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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Thousands of Bonaparte's Gulls

Back on October 10th we came across an amazing sight in Spieden Channel - thousands of Bonaparte's Gulls! They were all just sitting on the water in a gigantic flock that must have trailed on for half a mile or more. Usually I only see small flocks of 10-30 Bonaparte's at a time, so this was an amazing sighting for me. A conservative estimate is that there were about 3000 of them there. We didn't want to get close enough to flush them so it's a little hard to see, but here is just a portion of the flock (click to see a larger version):

Bonaparte's gulls are fall visitors to the San Juan Islands, passing through on their migration between the taiga forests of Alaska and Canada (they are the only gull that nests in trees) and their winter home in Central American and the southern US. They're my favorite gull, in part because of how they fly - they look so light and buoyant almost like they're floating in the air. A small group of them did take flight and look almost swift-like as they darted through the air behind the boat:

Why are they called Bonaparte's gulls? Yes, they're named after a Frenchman, but not of the Napoleon dynasty....they get their name rather from Charles Lucien Bonaparte, a naturalist and ornithologist. According to All About Birds, he made significant contributions to American ornithology during the 1820s while working with the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia.


eileeninmd said...

What a cool sighting, were they after fish in the water? Nice photos.

Lancashire and Lakeland Outback Adventure Wildlife Safaris said...

Hi Monika - Never knew they nested in trees! Not seen one this side yet - got any close ups?



picturenut said...

I was in Treasure Island, Florida from Sept 26 to Oct 11 and the beach was covered with thousands of Bonaparte Gulls. I would go to the beach morning before the sun rose and in the evening before and while it was setting. These Gulls put on a fabulous show, swarming and swooping in huge flocks across the sky. They always settled on the beach. The sunsets were spectacular but the birds were better. It was a sight I will never forget.