New England Coastal BIrds

New England Coastal BIrds

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Part 3- “Gulls you say”?- “Gloucester It Is”!

Wednesday  Feb 22- An Historic Port and plenty of White-winged Gulls

     Jen and I arrived in Gloucester just as the sun was peeking over the Lighthouse on Ten Pound Island.  Traditionally, it was thought that the Island was named from the amount of money paid to the local indigenous people by the settlers for the property. However, local Historians dispute the “traditional tale” of the Islands name, but more likely being named for the amount of sheep pens (or “pounds”) that were on the island.

     Late February is prime time for Iceland and Glaucous Gulls, and there is no better place to in New England to find White-winged Gulls in large numbers than Gloucester. Turning right onto
Parker St. and then down onto Jodrey’s Fish Pier, we could see a large flock of Gulls swirling around the Pier; we came at the perfect time! We had gotten there just as they were finishing up offloading a couple of  deep water fishing vessels.

     Jodrey’s Fish Pier was inspired by a Gloucester barber; Everett Jodrey “the father of the fish pier”.  Legend states that on a day, Mr. Jodrey while giving a skipper a shave in his barber shop found out that the skipper was on his way to Boston to deliver his catch to market at their busy state fish pier. After discovering that another state fish pier was being planned for Boston, Mr. Jodrey was inspired to have that pier built in Gloucester.

     In the 1920’s, Mr. Jodrey wanted to revitalize the fishing industry in Gloucester’s harbor, and he convinced local politicians to construct the pier in Gloucester. . The state legislature appropriated the money in 1931 to build the pier which opened for business seven years later in 1938. Three hundred million pounds of fish was processed on the pier annually in the 1050’s.

     After seventy years of being in operation, the pier had deteriorated, and there were environmental concerns over fish processing waste.  A three-year restoration plan of the eight-acre complex began in 1988. MassDevelopment, serving as the pier manager, coordinated the reconstruction. It now maintains the seafood processing and fishing boat docking facilities.  Jodrey State Pier support facilities include a 54 slip marina for boats up to 100 feet in length, three berths for ships up to 145 feet , a 5,000-square-foot office building, a 50,000-square-foot fish processing facility, and a 40,000-square-foot freezer facility.
     The newly modernized pier reopened in 1993 offering expanded docking facilities and greater opportunities for fishermen for selling fish, and buying provisions and fuel.

     After Everett Jodrey’s passing in 1984, the pier was officially named after him “the father of the fish pier” due to his granddaughter’s efforts. The sign was finally put up in 1992 completeing the legend of Everett Jodrey and the Jodrey’s Fish Pier.

     For those of us who love birds, birding and the outdoors, Jodrey’s Pier is one of the premier winter birding and “Gulling” locations in New England. Thank You Everett Jodrey!

        I parked my truck at the end of the pier by the berthed vessels which were covered with hungry Gulls.

     I looked ahead in front of our truck and standing on the edge of the pier was a first winter Iceland Gull; the first one of the day.

     While we were watching this Iceland Gull, Jen spotted another one flying to the right circling around by the fishing vessel.

     With a little coaxing, two more Iceland Gulls appeared and landed below us on the water.

   As the morning passed, Iceland Gulls were coming and going in the harbor from all directions. At one point, there were seven first winter Iceland Gulls in front of us. They ranged from near-white to barred dusky plumages. They were swimming below us, flying by, and standing on piers, ships and rooftops throughout the inner harbor and along its northwestern side.

     While I was standing on the edge of the pier photographing the constant traffic of Iceland Gulls, this stunning adult flew right by me at a couple of arm lengths away.

     I was taking images as fast as my camera would allow. I didn’t know which Gull to take pictures of; they were everywhere. Jen tapped me on the shoulder and pointed to my left. I looked over to what she was pointing to, and there standing on the edge of the pier next to me was a very large Iceland Gull. The size of the Gull caused me to do a double-take. My first impression was that the bird had a large, almost straight black-tipped/pink bill that wasn’t the typical small delicate bill of an Iceland Gull. Its eye was located much lower in its orbit, and set farther back on its long flat head.  Although I knew it was an Iceland Gull, it puzzled me. The bird was the size of a small Glaucous Gull. Its large straight black-tipped/pink bill was not shaped like a typical Iceland Gull, and the eye location and large head made me give the bird a second look.

     Ultimately, it is a very large Iceland Gull, with an out of proportion head and bill.

     The morning had given us multiple and continual Iceland Gulls, but so far, we hadn’t spotted one Glaucous Gull. Jen and I decided to leave the pier for a little while and try our luck at Niles Pond.  As we drove to Eastern Point we checked all the coves including Wonson Cove along the way, but didn’t find any Iceland or Glaucous Gulls.

