Thursday, August 28, 2014

Aug 27 (Day 239) - Tacoma Slaty-backed search, round 2!!!

This morning I headed back to the Tacoma Port to resume the Slaty-backed gull search that ended near sunset yesterday. I arrived on a falling tide and did not find many birds in or around the river. However, as the tide continued to fall, a series of sandbars were exposed in the river. Glaucous-winged-type gulls began to trickle in from other reaches of the port. Like yesterday, I ping-ponged between a couple of vantage points hoping that I could catch a glimpse of the darker-mantled (i.e darker-backed) Slaty-backed. The sun was quite high by mid-morning. This made judging the relative shades of gray on the various gulls more difficult. However, right round noon, after 3 hours of searching, I saw a suspicious bird on a roof several hundred yards way. I biked around to get a bit closer to it. In so doing, I got a decent look at what I presumed was the Slaty-backed gull. The light was less than outstanding, but I took this record shot anyway. I was really hoping the bird would fly so that I could see a few more definitive field marks. While this was the ONLY dark-backed gull I had found, I wanted to get better looks and photos to be sure.

My view of the gull after biking around the building - UGH

I hung around for about 20 minutes, but the bird just paced around in circles on this particular patch of roof. Suddenly though, he took to the air and gave me a single overhead pass. I cracked off a decent flight photo showing the very wide, white trailing edge to the wing as well as the entirely gray underwing. The similar Western gull would have a thinner trailing edge and much more black under the wing. This looked good for year bird #529! This was also a life bird for me. 

Slaty-backed gull from below in noon sun

After a single loop, it landed in the same spot on the roof. I decided to head back to the spot from where I previously saw the bird. I figured that maybe he would eventually join the other gulls on the exposed sandbar to feed. Sure enough after about 10 minutes he did just this. He spent the next 30 mis or so running about, feeding, swimming, and preening. I had a great view of him from the bridge on which I was perched! I left him preening on the sandbar to ride back to my base in Puyallup and begin the ride to Olympia.

With Glaucous-winged-types, for mantle comparison

Slaty, slaty, slaty can't you see,
sometime yo wings just hypnotize me!

Looking at me as I banged on metal bridge with 
a rock to get his attention

Headshot extracted from above.
Light eye, pinkish orbital ring.

I even tries my hand at video on the 7D today...Need practice!

This was a fantastic addition to the list. Assuming I can find all or nearly all my possible/expected species, this is the type of bird that will push me right up towards 600. With this bird in hand, I formulated a plan for the next few days. I was still tossing around the Mt. Rainier idea for Sooty grouse, but after I ticked this bird, I tossed the Rainier idea out the window. What is the connection between these events? Well, if I had missed this bird today, I could made the Rainier run to look for the grouse as previously proposed. Regardless of how that might go, I could then swing back through Tacoma on my way west to take another crack at finding this bird. Once this bird was ticked, Rainier seemed a lot further for only one bird. Recall I got Gray-crowned rosy-finch in the Cascades which also lowered the potential payout of a Rainier run.

I now have what I think will be a fabulous next 5-6 days mapped out. I am currently staying with one of my best friends from college in Olympia. It was really great to catch up with him and his wife, Jenn. She is due with child #2 momentarily (literally), so I am glad I made it here to see them before the baby required their complete attention! Tomorrow I will ride to Aberdeen with a stop at the Capitol State Forest for some land birding. Sooty grouse is actually a remote possibility at this location. Varied thrush and Red-breasted sapsucker are also "in play". From Aberdeen I will ride to Ocean Shores on Friday morning. I will bird that area all afternoon Friday and Saturday morning (staying at Best Western in OS Saturday night!). Saturday afternoon I will head over to Westport where I will stay both that night and Sunday. This weekend will mainly be focused on shorebirds, but I am sure I will find some other interesting gulls, cormorants, and the like as well. From Westport, I will run south to Astoria, OR and Haystack rock where I hope to arrive in time to tick Tufted Puffin. I all certainly get Common murre at this site, but the puffin is the big prize! So, it looks like 5 or 6 relatively mellow 50-mile days where I already have all my lodging sorted out! I can focus totally on birding!!! If anyone is birding in the Westport region this weekend, drop me an email at I know there's a big pelagic headed out on Saturday, but maybe some of those folks will stick around to bird on Sunday. If you live in Astoria, OR, I still need a place to stay in that area!

A relatively easy 60 today.


  1. Glad you found the bird. Way to stick it out. Mike Charest

  2. So stoked you found this bird and made it to Puget Sound. Took me 8-ish tries over two winters to finally see it! Chris Rurik