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Birdchick Blog: Gulls On The Rampage At Bringantine

Friday, October 24, 2008

Gulls On The Rampage At Bringantine

Pintails, I love pintail ducks! So, I'm in New Jersey at the moment for Cape May's Autumn Weekend - THE Bird Show. I'm filling in at the Swarovski booth for my buddy Clay (who is forced to go to Austria). I still have to pinch myself sometimes. Teenage Sharon from years ago dreamed of things like getting a call from a cool optics company asking if I would mind coming to Cape May to do some birding and help out at a booth.

When I got into Jersey, Jim from Kowa asked if I wanted to meet for some birding at Brigantine. How could I say no? It was a good idea too, it always takes me a day to kind of get my bearings for birds in a different state. For example, one of the first birds I saw was a small heron looking bird that was all white. Crap, we don't have those in MN, small...white...not a snow egret--it was an immature little blue heron--no fair being white! Anyway, just a good idea to get used to the birds.

While Jim and I were driving around, we saw a herring gull catching something huge--a crab. It was interesting to watch the gull take the large struggling crab out of the water, put in the grass, and hack at it, all while the crab tried to pinch it in self defence.

The herring gull's eye and dark lining just kind of gave this crab killer a maniacal look, much like my beloved accipiters--love those hawks with bright red eyes. Jim pointed out that it was a great day to not be a crab when we found...

...this adult black-backed gull. It was working its way around a mysterious blob in the water...

It was a dead duck. As best we could make out from when the gull would pull the head above water as it tried to rip out a bite, it looked like a female ruddy duck in winter plumage.

We wondered if the duck was already dead or if the gull had killed it. Was she already ill or injured and the gull went after it until she was dead or what. Tough to say, but when nearby mallards realized what the gull was eating, they gave it a wide berth and then flew away when the water's current brought the feasting gull closer.

Peregrines were out in full force at Brigantine. There were oodles of shorebirds and the peregrines would make stealthy attacks from low above the vegetation. This young peregrine was even chased a bit by and adult, you could hear them screaming at each other from quite a distance. The peregrines were a welcome distraction, poor Jim was trying to point out how to tell a western sandpiper from a white-rumped sandpiper. "Notice how the western is lighter in color over all," he asked excitedly.

"Do you want me to answer honesty or tell you what you want to hear? Cause I'm not seeing a lighter color."

We laughed at my shorebird ineptitude. I was able to tell them from the semi-palmated sandpipers, which I felt was a minor breakthrough.

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Anonymous rebecca said...

This makes me feel immeasurably better about my own shorebird ineptitude. Last time I was on a beach with a good variety of them, my attempt to ID them basically went "Ooh, a turnstone, some semipalmated plovers... and... a lot of other stuff."

10/25/2008 12:52 PM  
Blogger wren said...

How lucky you are to have these adventures! Love the pictures.

Back in the twin cities, I'm enjoying all the gulls being back at Loring Park. They're sharing the water there these days with wood ducks, mallards, and whole lotta geese.

10/26/2008 9:55 AM  
Anonymous birdspot said...

It was fun to do a vicarious visit through this post!

I have seen Great Black-backed Gulls kill and eat small ducks pretty regularly on the Northeast coasts, usually during winter.

I once watched one take out a Red-breasted Merganser; it took almost a half hour to kill it. Way more brutal than a raptor kill - the gulls are not exactly built for a quick dispatch.

10/27/2008 7:15 AM  

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