Coast and Country Nature

NATURE -- Rare Bonaparte Seagull At Cardwell Bay Was Possibly Blown Across Atlantic

Birdwatchers at Battery Park today

BIRD watchers have been flocking to Cardwell Bay in Gourock to see a rare American seagull which appears to have crossed the Atlantic by accident, writes David Carnduff.

The Clyde at Cardwell Bay and Battery Park is home to a range of shorebirds, such as oystercatcher, redshank, curlew, dunlin and ringed plover, but the bay is also fast gaining a reputation as a stopping-off place for rare and uncommon types of seagull, and this week a rare species has been seen there which has put it firmly on the bird-watching map.

The bird in question is the grandly named Bonaparte's Gull, a rare vagrant from North America. It was first seen by a sharp-eyed observer on Sunday (5 February) and, since then, has been watched by others, travelling some distance, keen to add the species to their lifetime bird list.

A number of bird watchers with long-lens cameras, and kitted out for today's cold, rainy conditions, spent several hours patrolling the shore from Cove Road round to the edge of Battery Park.

Cardwell Bay and the Bonaparte gull that was spotted there. Inset photo by Donald Wilson

The gull itself is unremarkable and similar to the abundant black-headed gulls still in winter plumage. But, on close inspection, there are subtle differences. It is smaller, with more dusky plumage and a narrow black bill.

I was fortunate to see it on Monday (6 February) along with Donald Wilson who had travelled from Uddingston in the hope of a sighting. Donald took pictures of the gull, one of which is reproduced above.

The bird's presence in Scotland, so far away from its usual range, raises intriguing questions about how it got here. The species breeds throughout Alaska and Canada and migrates to coastal regions of North America for the winter. So it seems possible the bird became disoriented in a storm which blew it across the Atlantic.

Although quite unremarkable in appearance, Cardwell Bay's little visitor has an exotic pedigree. The species (Latin name, Larus Philadelphia) was named after Charles Lucien Bonaparte, a French ornithologist (and nephew to the former French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte) who spent eight years in the 1820s studying birds in America.

There's another local link worth mentioning about Monsieur Bonaparte. He revised and updated a pioneering work on American ornithology written by the renowned Alexander Wilson who emigrated to the USA from Paisley in 1794.

Wilson, described as the "father of American ornithology", would have been very familiar with Bonaparte's Gull but perhaps never imagined one would turn up so close to his home town in Scotland.

Meanwhile, birdwatchers are keeping the area under scrutiny in the hope of discovering other far-travelled visitors.

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