22 March 2009

Gulls Stream Across Skies of Midtown River City

While at a city park on a Wednesday evening just before the first day of spring in midtown Omaha, a multitude of some particular birds of the fresh season conveyed a new appreciation for what can be seen in the skies above the city.

The sheer number of gulls could not be blithely ignored.

So many gulls soared and floated in an avian manner up in the aerial realm of an urban landscape. Occasionally vibrant, subtle calls issued from some particular bird among the throng, with distinct groups that sallied forth from the lifting thermals as they were in flight, going eastward to reach their known roost for the night. This whole situation was ongoing for a certain amount of time, and continued for bunch of time exceeding an hour, appreciated as a watcher's enjoyment.

[Gathered gulls at Memorial Park, March 18, 2009]
An Unforgettable Sight

Flocks of gulls had been seen before during different seasons and were known to move back and forth in the skies above the Carthage neighborhood, the recognized Dundee and Memorial Park, but the actual extent had not really been realized.

This particular evening indicated how the gull stream was a not an aberrant event, but a spring season occurrence that bird watcher's should obviously appreciate.

This particular time and place on March 19, 2009, the gulls presented an indomitable show of flight in cerulean skyscape. Gulls had gathered on the warm air to soar on thermals of an early spring evening, before moving eastward to a safe haven for the night. It was a time to appreciate, as the estimated number of gulls was more something that approached something like 10,000 birds, an impression derived from the sheer grandeur and enjoyment given by the sweet antics of these birds in magnificent and wonderful flight.

One evenings worth of watching was not sufficient. So, another day of watching followed.

[Morning flight of gulls at midtown Omaha, March 19, 2009 morning]
Streaming Wonder

A considerably precise count was made during the time on the evening of Friday, March 20 from a place at Memorial Park.

Upon arriving a bit after 6 P.M., some gulls flying eastward had already been noted above the skies of the Dundee neighborhood.

Once at the park place, the gull stream was soon underway, notably starting with a loosely associated bunch gloing southeast about 6:15 in the evening.

A variable stream of gulls going along was continual thence forth. Counted first was 100, then 150, then 50, then 360 by noting groups of 5 to 10 among the throng. The tally notes that followed were for more, bunches of 90 to 200, with estimatable counts for 200 to 830 when the peak of movement occurred after 6:45 P.M. Numbers were written on a note card only when a lull provided an opportunity, to denote 830, 400, 600, 565, and 370 during a movement that certainly ebbed as sunset approached under a cloudy overcast.

Whew. What a spectacular of an ongoing sight of avian splendor in flight as seen from a grassy knoll in midtown. The bird movement was unending during this interlude of observing the gulls going past, not in an organized flock shape, but in an undulating, moving flow of wingbeats.

The end of the sights this night was about 7:20. The tally determined later was about 8,000 counted gulls. Add to this number, those that had already gone past, plus some few hundred seen westward beyond the University of Nebraska at Omaha campus, that could be seen but were not visible enough to get a count. What a tally!

An added treat of the time was seeing the several bunches of Cedar Waxwings among the pines extant at the southwest portion of the park.

Saturday Morning Lesson

Although arriving at the same mid-city count site by 7 A.M., there were already some gulls going to some unknown westward destination. The first group seen at this early morning hour, was in the sky space above the renowned and celebrated Dundee. Afterwards, after further walking to the park, there was an occasional defined flock of a few hundred. These birds flew together in a cognizant group, since flying together was an assist for birds flying in early morning hours. After another bit of interlude, some more of the flock flew past in the dawn skies. The peak of this time of watching was about 7:30, with a few lesser numbers afterwards. The last bunch noted was at 7:40 this morning.

The flight path was more expansive this morning than on the previous evening. Birds were seen further north of the Memorial Park environs although a bunch were going past directly above the point of observation.

Although the flight was thought to have ended before 8 A.M., about 15 minutes before 9, some more gulls were seen in the local skies.

Saturday evening marked the end of the gull times. Two gulls were seen at 6:15 P.M. languidly winging eastward, across the sky dome above the dueling kites on strings. Then a few minutes later, one more gull went past. A final sighting was the last gull at 6:45 P.M. There were no more seen.


It is probable that the gulls noted in the cerulean skies are going from one particular place to another. Their destination in the evening is an overnight roost, and in the morning they are going to a suitable place to forage where there is enough sustenance for the day.

An evaluation of records provides this prognostication. It is readily possible that the gulls noted at Memorial Park are going from the west of Omaha to some place east of the river city.

This species of gull might roost overnight at Lake Manawa State Park south of Council Bluffs, Iowa - based on a multitude of records for spring migration in the Missouri River valley - and probably forage during the day at the Douglas County land fill, near Elk City. There are no known records from the latter place, so this interpretation is nothing more than conjecture based on a personal view of how gulls may behave in the wild.

It is basically 23 miles from the landfill site to the Iowa lake. By using an online map, a direct line from the two locales can be drawn, and it shows that Memorial Park - or the intersection of Happy Hollow Boulevard and Underwood Avenue - is right upon the route which gulls may follow when flying a straight-line, direct route from one of these places to another.

Further study would be needed to determine the specifics, but none-the-less the phantasmagoric scenario of migratory gulls cannot be ignored by the birding world, and is certainly an event worthy of appreciation by those that may have an appreciation for the migratory movements of birds along the Missouri River flyway.

These times of watching movements some gulls was certainly something to appreciate and enjoy in specificity for the bird calendar of this year.

There were 4000 Ring-billed Gulls present at Lake Manawa on the evening of March 21st.

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