New England Coastal BIrds

New England Coastal BIrds

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Part 6, Tuesday Feb 28- “Back to Gloucester”

A Banquet of Iceland and Glaucous Gulls!

     I spent the day in Gloucester from dawn to 3:30 pm, and what a day it was for Gulls!

     The morning began at the sea wall of Pavilion Beach overlooking the historic harbor as the sun was just waking up. These Red-breasted Mergansers were swimming near the wall bathed in the early morning glow.


     This hen Common Eider was waking up with a few morning stretches.

     When I drove onto Jodrey’s, it was a bit quiet, but just like the last trip a few days earlier, I was greeted by a single Iceland Gull standing on the pilings at the end of the pier.

     There were a few Gulls moving about, but the harbor was quiet. That soon changed and the numbers of Gulls increased dramatically.

  With the increase in Gulls came more Iceland Gulls along the northwestern side of the pier by the berthed fishing vessels.

     This Iceland Gull was standing below me on the pier bumpers.

     This one Herring Gull liked the roof of my truck. Every time I turned around, it was there.

     A small flock of Brant flew over the pier and than continued over the city of Gloucester heading north.

    There were half a dozen Iceland Gulls below me and on the piers next to me. I caught this one just as it was disappearing below the pier.

      Because there were so many Gulls in the air, on the piers and swimming below me, it was a task trying to look through all of them for any bird that stood out from the rest; a task that I enjoyed very much and welcomed! I looked up just in time to take a few shots of this Gull passing a few yards over my head.

     This ghostly nearly all-white Gull passed by and made a wide swing over the inner harbor and landed on the roof of the Processing Plant over my head. It was the first Glaucous Gull of the day.

    After a few minutes, the Gull flew off the roof and headed in my direction…..

  ……and joined the other Gulls on the water a few feet below me. This first winter was a small individual with a bright pink bill, represented the smaller range of this species.

     As this Glaucous Gull continued to feed and “hang out” with the Herring Gulls, a second first winter near all-white Glaucous Gull appeared and flew around the inner harbor. 

     It landed on the pier near the Whole Foods building. This bird however was much larger and had a dull pink/grey bill (contrasting to the brighter bill pink of the first Gull). It represented the larger range of this species. To avoid confusion and to distinguish the two different birds during the day, I used the two left outer tail rectrices (R6 and R5-[Gulls have twelve tail rectrices]) for identification. If you look at the two birds from the flying images above, R6 on the first Gull has less broad broken barring, while R6 on Gull 2 has two broader broken bars near the tips of R5 and R6.

     While I was watching these two Glaucous Gulls, I noticed a third nearly all-white Glaucous Gull feeding with the other Gulls in the tidal rocks at the end of the pier. It swam around a bit and then climbed up on the rocks behind the old rusty hazard marker structure on the rocks. At that point, I wasn’t sure if one of the two other Gulls had left and snuck in behind me and had landed there.  I looked back and located both of the other Gulls.

     This Gull remained on the rocks preening and then settling in to take a snooze. As I turned around to head back to my truck, I spotted another Glaucous Gull flying across the eastern side of the pier. It flew over the building on the other side of the inner harbor and then disappeared over
East Main Street heading Northeast.

     When I got back to my truck, I only located one Glaucous Gull standing on the loading dock area behind Whole Foods, and the one on the rocks was still there. Maybe I would find this Gull again when I drove over to Eastern Point. As I started to climb into my truck, another Glaucous Gull flew in and landed on the edge of the pier in front of my truck. I recognized this Gull as the small Gull from the Whole Foods dock. I looked back and did not see the Gull there; this was obviously the same bird.


     I decided to take a quick run out to Eastern Point stopping along the way at Smith’s Cove, Wonson’s Cove, Rocky Neck, Niles Beach, Eastern Point Beach, Niles Pond and Brace Cove. I drove around Rocky Neck and located a single first winter Iceland Gull on the far shore feeding with a flock of Gulls on the sand flats. My next stop was at Niles Beach, and I saw two Iceland Gulls (first winter and a third winter) without too much effort.  The first winter bird was at the northern end of the beach, while the third winter bird was standing directly in front of me on the beach.

