Bonaparte’s Gull

October 8th, 2016: Birding from the ferry to Vancouver Island

I love taking ferries. Especially those that are on calm enough water that I don’t get seasick. Today I got to bird from the bow of the Tsawwassen to Schwartz Bay ferry on my way to Victoria for a half marathon. This could mean seeing all sorts of great birds and I was really hoping to spot some alcids as we crossed the Georgia Strait. It turns out that wasn’t to be and I ended up seeing the most bird diversity at the ferry jetty by a long shot: all three species of cormorant for the area (Double-crested, Pelagic, and Brandt’s) and a smattering of the usual suspects (eBird list). On the ferry crossing though, just before we arrived at Active Pass, we happened across lots of gull flocks with the small and beautiful non-breeding Bonaparte’s Gulls (“bonies”) in the hundreds, along with Mew Gull, Ring-billed Gull, and Glaucous-winged Gull.

Bonaparte’s Gulls and a Glaucous-winged Gull feeding above a school of fish
Bonaparte’s Gull in flight
Juvenile Bonaparte’s Gull at Iona Island

The bonies were hunting in large flocks, moving around and diving a lot like Common Tern (the Bonaparte’s Gull was actually classified in the tern genus when it was first described in 1815). But the gulls have that beautiful angled, quasi-“M” pattern on the upper wings, trailing black wing tips, and gleaming white front edges. I checked through the flocks as they moved around quickly, but couldn’t locate any jaegers in the fray. I did see a couple of distant jaegers—probably Parasitic—with the bonies on the trip back a few days later.

A busy ferry passage
Scanning the open waters of the Georgia Strait for alcids, loons, gulls, and jaegers

This is a pretty widespread North American gull, known to birders from coast to coast and north to south. But it happens to be the only gull to regularly nest in trees. This gull also is NOT named for Napoleon (though that might explain its size), but for the French ornithologist Charles Lucien Bonaparte. Charles WAS actually Napoleon’s nephew!

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