Tag Archives: gulls

Snowy Birding

There’s no such thing as too many layers when it’s 20 degrees out and snow blowing sideways. Three was the magic number – three layers of pants, three layers of tops, and wishing I’d had 3 layers of socks rather than 2. Not sure I could have fit three layers of socks in my shoes, but one is tempted by such thoughts when your toes transition from pretty cold to one notch short of painful.

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Photo by author, Long Island. 2017. Gulls on a pond, including an unusual black-headed gull, visiting from Europe – presumably with his papers in order.

But, it was a beautiful day for birds!

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Photo by author, Long Island, 2017. 

I saw several species for the first time – common eider, horned lark, purple sandpiper, ruddy turnstones, and the highlight, 3 male harlequin ducks bobbing placidly in the icy gray waters. (There was a female harlequin duck too, but in the duck world, it’s the males that are the real showstoppers. Even the 4 harbor seals we saw barely deserve a mention compared to the stunning male harlequin ducks.)

I have been aching to see these improbable creatures. I even had a dream the night before that I had seen a huge group of harlequin ducks, and I woke up super excited to share my birding adventure before realizing that I had been tricked by my subconscious and still had to venture out into the frosty morning.

At the beach, I disbelievingly stared through the rapidly-fogging binoculars as long as I could as they dove down and popped back up in the whitecaps. The only good thing about leaving the snowy beach was that the feeling gradually returned to my abused feet. While we saw other notable birds after that part of the trip, my mind was filled with visions of harlequin ducks. I was also quickly preoccupied with figuring out who among my friends and family could be tricked into joining me in future snowy beach birding.

If reincarnation is real, I want to come back as a male harlequin duck gifted with self-awareness, so that I can revel in being the most beautiful bird around.

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copyright Glenn Bartley, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, November 2009

Harbor Seals + Oodles of Birds

There’s a wealth of wildlife creeping and crawling and flapping and swimming and bobbing and sunning right under our noises.

We usually miss it, buried in cellphones or power walking around slow strollers or just noticing the pigeons.

The headliners were harbor seals, but for me the scene-stealers were the birds (loons in winter plumage! bubble-gum pink bills on long-tailed ducks! jumbo-size gulls! the adorable buffleheads! punk-rock mergansers! many more but I didn’t take notes!)

Thanks NYC Audubon for an awesome water ride around the harbor and opening my eyes to the awesome wildlife in the midst of our metropolis.

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Photo by author, Hoffman Island, New York, January 2016. Formerly used for quarantine, now home to birds and winter harbor seals.