Friday, June 12, 2015 When is a Mew Gull not a Mew Gull?

Seward, Alaska

Sunrise 4:33 am, sunset 11:22 pm for a total day length of 18 hours, 48 minutes. Tomorrow will be 1 minute and 29 seconds longer as we approach the Summer Solstice.

After a week of rain, a massive high-pressure system stuck over the Aleutian Islands brought us sunny skies and warmer temperatures. Today’s high was a pleasant 63ยบ with a southerly breeze. The 10-day forecast is unusual: a string of bright suns, the word “CLEAR”, and temps in the high 70s.  Check out the wind currents at
<,41.27,688>. Scroll over to the Gulf of Alaska and zoom in. It’s very impressive!

Plodding along this afternoon, I noticed six small white gulls feeding at the tidelands. At first, I assumed they were MEW GULLS, a very common species. But as I took a more critical look, I realized they were smaller, with pinkish legs, a dark spot by the ears, and different coloration: young BONAPARTE’S GULLS. We may find a few here, more commonly during migration, and usually adults. It is unusual to see so many young ones. These gulls looked like first winter birds, molting into their adult plumage as a two-year gull.

They stood in shallow water left by the receding tide, rapidly moving their webbed feet up and down to vibrate tiny amphipods and other marine invertebrates out of the silty mud so they could easily snatch them with their thin, black bills.

I was curious about the famous name. Turns out, this gull was named for one of Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte’s nephews, French naturalist, biologist, and ornithologist Charles Lucien Bonaparte (1803-1857). William Swainson and John Richardson, British ornithologists, named the gull in his honor. Bonaparte, among many other important accomplishments, identified 20 new American species including the Brown Creeper and Semipalmated Plover. <>

Cool fact from the Cornell site: the Bonaparte’s is the only gull that regularly nests in trees. It breeds around lakes and marshes in the boreal forest and taiga. <>

Keep an eye out for this small, dainty gull masquerading as a Mew Gull. There may be more around than we previously thought/noticed.

The SEMIPALMATED PLOVERS are nesting along the beaches. I stumbled upon a nesting territory and the beautifully marked dad. He feigned injuries by fluttering his wings and spreading his trembling tail in an effort to attract me to him to lead me away from the invisible nest. I beat it out of there as fast as possible, sorry to disturb him and his family. Happy Father’s Day, little guy!

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold

Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

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