A crowd of birders gathered Monday, binoculars and long-range camera lenses pointed at the gulls on the sand at Bay Shore Avenue and Second Street.
Those driving by shouted, “What’s with the birds?” To which, Rob Hamilton was happy to report that the flock included a bird of a different color — the rare Black-tailed Gull.
Hamilton was on the way to the grocery store with his son when he spotted the bird that is known for its black tail, charcoal-colored wings, yellow legs, red-tipped nose and red-rimmed eyes. The Black-tailed Gull, which is said to have a cat-like call, is normally found in East Asia. It is rarely seen in the United States. Hamilton said the Black-tailed Gull is perhaps the rarest bird he has ever seen in the last three decades he has been a birdwatcher.
He immediately called fellow birders in the area and reported the sighting to ornithology expert at the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History, Kimball Garrett, who drove to the site and confirmed the bird’s species.
“This sighting really exemplifies how far flown these birds are and how far they can wander,” Garrett said. “Gulls in general are known for vagrancy or wandering out of their expected range. The Black-tailed Gull is an abundant species in Eastern Asia … but rarely wanders to North America.”
He said Hamilton’s sighting marks only the third time a Black-tailed Gull has been found in California, and the first “twitchable” sighting, meaning other birdwatchers were able to come and see it for themselves. Garrett added that Los Angeles County has one of the highest bird sighting counts in the nation.
Within a few hours, several dozen people arrived at the beach, ready to cross the Black-tailed Gull off their sightings list. Hamilton reported that birders came to Long Beach Monday and Tuesday from as far away as San Diego and Sacramento. He said the birders would send their photos of the Black-tailed Gull to the California Bird Records Committee, which records and verifies bird sightings.
Steve Shinn, a Long Beach resident who takes professional photographs of birds, aimed his long 500mm telephoto lens with teleconverter towards the group of birds — some sleeping on the sand, others fluttering feathers.
When asked why they became birders, the men said they do it for social reasons — the birders gathered on the beach for hours were very jovial — but also because it provides an opportunity to see something unique and unusual in what others might consider a group of homogeneous gulls.