     This bird flew around the beach a few times and returned to the same spot where it took off from giving me good close looks.

     The bird was being bullied by the Herring Gulls on the beach.

     Notice the grey bill with the black tip,

     Darker grey smudged markings of its primaries,

     and the residual mottled markings on its central tail rectrices.

     I stopped at Eastern Point near the historic Eastern Point Lighthouse.

     In the windy cove feeding along the edge were these Gadwalls.

     I took a walk out on the Dogbar Breakwater hoping for an alcid but didn’t find one.  Besides this single Greater Black-backed Gull on the breakwater, I did see a few passing sea ducks, and two first cycle Iceland Gulls flying from Brace Cove and heading west.

     The view to the end of the breakwater and the Dogbar Breakwater Lighthouse.

    Looking back to the picturesque Eastern Point Lighthouse,

     and the Boston skyline to the distant south.

     I drove around Niles Pond searching for Gulls, and I did locate three Iceland Gulls (one adult [pictured]- two first winter).

    In the corner of the cove on Niles Pond Road I saw this drake Red-breasted Merganser taking a snooze on this rock.

     A hen Ring-necked Duck takes a break to preen on a submerged rock in the cove.

    Brace Cove had an impressive gathering of seven Iceland Gulls (one adult) on the beach and in the rocks on the south side of the cove.

     As I was taking a picture of this Iceland Gull, this Kildeer walked into the image.

     There were many Harbor Seals basking on the rocks,

     as well as these seven Great Cormorants.

     I left Eastern Point and went back to the pier. The first bird to greet me was this dusky plumaged first winter Iceland Gull.

     Another Iceland Gull flies by the bow of this fishing vessel.

     One of the bins of fish remnants, frames and scraps behind the Whole Foods processing building. Whole Foods has a “zero” waste policy, and these bins were being prepared for shipment to be used in pet food.

     Two of the dock workers Sal and Steve prep the bins for shipment to the pet foods processing plant (Steve told me that he was the harder worker)! :^)

     They told me that the “white Gull” was kind of like a pet and it hung around all day long and they look forward to seeing it every winter. They asked me about the Gull, and I gave them a brief species description. I also mentioned that there were at least three white Gulls on the dock that morning, and they will only be white for two years. Steve said, “that explains why the bird looked bigger some times” – he thought it was just because he was working the night shift!

     The small nearly all-white Glaucous Gull was again perched on the roof of Whole Food building and it was carefully surveying what Sal and Steve were doing below with the bins. I noticed that a couple of fish scraps had fallen out of one of the bins, so I picked them up. The Gull must have a sixth sense (or just great instincts) because as soon as I picked the scraps up, the Glaucous Gull flew off the roof and made a swing around the inner harbor….

  …..and landed on the edge of the pier only a few feet away. (In fact I had to back up because the bird was too close for my lens). I tossed the bird one of the scraps and it pounced on it immediately.

After it made a quick meal of the scrap, it walked right up to me begging (or insisting) for another scrap……. 

     …..which I offered. I held the fish scrap and the Glaucous Gull reached out and took it from my fingers. That was a fantastic experience. I wished that I had thought ahead and grabbed my other camera with the small lens; I would have been able to capture a few images of that!


    The Gull stayed on the dock and walked around and mingled with the workers as if it were the dock boss.

     Two more Iceland Gulls appeared on the dock  looking for a few scraps for themselves.

    More images of the Glaucous Gull......

   While I was standing there talking with Sal who was on his break, I looked up and saw two soaring Glaucous Gulls. Both birds were first winter; one being nearly all-white and the other barred/beige.

     The nearly all-white bird dropped in and landed on the pier behind Whole Foods. It walked around a bit and eventually walked over near me .

     This bird was very large. It dwarfed this large Iceland Gull.

   Within a few minutes. The beige bird appeared and circled around  the inner harbor many times.  This Gull appeared to be more cautious than the large white bird, and certainly not as casual as the small white Gull.

     But it eventually landed on the edge of the pier, but father down away from all the workers.


