Heermann’s gulls are the coolest of all gulls. Sooty-bodied, creamy headed. Bright red beak. Completely mod. And where most immature gulls are a mess of brown mottles, adolescent Heermanns wear all sooty black, like they’ve been listening to the Cure. You could call them pirate gulls, perhaps, as if they’ve been off somewhere giving their leaders the Black Spot (read Treasure Island) and wound up covered in charcoal dust from it.
And, come to think of it, they have been off somewhere else – they’ve only returned to NorCal in the last few weeks. It’s a strange migration pattern – bass-ackwards, really – where the gulls actually fly south to Baja California to breed, then come back up here for the rest of the year. In early fall you can see thousands just offshore in the afternoons, grouping up and looking for food like so many beach flies on a piece of stranded kelp.
And there’s the final tip-off: Baja California. Scammon’s Lagoon. It must be there, to that gray-whale-choked bay 400 miles south of San Diego, where these pirate gulls retreat to bury their booty and raise the kids. Rockin it patch-eyed, peg-legged, plank-walking, cold-blooded buccaneer style. Watch how they’ll buzz a pelican that has just caught a fish, and you’ll see what I mean. This one’s looking out for jolly rogers from Pt. Lobos, Calif.