A visit to the San Juan Creek Mouth in Dana Point yesterday “terned” up some interesting shorebirds. Sadly, I had also stumbled across a horrific scene. I had walked from the OCParks parking lot along the shore to observe and log sightings via eBird for Cornell University. There were quite a few Heermann’s Gulls (both adult and immatures), as well as Western Gulls, Rock Pigeons and several adult Black-crowned Night-Herons. Of special interest were several Heermann and Western Gulls fairly close to beach-goers laying on their blankets that were more than likely scavenging for leftover food. They appeared unafraid of human intervention especially if food was available.
As I continued closer toward the rocky area near the mouth of the San Juan Creek, I noted quite a few birds with my 10x binoculars including: Ring-billed Gulls, Royal Terns, Caspian Terns, one Elegant Tern and several Black-necked Stilts. Off in the distance closer to the PCH roadway bridge, there were 10 Mallards, a few Snowy Egrets and a Common Yellowthroat calling in the distance. As I approached closer, I noted an immature Western Gull in complete misery. This appeared to be an act of cruelty involving deliberate human intervention. A young Western Gull with a green ribbon wrapped around its bill multiple times which continued around its neck and bow-tied at its leg joint. This juvenile was unable to open its mouth while it limped along to keep up with its comrades. As I inched up to get closer to assist, the large pack of gulls slowly moved in the opposite direction along with the tortured gull. After several attempts to assist I retreated to avoid stressing the weakened gull any further. Only a few photographs were taken as evidence (see below) and shortly thereafter shown to a nearby lifeguard to report the incident to the proper wildlife authorities.
Although I was standing and unable to get in the proximity of this gull, it is entirely possible to entice these Gulls with food and get them within reachable range. Much like anyone feeding wild ducks – they will get within reach and in some cases eat out your hand. This would be one theory as to how this gull was loured and tortured.
Should you witness such an unkind act, please contact your local authorities immediately. You can also contact the California Fish and Game Wildlife or CalTIP number 1 888 334-CALTIP (888 334-2258), 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Thank you JJ Meyer for assisting with this: JJ Meyer the backyard birder OC Register Columnist