     Because of the warmer weather, Niles Pond was ice-free. The fact that the pond was not frozen over, significantly lessoned our chances of finding a substantial gathering of Gulls. As we drove along Niles Pond Road towards Brace Cove, we could see a small gathering of Gulls in the middle of the pond. I looked over quickly and spotted a single adult Iceland Gull flying in from the ocean, and landing in the middle of the resting Gulls. In our binoculars, Jen and I found four other adult Iceland Gulls, but no Glaucous.

      At the end of Jodrey’s Pier, the Iceland Gull show continued. Again, we saw them throughout the western side of the inner harbor by the processing plant and the berthed vessels.

    This was an interesting Herring Gull; it was missing its whole right wing tip from P10 to P5

     A bit to the southwest, the large Gull roost started to gather on the rooftop of the large warehouse building. This building always hosts this large roost throughout the year. I always try and look through the Gulls here on our way out of the harbor on the codfishing boats. I set up our scope and began searching through the four hundred plus Gulls that were roosting. Within a few minutes, I located two more Iceland Gulls and finally; the first Glaucous Gull of the day. It was a nearly pure white bird that stood out in the large group.

     After a few more minutes of searching along the lower roof section, I located a sitting small darker backed third winter Gull just a bit smaller than the surrounding Herring Gulls. Maybe it was a Lesser Black-backed? I scrutinized the bird carefully. If it would just stand up and show me its legs. Well, it did, and they were bubble-gum pink! It’s a Slaty-backed! As I looked over the bird, it looked just like the Gull that Jeremiah Trimble photographed off the pier in late January.

     I wanted to take a few digi-scoped shots of the Gull. Just as I affixed my Canon PowerShot S95 camera to my scope attachment, Jen exclaimed “too late-look”! I looked up just in time to see the pair of resident Peregrines making a sweeping pass over the building sending the entire Gull roost into the air!

    There are two Iceland, one Glaucous, and one Slaty-backed Gull in this image…..can you find them?? :^)

      Watching the entire flock of Gulls disperse over Gloucester, back to the business of enjoying the numerous Iceland Gulls!

     Besides the large number of Iceland Gulls in the harbor were my favorite species of waterfowl and bird; the Common Eider-

      These birds were diving next to the pier.

      Here is a juvenile hen Eider (maybe a second hatch bird). Notice its smaller bill, heavily dotted head, lighter color, and underdeveloped tertials.

     These Eiders were joined by this first winter Iceland Gull.

     A striking drake Red-breasted Merganser; notice the lifted feathers and pushed back extended crest feathering caused by the moderate wind in the inner harbor.

     Common Loon-

    Also hanging out by the docks were these huge Gray Seals…….

     …….and these Harbor Seals.

     Of course more Iceland Gulls.

     Two Iceland Gulls together.

     Three Iceland Gulls together.

     Four Iceland Gulls together.

      We spent most of our time on the western side of the pier, and didn’t pay too much time on the eastern side. We walked over to the eastern side of the pier, and I noticed a small Gull roost on the roof of the building across the inner harbor. Looking through the Gulls in our scope, I spotted a barred/beige first winter Glaucous Gull, it easily stood out.

     Here are a few (poor quality)digi-scoped shots.

     By mid afternoon we were driving south on 128 headed for home. We talked about the day, and the amazing display of Iceland Gulls. We had come to Gloucester for White-winged Gulls, and that is what we found- plenty of them! I have always found Iceland Gulls very special. Their mild disposition, soft features, and pale plumages make this species a wonderful winter treat. But to experience so many in the same location for a few hours was unforgettable!

     I have never been a “counter” or much interested in counting.  I like to experience the birds in their natural surroundings. Besides learning their anatomical features, I am fascinated by their species specific traits, and in the case of the Iceland Gull; their plumage nuances.

     Below are estimates of the totals of the birds we saw. Because there were so many Iceland Gulls flying around the harbor that morning, I am sure that many of the birds we saw were the same bird coming and going, and may have been counted multiple times. I tried to find an average to the number of birds seen by discounting some of the sightings, and counting others when the bird looked different to me. I really have no way of knowing unless I examined my images of every bird and compared them to each other which might eliminate multiple sightings. But as I stated above, it’s just not that important to me. My counts are estimates, and are an honest average count of the birds we experienced.

      At one point I can account for at least ten Iceland Gulls together at the same time in the inner harbor on the western side of Jodrey’s. There were six sitting together next to the pier in the water, one standing on the opposite shore on the bulkhead, one on the roof, and two flying around the inner harbor.
Jodrey's Fish Pier-

Iceland Gull- 17 (2 adults, 15 first winter ranging from nearly all-white to barred/dusky)
Glaucous Gull- 2 (first winter: 1 white- 1 barred/beige)
Slaty-backed Gull-1 (third winter) (good distant view before lost in a huge cloud of flushed Gulls-thanks to the resident pair of Peregrines). Unfortunately, no images taken.

Niles Pond-

Iceland Gulls- 5 (all viewed by binoculars) - (3 or 4 adults, 1 or 2 third winter)
Brace Cove- no Iceland/Glaucous Gulls

Keith and Jen Mueller    Killingworth