October 16, 2023
An Eye to the Sky
- as seen by -Julie Larsen
In the New York Bight not far from Coney Island, a swirling mass of menhaden, an important forage fish for seabirds and marine mammals, can mean good photo opportunities. I keep one eye to the sky and the other on the sea where humpback whales come to feed.
I spot the bait ball and hear the familiar and raucous cries of several seabirds on a fly-by. Most are coming from herring gulls that are common to the nearby beaches and waters.
A loud ha-ha-ha sounds from above my head. Who is making fun of me for missing the shot of the whale that breached on the other side of the boat?
It’s a laughing gull, Leucophaeus atricilla, a rather noisy species whose common call is a descending series of notes lasting three seconds or more.
I use my ears to try and identify. A keen eye can pick out the lack of white on its wing tips and smaller white eye rings than its look-alike cousin, Franklin’s gull. Laughing gulls prefer the east coast for breeding while Franklin’s gulls range more toward the middle of the continent to the north of the US and into Canada. The species has recovered from severe hunting in the late nineteenth century for their eggs and for their plumes used in hat fashion according to Cornell’s All About Birds.
I’m glad to know that the gull is just vocalizing, not showing any disrespect. I got its photo from the starboard side.