Wintering on the Cape

27 02 2013

Recently I posted about the high number of Sable gulls that have been resighted in New York state this winter and last year.  It looks like Massachusetts, and Cape Cod in particular, might be a contender for the “hotspot” of Sable gull sightings…or the wintering grounds of one individual at least.  Herring Gull AFR has been spotted 3 times now in the Cape Cod area.

First spotted November 1 at Herring Cove Beach near Provincetown.

Herring Gull AFR on a beach near Provincetown, MA.  Photo from John Kricher.

Herring Gull AFR on a beach near Provincetown, MA. Photo from John Kricher.

Second sighting December 30 at the east end of the Cape Cod canal in Sandwich, MA, by local photographer Steve Arena  On this same day Steve photographed two other colour banded Herring Gulls from different studies.  One was a blue banded Herring Gull with letters “BBH” which was banded as chick last summer on a rooftop in downtown Portland, ME, in a study from the University of New England.  The other was green banded “M24” from a research program on Appledor Island also in Maine.  Steve has some great pictures of other birds on his flickr site.

Herring Gull AFR was later photographed by Steve Arena in Sandwich, MA, on December 30th.

Herring Gull AFR was later photographed by Steve Arena in Sandwich, MA, on December 30th.

And again on February 27, AFR was spotted at the east end of the Cape Cod canal on a stormy day with 30+mph east winds and driving rain.  Now a total of three sightings by three different people in three different months.  I think it’s safe to say that Cape Cod is the wintering state of choice for Herring gull AFR.

Thanks for all the reports and keep ’em coming.

Rob Ronconi

Halifax, NS


Real time reporting from Wood Harbour

15 03 2012

I’ve worked on projects tracking birds where we get movement data via satellite tags in near real time.  Still, by the time the data is transmitted, processed, and uploaded to computers, typically more than an hour or two has passed.  Today I got a near “real time” reporting of a location from a wing-tagged gull!!!  Within 42 minutes of being spotted on Falls Point Wharf in Woods Harbour, NS, a DFO Fisheries Officer had emailed me a picture of Black-backed Gull ACX.  Fisheries Officers of the Barrington Detachment found this bird wandering the wharf yesterday.  Thanks for the report and photo.

Rob Ronconi

Halifax, NS

A first-year Great Black-backed Gull wanders the wharf in Woods Harbour, NS.

Frequent Flyer

12 03 2012

Herring Gull AAF has by far become the “frequent flyer” of our gull marking program.  AAF was tagged in June, spotted twice in October in northern Nova Scotia, multiple sightings along the Hudson River in New York state, and has now been seen in New Jersey.  On March 6th AAF was found at Spruce Run Reservoir near Clinton, NJ.  Alan Boyd reported this bird who comments  “It was associating with a mixed gull flock, mainly ring-billed.  A few herring and lesser black-backed gulls were also present.  The boat launch is not used much at this time of year so the beach area is probably the most popular spot for the gull flock to hang out on the reservoir.  Sometimes there are several thousand gulls there.  Spruce Run Reservoir is a staging area for lesser black-backed gulls at this time of year.  I don’t think anywhere else in NJ has the numbers that we get here.”

It’s exciting to get multiple sightings of a single bird throughout the year since this gives a good picture of their wintering range.  With a few more sightings between now and the breeding season we should be able to “track” AAF’s migration north and have a basic understanding of year-round ranging patterns.  Stay vigilant!

AAF went from Beacon, NY, to the Spruce Run Reservoir in Clinton, NJ, perhaps after the Hudson River froze up in the dead of winter.

AAF was spotted near a boat launch on the shorelines of Spruce Run Reservoir. The reservoir is the third largest in the state which acts as a water reserve during periods of drought. The reservoir is also used for recreational activities and seems to be a staging area for a variety of gull species.

On the Rhode again

10 02 2012

A quick escape from Sable Island.  A juvenile Great Black-backed Gull tagged ACU this winter (Jan 12) on Sable Island was found two weeks later on Sapowet Beach in Tiverton, Rhode Island (a 960 km displacement).  It looked conspicuously out of place not just because of its wing-tag but because it was the only Great Black-backed Gull among a flock of Herring and Ring-billed Gulls.  BJ Whitehouse found these birds foraging together on a sandbar of Sapowet Beach nearby to the Sapowet Marsh Wildlife Preserve.

I was surprised that this gull left Sable so soon after we tagged it.  The seal pupping season on Sable drags on well into late January so there still  would have been plenty of food available for a scavenging gull.  In the winter the Sable gulls feed on the carcasses of dead pups that didn’t quite make it.  While we were out there we noticed that the adult gulls seemed to have seniority over the carcasses, and juveniles (like ACU) often got chased away.  Maybe ACU had lost a few too many battles with the adult gulls on Sable and made its way to Rhode Island where it only had Herring Gulls and Ring-billed Gulls to contend with?

Rob Ronconi, Halifax, NS

Juvenile Great Black-backed Gull ACU was found on Sapowet Beach in Tiverton, RI.

Attracted to Beacons

5 02 2012

On the move. AAF has been our most frequently sighted Herring Gull from Sable Island. October 3 and 7th found AAF at Beacon St. Dam in Glace Bay, NS. January 22nd AAF was spotted at Beacon, NY, on the shores of the Hudson River. These places are about 1250 km (770 miles) apart. As the gull flies, a journey back to Sable would be 1180 km (730 miles).

