On November 17th, I joined Andy McGann and Tom Johnson in an attempt to see the adult Black-tailed Gull that had been discovered the day before in Ashtabula Harbor, Ohio. Black-tailed Gulls are a very rare vagrant (ABA code 4) to the United States from South Korea and Japan, and I really wanted to see this bird. Unfortunately, we spent all day looking for it and never saw it which made for a very long, disappointed ride back to State College. Luckily, I was able to convince Drew Weber and two other friends of mine into taking a return trip.
So yesterday, December 3rd, the four of us drove out to Ashtabula and arrived just as the sun was rising. We knew from reading other reports that one of the best times to see the bird is early in the morning, when it gets off roost and flies around some before settling down to roost for the day. As the lighting became better for viewing distant birds through binos and scopes, many gulls were in the air and things looked promising. A juvenile female Peregrine Falcon was also helping us out. Every twenty minutes or so, the falcon would fly through the area, flushing up all the gulls. On the second time gulls were flushed up into the air, a birder standing near us spotted the Black-tailed Gull. After a few seconds of trying to figure out where to look, everyone there was able to lock onto the distant gull. It was fairly easy to pick out since it was pretty much the only gull present with dark blue upperwings and a black-banded tail. In addition to the color differences, the bird’s structure and overall build was very unique. It has the long, lanky look of a Lesser Black-backed Gull but has a much longer bill, which make the bird’s head seem longer. In addition, the bird appeared to be larger than the Ring-billed Gulls but smaller than the Herring Gulls, which made it the only gull of its size present.
After seeing the gull flush up and fly around the harbor a number of times, I was very happy with the looks I was able to get through my binoculars and camera, plus it looked like the gull had settled in to where it was going to spend the day. We tried scanning from a few other points around the harbor to see if we could get another look at the bird, but we couldn’t. Another highlight from our morning in Ashtabula included a good (but incredibly distant) look at one of two Snowy Owls that has been present in the harbor for over a week now. I was also able to spot two juvenile Glaucous Gulls flying around one of the jetties, being chased by other gulls.