Jericho Gulls

Again and again it strikes me how much Jericho Beach reminds me of Mount Auburn–without the dead bodies, of course, and with a much better gull selection.

I don’t have my lists at hand, but I’m pretty much certain that my larid list for the Massachusetts cemetery comprises three species: Great Black-backed, American Herring, and Ring-billed Gulls. Without any of those three, this morning’s Jericho Beach walk produced four species.

Four species–depending on how you count ’em. Sooner or later I’m going to have to come to terms with the pugetensis problem. Our most abundant gull here in Vancouver is Glaucous-winged Gull, or at least birds that look more or less like Glaucous-winged, with pale upperparts and blue-gray wingtips (whence the name).

An awful lot of those birds, however, have wingtips that are slightly too dark for a classic Glaucous-wing, suggesting that somewhere on not too high a branch in their family tree perches an American Herring or Western Gull. Some of them have primaries so sooty as even to be mistaken for one of those species.

I try to look at such birds when I can, but until this morning hadn’t run across anything overly convincing. Then, while I was watching my first Bonaparte’s Gulls of the spring off the beach, in came this beauty.

When it landed on the pier–in less than ideal light, unfortunately–the dark upperparts and broad secondary “skirt” were obvious.

Those features plus the black wingtip and very bright bill left me satisfied that if this wasn’t a pure Western Gull, then it was at least so near the dark end of the hybrid spectrum as to make its mixed ancestry undetectible.

The bird was aggressive, and I had some excellent comparative views of its upperpart color with the paler mantles of the Glaucous-wings in flight; this, sadly, is the best photo I got of the combination.

Pretty exciting, and a state (uh, sorry: province, eh?) bird for me. Short of putting the blird in a bender and dipping in some litmus paper–or whatever the scientists do–we’ll never know whether miscegenation lurks in its ancestral past, but I found it pretty convincing. [But see here for my later recanting.]

And the day’s fourth gull species? No surprises there: Mew Gull. There are relatively few around right now, but one fine adult was on the first pond with the ducks.

I especially like this picture and the way it shows the smudgy “shawl” on the hindneck, already lost at this time of year on most adult Mew Gulls.

I still don’t have a handle at all on distinguishing these “Short-billed” Gulls from Common and Kamchatka Gulls, though apparently the pale eye is a good indication that I didn’t miss a major vagrant.

More gulls tomorrow, I hope!


Blue Sky in Vancouver!

It doesn’t happen very often, but the end of last week was bright and clear and almost warm. Alison and I spent a quick late afternoon hour at Jericho Park, enjoying the lingering Eurasian Wigeon drake and admiring in spite of ourselves the Bald Eagles overhead.

There are two nests at the west end of Jericho Beach, and the bird is otherwise so common that no one here really pays it any attention–except to sic their dogs on them when they’re patrolling the shoreline at low tide. Given its splendid recovery in the last couple of decades, Bald Eagle really isn’t a “birder’s bird” anymore, either, with but still I find them impossible to ignore, whether they’re passing our window over breakfast or wheeling high against that rarest of sights in Vancouver, a deep blue sky.


A Good Preen

Saturday at dawn: Alison and I arrived early at Jericho Park so that Gellert could get a little exercise too. While he and Alison kept tabs on a drake Eurasian Wigeon on the lawn, I wandered over to the beach, where a few Common Mergansers and Barrow’s Goldeneye were bobbing around. It was bath time for this goldeneye, and his contortions produced some odd and some oddly beautiful views.


Lingering Wigeon

There are still about 200 American Wigeon at Jericho Park, with smaller numbers up and down the southern shore of English Bay. And they’re not alone.

This drake Eurasian Wigeon can be surprisingly hard to pin down, apparently ranging up and down the shore with changing tides and changing levels of human park use. But when he’s around, he’s not that hard to see!


Sparrow Watching: Improving!

Of all the highlights of a birding visit to Arizona, the sparrow watching is amongĀ  the highest. But things are looking up here in Vancouver, too. Though emberizid diversity remains lowish–four species felt pretty good this morning in Jericho Park–the spirit of spring has descended, and I was never out of earshot of sparrow song.

Most abundant, naturally, were Song Sparrows. The heavily marked, somberly reddish birds here (presumptively morphna) may look startlingly unlike the familiar chocolate birds of the east and midwest (not to mention the pale, sparsely streaked fallax that breeds in Tucson). But they chup-chup like their conspecifics everywhere on the continent, and their bright songs are indistinguishable, to these middle-aged ears at least, from any Song Sparrow’s anywhere.

Click for a video of this bird in full song.

The dry rattles and whiny mewls of Spotted Towhees are impossible to miss in the park’s extensive area of brambles.

The towhees here are notably unspotted, with just a neat set of dotted white wingbars and nearly unmarked back and scapulars; that’s consistent with the expected local race oregonus, as is the uncomplicated trilling song with a slightly wooden quality.

Today, with bright sunshine and relatively warm weather, was the first day that Sooty Fox Sparrows had been singing.

I don’t know whether this species breeds in the park–the singing was fairly subdued, the volume low and the melody line fairly flat, suggesting that this was perhaps just “subsong” from migrants inspired by the sunshine. Heaven knows that if I could carry a tune, I’d have been singing along.

The least common of this morning’s sparrows was that drabbest of the Zonotrichias, Golden-crowned Sparrow. They’re surprisingly shy for a “crowned” sparrow, but watching the edges of the blackberry thickets and underneath dense, low-growing conifers turned up several today–suggesting that there were likely many more, unseen, in the brush.

A couple of this morning’s golden-crowns were singing, a pretty little whistled song more like that of Harris’s Sparrow than of White-crowned. Of course, I don’t know yet what the local white-crowns sound like, so I’ll just have to keep on sparrow watching this spring.

Somebody has to do it.