When you spend a lot of time birding local patches around your home, you can get somewhat attached to the birds you come across when you know they are likely the same individuals you see every time you go there. For instance, there is an injured Ring-necked Duck that has been hanging out at the local ‘duck pond’ for the past 2 years, and I feel like him and I are pretty good friends now since I go to the Duck Pond almost every day and see him there. Or the Red-tailed Hawks I see along roads near my home, or the chickadees and juncos at the feeder in my backyard, or the male Cooper’s Hawk that terrorizes the House Sparrows of the Penn State campus. But up until now, I have never had that experience with a rarity.
Last February, my friends and I were down in Cape May for a Paulagic. Afterwards we spent a day birding around Cape May, trying to find a few of the reported rarities and other cool birds. One of our top targets for the day was an adult Black-headed Gull that was occasionally seen along the bayside – anywhere between the ferry terminal and Del Haven. An adult Black-headed Gull has been reported to eBird during the winter months every year since 2009. Could this be the same bird every year? After quite a bit of searching, we did end up finding it AND it was a lifer for myself and my friends! I put together a short photo-study of the gull last year, that you can check out at this link.
Now it seems that same adult Black-headed Gull has again returned! Josh Lefever and I checked the bayside of Cape May for the bird on two occasions during the weekend and were able to find it on our second try – right where we had left it a year before! And just like it had acted the year before, the gull wandered up and down the beach foraging along the surf. Dog-walkers passed within 35 feet of the bird and it just ignored them and kept on going. One of the most exciting things to see was when it joined Sanderlings, Ruddy Turnstones, and Dunlins that were foraging along the beach. Obviously we can never be totally sure this is the same bird returning every year unless the bird is banded, but it seems like it could be. We spent 45 minutes (eBird list) admiring the gull and the other birds nearby, happy to see an old friend and wishing it a good winter and successful trip back to wherever it is the bird had come from.