The days of the Slaty-backed Gull have evaporated along with the snowflakes of last winter. What will the gull fiends do now? Miller-Knox Regional Shoreline, Richmond, CA.
Larophiles. You know what that means, in fact I've told you all about them right here on BB&B. So you are probably wondering, "why are you bringing them up now, in the beginning of May?" There are warblers to ogle, flycatchers to frown at, vireos to veer toward...who in their right mind is looking for gulls right now?
That is precisely the question. One thing I've always wondered is what these gull fiends actually do for half the year. Most gulls are migratory, and the numbers and diversity of species of the winter months simply don't exist in most of North America during spring and summer. Do larophiles just forget gulls exist and revert to being normal birders (whatever that means) for a while?
The Human Birdwatcher Project ("Birders are people too!") recently reached in to the slimy nether-regions of the gulling community to find the answers. One brave soul was willing to step forward and dish out the truth; his name will be kept safely anonymous.
Human Birdwatcher Project: Thanks for talking with us today. Please tell us a bit about yourself, and your thoughts on spring birding in general.
Guller: Hi, I am a Larophile. Gulls stimulate me...there's no point in lying about it.
I live in the northeast, and am known in the birding community. I'm not trying to brag, but I have been at it for years. My niche? Gulls. Not very surprising I guess. Anyways, knowing about gulls is pretty much the only social stature I get in my entire life. When birders have a gull question, they come to me...you don't know the pride, the sense of power that this instills in me. I know that's kind of sad, but at least I'm honest with myself...it beats staying at home and staring at a bird feeder all day....well, at least by a little bit.
I like other birds, but they don't make me the feel emotions I do when I am looking at gulls, or even just thinking about them. I do get a bit jealous of the attention they get this time of year. I can admit it. No one really talks about gulls in May, other than the occasional migrant Franklin's. My services are no longer needed.
Even the lowly Ring-billed Gull needs to take a break after a long winter of trying to outwit beginning birders. San Leandro Marina, San Leandro, CA.
I like gulls myself, but I like other birds too...so why do you just stick to gulls? Most other birders are more than happy to take a break from them.
I do like other birds...but I'm not very good at identifying them. With gulls, you need to know a lot of mundane and tedious details to make an ID, and you only need to know 20, maybe 25 species max to have your shit together in the gull scene. Frankly, I just don't have the time or energy to learn 700 other birds. My brain is filled with gull details, and I'll be damned if I have to start paying attention to calls and songs of things that don't even remotely resemble gulls. Speaking frankly, no one truly enjoys gulls, not the big ones anyway, people only like them if they are rare or are in an interesting plumage. Gullers like identifying them, and that's about it. People get lots of other kinds of enjoyment out of other birds...I don't really know how to do that.
Gull season in the U.S. is late fall to early spring. That leaves about half the year open to other birding opportunities. Do you really not even look at birds the rest of the year?
Let's just say that when my name stops popping up in gull forums and listservs, it's not because I'm posting someplace else.
So your whole identity is based around gulling, isn't it? You must hate spring migration.
I hate it with all of my small and shriveled heart, yes. Warblers are horseshit.
Don't live on the west coast? Care to find a Glaucous-winged Gull at your local gull patch? Well there's no point in hurrying out there now, if it is gulls you want, it may be best to enter a state of incredibly nerdy hibernation until winter comes again. Photographed at Miller-Knox Regional Shoreline.
Have you been birding at all lately?
No! Don't you get it? I'll still wistfully check the parking lots once in a while and find an excuse to go to the dump, but it's just not the same. There's always a couple weird sun-bleached gulls that show up every season, but it is just not enough to sustain me. There ares not even hybrids around! Where do they go? One of these years I'm just going to up and follow them, I swear.
But next year I might fly up to Alaska to see some Slaty-backed and Vega Gulls in their spring finery...Saint Lawrence Island should have them both.
I don't think I've ever heard "gulls" and "spring finery" in the same sentence.
Well whose fault is that? Not the gullers, that's for sure. I'm telling you, its all these wimpy birders obsessed with their goddamn warblers and orioles and shit that give us a bad name.
The hooded gulls are pretty striking in spring. They are loaded with spring finery.
Yeah, but gullers don't like talking about them. Our birds are supposed to be scummy and ugly and tough. The small gulls are all dainty and graceful, have aesthetic appeal...it conflicts with the image of our ideal gull. We also don't like them because they are too easy to identify and don't readily hybridize.
California Gull is highly sought-after by eastern birders. However, the fact that they avoid interbreeding may, in fact, make them less sought-after by larophiles. Lake Merrit, Oakland, CA.
What is your take on the Kumlien's debate?
Oh man, I love me a Kumlien's, even just talking about them makes me happy. Everyone seems like a Kumlien's expert...and that's not a bad thing, although I do think its funny. Especially when it is right on the cusp of looking like a Thayer's, everyone has their own opinion. The first-cycle Kumlien's that are more Glaucous-like in size and structure are a bit harder for me to wrap my head around.
Something any guller would love to do this time of year is go up to the Canadian Arctic and see what the Kumlien's mating scene is like. Is it a big Icelandic orgy, with white-winged birds mixed with dark-winged birds? Are there Thayer's around? Glaucoides? Or do they stick to their own kind?
Their own kind....not sure what that means. Some people poo-poo Kumlien's as nothing but hybrids, but listen....I am a guller. That makes me a bullshit artist of the highest caliber, and boy do I know bullshit when I hear it. I'm not saying these hybrid and full species theories are right or wrong, but the people who espouse them certainly don't have any more proof than you or me, I can tell you that much. If someone really cared then they would spend a few bucks and get some genetic work done, you know? There's so many of these damn things stuffed in museum drawers around the country it would be a cinch to get all the material to work with. It's not a high price to pay to be Right, and that's all any birder wants in the world, whether its about a gull or some stupid fuckoff warbler.
Personally, I could care less if it was definitely proven to be a hybrid or not. Unlike other birders, larophiles actually like hybrids...
Do you have a favorite gull?
I like the Herrings. There are so many types...a rainbow of subtlety. Vega is big right now in the gull scene...well, they were until spring anyway. Everyone in the U.S. reports them as "probable" and "apparent" Vega Gulls, so it's like you can't go wrong! Every guller I know has reported a putative Vega in the last couple winters, photos or no photos.
Of course, if I do that Alaska trip I mentioned, they would really be Vegas. This excites me...although a Vega X Slaty-back would absolutely rock my small, narrowly-viewed world.
A first-cycle Kumlien's Iceland Gull shows off its wonderful frosty bits. Sausalito, CA.
Thanks for keeping it real with us. Any parting words?
Yes. Are you familar with St. Johns, Newfoundland? It has always been my fantasy to visit in January, my favorite month of the year. I would take off all my clothes and paddle out into the harbor. I would be covered in fish guts, animal remains, and various bits of garbage. And then...the Kumlien's horde would descend upon me. They would feed voraciously. It would feel fantastic...I would be a human landfill, getting to see, feel, hear and smell a huge flock of the most confusing gull on the continent. That's my paradise. My Gulltopia. But hell, I'll admit it: if any Ivory Gulls were reported in the area, I would just cover myself in steaks instead.
Weird, that's what I've always dreamed of as well. Thanks for talking to us, we hope the winter comes soon for you.
Don't judge me asshole.
Seagull Steve is actually being paid to observe Western Gulls this year, which he finds both humorous and unusual. Photographed at Lake Merritt.