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My Life’s Birds: #446

November 24, 2010
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January 29, 2008 – North Wake Landfill A landfill is an unpleasant place to spend any amount of time.  I don’t suppose I’m going out of line by making such a pronouncement as it’s sort of par for the course  when you dig a giant hole and stick massive amounts of garbage in it. But the true offensiveness of a landfill is less in the stench and the mud and the heavy vehicles threatening to run you over, though those things are clearly offensive by any objective metrics you could come up with, it’s in the constant reminder of the all the stuff that’s wasted and tossed with little regard to what it means that we have to dug giant cement lined holes in the ground because we don’t have any other way to get rid of it.  For what is supposed to be a 21st Century society we’re living in, the way we deal with refuse has not progressed much beyond caveman outhouse technology.  That reflects poorly on us.

Aaaaannnyway, landfills suck for a lot of very good reasons.  But they also kind of rock too, for one reason.  Gulls.   So just to head off the feedback from thousands of birders who are not convinced that gull identification is mark in the “pro-landfill” column, you should check out this hilarious video from Shorebirder and all will become clear!   I’ll wait.

But seriously, back in 2008 there was a landfill within the city limits of Raleigh, by which I mean when it was originally constructed Raleigh was a much smaller city which, like a gluttonous amoeba, expanded to overtake the surrounding areas such that this landfill that had once been out of sight and out of mind was now smack in the center of suburbia, a less than ideal spot for a landfill for a home-owner’s perspective no doubt.  So the plan was to cap it pronto, a sad predicament for birders as not only was it a cinch to get to but it’s proximiety to Falls Lake, not more than five miles to the north, meant that there was always a large number of gulls to be found loafing among the garbage.  Mostly the expected Ring-bills and Herrings, but also a few Lesser Black-backs (excellent this far inland) and the occasional northern vagrant with glorious white wings.

That was why I had ventured to the dump on this day.  An Iceland Gull had been reported amongst the squabbling flocks the week before and I aimed to have it on my Big Year list, not to mention my life list.  My mistakes were many as I arrived.  First, I drove to the top of the mound of trash, near where the trucks were dumping their loads.  This nearly got my car stuck in what I hoped to any god I could think of was mud and no doubt subjected myself to the ire of the garbage truck drivers.  Next I rolled down my windows, an actions whose foolhardiness is apparent without further elaboration.  Third, I couldn’t immediately find the biggest flock of gulls, tucked as they were on the back of the landfill mound, and very nearly gave up in frustration, getting to the gate and nearly heading home before deciding that a white-winged gull deserved one more shot.

I was fortunate my better judgment won out.  Because I found the balance of the flock of gulls and got to searching where I nearly immediately found a few Lesser-backed Gulls, encouraging me to look harder, when a massive pale hulk rose out of the clumps of Ring-bills to get the old adrenaline pumping.  My first impression, I’m happy to say, was Glaucous Gull, but having no experience with this species I second guessed myself.  Then third guessed.  I got some photos, including the one to the left, and hit the Sibley to try to make heads or tails of what I was seeing.  I was struck by the Nelson’s Gull (Glaucous x Herring hybrid), illustrated in the Sibley as being pretty pale itself,as a possibility and took to the state listserv with my photos to crowd-source the answer.

I generally don’t like when people ask for IDs on the listserv, but I went to email list with context, stating I was pretty sure this was a Glauc but if it’s not here’s why I question that identification.  I needn’t have worried.  Within fifteen minutes several birders chimed in to validate the bird, one of only three Glaucous Gulls seen in North Carolina that winter, and the only one found inland.  While I had a few self-found rares from my days in Missouri (birds my dad and I found), this was the first one I’d found since I began birding in North Carolina.  So it was more than just a life bird, it was a milestone of sorts. One I might not have reached if it hadn’t been for the Big Year forcing me out into the field with a purpose my regular birding might not have generated.

I suppose that’s a kind way of saying that my Big Year was the only reason I’d find myself in a dump in the first place.  So it’s nice it worked out well this time.

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5 Comments
  1. BirdTrainerRobert permalink
    November 24, 2010 11:56 am

    How pertinent that we were just talking about this landfill on C-Birds! btw, this means that I’m the first out of you, me, and Ali to get the Triangle Black-backed sweep… just sayin’. 🙂

  2. Nate permalink*
    November 24, 2010 4:02 pm

    @Robert- Is that Lesser in all four triangle counties? Or both Greater and Lesser.

    Cause the first is seriously impressive, and the second is only a matter of time… 😉

  3. BirdTrainerRobert permalink
    November 24, 2010 4:26 pm

    Just the second for now, but I do believe you’ve opened up a whole new level of competition with the first!

  4. Nate permalink*
    November 24, 2010 4:38 pm

    @Robert- Orange County would be the tough one. Unless you found an accessible landfill I think it’d be hard.

  5. December 4, 2010 9:16 pm

    Hey great post. I actually work at a landfill as a Bird Control Biologist (the landfill is directly adjacent to an international airport). I don’t see too many gulls, and if I do I see them off quick, but there are so many great birds to find at landfills, especially grassland species. I’m up to 154 species after almost two years. And the stink isn’t that bad after a while, your nose gets used to it. 😛

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