Lucas, Zoe. 1997. A Black-tailed Gull on Sable Island. Birders Journal, 6(4): 205-207. [ornithology, birds, Larus crassirostris, vagrant]

Summary (ZL): On May 8, 1997, I encountered a strange gull about 5 km east of the Sable Island Station (Meteorological Service of Canada). I heard it before I saw it. The bird’s calls were very distinctive amongst those of several dozen Herring (Larus argentatus) and Great Black-backed (L. marinus) gulls circling overhead. During the next few days I had ample opportunity to study the bird (and take a few photos)—it was not wary. When I visited the site, the gull usually flew over and around me several times, calling, and then settled on a nearby dune with Herring Gulls.

I saw the gull on eight occasions between May 8th and 22nd (all at the same Herring Gull nesting colony), once on June 24th in a different Herring Gull colony, and once on June 30th feeding along the water’s edge in the company of Herring Gulls on the north beach.

I had a collection of bird texts and guides on the island, and was able to identify the visitor as an adult Black-tailed Gull (L. crassirostris). Considering this species’ normal range was given around the Sea of Japan, I contacted Ian McLaren who assured me that the sighting was not as farfetched as it seemed since there had been many recent North American records of the species. Of these, the more pertinent to the Sable Island occurrence were seven sightings on the Atlantic coast of northeastern USA between 1984 and 1997. It was possible that the Sable bird was connected with these sightings (which themselves may have been the same one or two individuals turning up on different occasions). Given records of other wandering Pacific gulls in the Atlantic in recent years it seems probable that the Black-tailed Gull on Sable Island in 1997 was a natural vagrant.