Friday, January 18, 2013

New Zealand: Gulls on the Beach

First, an apology to my readers; I have been extremely swamped with a number of things, including a book manuscript due at the end of January.  I haven't forgotten about this blog, though, so stay (patiently) tuned!

From Mount Bruce we drove on to the east coast of the North Island (with one stop I'll describe in the next post) to the city of Napier, home (to Ryan's delight) of New Zealand's National Aquarium.  This posting, though, is set on a beach south of town, where Ryan was introduced to the delights of shell collecting and I had some close encounters with all three of New Zealand's gulls.

Our scene is a stretch of shingle, its tide-line marked with wave-tossed kelp.

A lone surf fisherman has strung a line from the shore, and from it dangle the severed heads of small sharks - presumably the remains of his catch.

The offal has drawn in crowds of gulls, who pay little attention to us as they swarm in for an easy meal.  We've met these gulls before in these postings, during my first 2012 trip to New Zealand, so this time round I will pretty much let the pictures speak for themselves.

First up is my favourite, the elegant Black-billed Gull (Chroicocephalus bulleri), much the uncommonest species on the North Island (its stronghold is in the South).

As this species ages from juvenile to adult, it's Bill turns from flesh-colored, with a dark, too solid black and its eyes lightened from dark to a startling and rather ghostly white. These birds seem to be partway through the change: their bills are black, but their eyes have not fully lightened.

Notice the difference in eye colour between the bird in the foreground (and in the upper picture) and the presumably more fully mature one behind it.

By the time the bird is fully mature, it's iris is very pale indeed – and note the red fleshy ring around it. This seems to give the bird in the lower picture a real advantage as it tries to stare you down!

Black-billed Gulls are particularly graceful in flight. I hope these pictures show why I am so fond of these lovely birds.
The Black-bills are joined (and challenged) by their commoner, and rather stockier, cousin, the Red-billed Gull (Chroicocephalus scopulinus).
The Red-bills take their own turn at the dismembered shark heads.
Red-billed Gulls, close up and in flight...
...Challenged, in their turn, by the largest New Zealand gull, the Kelp Gull (Larus dominicanus).
More Kelp Gulls, adults and immatures, wheel over the surf or sit waiting on the beach nearby....
While Ryan looks for treasures in the beach wrack....

...and tosses pebbles into the sea.