Thursday, 22 December 2016

Going South -- 05 -- Chuckles

In mid-July 2016, Bruce Robertson, a Pacific Gull tragic who has been banding PG chicks for more than 25 years, visited/stayed in the caravan park at Venus Bay in South Australia [not Victoria]. He reported a Laughing Gull Leucophaeus atricilla and the twitching fraternity across Australia was instantly motivated. Why, you ask?

Laughing Gulls breed on the east coast of North America and California and migrate to northeastern Brazil and south along the Pacific coast to northern Chile Pizzey & Knight. Here was a non-breeding plumage LG who "should have turned right at Alberquerque" Walt Disney. P&K write about birds following ships across the Pacific and report two at the Esplanade in Cairns [2003, 2013] and one on Lord Howe Island [2010]. Morcombe describes birds in Tasmania and the Eyre Bird Observatory in WA. Slater says, "a rare visitor from North America likely on any beach or mudflat"! So we don't see them too often here in Australia.

The bird in breeding plumage is unmistakable.

Image from Google Images.
Images were placed on the Australian Twitchers Facebook page and it became obvious that the bird was staying put as plenty of people kept reporting him both on FB and eBird and he received a name bestowed on him by the staff of the caravan park as he was staying put in the park. Chuckles. Laughing Gull. He was still there in September as I headed south so a visit was in order. I rang ahead, booked a cabin and the twitch was on.

I arrived at about 4.30pm. I went into reception and booked in and heard the full story. Chuckles had been responsible, as at late September, for at least an additional 80 bookings of sites and cabins in the park as well as many more people who parked outside the park and came in to twitch him. Most of those people bought something from the park shop. The staff realised the full significance of Chuckles from early on [thanks probably to Bruce]. This is a great example of the usually unappreciated significance of a vagrant/rare bird on a local economy. Chuckles had settled on site 51 as his "home", possibly because there were semi-permanent residents in the van on that site who kept a water bowl clean and full for his personal use. Site 51 is also right next to the fish cleaning station. Evidently Chuckles was in full charge of his territory and boss of the Silver Gulls and Pelicans! I was given Cabin 4, right opposite site 51! I parked up, hopped out of the car, walked 20 metres with bins and camera and there he was. How easy is that!

Home of Chuckles
Laughing Gull Leucophaeus atricilla
Also in the caravan park were the usual seaside, fish station scavengers. An Australian Pelican Pelicanus conspicullatus flew in and landed with twenty of his mates but he had a fish on board which had not been swallowed and the tail was hanging out of the side of his mouth. A chase started.

Everyone for themselves here!
Other park inhabitants included Pacific Gull Larus pacificus
This is a juvenile Pacific Gull
Silver Gull Chroicocephalus novaehollandiae Big name.
The genus part means "stained-head". Perhaps not that relevant to our gull.
They used to be in the genus Larus meaning ravenous. A good description
of their behaviour!

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