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A Gull Far From Home.

January 11, 2014

Black-Legged Kittiwake

Recently a bird rarely seen in central Ohio has appeared- always a good thing for local birders.  It is quite possible that it was brought here by the Polar Vortex weather that so recently froze the country, because the Atlantic Coast is the closest normal wintering grounds for it right now.

After reading reports of its sighting, I went to the location it had been seen at- Antrim Park in Columbus, a small place for a bird used to the ocean to be.

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The central feature of Antrim Park is a small lake- popular with fishermen because the Ohio Department of Natural Resources stock it yearly with Rainbow Trout.  This attracts birds who like fish as well.

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There weren’t many people in the park, though it is a popular destination in warmer weather.

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Robins and Starlings foraged for berries, which are still plentiful this early in the winter.

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Even birds need an occasional winter bath!

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A handful of Ring-Billed Gulls, central Ohio’s most common seagull, were also around.  They spend the night further north at Alum Creek Reservoir, then fly south during the day to feed.

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Out on the ice, gulls hung out…but look at the one with the black markings.

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If you think that one is different than the others, you’re right.

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The gull on the left is a Black-legged Kittiwake, and this bird is far from its usual haunts.  Its markings identify it as a first-year bird, so this is its first winter.  It likes to hang out with the Ring-Billed Gulls that are familiar to the area, so it is not a lonely bird, even if it is far away from where its brothers and sisters are.

I know you may be thinking- OK, it’s a seagull, it has a few more black smudges than other gulls, what’s the big deal?

Fair question.  Unlike the local gulls, this bird was born in the Arctic Circle of northern Canada.  It most likely grew up in a nest on a sea cliff looking out to sea; it may have even been born on a shipwreck out in the water.  This bird will typically spend its winter months far out to sea in the Atlantic Ocean, living off of the sea creatures that it finds near the surface, while it sleeps and rests bobbing on the waves in the water.  In the warm weather, it will return to the area where it was born, to mate and to hatch eggs of its own and to continue the great circle of life.

That to me is a rather thrilling life, land-bound as I am in central Ohio.  So to me, when I see this bird, I am seeing a creature that will have years of adventure ahead of it living on the high seas, on cliffsides, or maybe even on shipwrecks.  Maybe you have a little more respect for this guy or gal now?  🙂

I hope this young bird finds its way back to the great ocean soon.

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I wasn’t the only birder at the park to see this unique bird.  I think I can say for us all that the internet has been a wonderful tool to share rare bird sightings which has undoubtedly helped increase the life lists of many a birder (including me).  Keep an eye out and see what you can find!

20 Comments leave one →
  1. January 12, 2014 12:47 am

    Amazing sighting, Tracy! Thank you for sharing it with us. I wonder if he will stay with the other gulls, or go home. I am guessing his instincts will kick in to let him know his vacation is over!

  2. January 12, 2014 6:46 am

    Congrats on the Kittiwake!

    Gulls are hard for me, we have too many here in Michigan, and they all look the same to me. I don’t have the patience to scope out a flock of hundreds or thousands of gulls to find the one or two that aren’t ring-billed or herring gulls.

    • January 12, 2014 9:17 am

      I’m with you on this. I don’t have a high-powered scope for looking far out on the water like many birders do, I keep thinking of getting one, but my style is more of a medium-distance birding. I think this has a lot to do with liking to take regular photographs of my surroundings as opposed to extreme long-range close-ups with tripod equipment (not that that isn’t cool, but not my style).

  3. January 12, 2014 7:26 am

    Kittiwake on the pond at Antrim park, it’s not exactly the ocean so it does fill one with a sense of wonder!

  4. January 12, 2014 10:04 am

    I was just reading that we have fewer finches in Wisconsin this winter because the more northern food supplies are good, despite the cold. I guess nature is mysterious indeed.

    • January 12, 2014 6:54 pm

      So very true, Inger- Snowy Owls are having a big year because of an abundance of their food last year (and lots of offspring that fed upon that food).

  5. January 12, 2014 12:59 pm

    Let’s hear a cheer for the birders! Hip Hip Hooray! Margie

  6. January 12, 2014 7:29 pm

    What a wonderful sighting!

    • January 12, 2014 7:33 pm

      There was one seen in the area 4 years ago, Pat- that’s the only other one I’m aware of!

  7. January 13, 2014 2:49 am

    Well done for the sighting, and great photos!

  8. January 13, 2014 8:08 am

    What an amazing story, and bird. Thank you, Tracy. 🙂

  9. January 15, 2014 12:05 pm

    Hi Seasons, I think many spots have seen unusual birds this year. It has been an unusual Winter so far. Unseasonably cold in places where cold is seldom an issue. Glad you spotted the Gull. Have a wonderful day!

  10. January 19, 2014 10:05 am

    I gave serious thought of driving up to get this bird for my Life List. But alas I’m too late.

    • January 19, 2014 9:00 pm

      Sorry to hear that, Les- this was probably the easiest rare life list bird I ever saw. I walked up to the lake from the parking lot (a 1 minute walk) and spotted the bird in a couple of minutes.

      Then again, I’ve driven a couple hundred miles recently looking for multiple Snowy Owls and have come up dry. Birding always keeps one on one’s toes!

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