Little Gull at Ambleside Park

With school out of the way I’ve had a lot more time to bird, so it was a no brainer to twitch a Little Gull sighted at Ambleside Park on December 21. Ambleside is fairly easy for me to get to which also meant I could go after it the day after it was first seen (December 22) instead of having to wait who knows how long for a ride. The weather on Saturday wasn’t looking that great with a forecast for light showers. It turned out to be even more miserable with full on rain and a steady breeze at times…

My gloves soon soaked through, numbing my hands in the cold, and my jeans and thermals weren’t doing much after they got wet. I started off at the wood pier at the west end of Ambleside Park and worked my way eastward; thoroughly scanning off the two rock jetties as I went. There were scattered groups of gulls as far as I could see out onto English Bay, most of which were Mew as well as the occasional Glaucous-winged (or some hybrid variation) and Bonaparte’s. I paid particular attention to the Bonaparte’s as the Little Gull is similar in appearance and had been reported associating with them. Eventually I made it to the rock jetty near the dog beach where I could scan the straight spanned by the Lion’s Gate Bridge. There were a fair number of Bonaparte’s Gulls here but, try as I might, none of them matched the field marks of a Little Gull. I also ran into two other birders here who were similarly unlucky. After two hours I decided to take a break so I could warm up. Over some tea I checked the local reports and, much to my frustration, I saw the bird had been seen at 0930; half an hour before I arrived on scene!

After warming up I went to the northern section of Stanley Park’s seawall. I was similarly unlucky here despite putting in another hour and a half’s worth of scanning the strait and bay. Not content with calling it a day I went back to Ambleside Park with a few daylight hours remaining. I spent most of my time searching the bay from the wood pier with my scope. I could see quite a few Bonaparte’s Gulls feeding, resting, and preening at a reasonable distance but, again, I couldn’t locate the Little Gull. After another hour and a half I had to head home but made my mind up to come back the next day for a second attempt.

I decided to leave a bit earlier on Sunday (December 23) so that I could make the most of the daylight. When I arrived at Ambleside it was raining lightly but it soon stopped as I scanned the bay from the wood pier. Even though visibility was much better now that the rain had stopped I couldn’t see as many gulls out in the bay as I’d seen the day before so I quickly moved on to the next rock jetty. When I made my way to the easternmost rock jetty near the dog beach I ran into two other birders who had just seen the Little Gull in a group of gulls feeding over the mussel covered sand bars of the mouth of the Capilano River! We couldn’t locate the bird in this group and switched to scanning the birds out in the strait. After a couple of minutes we all got onto the bird as it flew up and down a section of the Stanley park seawall! Even though the Little Gull was closer to Stanley Park itself than Ambleside, the dark underwings combined with the white primary tips really stood out amongst the other flying gulls. I watched the gull for a mere ten minutes or so before losing it in the flock, but a successful chase always makes up for the time spent searching in my view, no matter how brief my time with the bird is.

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