It was late in the afternoon, and Nate and I decided to head out to the beach at Pine Point to try our luck with the continuing Little Gull and for more looks at Roseate Terns. It was sadly dark when we got out to the jetty...a big cloud bank was blotting out the sun and Maine was cold again, and any photos to be taken were to come out dark and grainy. But there they were...the Bonaparte's Gulls, frolicking in the surf, just where they were supposed to be. Where was the Little Gull? Scanning the flock repeatedly brought no such thing...in fact it only brought Roseate Terns, which Nate always informed me were flying very close by behind me whenever I got too distracted by the gulls. It was agonizing.
Since it did not seem to be around, the thought occurred to me that I should do something other than focus on finding the Little Gull that I thought I had previously found...I should really find my own Little Gull. So I stopped looking for the tiny black-headed wonder and kept scanning the Bonaparte's flock. It wasn't long before a bird lifted off the beach with a really bizarre wing pattern...could it be? My redemption? My destiny? It landed out next to the end of the jetty, so I Nate and I troglodyted out to where another group of Bony's was feeding. Within a few minutes...we had our reward. Another Little Gull! I love it when a Vague Runt plan comes together.
Due to the awful light conditions, essentially none of the birds around were crushable, but we had good looks at this bird as it foraged and flew around the tip of the jetty. This being only the third Little Gull that I've ever seen, I wasn't going to complain.
This is a young bird in first-summer plumage, overall pretty shabby-looking but it really stood out both on the water and in flight. With such a bold wing pattern, it was impossible to miss when it was on the wing.
While we were out on the jetty, we noticed another birder had shown up back on the beach, and he was clearly on the hunt for the other Little Gull. After our young bird disappeared, we saw him running down the beach toward another Bonaparte's flock, clearly in hot pursuit of the adult Little Gull that he had just relocated. Nate and I decided to parasitize him, and he led us right to the bird.
There it was, our other little buddy. We had seen it three days in a row now...Vague Runts are good birds to know, especially in this case where it is especially runty. It gave good looks in the fading light, and eventually flew out to the river mouth to feed.
I thought the day was at an end. I was mentally packing up and getting ready to go, and did the prerequisite last scan of the flock of birds in front of me...and then all time stopped. My heart paused between beats. Gulls were frozen in mid-air. What the fuck is that bird standing there? Holy shit, it's a Black-headed Gull!!!!
For the last several minutes, this Black-headed Gull had been standing right in front of us, just a few feet away from the Little Gull, without anyone noticing! Indeed, in one of the last Litttle Gull pics I took that day, I can see the Black-headed standing in the corner of the frame. Compared to the Bonaparte's, it was huge, and after spending so much time looking at Little and Bonaparte's Gulls the last few days, it was instantly recognizable. Like the first Little Gull of the day, it was a first-summer bird, a life plumage for me. Check out the leg color (and girth!) compared to the Bonaparte's standing behind it.
Nate and I couldn't believe our luck. We summoned the other birder we had previously been parasitizing, Josh Fecteau, and were able to pay him back handsomely with this ace Vague Runt. The bird moved off the beach and foraged in the little breaking waves, giving great comparisons to Bonaparte's Gulls. Check out the different wing patterns between the Vague Runt and a Bonaparte's of the same age. Remarkably, Dipper Dan and Flycatcher Jen had stayed back at the vacay house the entire time, seeing none of these birds. Even sadder/funnier, Nate and I had taken the rental car, so if they wanted to see this bird they would have to hoof it all the way from the house before it was too dark to see. Is that fucked or what?
Dipper Dan and Flycatcher Jen eventually showed up in time, while the Black-headed continued to be hella cooperative. All was well in the world. Note the extensive black in the inner primaries.
The bird was clearly larger than a Bonaparte's with a longer bill (reddish in good light) and traces of a hood that came up much higher on the head than a Bonaparte's, and way way higher than on a Little Gull. A field mark that I did not remember on basic-plumage birds (I've only seen one of those, cut me some slack) was how white the bird was on the hindneck compared to a Boney. That was one of the first things I noticed about the bird, back when it was standing on the beach.
The Black-headed also was pretty dark on the underwings. As with Little Gull, I've only seen Black-headed a handful of times before, so this was a victorious find. According eBird, this is only the second recorded in Maine this year, and the only one other folks were able to chase successfully.
As I mentioned earlier, I somehow managed to not photograph every single Roseate Tern that flew by closely, and the shots I did get made me wince when I looked at them. At least you can actually see the roseate hue and strikingly pale upperwing in this photo. This was one of my top target birds of the trip (I've now seen every expected tern species in North America and the Hawaiian Islands except Blue-gray Noddy...don't know how I'll bump into one of those things), and it was nice to see a number of them flying around off the Pine Point jetty. Looking forward to the next time I get to meet this tern.
Common Terns really are common in Maine, no shocker there. It's been a long time since I've seen so many. Being a decidedly uncommon bird in California, it was great to spend some more time with this species, all of which were in alternate plumage. Solid.
The typical pot-bellied, short-tailed look of a Common Tern.
It wasn't so long ago (though it seems like it now) that I was in the Least Tern business, down in the whale's vagina. Since we are no longer business partners I am no longer afforded the chance to see them every day of the week, so I was pleased to see so many Least Terns around Scarborough Marsh and Pine Point. It's crazy to think that some of the birds I've seen on Midway Atoll I've also now seen in Maine...along with Least Tern, Ruddy Turnstone and Green-winged Teal are the others. Least Terns even breed on Midway...the mind reels.
Least Terns are gray in the uppertail and rump, whereas Little Terns are white. Remember that, and you might be a birding hero someday.
Just offshore from the jetty and the mouth of the Scarborough River, a large flock of terns and Bonaparte's Gulls were feeding the entire evening. No doubt the abundance of food right next to the beach was behind the number of quality birds present. Considering the warbler show earlier in the morning, this was probably my best day of birding for the entire year. Birding in Maine is good birding.