The slaty-backed gull has been seen in Marquette, and birders are excited. This bird is native to Siberia, and this is the species third known appearance in Michigan and second in Upper Michigan. More than 100 tourists have traveled to Marquette for a glimpse. TV6's Dustin Bonk joined a group of birders in an effort to see the rare bird.
The slaty-backed gull is out there somewhere. It's a bird native to northeast Asia, but reports since March 16 have identified the bird in Marquette.
"For whatever reason, he likes Marquette, like the rest of us do, I guess," said J.D. Phillips.
I met up with a group of birders to see if we could find the gull. We started at Picnic Rocks, where they believe the bird has been sleeping. Beth Olson was the first one to photograph the Asian seagull, not knowing what she had found. She consulted the birding community, and the next day she met up with J.D. Phillips and other birders to confirm if they had indeed found this rare visitor. Phillips says that identifying seagull species can be tricky, but the slaty-backed gull does have unique characteristics.
"This one just stands out. I mean, you notice it right away, that it's very much darker than the other birds," said Olson.
The slaty-backed gull gets its name from its dark back, but it also has bright pink legs and a black and white wing-tip pattern known as the string of pearls. It was nowhere to be found at Picnic Rocks, so we moved on. Within minutes, South Beach revealed much better results.
"His legs look bright pink to me, yeah? I think that's him," Phillips said when he first spotted the potential slaty-backed gull.
At this point, we're pretty sure we've found the slaty-backed gull, but we have to be extra sure and identify it properly. With this needle in the haystack, my camera can barely see it, even with a full zoom. My experienced birding companions observed the bird for several minutes, and soon it was confirmed, this was our bird.
"Yes, this is the slaty-backed gull. We've seen enough," Phillips said confidently. "It's a gull I've been looking for for a long time, and so, well that's off the list. I have to find another iconic gull of the North to chase."
It marks at least two weeks of this bird settling in far from home.
"To have a species of bird to show up in my hometown here in Michigan without having to travel extensively for it...it's pretty rare," said lifelong birder, Skye Haas.
According to Phillips, the bird will likely move on as it warms up, so see it while you can.