"Kelp Gull" at Broome

I visited Broome in the west Kimberley of Western Australia for a week in late January / early February 2002 with Robbie Brown from Phillip Island in Victoria.  Two vagrant gulls had been reported in Broome during the previous 6 weeks.  The first was a Sabine's Gull seen by Chris Hassell on the beach at Coconut Well north of Broome on the 14th December 2001, and the second was a Kelp Gull seen by George Swann at Entrance Point near the Broome port on the 28th December 2001.  Chris Hassell also saw this gull and agreed that it was a Kelp Gull and completed the URRF for the Atlas of Australian Birds.

We arrived in Broome on Sunday 27th January 2002.  We had to wait to check in to our hotel room so we went to the port to look around and we immediately found the Kelp Gull at the boat ramp at Entrance Point where George first found the bird.

We visited the port five more times before we left at lunch time on Monday 4th February and we saw the gull on every visit.  The gull was mostly near the first boat ramp at Entrance Point, or on the wharf or the beach near the wharf, and once it was roosting at high tide on an offshore rock opposite the second boat ramp.  We returned to the port on the Sunday afternoon and we took some photographs.  We flushed the gull from Entrance Point towards the beach to the right of the main wharf, and from there it flew on to the railings along the port and from there it flew out into the bay where it landed on the water for a short while, before it returned to the railings again, and then back to the beach to the right of the wharf.  We concentrated mainly on getting photographs, but we made a few notes.  We could usually get to about 10 to 15 metres from the gull and a couple of times we got to closer than 10 metres.  On the Tuesday we returned to the port and we took more detailed notes and a few more photographs.  On each day there were generally a few Silver Gulls fairly close by.  On the final morning the gull was alone on a flat rock near the tide line, and there was an unusual gull similar to a Silver Gull on the beach.  We concentrated on the second gull during this visit although the rain had set in and the wind was picking up.  This other gull could have been a Slender-billed Gull and this is written up in a separate note.

We made the following notes on the various parts of the gull :

Size.  The size of the gull was difficult to estimate exactly.  It was considerably larger than the Silver Gulls when they were close together.  I made one estimate that the bill to tail length was about a third longer than the Silver Gull, but it may have been as little as one fifth or less likely a little more than one third.  Most field guides give the length of a Silver Gull as about 42cm, and so this would make the length of this gull at about 50cm to 60cm, but mostly likely about 52cm to 56cm based on the Silver Gull.  I hope that some of the photographs will show this better.

Body.  The body was white with fairly heavy streaking.  The streaking sometimes appeared brown in good light, but it mostly looked black brown.  This streaking was on the head, nape, mantle, throat, flanks, breast and belly.

Tail.  The tail was very clearly marked.  In casual flight or when it shuffled its wings it appeared to have a fairly wide terminal black band.  The rump and the rest of the tail was bright white.  Sometimes it flew with the tail widely spread.  In this case, the tail looked like it had two black wedges on each side with the white just reaching the tip of the centre of the tail.  The top of the white rump was fairly sharp and level with the back edge of the wings.

Legs.  The legs were a grey colour or perhaps a fleshy grey.  In flight the tips of the feet appeared to just (and only just) extend past the tip of the tail, but I didn't concentrate on this feature.

Bill.  The bill colour is the hardest to describe.  I hope that the photographs will show this clearly.  It will also be interesting to compare our photographs with the photographs of Chris Hassell taken a month earlier.  The very tip of the bill was grey or pale grey.  The upper mandible then had a very noticeable patch of yellow which particularly could be seen running up the top of the bill when seen from front on.  I never properly noted how extensive the yellow was on the lower mandible.  Behind the yellow there was an area of black for most of the remainder of the upper mandible, and part of the lower mandible.  The base of the bill, especially on the lower mandible was grey.  The bill was heavy but certainly not as heavy as a Pacific Gull which I am quite familiar with.  I don't see Kelp Gulls very often and so I couldn't say for certain whether the bill was larger or smaller than a Kelp Gull.

Upper Wing.  The upper wings were generally a fairly dark black brown.  The light often made it difficult to be certain of variations in the colour, but it was noticeable a couple of times that the trailing edge of the inner half of the wings (secondaries and tertiaries?) was darker than the rest of the wing.  It was wider than just the edge.  Maybe about one fifth of the width of the wing or a bit less.  But this doesn't seem to be apparent in the best photograph.  The extreme leading edge of the wing is white in the photographs.

Under Wing.  I did not concentrate on the under wing, but during one flight I noticed that the back half of the under wing was not as dark as the front half.  This could very well just be the extra light shining through the flight feathers.


The following is the best photograph that shows the general colour, bill and legs.

The photograph below on the left is the best that shows the tail and upper parts.  The primaries and tail are extensively worn which I didn't pick up at the time.

The photograph below on the right is the best that shows the under wing but this doesn't show clearly on the scanned photograph.  It also shows the bill a little more.  It was picking up a shell fish, flying half a metre to a metre into the air and dropping it.  It did this four to six times before we moved in and flushed it while trying to take the photographs.

The photograph below is the best that shows the comparative size with a Silver Gull.  From this photograph it appears that my estimate of being 33% longer is a significant overestimate.


Copyright Frank O'Connor 1997-2002 Visits Last Modified 11th February 2002