The Gulls At Daytona Beach

I got to debut one of my favorite new birding shirts while at the Space Coast Birding & Wildlife Festival. Can I say how much I love the shirts at Magnificent Frigatebird? I blogged about some of these shirts around the holidays. I love the sense of humor that the company has and I love that they don't just carry the Hanes Beefy Tee. On behalf of female birders every where, thank you for carrying a variety of sizes and styles and for not making female birders look like a sack of potatoes with a bird logo. Check out their shirts, there's something for everybody. If you can buy a shirt, please do, we need to support companies that add some hip to the birder wardrobe, because Tilly hats are not helping. FYI, the new way to id a birder is not by the vest with pockets, but by a Tilly hat with the cord strapped firmly under the chin). Above I'm wearing the Birding Slut t-shirt (I got lots of compliments for it--even from a Dunkin Donuts employee). Speaking of Dunkin Donuts, some may remember my rant a couple of years ago about how many Dunkin Donuts quit making the flavor I loved. When I'm in a new state, I usually stop at one. I love the coffee and a small part of me hopes that I'll find the one DD still carrying the vanilla creme donuts. After birding at the landfill and taking a break before heading to Daytona Beach for some hot all-gull action, I found a Dunkin. I walked in and found that they had both vanilla creme and chocolate creme. It took a photo and sent it to Twitter. I even got a reply from for the Dunkin Donuts Twitter Feed: "@birdchick, we are glad, when you are glad. Please report back when you see a White-tailed Tropicbird or an Antillian Nighthawk."

Wait, DD watches birds?? No wonder I love their coffee and their donuts! Probably just as well that the creme donuts are harder to find, makes it easier for me to fit in the cute birding t-shirts.

Word on the street among gull watchers was that Daytona Beach in late afternoon was the place to be. It's near the Tamoka Landfill. I'm sure many of the gulls we saw there ended up on the beach. The gulls are staging along the beach before flying out to the ocean to sleep at night. Rumor had it that there could be 50,000 gulls coming into the beach. And if you were in the mood for a game of Where's Waldo, you could pick out some interesting gulls among the many common ones like the ring-billed gull above.

Some were easy to pick out right away. Above is a tern and not a gull, this is a royal tern. Other fun ones we picked out included that famous lesser black-backed gull and also the Iceland gull that I blogged earlier.

One of the challenges of birding along the beach was the public. We had joggers plowing though the gulls oblivious to the dozen or so people with scopes aimed where they ran. Kids also thought it was a great time to run through the gulls to watch the flock swirl around them. I can't say that I blame them. Having walked through a few clouds of birds myself, I can totally understand the excitement.

I did have one tense moment. I could see a girl who looked to be about 8 - 10 years old running down the beach scaring up birds. She was running towards us and we had just gotten the Iceland gull into our scopes after working the beach for some time. I tried to signal to her to stop. The two older women with her (I assume one was her mother) were oblivious. The young girl slowed her pace at my hand signal, but got a mischievous glint in her eye stopped right in front of where my scope was aimed, blocking the gull. I turned my scope to the side and stared at her. I figured if I moved my scope, she would move on. She had slowed enough so the flock wouldn't move, but she stayed, and the battle of wills had begun. I heard one of the women call behind me, "Baby, you keep dancin', ignore those people, it's okay."

A confrontation was out of the question, the two women could have easily pummeled me had I said, "Oy! We're trying to photograph a bird here." The young girl stayed put, smiling at this odd game of wills. I was surprised she stayed, "Seriously, you just gonna stand there and be a stinker?"

Then, it suddenly hit me, "Duh, Sharon, now is your chance!" I called to the girl, "Hey, you want to see a super rare bird through my scope?"

She smiled and shook her head yes and ran over.

I got the Iceland gull centered in the scope. I told her that this bird came all the way down from the Arctic to Florida and it was very rare to see one here. She peered through the scope and turned to look at me with wide eyes. She seemed genuinely wowed. The two older ladies came over and looked too. They were very excited. They said that they had noticed many people with scopes and wondered if we were a photography club. I told them about the different gulls and they were surprised.

I also pointed out the glaucous gulls. There were a couple and they were such a stand out to the naked eye. The women took down the name of both the gulls and told the little girl that they would have to learn more about them on Google when they got back home. Who knows, maybe that little girl will be a future birder, or worse, gull watcher. I can't believe I didn't think of it sooner when she first came down the beach. I came dangerously close to being the cranky old woman who shakes her fist at the young kids who don't understand and didn't do it as well as when I was a kid.

