Los Farallones

Dispatches from Point Blue’s field station on the Farallon Islands National Wildlife Refuge

Meet Stumpy – The islands first Lesser black-backed gull

On 12 November 2018, while on a routine evening bird survey of the island, I encountered a third-cycle Lesser Black-backed Gull. While not as mind-bending of a record as Northern Gannet or Kermadec Petrel, this represented a long-awaited first record for Southeast Farallon Island. Interestingly, we noticed that this bird was missing its left toes – something that could make it individually recognizable if it were seen elsewhere.

Lesser black-backed gull in flight at the Farallones

The next day, Jim Tietz posted a message on CalBirds, a listserv for birders in California, about this record and suggested that people keep an eye out for this gull. Soon enough, we received an email from Chris Hayward that a Lesser Black-backed Gull missing its left toes had been photographed in Foster City, San Mateo County last April!

The change in the gull’s appearance from last April to November is expected and further confirms it as the same individual. Note how in April when the gull was in its second molt-cycle that it had more extensively brown coverts on the wings, all-blackish primaries (wingtips) without white spots, and more black on the tail than it does in November when it had molted into its third cycle.

Lesser black-backed gull in Foster City, April 2018. Photo by Malia DeFelice

This is far from the first time a bird on the Farallones has been found on the mainland. In October 2000, a Pink-backed Pelican, native to Africa, first showed up on the island and was seen later at Harkins Slough in Santa Cruz County in 2003. Last fall, a Lincoln’s Sparrow banded on the island was found dead a few months later in Tucson, Arizona, after striking a stationary object. And the Masked Booby that we could recently watch while we were sipping coffee from our front porch was likely the same as one documented earlier this fall off Pt. Pinos, Monterey County. While it is often safe to assume that there are more birds flying around than can ever be detected, large, distinctive individual birds are frequently possible to track as they move large distances.