The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

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January 8, 2008

Rare gull makes Massachusetts debut

GLOUCESTER, Mass. — Gloucester may boast some attractive tourist destinations, but local birdwatchers are wondering which one might have brought a pair of rare sea gulls that could have come from as far as Siberia to hang out around the harbor.

Two slaty-backed gulls have been spotted in Gloucester over the past two weeks, at Jodrey Fish Pier and Niles Pond.

It’s an exciting development for the birdwatching community, and many birders have flocked to Cape Ann hoping for a glimpse of the visitors. It also has many scratching their heads as to how — or why — these birds made it to Massachusetts from so far away.

Renowned bird scientist and field guide author David Sibley first spotted the gulls at Jodrey Fish Pier on Dec. 23, making the first identification of the bird in state history. Gloucester nearly lost that distinction to the Cape Cod town of Eastham, where a slaty-backed gull was spotted on the very same day, just an hour later.

“This puts Gloucester on the map as far as birdwatching,” said Susan Hedman, a Gloucester resident and birdwatcher.

To the untrained eye, slaty-backed gulls, so named for their slate gray wings, look much like any of the sea gulls that Gloucester beachgoers are used to shielding their snacks from on a hot summer’s day.

The gull has a pure white head and belly with white trim on its gray wings. Other tell-tale signs that the gull a birdwatcher is seeing is slaty-backed include pink legs, yellow eyes and an orange spot on its yellow bill.

“You have to be looking for it to find it,” said Sibley, who lives in Concord and was on Jodrey Fish Pier for the day. He had been awaiting the sighting for some time, knowing that reports of the breed in eastern North America have been climbing over the past decade.

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