The glaucous gulls were quite helpful for our gull watching. Since there were so many birders out with their scopes and some of us were digiscoping, many people on the beach came up to ask what we were doing. Since the glaucous gulls stuck out even with the naked eye, I just said, "See that big white gull, it's not supposed to be here."

That almost always did the trick. It's so much easier to point to a big white bird and say, "See that one that's obviously different, we birders are really excited about that." It's the young first year gulls where you say, "See all those brown looking gulls that are all the same size? Well, the one in the middle has wing tips that are slightly less dark brown than all the others. We birders are really excited about that one!" That's when a non birder backs away with that frightened look in their eye that they have just encountered someone who is either high or relatively unstable or both.

I must say, I had a lot of fun with the glaucous gulls, there were two of them and both were fairly light. It had finally warmed up at this point and we were enjoying the breezes on the beach. What a difference to watch a glaucous on a balmy beach in a t-shirt instead of bundled up in sub zero weather on a patch of open river near a power plant.

As the tide started to come in, the gulls came closer to us. This glaucous gull got so close, I couldn't fit the whole body in my field of view. I took the opportunity to take some head shots. The glaucous gull really is beautiful. You have the white frosty look, and the beak and feet are a pretty pink. See it in the bill?

I don't know if I'm going to be jumping onto those hardcore birding listservs where they discuss an unusual gull for about three weeks, but I'm not going to shy away from them either. I once met someone who said he tried to learn 3-4 warbler species each spring. Then after ten years, he'd have them down. Perhaps I should treat gulls the same way. Just learn a few each year and then in a decade, I might have them down.

Certainly having them up close did help.

I Digiscoped A Famous Lesser Black-backed Gull!

While doing some gull watching at Daytona beach during the Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival, some of the more experienced gull watchers were super excited about a lesser black-backed gull. It's not so much that it was there, it's not out of the realm of possibility for a lesser black-backed gull to show up, but this one was banded, and one of the gull watchers (Michael Brothers) knew where this bird came from--and we all know how much I love a good bird banding story! Lesser black-backed gulls breed in Europe. They have been showing up more and more in North America and the suspicion has been that it's a matter of time before they start breeding in on this side of the Atlantic, if they have not already, but no one had documented a nest. That is, until the last two years. In 2007, a lesser black-backed gull was paired up and tending a nest with a herring gull on an island off of New Hampshire.

A same pairing was observed in the summer of 2008 and it is presumed that this is the same lesser black-backed gull, but this time, researchers were able to band the lesser black-backed gull and the herring gull and they also witnessed the copulation between the two--determining that the lesser black-backed was the male. They gave him the usual metal band, but also a green plastic band that is easier to read in the field: F05!

F05 apparently likes to spend his winters in Florida--this is so exciting! It's rare to get a recovery when it comes to banding, but the chance to track one while it's alive is such a treat. Thanks to the internet we can find his history and have some answers. You can read the whole story of the pairing, the banding process, and the hybrid chicks at this website. If you check it out, you can see that the bird I digiscoped above is wearing the same band as the lesser black-backed on the island off of New Hampshire.

Also, if you are frustrated with gulls and the fact that there are wacky hybrids that make gull id even more difficult, you can blame this dude, he's not helping.

Gratuitous Turkey Vultures

Okay, this post was meant to be about a field trip to a landfill to see gulls and a few other species at the Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival but I did not realize how many turkey vulture shots I took at the landfill. I never get this close to them where I live (well, apart from the education turkey vulture at The Raptor Center). It's easy to understand why so many turkey vultures are attracted a landfill, they find food by smell. Human waste is stinky and smells edible to them and they must find quite a bit to eat in our refuse based on the sheer number of turkey vultures present.

This bird was sunning itself near our group. They were not terribly bothered by humans, most of their human contact at the landfill is by the workers dump and moving the trash. Usually a human is a source of food. I've heard two different theories of why vultures sun themselves. One is to get rid of feather parasites, the other is that vultures can soar so long and the feather tend to flatten out. Holding the feathers in the warm sun puts them back into the proper curvature. Not sure which one is true.

Okay, back to sorting landfill photos.

A Preview For Landfill Birding

I'm trying to corral my photos to use in a future post about birding in a Florida landfill (I tell ya' that Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival takes you to some highfalutin places). Here is a video that I took with my Fuji E900 attached to my Swarovski spotting scope just to give you an idea of the sheer number of birds and the sound they create. You'll hear a din of several species including fish crow, laughing gull, bald eagle, and boat-tailed grackle. Now, here is a question, how many species can you make out in both sound and the video? I'm not sure I know the exact number, but I think you will be surprised at what all you can find at a landfill!