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Twitch: Slaty-backed Gull

Central Park, NYC

overcast 33 °F

WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 2:

Well, for a twitch it was pretty convenient — the Central Park Reservoir. Slaty-backed Gull. Possible life bird. It was an obvious choice to take the B train down to 96th after I got out of class early wednesday afternoon to twitch this Manhattan mega-rarity. Despite many times of this species showing up as a “semi-regular vagrant” in Chicago during my middle and high school years, I never saw any of those birds, so it would be sweet redemption if I saw this one.

So, I hurried over as fast as I could, a nice brisk pace from the train station to the northwest corner of the Reservoir. I immediately scoped out the (very) distant line of gulls near the fountain on the southern end of the Reservoir and fairly quickly picked out a darker-mantled candidate for Slaty-backed Gull.
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Here is the line of birders and photographers admiring the gulls all the way on the other side of the Reservoir, where I was hoping to get better looks. So I quickly started speed-walking to that side, until the whole flock of gulls was scared up by an Eagle! Rats!
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So, as soon as I got to the line of birders, I quickly figured out who the most knowledgeable were and showed them the photos of the darker-backed candidate I had for Slaty-backed. The birder took one look at my photo and said, “100% SLATY-BACKED GULL!” Sweet! In this photo it is the adult gull (technically third-year) in the middle with a fairly dark gray back. He explained to me that the smudgy patch around the eye and the white crescent markings on this bird clinch the ID. So I had in fact netted a life bird, and I was thrilled to have confirmation! Amazing!
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In this photo (also from before all were flushed by the Eagle), it’s the one resting on the ice.
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Unfortunately, nobody was spotting the Slaty-backed since a number of gulls had resettled back by the fountain, but we did get stellar looks at several pale ICELAND GULLS which are always a treat to see. Here it is, the Iceland is the white-winged gull that is pictured with a larger HERRING and a smaller RING-BILLED GULL, the most common species present:
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Look at those beautiful white wings! This species is always a stunner.
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HERRING GULLS were very common.
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And there were a smattering of GREAT BLACK-BACKEDS around throughout the afternoon.
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The birds were congregating by the fountain which was holding open a small patch of water — pictured here are BUFFLEHEAD, RING-BILLED GULLS, NORTHERN SHOVELER, and a MALLARD.
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The ubiquitous RING-BILLED GULLS (with a Shoveler):
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At one point another birder even spotted this Ring-billed which had obviously gotten into some oil. Poor thing — hopefully it molts all this gunk out next time through its cycle.
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Interestingly enough, the Slaty NEVER returned! So I saw that bird for the last minute it was spotted on the Central Park Reservoir which is pretty cool — had I missed my train I probably would have missed this bird altogether because I only observed it for less than five minutes. Obviously, bird-of-the-day goes to my first lifer of 2022, the Slaty-backed Gull, with runner-up to the Iceland Gulls — it was a solid five-gull day for me with the common Ring-billed, Herring, and Great Black-backed rounding it off.

The pelagic originally scheduled for January 8 was pushed back to January 29 due to Covid concerns, but of course the big Nor’easter rolled through on the 29th so unfortunately that trip was canceled altogether! Gah! Hopefully that company will run another pelagic before the end of the school year and the weather will cooperative.

In other news, I will be studying opera in southwest France for three weeks this June so I may just be able to pick up a handful of lifers there too! Stay tuned — nearer in the future, tomorrow I head to Jamaica Bay and Rockaway Beach to hopefully pick up some high-quality winter species.

Good birding,
Henry
World Life List: 1127 Species (1 life bird: Slaty-backed Gull)

Posted by skwclar 02:18 Archived in USA

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Happy lifer dance Henry! Good luck on more lifers in France and travel safe to Jamaica Bay and Rockaway Beach!

by Poo

Thanks for the excellent (and helpful) photos!

by Mary Mc

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