Where is the black-headed gull?

  • <p>JAMES HIRTLE PHOTO</p><p>A black headed gull spotted on Tannery Road in Lunenburg Nov. 2.</p>

Ten years ago a black-headed gull was an easy bird to find at the Back Harbour and Front Harbour of Lunenburg during the winter. Something happened at that time and this species now is not present at all or in very low numbers during the winter.

During the summer, this species can be found along the Eastern Shore. About three weeks ago Barbara McLean had found one of these gulls along Tannery Road in Lunenburg. I tried to find it without success until David Walmark and I went birding Nov. 2.

We were driving along Tannery Road and David said to me "Did you see that small gull beside the road back there?" I missed it altogether. David gave a further description and the black-headed gull came to mind. I turned around and we went back and, sure enough, here was the gull that I had wanted so badly to see, my first one for the year.

The black-headed gull nests in Iceland and Eurasia. It has summered in Nova Scotia and along most of the east coast of the United States. They winter in Africa, Asia and the Philippines. They also stray to the Aleutian Islands, Greenland, Labrador, Newfoundland, Massachusetts and New York, Mexico and the West Indies.

The black-headed gull is 35 to 37.5 cm long. They are a white gull with a red bill and brown head, not black. The legs and feet are red and the mantle is pale gray. During the fall and winter the head is white with a dark brown spot below the eyes.

The food of the black-headed gull is insects and worms. They will eat weed seeds and waste grain in fields, grasslands and marshes. They scavenge for food in harbours or mudflats where sewage is discharged. So, I'm guessing that better sewage practices put in place in Lunenburg and elsewhere is the reason why this species is now hard to find during the winter.

A prime example is when I used to go on sewage stroll field trips during the winter in Halifax and Dartmouth. We would see loads of these gulls. With the cleanup of the harbours in Halifax Regional Municipality, we now see very few. I still attend the sewage strolls and they are one of the best field trips during the winter season for seeing a large variety of species. They are done through the Nova Scotia Bird Society.

In Lunenburg County and Queens I've had reports of six red-bellied woodpeckers. Barbara McLean of Lunenburg has had a female bird tending there for at least a month now. Nov. 3 a pair of these birds showed up at her daughter Jeannie's place, also in Lunenburg.

Ken MacAulay of Port Mouton saw one of these woodpeckers Nov. 1. Around the same date, Cathy Hammond was excited to have one of these birds appear in Upper Northfield. On Oct. 6, Bruce Ostli saw one of these birds in Chester.

Ken MacAulay of Port Mouton reported a brown creeper and Marg Millard of White Point also had one of these birds. On Oct. 31 and on Nov. 1, Cathy Hammond was thrilled to have two female northern cardinals in Upper Northfield. These were the first cardinals that she has seen there.

In Chester, Bruce Ostli tells me that a yellow-throated warbler first made an appearance Sept. 4. This bird was again spotted Sept. 27 and then Oct. 30. Oct. 8 a sighting of this bird was made by Pam Ostli. We can assume this warbler, nicknamed Wally, is making it's return for the fifth year in a row. Lisa Clements noted that the great egret in Blandford was still present on Nov. 1.

Barbara McLean sighted a flock of snow buntings on Nov. 5, when she made a trip to Gaff Point. She also saw a turkey vulture on that day circling over Mahone Bay. On a visit to Feener Lake in Centre on Nov. 6, Steven Hiltz was surprised to see 30 dark-eyed juncos, likely a group of these birds moving through in migration.

On the same day, Alan Covert of East Chester had a dickcissel visit him. Dorothy Poole found an American coot at West Berlin. On Nov. 8, while taking a drive on Second Peninsula, Barbara McLean saw 10 Bonaparte's gulls, two greater yellowlegs and 38 common mergansers.

Mark Dennis reported an American bittern at the guzzle on Cape Sable Island Nov. 1. Devon Johnston discovered an eastern towhee at Benjamin Bridge in Wolfville. It was still present Nov. 4. Many birders got to view this species, as well as a yellow-breasted chat and a gray catbird.

On Nov. 4, Natalie Barkhouse-Bishop and friends were able to see the barnacle goose which was at Forbes Lake in Pictou. Nov. 6 they saw the gray-cheeked thrush at Fairview Cemetery. Nov. 4 Mary Kennedy found an ash-throated flycatcher at Hartlen Point.

Eric Mills saw his first Iceland gull of the season Nov. 4 at Brier Island. David Currie was walking on the Russell Lake Trail on that day and discovered a yellow-breasted chat, a hermit thrush and a ruddy duck. As of Nov. 5 a greater white-fronted goose was still in Truro at the tidal bore. Richard Stern saw a ruddy duck and a lesser black-backed gull at Canard Pond.

You may reach me at (902) 693-2174 or email jrhbirder@hotmail.com

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