On Jan-03, Angela MacDonald photographed a distinctive gull in the parking lot of the Aberdeen Business Park, New Glasgow, Pictou County NS. There, that’s the simple bit out of the way!
She posted the images on the pages of the Facebook group ‘North American Gulls’ and a long discussion began. It took a while, but the possibilities were whittled down to Taimyr Gull, it isn’t in your field guide.
The large, white-headed complex of gulls has, so far, spawned Caspian Gull and Vega Gull, no, they aren’t in your field guide either. There is also the likelihood that further work on the group with produce Baraba Gull, Heuglin’s Gull and Siberian Gull. Some authorities, and we are talking people who know gulls, consider Heuglin’s a full species already.
With gulls, it really doesn’t matter what authority you follow, because the gulls can’t read. They’ve evolved (come on Kansas, get over it!) into distinctive forms that may be genetically different enough to qualify as a species. That those forms can be readily identified, in the field, lends weigh to the argument that they are good species, but pending.
Of all the large, white headed gulls waiting for us to catch up with their genetics, Taimyr Gull is perhaps the least understood in general terms. There are papers and discussion, see the links below.
So where did it come from?
I quote from: Taimyr Gulls: evidence for Pacific winter range, with notes on morphology and breeding. Klaas van Dijk, Sergei Kharitonov, Holmer Vonk & Bart Ebbinge
The Taimyr peninsula in the northern part of central Siberia, Russia, hosts a significant breeding population of gulls Larus that belong to the assemblage of large white-headed gulls. It is as yet unclear where these gulls spend the winter. Along with this, there is a lack of agreement about their taxonomic status. Genetic analysis has shown that they represent a distinct population, ie, with a measurable degree of genetic differentiation and without obvious introgression.
The Taimyr peninsula is the northernmost region of mainland Eurasia. It covers more than 400 000 km2 and lies between 69°N and 77°N, and it stretches for 1000 km from the Yenisey bay (80°E) eastwards to 114°E. Almost the whole of Taimyr is situated in the tundra zone.
So very roughly equidistant from Nova Scotia.
Most northern gulls migrate south in winter. We get this with our birds in North America, in fact we still don’t yet have that great a handle on the movements and variation of our regular gulls, but we’re getting there.
Again, this from the reference work: Taimyr Gulls migrate in a south-easterly direction towards the Pacific Ocean and that they spend the winter in coastal areas between Kamchatka, Russia, and Hainan, China. Up to the end of 2010, the ringing (banding) activities have yielded six long-distance recoveries, one individual was recovered 49 days after ringing and had flown 3331 km.
So, they do move and they seem to head towards coastal China, Korea, and Japan, so from the middle of Russia, right a bit and down a bit, if you’re looking at a globe.
Gulls of many species are known as great wanderers. They leap-frog from place to place and are so durable, that they often just settle into whatever seasonal gull community is available. They also become repeat visitors, as evidenced by the Kamchatka Gull that we had at Meteghan for three winters in succession. I won’t discuss Kamchatka Gull here, it isn’t in your field guide.
In Nova Scotia we get species from Europe, both full species, as in Common (Mew) Gulls and rare sub-species, as in Iceland (nominate) Gulls (an oxymoron but apposite. If you have no idea what I mean, you’ve possibly come to the wrong blog). Defining the direction that a vagrant gull arrived from isn’t really possible, but, in the case of the Taimyr Gull, the evidence suggests that it came from our west.
A lot do, we miss a lot more than we see.
Talking about what a gull looked like is often best done in images, so here are mine from the trip. I have no doubt that this fascinating occurrence will be well-documented in a forthcoming Nova Scotia Birds and in a far more comprehensive way than I could manage. If you can, go and see it and don’t let yourself get tied up in the whole ‘not a tick’ thing.
A couple of references.
The part of Angela MacDonald in finding and documenting the gull cannot be understated, and Nova Scotia is lucky to have birders coming through of her caliber.
When the images were posted to North American Gulls, I said to Sandra that we would be doing a trip.
On Jan-05, we set off in hope, then, when the gull was confirmed as still present, with expectation. Sometimes you go to look for birds and can spend hours, or even many days looking. The Taimyr Gull wasn’t like that and, with the application of cat kibbles, it was easy to tempt in.
There was also a Common Gull in the same parking lot in New Glasgow. It is of the nominate race, the European form and one of three, perhaps four species of Mew Gull, world-wide.
While we were there, Ken McKenna offered to guide us to the spot where a Little Gull had been present for a while. We had the eBird directions, but it was a tricky find and tested the all-wheel capabilities of our car.
Boat Harbour looked quite birdy and, after seeing the Little Gull (they are small) from distance, we walked .8km to a bund and got better views and some photo ops.
We had planned to stop over, in anticipation of the Taimyr Gull behaving like Kelp Gulls can, but by the time we got to Truro on the way home it made sense to push on. When we hit Liverpool the snow came and it was a bit tricky, why do they not have ‘cats-eyes’ in North America?
Big thanks to Angela, it was lovely to meet you, and thanks Ken and to the gull for having no sense of direction whatsoever. It was a good day.
Bugger off now, book advert coming up.
A birder with a reputation as a stringer – he makes things up, is found dead.
Howey Cross of the Halifax Municipal Police gets the case, but the suspects speak a language that leaves him confused, he needs help, step forward a cop birder, Darren.
Now they need to talk to people, lots of people, but how do they come up with a list of competitive birders who might kill? eBird, of course.
And what about a frigatebird, where does that come in?
Follow Howey Cross as he unpicks the tangle and comes up with both ends of a long piece of string.