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Saturday, May 15, 2010

Laughing Gull at Toftrees Pond

Laughing Gull Standing on a Log
Toftrees Pond (SGL 176)
May 12, 2010
Photo Credit: Chet Gottfried

This spring has been pretty good for uncommon migrants. There have been reports by Matt O'Donnell of Scoters out at Bald Eagle State Park, Common Moorhens in flooded farm fields, and most recently, a Least Bittern out at Toftrees Pond. Having never seen a Least Bittern, I made my way over to Toftrees to search for the bird. As it turns out, I was too late - the bird had flown (sorry, couldn't resist the Beatles/Norwegian Wood allusion).

Although I was somewhat disappointed in having missed a potential life bird, the trip was well worth the effort. Upon my arrival at the pond, and prior to searching for the bittern, a gull that was circling the pond caught my eye.

I could see from a distance that it was one of the hooded gulls, but was not quite sure which one. My first thought was that it was a Bonaparte's Gull, as they are the gulls that are most frequently seen during migration in Centre County. However, something about the gull did not quite feel right to me - the most obvious being the size of the gull. It seemed too large for a Bonaparte's. I began to entertain other possibilities.

Laughing Gull in Flight (top view)
Photo Credit: Chet Gottfried

The head of the bird looked like it hadn't completely molted. The hood was dark and nearly complete - except for a small whitish area up near the forehead. The eye arcs were distinct. The bill was dark, with hints of orange coming through. The legs were also dark.

When the bird was in flight, the tail was white. The wings were dark grey with black ends. The black extended up from the tip a fair bit and was apparent on both the underside and upperside. The trailing edge of the wings was white. The white did not extend to the tip - it stopped well short (about two-thirds).

All in all, I got a pretty good luck at it. I was pretty sure that the bird was a Laughing Gull - probably a second year breeder.

Laughing Gull in Flight (side view)
Photo Credit: Chet Gottfried

Although Laughing Gulls are fairly common on the coast (just ask any Jersey beach-goer), they are not so common in central Pennsylvania. It was a pretty exciting find; however, I wanted to document the find. Unfortunately, I did not have a camera handy. Same thing happened to me last time I saw Bigfoot. For confirmation, I asked a friend - Chet Gottfried - to try a get a few photos of the bird to confirm and document the ID. As you can see from the photos accompanying this post, Chet is an excellent photographer. He got photos of the gull at all the critical angles - showing the distinguishing field marks.

1 comment:

Drew said...

I could have used this bird for my year list. Missed it by a day.