Slaty-backed Gull and the Brussel Sprout Patch, San Mateo County
- Hello Birders. Today Oscar Johnson, Ayla Reith and I ventured north from Santa Cruz to San Mateo County. Our first stop was the famed Brussel Sprout Patch at Cascade Farms, just north of Ano Nuevo State Park. This was the location that in 2006 held an American Redstart, a Hooded Warbler, a White-throated Sparrow, a Virgina Rail, as well as droves of White-crowned Sparrows, Yellow-rumped Warblers and other birds. This year it's looking a little sparser than in 2006, but there were still piles of Brussel sprouts and a lot of birds there. Oscar was able to pull out a WHITE-THROATED SPARROW an an 'ORESTRA' ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLER, but otherwise nothing unusual.
Next up, we stopped at the end of Broadway Avenue in Princeton. We did not see the reported adult Black-tailed Gull, nor did a half a dozen other birders. We also did not see or hear the Northern Warterthrush that Al Jaramillo found the other day.
After striking out at the end of Broadway, Oscar, Ayla and I went to Venice Beach in Half Moon Bay proper. The Gull flock is severely reduced from previous years, with fewer than 400 individual gulls present (down from 10-15,000 last year). This is probably due to the harassment policies at the local landfills (good for nesting Snowy Plovers and other shorebirds, bad for Gull watching in the winter). The one highlight was a probable first-cycle SLATY-BACKED GULL. Oscar found this bird, and Al Jaramillo and I photographed it extensively. Some of my photographs can be found here: <http://www.pbase.com/henicorhina/123108_slatybacked_gull>.
This bird looks really good for a first-cycle Slaty-backed Gull, but this ID conundrum is pretty woosly, and due to innumerable possible hybrid combos from a half-dozen or so different species, neither Oscar, nor I feel 100% comfortable calling this bird a definite Slaty-backed Gull. However, I personally don't see anything particularly wrong for that species. So, I would like to end with the caveat that although this bird looks really good for a Slaty-backed Gull, at this point we cannot say with certainty that it is. Good birding, good Gulling and good luck,
Potter Valley, CA