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Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Drama at Fort Baker

The day began with my 5:30 AM drive to Emeryville to have my Sisterlocks hair tended to. Success!

At 10:30 AM I traversed over the Bay Bridge and north over the Golden Gate Bridge to Fort Baker in the Marin Headlands. I'm sure Fort Baker is a beautiful place with a museum or two and such, but I really couldn't have cared less - I was there to look for an Iceland Gull, that showed up there a few days ago.

View of the Golden Gate Bridge from the Fort Baker pier

When I arrived, Birders were already in place looking for the Iceland Gull

Of course, there were a lot more Gulls present than birders, hundreds of gulls. I spotted: Western Gulls, sparse California Gulls, Mews, Glaucous-winged and one lonely little Heerman's Gull. The Gull family reunion was brought on by a bumper crop of Herring roe in the waters along the beach. As the tide receded more and more gulls showed up to feed at the free caviar bar.

Loads of Western, Herring, Glaucous-winged
Gulls and one Brown Pelican hidden in the middle

The previous day the Iceland Gull had flown in around 3PM so after an hour or so I thought I might as well sit in my car and have lunch while waiting for the Iceland Gull to fly in. So there I sat, eating blueberries and scanning my Sibley's guide when I heard the sound of people racing in rubber boots. I looked up to see a good half dozen heavily rubber-clad men and a woman headed for a little hut alongside a big Coast Guard type boat. A Black Labrador dog was with them and it veered off the path to the boat and raced along the beach, scaring up every mother one of the hundreds of gulls that sat there. Oh well!

One of the Coast Guard types yelled and hollered, recalling his dog and a few minutes later the big patrol boat sailed out, headed for the Golden Gate Bridge. My cell phone rang with my birder buddy Don's ring tone; I answered.

"Hi Don! I'm at Fort Baker, but I haven't seen any Iceland Gull yet."

"Did you see the Slaty-backed Gull?"

"What Slaty-backed Gull? Today?"

"There's a report they spotted a Slaty-backed a few minutes ago and..."

I was needless to say, perplexed. Long story short, while I was watching the Team Rubber racing to their boat, the birders out on the pier were watching a v. exotic, Slaty-backed Gull! Of course, the Slaty back took off with the rest of the gulls when the Labrador took its beach run. Had I forsaked my blueberries I could have seen an adult Slaty-back Gull!

Oh well. Back on the pier I held back my foul blaspheming as one lucky birder showed off the exquisit photos he had taken 5 minutes earlier of the adult Slaty-back - from the bird's red orbital eye ring to the tip of its primary flight feathers featuring the 'string of pearls' pattern that all birders hope to some day see for themselves and analyze.

As I was about give in to some hearty swearing, word came the Iceland Gull was on the opposite side of the pier, not far from where the Coast Guard boat launched from. I was off & running! Hurrah! I got my lifer Iceland Gull.

The Iceland was enjoying a nice splash & a bath

The Iceland heading for shore

Venturing onto shore the Iceland - right - tries to fit in

Close-up of the 1st year, immature Iceland Gull

I can't tell you how relieved I was to not miss seeing that ensie little gull. I was disappointed about not seeing the Adult Slaty-backed Gull, not because I've never seen one before, but I want to try my hand at getting some decent photos of one. But just as I was whinging to myself, another birder came up to those of us admiring the Iceland to tell us there was another possible Slaty-back Gull on the very pier I had just run over from. 'Possible' because this second Slaty-back was an immature and those are a little sketchier to get a good identification on. Here is one of my photos of the immature Slaty-backed Gull. Narrow-ish bill, smaller than a Herring Gull's bill? Check. Dark mascara around a pale eye? Check. Pale base of bill? Check. Slaty-backed Gull? I think so. However, my opinion and $1.75 will get you a cup of coffee at a Starbucks.

Immature Slaty-backed Gull - or not, the jury's still out

Ah! And now for the 'drama' I referred too. Around the time we were gawking at the immature Slaty-backed, the Coast Guard boat returned - body-bagged corpse in tow. ARRRGGH! Apparently someone either jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge, drowned or was bobbing along in the surf. Very sad, and quite dramatic. Now, how about those Gulls!

That's my Honda just in front of the Police car and Ambulances

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