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Thursday, January 31, 2008

Curse of the Slaty-backed Gull

When is it an unsatisfying day of birding even after seeing Common Redpolls and Little Gulls? When you are trying to find a Slaty-backed Gull (a rare vagrant to the Lower 48 from Siberia) that has been around for a week and you can't find it! Since I had meetings all day at the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, I thought it was a great chance to finally see this gull, which had been hanging around at the university compost heaps during the mornings, and roosting with other gulls at Stewart Park on Cayuga Lake in Ithaca in the evenings.

So on my way into the lab we stopped at the compost piles. One Lesser Black-backed Gull was with the more common species, but no Slaty-backed.

During lunch we made another run to the compost piles. This time a nice darkish Iceland Gull made an appearance. Unfortunately, a Bald Eagle flew over and a lot of the gulls never landed again, so we couldn't be sure the Slaty-back wasn't there. But meetings were waiting, so we had to leave.

Finally, we got out of our last meeting at 4pm and I raced down to the lake to see if the bird was there on the ice. Lots of gulls were on the ice, and there was a distant flock of Bonaparte's Gulls that had a few Little Gulls mixed in. Half a dozen or more birders were there looking at these lovelies, which were about half a mile out on the lake ("See those white specsk? Wait for one to raise its wings. See the ones with dark underwings? That's them. The white specks with dark wings. Right!)

Just as it was getting dark, I noticed some large gulls--mostly Great Black-backed Gulls out way out on a jetty. Why hadn't I noticed them before? The light was really bad, and the birds were far away. I could ID most of them, but in the crappy light, a few were in poses that made it impossible to make sure they weren't the Slaty-backed. Argh! Darkness fell and we had to make the long drive back to Pennsylvania empty handed.

Nobody else saw that gull that day either, and it hasn't been seen since. But it was a bad miss that put me a bit on edge. Nothing messes up your birding groove more than trying really hard to find a bird and missing it.

What was it that the Buddha said about desire?

This wasn't the first time I've missed this bird. It has suddenly shot to the top of my most wanted list, and become my greatest nemesis bird!

I love you Slaty-backed Gull! I really do! Come to Papa!

Sing with me now. You know the tune:
I want my Slaty-backed, Slaty-backed, Slaty-backed.
I want my Slaty-backed, Slaty-backed, Slaty-backed.
Slaty, Slaty-backed Gull. Want my Slaty-backed Gull!

Poe had his Raven. I have a white and gray rake from Siberia!

Day List: 27 species (135% of Bird RDA)
2008 List: 221 species
BIGBY List: 46 species


slybird said...

Oh man, that sucks! You came one (two?) days too late! What were you doing up here at the Lab? I was there pulling specimens for today's Ornithology labs (post pending), I could've shown you some sweet (dead) birds.


birdchaser said...

I work with the eBird and Great Backyard Bird Count folks. We had meetings about those programs as well as some discussions about exciting new bird citizen science programs we'd like to create. Should be some good stuff coming down the pipe!

Patrick B. said...

Oh man, I love those wineries around there... Ithaca rocks.

Your use of the word "rake" reminded me of one of my favorite Jeopardy moments of all time.

Anonymous said...

Rob, consider a trip to Boston. I'd be happy to help you hunt the Slaty that is nearly resident in the Niles Pond area this winter!

birdchaser said...

Kai, I may have to take you up on this...if the bird can wait until after I get back from TX, MS, and NM at the end of the month. If only Boston were a couple hours closer I cold slip off for the day and no one would be the wiser!

noflickster said...

So, you were the one that commandeered my scope to scan the jetty! I wish you could've seen the Slaty-backed, though the Little Gulls were a nice runner-up.

Good birding,

birdchaser said...

Mike, thanks for the use of your scope! My tripod died last week and my poor old scope is restricted to the window mount. Not that it would have been much use in the dying light, anyway. Hopefully next time we meet we'll have more time, and birds, to just enjoy the moment. The more friends I make up at CLO the more it makes me want to head back up there for birding fun.

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