Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Mew Gull In Brooklyn Not A Fan Of Everyone It Seems

A few of my friends who I won't name, very likely cringed when they read or got word that Angus Wilson and I got exceptionally good looks at the continuing rare and elusive Mew Gull in Brooklyn on Sunday March 22nd. One friend who was supposed to be in Brooklyn looking for this Gull must have been especially stung. Ironically, I only ventured to Brooklyn to help him find this bird and he never even showed up. I hope he enjoys the photos--in the words of Captain Haddock "Blistering blundering bird-brain!" I empathize though, as many birders are not keen to putting in hours of wait and watch only to leave empty handed. It is a tough game this birding thing of ours.

This stunning Mew Gull, has been seen near Ceaser's Bay Shopping center, in Gravesend Bay and at several spots all along Shore Pkwy in Brooklyn.  The eBird hotspots do not accurately show how many locations this Gull has been seen, since many checklists are merely tacked onto nearby hotspots but you get the picture. Interestingly, when I dug into eBird a little further looking for reports of Mew Gull from Jan-Mar 2015, I found a total of 27 checklists. Of the 27, only 21 were unique, meaning 6 names were repeat viewers. If we say 1-3 reports could have been misidentified then we might be looking at less than 20 legitimate sightings. This is a remarkably low number for a Gull this rare; especially, since this find by Shane Blodgett, is the NA subspecies, (Larus canus brachyrhynchus) 

Mew Gull (Larus canus brachyrhynchus) 3-22-2015 Brooklyn NY
No doubt, Larophiles are a special lot but a rarity like this, I thought would be sure to bring out the listers or twitchers. So what gives? Several theories are in play here including accessibility, patience, time etc. The two that that I am leaning towards are: It could be, not a lot of people are that interested in a rare subspecies of Gull or people are showing up and searching but not finding this bird. To test the latter theory, I did another query in eBird, this time using a parameter other than "Mew Gull." This time, I found a total of 61 checklists for the area, with 31 of them being unique. Doing additional data mining, I realized there were quite a few people who had "probably" tried to find this bird and did not report seeing it. Giving credit to their honesty, this shows how difficult and elusive this bird has been for many.

Mew Gull (Larus canus brachyrhynchus) 3-22-2015 Brooklyn NY
But wait, there is more--at least that is how it appears. These numbers seem to indicate something else as well. I was expecting many more names of people that I am familiar with to be listed in my query. Trying to keep an open mind, I factored in that eBird, is not the end all for many birders who either continue to use Avisys or some other method of keeping track of what they saw. Additionally, I am sure some people who may have tried unsuccessfully, decided it was not worth the time or effort for a checklist. Even after taking all of that into account, I was still very surprised at the low numbers.

Mew Gull (Larus canus brachyrhynchus) 3-22-2015 Brooklyn NY
I am left to thinking that Gulls are just not attractive for many birders--even photographers. Especially, if there is a certain degree of difficulty in finding the target. Am I being too hard? Okay how about this reason. Perhaps, it all has to do with the rate of return. This bird has been a rather difficult subject to find and some people have expressed their frustration to me privately. Not many people want to walk miles along Shore Pkwy or stand around for hours without anything to show for it.  There are those birds who make you work for them; this happens to be one of them. If you want to see this bird, you are going to have to be willing to put in the time and be prepared to be disappointed more than once but keep trying; with a little luck, you might see it. Just don't forget to report it. I want to be proven wrong that there are more fans of Gulls than the data seems to suggest.

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7 comments:

Antid Oto said...

I think because the bird has been seen only intermittently and infrequently, people keep assuming it must have left. Certainly I keep being surprised when another report of it turns up again. Between your sighting this weekend and the one previous to that, I think a month had passed. Between that sighting and the original group of sightings, maybe another month.

BIRDINGDUDE said...

True there is a gap in between sightings. Maybe, if more people put in the effort to look for it, that might not be the case though.

Antid Oto said...

I know Shane has put in a lot of time looking for it, I think a lot more than he recorded on eBird. I've stopped by that area many times this winter without bothering to create an eBird checklist for the visit. Maybe other people have too.

Anthony Collerton said...

I've spent part of 5 separate days looking for this bird - dozens of hours. Much of the time was spent in the company of Shane Blodgett so I'm pretty sure I'm not overlooking the bird. I think this individual just ranges very widely. Persistence alone wasn't sufficient. Seeing it required a little luck too.

sean said...

Considering the possibility of a split I am confused by this as well. One thing I will say is birders were able to keep tabs on the Iceland and Glaucous Gulls with some effort, but all the effort put into where this particular bird spent it's time away from Caesars Bay were fruitless. There is certainly movements of gulls into NY Harbor as well as to Staten Island and down the line I think will a more tactical effort across counties we may be able to figure out how these birds are using the area.

BIRDINGDUDE said...

No Doubt Anthony, it definitely required perseverance and luck too with a little skill thrown in as well. After all, the Mew Gull whisperer (Shane) will tell you he has spent countless hours, days and weeks looking before finding one. But he does it and consistent too.

BIRDINGDUDE said...

"There is certainly movements of gulls into NY Harbor as well as to Staten Island and down the line I think will a more tactical effort across counties we may be able to figure out how these birds are using the area." Yes Sean, you summed it up well. It is one of the very reason why I am keen to record banded Gulls and Doug Gochfeld recently reminded a few of us how important that was to understand the movement of these gulls.