We recently found ourselves in Surrey County by the James River, in need of crossing to see the Clay Colored Sparrow that has been coming to a feeder in Jamestown. The obvious solution was to cross on the ferry. The Jamestown-Scotland Ferry has had some interesting rarities over the years, including Black Legged Kittiwake and Sabine’s Gull. You will be sad to learn that no super rarities were seen that day, but we did have some good studies of some decent birds. As we waited for the ferry, we scanned the gulls perched on the pilings and on the water. There was a Great Black Backed Gull on the water with Ring Billed and Herring Gulls. We were pleased to hear a Pine Warbler singing, one of the first short distance migrant songbirds arriving in Virginia – a bit early, but not unexpected with all the crazy warm weather we have been having lately. The ferry docked and as we drove onto it, my friend spotted a Laughing Gull on one of the pilings. It was beginning to molt out of its non-breeding plumage with an incomplete hood and a black bill. This species is a common summer resident of coastal Virginia, but it is still a little early for them.
As the ferry headed out onto the James River it quickly attracted a large swarm of gulls traveling in its wake. Gulls often fly behind large ships so that they can eat any fish the ships’ engines chop up or stir to the surface. Quickly another Laughing Gull joined the first one in the crowd of Ring Billed Gulls. Soon, we could see Bonaparte’s Gulls in the flock and by the end of the ride we had counted over twenty!
The Bonaparte’s and the Laughing Gull were VA year birds for me!