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The Daily Bucket is a regular feature of the Backyard Science group.  It is a place to note any observations you have made of the world around you.  Seastars, fish, insects, weather, meteorites, climate, birds and/or flowers.  All are worthy additions to the bucket.  Please let us know what is going on around you in a comment.  Include, as close as is comfortable for you, where you are located.
June 2013
Salish Sea,
Pacific Northwest

Properly speaking, they are gulls not seagulls, as many birds in their genus, Larus , are found far from the sea. Gulls are among the most intelligent, adaptable and persistent of birds, and take advantage of whatever food sources are available, including what we humans present to them in cities, farms, suburban neighborhoods, you name it. However, the name Larus, derived from the Greek word for "ravenous seabird", speaks to where we commonly see these large beautiful birds doing what they are exceptionally good at. Here in the Salish Sea, they are very much seabirds.

I see them frequently everyday, but their abundance makes them no less remarkable and interesting to me. There are many things I could describe and show you, but today, just a moment on the beach with them. On a recent evening, I bicycled along a beach near my house and had to stop to watch the group of half a dozen gulls feeding near the shore. They soared and plunge-dived, coming up with small fish. I was lucky to get any in-focus photos at all, considering how fast they were flying, all over the bay (not to mention the time of night, after 9 pm), but I snapped a few.

A few weeks ago I saw a mysterious large bird soaring and circling overhead in midday, and could not identify it, although we narrowed it down here at Backyard Science (decided it wasn't a tern, fulmar, or albatross). A photo taken at a similar angle of one of the sunset gulls shows a very similar silhouette.


The mystery bird was most likely a Glaucous-Winged Gull, the most common of our species around here, based on the size and lack of black wingtips. The soaring, around and around, was unusual behavior for a gull, which usually flies more actively, flapping, gliding, pivoting. Likely, that one was using the midday thermal to gain altitude, as the eagles and vultures commonly do. The Glaucous-Winged (Larus glaucescens) is a large gull, 2 feet from head to tail with a 4-5 foot wingspread, and as an adult is gray and white only, unlike the other large gulls sometimes found in this area, the Herring Gull and the Western Gull. Here are some adults and juveniles, both with their lovely pink legs, scrounging along this same beach in the day time, looking for invertebrates in the washed up seaweed.

On land they waddle a bit, with their webbed feet, and can even look a little comical. When flying, their powerful grace is awesome.
Many people think of gulls as pests, since they readily scavenge garbage and stake out fast-food parking lots. In the islands though, they primarily live off the land and the sea, as these were, diving for live fish. Elegant and supremely competent birds. A treat to watch at their work. Nice sunset too.
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Observations for the day? What are you seeing in your backyard? Leave a note in the Bucket. In the morning, Pacific time, I'll meet you there.

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