Madagascar's 1st Sooty Gull!
Text and photos by: David Shackelford

On November 11th, 2005 I was walking along the beach edge of the small island of Nosy Ve in the southwestern corner of Madagascar scanning for shorebirds and terns with my birding clients from Rockjumper Birding Tours. There were large numbers of Red-tailed Tropicbirds (60) breeding on the island as well as a large roost of Crab Plovers (53). On the north corner of the island there were a number of different tern species and through my telescope I could identify Greater-crested Terns (15), Lesser-crested Terns (25), Common Terns (60), Roseate Terns (2), Saunder's Terns (6), and one significantly larger bird within the tern roost that appeared overall dark but even from a distance could be picked out with the naked eye. Upon closer observation I was shocked to see the distinctive features of a Sooty Gull!

Sooty Gulls are found throughout the Red Sea from Egypt to Saudi Arabia south along the Somalia coastline and into northern coastal Kenya. The gull was in adult plumage including an overall dark gray coloration, a thin white incomplete eye-ring above the eye, dark and red tip to the end of the bill, greenish colored legs, a stark white vent and tail, and in flight it had bold white trailing edges of the wings. Needless to say, I was thoroughly surprised, as this not only constitutes a new record for Madagascar and the Indian Ocean Islands, but to my knowledge it is the first record of this species south of the Equator! It just goes to show, you never know what will pitch up next!

Sooty Gull on Nose Ve

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