Little Gull (Larus
Pescadero Creek Mouth, San Mateo County, California
8 June 2004
Photos © 8 June 2004 by Joseph Morlan. All rights reserved.
This morning I received a telephone call from Ron Thorn telling me he found a first summer Little Gull at the mouth of Pescadero Creek. He asked me to post on the Internet to let people know about the bird. I made a few telephone calls and posted on the Penbirds mailing list. I then drove down to the Pescadero Creek parking lot arriving about 9am. I walked across the Highway 1 bridge and noticed the Little Gull by itself on the mud-flats just East of the bridge, right where Ron said he had seen it.
I walked down under the bridge and around the back side of the creek mouth hoping for better light for photography. The bird flew several times and landed in the general area, before returning to its original spot. I digiscoped the bird by hand-holding my digital camera to my scope with the results you see here. At around 9:40am it flew north towards the North Pond where I relocated it in the company of two Bonaparte's Gulls (L. philadelphia). The light was very bad here and there was much traffic along Highway 1. I left and headed back to the parking lot where I noticed Ted and Zoe Chandik were scoping the creek mouth from the parking lot. I signaled them that the bird had moved and they headed over to the north pond. Dave Weber arrived at the parking lot just as I was leaving and I pointed him in the direction of the bird. I then headed for Gazos Creek where I met Jean Marie Spoelman and a contingent of birders from the South Bay. I told them about the Little Gull and where to look, but I don't know if they saw the bird. An Internet report indicates that the bird returned to the main creek mouth around noon.
The following is based on notes taken while watching the bird.
A small gull, slightly larger than adjacent Killdeer, but smaller than adjacent Bonaparte's Gulls. Much smaller than nearby Caspian Terns and California Gulls. It had a distinct dark cap, blending into a paler gray forehead. The cap appeared to be separated from a round black ear-spot at the rear of the auriculars. The ear-spot was about the same size and color as the round black eye.
The black bill appeared very thin and pointed with a slight droop at the tip.The legs were quite short and pink (paler pink than in the accompanying photos), and noticeably shorter than adjacent Bonaparte's Gulls.
The rest of the body was white. The mantle was fairly pale gray. The tail was white with a very narrow, black terminal band.
The wing coverts were dark brown, contrasting strongly with the pale gray mantle when the bird was standing. In flight, these coverts formed a strong diagonal carpal bar extending from the wrist to the base of the black tertials. The outer primaries were clearly dark on the outer web and white on the inner. This can be seen on these photos, but the result in flight was that there was a dark wedge on the outer primaries on the upperwing in flight, similar to juvenile Black-legged Kittiwake. The underwing was all white except for a little spot of dark on the sides of the breast, just under where the wing connects to the body.
In flight, the bird also had a unique shape. It was rather front-heavy and tapered toward the rear and had decidedly rounded wings compared to most other gulls.
This appears to be the the third record of Little Gull for San Mateo County. Prior records were 16 April 1977 at Pigeon Point and 31 March 1991 at Ravenswood. The approximately 85 previous records of this species for the state span all month, but peak in late April and early May, and through the winter (mid-November to mid-March). There are very few previous June records, most if not all, from the Salton Sea.
The bird was still present at least through Monday 14 June 2004 when Dan Singer, Luke Cole and I saw it on the North Pond.