Friday, March 9, 2012

When things go from bad to worse

A disturbing message on the Guelph-Cambridge-KW birding forum:


After reading your posts and seeing your pictures (as well as all the input from Brandon and others), I went out to the Boardwalk today to try to learn more about gulls. As we circled the roundabout headed for the parking lot at Milestones, I noted a fellow letting his pointer dog out of an SUV parked at the curb near the pond. By the time I got out of our car and approached the pond, I saw everything (gulls, ducks and geese) lift off in one big cloud. The dog wasn't on a lead, but the fellow had some sort of radio control in his hand and was shouting commands at the dog. The dog ran back to the SUV and the fellow loaded up and drove off. The name on the SUV read GULLBUSTERS.CA. The ad on the side of the navy blue vehicle read, "Bird Problems? Who are you going to call? Gullbusters". I looked up the site and it shows two fellows with Harris Hawks and offers custom solutions for all your bird problems at airports, landfill sites etc. Obviously someone doesn't share our enthusiasm for our feathered migrants.


For the love of god, what is wrong with gulls??? They're awesome!! Why doesn't everyone enjoy them as much as I do?! 

I have a horrible record of bringing "the gull curse" to the various locations I visit to photograph gulls... The Waterdown Garden Supplies was shut down just over a year after my first visit..... The Ressor Pond Gull spectacle in Markahm didn't even last 12 months once I finally made the trek... The St. John's, NL landfill became a no-go-zone pretty much as soon as I started planning a visit months in advance...... 

And NOW I finally get my act together to visit the Waterloo gulls, and this happens!!! What the heck is going on here?! They're a thing of beauty! Embrace them!!!!!


I also had a bit of an urge earlier to make a comment on "The Ottawa Heermann's Gull" - and the fact that some emails and info appeared last night about the bird possibly being some sort of melanistic crazy-bird... But I find myself with very little to say now... 

I know some really crazy birds get photographed sometimes, where colour/pattern is TOTALLY out the window of the expected species. Such as this baby Arctic Tern from Iceland:

I know I was once royally confused (and hoping for some sort of Glauc-winged influence) when I had this bird in Hamilton a few years ago: 

But the problem lies with a major problem. Sure, it doesn't look ANYTHING like our expected gulls, but that doesn't mean it's some rare species either...  Not that I'm bashing Mr. Gawn for his bird ID/finding skills (which are clearly supreme).. It's just one of the challenges we experience when out birding.  

At the same time, it seems like some sort of inherent defect for some birders (including me) to start assuming that all mega-rarities are probably miss-identified when we first hear about them. When the Yellow-nosed Albatross was first reported from Kingston, I was quick to do a blog posting about how something like a sub-adult Northern Gannet was probably WAY more likely... And will have the taste of crow in my mouth permanently for that one.... 

But anyways... I had a brief look at the facebook-link photo of the bird last night before the link died (god I hate facebook), but can only say I somewhat agree that it didn't look quite right for Heermann's, but Heermann's or not, it was clearly something spectacular. It would be great if it turned up again!


  1. As someone who studies gulls for a living, I am the first to agree that gulls have their place and their moment, but artificially attracted and sustained gull populations (i.e. more or less any place gulls congregate in North America) are a huge problem. Here in St. John's a cadre of dedicated birders all ooh and ahh over the weird gulls that pop up over the winter, but the other 10,000+ birds that sit around and eat garbage all day long actually cause a certain degree of ecological stress in an area that would never be able to sustain such a population naturally. For example, local seabird colonies get hammered pretty hard by the superabundant gulls, and nestlings and fledglings of many other species are similarly targeted. Even in far more remote areas like much of the Arctic, many Larus gulls breed in unnaturally high numbers with unnaturally high success, benefiting as they do from decades of high-waste commercial fishing practices, open dumps, and generally favourable wintering 'habitat' in urban areas with open water and lots of food.
    I like birds and I like birding, and I too go down to see what unusual gulls might be attracted to large flocks at the lake, or the sewage outflow in the harbour, but there is something a bit messed up about careless practices which exponentially increase highly localized populations of aggressive, opportunistic predators with no regard for the far-reaching consequences. Obviously it is not the gulls' fault we are giving them a free ride, and covering dumps, treating or diffusing sewage and discouraging large roosts with non-fatal deterrents is really probably the most responsible way to deal with the problems these surplus and eventually habituated gulls cause. (Furthermore, there are other compelling reasons to bury garbage and filter sewage as anybody who lives downwind of a dump or downstream of a sewage outflow can attest).

    1. Many thanks for your detailed reply Mark. There is not much to be said, other than to agree with what you're saying!

      I suppose I protested the removal of the gulls from the public location (just a fountain that they visit from a nearby landfill) for little more than selfish photography reasons... And protest since it is unlikley to affect their numbers at the landfill...

      But again, when it comes to the issue of gull super-populations, I am sad (but agree) that they can really cause a mess. It's unfortunate for me, since I enjoy looking at them so much!

      Thanks again,