, and a favorite gull of mine! In winter plumage they have just the little black patch behind the eye, but in summer plumage they have a fully black head. I’ve never seen one in summer plumage as their breeding range is well north and west of me.
Here’s some video!!! < bonapartes >
None of these pictures really show the scale of the group as I was zooming in all the way from a respectable distance as to not disturb the flock of Bonnies!
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