     I sat and watched these wonderful Glaucous Gulls for half an hour, then I decided to go to the southern end of the pier to look around before I left. When I pulled into the end parking spot, I was delighted to see that the rocks were still covered with Gulls. At a quick glance I could see quite a few Iceland Gulls.

     In all I counted nine Iceland Gulls together, and the all-white Glaucous Gull was still there (hiding) behind the hazard marker structure; where it was when I left a few hours ago to go to Eastern Point.  Also three Iceland Gulls in the image.

     I spent over an hour watching and enjoying the Iceland Gulls. The Glaucous Gull never moved from the top of that rock (in fact it was still there when I left). The Iceland Gulls flew around a bit feeding by the bulkhead boulders below the pier.

      five Iceland Gulls and the single Glaucous Gull (Far right-top)

     three Iceland Gulls

     two Iceland Gulls- second winter (left) first winter (right)

     three Iceland Gulls

      two Iceland Gulls

    Glaucous Gull (top left behind hazard marker base) and two Iceland Gulls

     Iceland Gull-I just like this shot!

    three Iceland Gulls

    two Iceland Gulls

      four Iceland Gulls

     While I was enjoying the Iceland Gulls, the small Glaucous Gull from behind Whole Foods flew in……

     …..and landed on the edge of the pier near my truck. (I think he was looking for another hand out)!

      It was late afternoon and time to leave. I had another spectacular day in Gloucester, and with the Iceland and Glaucous Gulls. As I approached my truck, I laughed a bit to myself; that is what a successful Gulling day looks like! :^)

     I said good-bye to Ten Pound Island and the Gloucester Fisherman’s Memorial on
Western Avenue.

     Highlights from the day:

     I ended up with 27 (maybe more) Iceland Gulls (4 adults- 1 third winter) (9 together at Jodreys Fish Pier at the south of the pier on the rocks-low tide- 1 second winter, eight first winter) plus 3 additional in the inner harbor, 1 at Wonson Cove, 2 at Niles Beach, 3 in Niles Pond, 2 flying across Eastern Point heading west while I was walking on the Dogbar Breakwater, and 7 together on the beach and in the rocks at Brace Cove. All the immature birds were first winter ranging from all white to barred dusky. One bird was quite dusky gray overall.

5 Glaucous Gulls (all immys-2 barred/beige and 3 all-white) - 3 together at the Whole Foods processing plant at the beginning of Jodreys (on the piers, driveway behind the plant and on the roof), 1 roosting in the rocks with the 9 Iceland Gulls, 1 flying over and across the harbor while I was photographing the 3. It eventually flew over the city and headed NE. One of the all white first winter birds was quite tame, and was use to being fed by the dock workers from Whole Foods. This Gull had been hanging around me and would allow me to get really close (too close to take pictures) for a few hours.  I offered the small white Glaucous Gull fish scraps which it took from my fingers a few times! That was fun!

The majority of the Gulls on the pier and in the harbor were Herring Gulls 95 percent. I couldn't find any gull that was different (bill/leg color- plumage). I also could not find the third winter Slaty-backed Gull that we saw last week.

Other birds: (estimates)

Common Eider- 45
White-winged Scoters- 13 off Eastern Point
Common Goldeneye- 36 off Eastern Point
Bufflehead- 40 off Eastern Point, Niles beach and Rocky Neck
Red-breasted Mergansers- 80 throughout the area
Gadwall- 13
Black Ducks- 21
Sanderling 30
Ring-necked Ducks- 18
Ruddy Ducks- 5
Hooded Mergansers- 7

Excellent day!!

Keith Mueller,
Killingworth CT

To view Part 1 of “Late February Birding” click:

To view Part 2- Saturday Feb 18- Rhode Island – “Rhode Island birding group” : 

To view Part 3: "Gulls you say"?- "Gloucester it is"! :

To view Part 4: “Pink-footed Goose” and Part 5: “Banded Gulls”:

Late February Birding continues with this upcoming report that will be posted soon:

Part 7- Saturday March 3/Sunday March 4- “White-winged Gulls in Three States in One Day”! New Hampshire coast/Gloucester/Madison, CT