A Bird in Two Hemispheres

Emanuel Victor resz2

Victor Emanuel

In late July I was co-leading our Wild Alaska cruise with Barry Lyon. On the last day, we disembarked on Little Diomede, an Alaskan island just south of the Arctic Circle. After seeing an incredible wildlife spectacle of over one million alcids, we boarded Zodiacs to return to the ship. Barry was on the last Zodiac. Just as they left, he spotted a Sabine’s Gull amid a large raft of Black-legged Kittiwakes. He tried to radio me, but was unsuccessful in reaching me. When I learned of this sighting, I regretted missing seeing this gull, one of the most beautiful and strikingly patterned gulls in the world.

Almost two months later to the day, we were scouting a ranch in the Pantanal of southwestern Brazil, about 9,000 miles south of Little Diomede. We were enjoying another amazing wildlife spectacle at a slough on a ranch. There were over 100 caimans, Jabiru, Wood Storks, Southern Screamers, Sunbitterns, Giant Otters, and a dozen or so Large-billed Terns, one of the most strikingly patterned terns in the world. All of a sudden Barry said, “Victor, there’s a Sabine’s Gull!” I was stunned. I looked in the direction he was pointing and saw an adult Sabine’s Gull in alternate (i.e. breeding) plumage, flying among the Large-billed Terns. At one point the gull tried to pick something off the surface of the water. A caiman almost caught it!

Sabine's Gull in Brazil's Pantanal

Sabine’s Gull in Brazil’s Pantanal. Photo by Barry Lyon.

When we told Kevin Zimmer, who is co-authoring the definitive field guide on the birds of Brazil, he said that off the top of his head, he thought this sighting may be a first record for Brazil! The Alaskan population of Sabine’s Gulls winters at sea in the Pacific off Chile and Peru. The eastern Canadian and Greenland birds winter off the west coast of Africa.

This amazing sighting illustrates one of the things that make birding so wonderful. You never know what rare bird may turn up in a totally unexpected location.