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On the Clark's Grebe and Yellow-legged Gull
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- Subject: On the Clark's Grebe and Yellow-legged Gull
- From: Harry Legrand <email@example.com>
- Date: Mon, 17 Mar 2003 09:09:43 -0500
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This is a LONG report, so if you aren't interested in the grebe or the
gull, you can delete now.
I suspected that the Clark's Grebe would be very difficult if not
impossible to re-find Sunday, and the weather forecast we heard Saturday
was calling for strong E winds, rain, etc., that would chop up the ocean
and make finding any rare bird in the ocean at Cape Hatteras very
difficult. When the weather calms (today?), maybe it can be relocated.
Fortunately, Derb Carter did get some recognizable video of the bird.
Hopefully, he can get some stills made from the video, as having a video
reviewed by a records committee is a bit tricky (to get 7 members in one
spot to set up with TV, etc.).
Here are the details of the bird:
After failing to find any rare gulls at Cape Point Saturday morning,
Derb Carter, Ricky Davis, and I decided to head into Buxton for a snack,
and Wayne Irvin drove Brad Carlson toward Hatteras Inlet; both vehicles
would come back to the cape in a few hours to look further for the
Yellow-legged Gull that Derb and I reported on Friday. Derb suggested
that we stop at the groins at the old lighthouse site, around noon.
After being there only a minute, Ricky yells out "Western Grebe". Then a
few seconds later, he sees the bird better and calls out "Clark's
Grebe". Derb quickly got on the bird, and after about 2 minutes of
fumbling with my scope, I got on it. It was an easy call. The bill was a
bright orange-yellow, and the black of the head curved from the bill
upward in a crescent around the white face and cheek, with the eye about
at the bottom edge of the black, with some white in front and maybe in
back of the eye. Also, the back was a medium, pearl gray that contrasted
with the black back of the neck and top of the head.
Derb got out the cell phone and called Wayne, who promptly turned the
SUV around in Frisco! About 20 minutes later, he and Brad were on the
bird. Maybe by 1 or 1:30, Kent Fiala and Jill Froning, coming down to
the Cape that morning, joined the group. Derb was able to get some video
of the bird. It was mostly about 200-300 yards affshore, just beyond the
surfers, and scattered among Red-throated Loons, a few Horned Grebes, a
Dovekie(!), and Red-breasted Mergansers. It spent much time above the
water, but later it took a nap, and then spent considerable time diving.
Later in the day, Pat and Neal Moore and Frank Witebsky were able to see
This is a first state record. We discussed the possibility that this
might be the same bird seen at Fort Story, VA, during the winter. Who
The Yellow-legged Gull, assuming that is what it is, was seen only by
Derb and myself, late on Friday at Cape Point. It was an adult in
breeding condition, standing with a large flock of Herring Gulls in
sheltered dunes at Cape Point. I've already gotten an e-mail from a
nay-sayer saying why it had to be a hybrid Herring vs. Lesser. I'm not
fazed by this, as Derb and I have already seen 7-10 birds in previous
winters that most certainly were hybrids, and 1-2 birds that we think
The gull was seen with hundreds of adult Herrings, several adult
Lessers, and 1-2 hybrid Herring x Lessers (presumably). It was picked
out by mantle color -- about 1/3 to 1/4 darker from Herring to Lesser
shading of gray, about the shade of California Gull. It had bright
school-bus yellow legs that matched the color of the bill, which had a
large bright red gonys spot. The head was immaculate white, and it was
blocky shaped -- flat on top with a slight peak in the nape area. The
body size was the same as the average Herring Gull. We could not tell if
the wings were long attenuated, as some races of Yellow-legged are. We
did not see the bird in flight, so could not get details of the wing tip
pattern. Also, we were not close enough to see the orbital ring color.
(It was too windy to get out scopes, so we stayed in the car, watching
So, could this have been a hybrid? Well, presumed hybrids Derb and I
have seen all show much streaking on the head and dark around the eye,
though a bird in mid-March could certainly be white headed in full
adult. All hybrids we've seen are at least 1/2-way shaded of gray
between Herring and Lesser. All hybrids we have seen have leg color not
matching bill color, being yellow-flesh, pink-yellow, dull yellow, etc.
All hybrids we have seen have rounded heads, not flattish on the crown
and blocky. Most hybrids are a tad smaller than Herring, but this is
tricky. Some hybrids definitely are long-attenuated in the wing.
The bird gave a few courtship calls, throwing its head back with bill
pointed vertically. Don't know if this means anything, but the bird was
a very "studly" individual, in full breeding plumage.
There is one accepted photographic record of YLG for NC (correct ID or
not), and one or two others have been reported, correctly or not. Derb
and I have seen at least one of these "reported" gulls previously. The
species has been seen from NC northward on scattered occasions, with
most records being from Newfoundland. The species breeds in the
Mediterranean area and on eastern Atlantic islands, and there is some
migration out of the sea in fall around the Iberian Peninsula, such that
England and northern Europe get some wintering birds each season.
Derb and I will be reviewing the large gull video, websites, books,
etc., on Yellow-legged Gull (and Slaty-backed, which was reported at
Cape Point a few weeks earlier). Obviously, details need to be very
thorough before they are submitted to the state's records committee.
And, yes, we ARE concerned about hybrids that can look like YLG,
Slaty-backed, Western, and any other gull.
I hope birders will continue to visit Cape Point in upcoming weekends,
at this is where much action takes place. Even though we saw no Little
Gulls Friday or Saturday, we did see a point-blank Red-necked Grebe at
the point, a male "Common" Green-winged Teal on the large tidal pond
(first spotted by Brad), a Dovekie and a few Razorbills, etc.
NC Natural Heritage Program
DENR Office of Conservation and Community Affairs
Raleigh, NC 27699-1615
(919) 715-8687 (work)