Monday, January 12, 2009

Search for the Slaty Back

One or two Slaty-backed Gulls usually show up each winter on the Lower Mainland, Sadly most of the time they reside in the Greater Vancouver Landfill. A zone with restricted access, though every winter a few birders gain access for the Christmas Bird Count. Sometimes they are found in the farm fields surrounding the dump. And I’ve spent a good many hours with my scope seeking one out. So when I heard that a Birder in the Fraser valley had found on at a Transfer station in Abbotsford about a week ago while on the Christmas bird count. Gord, operator of the Fraser Valley Birding website( the gull on top of a roof that holds trash waiting to be transferred to the dump.

Now I’ve yet to post my top ten species to see in 2009, but I can tell you that Slaty-backed Gull was on it. So when I found out about the sighting, I made sure this Saturday I would go out there to do my darndest to find the bird.

I arrived at the Transfer station without too much difficulty, the directions I got from Gord were spot on. I had my hot cup of coffee, my scope, my camera, binoculars, Superdrag on the stereo, I was ready for my first lifer of the year. I wasn’t exactly sure what a Transfer station was, or how I would even see the Gull. I knew it was off limits, but apparently all the gulls sat on the roof of a large garbage warehouse. I pulled my car to the side of the road and started scanning the gulls on the roof, here’s what I was looking at.

From Jan10th

I was dismayed as I finished scoping the gulls to come up with nothing. There were the standard Glaucous-winged Gulls, the Glaucous-winged hybrids, I did pick out one Herring Gull, and there were also a few Thayer’s. But nothing stood out with a dark-back. I tried getting a look in through the door of the warehouse. Gulls were inside ruffling through the trash, and bursting into flight when a tractor came roaring in. This bird could be anywhere.

I have terrible luck with chasing rare birds. The birds I’ve missed would add up to an impressive life list. But one thing I’ve learned over the years, is when you get there and the birds not there, don’t give up. In my earlier years when a bird wasn’t there I would usually head off on my merry way, only to learn later that the bird came back later on. No if you want the rewards of rarity, you sometimes gotta tough it out. So by now after an hour of waiting, my coffee was almost done and I was getting a little impatient. I decided I needed a refill, and maybe I could check around the recycling depot, as Gord said Gulls also hung around there.

No luck at the Depot, but after about half an hour I returned with hot coffee, and renewed energy. I got out my scope and started again, to go over the 50-60 gulls sitting on the roof. I was starting to think I was not going to see this bird, when one of the Gulls right on the edge of the roof caught my eye. It had a finely streaked head, with a dusky yellow eye. Not the startling, almost evil yellow eye I was expecting, but definitely not a dark eye like Glaucous-winged. My initial thought was maybe Herring? I was almost going to train the scope away from the Gull when he turned just slightly, revealing a dark, very dark wing…I exclaimed out loud, not worrying weather any of the people at the dump my hear me. I started getting excited, but still, at this angle, it would be impossible to really judge the darkness of the wing, as lighting is very manipulative, instead of waiting for the Gull to show me, I quickly drove to a better angle and hopped out, feverishly setting up the scope.


From Jan10th

From Jan10th

I just got my first lifer of 2009, and my 328th on my life list.
Sadly with my camera, the light, and my digital zoom, the pictures aren’t the best. I really need to also get a dig scoping set up, oh I don’t know how these birders afford all this stuff.
But yes, Success, what a nice feeling.

By now 3 hours had slipped away, but I didn’t feel like going home. Even though the rain was a constant, I toured the Fraser valley, turning up very little in bird life, but enjoying the drive. I will leave this with a few pictures of the rest of my day.

From Jan10th

From My Pictures

From My Pictures


1 comment:

  1. Ryan, good stuff here. I stumbled across it when doing a google on keywords for the FVB site. (I have since seen it in your signature on the forum...duh).

    Keep up the good work. Congrats on the Slaty-backed.