Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Welcome to Colorado - Western Gull

This evening I had the good fortune to observe and photograph what will be, if accepted, the first recorded Western Gull in the state of Colorado.

Western Gulls (big surprise) live on the Pacific Coast. I tried hard to create one when I traveled to Lake Tahoe this winter, but even on the eastern California border the gull is a rarity. This one seems to be good for the telltale fieldmarks. Note the large bright-yellow bill with a red spot on the lower mandible. A pale eye-ring on an otherwise plain white head, and dull pink legs. The bird has a fairly dark gray back, with black wing tips that show white tips on the primaries. The underside of the far wing, and the flight photos below show the lone white wingtip visible when the bird is above.

Glenn Walbek is the local birder that discovered the bird this morning at Chatfield State Park. By mid-day the confirmations were coming in. Then it was a matter of hoping the bird would remain through the rest of the work day, and a rush hour drive south through the metro area.

When I arrived I was surprised that there were no obvious birders around the marina where the bird had been reported. I walked a bit, and then checked my email - the word was in, the bird had relocated to the west side of the lake. I retraced my drive and shortly had the bird in scope, on the west side of the lake, and notably in Jefferson County.

Three of us kept a vigil for an hour or so, as others came and went. We were hoping for a wing-stretch, or a circling flight to show us the underwing details, but when it came the bird headed out across the lake, and beyond trees that hid it from view. Based on the direction of flight and the sightings from earlier in the day it seemed possible if not likely that the bird had returned to the sand spit where it had been spending the majority of its time. I retraced my route once again, and was rewarded by finding the bird back in its original location - this time in Douglas County. Not bad, a likely state record bird, a lifer for me, and now on two county lists in the same day.

There is a darker side to the excitement of extremely rare bird sightings. Often the birds are far away from their familiar habitat, and it is unclear if this bird will ever find its way back to the Pacific. The bird does seem to be hampered by some injury to its left leg. It is not placing weight on the limb, but was using it to scratch at times. Time will tell if this bird can adapt to its current surroundings.

The reality is that the bird is here for the time being, and that it presents a great opportunity to observe this species close to home. Hopefully many Colorado birders will have the chance to do so in the coming days.

2011 Count: 199
Lifetime: 277


  1. Very pretty bird! I wonder what brought him out your way!

  2. A popular topic for speculation around here these days.