Sunday, February 28, 2010

Gulling in Churchill: A Larophile's Dream

Oh Canada! Land of the gulls! (adult Thayer's Gull)

If there is one thing that has put Churchill on the birder’s map of North America, it was the arrival of breeding Ross’ Gulls in the 1980’s and 1990’s. Ross’ Gull in North America has always been the holy grail among gulls, second perhaps only to Ivory Gull in beauty and rarity. However, the chance to see a Ross’ Gull, in breeding plumage, reliably, was something that, until found in Churchill, had been only a pipe dream for most birders. Ross’ Gull, though, is not the only neat gull that can be found around Churchill.

Our gulling adventures around Churchill began the first few days of June, at the new dump. Where else would you start a winter gulling expedition, than the local dump? The dominant gull around Churchill by far was the Herring Gull. However, we tried our darnedest to turn up some more species, and we were not disappointed. We were able to track down 3 other species of Larus gulls, with Glaucous Gull being second to Herring Gull, followed, surprisingly, by Thayer’s Gull (although on some days, Ring-billed Gull were more numerous than Thayer’s). We spent quite a bit of time searching through Herring Gull flocks for Thayer’s Gull, and we spent a lot of time photographing them. When in alternate plumage, Thayer’s are a sharp looking gull. We were also able to get some audio recordings of Thayer’s Gull long-call, which was a new species for the Macaulay Library at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

How many Thayer's Gulls do you see in this flock (hint: there are more than one)?

Adult Thayer's Gull in flight at close range, along the ice edge on the Churchill River

A pair of adult Thayer's Gulls lounging on a rooftop in Churchill

Moving into the second week of June, while the large gulls were still loafing around town and the dump, the Bonaparte’s Gulls started showing up along the Churchill River. Over a three day period, a particularly large feeding flock of Bonaparte’s Gulls had gathered along the Churchill River. In this large flock, to our excitement, were 30+ Sabine’s Gulls, and 5-10 Little Gulls. Also associating with this gull flock were many Arctic Terns. Being able to watch this group of birds forage, often at close range, was incredible, and it was the first time I was able to study Sabine’s Gulls for any length of time.

An adult Glaucous Gull loafing with the Herring Gulls along the Churchill River

A pair of Arctic Terns resting on a rock in a pond near town

Along with the influx of small gulls along the river, came jaegers. At first, we only saw a few Parasitic Jaegers here and there, often either as fly-overs, or along the river. However, we also started seeing Long-tailed Jaegers, as well as a few scattered Pomarine Jaegers (I only saw one myself). The Long-tailed Jaeger was a new bird for me, and quickly became my favorite jaeger. One day, Jay and I watched a pair of Long-tailed Jaegers hawking insects above a small pond. It was quite an incredible sight.

One of a pair of Long-tailed Jaegers that were hawking insects at Akudlik

By the end of the second week of June, most of the non-breeding gulls began departing. Soon, we were left with only Herring, some Ring-billed, Bonaparte's, and some Little Gulls. Unfortunately, we never were able to find a Ross' Gull.


  1. Jealous! :) Glad to see you all weren't hyper-focusing on your primary field work, and were able to take advantage of being up there. Looks like a great trip.

  2. Well, it was quite difficult to focus on our primary field work, given that our primary field sites were still under 3 feet of snow at that point.