Most people visit Beechey Head for the spectacular views out of the Strait of Juan de Fuca or the interesting botany. This viewpoint in East Sooke Regional Park is also an excellent place to view the turkey vulture and hawk migration in the fall. The Head represents one side of the narrowest gaps between Vancouver Island and Washington State. Raptors and vultures stage here in large kettles prior to crossing the strait.
Views from Beechey Head
In early October I hiked out to the viewpoint with my partner to look for migrating hawks and vultures. Unfortunately, the conditions were less than ideal for kettles to form. The wind was strong enough that it was difficult to stand upright in exposed locations and the day was cool. Fortunately, poor weather for raptors is often excellent weather for gulls. The lower viewpoint at the Head looks directly out over the Strait of Juan de Fuca which gives good views of gulls flying out to the Pacific.
Photographing Gulls at Beechey Head
Bird photography is an expensive hobby. In order to get decent photographs of birds an expensive lens with a long reach is required. On this hike I used a Canon 90D and a Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 lens. I knew that even though the 70-200mm is an excellent lens it wouldn’t really be able to do what I wanted it to do. It would have been useful to capture large groups of turkey vultures, hawks passing low overhead, or possibly forest birds at a reasonable distance. It is not a good lens to photograph gulls flying over water at the base of a steep cliff.
Nevertheless, I noticed that there were some interesting looking gulls flying past Beechey Head. These birds were made more interesting because they were difficult to see and photograph. Since the birds are far away it is hard (for me) to identify them conclusively. I should add that I’m not particularly good at identifying gulls unless they are species with obvious and distinctive field marks. I have a feeling about a few of them… but that sort of describes my whole process of identifying gulls. Some even look suggestively pelagic but probably aren’t. While a field guide like Sibley’s is helpful, these are gulls with multiple variations in plumage.
Since I’m not 100% sure what these gulls are I’m going to let you try to identify them. Your personal satisfaction will be your reward for this onerous task. Let us begin!
Unknown Gull #1
Not sure on this one. It suggests 1st winter Heermann’s or possibly 1st winter Western. I think that the bill is more Western than Heermann’s.
Mystery Gull #2
Maybe a 1st winter California gull. Or something completely different. Here’s another picture of it.
Unidentified Gull #3
This gull is in adult plumage so it should be easy. It is not. Probably because the photograph is so small that it is hard to get a good idea of the black wing tips and the size of the bill. Bill size is kind of important in getting this one and the photograph is just not quite good enough. Leg colour would be useful too. Here’s another photograph of the same gull that might be helpful.
Maybe that wasn’t helpful. I’m leaning toward adult nonbreeding California Gull on this one.
Lessons Learned at Beechey Head
Identifying flying gulls is very challenging from a distance. It is easier if you can see more field marks like leg colour, eye colour, bill colour and weight which is possible with birds that are not flying. Regardless, they are quite relaxing to watch as they skim over the surface of the ocean on a windy day. If you have any thoughts on these three mystery gulls please comment below.