Last seen in early October at Beacon St. Dam in Glace Bay, Nova Scotia, Herring Gull AAF was seen again last week on the shorelines of Beacon, New York!  (what a strange coincidence in names??)  On January 22nd about 30 members of the Ralph T. Waterman Bird Club  set out to Beacon, NY, to search the shorelines of the Hudson River for a rare gull.  They were looking for a Slaty-backed Gull (that breeds in western Alaska) which had been spotted here just a few days earlier.  Disappointingly their rare bird wasn’t found that day, but while scanning through a mixed flock of Herring and Ring-billed Gulls (plus a few Great Black-backed Gulls and Iceland Gulls)  they came across AAF among the crowd.

Found late in the afternoon on the shoreline of the Hudson River, Deb Kral an Jesse Jaycox, tell me this is a regular night-roosting spot for gulls.  AAF was first seen that day flying over a local farmers market where it had been eating bread tossed out, then later it joined another group of gulls for dog kibbles along the road side.  Deb tells me that the gulls of this area take off every morning around 7:00 a.m. and are thought to be foraging around the local prison (maybe near a garbage dump?), but return in the evenings to roost.

AAF stands on the frozen water of the Hudson River shoreline in Beacon, NY. Thank you to Deb Kral for this beautiful photo.

Adapting to riverfront park life, AAF dives in for some dog food among the Ring-billed Gulls and along side a juvenile Iceland Gull.

AAF was spotted again three days later by Ken McDermott  in Newburgh, NY, on the western shores of the Hudson River.  This time AAF was on a floating dock along the waterfront of some very nice restaurants, directly across from Beacon, NY.  Ken tells me “it is a place where gulls are normally found though not at this time of the year.  In a “normal” year the Hudson is practically frozen solid with icebreakers keeping the shipping lane open.  This winter has been so mild that there is NO ice on the river and exceedingly little along even the edges.

Two sightings three days and 1.5 km apart. AAF seems to be frequenting the shorelines and floating docks on the Hudson River between Beacon and the City of Newburgh.

Offshore gulls

7 12 2011

Most people think of gulls as coastal birds rather than living life large on the high seas.  Of course we see Herring Gulls along our coasts and around our cities year round, but without eyes and ears in our offshore waters we have no clue how many Herring Gulls might be spending their time patrolling the open ocean.  This tagging project has started to provide some clues.

This project started as a partnership with Encana Corporation who operate the Deep Panuke natural gas platform near Sable Island.  ExxonMobil also operates 5 platforms in the region.  All offshore platforms with personnel-on-board (POB) have stand-by vessels that transport cargo and wait nearby in case of emergencies.  After tagging Herring Gulls on Sable Island in June, I notified the captain and crew of these support vessels about the project and asked them to keep watch for our pink-tagged birds.

This fall I received 19 separate reports of pink-tagged gulls in offshore waters around Sable Island, including one from a fishing vessel and the rest from platform support vessels.  The crew sent me photos and stories about what they saw.  One gull (AAJ) was spotted 5 times over the span of a month!  On another occasion, two tagged gulls were perched side-by-side on the bow of a vessel (photo below).  Although gulls are known to roost on vessels and platforms, these birds are also there for a good feed.  At night the deck lights of the ships shine bright into the water which seems to attract small fish to the surface where the gulls can grab them.

Bow riding gull. Pink-tagged gull perched on the bow of an offshore supply vessel. Thanks to Jason for the picture.

Thanks to the captain and crew of the Ryan Leet, Panuke Sea, Venture Sea, and Atlantic Condor for keeping a lookout for these birds.  There have been no sightings since October 24 but hopefully you will catch wind of the first birds returning to Sable in the spring!

Gulls AAP and AAJ perched together on the guard rail of an offshore supply vessel.

Pink beacon on Beacon Street

11 10 2011

AAF loafing around Beacon St. dam in Glace Bay, NS. Photo courtesy of Allan and Cathy Murrant.

Flashing its pink wing bands, Herring Gull AAF is becoming a beacon for passers-by on Beacon St. in Glace Bay, Nova Scotia.  Local bird enthusiasts, Allan and Cathy Murrant who run the Cape Breton Birds website, have seen AAF on October 3rd and 7th, loafing around Beacon St. Dam which seems to be a bit of a hotspot for gulls in transit.  Allan and Cathy had this to say about the pond:

Beacon St dam is a man made pond that was made for one of the coal mines.   When the mine closed they planted grass and made a little park and walking track around it.  The gulls roost and bathe and get food from people feeding the ducks.  We had 8 species of gull there in a 15 minute period one spring.  Its a real good place for ducks, geese and many rarities show up.  We found [AAF] around 3pm on Oct. 3, 2011 and because we visit the dam every day I can say that was the only day we saw it.  We get a lot of one day visits from gulls and we found a banded gull in November one year it was banded in Witless Bay NL we got photos of that and it came again the next year around the same time. 

Eight species of gulls in such a short period of time is quite impressive considering only 4 species of gulls breed in Cape Breton.  Glace Bay is out near the eastern tip of Cape Breton Island which sticks far out into the Atlantic, perhaps making it an attractive stop-over site for many migrant gulls and other species.  This and other reclaimed ponds could provide important roosting habitat for migrant waterbirds during long journeys.  Lets hope that Allan and Cathy can provide us with more sightings before the winter freeze sets in.

AAF spotted on the eastern tip of Cape Breton Island in northern Nova Scotia.