The Great Journey in Photography

In Pursuit-A Gull Report

Heermann's Gull at La Jolla Beach

420mm f7.1 200iso 1/1,600sec

A while back I wrote a post about the Gulls (Sea Gulls), how they get little respect and are thought of as scavengers. Back then I said that I was going to make an effort to to photograph all 18 species in North America. A few weeks ago I ran into the Heermann’s gull at La Jolla Beach California. The picture above is a wintering or breeding adult. In this plumage the head turns white while the rest of the body is black and grey. The rest of the year the entire body is grey. From a distance and at a glance the wintering gull will look similar to a bald eagle which caused me to do a double take once or twice during the day. The most notable feature of the adult Heermann’s is the bright red bill with the dark tip. One of the things that catches my eye also is the almost pitch black legs and feet. I do not recall seeing that feature on any other gull and I believe it is the only gull with that color bill. Below there is a picture of what appears to be a juvenile.

The Heermann’s Gull inhabits only the Western coastline of North America from Washington to Central Mexico. They migrate along the western flyway. There are about 150,000 pairs in existence and like the Brown Pelican about 90% of them breed in Mexico, specifically the island of Ilsa Rasa near Baja California. Heermann’s Gulls generally eat small fish like sardines and anchovies and occasionally pirate food from unsuspecting Brown Pelicans.

These Gulls are fairly approachable, often hang out near pelicans and are best photographed at first light. The biggest challenge of photographing the Heermann’s is the adult in breeding plumage where the head is almost solid white and much of the body is black. Strong contrast will often cause blown highlights so compensate down on exposure and use some flash to bring detail into the black areas or shoot in stronger direct sunlight.

Immature Heermann's Gull at La Jolla Beach

420mm f4.0 200iso 1/400sec

Thanks for reading the blog and until next week You keep shooting.

You can see more of my Sea Gull images here.

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