I received an e-mail last friday, july 13th, from my friends Cindy & Leslie Lieurance (The Petrels in Panama): they had found a Gray-hooded Gull at the Visitors Centre of Panama Viejo during high tide in the afternoon (report here, video here). I saw the message too late, so I planned to visit the site two days later. Osvaldo Quintero and Itzel Fong joined me in my search for the rare gull (for Panama); however, we got there too early and the tideline was too far away. Anyway, we enjoyed seeing many waders, like Great and Snowy Egrets, Cocoi Herons, both Black-crowned and Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, White Ibis and even a Wood Stork in the sand. We decided to have lunch to return later.
After lunch, we returned to Panama Viejo and the tide was higher, so we started to watch the usual Laughing Gulls, the only expected gull in Panama during the boreal summer. After a while we detected the target bird among the Laughings. Notice the slightly paler mantle, the whiter underparts and the color of the soft parts.
Due to the distance, it was not obviously too different to the Laughings, but once in the air, the bird was unmistakable with a striking white wedge in the primaries. Also it came closer to us, making evident its red bill and feet and pale eye (though not so evident in my photos... Itzel's are better).
Native of South America (and Africa), the Gray-hooded Gull is a rare vagrant to central Panama, mostly in Panama City, with one report of the Pearl Islands. Ridgely & Gwynne mention an adult with basic plumage in Panama City back in september of 1955; since then, at least other five reports had been published, starting in august of 2000, many with photos. All these birds were sighted between march and october (during the austral winter) and in one occasion two different birds were recorded.
It was not a life bird for me, but definitively a GREAT bird for Panama anytime. Thanks petrels for sharing this.