Twitching BC's 2nd-ever Great Black-backed Gull in Kelowna!

Great Black-backed Gull in Kelowna - Photo: Melissa Hafting

On May 13th-2019, Ryan Tomlinson found a Great Black-backed Gull (GBBG) in Kelowna. The bird was at the mouth of Mission Creek. This was only the second record for British Columbia and most people did not have it for BC. The first time one showed up it was in Kamloops in 1988!. I called up a few friends in town and Brian Stech, Carlo Giovanella, Mike Tabak and I left Vancouver at 5 am. We made Kelowna in 4 hours. I drove and there was no traffic. It took another 30 mins to get to the site. When we got there my friends Mike Force and Chris Charlesworth texted me that it had been seen 20 mins before we got there.

We walked out via a path that is kind of treacherous if you have any mobility issues because it goes over a high water creek and up over a small but high wooden dock with no railing. The rocks were also slippery but it was only a short 50 m walk to get onto the sandbar to view the gulls.

We got there and saw no GBBG. I was not too disappointed I figured it would be back. Plus we had a very pretty Franklin's Gull there to keep us company. He had a very rosy breast and was an adult in full breeding plumage. Later that evening at 8:30pm these guys would multiply into six individuals.

A rosy-breasted Franklin's Gull in Kelowna - Photos: Melissa Hafting

There was 7 local birders there (I was surprised not more out of town birders had not come to see BC's second record). There were lots of Bank Swallows, Ospreys, a Red-necked Grebe, Surf Scoters, 100 Western Grebes, Spotted Sandpipers and 2 Bonaparte's Gulls among others. 

Bonaparte's Gull with Greater Black-backed and Ring-billed Gull in Kelowna - Photo: Melissa Hafting

2 of my friends fell asleep on the sand and 5 of the locals left. I should say we had now been waiting 3 hours. I kept up awake scanning the water with my scope and bins.It was a bit chilly. After being there for 3 hours and 15 mins, I was talking to my some birders. Just then out of the corner of my eye I caught a big gull flying in a circle above the houses to the north. I got my bins on it and called it out "I GOT IT!." Carlo and Mike were asleep on the sand. Carlo was just resting his eyes and woke up right away. I screamed at Mike a few time and then he woke up and looked up. We all got good looks and photos as it circled above. I high-fived everyone. 

The massive gull then decided to fly onto the sandbar in front of us. From this vantage point we saw it so clear with the scope and bins. It had a red orbital ring, pale eye, a dark almost black mantle and pink legs. We had seen the diagnostic wing pattern of a white tip to P10 and a large mirror on P9. It was therefore so cool to see all his features while also sitting. You could see he was a huge barrel-chested gull with a huge bill. Some people tried to turn it into a kelp gull but no cigar! hahaha

Great Black-backed Gull in flight - Photo: Melissa Hafting

Great Black-backed Gull perched on the sandbar - Photos: Melissa Hafting

The Gull flew off North at 1:20pm. I found out from locals it took exactly five hours!!!  for him to fly in again at 6:20pm. He certainly turned out to be the gull of patience!. It’s a large lake and it’s amazing how a massive gull like him can disappear evening may turn out to be the best time to see this guy when he comes into roost.We had lots of cloud and only a bit of drizzle of rain, so we lucked out with the weather contrary to the ominous forecast. On the way home though, it did pour. After we reached Vancouver we heard on the radio that we had just missed a multi-vehicle collision on the Coquihalla  that has closed HWY 5 in both directions! Boy we were glad to have missed that. We left Vancouver at 5 am and were back in Vancouver by 6pm. Pretty darn efficient! Big thanks to Mike for letting us use his car.

This was BC Bird #428 for me. I hope it sticks for Ilya and my friends who are out of town and all who want to see it!. I have seen this gull before in TX, so it was not a lifer but such a cool and striking bird to see on the west coast.

Greater Black-backed Gulls are quite striking - Photo: Melissa Hafting

It was another good twitch in BC with great people. Plus I got to go home and celebrate with some fresh Sockeye salmon from my friend Brian!. When I got back home I took a short walk around Iona to look for Cole Gaerber's Western Kingbird and to my surprise found 2 of them fighting in a tree by the SW inner pond. After that I went to the main beach by the washrooms and saw at least 4 Parasitic Jaegers chasing hundreds of Common Terns and Bonaparte's Gulls. It was a really marvelous end to a great day.


  1. I guess I must have been one of the guys sleeping... but I missed the memo. Great find and I'm glad your efforts paid off! The pics are wonderful as well! Got company right now but will see if there is an opportunity to scoot up for a look.

    1. thanks ian! i sure hope you go and see him today. he's still present and a lot of people have already seen him today on may 17th! cheers

  2. Beautiful pictures. Glad you saw this rare bird!

  3. Congratulations for finding and getting great photos of this rare bird. I read this a few days ago and yesterday I stopped at an overlook near the confluence of the Walla Walla and Columbia River here in Washington state and was surprised to see a large number of Franklin's Gulls which you also reported here and photographed. Another birder that I saw at the same location listed the birds at ebird as Bonaparte's but I'm confident that they are Franklin's. I counted 64 Franklin's which is apparently a record for Walla Walla County, Washington. Thanks for posting this and the photos which immediately led me to know the birds I saw were either FRGU or BOGO. I am very poor at gull identification. You can see my poor long distance photos at flickr when it is working.

    1. thanks jim very cool you saw all those franklin's gulls! it's cool to see them migrating in those large flocks. look forward to seeing the pics when flickr works again! hope you are doing well.


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