Iceland Gull, Reservoir

Iceland Gull Larus glaucoides hvidvinget måge Måge

Iceland Gull (immature)

Around 1:30 pm on Monday, December 17th, I headed out, binoculars in hand, for a birding run along the Hudson River. My main goal was unusual ducks, in particular the Canvasback — a species that often begins appearing on the Hudson in late December, but I also held out hope for some of the more unusual gulls that had been showing up lately, namely Black-headed and Iceland.

I entered the Hudson Greenway near 93rd Street and stopped to scan the river. I saw a dark figure on the water to the north that appeared to be a lone duck. so I headed toward it. It turned out to be a Red-breasted Merganser, a good find on the Hudson, but by no means a rarity at this time of year.

I turned back south and got all the way to the 70th Street Pier without seeing anything interesting. As I was exploring the area to the south of the pier, a known refuge for ducks, my cell phone beeped. An NYNYBIRD alert: Jacob Drucker had just found a 1st-winter Iceland Gull on the Central Park Reservoir dike at the NW end.

I texted him directly to say that I was on the way and would be there in 15 minutes. I wanted to encourage him to stay on the bird just a little while longer. Then I started running — fast!

As I arrived Jacob assured me that the gull was still there and challenged me to find it, a task made more difficult by the many hundreds of gulls stationed along the dike that runs from the pump house on the west side to that on the east. In fact he had just clicked off an exact count of the gulls, over 300 each of Herring and Ring-billed. He had a scope.

I had 10 x 42 binoculars, and though I found the Iceland Gull, perhaps seventy or more yards out, I was not happy with the view — too far out, and too many gulls in the way. After some gull rearrangement and a look through the scope I saw it well. The almost all-dark bill indicates 1st-winter status.

The Iceland Gull was still seen on the Reservoir on the 22nd.

It is of course a very rare species for Manhattan and Central Park, with no prior eBird records in the latter. That said, Starr has had it before in the Park. In fact, when I told her about my sighting, she mentioned that she had also recently had an Iceland Gull in Manhattan (in November, I believe) as she was leaving a hospital near the East River.

So Iceland Gulls are around. I believe they are not noted often because they pass through at a time of year when birders are few, and they blend in with the flock. Other gulls also are about the same size and have plenty of white feathers.

— David Barrett